Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

OT13: Thread, The Blood Of Angry Men

Blog, the dark of ages past!

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

1. I will be in the Bay Area from about 2/21 to maybe 3/7. I’ll see all of you who plan to be at Miranda and Ruby’s wedding there; otherwise I hope to get a chance to see some other people as schedules allow. If there’s interest in an SSC meetup, I could tentatively try scheduling such for the afternoon of Sunday 3/1 somewhere in Berkeley. If there’s interest I’ll give a firmer date later on.

2. Comment of the week is the whole discussion of gender equality in Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe. But I also need to praise everyone who continued the coffee shop gag in the comments. A very few among my favorites were Hayek, Heidegger, various economists, gwern, Thomas Schelling, various Chinese legalists, G.K. Chesterton, Nick Bostrom (1, 2), Enrico Fermi, various Islamic philosophers, Terry Tao, Nick Land, Alicorn, and various biologists.

3. Some people seem to have gotten genuinely upset about some of the recent discussion of IQ, on grounds something like that if high IQ is a necessary ingredient of some forms of academic success and they’re lower-IQ than other people, then they are bad and worthless. I strongly disagree with this and think it gets the reasoning exactly wrong, and I hope to explain why. But work has been pretty crazy lately (no pun intended) and I might not get the chance to write it up for a little while. Until then, please do me a favor and just take it on faith that you are a valuable human being who is worthy of existence.

4. Many of you probably know Multiheaded. My statistics say she is the most frequent commenter on this blog (pushing me down to second place) and we all acknowledge her heartfelt Communist comments as, um, things that exist. What you may not know about her is that she is a trans woman who lives in Russia, which is not known as a very safe place for trans women. She’s planning to escape to Canada and claim refugee status. Most of the steps of the plan are in place, and we have a few people in the Canada rationalist community willing to host her for a while, but she is asking for some money to help with travel and living expenses. She’s set up a GoFundMe account with a target of $2500. If there’s any doubt about the story, I can confirm that Ozy and I have known her for a long time and she’s kept her biography consistent longer than I would expect anyone to fake; also, her IP address does trace to Russia. Multi intends to pay as much as possible forward eventually with donations to effective charities. I intend to donate, and I hope some of you do as well.

Remember, no race and gender in the open thread, EXCEPT that I will permit, this time only, discussion of Hyde & Mertz (2009) because it’s interesting and I want to know what other people here think about it. Everything else can go over to Ozy’s place.

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1,139 Responses to OT13: Thread, The Blood Of Angry Men

  1. Anonymous says:

    Are you going to make another post here or on your tumblr if there is a Berkeley SSC meetup or should I add something else to my feed?

    • Charlie says:


      Okay, that’s not a very polite answer, but I do think that not only would society be better in some non-obvious ways, but also that we’d take it for granted.

      • Anonymous says:

        I already edited out my question. It was below my high standards for hypothetical questions.

        • Desertopa says:

          It makes the train of conversation rather confusing to do this if people have already replied to you though.

    • Desertopa says:

      I think the only way for every book to be a great and substantive piece of literature is for there to be very few books. Great literature seems defined more in terms of impact than quality in common usage.

      If every book were of a standard of quality necessary to be a great and substantive piece of literature, fewer people would probably enjoy reading, because there are already enough really good books for people who enjoy good books to read them very often, but there would no longer be enough bad books to satisfy people who really want a trashy romance or thriller or something.

      • Levi Aul says:

        I think, when you talk about substance/impact, you’re more thinking of the trappings of the genre of narrative people vaguely refer to as “litfic”, not really any qualities pertaining to literary merit per se.

        Great literature can happen in any genre. You can have action or mystery or romance novels that are seminal works with high literary merit, containing skill applied in constructing deep characters; clever and original prose; a narrative structured and paced to impart thematic insights at the right moments; etc. You can have all these things, while also having fun.

        However, it seems that, at least in the Western and possibly Russian literary traditions, the sort of depressive personality required to have deep insights about the human condition and put them to words is anti-correlated with the desire to make people enjoy reading what you write.

        I think some of these authors might learn a thing or to from reverse-adapting the plot of a video game or movie into a novel. That way, the “fun” factor comes pre-installed, and it’s just the literary merit that needs to be worked in.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t think video game and movie narratives for the most part adapt very well to novels, or vice versa. Different narratives are better suited to different media.

          Of course, what stories are suited to certain media and what people actually use those media for is often quite different. For instance, I think that video games as a medium have considerable advantage over movies as a vehicle for romance narratives (I could go into this at greater length, but it’s well past 4:00 am where I’m posting this at the moment.) But there’s such a dearth of video games with well written romances that it’s easy to find lists of top video game romances which contain entries where the “romances” are entirely fanon, whereas for decades there have been countless skilled writers competing to create successful romance movies.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think that video games as a medium have considerable advantage over movies as a vehicle for romance narratives

            I’d be interested to hear more about this.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not the same anon, but there is the fact that agency gets people super invested, and I guess narrative branching can enrich some or someother aspect of the romance genre?

          • Mary says:

            “Different narratives are better suited to different media.”

            How true. Perhaps most easily seen by reading Order of the Stick and Rusty and Co..

            Both take place in avowed D&D universes — in Rusty a character consults the Monster Manual — but being webcomics, they get away with things that no DM would ever survive doing. Not only do both parties have central characters, there are scenes with only NPCs — and even prolonged stretches of nothing but NPCs.

          • Desertopa says:

            Okay, to clarify from before (previous anon was me,) I think video games have a major advantage over movies as a vehicle for romances for the following reasons:

            First off, length. As a medium intended to be consumed entire in a single sitting, I think movies are badly handicapped in terms of conveying deep and believable romances. Given the time constraints of the format, it’s hard to portray the development of a credible romance from the beginning, because so many of the ways that people in real life demonstrate rapport and long term compatibility are difficult to convey quickly. The upshot is that most romance movies portray characters behaving irresponsibly and making absurd overcommitments while in a state of limerence, because otherwise it’s hard to progress to any kind of resolution within the time constraints. So in this regard video games are advantaged not because they’re uniquely suited for romance, but because movies are particularly unsuited for romance, and the huge proliferation of romance movies owes more to the fact that romances are one of the most universally popular plots, and movies one of the most lucrative forms of mass media, than to any kind of suitability of the medium.

            Second, video games’ potential for open-endedness means that players can choose between multiple romantic options and select the ones they feel the most affinity for. An article I read a while back argued that video games were inherently a worse medium for romance than movies (with which I disagreed categorically on every point,) and one of its main points of contention was that in a video game, you’re presented with a selection of options, and if you don’t like any of them, the romance will inevitably fall through for you. This is of course true, but it ignores the fact that in a movie, there are no options for the audience, and if they’re not sold on the only romantic relationship presented by the movie, the narrative will also fall through. Multiple options provide the player with something of a safety net; it’s more likely that at least one option will be to the player’s liking.

            Third, the interactivity of the medium can help induce the players to identify with the characters. Particularly if the player’s own choices are providing fuel for the romantic narrative, it’s likely to make them feel more invested in the romance than if they were simply passive observers.

            Of course the big caveat to all this is that it’s given the assumption of an equal quality writing between the different media. Video games might have more potential as a romantic medium in theory, and yet the video game company most known for its attempts to capitalize on these elements is Bioware, whose major writing staff to this day consists of many of the same people whose attempts at romance I was already cringing through when I was thirteen and playing Baldur’s Gate 2. The actual standards of romance writing throughout the video game industry as a whole are really incredibly low, to the point that it’s no surprise if people get the impression that the medium isn’t even capable of conveying compelling romances.

          • anon a gnon says:

            Interesting, Desertopa seems to have independently rederived the entire genre of dating sims / eroge.

            For those uninitiated, dating sims is a class of video games where you play someone (usually a male highschool student) that goes to school and has to make several choices throughout the day on a person you wish to talk to (to get closer to them) or an activity you wish to participate in (to better yourself in some way). These do tend to be very long, have multiple distinctive choices and also have failure conditions to make sure you are committed. This maps well onto your three points.

            The writing tends to be very plain and populist

            I personally do not have much experience in this field, other than having played amagami[0], but it is a genre specifically fitting your requirements. It seems to have died a quiet death in the 2000s, but, again, not an expert.

            The other branch, which I am much more familiar with, eroge (a portmanteau of erotic and gemu). The standard format is very similar (be high schooler, talk to people etc. etc.), but the emphasis is more on the text and the number of choices is much smaller. However, it seems like most of the writing talent is does not typically do romance. Looking at the top 10 entries on erogamescape right now[1] and discounting the one recently released game (which is most likely riding the launch hype). We have 3 sci-fi stories, 2 are literary/drama, 2 are romance, 2 are gameplay oriented conquest RPGs, 1 fantasy adventure. But I suppose erogeis closer as a genre to interactive fiction in general rather than the dating sim subset.

            I’m a fan of visual novels (the english neologism for eroge) but the only way to access them is either through fantranslations (often poor) or waiting for some existing small company to localize it (Manga gamer, Sekai project or JAST).

            I am happy to answer any further questions you may have.

            [0] Translation: Love bite. More information on the system can be found here: (warning, the site as a whole is nsfw)

        • Creutzer says:

          However, it seems that, at least in the Western and possibly Russian literary traditions, the sort of depressive personality required to have deep insights about the human condition and put them to words is anti-correlated with the desire to make people enjoy reading what you write.

          I don’t know, Dostoevskij strikes me as a rather singular case…

        • Mary says:

          “However, it seems that, at least in the Western and possibly Russian literary traditions, the sort of depressive personality required to have deep insights about the human condition and put them to words is anti-correlated with the desire to make people enjoy reading what you write.”

          “Why is it that all men who have become outstanding 1
          in philosophy, statesmanship, poetry or the arts are
          melancholic?” Aristotle

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m actually quite familiar with eroge, although I haven’t played any that are mechanically “dating sims,” I’ve had experience with a fair number of visual novels. But while there are a few that I’d describe as having better romantic narratives than you’ll find in mainstream non-eroge video games, on the whole, the standards of writing are really low (given that the games are lower investment and lower return compared to mainstream video games, and can sell largely on sex appeal, they have a tendency to attract an even lower tier of writing talent,) and the general tropes of the genre are pretty terrible in terms of constructing credible romance.

          In a representative eroge romance, the protagonist and love interest spend time together, possibly in constant friction with each other, possibly thrown together by trying circumstances, possibly by common interest, but usually with only weak rapport between the characters. Interest is conveyed by awkwardness and flashes of sexual tension, or occasionally by sexual harassment. Then, eventually, one character will confess their feelings for the other, the other will declare mutuality, and the two will consequently agree that they are in a relationship, and will have sex immediately. This is usually the substantial endpoint of the relationship’s progression, although some further conflict is occasionally introduced and resolved after this point.

          There are some visual novels with legitimately interesting and compelling narratives, but for a medium which theoretically focuses so much of its resources on romance, it generally does a very poor job at that. I occasionally wonder if the games which focus on women as a target audience (or “otome games”) handle romance better, but even speaking as a guy who enjoyed female-targeted works like Pony Club books as a kid, I’ve often been left with the distinct impression that works produced for the mass market of Japanese women are actually written for the consumption of some kind of aliens.

          • Nita says:

            I can’t really wrap my mind around a single-player romance game. In real-life romance, the most salient thing to me is how two complex, unpredictable individuals somehow manage to develop mutual interest, affection and trust.

            In my experience, written stories can simulate that to some extent, but games? Aren’t NPCs too predictable?

          • Desertopa says:

            An NPC can be as complex and difficult to predict as any novel character, if you invest that level of writing into them.

            In eroge at least, characters tend to be extremely predictable because players get pissed off if the choices required to “get” a character are too obtuse, and choice generally has little bearing on the outcome of the relationship beyond the “get/don’t get” dichotomy, or possibly “good end/bad end.”

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            In my experience, written stories can simulate that to some extent, but games? Aren’t NPCs too predictable?

            Visual novels are mostly text-based. Think of a visual novel as a Choose Your Own Adventure book, except that each scene is illustrated with an anime screenshot and there is an original soundtrack playing in the background while you are reading.

          • anon a gnon says:

            I’m actually kinda confused at your experience saying that video game writing is generally superior, because I tend to find most of the English translated VNs of better quality than typical video game writing, and most of the companies with big name artists that can drive sales have not had any translations (sans Navel’s Shuffle, I suppose anything by Key could qualify?). If you’re referring to prose quality, there are something like three translators out of all of the ones that I know who are halfway competent and understand how to put sentences together, so it could be that.

            I’m not going to deny that there is a long tail of incredibly bad writers, it’s just that I can’t really think of many translated entries that tries to focus on high school romance and is pretty terrible. wrt to writing (Nekopara?)

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m just gonna leave this here:

        • Eli says:

          However, it seems that, at least in the Western and possibly Russian literary traditions, the sort of depressive personality required to have deep insights about the human condition and put them to words is anti-correlated with the desire to make people enjoy reading what you write.

          Frankly, if someone thinks you need a depressive personality to have deep insights about the human condition at all, I think that someone is either a depressive trying to prop up their own goddamn ego, or just a particularly stupid snob.

      • Mary says:

        For every book to be a great and substantive piece of literature necessarily requires that the author produce no inferior books on the route to producing great and substantive pieces.

        Most writers of immortal works of literature aren’t up to that.

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  3. Secretariat says:

    Count me as interested in a 3/1 SSC meetup.

  4. Let assume for the moment that the factors that make for differential maths performance are decided somewhere after birth and before the final years of high school. (The non-genetic explanation for the results)

    What would those be, and what interventions could be made to change them?

    • Levi Aul says:

      There’s always hormone therapy. Presumably, targeting the sexually-dimorphic portions of people’s brains with hormones from the opposite sex could puff those portions up to full size. Drastic, obviously, but since many neurons have sex-linked hormone receptors built in, there’s really no way around it. (Well, you could play with aromatase levels instead…)

      • Deiseach says:

        Drastic, but if people are really serious about Increase Intelligence Now, and the measure of high intelligence is “how well do you perform on tests of advanced mathematical concepts?” then yes.

        The Hyde and Mertz paper makes me wonder if the reason, as Scott mentioned in the other post, that gender differences show up drastically around 17 is not so much to do with puberty and the effect of sex hormones etc. but rather that as children get older and advance through school, the curriculum gets tougher.

        Therefore, around the age of 17, you’re going to hit complex problem solving, and if males have a wider spread of ability (more likely to be at either end of the bell curve), then the percentage of boys who have greater mathematical ability will now exhibit their superiority by beng able to tackle the more complex problems.

        That is, the pubertal effect which Scott expected to show up around 13-14 is delayed not because of physiology but because of the curriculum. The girls hit the limit of what hard work can do without natual ability when the mathematics taught gets sufficiently complex in a certain grade, and the small percentage of ‘genius’ boys begin to pull ahead?

        • Nita says:

          Look, everyone!

          In the previous thread, Deiseach expressed concern that people would round the nuanced arguments about higher variance down to “girls are dumber”.

          In this thread, Deiseach writes:

          The girls hit the limit [..] and the small percentage of ‘genius’ boys begin to pull ahead

          …implying that acing a high-school level maths test requires a level of ‘genius’ beyond any girl’s limit.

          This makes me update in favour of Deiseach’s original concern.

          • Anonymous says:

            Go troll somewhere else please.

          • Operationalizing Anonymous says:

            Nita, I don’t think Deiseach is the anti-feminist droid you’re looking for.

          • Nita says:

            @Operationalizing Anonymous

            I’m saying: if even Deiseach herself can’t avoid rounding it off in casual conversation, then what can we expect of everyone else?

          • Operationalizing Anonymous says:

            @Nita: I think she’s trying out an explanation to see whether it works. I don’t get the impression she thinks women are dumb. (Also, FWIW, she may be one of the people who agree with you on, like, 85% of stuff. Target judiciously.)

          • Nita says:

            @Operationalizing Anonymous

            Well, obviously* I agree with what she meant in that comment in particular, and appreciate her as a commenter in general.

            * or — actually not obviously, apparently? in any case, thanks for the feedback, kind anon 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Do I contradict myself?
            Very well then I contradict myself,
            (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

            And if you took a view of me from the dorsal side, you’d agree to the largeness.

            All right, let’s go round the mulberry bush one more gyration. Are there gender differences when it comes to both extremes of the bell curve for mathematical and other intelligences? It would appear so; the scientists say thusly and who am I to contradict them?

            Therefore, does this mean that a percentage of all the boys studying maths or underwater basket weaving will be both stupider and smarter than the cohort of girls? That appears to be a reasonable conclusion.

            Us being humans, are we reasonable? No, we’re damn well not. Taking a factual statement that some boys, and a greater number of them, will be better or more gifted or have greater innate ability for mathematics than girls will be seized on by everyone with an axe to grind or a point to prove.

            There will be those who say “You see? There is no such thing as institutional sexism! Women are just not biologically able to do the work at the highest level, and therefore we do not need to change anything about the present set-up of society and education, in saecula saeculorum!

            There will be others who decry the results as all part of a Vast Patriarchal Conspiracy and the corruption of science aimed at keeping women down, and denying them their rightful place in equal numbers at the top of the tree.

            I was NOT saying that a particular level of genius was beyond ANY girl’s level; I WAS saying that at the very highest level of classes, there will – because of the vagaries of the bell curve – be more boys able to tackle the topics than girls. That is all that I was saying.

            Now I’m going to go and spend my time more fruitfully, like banging my head against the wall or writing more quasi-idolatrous litanies of adoration for fictional characters as portrayed in popular televisual media.

          • Tom West says:

            I think Nita is spot on. I remember about a month after the Summers’ controversy a slightly burned out male high school computer science teacher telling me (professional-to-professional) that even the president of Harvard said women weren’t up to the hard sciences.

            He wasn’t a terrible teacher, but his misinterpretation of Summers’ comments was all he needed to allow himself to stop making the effort to encourage girls into CS.

            I have no doubt his story (which pretty much matched the Internet’s interpretation once you left the science-related blogs) was repeated many thousands of times over.

            “Women can’t do science” is a nice simple paradigm that matches a huge number of people’s natural understanding, and anything that can be misinterpreted into confirmation, will be.

            When an authority like Summers (president. Harvard!) “confirms” it, there’s very little that is going to dislodge this obvious “fact”.

            Certainly those who misinterpret are hugely more numerous and thus far more significant to the lives of men and women than the insignificant few who will spend the effort to understand the details of what is actually being said.

          • lmm says:

            All words, all explanations are simplifications; “the earth is round” is false, but not as false as “the earth is flat”. “Women can’t do science” is false – but is it more or less false than “women and men are equally good at science”, or “sex differences in scientific ability are unimportant”?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            On behalf of the Women’s Lib Guild of 1970….

            In 2008 I read up on the controversy about Summers’s luncheon of 2005. I say, a pox on the woman/women at that luncheon who put out the “women cannot” version and attributed it to Summers, and the others of their local tribe who took up the cry. Which then rippled on and on till it reached burnt-out math teachers, etc.

            I suspect some of the motive was to get Summers out of Harvard — without realizing how much damage their misquote would do to feminism and women in general in the outside world.

          • Tom West says:

            Imm: but is it more or less false than “women and men are equally good at science”

            A hell of a lot less false, and a huge amount less damaging for society as a whole.

            houseboatonstyx: Yes, they certainly didn’t help. But Summers was a public individual. He doesn’t get to say things (in public) that *will* be misinterpreted without paying a price. Same goes for politicians and CEOs. That’s why they’re paid well.

          • haishan says:

            But Summers was a public individual. He doesn’t get to say things (in public) that *will* be misinterpreted without paying a price.

            Summers’ comments were public only for very unusual values of “public”:

            The conference, on women and minorities in the science and engineering workforce, was a private, invitation-only event, with about 50 attendees.

            Basically, if Nancy Hopkins hadn’t been triggered by Larry Summers’ horrible misogyny, his remarks would have been heard by a few dozen people. If public figures can’t say things that will be misinterpreted in front of a few dozen people, we’re more doomed than I thought.

          • RCF says:

            “But Summers was a public individual. He doesn’t get to say things (in public) that *will* be misinterpreted without paying a price. Same goes for politicians and CEOs. That’s why they’re paid well.”

            So, any time someone lies about what a public figure said, it’s the public figure’s fault, for being so careless as to say something that someone would lie about?

            Also, it’s lmn, not Imn.

          • cypher says:

            “Women can’t do science” is false – but is it more or less false than “women and men are equally good at science”, or “sex differences in scientific ability are unimportant”?

            Both are significantly less accurate than “we should judge women in science on their own ability as individuals, since we’re already pulling from a self-selected pool, not randomly pulling women from the general population.”

          • lmm says:

            @cypher That’s dodging the question. Of course under ideal circumstances we would always get to know everyone in great detail before ever trying to infer anything about them, even if they were, I don’t know, wearing a load of swastikas or something. But in practice there are only so many hours in the day, only so many conversational opportunities, and six billion people to choose between; the only way to live is to make a certain level of snap judgement based on the limited information available. Given that, for the cases where I have to decide quickly, I’d like my snap judgements to be as accurate as they possibly can be, taking into account any known correlations. Wouldn’t you?

        • Tom West says:

          haishan: The conference, on women and minorities in the science and engineering workforce, was a private, invitation-only event, with about 50 attendees.

          I understood it was a limited audience. I hadn’t quite realized how limited. Still a bad move (obviously), but less egregious than I had realized.

          RCF: So, any time someone lies about what a public figure said, it’s the public figure’s fault, for being so careless as to say something that someone would lie about?

          There are certain things that are pretty darn easy to twist. If your words are likely to feed a flame, then you don’t get to say those words.

          Why are public people so careful about what they say about Islam after a terrorist incident? Because they understand that there words *will* be twisted to justify reprisals against innocents if there words contain even a hint of ambiguity.

          Also, it’s lmn, not Imn.

          And thanks for the correction – lmm it is.

          • Deiseach says:

            If there is any way anyone at all can possibly put the wrong construal on someone you say, it will happen. This goes double for public figures. Just look at any media coverage of remarks made by the current pope, who is very prone to off-the-cuff, unscripted remarks.

            His latest one, if you believe what you read in the papers, is that he told Catholics not to be breeding like rabbits. Cue outrage on both right and left for being disrespectful, etc.!

            I haven’t gone searching for the actual text of his remarks, but I rather imagine that there was a tiny bit of context that we need to know here!

          • Anonymous says:

            If anything, private (but not too private) statements are worse, because the person twisting your words has an easier time controlling the narrative. A truly public statement is up for everyone to hear/see/read, so they can form their own opinions regarding them.

          • Anonymous says:

            Your theory predicts that when Summers published his transcript that the lies would stop.

          • Anonymous says:

            There are alternative, stronger explanations for governments figures refusing to be factual about Islam. Ideology and the scope and popularity of murder of infidels. They say it’s due to concern for reprisals, but why do you believe them? There have been virtually no individual reprisals either here or in Israel, while up the failure to address the ideology of murderous Islam could be argued endangers many more lives, by hamstringing our homeland security. For example, FBI training manuals are not allowed to use the word Islamic, therefore cannot tariff agents re jihadi front groups, agents, methods, recruitment strategies.

          • Matthew says:

            There have been virtually no individual reprisals either here or in Israel,

            Um, what?

            Most recent available report is 2012:


      • haishan says:

        Is it possible that getting rid of the plastics that sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids could help?

      • Anonymous says:

        Has synaptic pruning been looked at wrt this? Does it occur later in men and if so could that have an effect?

  5. anon says:

    Something I’ve been wondering about for a while

    How likely is a homeless person in the United States to find permanent housing again (IE what percentage escape homelessness)? My perception has always been that once you’re down and out you’re more than likely to be homeless for good, but I haven’t been able to find any numbers to confirm or refute that.

    • Jadagul says:

      I think that depends on where you put the threshold for “become homeless”? Like, I’ve read that if you look at all the people who’ve ever spent the night in a homeless shelter, the most common number of total nights for a person to spent in a shelter over their lifetime is “one.” The second-most-common number is “two.”

      Like most problems, the populations divide into “a large group of people who need help dealing with temporary problems” and “a smaller group of people with incredibly crippling collections of problems.”

      • Anonymous says:

        I would think that many of those one-nighters actually have a home but are too drunk to find it. (Extrapolating from personal experience here, but sounds plausible nevertheless.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Speaking from experience in a social housing job (all eight months of it), temporary homelessness can happen for several reasons: generally it’s young people getting kicked out of the family home or relationships breaking up and one partner or the other has nowhere to go. Drink and drug addictions play a part here as well, but we refer people to emergency accommodation (hostels and sheltered housing associations) and try to work out something more medium to long-term (you are not going to get social housing merely because you’re homeless, unfortunately).

          Longer-term homelessness is (a) people are being evicted from rental properties or the rents are going up beyond their ability to pay, and they can’t find replacement accommodation within their means (b) people lost their jobs, can’t pay the mortgage, the bank is repossessing their house and ditto on the accommodation front (c) people with severe substance abuse and/or mental health problems.

          Quite a substantial proportion of the people in category (c) are unable to handle independent living; even if accommodation is found for them or they get social housing, they can’t cope with struggling to live by a budget, pay rent regularly, etc. They end up back on the streets or doing the rounds of ‘couch surfing’, hostels and emergency/temporary accommodation. This can even end up, as in a case from a few months ago that was all over the Irish news media, in people dying on the streets of exposure or the end results of their hard lives. Even with help and support, they fall through the cracks.

      • roystgnr says:

        Aside from the “crippling vs temporary” divide, there’s also a “crippling vs inconveniencing” divide. The HHS definition of homelessness includes “no home, living on the street”, “no home, living in a motel”, and “no home, living with our aunt”, despite some significant practical differences between those categories. Other agencies’ definitions try to exclude all or part of that third, “doubled up” group, whose size can range from millions to tens of millions of people depending on the precise definition.

        • Mary says:

          Author Michael Flynn had some mirth at the expense of those definitions on discovering that he was homeless until he was six. (At the time, he thought his family was living at his grandparents’.)

    • Vaniver says:

      A while back, I came across the rule of thumb that ten homeless people must be offered long-term housing in order to reduce the long-term population of the homeless by one. (There are a bunch of factors here, which sibling comments explain better) That implies to me that we would expect people to be homeless for roughly one tenth of the relevant timeframe.

      It also seems like homelessness, like so many other things, is probably modeled by a power law- less than 20% of the homeless are homeless for more than 80% of the total human-nights not spent in a home.

      So people who are so seriously mentally ill or destitute that they can’t maintain a home are likely to not suddenly be able to maintain a home, but people who are in between homes are very unlikely to become seriously mentally ill or destitute because of that.

    • lmm says:

      Not the US, but one interesting part of Stuart: A Life Backwards was that, having been homeless, it wasn’t such a big deal to him. So even though he had a (government-provided) house, he would sometimes e.g. sleep rough after a night visiting a friend if he’d missed the last bus.

      But it sounded like he was one of the worse cases, with a large stack of issues – and even then, he’d be housed – through local government, or with a girlfriend, or some other acquaintance – for months at a time, and then it would break down.

      Not sure how much any of it will apply to the US, but it was a fascinating book.

    • Anonymous says:

      New York City has collected statistcs on permanently homeless familie iclooked it up a few years ago and don’t have the link . Th number was startling: fifty. Yes, fifty permanently homeless in New York City! Most families use shelters during a crisis when they are too disorganized temporarily to use all the social welfare and hosing benefits they normally use.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d like to know their definition of “permanent” before drawing any strong conclusions from this.

    • dipitty do says:

      A friend got out of homelessness by coming into an inheritance.

      Short of that, I think he’d have died on the streets. He almost did. Being homeless and schizophrenic is pretty rough.

      People who are homeless due to being between jobs or having been evicted, etc., probably have a decent chance of getting back on their feet. But people who’ve been homeless for a year or more probably have very bad chances.

      Oh, and if you’re curious about my friend’s story, he wrote a book about it:
      It’s not literature, but it tells the tale.

  6. Alejandro says:

    “@Sylvester Now that I’ve helped you catch the bird, will you help me catch the mouse?” Tom tweeted.

    “@Tom Sorry, I can’t; he’s standing just outside the border of my hunting district” Sylvester jerrymandered.

  7. AR+ says:

    A fan has recut the entire Hobbit trilogy into a single 4 hour film. I haven’t seen the original trilogy, but I’ve read the book, and I’m going to watch this version. I’ve long felt like movies are too long, as a general rule. Like, the Nightmare Before Christmas was 90 minutes. A lot of classic Disney movies are 90 minutes. That is a good length for a movie to have.

    For anyone who tried them months back and didn’t like their texture or how extremely dense they were, MealSquares underwent a major change in baking process a month ago that made them much fluffier. I found them tolerable before but now I actually enjoy eating them.

    • I’m increasingly convinced that television series are a better storytelling method than films. At least for book adaptations (contrast GoT and LOTR)

      • drunkenrabbit says:

        Definitely. I can’t think of a single book I’d rather see adapted into a movie rather than a decent miniseries. Especially Dune, the movie attempts at that have been terrible.

        Also, Lonesome Dove is both a miniseries, and the best western I’d ever seen. Some John Ford classics aside.

        • stillnotking says:

          I wanted to hate the Lynch movie, but the truth is that it had me from the moment Virginia Madsen said “A beginning… is a very delicate time.”

          It may be overblown, messy, and incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t read the novel five times, but goddammit, it has something. The thing that every David Lynch project has, and which there is no word for. Twinpeakiness?

          • John Schilling says:

            I want to see the version that has the look and feel of the Lynch version, including the casting, with the script and plot of the Sci Fi channel miniseries. We can keep a few key bits of Lynchian dialogue, if you like.

          • Erl says:

            I believe that the accepted DFWism is “Lynchian(ism)”

          • Sarah says:

            I like the Lynch movie, but it drives me nuts that everyone is white.

            This isn’t a “representation” thing, it’s a “fidelity to the book” thing. The Fremen are clearly coded as Arab, they use Arabic words, the *default* would be to cast people from roughly that part of the world. (I would buy East Asian, because of “Zensunni.” I would also buy making everyone a mix of races because it’s a far-future society. But everyone being white just feels *artificial*.)

          • pwyll-alt says:

            David Lynch’s adaptation has all kinds of problems, including terrible dialogue and intermittent lack of fidelity to the book’s plot, but nonetheless I think it does an amazing job of building an immersive world. The set design and costume design are breathtaking, and it’s near the top of the list of films I’ve seen in terms of the sense of atmosphere it conveys.

        • Anonymous says:

          Have you seen the documentary about the first attempt to make a Dune movie?

      • huntz0r says:

        There is a fanedit version of the original LOTR films by Kerr which I cannot recommend highly enough. The editor pulled together all the raw material from the theatrical and extended editions, deleted scenes, etc.; then cut out everything that wasn’t in the books, and reassembled the film into six parts that follow exactly the narrative order and structure of the books.

        As a result it tells the story much better than either the theatrical or extended cuts, yet clocks in at a very marathon-able 7 hours and 39 minutes. And it truly is a joy to watch — the incredible world that Jackson et al built for the film really shines once it is relieved of all the films’ frustrating deviations, expansions, and compromises.

        Much of the problem with these films is just an unfortunate limitation of the format. You can have a “table-setting” episode of a TV series and come back hard the next week, but that’s a hard thing to get away with when people have to wait a year for the next film. So you can either be faithful to the larger story arc and end up with a film that’s vaguely unsatisfying on its own (see: Mockingjay Part 1), or you have to screw with the pacing and shoehorn in extra plot threads with climaxes and denouements that don’t exist in the source material.

        I might watch this edit, but the ultimate edit will be made sometime after all three Hobbit films are released as extended editions, and all the material is there to be sorted and sifted and reassembled in the best possible way. I expect it should only need to be 4-4.5 hours to tell the whole story as Tolkien wrote it, and I have no doubt it will be amazing.

        • Anonymous says:

          Much of the problem with these films is just an unfortunate limitation of the format. You can have a “table-setting” episode of a TV series and come back hard the next week, but that’s a hard thing to get away with when people have to wait a year for the next film.

          So, wait, is this really an inherent limitation of the format? What stops them from making both films ahead of time and releasing them in rapid succession?

      • cassander says:

        a movie is a short story, at most a novella. If you have something long and complicated (i.e. more than a couple main characters and themes) there just isn’t space in a movie to include all of it.

    • drunkenrabbit says:

      Along those lines, has anyone seen “The Phantom Edit”? Is it worth a watch?

      • youzicha says:

        I haven’t seen that, but I did watch Star Wars: Turn to the Dark Side, which I guess is an even more extreme version of the same idea. I thought it was certainly more enjoyable than the original movies, but still not really worth the time it took to watch it.

      • zz says:

        I cannot recommend Star Wars: Uncut strongly enough.

      • huntz0r says:

        The Phantom Edit is alright, but there have been many and several better fanedits since. The Q2 edits of the prequel films are all quite good, and make those films watchable and even enjoyable.

        Another one worth getting is Star Wars Episode IV: Revisited by Adywan — which is, essentially, the THX Edition DVD that Lucas never gave us. That description doesn’t quite do justice to the editor, who put a ton of care and attention into it, and it really shows.

        • Anonymous says:

          Can you discuss this in further detail? I watched The Phantom Edit a few years ago and found it just… unobjectionable; I’ve not heard about any of the others.

        • Luke Somers says:

          Adywan’s revisits of aNH and tESB are good, and really clean things up. I wonder what he’d do with RotJ. Maybe the capital ship battle would look like they were actually fighting each other.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      I would honestly wait until someone cuts the whole thing down to 2 hours. I’ll probably make my own cut at some point.

      I’ve seen all the films and you could easily cut it down further.

  8. People who follow UK politics, what are your predictions for the general election?

    I’m pretty much following Ian Dale’s predictions because he seems to have the best methodology.

    So overall Conservative 275-285
    Labour 290-300
    LibDem 22-27
    UKIP 1-5
    SNP 15-20
    Plaid 2-4
    DUP 7-10


    • kieran M says:

      I accidentally turned into a link for the whole reply, so my previous message got eaten, but that’s what I’m going with: its a Bayesian hierarchical model after all, so you’ve got to love it.

      If you look at any competing models for predicting the next election you’ll see a lot of differences, particularly in which party will be the largest in the next election. There are several reasons for this

      1-We lack local polling, meaning assumptions have to be made about how national polls translate locally
      2-Parties such as the SNP, UKIP and the Greens are getting unprecedentedly high numbers, and how these translate at the polls will make a huge difference

      As far as I can tell, we can be pretty sure (barring some shake up in the next few months) that

      1-There will be no absolute majority
      2-The following parties will gain seats: Labour, SNP, UKIP, maybe the Greens
      3-The following parties will lose seats: Conservatives, Lib Dems.

      Other than that, it’s really very up in the air as to where Labour and the Conservatives will be come election day.

    • Zorgon says:

      I think Dale and several other pundits are being conservative (small ‘c’) regarding the scale of the Lib Dem crash. It’s natural to want to revert it a bit to the mean, but barring the hardcore faithful, the Lib Dems are dead in the water. I fully expect to see them lose multiple deposits.

      (I may be a little gleefully anticipating this whooping, I admit.)

      I have absolutely no idea if the Greens’ gains are going to translate into seats. If they’re at all clever about focusing on potential wins, they could easily manage 2-3 at least, which is a serious step towards getting the UK media to break their painfully obvious embargo on them. But I don’t see good signs in that regard, they seem to be pushing for a full nationwide campaign; in some places that isn’t a bad idea (like my own constituency where pulling into second will leave them in a good position to take the seat next time) but in the Home Counties and the North it’s a complete and total waste of time, effort and money.

      Labour are resurgent. It’s quite impressive how quickly the machine’s picked up, and it’s even more impressive the extent to which they’re going to avoid letting their weird-ass robot leader in front of the cameras. It reminds me of the Tories trying to avoid acknowledging John Major was their leader back in the 90s.

      All in all it’s way too chaotic to call. I think there are going to be some huge upsets, but I have no idea what exactly. I just wish there was a center-left party remaining in British politics that didn’t have the Greens’ baggage stapled to it.

      • Deiseach says:

        With the British “first past the post” system, I think the votes will translate into a whopping loss for the LibDems which will be spread among smaller parties like the Greens, but not in sufficient blocs to elect more than few surprise seat-takers. I think it’ll be Labour and the Tories fighting it out for seats, with Greens, SNP, UKIP, Monster Raving Loony Party candidates coming in third, fourth or fifth – doing much better than in the last election, and mopping up the lost LibDem and swing Tory and Labour votes, but not enough to really be huge.

        If, say, the Tories offer to give the Greens concessions in return for letting them form a minority government in order to avoid a hung parliament, I think the Greens should avoid that like the plague (take warning from what befell the Green Party in my own country when they went into power-sharing!)

    • Anonymous says:

      I think it’s really hard to say, because it depends on so many factors. I would think:

      1. The votes for UKIP, Greens, etc, will not hold up. People will vote for mainstream parties. UKIP will do very well as a protest vote in safe working-class Labour seats, but I’d say they are more likely to lose than gain MPs.
      2. The Lib Dems’ death has been much exaggerated. Dale is right that they’ll get 25 seats or so. Yes, they’ll lose some deposits too.
      3. The SNP will be triumphant in Scotland, which may be the most important long-term development.
      4. The election will be local. Labour will fight back in the distant London suburbs (eg Enfield), but lose in the nearer suburbs (eg Ealing).
      5. I would not be the least surprised to see the Conservatives remain as the largest party.
      6. No party will gain a majority, and there is a very decent change we’ll have a second election within 18 months, fixed-term parliament law notwithstanding.

      • Adam Casey says:

        I agree re Lib Dems, the constituency polling seems to show rather sharp differences in incumbancy for them. They’ll cling on to a higher proportion of their seats than of their deposits.

    • Adam Casey says:

      He seems impressively meticulous. But I worry that in a setup like that a small systematic error in calling marginals could turn into a large overall distortion.

      Obvious case in point: The betting markets seem to think he’s rather pessimistic about SNP and UKIP’s chances.

      Personally I agree with Dale on UKIP and disagree on SNP. So I backed the SNP side of the ledger when it was at 22, and sold UKIP on 9.5. But the Ashcroft constituency polls are going to be crucial in going from “I can’t believe they can overturn that big a majority” to “it seems like n% of Lab voters will switch in constituencies like this”.

      As for the overall: I put a lot of weight on the final outcome being “seriously hung” to borrow a wonderful phrase, with LabLibSNP being the only viable government. And not a small amount of weight on this being true in spite of Con getting most votes and most seats.

      • Anonymous says:

        Given how badly the Conservative coalition went for them, the Lib Dems might not be interested in another coalition, even with a party they share more values with. The SNP and UKIP don’t seem interested in coalitions; it’s not to their benefit to get wrapped up in Westminster politicking when much of their identity comes from being against the prevailing political establishment. The most they might do is negotiate a deal on a referendum in exchange for confidence and supply votes. So I think it will be a minority government of whoever gets the most seats out of Labour or the Conservatives.

        • Salem says:

          I could see a minority Conservative government with a supply agreement with the DUP (as they did with the UUP in 96-7) surviving for a full term, but that requires the Conservatives being very close to a majority themselves. Otherwise, I think no coalition means a second poll.

          That’s why I think Labour are playing a high-risk game trying to ‘de-capitate’ Clegg.

        • Adam Casey says:

          If the Lib Dems don’t want a coalition what would be the point of them standing? Sure, this coalition hammered their vote, but they don’t care about votes. They care about implementing policy. To do that you need ministers.

          • Salem says:

            You might equally argue that if the Lib Dems truly cared about implementing policy, they’d join the Labour or Conservative Party and work from within.

            Any sensible explanation for why the Lib Dems exist as a party and act the way they do has to take into account the idea that (1) they are playing a long game (2) they enjoy taking a stand and (3) they are not very interested in being held responsible. All of these make it very possible that they might not want to form a coalition after the coming election, at least on terms that would be acceptable to a major party. After all, their predecessors didn’t form a coalition in 1974 or 1977, when they had ample opportunity to do so.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think it’ll be much like the elections in Ireland; God alone knows who we should vote for since they’re all useless but the sitting government may squeak back in.

      I imagine the Conservatives will hang on, maybe with the help of a few independents or fringe parties. I can’t see Labour managing a comeback (who can bear to contemplate Milliband as Prime Minister?) The Liberal Democrats will suffer the usual fate of the junior party in an unpopular coalition government and be (relatively) destroyed at the polls. May be some ‘protest votes’ cast for UKIP. Outside of England, it’s hard to forecast the effect the failed independence referendum will have in Scotland; I suspect the SNP will suffer, but will Labour pick up their voters or where will they go?

      • Muga Sofer says:

        >I think it’ll be much like the elections in Ireland; God alone knows who we should vote for since they’re all useless

        Someone should probably do something about that.

    • haishan says:

      This year’s election seems unusually ripe for tactical voting, with the two major parties plus UKIP and Lib Dem all commanding >10% in polls of many constituencies. As such, I’d urge more skepticism than usual of statistical models. That said, you should retain your usual amount of skepticism of pundits. My meta-prediction: betting markets will outperform any single model or pundit. (I realize this isn’t exactly going out on a limb, but still.)

      • Adam Casey says:

        Bonus factor making tactical voting even more important: Single constituency polling for the first time in GE history.

    • kaninchen says:

      A majority government seems highly unlikely. Based on the data at, I give greatest credence to a situation in which Labour and the Tories have roughly equal numbers of seats and any ruling coalition requires at least three parties for a majority. The most natural coalition would be Labour + SNP + Lib Dems, but even that won’t be very stable. I would not be surprised if we have another election within 12 months in such a scenario.

      If there is a second election, I think the Tories will benefit – one would expect political chaos to help the party of order and stability.

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      People who follow UK politics, what are your predictions for the general election?


  9. Ian James says:

    I’ve been meaning to post in one of these open threads for a while. I ordered some MealSquares in early December. I returned from a trip on January 2nd to find–after a few weeks of anticipation–they had finally arrived in the mail! I tore open the package, set my first square on a plate, and proceeded to have a bite of what might be the single most atrocious piece of “food” I’ve ever tasted. Now, I’m a Soylent early adopter, so I wasn’t expecting this thing to taste “good” by any ordinary definition. Still, I was completely unprepared for the rubbery texture (as if they had thrown a bit of astroturf in the microwave to soften it up a little) and pungent prune juice-like flavor. I kept eating until I finished the square, hoping with each bite that I would somehow “adjust” to the taste. Not only did the adjustment fail to occur, a horrible aftertaste lingered in my mouth until I finally washed it out with some ice cream.

    As I’ve said, I approached this from the perspective of a Soylent early adopter trying to figure out whether multiple nutritionally complete foods could have complementary places in my diet. In particular, I’m not crazy about carrying Soylent around with me in a water bottle–it goes bad after several (eight? ten?) hours out of the fridge, and even before that, it’s fairly unpleasant when warm. The solution turned out to be, not MealSquares, but Soylent brownies. I bake them once or twice a week and carry some around at all times. Eating two or three of those (along with a cup of tea) is just as good as a glass of Soylent or a conventional meal.

    That said, I think MealSquares are a fine idea in principle, and I hope the company can iterate their product into something nutritious and palatable. But unless the batch I got was a complete fluke… I think it’s too early to be advertising, guys.

    P.S. If anyone else is curious about the brownies, I think Lee Cauble’s recipe is an excellent starting point, but in my version I reduced both the sugar and the cocoa powder from 1/2 cup to 3/8 cup (6 tbsp). This makes them less of a dessert and more of an everyday food, which reflects how I use them. Also I found that adding 2 tbsp coconut oil gave them a “fudgy” texture. You’re welcome, I guess? There are long odds that anyone else cares about this… then again, if anyone did it would probably be SSC commenters, right?

    • Glen Raphael says:

      I found mealsquares vaguely tolerable after forcing myself to eat several of them. But just barely. The first one was the worst – truly disgusting – and the next two weren’t much better.

      Mealsquares are MUCH better at room temperature than fresh from the refrigerator. There are two reasons for this: (1) the coconut oil gets waxy when cold, (2) the chocolate chips lose most of their flavor when cold. However, at room temperature the coconut oil makes it *even more sticky* which is an annoyance – you have to eat it with a fork or pick it up wrapped in a paper towel or plastic bag to avoid sticky fingers.

      • AR+ says:

        I’ve found the new fluffier version to be best when heated up.

      • Vaniver says:

        Mealsquares are MUCH better at room temperature than fresh from the refrigerator.

        I will offer a counter-recommendation: try them straight from the fridge, at room temperature, and heated up in the microwave. You will probably have strong preferences for one of those, and it is likely to disagree with others’. (I strongly prefer them straight from the fridge.)

    • AR+ says:

      Hmm, maybe try another one from a different pack? I remember several months back that one of them had these bad tasting gooey parts that I attributed to early-development bugs.

      I find it odd that different people have had such wildly different reactions, from “these are good,” to “it tastes like… food,” to ” single most atrocious piece of ‘food’ I’ve ever tasted.” I thought maybe I was just weird but I gave my mother one and she liked it to, so I guess it’s just a really polarizing food.

      Though… how long was your trip? Remember that these things currently have a shelf-life closer to fresh fruit than commercially available energy bars, especially if unrefrigerated. If it arrived in December and sat in your mail box for a couple of weeks, they might simply have spoiled.

    • Elissa says:

      I did find that, after eating them every day for a week or so, my perception of the taste had very noticeably shifted from “I really don’t like this,” to “I really don’t mind this.” Which is still not great, obviously, but ultimately the extreme density and dryness were more offputting to me than the taste.

    • drunkenrabbit says:

      What was the point of meal squares supposed to be in the first place?

      • AR+ says:

        As I understand it, nutritionally complete whole food w/o the trouble that this would normally require.

      • John Maxwell IV says:

        You could imagine many attributes a food item could be rated on: prep time, nutritional value, taste, cost, etc. MealSquares is an attempt to do very well on the “prep time” and “nutritional value” dimensions while scoring OK to good on taste and cost. But beyond that, we’d like to offer people a sort of “default food” they can eat for the most mundane 1/3 of their meals, removing some of the mental overhead associated with figuring out what they’re going to eat.

        (We’re trying to communicate these benefits on our homepage, but it’s possible we could do this better… if anyone wants to offer feedback, either here or via our contact form, I would love that.)

        • Shenpen says:

          I have an idea for you. Since a lot of people could do well to lose some weight, they should be eating less than their daily calorie requirements, and it would be better if this default meals would provide as few as possible calories, so that they can allow more calories to sneak into their normal meals.

          So I recommend making a calorie reduced version.

          But think it over because it may turn out to be a fluke. There is a chance that most of your customers are rather thin – because your whole business idea seems to be that it is for people who don’t really like eating in general, don’t take a lot of pleasure out of it, but prefer to be healthy. That is pretty much the opposite of the typcial psychological profile of obese people.

      • Eli says:

        Your question presupposes that there actually is a point.

    • John Maxwell IV says:

      Hi Ian, MealSquares cofounder here. We had a bad batch around a month ago and I’m wondering if you might have been affected. Would you be interested in receiving a free sample of our latest iteration to help us determine what’s going on? If so, you can reply to me via our contact form using whatever email address you got your order confirmation email at (and also send us whatever your preferred mailing address is if it has changed).

      (Apologies if you were indeed affected by a bad batch. We try to make it clear on our website that we are a beta product… quality control is one of the many dimensions that we’re currently trying to improve on as a company. If anyone else thinks they might have been affected by a bad batch, please contact us using the email address you used for your order.)

      • Vaniver says:

        I was curious if that was the case- I had a pack that was so bad a month or two ago that I almost canceled my subscription because of it, and then every pack since has turned out to be fine.

      • vV_Vv says:

        What did this ‘bad batch’ imply other than a bad taste, I may ask? Were the ingredients in the wrong proportions? Were they spoiled? Did you get some sort of contamination?

        I’m asking because you advertise your product as something people are supposed to consume as staple food, therefore if there are quality problems there could be significant health issues.

        • John Maxwell IV says:

          I’m asking because you advertise your product as something people are supposed to consume as staple food, therefore if there are quality problems there could be significant health issues.

          Understood; that’s a reasonable concern. In this case, the bad batch was caused by incorrect ingredient ratios (we’re not sure on the details).

      • Ian James says:

        OK, I’m impressed that you guys are trying to make it right. I’m contacting you now.

    • zz says:

      By “early adopter”, do you mean that you bought soylent in the Kickstarter phase, or were you DIYing it before Rob had started making noises about commercializing it? I ask because if you’re in the latter category, I have a lot of trouble thinking you switched to the commercial product, which has implications in whether the soylent brownies will work for me, since I believe my DIYed mix is both cheaper and better-sourced than the commercial one.

    • Brandon Berg says:

      Aren’t some of the nutrients in Soylent (e.g. vitamin C) destroyed by heating?

    • Princess_Stargirl says:

      I have ordered several rounds of mealsquares and none of them ever had a “pungent prune taste.”

  10. Jiro says:

    Obviously the statement about Multiheaded repaying the money to effective charities is intended to forestall the argument “wouldn’t it be, by your own utilitarian reasoning in other posts, better to send the money to effective charities rather than to Multiheaded?”

    I’m not convinced it really does forestall that, though. That same reasoning would suggest that if we lend the money to some better cause (perhaps microloans to poor third worlders), wait to get paid back, and then immediately donate the amount paid back to effective charities, that would still be better than lending the money to Multiheaded, and having the amount paid back go to effective charities.

    (It would also suggest that nobody should just donate to effective charities; they should always lend the money, get paid back, and then donate it, thus getting two uses out of the money.)

    Perhaps Scott should just bite the bullet and admit that nobody actually has moral values that are equivalent to utilitarianism, and say that we should lend money to Multiheaded because Multiheaded is someone we know, if not well, at least more than we know a random third worlder. Of course, that would lead to people spending money on themselves and their families instead of on effective charity, and even preferring their own countrymen over foreigners, and that’s terrible.

    • Elissa says:

      See, when we were talking about Ialdabaoth, I included a tangent about how, no, this isn’t the same as effective charity, but here are some other reasons you might want to spend your money this way, and by the way purchasing fuzzies is totally allowed. Which made the appeal kind of verbose, but now I feel reassured that it was necessary. (Did you complain about this when Scott recommended buying books or earplugs?)

      • Anonymous says:

        Jiro did not bring up effective altruism out of the blue, but because Scott implied that this is effective altruism. Which he did not about earplugs and books. This tells you nothing about the hypothetical in which you provide no disclaimer on Ialdabaoth.

        • Elissa says:

          Jiro did not bring up effective altruism out of the blue, but because Scott implied that this is effective altruism.

          How do you figure? I don’t see that implied anywhere. He just didn’t explicitly disclaim it like I did.

          • Anonymous says:

            Multi intends to pay as much as possible forward eventually with donations to effective charities.

          • Elissa says:

            …that does not imply that giving money to Multi is effective altruism. It didn’t imply that when Ialdabaoth said the same thing, either. It’s still kind of nice, right?

            (srsly ‘tainted altruism’ is such a stupid bias)

          • Anonymous says:

            OK, if Ialdabaoth said the same thing, then the only difference is the disclaimer. My last sentence was wrong.

            I stand by my first two sentences, but I regret writing them because they add nothing to Jiro. I should have reread him and realized that.

    • AR+ says:

      I don’t believe in EA so giving money to my in-group doesn’t cause me any problems whatsoever.

      Kinda confused, though. I thought, “oh, hey multiheaded needs money. I suppose I can help out,” and then realized I had no idea where that impulse came from. I’m certainly adjacent to multiheaded in a social sense, but I haven’t talked w/ her very much at all. Best I can figure is that it’s the effect of reading so much of her back and forth as an active participant, not even w/ her but just in the conversation happening around us, that it feels kind of like how it might if everyone in the thread was hanging out in person. In that case, it wouldn’t seem weird at all that there would be some sense of community towards someone you’ve almost never even talked to one-on-one.

      But it does seem weird because we weren’t there together in person, and indeed she may not have read any of my stuff, or if she did she hated all of it and I had no way to gauge her reaction (except those times where she makes her reaction… explicit), and it’s not like she could tell when I was reading her posts or tumblr, so rather than it being like I was hanging-out and listening, it’s more like either ease dropping or being a member of an audience. Feels vaguely stalker-ish to even think of her as “somebody I know.”

      And then of course there’s also the problem of whether I should be actively funding communist immigration to the West, but in the end I don’t think that was a real factor in the decision.

    • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

      Perhaps Scott should just bite the bullet and admit that nobody actually has moral values that are equivalent to utilitarianism

      Or perhaps we’re not all perfect moral beings who are consistently able to live up to our moral ideals despite our feelings, biological urges, etc etc etc.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Do you think that giving money to Multiheaded is a moral failing ?

        • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

          It’s not a moral failing in the sense of being actively bad, but if you look at it from a strictly utilitarian perspective, then it is morally suboptimal, because you could (probably) generate more utility by donating that same money elsewhere.

          I’m not discouraging people from donating to Multiheaded, though. Quite the contrary; I did so myself. I was merely pointing out that I don’t think Jiro’s attempt to use this as an argument against utilitarianism works.

          • RCF says:

            It’s not an argument against utilitarianism, it’s an argument against the proposition that rational reflection on one’s moral values culminates in utilitarianism.

          • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

            I still don’t think this case works to make that argument. For instance, I can rationally reflect on my moral values and decide that I shouldn’t illegally download TV shows, but I might still do it anyway, because how else am I supposed to get Top Gear when I live in the States? Uh… that’s just a hypothetical example, of course…

            Anyway, returning to the point, I can rationally reflect on my moral values and decide that utilitarianism is the system to which they best conform (or vice versa). But that doesn’t mean I’ll be a perfect utilitarian. Am I missing something?

        • Elissa says:

          It’s a moral failing in the same way that buying books Scott recommends (instead of borrowing them from the library, say, and donating the money to AMF) is a moral failing. Only less so, because there’s a pretty good chance that Multi will ultimately pay your donation forward.

    • Anonymous says:

      See also “why our kind can’t cooperate”.

      >It would also suggest that nobody should just donate to effective charities; they should always lend the money, get paid back, and then donate it, thus getting two uses out of the money.

      Moneylending *is* a thing people do to increase value, and when you lend without interest you are basically saying “Your well-being is “interest” enough for me”, except for the whole thing where you still get mad if they don’t pay you back because they can’t.

      So, if you think the “good” done to Multiheaded is worth sacrificing what you’d gain on interest, it’s still a good idea. Not *necessarily* better than microloans, mind you, but still.

      Also, philanthrolocalism. There is an argument that any charity done to a person you somehow know is superior to charity done to strangers from a risk/reward perspective, because you have reduced risk in the form of hyper-detailed understanding of what that money is doing. I don’t know if I buy it, but it’s an argument that exists.

      • llamathatducks says:

        The argument in your last paragraph, slightly modified, is a big part of why I insist on donating to local charities even though money spent locally is less “effective” than money spent abroad. I’m still donating to strangers, but these are strangers in my culture whose needs I can come reasonably close to understanding and whose perspective on the work done by the charity in question I can pretty easily find out, so I feel rather more confident than with faraway charities that the help is helping in a way that people want to be helped.

        (Another reason is that I selfishly want my city to be as good a place as it can possibly be, which includes helping people survive and thrive in this city.)

        • If you are interested in doing the most good, you don’t necessarily have to understand the needs of the people you are helping; what you need to have is evidence that your money will accomplish more if donated to the charity in question than it will if donated elsewhere. And it is unclear why, once you factor in other sources of evidence, such as randomized controlled trials, having a better personal understanding of locals should on balance give you stronger reason to help this group of people. I’d also say that we should discount the evidential force of arguments that support conclusions that we want to believe on independent grounds. Acknowledging that you have selfish reasons for helping locals in your city should make you distrust, to some degree, that these are precisely the people you should also be helping from an altruistic perspective.

      • Anonymous says:

        CS Lewis made the virtue ethics argument that helping those far away while neglecting those you actually see and know made your benevolence mostly imaginary.

    • SFG says:

      You people are trying too hard. You don’t need logical excuses to give an unfortunate transgendered Russian money, just do it because it makes you feel good. 🙂

  11. rsaarelm says:

    The last few posts have had pingback notices coming in from blogspam sites, might want to block those somehow.

  12. nico says:

    So I really enjoyed this SSC post about Singer on Marx.

    My question: can anyone recommend (or produce) a similar piece of writing about Edmund Burke? Main main questions are:
    1) Of the obvious things that Burke said, which only become obvious after Burke said them?
    2) I understand that Burke was “wrong” about a few things (class structure comes to mind), but I can’t tell if those were things he put his money on, or just an artifact of translating things 200+ years into the future.

  13. Red, Grey, and Blue says:

    Hoping I can get some help reconciling my predominately Blue/Grey views with a single conspicuous Red belief: abortion.

    Life-threatening and dangerous pregnancies are perfectly fine; that’s just math. Morning-after pills and very early abortions also seem acceptable, because zygotes and undeveloped embryos seem indistinct from sperm on the personhood-scale. But given that brain development begins as early as 5 weeks of pregnancy, I’m not sure where we decide to draw that line.
    Arguments from “parents who get abortions are parents who can’t afford children, so it’s saving them from a bad life” or the Freakonomics argument that abortions lower crime rates sound creepy and eugenics-y, and not at all in line with Blue/Grey values as I understand them.
    I’m not familiar with prenatal development other than what I can learn from the Wikipedia article, so if there’s a compelling case from biology, I’d love to hear it.
    The strongest argument I know of is from Women’s Rights, where you don’t get to control the life of a young women by forcing her to have a child, and adoption/foster care systems (at least in the States) don’t seem strong enough to completely fill that gap. My problem here stems from the fact that we are taking away rights from the more marginalized group in favor of the comparatively well-off. To be clear: women have certainly been treated unfairly by society up to this point, and measures still have to taken to address that. It just seems like doing so at the expense of a group with literally no representation is dangerous.

    My motivation for this post comes from the fact that on almost every other issue, the Blue/Grey position seems intuitive and intelligent. The most likely explanation I can think of here is that I’m doing something wrong, and I’d like to know what it is.
    Context: I was raised Catholic, but am now atheist. Arguing against abortion from the concept of sin seems stupid.

    • Dinaroozie says:

      One direction you can come at with this is to draw an analogy with someone requiring an organ donation. Suppose I cause a car accident, and though I’m unhurt, someone else is at death’s door and requires a kidney. It seems to me that most people are intuitively uncomfortable with me being compelled by law to give up my kidney, even though the other person will definitely die without it, giving up a kidney is a comparatively non-deadly thing to do (though it has risks), and arguably they’re in this situation because of me. Would you be comfortable with the law compelling me to undergo surgery and give up my kidney in this scenario? If not, what makes that different to you than compelling someone to undergo a risk to their health (pregnancy/birth) so that someone else might live? I’ll note that people might think I’m being a dick by refusing to give up my kidney – they just don’t want the legal system forcing me. I believe there are at least some people who hold a similar view regarding abortion, and I don’t know where that falls in the red/blue/grey continuum.

      Another possible line of argument, though one that likely lots of people find horrible, is the idea that killing people is bad not because ending a life is fundamentally bad, but because of the suffering it causes them and those left behind. Once someone is born, it becomes impossible to kill them without being 100% sure that you’re not hurting someone else, but before they’re born you’re arguably in the clear on that. You can probably tell that I find this argument pretty poor but it’s another possible angle.

      • Menno says:

        If not, what makes that different to you than compelling someone to undergo a risk to their health (pregnancy/birth) so that someone else might live?

        Giving up a kidney is not analogous to pregnancy. Once your kidney is gone, it is permanently gone. There’s no biological mechanism to return you to a pre-donation state.

        While pregnancy has risks and certainly interferes with someone’s daily life for several months, it’s not the case that being pregnant is permanently altering*.

        You also have the difference that the other person in the accident made a decision that put them there. This isn’t to blame them, but their actions even indirectly led to their situation. A fetus has no agency whatsoever, no actions, no decision making capability. And on the other side, while your actions in driving the car led to the situation, it’s not expected or even truly foreseeable. Heterosexual sex leads to pregnancy. That’s the biological function.

        *Yes, pregnancy does cause some permanent changes to a woman’s body and there are non-negligible risks. But again, it’s a normal process unlike removing a kidney.

        • RCF says:

          “Giving up a kidney is not analogous to pregnancy. Once your kidney is gone, it is permanently gone.”

          You are committing the all-too-common error of thinking that “analogous” means “exactly the same in every single aspect”, rather than “having similarities that are pertinent to the current discussion”.

          “You also have the difference that the other person in the accident made a decision that put them there.”

          Not central to the hypothetical. We can imagine that the “car accident” consists of someone driving their car into a house and injuring someone in the house.

      • John Schilling says:

        If you were convicted of a crime, in this case reckless driving, which resulted in an innocent person being left with zero working kidneys, I don’t think I would have much problem with you being ordered to deliver one healthy kidney in restitution.

        Pragmatically, I think the situation comes up rarely enough that it’s not worth the bother of changing the legal code to deal with it, and if someone did propose such a change I’d wonder whether they had something else in mind.

        But infanticide is anything but rare; for reasons ranging from getting a good night’s sleep for the first time in six months, through six-figure financial payoffs and up to the grand eugenics of crime control, killing innocent babies is frequently a tempting expediency. We have two practical Schelling points against widespread infanticide; conception and birth. Both have real problems, but it’s clear that the nuanced versions involving embryonic neural development are a recipe for endless strife.

        Pick your unsatisfying solution.

        • Gbdub says:

          It’s obvious why birth turned into a Schelling point, but it strikes me as a pretty arbitrary one – does a premature birth count? What about induced labor? The difference between a 9th month fetus and an infant seems mainly a matter of location, whereas a pre-conception sperm/egg is fundamentally different from an embryo.

          And as far as compelling women’s bodies, it seems that we’re perfectly willing to compel her to care for the infant after it’s born (unless she formally puts it up for adoption, which is easy immediately after birth but more complicated later) – if that’s truly your objection how do you reconcile the two? Yes, pre-birth the compulsion is literally within the woman’s body, but compelling 18 years of guardianship and care seems pretty arduous as well. Again the distinction seems primarily one of location rather than form.

          • Creutzer says:

            It’s obvious why birth turned into a Schelling point, but it strikes me as a pretty arbitrary one

            That’s kind of the very nature of a Schelling point.

          • Nita says:

            I haven’t seen any political demands for elective abortion of 9-month fetuses. Have you?

            (unless she formally puts it up for adoption, which is easy immediately after birth but more complicated later)

            She can make an actual choice after birth, though. Not the “consenting to drive is consenting to die” kind of choice she “made” by having sex.

            I’m still unhappy with the current system of compulsory parenting, though, because it seems that some parents make their unwanted children extremely, traumatically miserable.

          • Gbdub says:

            @Cruetzer – my understanding is that a Schelling point MAY be arbitrary but doesn’t have to be. We’ve sort of established a third Schelling point of fetal “viability”, but that’s vague and shifting. “Conception” seems like the least arbitrary of the available Schelling points.

            @Nita – you’re right of course regarding post-birth choice in adoption. What I was mainly trying to convey is that we aren’t absolute about bodily autonomy, particularly when there are external consequences. Better examples would be the restrictions on drugs, suicide, and now health insurance. So if we’re being consistent, “my body my choice” can’t quite be the whole argument. At least it’s not enough to totally assuage my squeamishness despite my theoretical support.

            As far as people pushing for late-term abortion, that’s definitely a contentious issue with people on both sides. Part of the Texas bill Wendy Davis famously filibustered was a ban on abortion after the 20th week. And the federal ban on partial birth abortion faced a serious Supreme Court challenge in 2007, being upheld on a 5-4 vote. Not quite 9 month, but there is definitely significant support for post-viability, late-term elective abortion.

            Finally, I’d add that while consent to drive does not imply consent to die in a car wreck, I think we’d have to conclude that a driver has consented to the risk of dying in a car wreck in a way that someone sitting on the couch has not, and it is therefore reasonable to hold the driver in some degree responsible for the consequences of deciding to drive.

            I think I’m steel manning anti-abortion more than I intended to.

          • Nita says:


            “Born Alive” is defined as the complete expulsion of an infant at any stage of development that has a heartbeat, pulsation of the umbilical cord, breath, or voluntary muscle movement, no matter if the umbilical cord has been cut or if the expulsion of the infant was natural, induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion.

            A human embryo has a heartbeat at the 6th week of gestation. According to “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act”, what exactly should be done after a miscarriage at this stage of development?

        • RCF says:

          It is my opinion that you have arguments that you think are relevant, but rather than presenting them, you are merely alluding to them, and that sort of behavior should be discouraged.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think this scenario is possibly flipping intentionality. Would you respond similarly to the following hypo?

        Suppose you’re going rock climbing with someone. Due to an incidental slip, your partner is hanging from a rope attached to you. The rope is caught around your leg. There is a legitimate chance of serious damage occurring to your leg, up to and including it having to be amputated (which can clearly also result in your death). You’re sufficiently high on the cliff that you know your partner cannot survive the fall.

        Are you morally allowed to cut the rope below you? Should you be legally allowed to? Does it matter if the situation arose because of an intentional choice you made or due to your negligence? Does it matter if the risk is to just your foot or your pinky rather than a larger body part or more vital organ?

        • Gbdub says:

          That still breaks down relative to abortion because 1) the fetus, unlike your climbing partner, had no agency in creating the predicament and 2) assuming a “normal” pregnancy, adoption is an out – sort of like if you’re hanging from the cliff, but you hear the inbound rescue chopper.

          Where it does work pretty well is that my sympathy is somewhat affected by how conscientious you were in selecting your climbing route and managing your safety equipment.

          I’m curious about this because I too find myself generally favoring minimal abortion restrictions on utilitarian grounds, but am squeamish about elective abortions beyond the first trimester or so.

          • Anonymous says:

            1) the fetus, unlike your climbing partner, had no agency in creating the predicament

            I’m not sure this matters. Regardless, feel free to come up with another hypo which embodies this but has intentionality running the right direction.

            2) assuming a “normal” pregnancy, adoption is an out – sort of like if you’re hanging from the cliff, but you hear the inbound rescue chopper.

            This hypo is responding to violinist-style arguments from bodily autonomy. The important feature of the analogy is the danger to your leg, which is analogous to the potential dangers of pregnancy. Adoption would matter in arguments concerning an individual’s obligation to provide continued post-natal care.

            Where it does work pretty well is that my sympathy is somewhat affected by how conscientious you were in selecting your climbing route and managing your safety equipment.

            I think that many people will likewise sneak in some sort of prior responsibility. If this matters, then it’s clearly not a ‘bodily autonomy > life of others’ conclusion. I’m not sure what it is (and I think you can make arguments where prior responsibility doesn’t matter), but we’re not in the region where bodily autonomy trumps all.

      • Anonymous says:

        “. Would you be comfortable with the law compelling me to undergo surgery and give up my kidney in this scenario?”

        False analogy. It’s the baby, not the mother, who undergoes the brunt of the abortion. Would you be comfortable with a law compelling any organ recipient to undergo surgery and give up the organ on the demand of the donor?

      • Matt says:

        I think where this fails is this:

        We know that when we drive we risk maiming ourselves or others. If you get into an accident and maim another driver, you put yourself into that situation, sure, but so did the other driver. A woman choosing to have sex knows she risks a pregnancy, but a fetus did not make any comparable decision to put itself at risk.

        • Anonymous says:

          We know the desires of the other driver (to not be involved in an accident). It’s nonsensical to say that a fetus desires being born, and that’s where the analogy breaks down.

    • mori says:

      A quick google tells me some dogs are as intelligent as infants. If you eat meat, you cause comparable deaths.

      • Richard says:

        I got a long comment about animal welfare below, but the counterargument about eating meat is that the alternative for the animal is not eternal life, but often a rather uglier death.

      • Anonymous says:

        How often do you think people eat dogs?

      • Cauê says:

        I’m sure you’ll get different results if you compare what’s being lost in each case in terms of future life experiences.

      • Deiseach says:

        I don’t eat dog (not knowingly, though after the horsemeat scandal, qui sait?)

      • BrowncoatJeff says:

        That would be comparable iff dogs were known to, in almost every case, grow to be as intelligent as an adult human if we refrain from killing it for 18 years.

        Also, I think from an intuitive, in-group loyalty, and evolutionary point of view there is a bright line difference in our moral obligations to member of our own species and members of any other species.

        • Matt says:

          I don’t see much sense in speaking of morals with species which are utterly incapable of recognizing them.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Most mammals do follow the same general set of behaviors as most humans do. ‘Recognition’ of ‘morals’, seems, well, a variety of phlogiston.

      • Shenpen says:

        The what? I think I need to find a name for this, this mistake is made so often. I will call it the Demand Fallacy.

        The Demand Fallacy is assuming that customers are responsible for unethical business practices of vendors, because they generate the demand for it. However, one could say just as well that customers buy those products because the supply exists. It is a two-way relationship, butcher sell meant because customer buy it, but customers buy it because butches sell, because it is offered, available, there. Butchers would not kill animals if ethical consumers would reject it, but also consumers were not able to buy meat if ethical butchers rejecting to do the work.

        The fallacy is assuming that butchers or other vendors are completely at the mercy of financial forces, if customers would want to buy baby meat or their own left hand, they would have to provide that, too, because they desperately need money. This is not actually so. It is not horribly hard for butchers to find some other job. In fact, finding a different source of income sounds easier than giving up your favorite foods. Money is fungible and does not matter much where it comes from, but only steak tastes like steak. (Let’s assume the butchers are a not actually enjoying their job. Shudder.)

        Since there is a mutual causation, the majority of the responsibility falls on those who actually do the killing: the butchers. The customers have a limited responsibility.

        Thus, eating meat does not cause the death of animals. Killing animals to make money off the meat eaters, is what causes the death of animals.

        This is my rebuttal of the Demand Fallacy, or the blame-customers-first fallacy.

    • Richard says:

      The thing is that immediate and easy access to abortion has been tried out in just about all of Europe and it turns out it doesn’t lead to a large increase in the number of abortions, but it leads to a lot safer abortions. From this side of the pond it seems like a no-brainer.

      • Eh? Abortion laws in Europe are generally more restrictive than those in the US, as most Western European countries have mandatory waiting periods (which are rare in the US and have sometimes been found unconstitutional) and limit abortion to the early weeks of pregnancy (unlike the US).

        • Richard says:

          Right, sorry about my rather ill advised use of the word “Europe”. After some digging, I should have said something like “Northern Europe and most of the former eastern bloc, but definitely excluding anything catholic and especially Ireland which appears to be a raging stone-age misogynistic hellhole.” I will let my self out and continue that particular rant over at ozys place.

          Anyway, the actual ethical point I was clumsily trying to make and that still appears to be valid was that there will be abortions whether you like it or not, and until you can change the demand side they might as well be safe abortions. Much like prohibition really.

          The actual figures I wast talking about are valid for Scandinavia, where the number of abortions after legalisation were roughly the same as the numbers of botched knitting needle attempts before legalisation, but it turns out that this happened in the ’60s which by coincidence is when the pill became available so those numbers are probably irrelevant.

          • Harald K says:

            After some digging, I should have said something like “Northern Europe and most of the former eastern bloc, but definitely excluding anything catholic and especially Ireland which appears to be a raging stone-age misogynistic hellhole.”

            No, this would not be enough. You’ve missed MLD’s point: Even perfectly protestant, perfectly northern, non ex-Soviet, non-hellhole and feminist-friendly countries like mine (Norway) do in fact have significantly stricter abortion laws than the US/UK.

          • Deiseach says:

            Ah yes, the backwardness of my country, that we have not yet permitted abortion on demand! Fret not, Richard, your dreams of a secular paradise on earth shall soon be realised, since once more the abortion campaigning is revving up, our present government already passed a bill permitting limited abortion (and yes, the usual suspects have already attacked it as not enough and called for even more liberalisation) and any day now, we will have legislation along the lines of the U.K. (that’s mainly where we crib our legislation from) and then, oh happy happy days to come! When we shall be as delightful a paradise as the U.K. and the U.S.A. and never no more shall unwanted pregnancies be a thing! Every child shall be a wanted child! No more will social workers for cases of abuse, neglect and the like be needed!

            (Of course, I’m long enough in the tooth to remember when all this was promised to us if only we had legalised contraception. Or divorce. Or civil partnerships. Or – well. Any day now, that secular paradise is just around the corner!)

            Yes, it’s horrible being a woman living in a “raging stone-age misogynistic hell-hole”, but somehow I manage to struggle onwards, onwards to the sweet embrace of the grave.

            (Anyone here hear about the big huge riots and burning of cars in the streets and wholesale destruction of property and maimings, injuries and deaths by the uprising of the enraged masses upon our minister for health recently coming out as gay? No? EXACTLY.)

          • Mercy says:

            “Raging stone-age misogynistic hell hole” is pretty cruel, but between the “keeping a clinically dead woman hooked up to life support because she was pregnant” scandal, the “routinely sawing pregnant women’s pelvises apart without consent in order to encourage more births” scandal and the “actually straight up leaving a woman to die rather than aborting her doomed child” scandal, well, it’s not like it came out of thin air.

            It’s not really fair either that India is so heavily associated in people’s minds with gang-rape, or the British with pedophilia; I’m sure that this reputation is out of step with the lived experience of a great many people of britain, most of whom, perhaps even the majority, have never even met anyone whose childhood was ruined by an encounter with a Tory cabinet minister, Asian Minicab driver or beloved light entertainment figure. Nevertheless it’s hard to sympathize with locals whose first complaint is other people’s opinions, even if those are mostly rubbernecking. Some accidents are hard to look away from.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            (Of course, I’m long enough in the tooth to remember when all this was promised to us if only we had legalised contraception. Or divorce. Or civil partnerships. Or – well. Any day now, that secular paradise is just around the corner!)

            Unfortunately, instead we have seen the end of traditional marriage; now people are marrying their dogs and their trees. Women are bobbing their hair and wearing trousers. The moon landing hoax is beginning to crack; people are beginning to suspect things. Our young men and women are playing Dungeons and Dragons.

            Right here in River City.

            And women have the vote…. And they’re even starting to talk together in a movie.

          • Deiseach says:

            Damn it, I want to respond at length to what Mercy said, but this entire thread is already unwieldy to where it’s getting unusable, and I don’t know if Scott would be up for a separate post on a topic that would definitely invoke the forbidden “gender” if not “race” topics.

            Exceedingly short rejoinder: blame our crappy underfunded overstretched health system, not the availability or otherwise of abortion. You’re no doubt invoking the Savita Halappanavar case; there are grave deficiencies in Irish maternity services which go a lot deeper than simply “if only an abortion had been carried out in time!”

      • Jaskologist says:

        Is your contention that the abortion rate was lower in the US prior to Roe vs Wade?

        Over here, Kermit Gosnell was able to operate for decades, milling multiple people and having untrained people do procedures because pro-choicers made a conscious decision not to inspect his clinic.

        If you’ve heard of Wendy Davis, her sole claim to fame was opposing a bill which primarily simply required abortion clinics to meet the same health and safety standards required of places which do as little as give stitches.

        • Cauê says:

          Let’s try to avoid getting too tribal? This would just be an argument for holding all clinics to the same standards, and all it’s doing here is trying to attach negative affect to abortion.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Tribes are real things, though, and the they influence the actual shape of the debate. In the US, applying the standards of medical cleanliness to abortion clinics is actually controversial, and is actually opposed by Blue tribe. That is relevant when discussing why Blue tribers favor abortion, and addressing the claim that legal abortion leads to clean abortions.

          • Anonymous says:

            *cough* consequentialism?

          • Cauê says:

            “That is relevant when discussing why Blue tribers favor abortion, and addressing the claim that legal abortion leads to clean abortions.”

            I actually agree, but then one should address that when posting the shocking extreme examples.

        • Kevin says:

          If you’ve heard of Wendy Davis, her sole claim to fame was opposing a bill which primarily simply required abortion clinics to meet the same health and safety standards required of places which do as little as give stitches.

          Incorrect. The contents of Texas Senate Bill 5 include:

          Texas Senate Bill 5 is a list of measures that would add and update abortion regulations in Texas. These measures include a ban on abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization and recognize that the state has a compelling interest to protect fetuses from pain. The bill would mandate that a doctor who performs abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and to require that clinics meet the same standards as other surgical health-care facilities in the state. Another provision would require oversight of women taking abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486. The bill would not apply to abortions necessary to save the mother’s life or to prevent permanent bodily damage from a pregnancy.

          The claim that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks is not supported by evidence. It is just intended to reduce access to abortions, as is the hospital admitting requirement. Most hospitals in the South do not want to be associated with abortion clinics.

          • Harald K says:

            “The claim that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks is not supported by evidence.”

            I’m not familiar with the evidence in detail, but there might be some cultural factors affecting how plausible the evidence is judged in questions like these. Since for instance even Sweden draws the line for on-demand abortion at 18 weeks. In Norway it’s 12 weeks, extendable to 18 weeks on appealing to a medical board.

            Never mind pain, in week 20 you’re getting dangerously close to viability. I knew a woman who was prematurely born before what would have been the UK limit of 24 weeks, and she’s a healthy and well 30-year old today. A 20 week limit is far from extreme enough to insist there must be vicarious motives.

          • Irenist says:

            Kevin (and RCF):

            OF COURSE there’s hypocrisy in pro-life support for these laws. The end is to limit abortion, and the health requirements are just a means. But under the present SCOTUS regime, such hypocrisy is usually required. All that conceded, the regulations aren’t *entirely* groundless:

            1. 20 week bans, regardless of one’s views on fetal pain, just seem to be red states testing what they can do after Gonzalez v. Carhart: they’re not *obviously* out of line with the current SCOTUS abortion regime, although of course YMMV.

            If upheld, such bans would still be far less restrictive than what prevails in Europe, even Scandinavia–as Harald K. mentioned–so they’d hardly put the U.S. red states outside the First World mainstream.

            2. ACOG, an obstetrical organization deeply opposed to SB5, complained that only 0.5% of abortions result in “major complications,” so the bill was unnecessary. Cite:
            However, if you (or your wife, mother, sister, or daughter) end up part of that 1 in 200 women, I imagine you’d want the doc to have admitting privileges, yes? So I think ACOG’s stat actually argues against their anti-SB5 position.

            3. SB 5 (a.k.a. HB2 in the Texas House) defines abortion clinics as Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs). Cite:

            That would make them subject to the parts of the Tex. Health and Safety Code that already regulate ASCs, already, before the bill, defined as any “facility that primarily provides surgical services to patients who do not require overnight hospitalization or extensive recovery, convalescent time or observation.”
            Cite: 25 Tex. Admin. Code § 135.2(5), online at:$ext.TacPage?sl=R&app=9&p_dir=&p_rloc=&p_tloc=&p_ploc=&pg=1&p_tac=&ti=25&pt=1&ch=135&rl=2

            What are some examples of ASCs? Well, according to the Texas ASC Society, their professional group, “the most common procedures [at ASCs are] cataract removal, colonoscopy, and knee arthroscopy.” Cite:
            So, I don’t know if Jaskologist’s “just stitches” is an exaggeration, but the gist is correct: surely vacuum aspiration and dilation & curettage are at least as much “surgery” as colonoscopy, yes?

            TL;DR: Jaskologist’s claim is correct: the ASC provision was the core of the bill, and it doesn’t take much in the way of “surgery” to end up regulated as an ASC.

          • Kevin says:

            Harald K: See, e.g., Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence. The difference between even week 20 and week 21 is huge when it comes to viability:

            Irenist: Jaskologist’s claim was that SB5 “primarily simply required abortion clinics to meet the same health and safety standards required of places which do as little as give stitches.” That is an incorrect summary of the contents of the bill, as shown quite plainly in my previous post. No amount of equivocation on your part will change the fact that the bill contained at least 4 distinct provisions, and Jaskologist deliberately chose to focus solely on the least objectionable one. Your edited post still offers no support for the claim that this provision was the “core” of the bill.

            Also, this argument is not persuasive:

            However, if you (or your wife, mother, sister, or daughter) end up part of that 1 in 200 women, I imagine you’d want the doc to have admitting privileges, yes?

            It assumes that abortion clinics receiving admitting privileges instead of shutting down is a possible outcome for this bill. The decision here is not between safe access to abortion or even safer access; it’s between safe access or no/unsafe access. Context matters.

          • Irenist says:


            Based on media reports, my impression has been that the ASC provision was at least tied with the admitting provision as the main bone of contention. But whether something is the “core” of a bill is subjective, so I’ll withdraw the claim.

            As for the context: sure, most hospitals in Texas don’t want to give abortionists admitting privileges. So maybe the clinic closes, the abortion doesn’t happen, and the 1 in 200 women with major complications don’t end up with major complications. Now, of course you’ll state that far more women out of any 200 will have major complications from giving birth and carrying children than from abortion. And you will be entirely correct. So, sure, context matters: conceded. But the law isn’t prima facie irrational for mandating admitting privileges–the complications do happen.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Tell you what, I am totally willing to alter my view that the “safe” part of “safe, legal, rare” is more than just rhetoric on the Blue side. Just point me to the legislation Blues have pushed or other efforts they have made to ensure that abortion clinics must follow the same health standards as other such medical centers (ASC, urgent care, what have you).

            I genuinely don’t think it’s out there, but I certainly haven’t performed an exhaustive search.

          • Irenist says:


            I think the main pro-choice argument is that, as the National Abortion Federation puts it, “Illegal Abortion is Unsafe Abortion,” i.e., that keeping abortion legal is in itself a huge contribution to safe abortion on their part. I don’t actually disagree: it certainly seems reasonable that legally regulated abortion will be far safer than black market abortion, just as legally regulated alcohol, narcotics and brothels are, AFAIK, safer than those under prohibition regimes (e.g., bourbon is safer than moonshine). My concern about legal abortion is that it’s unsafe (obviously) for the unborn child, not that it improves the safety of the mother killing her child. I’m perfectly comfortable conceding their “safe” argument in the interest of honest rational discourse. Here’s the NAF page I quoted the slogan from, with their supporting stats:

        • RCF says:

          “If you’ve heard of Wendy Davis, her sole claim to fame”

          Not her sole claim to fame.

          “a bill which primarily simply required abortion clinics to meet the same health and safety standards required of places which do as little as give stitches.”

          I have a high confidence that that is not the case, that some random person on the internet asserting it is insufficient cause for me to counteract that high confidence.

          “pro-choicers made a conscious decision not to inspect his clinic.”

          See above, regarding the proposition that this is an honest analysis of the situation.

          ” In the US, applying the standards of medical cleanliness to abortion clinics is actually controversial, and is actually opposed by Blue tribe.”

          And again.

          “That is relevant when discussing why Blue tribers favor abortion”

          Blue tribers support abortion rights, not abortion.

          • Deiseach says:

            RCF, even an association of abortion providers refused to permit Kermit Gosnell to become a member when he applied, his “clinic” was so appalling when they visited it.

            Now, I know feck-all about American newspapers and their biases. Maybe “The Washington Post” is a raging right-wing conservative misogynist homophobic racist classist publication. I have no idea. But they ran a series on the story back when it was breaking:

            When the clinic was first inspected in 1979, it had a medical director on staff who was a certified obstetrician/gynecologist. The certificate for approval after that inspection expired in December 1980, but the next “documented site review was not conducted until August 1989.”

            By then, Gosnell was the only doctor affiliated with the clinic. At that investigation, the state health department “noted several violations of Pennsylvania abortion regulations” but “based on mere promises to improve documentation and filing” granted the clinic approval for another 12 months. There was a similar investigation in 1993, with no result.

            There were no inspections of the clinic over the next 16 years. The health department received multiple complaints about the clinic, including one from a doctor who said that his patients “were becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases at Gosnell’s clinic when they had abortions there.”

          • Irenist says:


            Blue tribers support abortion rights, not abortion.

            Nope. Not anymore:

            Here, for openers, are a few ways we might change the conversation:
            8. Embrace abortion as a sacred gift or blessing.

            10. Honor women who decide to terminate pregnancies just as we honor motherhood.

          • Nita says:


            Here is what she says under “blessing”:

            An ill-conceived pregnancy is bad. An unintended pregnancy is regrettable. An abortion when needed is a blessing. It is a gift, a grace, a mercy, a cause for gratitude, a new lease on life.

            Here is what she says under “honor”:

            How often do we affirm and honor the wisdom of women who make difficult childbearing choices (abortion, adoption, waiting) so as to best manage their lives and their parenting?

            This is not at all what I expected after reading your quotes.

          • Irenist says:

            Fair enough, Nita. But those headings were the author’s, too. She actually wrote the words, “embrace abortion as a sacred gift.”

            Now, us orthodox Catholics get mocked for believing that “every sperm is sacred,” which (contra Monty Python), we most certainly do not. (A sperm is a mere gamete; life begins at the conception of a zygote.)

            But if I were to say that RH Reality Check (a respected pro-choice advocacy site) published a column opining that “every abortion is sacred,” I’d be denounced as some right wing loon. But look, they did! The days of “safe, legal, and rare” are waning fast in an increasingly radicalized pro-choice movement.

          • Nita says:

            I think you and the author have very different ideas of what “sacred” means. It seems that to her point is “the gratitude we feel about the possibility of escape from the abject despair of unwanted pregnancy is extremely intense and personal, like a spiritual experience”.

            Now, you can object that the word belongs to religious people and she’s using it incorrectly. But she is talking about abortion rights, like RCF said.

          • Anonymous says:

            Here’s another thing the RH Reality Check article says:

            We are, incredibly, faced with . . . a stunningly antagonistic debate about contraceptive technologies that could make as many as 90 percent of unintended pregnancies along with consequent suffering and abortions simply obsolete.

            ^Yes. Yes we are.

    • Wirehead Wannabe says:

      Well, I personally support abortion on the grounds that it’s morally equivalent to not conceiving a child in the first place. I would consider you to ask why you believe murder to be wrong. My answers are, in order from most to least important, “Because their family and friends will grieve, because people don’t like living in fear of being murdered, and because there’s a sunk cost associated with raising someone from a child then ending their life.” None of these problems apply to abortion, and birth is a strong schelling fence to prevent us from a slippery slope of killing toddlers and teenagers.

      • roystgnr says:

        The “sunk cost” answer sounds like a fallacy to me, and although the previous two answers don’t disallow abortion, they also don’t disallow a mass hobo grave in your cellar. (as long as you pick the loneliest hobos and kill them by surprise, which aren’t great mitigating factors to me)

        We’re left with “birth is a strong schelling fence”, which is much more defensible. There’s a continuum between killing a single-celled organism and infanticide, and the moral values we want to map it to are discrete, so there’s got to be a nonsensical discontinuity *somewhere*. The trouble is that once you’re willing to admit nonsensical rules because they happen to also be strong schelling fences, it turns out that “conception” also qualifies, so now everyone’s fighting again.

        • haishan says:

          And then people start proposing increasingly weak Schelling fences in attempts at compromise, which has the effect of turning the debate into a tug-of-war about THIS FENCE SHOULD GO HERE, WOMAN-HATER! NO, HERE, YOU BABY-KILLER!

          • Nita says:

            No, the precarious position of the fence is a good thing because it allows you guys to incorporate science and tech developments in future legal decisions.

            If you build really sturdy fences, eventually you might end up in the future equivalent of modern Saudi Arabia.

          • Brad says:

            >If you build really sturdy fences, eventually you might end up in the future equivalent of modern Saudi Arabia.

            Whoa now; your causality is all wrong. A strong theocracy might *establish* birth as the fence, but how does having the fence up – for any old reason – lead into theocracy?

          • Nita says:

            Well, in the good old days, people used religion to make fences more sturdy – “don’t even think of moving this fence, only an evil infidel would do that!”

            These days, we have internally coherent ideology and philosophical rationalization. And as soon as we persuade everyone that our fence is not arbitrary at all, but obviously in the only acceptable and logical place, the original reasoning will be forgotten. Our fence will cease to be a Schelling fence and become quite Chestertonian. And you know what people say about touching those…

          • drunkenrabbit says:


            Right, and now when people consider speaking openly about IQ’s relation to race and gender, people shout “don’t even think of moving this fence, only an evil sexist/racist would do that!”

            These days, we have internally coherent ideology and philosophical rationalization.

            Ha. Modern ideology isn’t any more or less coherent than medieval theology, they’re both internally consistent systems with different priors.

          • Nita says:


            when people consider speaking openly about IQ’s relation to race and gender, people shout “don’t even think of moving this fence, only an evil sexist/racist would do that!”

            People don’t just consider speaking about it — they actually do speak about it.

            If by “people” you mean public figures (which is an important subset of people, of course), then yes, there is an issue.

            I don’t support shouting people down, although I’m sympathetic to the concern that scientific findings could be used to “justify” unjust policies (see: history).

            Modern ideology isn’t any more or less coherent than medieval theology, they’re both internally consistent systems with different priors.

            …and that’s exactly what I’m saying.

          • Nita says:

            [“do speak about it” was supposed to be a link to Perceptions Of Required Ability Act As A Proxy For Actual Required Ability In Explaining The Gender Gap]

          • drunkenrabbit says:

            …and that’s exactly what I’m saying.

            I see that now, I didn’t catch it before. Note to self, don’t drink and comment.

            People don’t just consider speaking about it — they actually do speak about it.

            I was referring to in-person, face to face. Obviously a lot of subjects get batted around online that are too sensitive for real life. Maybe my social circle is unusual, but most people I know would never poke the subject with a ten-foot pole.

      • Cauê says:

        Yes, you either have to beat the “friendless hobo killed painlessly in his sleep” scenario, or bite that bullet.

        • Andrew says:

          No, it’s already been done.

          “because people don’t like living in fear of being murdered”

          You can’t allow killing off hobos without making everyone live in fear of becoming a hobo, and then being killed. Everyone is a _potential_ hobo (though some more than others).

      • Jaskologist says:

        Schelling points make for terrible moral arguments, triply so when the point itself is highly in dispute, as it is here. How sympathetic are you to past societies which have variously designated foreigners, women, children, Jews, or blacks as non-persons? All of those are Schelling points; why would you expect the future to judge you any less harshly for your own?

        • RCF says:

          “Schelling points make for terrible moral arguments”

          What utter nonsense. Morality is all about Schelling points. “Theft”, for instance, is violation of the Schelling point of “these are the rules for who owns what”.

          “triply so when the point itself is highly in dispute, as it is here.”

          If there is not a consensus about the point, then it’s not a Schelling point. By point out that non-Schelling points are bad, you’re simply supporting the idea that Schelling points are good.

          “How sympathetic are you to past societies which have variously designated foreigners, women, children, Jews, or blacks as non-persons? All of those are Schelling points”

          “Don’t kill anyone” is quite clearly, from an objective standpoint, a better candidate for a Schelling point than “don’t kill any non-Jews”. I really don’t see how you think this supports your thesis.

          • Irenist says:

            “Don’t kill anyone” is quite clearly, from an objective standpoint, a better candidate for a Schelling point than “don’t kill any non-Jews”. I really don’t see how you think this supports your thesis.

            Agreed. So don’t kill anyone. Not even the unborn.

            Now, I assume you mean that birth is a better Schelling point than race. Sure.

            But let’s say you want to run an evil, exploitative slave economy. Skin color is a pretty convenient Schelling point to administer.

            Okay, now let’s say that you want to use people’s bodies as raw materials for biotechnology, without any pesky concerns about consent or human dignity or whatever. Fetal stem cell research, right? Very convenient Schelling point.

            I’ll be over here with “don’t kill anyone.”

          • Andrew says:

            “Don’t kill anyone” clearly doesn’t work if “kill” isn’t interpreted with some qualifiers. Obviously we should kill people who are currently running around with AK47s shooting into crowds when that’s the most effective way to stop them.

            The killing in such cases is, of course, incidental to some other objective (viz. stopping the killing spree).

            In the case of abortion there is also another objective to which killing the fetus is incidental (viz. preventing the would-be mother from becoming so).

            You can certainly argue that the latter objective is unworthy while the former is worthy, but you cannot object on the basis of an absolute opposition to killing unless you also adopt a pacifist stance with respect to various other forms of killing which are more-or-less universally accepted.

          • Irenist says:


            Everything you say is correct. I was attempting to turn RCF’s motto against RCF’s argument. But for the reasons you mentioned, the motto doesn’t work in any case.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          Can you give any examples of societies that designated the groups you mention as non-persons? Certainly these groups have been legally discriminated or considered inferior in some societies, but that’s not at all the same as being thought a non-person.

          • Irenist says:

            Deleted. See the comment below for the rewritten version.

          • Irenist says:

            @Jon Gunnarsson:
            Well, in the current SCOTUS legal regime around abortion in the U.S., the state has some interest in the rights of the unborn, which increase from the first (where they are minimal) through third trimesters. Thus, the unborn are treated not so much as non-persons as “sub-persons.” This, of course, is essentially the same concept as the Nazi shibboleth of the “untermensch,” or “subhuman.”

            Here’s Himmler on “Der Untermensch”:
            “Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal.”

            Now, “lower than any animal” sounds to me like the difference between “subperson” and “nonperson” is kind of just a semantic quibble. So there’s an example: the Nazis.

            BTW: The Nazis applied their subhuman category widely, to Jews, Slavs, gays, Roma, people of color, etc. They were uniquely ghastly. But the idea that some H. sapiens (the unborn, the brain-damaged) are less worthy of care and concern than “any animal” has not left us.

            ETA: Another expression the Nazis used a lot was “useless eaters” (unnütze esser)–the idea being that subhumans not doing slave labor in agriculture, coal mining, chemicals, or armaments weren’t contributing anything to the war effort. And since they weren’t people, the logical thing to do with these “useless eaters” was to kill them or starve them so the useful eaters could have all the food in occupied Europe, what with the Allied blockade-induced food shortages in the Nazi empire. Adam Tooze’s “The Wages of Destruction” book on Nazi economic policy (and its deep implication in the Holocaust) is the go-to reference here.

            Anyhow, it was all very “Freakanomics,” in a way–lots of economic benefits to snuffing out those subhumans.

            ETA2: Apparently RationalWiki has an article about conspiracy theorists who think the New World Order thinks we’re all unnütze esser or something. That’s not at all what I’m talking about. Just about Tooze’s analysis of WWII.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            I don’t think that fits. People who think of foetuses as non-persons (who can therefore be killed) don’t try to exterminate foetuses, or torture foetuses, or publish angry pamphlets portraying foetuses as vile and depraved.

            The Nazis didn’t think of Jews and other “Untermenschen” as non-persons, but rather as persons who are greedy, devious, traitorous, lecherous, etc. and therefore had to be opposed by any means necessary. No one can muster up this kind of hate for a non-person.

          • Jaskologist says:

            “It warn’t the grounding—that didn’t keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder-head.”

            “Good gracious! anybody hurt?”

            “No’m. Killed a n***er.”

            “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”

            The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

            (Feel free to use the term “subhuman” rather than “non-person.” It’s the concept that interests me, not the specific terminology.)

            (Also, the spam filter censored Huck Finn! I really should have expected that.)

          • Irenist says:

            @Jon Gunnarsson:

            As befits crazy murderous racist villains, the Nazis were ideologically inconsistent. They made a big deal out of the idea that their targets were subhumans, subjecting them to unanesthetized medical experiments, having to defecate in their clothes on forced marches, and other such dehumanizing, bestializing treatment.

            OTOH, the Nazis’ targets of course WERE people, so the Nazis went ahead and passionately hated them the way people hate their human enemies. This reveals an inconsistency in Nazi ideology, but doesn’t change the facts of that ideology.

            Now, you’re right that our society doesn’t get that worked up about unanesthetized cruelty to the unborn (including way past even the most conservative scientific estimates of when fetal pain is certainly possible), just as we don’t passionately hate the livestock we factory farm. In both cases, we torture out of indifference, not hatred. In that regard, our present regimes are perhaps rather more like the antebellum South, or various medieval and ancient societies, where lesser folk weren’t seen as enemies, just as disposable, and occasionally needing condign discipline regardless of whether one felt any passion about the ugly business. (Such passion being ungentlemanly in any case.)

            So sure. The Nazis at least saw their victims as human enough to be worth passionately hating, whereas we don’t even have that much regard for the unborn. You win, I guess?

          • Anonymous says:

            (Also, the spam filter censored Huck Finn! I really should have expected that.)

            Does it also censor Sherlock Holmes, because Watson habitually ejaculated at the breakfast table? And Jane Austen, whose characters often made love in public?

    • Muga Sofer says:

      I’m in pretty much the same position as you; and honestly, I have very strong suspicions that being anti-abortion is the “natural” Blue position. (Which is not the same as the true position, although I think it’s that as well.)

      The reason the Blue tribe is associated with being pro-abortion is coalition politics; pro-abortion campaigners successfully allied themselves with feminists, and pushed the idea that the anti-abortion position was analogous to the anti-gay position (that is, largely motivated by religion and gender roles), which got pro-religion and gender roles people to form an opposing coalition.

      This isn’t all that uncommon; libertarianism is also a clear fit for Blue values, but ended up being a major plank of the Reds. On the other hand, feminism has a history of allying itself with Red values that are eventually expelled (TERFs, that whole anti-porn thing, PIV-critical feminism, etc.)

      On the other hand, I think the … most appealing, if not the strongest … Blue argument on this front is the appeal to science-fiction values. Just like an alien or a robot is only counted as a person if it achieves “sentience” (the intelligence level of an adult human – roughly equivalent to a soul), so we should apply the same standard to our own infants.

      The obvious objection to this is that actually, we value our children a great deal even before they become adults, for obvious evolutionary reasons.

      The entire idea of “sentience” is a pretty clear attempt to simplify away our actual values into something easier to do utilitarian sums with (as I would argue the case of animal rights proves, but if you don’t buy that, then developmentally disabled people.) But it’s still very popular, especially among Blue-tribers.

      Some people have actually bitten this bullet and endorsed baby-eating. In particular, there are cases of abortionists trying “post-natal abortion”, which is fairly horrible. So … hey, that way lies consistency, folks, if you’re interested.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        Oh, and the best way to reduce abortion is to reduce the economic conditions that create it! Solve poverty, and you solve a lot of things.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Do we see lower abortion rates in blue states?

          • Nornagest says:

            Answer appears to be “no”. The highest rates in 2008, according to CDC stats, were in:

            Delaware (40.0)
            New York (37.6)
            New Jersey (31.3)
            Maryland (29.0)

            …and the lowest were in:

            Wyoming (0.9)
            Mississippi (4.6)
            Kentucky (5.1)
            South Dakota (5.6)

            All given annually per 1000 women. Wyoming’s is so low that I suspect we’re looking at bad data of some kind, but I’m willing to trust the others. I don’t think this is a straightforward matter of ideology — the highest-scoring states are strongly blue, but all the lowest-scoring ones but Mississippi are only middling red — but it isn’t economic either; Wyoming is rich per capita and South Dakota is middling, but Kentucky’s one of the poorest states in the Union and Mississippi is the poorest.

            (Let the record show that the strength of these results surprised me.)

          • LTP says:

            We must keep in mind the ease of access of abortion, though. It may be that many people travel from red states where it is hard to get an abortion (due to a mix of tending to be more rural and having the number of clinics being de facto restricted) to blue states where abortions are easy to get.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, on further investigation I’m pretty sure that’s what’s driving the Wyoming numbers: there were no abortion clinics in Wyoming in 2011 (there were three abortion providers), so most women in need of an abortion are presumably traveling out of state and being counted there.

            Similar stuff might be happening in some of the other lowest-scoring states. But I’d only expect this to mangle the statistics so much, and I still see what looks like demographic differences (and still don’t see obvious economic differences) if I throw out the lowest-scoring states.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m not sure about that. Rich countries have hugely varying rates.

        • Poverty is not the only cause of abortion– for that to be true, women would have to want to bear and raise every child they conceive and can afford.

          The stereotype when abortion was illegal was that better-off women would travel to somewhere that they could get a safe abortion.

          The truth is that not everyone wants children. Among people who want children, not all of them want a lot of children.

      • Nita says:

        “sentience” (the intelligence level of an adult human

        Either your definition of “sentience” or your definition of “adult” is extremely unusual. Pretty much everyone agrees that 5-year-old kids are sentient. I think cats and pigs are sentient.

        It’s still legal to euthanize your cat. I believe it’s unethical to euthanize a cat if someone is willing to take it off your hands and give it a good home. This is also true of most newborn children. But embryos cannot be adopted that way.

        Oh, and the best way to reduce abortion is to reduce the economic conditions that create it! Solve poverty, and you solve a lot of things.

        Well, then perhaps you should advocate for solving poverty, rather than for banning abortion?

        • Muga Sofer says:

          >Either your definition of “sentience” or your definition of “adult” is extremely unusual. Pretty much everyone agrees that 5-year-old kids are sentient. I think cats and pigs are sentient.

          >It’s still legal to euthanize your cat. I believe it’s unethical to euthanize a cat if someone is willing to take it off your hands and give it a good home. This is also true of most newborn children. But embryos cannot be adopted that way.

          You’re right about the 5-year-olds; although when people start setting out their definitions they tend to be excluded. That’s a problem with the definitions, though.

          But I think you’re unusual if you believe cats and pigs are exactly as much “people” as adult humans. (Though I’d argue we have a responsibility to look after cats (e.g. in shelters) until we can find them a home, no? That’s why most people have such strong objections to the fact most shelters euthanize pets. )

          It seems like you’re laying out a different ethical framework, though, rather than defending the “embryos aren’t people” argument? Arguing that actually, many people should be killed if we can’t improve their lives is different to arguing that killing and embryo isn’t really killing. (I think this argument is probably stronger, but less persuasive/popular; I’d be very interested to see the full version.)

          >Well, then perhaps you should advocate for solving poverty, rather than for banning abortion?

          I usually do, yeah.

          • Nita says:

            You’re right about the 5-year-olds; although when people start setting out their definitions they tend to be excluded

            I think you might be confusing sentience and sapience (people do that a lot), unless you think 5-year-olds lack subjective experience.

            But I think you’re unusual if you believe cats and pigs are exactly as much “people” as adult humans.

            I don’t believe that. I think human children surpass cats before they attain full personhood. So, an adult cat is less of a person than a human 2-year-old.

            You’re right, though — I am unusual in that I actually try to stick to “science-fiction values”, because they seem more fair than the alternative (i.e., “those who are more closely related to me should get more rights”).

            That’s why most people have such strong objections to the fact most shelters euthanize pets.

            I don’t think most people have such objections. For instance, look at the most popular reviews of a book arguing for no-kill shelters. And these reviews are by people who really care about animals.

            Arguing that actually, many people should be killed if we can’t improve their lives is different to arguing that killing and embryo isn’t really killing.

            It’s killing for sure, but is it murder? I’m arguing that it’s ethical to kill even a healthy human embryo if it’s unwanted by the person whose body it’s using. Because the only alternative we currently have is forced pregnancy and childbirth, which can be equivalent to torture.

            Now, if we collectively decide that people should be forced to donate organs or blood to victims of their traffic accidents, I’ll have to rethink my position.

          • MugaSofer says:

            >I think you might be confusing sentience and sapience (people do that a lot), unless you think 5-year-olds lack subjective experience.

            I was deliberately confusing them, because I’m using the term in it’s classic science-fiction sense.

            >It’s killing for sure, but is it murder? I’m arguing that it’s ethical to kill even a healthy human embryo if it’s unwanted by the person whose body it’s using. Because the only alternative we currently have is forced pregnancy and childbirth, which can be equivalent to torture.

            >Now, if we collectively decide that people should be forced to donate organs or blood to victims of their traffic accidents, I’ll have to rethink my position.


            I’m not sure what the analogy to euthanizing cats is, then.

          • Nita says:

            A cat, a newborn baby or an embryo depend on you for their survival. But you really, really can’t handle that right now. [In my actual ethical reasoning, I also consider the fact that the embryo is growing inside your body and manipulating your physiology, but we’ll skip it here for the sake of the argument.]

            (A) If you can find someone else willing and able to take care of them, you must transfer the responsibility to that person.
            (B) If that is impossible, you may abandon/kill your dependent.

            All babies in Western countries fall into case A, all human embryos currently are case B. Cats are a mixed bag.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Abortion is a necessary for other Blue positions to be viable.

        Unfettered sexual activity produces babies. In theory contraceptives should prevent this, but in actual practice you still end up with a lot of babies.

        And once you have a baby you can’t party it up anymore. You need to settle down and get to work, or, if you chose a mate poorly, get on the dole (but a child will still cramp your style).

        So, if you want to make sure people don’t get married young, but do have lots of sex, a baby is a problem. Remove the baby and you remove the problem.

        • Cauê says:

          I like this, but only if it’s clear we’re not talking about a conspiracy, but of the affect heuristic and policy debates feeling like they should be one-sided.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I don’t see how it’s conspiratorial. “X is good, and Y is needed for X, so Y is good” is perfectly normal reasoning.

            The conspiracy version is: abortion encourages women to make unwise choices which ultimately result in more unwed mothers, which means more people dependent on the state, which means more guaranteed blue votes. But even that could be reframed as a case of Molochian selection, where those who want more safety net *and* lifestyles which cause people to rely more on the safety net outcompete those who just want the safety net.

          • endoself says:

            How does that actually work as selection? Politicians who cause there to be more people relying on the social safety net benefit all politicans who support the social safety net about equally. You get more support for the social safety net, but the same amount of support for policies that increase the number of people dependent on in, ceteris paribus. Evolution requires differential fitness.

          • Think memetic evolution; you’re right that it does little to help one politician over another with similar views.

        • John Schilling says:

          This. To Blue Tribe, sex is the moral equivalent of a pick-up basketball game, something that all the cool people do because it’s cool and fun, and when you’re done the only consequence is or ought to be that you had a fun time with your cool friends. To Red Tribe, sex is serious business, intrinsically bound with love as part of the trinity – love, marriage, parenthood – that defines the greatest part of most people’s lives. Each sees the other side’s attempt to tie sex to their values as abhorrent.

          I’m a Red-leaning Grey in this respect; even if we conquer biology outright, there’s an emotional component to sex that insists on escaping any “just harmless fun” box you try to force it into. And, yes, for most people marriage and parenthood do trump all the wild oats you could ever hope to sow. But you’re welcome to try either way, so long as you’re willing to live with the consequences.

          Until we conquer biology, some of the consequences may look uncomfortably like dead babies, and Blue Tribe would be well-served by ways of addressing that which can’t readily be reduced to “because sexual freedom!”

          • Salem says:

            This is an extremely perceptive comment. By which I mean I agree 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Until we conquer biology, some of the consequences may look uncomfortably like dead babies, and Blue Tribe would be well-served by ways of addressing…

            And, just who do you think has been standing in the way of, as you put it, “conquering biology”? Who has traditionally been against access to contraception?

          • Sparky says:

            Just about 60% of women who get abortions in the US already have one child, and just a little over half of the women in the US who get abortions are over 25 years old. This suggests motivations that might be more inline with traditional “family planning” than living wild and free for a good chunk of those having abortions. I think that even if a more traditional sexual ethos were prevailing in the US, there would still be a place for abortion. It might be a much less tribal issue were this the case, arguably.

            (The above figures are from a study performed by CDC and the Guttmacher Institute back in 2008.)

          • Leo says:

            “Sex is a fun hobby; insisting it must be a big deal won’t make it so” vs “Sex is an eternal contract; insisting it shouldn’t be a big deal won’t free you” seem true of different people. I tend to call them sluts and prudes for short.

            I can’t think of any demographic correlates for that personality trait. Leftists (resp. rightists) tend to think being a slut (resp. prude) is morally correct, but I’m unconvinced it matches their actual psychological needs.

            That said, as Sparky mentioned, this seems only tangentially related to abortion.

          • drunkenrabbit says:


            There haven’t been any meaningful restrictions on access to contraception in decades. Clearly that wasn’t the conquest we needed.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            There haven’t been any meaningful restrictions on access to contraception in decades.

            Cost, side-effects, and permanency are, in effect, restricting wider use of current contraceptives. Side-effects and permanency are problems for medical research, and so is some part of the cost.

        • Kevin says:

          Unfettered sexual activity produces babies. In theory contraceptives should prevent this, but in actual practice you still end up with a lot of babies.

          Most unintended pregnancies occur due to a failure to use contraception, or a failure to use it correctly. The pill, condoms, and other short-term contraceptive options are highly susceptible to human error. Long-lasting contraceptives have failure rates from 0.5% (IUDs) to 0.05% (Implanon/Nexplanon). Large-scale adoption of long-lasting contraceptives would dramatically lower the number of unintended pregnancies and correspondingly the number of abortions.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Large-scale adoption of long-lasting contraceptives would dramatically lower the number of unintended pregnancies and correspondingly the number of abortions.

            As would (will) development of better contraceptives, and easier access to the existing ones (eg Brazil).

            Development of really convenient and affordable contraceptives has been found controversial, and not tried.

          • Jaskologist says:

            That may well be true, but it’s not the world we live in, nor the one we’ve had for the whole time abortion has been legal. Until such time as the contraceptives you describe really do become widely used, abortion is necessary to make the liberal sexual ethic possible.

          • Deiseach says:

            Like I said, I’ve been around for the “people are going to have sex anyway, that means babies, want to reduce or prevent unwanted pregnancy then permit contraception” argument.

            We got legalised contraception in Ireland. At the moment, I don’t think we can go any more liberal unless we start giving eight year old children in primary school implants.

            Still got a lot of unwanted pregnancies. Oh, you mean contraception is not a magic solution and when it comes down to it, you need to instill a sense of personal responsibility into people to make sure they use it correctly? Stop imposing your mediaeval religious bigotry on us, hater!

          • Kevin says:

            Yes, comprehensive sex education is a necessary part of contraception policy. I don’t think you’ll find many liberals who deny that. But again, a move to long-lasting contraceptives would eliminate most human error. There’s no way to use an implant or IUD incorrectly once you have it.

            I personally would support mandatory birth control implants for everyone at puberty, given the availability of contraceptive technology without significant contraindications (which we don’t quite have yet for women and, unfortunately, definitely don’t have for men). Making it a deliberate choice to be able to get pregnant would help change how society views sex and pregnancy.

        • Anonymous says:

          This is why Playboy has always been a major support of pro-abortion organizations.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          There is much truth in this, but I think you overstate some things. First, I’m not sure the single swinger partier thing is as central to blue values as you make it sound; I don’t think it’s all that rare to be thoroughly blue and consider that lifestyle a bad idea on pragmatic grounds. Second, I don’t know the stats but I’d bet elite blue contraceptive use is actually quite reliable. Lastly, your tone makes it sounds like a pro-life argument, but you can just as easily turn it sounds and say “banning abortion enforces red sexual mores”. I think that’s exactly what feminists do say…

          Also, experiment: is there a surprising amount of pro-lifism among PIV-critical feminists? An abortion ban would be a huge boon to their position, so if people are choosing convenient beliefs you’d expect a strong effect on the margins there.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I think the symmetrical case does hold up; banning abortion enforces red social mores.

            As for the rest, there are numerous Douthat columns on how the blue elite practices a far more conservative sexual ethic than they preach to the masses, who are less able to bear the costs of that lifestyle.

      • Cauê says:

        “Is it sentient?” (or “a human life?” or “a person?”) in this context is working too much like “is it a blegg?”

        We have this rule about not killing bleggs, but being ok with killing non-bleggs, and sometimes we get stuck arguing whether something is *really* a blegg, instead of considering the purpose of that rule, and what is being gained or lost by each decision in that particular case.

        • Nick T says:

          Tabooing a concept is qualitatively harder when that concept directly appears in your best current statement of your preferences. (Some rules are their own purposes.)

          • Cauê says:

            I expanded on this below.

            The concept is not in my best current statement of my preferences in this case, and I suppose you could say I’m trying to change other people’s statements.

    • As a utilitarian conservative, I agree with abortion on the grounds of the Freakonomics argument. I’m tired of the stark left/right divide on this issue and I do think there is room for middle ground.

      “parents who get abortions are parents who can’t afford children, so it’s saving them from a bad life” or the Freakonomics argument that abortions lower crime rates sound creepy and eugenics-y, and not at all in line with Blue/Grey values as I understand them.

      • Emile says:

        I also find that argument perfectly fine, and don’t consider “eugenics-y” as a point against abortion.

        • Jaskologist says:

          It overlaps with eugenics a bit, but really what you’re discussing is Pre-Crime, where the only punishment is death. If you are comfortable with executing people who are statistically more likely to commit crime, by all means, continue.

          Philip K. Dick would like to have a word with you, though. And maybe also the recent anime Psych-Pass.

          • Emile says:

            Nah, that only works if you count “killing a fetus” as murder; the whole abortion debate is about “where do we draw the line”, you can’t assume an answer to that. And the Freakonomics argument is one (more) reason to draw the line at a place that allows abortion, for pragmatic reasons.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Whether we count abortion as murder is the debate. Freakonomics isn’t side-stepping the debate, it’s just saying “if it reduces the crime numbers, we’re not going to count it as murder,” which can cut a lot of other ways.

            How do the Freakonomic “murder has reduced” numbers look if we count abortions as murders, incidentally?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            It overlaps with eugenics a bit, but really what you’re discussing is Pre-Crime, where the only punishment is death. If you are comfortable with executing people who are statistically more likely to commit crime, by all means, continue.

            Is that really the argument? Crime is increased by poverty and stress within families, and many families may be tipped into that by an unwanted child.

            Or, more abortions and fewer crimes may both be effects of a common cause, such as leftist policies including more welfare and social services.

          • Emil says:

            [Freakonomics argument] is just saying “if it reduces the crime numbers, we’re not going to count it as murder,”

            No, “it reduces crime numbers” is one reason against counting abortion as murder, but no-one’s claiming it’s a *sufficient* reason.

            I don’t think you’re arguing in good faith here (or even arguing for what you believe as opposed to just poling arguments in things for the sake of being contrarian or for the lulz or something).

      • Anonymous says:

        Alas, it’s wrong. The crime drop they point to can not have been caused by legalizing abortion, because one can commit crimes at any age. To prove that it did, you would have to show crime dropped in the cohorts culled by abortion, rather than the older ones.

        And it’s the other way round. The culled cohorts had a higher crime rate, offset in the total by the decline in the older cohorts.

      • Anonymous says:

        That arguement has some holes. Look up Steve Sailor’s reply.

    • Anonymous says:

      Would the same then not apply in medicine research and social aid? If we were to accept that the unborn are as valuable as the born, and need someone to speak on behalf of them, wouldn’t we have to put a huge amount of resources into miscarriage and stillbirth prevention- research, medical care, excellent living conditions for pregnant women?

      In my experience, blue efforts on behalf of the unborn tend to go into campaigns and work in maternity care and miscarriage care.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m not going to touch this becuase it’s toxic. Example: recently had to unfollow someone on Tumblr because they reblogged a pro-choice post re: anti-abortion legislation in (I think) Michigan, and the amount of frothing at the mouth about “foetuses” as if human foetuses were some kind of horrific alien tapeworm infestation, including “helping non-sentient foetuses at the expense of born sentient people” had me going “I can’t read this because I’m going to explode with anger, start yelling insults, that’s not going to help, and the attitude on show is so entrenched there’s nothing I can do to change it”.

      So unfollow it was.

      What would you say to, or how would you handle, someone who says your anti-choice attitudes are a lingering effect of the Catholicism which you haven’t adequately shaken off, and you just need to educate yourself more, elevate your consciousness, and unless you possess a uterus shut your big fat mouth on the topic?

      • Nita says:

        Well, the humans in question are fetuses — more developed than embryos, but not infants yet. Tapeworms, on the other hand, do not have a fetal stage of development at all.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yes, but the tone was as if “foetuses” were some horrific invasive alien things not even tangentially human. It was like a less fun version of The Brood.

    • Loki says:

      Abortion is interesting as it’s one of the areas where my thinking is conspicuously un-Utilitarian, possibly, and it may approach the level of a Sacred Value. Basically, I have two hypotheses for why I believe what I believe (I am a largely-blue tribe lefty intersectional feminist):

      #1: While I seem to use utilitarian or at least consequentialist reasoning elsewhere, I actually consider bodily autonomy a Sacred Value. This explains why I feel that I would support legal abortion even if it were proven that a fetus is morally equivalent to a person – a person has an absolute right to decide who gets to be inside their body and may use deadly force to enforce this right.

      #2: I am actually using consequentialist reasoning, but I consider being forced to undergo pregnancy and birth against one’s will a form of torture that is worth more ‘negatons’ (imaginary opposite of utilons) than the murder of an unborn person. This may or may not be a Typical Mind Fallacy thing that stems in part from my own utter horror of the concept of being forced to endure my body warping with the weight of an unwanted living thing growing inside me, making me feel ill and sapping my nutrients until it bursts free in an hours-long painful ordeal, likely ripping one of my favorite body parts and leaving my body permanently scarred and marked by the experience, and also there is a risk it will kill me.

      #3 I am actually using utilitarianism correctly, and I believe the statistically likely value of the life of an unwanted child, if positive, is not large enough to outweigh the negative utility of forced pregnancy and birth.

      • Randy M says:

        So the rightist slur that abortion is sacramental to progressives is not, actually, that far off.

        • Anonymous says:

          The plural of anecdote is not data. That conclusion can not be accurately made from this single instance.

        • RCF says:

          Because of the phrase “Sacred Value”? You’re wildly misinterpreting that.

          • Deiseach says:

            From a 2007 speech by Katherine Ragsdale, Episcopalian clergyperson, and until recently Dean and President of the Episcopal Divinity School:

            “When a woman finds herself pregnant due to violence and chooses an abortion it is the violence that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.

            When a woman finds that the fetus she is carrying has anomalies incompatible with life, that it will not live and that she requires an abortion – often a late-term abortion – to protect her life, her health, or her fertility, it is the shattering of her hopes and dreams for that pregnancy that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.

            When a woman wants a child but can’t afford one because she hasn’t the education necessary for a sustainable job, or access to health care, or day care, or adequate food, it is the abysmal priorities of our nation, the lack of social supports, the absence of justice that are the tragedies; the abortion is a blessing.

            And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion – there is not a tragedy in sight – only blessing. The ability to enjoy God’s good gift of sexuality without compromising one’s education, life’s work, or ability to put to use God’s gifts and call is simply blessing.

            These are the two things I want you, please, to remember – abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.

            I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing – who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes – in my eyes, you are saints); the escorts and the activists; the lobbyists and the clinic defenders; all of you. You’re engaged in holy work.”

            “Blessing”. “Saints”. “Holy work”. If pro-choice people don’t want us knuckle-draggers to think they’re treating abortion as a sacrament, perhaps they should not use “sacred value” language that so easily confuses our low-IQ tiny brains.

        • Loki says:

          As I think Randy M. is getting at, I’m using ‘Sacred Value’ the way Scott has used it before when discussing morality.

          In this sense a Sacred Value is something you don’t think in rational consequentialist terms about because you consider it (or think you consider it) infinitely valuable, or at any rate more important than anything else. It’s generally a bad thing if you are Utilitarian, because it means you won’t support an action that compromises that value for something else, even in a case where that action, on balance, leads to greater positive utility.

          Also I never said I was the Hive Queen of the Blue Tribe either.

      • being forced to undergo pregnancy and birth against one’s will a form of torture

        In >90% of all cases, you cannot claim that you are undergoing pregnancy “against your will”, in the usual sense of that phrase, as it being “against your will” implies that it’s imposed by an external agent. But pregnancy is a consequence of having sex, and you knew this when you chose to have sex. People experiencing the consequences of their freely chosen actions don’t get to claim that they’re being compelled by hostile forces simply because they didn’t specifically intend those consequences.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          We do, actually.

          If you willingly walk down a dingy back alley where you know there’s a risk of rape – no, hang on, that’s unrealistic. If you drink alcohol knowing that there’s a risk someone might try to rape you while you’re tipsy, that is not considered consent if you do in fact get raped.

          • But the rapist is an external moral agent, not an intrinsic part of your biology. A pregnancy that follows sex is not like a rape that follows drinking, it’s like a hangover that follows drinking. A hangover feels really terrible, but you can’t claim that it wasn’t your fault.

            Unless you decide that the embryo is a free moral agent, and claim that an embryo implanting itself in your womb without your explicit consent is in the same moral category as a rapist. In that case, I’ll allow that your model is consistent, though it is also insane.

          • Nita says:

            an embryo implanting itself in your womb without your explicit consent is in the same moral category as a rapist

            How about a mentally ill rapist who can’t be held responsible for their actions? Is it justified to use lethal force against one, even if you wandered into his or her vicinity on your own free will?

            What if every rape not stopped by lethal force involved hours of pain, have a good chance of leaving your body torn* (like childbirth) and result in months of unpredictable after-effects (similar to pregnancy+postnatal recovery)?

            * all the way to your rectum with 4% probability

          • lmm says:

            @Nita That’s an angle I hadn’t thought of, I do appreciate the insight.( But I’m still going to go with no, you’re not justified in escalating to lethal force even in response to (non-lethal) violence)

        • Nita says:

          The external forces here are your physiology, the embryo’s physiology and the law that would punish you and anyone trying to help you.

        • youzicha says:

          Isn’t the external agent in this example the people who ban abortion?

          For an analogy, if you are a farmer and your harvest fails and you starve, it is perhaps a stretch of language to say that you starved against your will. But if the government forbids you from eating the food you grew and you starve, it sounds much more natural.

        • Dre says:

          If I understand what you’re saying I feel like this standard of “responsibility” isn’t applied anywhere else though. If I drive a car when its icy out, hit a patch of ice, flip the car and get injured, nobody denies that the injury was “against my will”. We take all sorts of risks all the time, to say that everybody has whatever happens to them “coming to them” seems like its giving up morality altogether. (I’m not sure if this will help me rhetocirally, but if you want an external agent you can take something like physics)

          Does it matter how much birth control the people were using? If they can push the probability down to less than a car accident on a trip to the store does that make it not “intended”? (These aren’t rhetocial questions, I’m just not sure I understand your standard of “imposed”)

          • John Schilling says:

            If you have zero functioning kidneys after the car crash, we may sympathize with the fact that you are going to be on dialysis for the rest of your life, but we’ll still frown on your going out and taking someone else’s kidney without their permission.

            If you wind up pregnant after the condom breaks, we may sympathize with the fact that you are going to suffer nine months of unwanted pregnancy and childbirth, but we’ll still frown on your killing a baby to alleviate your own suffering.

            Whether the underlying circumstances are described as “taking responsibility”, “against my will”, or “intended”, are mostly irrelevant. The one question that matters here is: Are you in fact killing a baby?

            If your answer is, “I don’t care, I’m justified anyway because…”, then you have set yourself a very high bar to clear.

          • If I understand what you’re saying I feel like this standard of “responsibility” isn’t applied anywhere else though.


            On the contrary, I feel like this standard of responsibility is applied everywhere, and abortion is the bizarre exception where people refuse to accept it. Personal anecdote: driving after a snowstorm, my car slid off the road and destroyed a road sign. I was not only ticketed for reckless driving, but I was also charged for the cost of replacing the sign, all this despite the fact that I didn’t intend to do any of that. And my punishment was just. As an adult, I’m expected to either have the skill to drive my car safely on icy roads, or to correctly judge that I can’t drive safely under those conditions and then to stay home.

            You’re expected to understand the possible consequences of your action and to exercise judgement and prudence, and you’re expected to pay for the results of your actions even if they weren’t what you intended.

          • Nita says:

            @Mai La Dreapta

            Presumably your punishment was entirely monetary, with no risk of long-term physical consequences?

          • haishan says:

            Presumably your punishment was entirely monetary, with no risk of long-term physical consequences?

            It would probably be an awful idea to do this, but if the state decreed that two strokes of the cane was the punishment for reckless driving, the argument still goes through. Singapore allows caning for “causing [an] explosion likely to endanger life and property,” which is something that you could certainly do unintentionally through recklessness. I personally don’t have a problem with judicial corporal punishment in general or with this Singaporean statute in particular, and I’d be kind of surprised if Mai did.

          • Nita says:

            OK, so let’s assume our respective countries have all turned into Singapore overnight (for the sake of the argument). Still, isn’t it a little unfair that only the woman is “punished” for reckless sex-having?

          • Randy M says:

            Drunk driving?

          • Mary says:

            ” but we’ll still frown on your going out and taking someone else’s kidney without their permission.”

            On the other hand, if you donated a kidney to someone else, under no circumstances whatsoever are you allowed to retrieve it without that person’s consent. Even if you were tricked or forced to donate, you do not get to chop up someone else’s body to reassert your control of your own body.

            To bring the analogy even closer.

          • Nita says:

            Mary, I swear I’d let my kidney go. But my uterus is still inside me, and the recipient of my unwilling “donation” is releasing dangerous chemicals into my bloodstream 🙁

          • LTP says:

            “If you wind up pregnant after the condom breaks, we may sympathize with the fact that you are going to suffer nine months of unwanted pregnancy and childbirth, but we’ll still frown on your killing a baby to alleviate your own suffering.”

            So women who are raped and are impregnated from that rape because they had a few drinks at a bar and got roofied should be forced to carry the baby to term? After all, they *knew* there was a non-zero chance of getting roofied, raped, and impregnated if they went to a bar, so they have to take responsibility.

            It’s absurd. If you double up on a condom and IUD, a woman is probably far less likely to get pregnant from consensual sex than by rape.

          • Anonymous says:

            You’re not having an operation done on your uterus. You’ve having an operation done on the baby.

            Anyway, the death rate of women who give birth or even have miscarriages is distinctly lower than that of women who aren’t pregnant.

          • Nita says:


            You’re not having an operation done on your uterus. You’ve having an operation done on the baby.

            If separated from my uterus, the embryo or fetus will die anyway. Would you have no moral objections to abortion if it involved removing the embryo completely intact and gently putting it on a soft blanket?

            the death rate of women who give birth or even have miscarriages is distinctly lower than that of women who aren’t pregnant

            Where is that from, and how is it relevant?

        • Drew says:

          pregnancy is a consequence of having sex, and you knew this when you chose to have sex.

          Similarly, bacterial meningitis is a consequence of going out in public.

          The problem is when you jump from “you accepted a risk of contracting meningitis” (true) to “you accepted a risk of contracting meningitis and an obligation to allow the disease to to run its natural, untreated course

          Those two are very different sorts of risk calculations.

          • Anonymous says:

            …and we’re back to the question of whether a fetus has the same moral standing as a bacterium. This is still going to be critical ground; the bodily autonomy argument can’t get us the entire way.

            Think also of the auto accident case above. You accept the risk of causing someone’s serious, lifelong medical condition as a result of your driving. With this, you accept the risk that you will be financially responsible for a settlement intended to treat this person for that condition. Sure, there’s a theoretical alternative – just kill them. But that’s assuming that it’s a moral option. We can’t assume it if it’s what we’re trying to show.

        • RCF says:

          “In >90% of all cases, you cannot claim that you are undergoing pregnancy “against your will”, in the usual sense of that phrase, as it being “against your will” implies that it’s imposed by an external agent.”

          If the government prevents you from getting an abortion, then the government is an external agent imposing its will.

      • Gbdub says:

        @Loki – if Bodily Autonomy is a Sacred Value, are you equally opposed to laws against use of certain substances, bans on euthanasia, mandatory vaccination, and involuntary commitment for mental illness? I think you have to be if it is truly sacred. I think you’d also have to be against mandatory child support / child care and the health insurance mandate, though these are arguable.

        If you are, I disagree but respect that position as defensible and consistent. In practice, a disturbing number of people speak highly of bodily autonomy as it relates to abortion, but then turn around and support bans on smoking and Big Gulps.

        • Pete says:

          Or, indeed, organ sales.

          The “it’s her body” argument is incredibly poor for a number of reasons. The first is, as mentioned, we already put many restrictions on what people can do with their bodies’.

          Secondly, even the staunchest libertarians will adhere to the rule that the right to swing my arm ends at your face. There is an implicit argument made that the foetus has no moral weight (or at least a moral weight that is significantly less than the moral weight of the woman’s bodily autonomy), which is defensible, but not obvious – certainly not obvious enough to simply assume.

          Thirdly, society as a whole is often being asked to pay for abortions. When this argument is tacked on, which it often is even if only implicitly, it stops being just a case of “your body.” It’s “our money.”

          Fourthly, the impact on society should be taken into account in the moral calculus, including, but not limited to, the effect on the Doctor who performs the operation (again, it’s not only your body, the body of the Doctor is being used as a tool for termination).

          I think, overall, the case for legal (and, in fact, freely available) abortion is fairly convincing, but this particular argument, as usually presented, is a poor one.

          • Nita says:

            the right to swing my arm ends at your face

            And the right to swing your placenta ends at my uterine wall?

        • Loki says:

          Most of those actually? I support voluntary euthanasia, legalisation of most recreational drug use, and I think involuntary commitment is done far too much, but ultimately that that (and mandatory vaccination) it can be justified – largely on the grounds that some people are in no state to consent to anything (just as drugged people cannot consent to sex), which means that me in a psychotic break or as a toddler (I’ve been both) was also not competent to choose to remain out of hospital, or to choose the risk of disease over vaccination. In these special cases, we have to act in the incapable person’s best interests as we’re choosing for them either way.

          I was however speculating on the reasons for my own beliefs rather than arguing for Bodily Autonomy as a Sacred Value. In fact, re: the guy below (I’d totally be cool with the ability to sell your organs if we could be certain it was entirely voluntary btw) none of these are arguments for abortion, they are all hypotheses for why I, as a moral intuition, do support legal abortion.

          The Doctor, obviously, is a consenting and in fact paid participant, so no moral qualms there, and your money already goes to protect freedoms and values you might not agree with (mine pays the guys who make disabled people do paperwork while starving until they kill themselves because then they don’t claim benefits). Less divisively, I consider my right to not give birth if I don’t want to about as important as my right to not get shot if I don’t want to, and ‘your’ money also pays for the cops.

          Since neither of us has the ability to move to a country where our taxes will be used exactly in accordance with our values, we have to just keep working to try and get our countries’ policies to reflect our values as much as possible.

          Oh and re: the moral weight of the fetus I would love it if someone tackled one of my other arguments where I pretty much did say ‘I might be okay with it even if it was killing babies’. 2 and 3 in my post certainly did attach some moral weight to the fetus anyways.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Sacred value? Coming at it (or perhaps sneaking up on it) from a different side. Just what a foetus/embryo/zygote ‘is’, is a religious issue. But for most USians, separation of church and state is … pretty sacred.

    • Anonymous says:

      The blue/grey side is generally in favor of reducing the *need* for abortion (through various policies, ranging from access to information about contraception to economic policies that help the poor/middle class). Even though they’re not thought about in this way, they are actually demand-side anti-abortion policies.

      You can also look at what happens in countries that DO prohibit abortion altogether: You have forensic vaginal exams, back-alley abortions, and women thrown in prison. You have women dying of complications from pregnancy (yes, even anti-abortion folks aren’t for that, but it turns out to be very hard to legislate around).

      • Menno says:

        Even though they’re not thought about in this way, they are actually demand-side anti-abortion policies.

        In that case, everyone is in favor of reducing abortion. No side thinks that their policies are detrimental to the poor and middle class. It’s a little misleading to only categorize one group as working on the demand side.

        • Nita says:

          In that case, everyone is in favor of reducing abortion.

          Uh… of course? An unwanted pregnancy is a negative experience no matter how soon and in what way it ends. What the “pro-abortion” side would like best is affordable, available and effective contraception, not more abortions.

        • Anonymous says:

          Empirically, everyone *is* in favor of reducing abortion. Just look at the reaction to the recent declines in abortion rates – both Planned Parenthood and anti-abortion activists want to claim responsibility!

          And of course one one thinks their policies are detrimental to the poor or working class. They just managed to think this in different ways.

    • Tarrou says:

      Ethically and legally speaking, there is a question that needs answering which then solves our abortion issue, and that is when life begins.

      The catholics have an answer, which I don’t necessarily agree with, but they have one. I have never heard a specific answer from the pro-choice side that made any sense at all. And this is bloody crucial. You MUST be able to distinguish “human” from “non-human”, at one single nanosecond in time, otherwise we’re just playing with gray moral risk areas.

      There are plenty of options, but no consensus on even how to go about deciding. You could go with heartbeat, brainwave activity etc. Some people say “birth”, but that’s imprecise. Some abortion procedures involve partial “birth”. Is it when the child crowns? When the cord is cut? Is there a right to abort if it was intended, but the child is accidentally delivered alive? These are all questions that need answers, but I fear we have only politics.

      Personally, I support abortion as a temporary expedient until birth control is perfected. If the pill were 100% effective, I could see supporting a total ban on abortion except in cases of rape. I hope that technology will eventually render this dispute moot, but for now, I take the moral risk.

      • Nita says:

        There’s some tension between making birth control more effective and believing that legal personhood* begins at conception.

        Currently, emergency contraception pills do not prevent implantation. I would gladly trade that “feature” for higher effectiveness.

        Also, your argument about birth not being instant works equally well for conception/fertilization – it’s not an instant event either.

        * “life” goes on continuously, all the way back to chemical evolution

        • Tarrou says:

          Absolutely, I’m not plumping for the catholic definition of the beginning of life.

          But since a fetus can survive outside the womb long before birth, there’s a gray area. We can certainly say that the life cannot possibly begin prior to fertilization, and cannot possibly be denied once it is completely detached from the mother, breathing, kicking and screaming. So the reality lies somewhere in that roughly nine-month term. At some point, one life becomes two, and the absolute right of a woman to decide what happens to her body (which I support) ends, and the duty of us all to recognize and support the rights of both lives begins.

          It is at that point, ill defined as it may be, that abortion is no longer a moral option. I do think pro-lifers have framed the issue correctly. It is primarily a problem of when a fetus becomes a person.

        • Deiseach says:

          My problem with the word-juggling around “sure, we finally accept that it’s life, even that it’s human life, but it’s not a human person“, is that this makes personhood not an innate and inalienable quality (you know, like those inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? that all persons, being created equal, possess?) but a status that may be bestowed and removed by law.

          I think we’re going down that route with euthanasia; arguments for mercy-killing on the grounds that Granny isn’t really herself anymore now she has dementia are skating close to saying “Granny isn’t a person anymore”.

          Personhood will not be something you possess as of right; it will be something you achieve and can lose, e.g. the Catholic theological notion of “the age of reason” in its secular form of “sentience” (as I’m seeing argued on here: are 2 year olds sentient? how about 5 year olds?) will become the deciding factor, and once you lose that (or are judged to no longer have the capacity for it), then you’re not a person and “killing no murder”.

          And then we widen the scope, and some persons are not persons because they never had the capacity for true sentience (come on down, Peter Singer?) and so to dispose (humanely of course! no unnecessary suffering!) of them is not murder and possibly not even really killing. It is the reduction of suffering and the increase of utility and hedonism.

          But if some humans can be life, can be humans, but are not persons, why limit it to grounds of age or severe defect?

          We’ve had examples in our history of defining certain groups as life, as humans, but not persons: rather they were chattel, or living tools. Why should we expect ourselves to escape? You and I are persons right now – as long as we continue in possession of our faculties. Let us lose them by physical or mental illness or damage, and we are no longer persons, and have no claim to the rights which formerly we enjoyed, or to the protection of the law; rather, we rely on the decision of ‘legal’ human persons as to whether our continued existence is a benefit or a burden.

          If we start nibbling away at the roots, who knows when the tree will fall?

          • Nita says:

            Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Deiseach.

            I understand what you’re concerned about. But the “safe” approach you’re defending — simply consider all human organisms of any shape legally and morally equal — feels just as wrong and dangerous to me.

            If I could save either you or a liquid nitrogen tank containing a frozen human embryo, I wouldn’t flip a coin. I would choose you.

            With modern technology, we can keep human bodies alive even after whole-brain death (and I mean death, not coma). Are they still people? Then doctors won’t be able to save some of the lives they’re now saving with organ transplantations.

            Should every miscarriage be investigated as thoroughly as a child’s sudden death? Were doctors like Barnett Slepian mass murderers who deserved to die? I don’t believe that.

            No matter where we draw the line, there will be some loss, some suffering. But I think we can both make the least terrible choices and prevent sliding down a slippery slope if we anchor our idea of personhood to something observable, like brain function and behaviour.

          • Irenist says:


            I’m with Deiseach, but I just wanted to say that yours was a thoughtful post, too.

          • Irenist says:


            If I could save either you or a liquid nitrogen tank containing a frozen human embryo, I wouldn’t flip a coin. I would choose you.

            I think it’s possible both to say that we’d save a person before a tank of embryos, and to say that the embryos are people.

            Let’s say there’s a fire and I can only save you or a tank of embryos. I’ll save you: you and yours would be far more harmed by your death than the embryos would be by theirs. You have a personal life narrative you want to continue, your loved ones love you, etc.

            Now, let’s say there’s a fire and I can only save you or a roomful of five hospice patients. I’m still going to save you, because those hospice patients were going to die soon. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think of the hospice patients as persons!

            Likewise, although I’d be comfortable saving you rather than the five hospice patients, it would be immoral for me to just walk into a hospice and shoot five patients.

            Further, although it would be right for me to save you instead of a tank of frozen embryos, it would, IMHO, be immoral for me (if I were female) to abort an embryo because I didn’t want any children.

            A lot of bioethical debate turns on whether the unborn or the terminally ill ought to be killed, and on whether they’re people. The “would you save 100 embryos or one adult” scenario is often used to suggest that us pro-lifers don’t *really* think embryos are people.

            I’m attempting to say that’s not right. Another example. My daughter is a person. But I don’t think she should have the right to vote, because she’s only a toddler.

            Similarly, I think the unborn are persons. But that doesn’t mean that they are persons who should have ALL the same care and concern directed toward them as born people. Just more care and concern than the present abortion-on-demand regime.

            Essentially, I look at being anti-abortion as being very broadly analogous to being a carnivore who objects to inhumane factory farms and won’t buy their meat. Such a carnivore isn’t saying nonhuman animals should have the same rights, just that “not being tortured” is a right they merit.

            Now, the carnivore still thinks it’s okay to kill nonhuman animals, and doesn’t (one would hope) think nonhuman animals are persons. So the analogy is very imperfect. But it’s meant to highlight that care and concern can be bounded.

            The unborn are people. But it’s okay for it to be legal to abort them to save the mother’s life. Hospice patients are people, but I’m not saving them instead of you. My daughter is a person, but she doesn’t get a vote. Etc. Personhood needn’t entail identical treatment.

      • Cauê says:

        “Ethically and legally speaking, there is a question that needs answering which then solves our abortion issue, and that is when life begins.”

        Wait, why?

        If you kill me, what’s being lost are all the life experiences I would have otherwise in the future. If you kill a fetus, what’s being lost is the exact same thing. Why does it matter where we set the boundaries of the mental categories in our maps?

        (there are good objections to what I said above and I consider this a complicated problem, but “when life begins” looks almost entirely irrelevant to me)

        • Tarrou says:

          In what way? One life becomes two. This is a pregnancy.

          A woman has the right to decide her own medical procedures, but doesn’t have the right to beat a nine-year-old to death with a spade. So deciding the point in time when one turns into the other is the crux of the whole matter.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, I think a lot of confusion arises in the abortion debate because of tendency to view the fetus as somehow part of the woman’s body, implying that eliminating it would be equivalent to electing to cut off one’s own pinky finger, which, while weird if you’re not a Japanese gangster, most people would not see as morally problematic.

            But, of course, the foetus has its own DNA, its own developing organs, etc. and everybody intuitively thinks of it as ANOTHER person growing inside a bigger person, not a big person growing an extra head, torso, etc. inside of themselves.

            As far as viewing the fetus as some kind of “invader,” I did find this article very interesting:


            Not that I’d say that this fact alone justifies abortion, but it does put a new perspective on things: tl;dr, the fetus IS, in fact, a foreign thing in the woman’s body which fights for resources and alters her chemistry, sometimes detrimentally, for its own benefit.

          • Cauê says:

            As I said above: there’s a rule saying we can’t kill bleggs, but we can kill non-bleggs. So the way we tend to approach the problem is asking whether it’s a blegg. And each one runs their blegg-sorting algorithms and get different answers, because we’re talking about something that’s round and blue but not furry.

            Then the ones who get “yes, blegg” treat the “don’t kill bleggs” rule as 100% applicable, and the ones who get “no, not blegg” treat it as 100% not applicable – several people on this post have stated the moral weight is the same as an animal’s, or not even that.

            We basically agree about all the facts of the matter, fighting only about “is it actually really a blegg though”.

            So, I got a problem with this.

            What we should be doing is taking a look at the rule, understanding what it’s supposed to do, and answer whether it’s applicable in that case. I don’t care if we call it a blegg, but does it contain vanadium?

            Why shouldn’t we kill bleggs? What does this change in the world that we’re trying to prevent? What is lost? What is being gained and lost with each decision in this case?

            Whether we put the fetus in the category blegg or not-blegg is a fact about our maps. If we care about the territory, that’s what we should be thinking about.

            The way I personally look at it, what is valuable about human life are our subjective experiences. If I were killed, what I (or rather future me) would lose would be the experiences that won’t happen but otherwise would. If the acting of killing a fetus would result in its future subjective experiences not happening that otherwise would, then this is a fact about the territory, whether we paint it as a blegg or a not-blegg in our maps (and it doesn’t change whether it’s “currently a blegg” or “not yet a blegg”).

            I don’t know if I managed to be clear, but I’m not sure in which direction to move. I’ll wait for some feedback.

          • Nita says:


            what is valuable about human life are our subjective experiences

            So, is there any difference between murder, abortion, contraception and abstinence under this approach?

          • Cauê says:

            “So, is there any difference between murder, abortion, contraception and abstinence under this approach?”

            Differences between murder and abortion are external to the one who’s dying – the sorrow of those who stay alive, effects on society, expectations, etc. From the point of view of the one who dies, I see no difference (if I die now, I will lose my future, it can’t remove the past, so the fact that I have lived a few years can’t mean *more* is lost than would have been if I had died in the womb).

            As for contraception and abstinence, I see a big difference when I weight it by probability. It’s not possible anymore to say that “this would happen with high probability if not for this action”. But I do feel confused when I think about this.

          • Jiro says:

            Caue: What do you do when you say “Okay, I won’t argue about whether it’s a blegg. I’m actually interested in whether it contains vanadium”… and then someone else comes along and tells you that ‘contains vanadium’ is almost as arbitrary a concept as ‘is a blegg’? It seems to me that questions like “is it sentient” are *already* an attempt to narrow ideas down to what people are really concerned with.

          • Cauê says:

            I think the question is insufficiently unpacked. We *can* still go further and ask “so what, why does that matter?”.

            For instance, we may ask if a comatose patient is currently sentient (although we don’t wonder whether current low brain activity means they’re not currently a person), but on deciding whether to kill them that’s not the important question. We ask how likely they are to wake up.

            That we don’t use the same standard on talking about fetuses, and instead wonder whether they are currently sentient (or human/alive/a person), is something to be explained.

            Perhaps the comatose patient is more blegg-like, or had started in the blegg bin to begin with, so we don’t focus on that and think in a more consequentialist way.

        • lmm says:

          I think the charitable interpretation of the grandparent is that we need to find the point in between deciding not to conceive (ok in descriptive ethics) and killing your child shortly after birth (not ok in descriptive ethics) at which these actions go from ok to not ok, despite all having the same consequences.

      • Peter says:

        I’m not sure I follow.

        It seems like we only need distinction when your moral system distinguishes “human” from “non-human”

        If we suppose that there might be an alien race with similar intelligence to humans and think about how we would react to them in terms of morality, we can see that this distinction is weird.

      • RCF says:

        “Ethically and legally speaking, there is a question that needs answering which then solves our abortion issue, and that is when life begins.”

        Life began in abiogenesis. The issue isn’t when “life” begins, and using the term “life”, when clearly something else is meant, shows a refusal to be precise that is highly indicative of a contempt for honest discourse.

        “I have never heard a specific answer from the pro-choice side that made any sense at all.”

        You ask a question that doesn’t make sense, and you don’t get an answer that makes sense? Surprise, surprise.

        “You MUST be able to distinguish “human” from “non-human””

        And now you’re switching from “life” to “human”. And there’s a difference between “non-human” and “not a human”.

        “at one single nanosecond in time, otherwise we’re just playing with gray moral risk areas.”

        Wow. Dichotomies don’t get much more false than that. We can have moral precision without having nanosecond precision.

        “Some people say “birth”, but that’s imprecise. Some abortion procedures involve partial “birth”. Is it when the child crowns? When the cord is cut?”

        You’re making nitpicking arguments that aren’t really controlling.

    • Anonymous says:

      What is the difference between the eugenicsy “it’s saving them from a bad life” and “adoption/foster care systems (at least in the States) don’t seem strong enough to completely fill that gap”? You seem to accept the second and reject the first, even though they seem identical to me.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Somewhere in the second trimester seems like a good compromise. Wikipedia tell me that many neurobiologists believe that the fetus feels pain somewhere around 24-26 weeks so that could be a good schelling fence.(I don't really know how to cite on this website

      However, I think the best thing that could happen is that the pro life and pro choice people keep arguing about the issue forever. If the pro-life side wins out then abortion could be restricted completely. If the pro-choice side wins, then they might decide that there isn't really that much of a difference between a nine month fetus and a newborn. Like you, I'm not exactly sure where the line should be drawn but the status quo doesn't seem too bad.

      • Anthony says:

        As I understand it, fetal viability at 23 weeks is effectively zero (less than 1%), while at 24 weeks, it’s somewhere around 30%. And while the second number has gone up a bunch in the past decades due to recent medical advances trying to save premature babies, the first number hasn’t, even though people are trying to figure out how to change it, too.

        So there’s something of a Schelling fence somewhere around 24 weeks, though it’s more like a line of fenceposts with nothing between them compared to conception and birth.

        (I also understand that the techniques used for abortions change at about the same level of fetal development, which makes for another possible Schelling fence by banning particular abortion methods. But my understanding of this is less complete, and I may be wrong about it.)

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, the start of the third trimester has always seemed like the most sensible bright line to me. It coincides with the point of viability and the higher brain development necessary to feel pain (source). The fact that basic brain development begins at 5 weeks doesn’t make a 5-week-old fetus into a person. Plenty of animals have brains of some sort, and they’re not persons.

    • Lane says:

      Blue Tribe mid-twenties woman here, in favor of legalized abortion but not 100% confident in my position. My usual reasoning:

      — Empirically, people are going to seek abortions no matter what; keeping them legal means they can be kept safe and regulated.
      — Pretty much everyone seems to agree that abortion is okay to save the life of the mother. However, I suspect that in practice, banning all but life-saving abortions would mean that doctors would sometimes err on the side of not performing them, even when they were necessary. If abortion were regulated to this extent, I think it would be impossible to avoid the deaths of some women. (Compare to this account of parental notification laws in action — *)
      — Making abortion illegal might risk a slippery slope to regulating/banning contraception again (one shouldn’t logically follow from the other at all, but conservatives seem intent on getting rid of both, so).
      — And, honestly, if abortion were made illegal, my life and the lives of most of my friends would be in more danger, our careers could be delayed or permanently derailed, we could be tied for two decades to partners who turn out to be unsuitable… our lives would just be much worse, and I’m not willing to put a country full of young women in that position for entities that aren’t sentient and can only be seen with a microscope.** Maybe this is selfish, but seriously, when I hear pro-life arguments, all I can hear is, “I’d rather sacrifice your life, and the lives of people you love, than compromise on principles that don’t affect me in the slightest.”

      I do think that abortion is probably immoral. I have an IUD because it seems to be the most foolproof form of contraception, and if I were to accidentally get pregnant I would strongly consider keeping it, even though it would mess up my life a lot right now. But I don’t think I have the right to make this decision for other people.

      *Reposted from the now-deleted Most relevant quote:

      Girls who can’t tell their parents about their abortions? After you pass a parental notification law, they still can’t tell their parents. Girls who can tell their parents? After you pass a parental notification law, they still tell their parents, unless they fall into an ill-defined legal loophole – then they tell their parents but still have to come get a bypass. A parental notification law accomplishes two things: 1) it takes the girls who can’t tell their parents and penalizes them for not being able to tell their parents and, 2) it takes a portion of the girls who can tell their parents and makes them go through the process anyway.

      **This is only true for the first few weeks, yes yes.

      • Tarrou says:

        This isn’t to discount your experiences, only to show that lived experience differs.

        Most of the abortions people I know have gotten are because the woman stopped taking her birth control, or somehow conspired to get pregnant for some other purpose.

        I served in the Army for some time, and it was extremely common for all the women in a unit to mysteriously get knocked up two months before a deployment, get to stay home, and have an abortion a week or two after the unit left. I’ve also seen a dozen or so abortions because the woman was trying to get a guy to marry them, and he wouldn’t.

        I perfectly sympathize with those whose upbringings are so strict they don’t have the information or the resources to plan their own sexuality. But how many people does that describe? All those women you are worried about catching pregnant, are they all in a cultish compound? Do they have access to a Walgreens? Because the generic pill is $12 a month, and condoms run about that for a sexually active male in a relationship (I may be projecting here). It’s not bloody hard to avoid. If a grown woman can’t avoid getting pregnant (excepting rape etc.) I see no reason why she would be capable of making any other decisions about her body.

        All these worries seem to me to be more based on movies about the fifties than modern reality.

      • Gbdub says:

        “Conservatives seem intent on getting rid of both [abortions and contraceptives]”

        Sorry to go off on a tangent, but this is a (sometimes intentional) misrepresentation of the conservative position that’s really messing up the debate (publicly, not so much here).

        Conservatives in general support the availability of contraception at a high rate. Even Catholics, who officially oppose all birth control, are much more wishy-washy where the rubber meets the road (pun intended).

        There are pretty much only two areas where “conservatives” as a whole, reject the blue tribe contraceptive position:
        1) conservatives oppose abortion and consider some contraceptive forms to be abortifacients. Blue tribes disagree with their classification.
        2) conservatives oppose forcing private organizations/corporations to pay for birth control.
        Neither of these positions strikes me as support for “getting rid of” contraception, unfortunately that’s the spin these positions get amongst the Blues, and it damages the quality of debate.

        Oh, there’s a third one: conservatives tend to support abstinence-only sex ed. But again, this is less driven by desire to eliminate contraception than a horrified reaction to the thought of their kids having sex. I think it’s an irrational position, but describing it as “denying access to birth control” is still uncharitable.

        • Anonymous says:

          Gbdub, the counterargument would be that those positions do, in actuality, result in reduced access to contraception and more unwanted pregnancies. When critics of the conservative position say that it constitutes “denying access to contraception,” they are talking about effects, not intent. I don’t agree that we should politely ignore this.

          • John Schilling says:

            Counterargument to what, exactly? Lane, Tarrou, and Gbdub seem to be debating the claim, “Conservatives seem intent on getting rid of [contraceptives]”. Lane’s words, arguing for that proposition. So at least some of the critics absolutely are talking about intent, not effect.

            And they are also explicitly talking about denying access or “getting rid of” contraceptives, not marginally reducing access by expecting the user to pay the costs. Because if those costs really are $12/month, which I believe is plausible in most cases, that’s an extremely marginal reduction in access, yet the language being used is that of outright prohibition.

            If you’re just going to argue that preferred policies of Red Tribe would have the unintended consequence of marginally reducing access to birth control, you’re not so much countering anyone’s argument as ceding about 90% of the position actually under debate. To me, this looks like classic motte-and-bailey at work, and I do expect Blue Tribe will keep trying to reclaim the bailey of “Red Tribe secretly wants to ban contraceptives outright; we need to crush Red Tribe utterly or all women will be reduced to nothing but breeding stock”.

          • Anonymous says:

            Counterargument to taking into consideration only their intent, for the sake of being charitable. (I mean, I don’t see jaskologist being particularly charitable wrt liberal positions. Do you have nothing to say about that?)

          • Gbdub says:

            Saying that anything that reduces the use of x is equivalent to getting rid of x is not merely uncharitable, it’s absurd.
            I would hope that we could agree that the following positions are all meaningfully distinguishable:
            1) all contraceptives are sinful and should be banned.
            2) I can tolerate contraceptives, but certain contraceptives are too much like abortion and should be banned.
            3) contraceptives should be legal, but I don’t want my tax dollars funding them
            4) contraceptives should be legal, and it’s okay to spend tax dollars providing them to those truly in need, but private organizations shouldn’t be forced to buy them for everybody.

            Really only the first one could be called “getting rid of contraceptives” – applying that label to 2 is a bit uncharitable but not horribly so, 3 and 4 have nothing to do with getting rid of contraceptives at all. Unless you want to argue that not supporting something as a positive right is the same as getting rid of it.

            In practice, I honestly see basically zero conservatives openly supporting position 1, so few that any chance of it gaining actual political traction is effectively null. As for 2, there definitely are a few conservatives supporting it, but still a definite minority. 3 and 4, yeah now you’re talking in terms that will get you somewhere with a lot of Reds. Basically, while I think a lot of Reds would prefer a world with less out-of-wedlock boning, the number willing to take political action against the Pill is a lot lower than typical Blue rhetoric would suggest.

            So if you want to say, “conservative policies would result in lower use of contraceptives, and that has negative societal consequences that we should care about”, fine, that’s a good debate worth having. But saying they favor “getting rid of contraceptives” is, in my mind not merely uncharitable but so warping of the actual conservative position as to actively prevent reasonable discussion on the issue, which is a shame, because I think the discussion of whether the state has responsibility and authority to mandate “free” contraceptives for everyone, vs. that responsibility falling in the people actually having sex, is an important one without a simple answer.

        • drunkenrabbit says:

          Regarding sex ed, it’s not entirely irrational, they feel that the school giving instructions on how to have safe sex is tantamount to endorsing premarital sex. In their eyes, its like responding to a school heroin epidemic by handing out clean needles and showing videos on safe injection. Abstinence-only sex ed attempts to treat the problem (highschoolers having sex) rather than the side effects (STDs and pregnancy).

        • RCF says:

          “2) conservatives oppose forcing private organizations/corporations to pay for birth control.”

          That’s the conservative framing. The liberal framing is that employment consists of employers giving compensation to employees, and employees then being free to do with that compensation as they wish, but conservatives want to set a certain class of compensation apart, and prohibit its use in the procurement of contraceptives.

          “Neither of these positions strikes me as support for “getting rid of” contraception”

          Letting the government decide what is “acceptable” contraceptive is certainly is far down the road towards “getting rid of contraception”. If liberals said “We don’t want to get rid of Christianity, we just think some denominations are evil, and we want those banned”, do you think conservatives would say “Oh, okay. As long as you don’t want to get rid of Christianity”? Also, birth control pills do not cause abortions, and I think that letting Catholics pretend that this is a matter of opinion is harmful to the debate.

          “In practice, I honestly see basically zero conservatives openly supporting position 1”

          Rick Santorum says that birth control is “not okay”, and thinks thinks that states should be allowed to ban it. Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry said that “we” (presumably, referring to Operation Rescue) want to make pill, IUDs, morning after pills, and the patch illegal.

          “so few that any chance of it gaining actual political traction is effectively null.”

          There was a time in this country when contraception was illegal in many states, and it wasn’t a change in popular opinion that changed that; it took a Supreme Court opinion to change it.

          “As for 2, there definitely are a few conservatives supporting it, but still a definite minority.”

          The Texas GOP platform opposes the morning after pill.

    • lmm says:

      If you’re thinking for yourself at all you should expect to have *some* beliefs that differ from your political affiliation (I refuse to use this colour tribe terminology). If anything I would say having all your beliefs align with your peers would be more worrying; it would suggest you were just following the groupthink.

      (And, fwiw, I think you’re probably right – and probably not as alone as you think. I’m a left-liberal but anti-abortion, and there’s another reply claiming a similar position.)

    • Anonymous says:

      Red-blue mosaic here.

      The issue is relatively simple to me. I don’t see newly born infants as ‘persons’ in the moral sense. My intuituion places their moral status somewhere similar to mice or rabbits. Inflicting pain or death on a mouse should only be done with significant justification, but the mouse’s life weighs less than say a cat or a pig’s, and much less than a human’s. Given the choice between keeping your pet mouse alive and undergoing a risky, expensive, and excruciating experience, I would not consider euthanizing the mouse to be immoral. Thus, I don’t consider abortion to be immoral.

      By this line of reasoning, why isn’t infanticide moral? Well, for starters, the continuation of the infant’s life is no longer conditioned on someone else experiencing childbirth. The big issue to me is uncertainty. At some point in the first few years of life, an infant obtains the mental qualities that make it a ‘person’. I don’t know exactly where this point is, but it seems certain to me that it’s after birth, so I choose birth as a conservative Schelling point to adopt.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        By this line of reasoning, why isn’t infanticide moral? Well, for starters, the continuation of the infant’s life is no longer conditioned on someone else experiencing childbirth.


        Thanks for a clarifying view, which points toward consequences.

    • Princess_Stargirl says:

      I am personally ok with infanticide for the first few days of life. So obviously I am fine with abortion. One can imagine a spectrum of infanticide norms depending on long after birth infanticide remains allowed. I think abortion is best thought of as being a mild point on this spectrum.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Why the first few days, and not after? If we ever get to that point, I’m not sure what conceivable argument you could use against infantcide in general.

        • Princess Stargirl says:

          Oh idk the right place to draw the moral line. The first few days is a conservative estimate. At birth is reasonable schelling point.

          In terms of morals I do not really think boolean morality is the best model. I think the “badness” of killing a baby monotonically increases as the baby ages. When the baby is only a few days old I think its probably only a little bad to kill the baby*. So killing the baby is a reasonable choice in many situations. As the child ages it becomes more and more bad to kill them. At some point it becomes VERY bad to kill them, but the “badness” increases smoothly with time imo.

          *Though its probably bad enough that you shouldn’t commit even first few day infanticide (or late term abortion) without a pretty good reason.

      • Matthew says:

        Interesting. I’m for abortion on demand, on the grounds that

        a)early-term embryos don’t have moral weight
        b)late-term abortions of convenience are a myth; I’m willing to take the word of women who seek them that they have compelling reasons for doing so.

        However, I’m not okay with infanticide, not because of some magical change at the birth canal, but because birth removes the bodily autonomy argument from the calculus.

        I find the argument “You must bear that foetus to term even if you don’t want it, because someone else will adopt it” repulsive, but I also find the argument “You should be able to terminate that newborn that is no longer inside your body, even though someone else would adopt it” repulsive. Once the kid’s born, the people who want to take care of it have a stronger moral claim than the person who wants to kill it, and more DNA in common doesn’t change that.

        • Princess Stargirl says:

          I agree if you can easily give the child away you should do this instead of killing the child. So in our current society I do not think infanticide is ok in most cases.

    • Lesser Bull says:

      My guess is that your beliefs are more consistent than your compatriots think.

      As I’ve become more Red, I find myself becoming less pro-life than I used to be.

    • Dale says:

      I recently wrote a long post on the Effective Altruist perspective on abortion, considering the ways that standard rationalist / effective altruist beliefs either support or undermine standard arguments about abortions. It was pretty well received on LW and the EA forum.

      It’s too long to quote here, but in very brief summary of a couple of the arguments, though I go into many more in the article:

      Moral Uncertainty implies assigning some credence to fetuses being morally valuable, and even if low this can dominate QALY calculations.
      Replacability implies aborting a baby and replacing it with another later in time is ok.
      Animal Rights implies larger moral circles, which increases the probability they include unborn.
      Xrisk means caring about future people who haven’t even been conceived yet.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I just read your piece and it was very good. My two cents: I think the fact that the fetus is a potential person should be given more weight, although I don’t believe it works by itself. One more animal isn’t going to change the world, another person might.

    • blacktrance says:

      I think the better question to ask is this: why should fetuses have rights? Suppose abortion really is harmful for fetuses – that by itself doesn’t imply that it shouldn’t be legal. While there’s an advantage to be gained by cooperating with adults by recognizing their rights (i.e. restricting ourselves in what we may do to them), which is why we should do it, there’s no similar advantage for restricting ourselves in our dealings with fetuses, which is why it’s instrumentally rational to not give them any rights.

      This also works as an argument against animal rights.

      • Wrong Species says:

        It also works as an argument against protecting small children. Where do you draw the line?

        • blacktrance says:

          I don’t know where the best place to draw the line is, but I support legalizing infanticide.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Are you so willing to support infanticide that you allow 4 year olds to die if that ends up being the logical extreme?

          • blacktrance says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by “the logical extreme”. But as I said, I don’t know where I’d draw the line.

          • onyomi says:

            To blacktrance and anyone else who supports infanticide… uh, why?? Assuming the newborn isn’t somehow so horribly disabled as to preclude a healthy life of any sort, this seems obviously immoral to me.

            I mean, have you seen a newborn? It seems obviously to me to be a little person, and that killing it would be murdering a person. I’m aware that some ancient cultures were okay with infanticide, but then, some ancient cultures were also okay with a father killing an eight-year old for disobeying him.

          • Nita says:


            Well, I’m not a true member of the babykiller coalition, but…

            I mean, have you seen a newborn?

            They look something like this, I guess? And all they do is sleep, scream and nurse (except the ones who haven’t figured out how to suck yet).

            If anyone deserves human rights because of how they look, it’s these guys.

          • onyomi says:

            Well I certainly would favor banning hunting of primates. I’m morally inclined toward not eating any mammals, though my love of bacon is thus far too strong.

            But I think the “potential for rich experience” factor must carry some weight. The newborn may not have a rich inner life yet, but it is still very obviously a baby human. A baby human may be stupider than your dog, yet we place more value on the life of the baby human because we know it has a very high likelihood of developing into something much more self-aware than the dog.

            Taken to the extreme, this would seem to preclude all abortion, since any fertilized egg has the potential to develop into a deep thinker some day, though I think in the very early stages there is a lot less inevitability, and therefore less respect demanded. Some fertilized eggs never manage to attach to the placenta, even without taking contraceptive measures to prevent such attachment; yet I don’t think we mourn the loss of a possible family member every time that happens, even if we know it does (losing a baby a bit later in the pregnancy, however, seems like it could be pretty darn traumatic, however).

            Of course, how much “potential for future inner life” should factor into our calculations is a separate, debatable question, but I’d say it’s already pretty much accepted that it counts for something, at least. Otherwise, killing a dolphin or chimp would be as bad as murdering a 5-7 year old human, which I don’t think accords with most people’s intuitions, though human intuition is probably inherently biased in favor of humans, admittedly.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nita: who says they don’t already?


            (Note: I have no specific allegiance to the news site I linked, I just post the first English result I found for the story).

          • blacktrance says:


            I’m not a moral intuitionist. It may seem immoral and repulsive at first, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It is instrumentally rational to keep the option of infanticide on the table, even if one doesn’t intend to use it – there’s no advantage for us to be gained if we restrict ourselves in our dealings with babies.

            As for the newborn being a person – I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the concept of “person” (in the moral sense). It’s useful because it labels a cluster in thingspace, but it also introduces a false dichotomy between “persons” and “things” – the former is really a subset of the latter.

          • onyomi says:


            Are there any options you’d take off the table?

          • blacktrance says:

            In general, no, unless I’d get something better by giving up one of my options – and that’s not the case with abortion, infanticide, or animal rights.

          • onyomi says:

            I think it’s misleading to say “I’m not against infanticide” if what you mean is “if I could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, I’d do it.”

          • blacktrance says:

            That’d certainly be misleading, but that’s not my position. If someone wanted to kill their own baby, I’d be okay with it for the same reason I’m okay with people getting abortions.

            (However, there is the caveat that in current society, infanticide is much less normal than abortion, so if I knew someone was going to engage in it, I’d be concerned that they’d have an evil character. But that would still be a “morally neutral thing likely to be done by an evil person”, and not actually a bad act in itself.)

          • thirqual says:

            Something I noticed is not often well known in discussion about infanticide: the practice is incredibly common in nomad societies, and was widespread in sedentary societies too.

            (note: the rest of this is meant as independently of infanticide for sex selection as practiced in India for example)

            Exposure (ancient Greece) or ritual sacrifices (Carthage) was often preferred (to stay in ancient Europe). Those practices survived until the XXth century in some countries (as in, not really fought efficiently by law or condemned strongly by society even when the law was clear).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “But given that brain development begins as early as 5 weeks of pregnancy, I’m not sure where we decide to draw that line.”

      I mean, I think we decide to draw the line at birth. I’m kind of being facetious, but I don’t think it’s a bad place. Before birth the fetus seems to have less mental activity than a cow in pretty much every way, and we’re okay with killing cows. Of course, that continues for a long time after birth, but birth is a sufficiently bright line that it seems to address line-drawing concerns.

      • Cauê says:

        We’re not usually ok with killing people who currently but not permanently have less mental activity than cows, though.

    • Sarah says:

      For me, the most salient fact about abortion is that a sixth of pregnancies end in abortion.

      Abortion, like meat-eating, may be wrong, but even if it’s morally equivalent to murder, it’s absolutely impossibly to treat it as legally and socially equivalent to murder. You can’t lock up all the meat-eaters, and you can’t lock up all the women who have abortions. And you can’t really use the social emotions of disgust and fear which we usually reserve for murderers, against *that* large a percentage of the population.

      There are a number of moral issues that take this form. Maybe we are all obligated to give more to charity than we do; but it’s just not *practical* to treat all non-EAs as if they’re murderers.

      Slavery was a similar issue: it was, of course, wrong, but there were just too many slaveowners for the US to treat it as a *crime* in the sense of a deviant aberration which the community punishes. You had to fight a war to end slavery, and arguably we have not eradicated all its traces.

      Any time you try to argue that a *common* behavior is extremely immoral, you are in the position of calling *ordinary* people villains. You’re going to get pushback — “hey, lots of people I know do that thing! it’s normal! are you saying we’re bad people?” Now, it’s totally possible for a common behavior to be immoral. But it’s really hard to treat a common behavior like a *crime.* (You can make a common behavior illegal — e.g. drug use — but people won’t respect the law, and they won’t react with horror to a drug user the way they react to a thief or a murderer.)

      I happen to think that some behaviors modern society thinks of as “normal” — for instance, the fact that so few people will help friends in need — are historically abnormal and ethically unacceptable. But even though I believe that, I have to put a weird sort of “personal reality goggles” on to see someone who flakes on their friends as despicable rather than “normal.”

      And my brain just *can’t* see meat-eating or abortion as making you a “bad person”, even though I’ve heard the arguments that they’re wrong. They seem like normal behavior to me; maybe I’m just grading society on a curve, but my brain simply won’t parse these kinds of violence as criminal/aberrant rather than licit. The trend of civilization is away from violence — slavery, torture, corporal punishment, marital rape, etc. used to be normal and now they’re (mostly) not. So I guess I would predict that any given kind of violence will eventually become abhorrent to our descendants. But it doesn’t seem that abortion or meat-eating are abhorrent to *our* society *now*, and so they don’t read as abhorrent to me.

      • Cauê says:

        Yes, this is strong. I find myself in the weird position of not being able to honestly distinguish abortion from murder, and yet sympathizing so little with the fetuses and so much with the women that I don’t get emotionally worked up about it.

        (but still somehow get worked up about bad arguments surrounding it)

        • Anthony says:

          but still somehow get worked up about bad arguments surrounding it

          Good God, yes. I’m moderately pro-choice – I’d put the line around 24 weeks, and maybe some restrictions on earlier abortions (if it’s really just another medical procedure, we should treat it like one…). But there’s nothing like an emotional pro-choice argument to make me feel like a pro-lifer.

      • Kiya says:

        One-sixth seemed surprisingly high to me, so I went and found a source that seems to agree; maybe more like one-fifth.

        Apparently half of all pregnancies in the US are unintended. That’s a lot more than I would have guessed.

        • Anthony says:

          There’s “unintended” and “unwanted”. A friend of mine’s wife got pregnant when they were not planning to do so – they’d been planning to wait a few more years. But they decided to go through with it, and have a kid now. That’s an “unintended” pregnancy by pretty much any reasonable definition, but it’s not the sort of thing people are appealing to when they talk about “unintended pregnancies” in arguments about abortion.

      • Irenist says:


        Great points. I struggle with this as a pro-lifer, too. I see abortion as murder (not just killing), yet I don’t abhor the mothers as “murderers”; I just think they’re making a bad choice. But how can there be murder without a murderer?

    • Andrew says:

      “Arguments from “parents who get abortions are parents who can’t afford children, so it’s saving them from a bad life” or the Freakonomics argument that abortions lower crime rates sound creepy and eugenics-y, and not at all in line with Blue/Grey values as I understand them.”

      I think you should reconsider that evaluation.

      The “red” tribe describes its anti-abortion stance as “pro-life” and I think that the moniker is an accurate descriptive: their basis to opposition is genuinely founded on an ideological commitment to value (human) life for its own sake.

      On the other hand, the “blue/grey” tribes are vastly less likely to see this value in life for its own sake. They will see life as valuable, but for some reason outside of its mere livingness.

      This is evidenced by the fact that Democrats support legalizing euthanasia, whereas Republicans do not.

      I have an explanation for this, which is not very charitable to the Republicans. I will state it, but it is not my point. My main point is that I think you are mistaken about what the “tribes” actually think.

      To state my (not very charitable) analysis of the reasons: I think that the pro-lifers on some level do not know why human life is valuable. Instead, they accept it as received wisdom. As such they are not equipped to reason about the exceptional cases, where the reasons for valuing human life do not apply and so the particular life is not valuable.

      But again, my point here is not to say that. My point is you should re-consider your idea about what “blue/grey” values are.

      • Anonymous says:

        I object to the conflation of greys with blues.

        • Andrew says:

          It’s useless to say so if you don’t say why.

          • onyomi says:

            Because there are many “greys” who don’t associate their views with those of the “blues,” or who associate as strongly with “reds” as “blues.” I guess most of them are probably right-wingish anarchists/libertarians like me.

      • Irenist says:


        Overall, your comment above is very insightful.

        I’d like to challenge your explanation. Now, you said it’s not your main point, so if you don’t feel like responding, I certainly won’t be offended or anything. But in case you do:

        I think that the pro-lifers on some level do not know why human life is valuable. Instead, they accept it as received wisdom. As such they are not equipped to reason about the exceptional cases, where the reasons for valuing human life do not apply and so the particular life is not valuable.

        Well, there are going to be people in any movement who are just following received wisdom. And if we’re primarily talking about the G.O.P. generally rather than pro-life activists and leaders in particular, than sure.

        However, I think you’ll find that, e.g., Thomist theologians’ accounts of human flourishing rooted in a synthesis of Aristotelian virtue ethics and Christian piety and charity are at least thought-through, contrary to your characterization. You’re of course free to disagree with them, but I think it’s fair to say that theologians and bioethicists on the pro-life side aren’t just parroting received wisdom: they’re doing real thinking on these issues, even if not thinking you find ultimately convincing. The theocons and biocons at, e.g., First Things or The New Atlantis might be wrong, but they are a thoughtful lot.

        That said, why IS human life valuable, and which human lives aren’t? Is it a combination of personhood, lack of suffering, and capability for you? Or something else? E.g., I assume you’d say that fetal lives aren’t valuable (as lacking personhood) and the lives of pain-stricken terminally ill people seeking euthanasia aren’t valuable to the persons themselves, and so forth. Is that about right, or am I way off?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Interesting that you would consider this view uncharitable to the Reds. They would state the same facts, but with the opposite connotation.

        The term for what you are describing is “Imago Dei.” All humans, being in the image of God, are automatically endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. This is received wisdom.

        Those who do not receive this wisdom are less likely to value life for its own sake, and also very likely to erode away at those fundamental human rights. This is evidenced by the fact that Democrats support legalizing euthanasia, whereas Republicans do not.

        The historical argument comes into play at this point. Imago Dei was in fact instrumental in coming up with the concept of humans rights at all. There are plenty of thinkers (CS Lewis and Chesterton, among others) who will tell you that without it there is no basis for human rights at all, and they will point you to the many times people have sought another basis and ended up deeming many human “lives not worth living” as evidence.

      • John Schilling says:

        To state my (not very charitable) analysis of the reasons: I think that the pro-lifers on some level do not know why human life is valuable. Instead, they accept it as received wisdom

        A similar analysis would be that pro-choicers on some level do not know why human life is valuable. Instead, they reject it as worthless until proven otherwise.

        As for me, I would characterize exactly one of these analyses as “uncharitable”. And I know which group of people I would rather have as neighbors, or rulers.

  14. miaoued says:

    Re: Scott’s discussion of the Leslie et al paper, I would like to moot a possible argument in favour of the paper’s conclusion– not so much because I disagree with Scott but because this seems to be a plausible explanation that I have no strong counterargument to.

    We know that especially in “mathematical-logical” areas, men significantly overestimate their ability and women significantly underestimate their ability relative to each other (here). Scott has also discussed the “lottery of fascinations”– the idea that our inborn inclinations predispose us to pursue certain subjects with greater zeal than others, and as a result increase our chance of succeeding in those areas. But our inclinations are also a result of our environment and our beliefs– if we were led to believe that we are less competent than we actually are in a mathematical field, combined with the perception that the mathematical field is itself highly demanding, then we are less likely to invest time or even feel interest in said field (unless you are a masochist). Over time, the disadvantage may well accrue into the poorer results that Scott discussed.

    Responses appreciated.

    • Richard says:

      For an amusing take on gender differences and the whole nature/nurture debate, see “Brainwash”:

      (english subtitles, Norwegian documentary series.)

      if it’s too long, take a look @ 17:30 -19:00

    • Caelum says:

      Assuming this is the study you were linking to (the link was broken for me):

      I think “men significantly overestimate their ability and women significantly underestimate their ability relative to each other” is a misrepresentation. Men in the study gave higher self-estimates of a proxy for intelligence, but men also scored higher on measured proxies for intelligence.

      To be clear, the authors claim to have been looking for a Hubris-Humility Effect, which they say in the intro is “men significantly overestimating, and women significantly underestimating, their abilities relative to each other”, but the paper they link to just points out that men have higher self-estimates of a proxy for intelligence than women. Then the authors here say that their hypothesis that men were overconfident and women underconfident was confirmed, because men had higher self-estimates again. But certainly self-estimates alone can’t speak to whether the estimates were “over” or “under” confident.

      EDIT: Not sure how important that all is to your overall question, but I’m also not sure it’s clear from that study alone that gender-ability-perceptions play all that big of a role in math-ability outcome.

    • lmm says:

      From @Caelum’s response it seems this isn’t actually true. But suppose it was. What would we do about it?

      “Affirmative action”-type policies – quotas, or generally just lowering standards for women in mathematical-logical fields – seem to stand an enormous chance of backfiring, if we accept that the differences in results reflect real differences of ability (that are a result of differences in upbringing). Outreach-type events to encourage girls to go into these fields also seem like they would be ineffective.

      We could try to attack it head-on, by giving boys and girls earlier and more accurate feedback about their objective ability levels. Would that help? Would it be politically acceptable? Here in the UK we take national standardized tests at age 7 in English, Mathematics and Science – that would seem like just the ticket. Are girls who score highly in those more likely to become mathematicians in later life? Does any sex gap reveal itself there?

      IIRC Scott’s summary was that girls do slightly better in early school, and then boys overtake them around puberty. That seems to suggest a physical difference rather than a self-image based one.

    • Anthony says:

      The obvious response is that we should measure people’s abilities (and actual accomplishments) as objectively as we can, let them know the results, and make decisions based on those results. Thus both men and women will know how well-equipped they are for math-intensive work (and other types of work, as well), and they will be making more fully-informed decisions when they choose their future studies, work, etc.

      We should also do more research into how important intelligence and other characteristics actually are to success in various endeavors, and work on promoting ways to change those things which are changeable.

      • Caelum says:

        @lmm and @Anthony, I’m not quite sure how what you suggest is substantively different than the current state of affairs. Schools measure aptitude at a lot points during development (at least they did at the public school in the U.S. I went to), and they give children feedback. Is that not everyone’s experience? Even assuming that not all students take the sort of annual district/statewide assessments that I’m talking about, students get grades which are at least some sort of proxy for intelligence/ability in a given subject area.

        I mean to say that all the sorts of proxies for intelligence we currently use (or could) are broadly equally useful for providing feedback to allow students to more accurately estimate their own abilities. I guess I’m not sure what @lmm means by “more accurate” assessments.

        • Anthony says:

          I graduated from a Catholic high school in 1984, but went to public schools in two states for k-8; my older daughter started kindergarten in 2012. My mother taught at a California community college from the late 70s to the early 2000s.

          When I was in elementary school, it was fairly common for children to be administered IQ tests. There were programs for “gifted” (high-IQ) children, and at least in the elementary schools, there was tracking by ability (and doing particularly poorly or well could get you moved down or up a track or more).

          Now that my kids are in elementary school, there’s no evaluation independent of the teacher (unless a parent gets some sort of diagnosis of a learning disability), and there’s definitely no tracking.

          I mean to say that all the sorts of proxies for intelligence we currently use (or could) are broadly equally useful for providing feedback to allow students to more accurately estimate their own abilities.

          Not really. Proxies that depend on effort will produce results that show what the student *has* done, not necessarily what the student is *capable* of. If the point is to motivate smart kids from groups often overlooked (or groups where smart kids are less common, or groups with a culture that doesn’t value schoolwork, or just kids who are lazy), it’s better that they know what others think they *could* do.

          • Anonymous says:

            If the point is to motivate smart kids from groups often overlooked (or groups where smart kids are less common, or groups with a culture that doesn’t value schoolwork, or just kids who are lazy), it’s better that they know what others think they *could* do.

            I just want to applaud this for its rare insight and empathy. (And I do mean rare . . . even parents with more than a passing interest in education don’t seem to give a fig about children who aren’t like theirs.)

          • Anonymous says:


            Now that my kids are in elementary school, there’s no evaluation independent of the teacher

            Yes, and think about the personality of the typical elementary school teacher vs. her possibly non-NT nerdy student. It doesn’t bode well for the student.

  15. Nita says:

    So, the Hyde and Mertz paper.

    They write:

    Thus, gender ratios in the upper tails of actual distributions were calculated using data from the Minnesota state assessments. [..] For students scoring above the 95th percentile, the M:F ratio was 1.45 for Whites, close to theoretical prediction. At the 99th percentile, the M:F ratio was 2.06, again close to theoretical prediction. However, the M:F ratio was only 0.91 for Asian-Americans, that is, more girls than boys scored above the 99th percentile.

    citing this little study by Hyde et al.:
    [Hyde, Janet S., et al. “Gender similarities characterize math performance.” Science 321.5888 (2008): 494-495.]

    So, what’s going on here? Genes? Culture? Methodological issues?

    • zz says:

      I’m given to understand that the different gender ratios are explained by social issues; countries with the lowest gender inequality have about a 1:1 m:f ratio in the top 1%.

      However, if you take the 10 countries with the lowest gender inequality (as determined by Wikipedia) and look at the gender ratios of their collective International Math Olympiad teams (presumably top 6 mathematicians from each country), it comes to 53:7 in 2012 (the most recent year Wiki had gender inequality data for). I’m just learning statistics, so I don’t actually know how p value, but even reasoning naively, there’s a snowball’s chance in Hell that’s a coincidence.

      • Nita says:

        There might be different kinds of inequality. GII is obviously designed to measure something very different from the fate of high IQ kids.

        I took a list of everyone who has received at least one gold medal from the IMO website. Almost a third of these kids come from China, the USA or Russia/USSR.

        Out of these countries, the USA has the lowest percentage of girls – either 1.3% or 2.5%, depending on how you count the dual citizenship kids (that’s 1 or 2 girls).

        USSR had 4 girls, about 6%. Russia has had 3 so far, about 4.5%.

        Bonus trivia: Ukraine, Korea and Romania have had 3 female gold medalists each, which is 12.5%, 6.5% and 5.7% of their gold medalist totals.

        [Vietnam and Taiwan were excluded from my analysis due to incomplete gender data.]

        • Daniel Speyer says:

          I can’t find the IMO data, but working backwards from your data I get 79 US medalists and 67 USSR. Overall, this gives 4.1% of medalists as women. The likelihood of seeing at least 4 USSR medalists under this model is 30.7%, and of 2 or fewer US is 36.5%. Both at once is 10.8%. We are not able to reject the null hypothesis.

          In short, the USSR might have found a way to get more women to do math at the highest levels, but it could easily be noise because the numbers are so small.

          • Nita says:

            You’re right. But increasing the sample size and doing it right would require way more time and analysis (e.g., adjusting for achievement levels) 😀

            I do feel there is a cultural difference — USSR gave students more educational freedom than Jordan, but less than the USA. On the other hand, “men are better at math” and “math requires genius” are popular beliefs in both cultures.

            Are there any math-focused high schools in the USA?

          • namae nanka says:

            This paper uses a new data source, American Mathematics Competitions, to examine
            the gender gap among high school students at very high achievement levels. The data bring
            out several new facts. There is a large gender gap that widens dramatically at percentiles
            above those that can be examined using standard data sources. An analysis of unobserved
            heterogeneity indicates that there is only moderate variation in the gender gap across
            schools. The highest achieving girls in the U.S. are concentrated in a very small set of elite
            schools, suggesting that almost all girls with the ability to reach high math achievement
            levels are not doing so.

            The Gender Gap in Secondary School Mathematics at High
            Achievement Levels:
            Evidence from the American Mathematics Competitions1
            Glenn Ellison

    • JK says:

      So, what’s going on here? Genes? Culture? Methodological issues?

      Sample size. Total N for Asians/Pacific Islanders in the Minnesota sample is 219, of whom 1.37% girls and 1.25% boys scored above the 99th percentile. That probably corresponds to one or two girls and boys scoring that high, which means that no reliable inferences about the gender ratio can be made. However, as shown in Table S2 in Supporting Online Material, the Asian variance ratio is always >1 across different states, i.e., males are more variable (the ratio is lower in Asians than non-Asians, though, which may reflect the fact that more Asians hit test ceilings).

      A recent study concludes that political, economic, and social equality are not consistently correlated with sex differences in academic achievement internationally. By cherry picking data you can show such correlations but these are driven by outliers and do not replicate across survey years. See also this fisking of one of Mertz’s claims.

      • Nita says:

        Sample size. Total N for Asians/Pacific Islanders in the Minnesota sample is 219

        Thanks! I tried to hunt down the original data, but actually reading the summary table would have been a better choice.

      • haishan says:

        More sample size stuff:

        Two recent studies directly address the question of whether greater male variability in mathematics is a ubiquitous phenomenon. Machin and Pekkarinen (19) reported that the M:F VR in mathematics was significantly >1.00 at the P < 0.05 level among 15-year-old students in 34 of 40 countries participating in the 2003 PISA and among 13-year-old students in 33 of 50 countries participating in the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)…a finding inconsistent with the Greater Male Variability Hypothesis.

        So, like, this conclusion depends heavily on statistical power. If we naively assume that there’s a 0.05 probability of incorrectly failing to reject the null hypothesis, then we should see 6/40 or more non-rejections about 1.4% of the time. But in reality, a number of those countries have small sample sizes (Tunisia? Denmark?) and thus low power, and so non-rejections should increase; my gut instinct is that 34/40 significant differences in gender ratios is not close to enough to reject the “Greater Male Variability Hypothesis.” In any case, Hyde and Mertz don’t do the necessary work to prove this; maybe it’s there in the Science paper they reference.

        • JK says:

          Yeah, Hyde and Mertz make no attempt to control for chance fluctuations in the data. A good example of this is the reanalysis of Czech data I linked to above. Based on data from a single study, Mertz claimed there were no gender differences in math performance in Czech Republic, even when five other similar studies showed males to be overrepresented among top performers.

    • Brett says:

      Methodological issues. I worked out the original numbers back from the table in their earlier paper by assuming that she didn’t manage to find any fractional children. The samples (for Asian children) were (N=219):

      Total Asians: 3660, 1835 male, 1820 female
      Asians above the 95th%: 219, 115 male, 104 female (This is apparently what the N referred to)
      Asians above the 99th%: 48, 23 male, 25 female

      You can decide for yourself whether you think that these numbers support the conclusions she drew. You can also speculate on why she didn’t see fit to explicitly include these numbers in her results and I had to back-calculate them.

      • JK says:

        Thanks, I was puzzled by the sample size because the percentages didn’t seem to make sense. While N’s of 23 or 25 give suggestive support for the Asian gender parity hypothesis, more data would be needed to draw any conclusions.

      • Anonymous says:

        Where did you get the 3660 number?

        By the “earlier paper” do you mean the one that Nita cited? or an even earlier one?

        • Brett says:

          I mean the one Nita cited earlier: Table 2 in

          I used a variational method to get the numbers. You can see my spreadsheet at

          The short answer is there’s not many sets of integer numbers that will give you the percentages cited in the table: for N=219 above the 95th%, the female and male numbers for the 95th% and 99th% are fixed and there’s only a small amount of wiggle room in the total population (which is 3655, not 3660 as I said earlier – sorry for the error!). For the white population because N is so much larger there’s more potential variation in the numbers so I can’t pin down the counts as precisely – the total population could be as low as ~31K or as large as 43K.

          • Nita says:

            That’s the prettiest thing I’ve seen today 🙂

          • Brett says:

            Thanks! This analysis also got the comment “You must be correct” from the notoriously irascible Greg Cochran, so I think I’m justifiably proud of it.

          • Anonymous says:

            The paper does not claim N=219 for over 95%. It claims N=219 for everyone. Isn’t it more plausible that the paper is slightly wrong on some of the numbers than that it is completely wrong on the meaning of N?

          • Brett says:

            No it doesn’t; all it says is N=219, with the specific population left ambiguous. Check for yourself – the only reference to N=219 is in the table with no additional text. So yes, I find it more plausible that it refers to the population above the 95th% than that they did their math wrong.

          • Anonymous says:

            Saying that N is ambiguous is like saying that F is ambiguous – maybe it stands for male.

          • Nita says:

            They do say:

            few students scored above the 95th percentile to compute reliable statistics for
            these groups: American Indians, Hispanics, and Black not Hispanic.

            which supports Brett’s interpretation of their “n”.

          • Brett says:

            Well, you’re welcome to your own plausibility heuristics.

            Taking a look at the Missouri Dept. of Education website, I can’t find the exact results Hyde et al. report. But I can find total tested populations for 2010-2014 Grade 11 students, which give total Asian populations of 3,823-4,120 and total White populations of 45,793-50,418, very close to what I back-calculated from the percentages in the Hyde paper.


          • Anonymous says:

            Since the paper says that the numbers are from NCLB, it is strongly implied that they are the whole population; so your interpretation is probably correct.

            But that does not justify the paper’s use of N (which is, by the way, not an error in the paper’s favor).

  16. Wirehead Wannabe says:

    How well regarded is the Conners’ Continuous Performance Test as a tool for assessing ADHD?

    Background info: I took this test as a child and got a negative (non-ADHD) result. I strongly suspect that I (now 23 years old) may have ADHD, but I’m not sure how strongly the results of this test weigh against that hypothesis. I am extremely fidgety, find tasks (especially filling out forms and making appointments) very difficult to initiate, have difficulty being present in social situations, and I occasionally run stop signs and turn onto one-way streets due to not paying attention. I spend hours a day pacing back and forth thinking about nothing in particular, which cause my college career to suffer greatly. I normally run 50+ miles a week, and find that taking breaks from this causes my symptoms to worsen.

    I googled this particular test and there seems to be some criticism of its usefulness in diagnosis but I’d be interested in hearing how seriously I should take this. Also, is there a good way to suggest a diagnosis to a psychiatrist without looking like a drug seeker or a hypochondriac? Thanks.

    • Thomas says:

      I was diagnosed with ADHD at a very young age and grew up with other ADHD people. I would assign 90% confidence to you having ADHD, and 99% confidence to you having some issue that a competent psychiatrist can help you with to substantially improve your quality of life. I suggest getting tested by someone with “adult ADHD” mentioned as a specialty. I don’t think you will look like a drug seeker if you come in talking about your symptoms first, and asking for a serious diagnosis (which may take several hours). That said:

      If your health insurance prescription coverage is good, work with your provider to experiment with the three main classes of drugs to see which give you the best results. Atomoxetine (Strattera) can complement the stimulants methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerts) and amphetamine (Adderall, Dexedrine, Vyvanse).

      Note that this medical advice is “see a medical expert.”

  17. Richard says:

    Veganism is possibly not the optimal option for animal welfare.

    TL;DR: If you like meat, insisting on quality meat may be just as good as going vegan with respect to animal welfare.

    When words to the effect that “Veganism == ethical because farming” hit my retina, the words that actually makes it all the way to my brain is something like “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE!!11!11”

    I believe this is more or less what this community calls a ‘trigger’ but I’m not certain I’ve unpacked that word entirely correctly. I am also fairly resilient, so triggering me is OK, not to worry.

    Anyway, let me give some background and eventually one possible valid viewpoint:

    I happen to own a bit of land on which farming takes place. It is not easy to say how long we have been farming this particular piece of land because the records got lost in a fire in the mid 14th century, but even counting that as the start, we’ve been at it a while.

    When I was around 6, my grandfather took me aside and explained at length how this kind of farming over the generations works:

    We are not actually owners of the land, we are stewards of the land and with the stewardship follows some duties.
    The first duty is to the land itself and means that we should strive to leave the land in better condition than when we appeared on it.
    The second duty is to the domesticated animals on the land and means that we should maximise the number of animal-happines-minutes that takes place on our land.
    The third duty is to the wild animals who happens to frequent our lands and this duty is the same as to the domesticated animals, only more tricky because of less control over what happens in the wild.
    The forth duty is to make the land yield enough profit so that duties one to three are possible.
    A fifth and brand new duty that I’ve come up with is that we should do all of the above in a manner that makes for a low carbon footprint. I’m currently at a negative C footprint of roughly 300 tonnes/year and working on improving that, but am facing diminishing returns so not sure how much lower I can get without extending the land under my control.
    The duty to the land is fairly simple. You keep streams and waterways clear to avoid flood damage and hire a guy to fly over with a helicopter and drop crushed dolomite every three years or so to compensate for acid rain and maintain the forest using low impact logging. This is not terribly relevant to my point.

    The duty to the animals involve more work;

    Let’s say you have sheep on the land. Sheep are happiest among other sheep. Fewer than 7 and the sheep get visibly stressed and there are probably some diminishing returns so that sheep number 81 induces less flock happiness than sheep number 8. Sheep also require some grassy hillsides to mess about on, some trees to provide shade in summer and a roof over their head so that they can shelter in winter in a warm place with enough food. Once those things are taken care of, the rest is seasonal work, like helping out with the birthing of lambs and suchlike.

    The thing with sheep is that if they are many and happy, they tend to become larger in number so that at times you will need to cull the flock so as not to cause starvation and illness. Sick starving sheep are not happy sheep.

    Requirements of say, pigs are fairly similar, only they prefer a copse of wood where they can forage for chestnuts, acorns and maple seeds to a grassy hillside and require more heat in winter.

    With the wild animals, the control algorithm is simpler, but you work with less information. The tools at your disposal are mainly culling and providing extra food in particularly harsh winters.

    You need to experience only one scabies epidemic before you see the wisdom of keeping the populations under control, and once you do, you’ll be bloody certain that people can do a damn sight better job at this kind of thing than mother nature does.

    Then there are all the little things of course; if you insulate the barn so that the bats have fewer places to winter, you hang little bat houses on the outside of the barn in order to compensate. When you chop down a hollow tree that served as a high-rise for squirrels and birds, you hang nesting boxes of various sizes in nearby trees and so on and so forth.

    The economy bit is a bit tricky, because unhappy animals that stay in a cage being pumped full of growth hormone and unhealthy feed become significantly fatter than happy ones, and the market mostly pays by weight.

    On the other hand, happy animals yield meat of a significantly higher quality. A happy pig from around here has only around 5% the fat of a typical cage-and-hormones farmed american pig. There are gourmet restaurants who are willing to pay the premium for this.

    And this brings me to my main point really:

    If more people would insist on high quality meat and be willing to pay the extra cost, the market for high quality meat would grow and there would be more happy animals. Also, since I’m one of the very few who currently produces high quality meat from happy animals, the prices would skyrocket and I’d be rich before the rest of the farmers caught on 🙂

    If you want try do this, you can start by looking for ‘grass fed’ meat, because ‘grain fed’ is usually an euphemism for cage-and-hormone raised. The feed is often stated on the label. (at least in Europe, the US may have different regulations wrt. labels). This is a rough heuristic, but it is very hard to feed animals on inefficient feed and get high yields, so in general grass fed means free-range.

    Maximising animal happiness is also not necessarily in conflict with maximising total food production because, oddly enough, most animals seem the most happy on relatively marginal land that are not very suitable for things like effective wheat production. This is supposedly because marginal land has rocks and trees that provide shelter from predatory eyes and the animals don’t know that there are no predators inside the fence.

    This may not be the case for species like buffalo, but it does hold as a reasonable heuristic for the majority of animals. (I don’t know a lot about buffalo, but they seems to like prairies which works for wheat too.)

    Anyway, this has gone on too long and all I really wanted to say is that I think happy animals > vegan food and I can’t see how eating the flesh of contented beasts is in any way unethical.

    • zz says:

      Wait… so you’re telling me that animals that are looked after by humans are better off than animals left to nature’s whims which, as Darwin observed, is extremely cruel? Inconceivable!

      But, seriously, paying a premium for properly-raised meat is, like, super worth it. It tastes better, it’s better for you (not the least because so many toxins are fat soluble), plus the ethics thing. See also: Pollan’s commentary on Saladin.

      • Irenist says:

        “Pollan’s commentary on Saladin.”

        The Conqueror’s Dilemma: How Ayyub, at Hattin, bested France

      • Randy M says:

        The closest I could find was his commentary on someone named Salatin, though I’m sure remarks on Saladin would be more interesting. 😉

    • Nestor says:

      I appreciate your conscientious approach to your work.

      I had heard the argument for “eating happy meat” before, but never quite so articulately and “from the horse’s mouth”. It seems clear to me that if the meat from happy animals is of higher quality and tastes better, I should purchase it if I can afford it, on a self interest basis.

      However from the ethics perspective, I’ve long thought that factory farming is, given current technology, a kind of best approach to what would be the ethical ideal, vat grown meat.

      Allow me to explain: An animal raised under conditions of sensory deprivation such as a battery farmed chicken, also bred to maximize growth is a neurologically stunted creature, by design. I have far more empathy for an autonomous, free range animal that has been allowed to live in a society of it’s peers. To me saying I should eat THAT one and not THIS one seems perverse, like eating one’s own pets.

      I hold human utility on a higher tier than animal utility so I believe access to cheap protein is a benefit to humanity therefore factory farming is a necessity, hopefully to be replaced eventually by less problematic vat grown meat. Your farm would survive in this future as a biodiveristy preserve as economics would inevitably lead to the rapid extinction of farmed species.

      I don’t agree with the ethical superiority of your methods from the point of view of animal welfare, but I appreciate your efforts and attention to detail in your performance of a necessary task.

      • Nita says:

        There is a world of difference between sensory deprivation and torture.

        • Nestor says:

          It can be a form of torture, but my point is rather the stunting of development. If you aren’t exposed to language you don’t learn to speak, if you don’t get light you grow up blind, etc…

      • Baby Beluga says:

        I dunno… I see your point, but I think it’s likelier that if you create an animal under “sensory deprivation” as a “neurologically stunted creature”–in other words, if you took a creature and brought it very far from the sort of setting it was designed to be–then my intuition is that it would be very likely to suffer. Unfortunately, this is hard to test, because neurologically stunted creatures aren’t great at talking about their feelings.

        The reason I think that neurologically stunted creatures are probably suffering is because we’ve drastically changed their surroundings, without actually taking away the thing that makes them capable of suffering (whatever that is?!). You haven’t actually made “vat grown meat”–the thing you made still has a brain–and when it’s unable to move, or to do almost anything its brain was developed to do, its brain is going to complain. And I think a brain complaining is more or less what “suffering” is.

        I’m far from sure that I’m right. But I don’t really see a reason why a creature should stop being able to suffer, just because it’s been mistreated. To me, that seems intuitively like the opposite of the way it should go.

        • Nestor says:

          Sure, it’s suffering, industrial processes are not concerned with minimizing suffering, I’m just pointing out it can happen as a side effect.

          I think there’s a bit of magical thinking involved in this idea, as if the soul of the animal is something that is independent of the specifics of the creature, we see a battery farmed chicken in it’s cage and we compare it with the image in our head of a healthy free range chicken and we feel it has been denied this fulfillment of it’s “chicken destiny”, but in actual fact it has no concept of what a proper chicken should be like, it has grown in a cage, and has a stunted neural development even for a chicken.

          Pampered animals like the pigs used to make serrano ham sure taste better, but that’s a separate issue.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            The mistreated chicken has no concept of how it ought to have been treated, but its body and brain might “complain,” that is, suffer, if it’s not being treated the way it evolved to be treated.

            To give a (somewhat gruesome) example, imagine if, immediately after you were born, I went ahead and removed all your skin, and then for the rest of your life I kept you in isolation from society. You would have no concept of the fact that you should have had skin, but don’t. But you would probably be in terrible agony all your life, since your body would still “expect” you to have skin, and find that you don’t. You didn’t evolve to not have skin. In general, it seems reasonable to assume that beings that have been taken far from where they evolved to be in a random way are probably suffering.

            EDIT: Sorry, I see that you aren’t trying to say the chicken isn’t suffering, so what I’m saying is probably just sideways to your point. I guess I think that the main thing that matters from an ethical standpoint is minimizing suffering? In other words, this is the reason why I think that Richard’s approach to farming is ethically superior to factory farming–because the fact that his animals suffer less is all that matters.

          • Nestor says:

            I honestly don’t think, when we look at a picture of a free range animal and one of a factory farmed one, that we are truly empathizing with the wretch in the cage, more honestly, the sickly one in the cage triggers our “ugh, diseased” while the pretty, healthy one checks out all the “would eat, yum!”.

            Our culture is full of visual depictions of happy animals decorating the boxes where their bodies are being served to us, it’s a bit creepy, really. We seem to believe animals are fulfilled by serving their function as food, if we’re to take these cartoons and logos at face value.

            Let’s do a thought experiment: The one world government has decreed that pets have too much of a carbon footprint, so a cull is in order. This is not optional because black helicopters are everywhere, also their argument checks out as pretty solid, there really are too many pets, everyone agrees. The one government can put out a hell of an ad campaign.

            So the lottery has been drawn and your number has come up, you have to hand over your cat to the man in the gas mask. And your cat is Maru.

            But, at the last minute you discover a cat has given birth to a litter in your garage and has abandoned the runt, a sickly, scrofulous blind little ragdoll of a kitten, but hey, the quota doesn’t care, once cat is as good as another.

            So obviously you hand over Maru, who has had a very good and happy life, after all.

            Or do you?

          • Anonymous says:

            With meat, the question isn’t which existing animal to destroy, but which type of animal to create in the first place. So the Maru example is not applicable.

          • Nestor says:

            Are we discussing the ethics of an existing reality or are we pretending we are gods who can rewrite it on a whim?

            I specified in my original post that human needs come first so efficient protein production is non negotiable, and in my imaginary scenario that an overwhelming force (The one world government) is forcing the scenario to mimic this.

            Because if we’re playing with rewriting what is, then vat grown meat is the ethical end game win, and free range meat eating starts to look increasingly ethically dubious the more ground the new method gains.

            But it doesn’t actually exist yet aside from a few lab prototypes and publicity stunts so that’s not the argument we’re having here.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      As a vegetarian, I’m much, much more OK with “free range” meat than factory-farming. When vegans talk about how awful “farming” is, they’re almost always thinking of some shocking descriptions or images they’ve seen of factory farming.

      So if it helps any, they’re often just being vague, not seeing you as devil.

      With that said, this is probably the first compelling account I’ve seen for the argument that “good” farming is better for the animals than vegetarianism. I really, really hope you succeed at marketing this product.

      • Richard says:

        The market is there, I doubt very much you will find a single ounce of factory-farmed meat in any 3-star Michelin restaurant.

        Profitability is currently a problem in the sense that I would earn more money with less effort by switching to factory methods. As long as the farm does not bankrupt me, I’ll keep to my ways though 🙂

    • stillnotking says:

      As a vegetarian, I agree with you in principle. I think animals raised by caring humans are better off than wild animals; I think domestic breeds in particular are human-dependent to the point that it would be impractical (and unethical) to try to revert them to the wild; and so I recognize that purchasing grass-fed, free-range, “happy” animal meat is ethically neutral at worst. A lot of vegan moral reasoning seems driven by ideal-world scenarios for which I have little sympathy.

      The problem is that I experience an extremely strong, visceral feeling of revulsion at the idea of eating a sentient being that was killed for my benefit. I recognize that my response is probably irrational, given the whole picture, but that doesn’t change it. The cliche analogy is the reaction most Westerners have to eating cats and dogs.

      I wish you the best of luck with vegans/vegetarians who have less personal reasons for abstaining from meat.

    • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

      Thanks for weighing in on this here! Having spent a lot of time in the past year reading/talking/arguing about animal ethics, more input from people who are actually spending time with animals raised for food is useful.

      I am a vegetarian and agree with your line of thinking, certainly in principle and probably even in practice. Raising happy animals on marginal land with comfortable lives, quick deaths, and the end result of a tasty steak on someone’s plate doesn’t bother me. However, I still avoid meat for the following practical reasons:

      1. It is difficult, in my experience, to have much confidence that a given piece of meat was raised under these sort of conditions. Even if I were to go visit a farm, I know very little about animal behavior and husbandry and don’t have a lot of confidence that I’d be able to accurately assess the question of “are these animals living worthwhile lives?” based on wandering around a pasture for an afternoon. Making that determination based on some vague labeling while I’m standing in the grocery store doing some ad-hoc meal planning is a lot more dubious.

      (If anyone can speak for any labeling standards prevalent in the US that do reliably signal good, as opposed to merely less-torturous, living conditions for farm animals, I’m all ears.)

      2. I quite often hear people say things in agreement with this basic line of thinking–“Factory farming is awful, of course, but raising meat can be perfectly ethical! Therefore, I won’t be a vegetarian.” The speaker then proceeds to order a Big Mac. (By the way, this is something I was 100% guilty of before I gave up meat.) Vegetarianism as a general policy is a useful Schnelling fence, both for one’s own self-discipline and as a shorthand statement of dietary constraint that’s (in most contexts) socially acceptable and at least halfway likely to be complied with. Trying to draw nuanced distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable meats while your friends are putting in a pizza order tends not to lead anywhere positive (but your mileage may vary).

    • Baby Beluga says:

      Yeah–I agree with you. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with raising animals in order to eat them, as long as you’re confident those animals are happy. (In fact, arguably it’s better than not raising animals or eating them, assuming there was no opportunity cost to raising said animals). I think a good fraction of the vegan movement, for what it’s worth, agrees with you (the Peter Singer kind of vegan, not the Gary Francione kind of vegan). Sometimes they might be initially be hostile to this line of reasoning, since as other commenters have pointed out, “animals can be farmed ethically” is often used as a justification for “therefore it’s okay for me to eat this particular peace of [unethically farmed] meat.” But if you’re clear that you really are kind to the animals you raise, I think they will be friendly to your argument (although maybe I’m projecting too much here).

      One comment I do have about this line of reasoning is that even though it’s pretty mainstream, it’s definitely more brutally utilitarian than our society (though not this blog) is usually willing to accept. Like, think about that last sentence: “I can’t see how eating the flesh of contented beasts is in any way unethical.” To be clear, I agree! I can’t see how that’s unethical either, and I’m *not* claiming that it is. But, like, change that sentence very slightly (“I can’t see how eating the flesh of happy pets is in any way unethical,” “I can’t see how eating the flesh of contented human infants is in any way unethical, “”I can’t see how eating the flesh of the terminally ill is in any way unethical”) and all of a sudden you’ve got a proposition that is WAY too brutally utilitarian for most of society to swallow, even though the initial sentence was fine. I think that’s interesting, and worth considering in its own right.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think the problem is that the idea of minimizing suffering of animals and promoting their autonomy are two separate issues. We aren’t protecting human life just so they avoid pain(if that was the case then we could simply chloroform people before murdering them), we also respect their ability to choose for themselves, with some exceptions. Vegans apply the idea to animals. From their point of view, it would be better for the animal to be free, even if that would result in more pain in the same way that we respect the choice to eat McDonalds every day and die at 50.

        • >Vegans apply the idea to animals.

          Some vegans do, others don’t. The distinction between veganism and non-veganism is orthogonal to the distinction between autonomy and welfare. (Most of my vegan friends care about welfare, not autonomy.)

    • Anonymous says:

      So…practically, as a consume, what do? (And how much extra $$?)

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      ++ to your whole post, really

      If more people would insist on high quality meat and be willing to pay the extra cost, the market for high quality meat would grow and there would be more happy animals.

      This is the Jaina strategy (though they apply it only to milk, as they don’t eat any meat). The cow is a member of the family, treated as a pet, thus happy. In urban situations they continue to use milk, but get the best kind possible — which means from farmers as much like you as they can afford. This influences other farmers to treat their animals better. Giving up milk altogether would have no effect on the other farmers..

  18. Gwen S. says:

    PSA: This is a pet-peeve of mine, and I think I’m neurotypical enough that it bother’s other people too.

    When I wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook, I want to receive a thank-you message back. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, you could literally copy/paste “Thank you!” into every comment that wishes you a happy birthday. The point is I cared enough about you to make phatic communication, so it hurts when you don’t care enough to phatically reply.

    A public “Thanks for the birthday wishes everyone” doesn’t work. It feels like you’re talking to Everyone, not to me. Besides, often times I don’t see your public thank-you, because it doesn’t show up on my newsfeed. I suppose I could check your profile after your birthday to see if you published a public thank-you, but that’s making me do work so you don’t have to.

    Anyway, I’m having petty revenge fantasies today. I think maybe I’ll look up all my friends who have birthdays in February, and see who gave me personalized thank-yous last year. They’ll be the ones I give personalized happy-birthdays to this year. Then I’ll make a new wall post: “Happy birthday to all my friends with birthdays in February who didn’t bother to give me a personalized thank you message last year.” That’ll show ’em.

    • Nita says:

      counter-PSA: I know I’m not perfectly neurotypical, but I can’t be unique either.

      Please don’t wish me a happy birthday on Facebook or Skype, or any other means of communication that reminds you about my birthday.

      It’s heartwarming that you care, of course, but the anxiety and guilt I experience upon discovering your message a few weeks later overshadow any positive feelings your well-wishes induce.

      If we know each other well, I’ll appreciate a call, text or email from you — just like I would appreciate talking to you on any other day. But I won’t like a friend any less just because they don’t keep track of dates.

      • Emile says:

        Seconded; I don’t particularly like getting “happy birthday” on Facebook because I don’t visit it regularly enough (and I don’t want to feel an obligation to wish happy birthday to everybody there, or to thank the people who wish me happy birthday).

    • Anonymousse says:

      It might help to realize that some people have an aversion to communicating publicly via Facebook. In some ways it’s like making a public speech: everyone can see you and everything you say may be getting recorded. And misinterpretations are much easier via text. I have this aversion, and reading comments like this one from you reinforces my aversion: I’m glad that I am not currently broadcasting annual birthday notifications on facebook, because it relieves me of cringing social anxiety, worrying that I may be inadvertently triggering other-judgements of the sort you describe.

      Your solution of writing “Thank you!” to every birthday wish could trigger another cringe of worrying that someone is judging me for offering formulaic responses. If I was to write “unique” thank yous for every birthday wish, I myself would feel inauthentic since I typically carefully think through what I write, which is great for analytical blog comments like this one but makes me feel queasy when communicating phatically in text. I’m worried about judgement because I myself judge other people when browsing their Facebook profiles, which I don’t endorse. My usual solution to this is to blatantly neglect my Facebook profile, rarely browse Facebook, and not think about it too hard.

      If you don’t have an aversion to communicating via Facebook, you may find this easier to understand if you have an aversion to responding to emails from important people, responding to awkward texts from potential love interests, or writing Less Wrong posts.

      To conclude, I don’t think you need to feel bad about people not responding to your birthday wishes… it’s not you, it’s them. Like so many things in life. Cc the spotlight effect.

    • Liskantope says:

      Hmm, I find that their “liking” my Happy Birthday post is enough for me. The “like” option provides a good stand-in for a copied-and-pasted-looking, default response, and in fact I prefer it.

      • Gwen S. says:

        Liking would indeed be an improvement over public announcement.

      • Irenist says:

        This. If you “like” my “happy birthday” comment, that will show up in my newsfeed as “X likes your status,” which is nice. “Liking” comments made to me on such occasions is what I prefer to do.

    • Setsize says:

      FWIW, my fear that some of my friends have your preference is strong enough that I have set my birthday to “private.” This way I only have to deal with two or three people who actually remember my birthday, instead of however many people are automatically prompted by Facebook.

    • lmm says:

      I think a public “thanks to everyone” is more than appropriate. The person who’s birthday it is is supposed to be doing less work than their well-wishers, not more. If it bothers you that much, don’t send the happy birthday at all.

    • Anthony says:

      The problem I have with that sort of thing is that there are too damn many of them. I think I got something like 80 birthday messages on my last birthday. Asking for more response than me just “liking” each one is asking for a *lot*. Even “liking” 80 posts when I’m either out doing something birthdayish, or at work, is asking a lot.

      That said, I generally don’t make public happy birthday posts, and only occasionally private ones, and being aware of the potential burden, I’m not at all offended if someone makes a single “thanks everyone” post, or no acknowledgement at all.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have mostly the opposite preferences.

      I get no happiness from having people wish me happy birthday on Facebook, but active unhappiness/exasperation from having to respond to everybody – sort of an equivalent of the thank you note problem I discuss here.

      I think liking the birthday wishes is an okay compromise, though I mostly wish people would spare me the entire question.

      • David Hart says:

        This is pretty much exactly why I removed my birthday from visibility on Facebook. Though it has an odd side effect: people whom I would normally wish a happy birthday in real life if I had known, but probably wouldn’t have remembered what date their birthday was, I often don’t say anything to if their birthday comes up on Facebook, because it somehow feels like cheating.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Sheesh, people. Didn’t we just discuss phatic communication? You have been given a great gift in the form of machines which will do your remembering for you, and you’re complaining about the effort to type “Happy Birthday”? You don’t even have to send physical cards anymore!

      Me, I’m terrible at remembering dates. I still do not know my parents’ birthdates. If I met a woman who shared my own birthday, I would start dating, get engaged to, and marry her on that same date just so I don’t have to try to memorize a new date. Having all that taken care of for me is wonderful.

      Here is what you do:

      -If Facebook tells you it is somebody’s birthday, post “Happy Birthday!” on their wall. If you feel the need to signal cleverness (which I totally understand), do what I do and say “I got you this link: …” and then include some link to something random/funny/cute. This last part is entirely optional.

      -Put your damn birthday in Facebook. We neuro-date-amnesiacs need it. When people wish you happy one, click “Like” on their wish. Your social duty is now fulfilled.

      • Matthew says:

        For reasons I’m not sure I an articulate clearly, I find public recognition of non-merit-based occasions cringeworthy, as either giver or receiver. I hate seeing it in my Facebook feed. And the merit qualification thing is real; I don’t have the same reaction to graduations or test-passings that I do to birthdays and anniversaries. I’m not going to try and dictate that people bow to my idiosyncratic text-equivalent-of-fingernails-on-chalkboard preferences, but I’m going to react with hostility if people suggest my failure to join is a moral shortcoming.

        • Jaskologist says:

          It’s not about merit. Wishing somebody a happy birthday is basically a quick way of saying, “Hey, I’m happy you exist.” This was more meaningful when it took effort to remember birthdays, but there’s no harm in riding the residual inertia for now. It is a no-cost way of reinforcing social bonds.

  19. Berna says:

    Donated $25 to Multiheaded.

    • Peter says:

      Please enjoy this phatic affirmation of your donation:

      Good Job!!!

      • Peter says:

        Ah, I see the “too many people are called Peter” problem arising again. I once lived in a house with two other Peters (and a Debbie) – one was always called “Peter”, one was always called “Pete” and I was either called “Peter” or “Pete” depending on which one I needed to be disambiguated from.

  20. Jack V (cartesiandaemon) says:

    I was interested where you mentioned on tumblr stories like “You want to hear something surprising? A couple of years ago I had a patient who said the voices in her head told her to come to the hospital and ask for antipsychotics.”

    That’s superficially surprising because psychotic problems don’t usually work like that. But it fits perfectly the theory of, some proportion of people hear voices, and people who hear voices saying good or neutral things don’t get much attention, but people who have voices AND they tell them perverse or harmful things, show up as problems and get treated.

    If so, you’d expect some people to fall into the intersection of “voices”, “saying things worrying enough to think about doing something about them” and “also saying relevant things that happen to include, what to do about voices”.

    Do you know, is that mainstream now, or just speculation? Do you think it’s probably right?

    It also occurs to me, you’ve probably talked about this before, but if it’s right, some people probably LITERALLY have voices which tell them to live up to a high ethical standard, and, principle of charity, when people said they heard a voice from God, if everyone was too quick to dismiss it as metaphorical?

    • Anonymous says:

      My ex hears Jesus telling her to do good things all the time. If she eats lithium, Jesus goes away.

    • Peter says:

      Occasionally a news article comes up about the “Voice Hearers Movement”… on the one hand, journalists have a knack of messing things up especially with people they see as odd, on the other hand it’s nice to have people who can bypass the stories that the leaders of said movements want told and who talk directly to “rank and file” members. There’s lots of interesting stuff there.

      It turns out that for a long time the advice was “Ignore the voices! Don’t listen to them! Don’t interpret them! Really really don’t respond to them!” and this may or may not be good for some section of the population. However, some people seem to have reached interesting accomodations. There was one person who’d hear voices, say out loud, “Go away! I’m watching the TV – come back in half an hour” and in half an hour the voices would indeed come back and he’d have a chat, and that seemed to settle the issue for the time being.

      Philosophical/psychiatric question: is it possible to have a delusion that you are hallucinating?

      • Loki says:

        Personal experience says: sort of. I will not have a delusion that I am actually, actively hallucinating right now, but I will have a delusion that I am currently experiencing intermittent hallucinations, making me uncertain whether anything I see is real or a hallucination.

        There is also ‘delusion that everything I can’t prove to myself I am actually sensing (for instance, I can hear music but cannot currently see the stereo it is coming from) is a hallucination.’

        A lot of my delusions, when I have them, fall into the category of ‘delusions that I am or might be more crazy than I actually am’.

        • Jacob Schmidt says:

          A lot of my delusions, when I have them, fall into the category of ‘delusions that I am or might be more crazy than I actually am’.

          Semi-related: I used to have semi-crippling anxiety. While I was in a more anxious phase, I would become convinced that I would never get better. Of course, feeling that scared and freaked out for the rest of my life was a terrifying prospect, and that fear only fed my anxiety. On a meta level, I could recognize the vicious feedback |being scared <—> being scared I would never stop being scared|, and it seemed to me like a fairly plausible mechanism that would prohibit me from ever getting better.

          It was incredibly frustrating to be sitting in my home freaking out over how I can’t stop freaking out. Some detached, analytical part of my mind kept telling me how silly it all was, and I dearly wished for some way to consciously shut off my anxiety so that I could short-circuit my freak out.

          • Peter says:

            Oh yes, the “I’m going mad” feedback loop. One of the things in the lead-up to my first prescription of anxiolytics was me having increasing doubts about my own sanity.

            I hear this is a particular problem with panic attacks – apparently there’s nothing like thinking “oh god, I’m going to have a panic attack” to bring on a panic attack. Thank goodness I only ever had the one – no fun at all.

      • Peter says:

        Erm – my comment there was unclear. When I say “It turns out that for a long time the advice was…” I mean “the advice given by psychatrists etc. (and not by the Voice Hearers Movement)” and by “was” I mean “was and in many or even most places possibly still is”.

      • Vulture says:

        I think tulpas are relevant here. In particular, you might be interested in Luhrmann’s Leland Stanford experiments. (selfish motive: I’m hoping that someone is interested enough to track down a proper writeup of the research)

        • Peter says:

          Never heard of that before. I forsee hours of fascinated reading ahead – thanks!

        • Anthony says:

          When I read “Luhrmann’s Leland Stanford experiments”, I imagined something set in the 1880s with a modern, but somehow topical, pop music background.

          Then I googled it and found that it was Tanya, not Baz.

      • lmm says:

        > Philosophical/psychiatric question: is it possible to have a delusion that you are hallucinating?

        Yes. I’ve had deja vu that felt like that.

    • stillnotking says:

      Somewhat tangential, but I can’t help but think of Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind and Daniel Smith’s Muses, Madmen, and Prophets. There are some tantalizing reasons to believe that “hearing voices” was once much more common than it is today (to the point of ubiquity, if you believe Jaynes), and more often helpful than not.

      Anyway, both of those are great books if you’re interested in the topic.

    • Setsize says:

      I recently watched the film The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (which can be streamed or downloaded from the creators’ website and is based on the journals of a Danish explorer who traveled with Inuit hunters in the early 1900s.) It has an interesting depiction of this sort of thing, some aspects of which I won’t spoil, but I recommend at least one character’s monologue starting at 21:20, in which he describes how he came to know his “helper spirits,” which do seem to help him make better moral decisions. (Another character’s story at 1:21:30 gives an example of how the spread of Christianity conflicted with this.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The people I’ve met who have voices saying good, useful, or positive things to them also are psychotic in other less beneficial ways. But that makes sense, since otherwise they would never end up in a psychiatric hospital.

      Basically, there may be people who have purely positive, nondestructive voices outside the context of a debilitating psychosis, but there’s no reason I would ever see them so I don’t know.

      • nydwracu says:

        There probably are. Some completely normal people (well, as normal as I’d be likely to know) have mentioned having them.

        I get them once every few months, but it’s always “take a nap” or “go to Chipotle” or something like that that I ought to do anyway, so I figure it’s some lower part of my brain figuring out how to get my attention. I’m not sure how common this is — I should start asking for specifics. (But I don’t even like talking about my dreams, so the usual unconscious and stubborn typical-minding about social norms is kind of an obstacle to that.)

  21. Vilgot Huhn says:

    I’m often pretty worried I have a too low IQ for what I want to do with my life. I’ve never tested it seriously but I’m pretty convinced it’d be about average. But recently I’ve been reading Keith Stanovich (book called “rationality and the reflective mind”) and his model has me pretty convinced that IQ isn’t all that matters, or even all that important, when it comes to being clever. 🙂

    I also find the work of Carol Dweck (and her friends) pretty calming.

    • zz says:

      You may also be interested in The Brain that Changes Itself which, while at the pop-sci level, is good enough to be a textbook for a psych course at Harvard (I can’t point to it right now; I tend to use MIT, Harvard, and Stanford (in that order) to generate textbook recommendations, and just remember The Brain that Changes Itself was one that came out Harvard).

    • Anthony says:

      First a guess – if you’re reading a book and drawing independent conclusions, there’s a good chance you’re above average, at least somewhat.

      Secondly – while intelligence does help you achieve a lot of what you want to (or what your employers want you to), it’s not the only thing. Conscientiousness helps a lot, and seems to be more malleable than intelligence. Certain specific skills or talents can also help, if you know what you have and how they’d be useful.

      Lastly, lots of people manage to do lots of things without being in the top 1% of intelligence (and contrarily, lots of people in the top 1% lack the requisite skills to really do lots with their intelligence). There’s a rant I need to put together about excessive focus on the top 1% (by any number of measures) and how that hurts everyone else. But don’t sell yourself short even if you’re not a Certified Genius.

      • Creutzer says:

        Wait, did I miss some evidence for conscientiousness being malleable to a significant degree? From what I’d seen, I’d concluded that it is, unfortunately, not very malleable either.

      • Vilgot Huhn says:

        Thank you.
        I think my worries about intelligence are probably guided by som irrational fears, but fear can be very convincing, even if it is devoid of real arguments. Also, I have to admit that I’m pretty arrogant for worrying about being average rather than being bellow average.

        Regarding the top 1% thing: I absolutely agree. Scott previously linked this story about a Korean man who had record high IQ but still chose to live an ordinary life. I found it very calming. Not just because it demonstrates how high IQ doesn’t guarantee “success”, but mostly because it somehow decreased the preassure to be successful for me. (weird?)

        (Sorry if my words are a bit wonky; english is not my native language).

  22. Multiheaded says:

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! This is just stunning! Such INCREDIBLE generosity! You people are all so AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I can’t think straight, I’m sorry! This is all quite literally beyond my wildest hopes! THANK YOU, EVERYONE! And thank YOU again, Scott! To help me reach out so effectively, and after having had to put up with my crap for so long… you’re kindness itself!

    P.S.: I am tentatively earmarking 50% of all donations between the set campaign goal of $2500 up to $4500 to be given to GiveWell-endorsed charities and MIRI, shortly upon arrival. Receipts will be posted publicly. In case the donations exceed even *that*, I intend to give away at an even higher rate – like 75%. Will update.

    P.P.S.: any and all donors are very welcome to contact me individually, in case you want to talk about something in private!

    • Noah Siegel says:

      ” I am tentatively earmarking 50% of all donations between the set campaign goal of $2500 up to $4500 to be given to . . .”

      I suggest holding off on the donations until after you get a job. $4500 (-$900 for travel) is not going to last you very long at all in Toronto.

    • AR+ says:

      Whoa, hold on now. These donations are already ear-marked, for you, for the purpose of moving to Canada. If someone wanted money to go to some effective charity, they would have just donated to that. If you start giving away campaign money before establishing yourself well enough to have an income of your own, I’d feel like some kind of EA-fraud victim.

      If the money you get exceeds the goal, you’ll just have that much more of a buffer, which you will need as much of as you can get. Certainly it’s going to be awkward if you end up needing more money and you gave away a significant fraction of what was already given to you.

      Please don’t treat campaign funds like personal income.

      • Multiheaded says:

        Point well taken. It’s just that, y’know, I am really kind f stunned, having expected very little. I feel like I really really desperately need to provide some value in return. But yeah, not going to give anything until my living situation in secure – although I do really hope that I’ll be able to access housing and job training even as a refugee claimant.

        • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

          I also donated, and I agree with AR+. You will have plenty of opportunity to give back to society once your own situation is better.

          Also, I wrote “As a Canada” (rather than “Canadian”) in my donation message. Oops. 🙂

        • stille says:

          Bloody hell, Multiheaded, keep the money. The value you’re providing in return is the moral satisfaction of knowing we’ve improved someone’s life – and that’s high-octane value, really. I just hope you’ll be in Canada as soon as possible, really – I freely admit that I’m way more paranoid than the average human, but if anything happens passport-wise or money-access-wise between Russia and Canada or Russia and wherever gofundme is based in, it’s going to suck for everyone involved in the thing and you most of all.

          • Multiheaded says:

            Oh, gofundme already doesn’t support withdrawing the money outside of North America and the EU

            My significant other, who is American, is helping me move it by withdrawing it and then wiring it to my own bank. We trust each other 200%, and it should all be ok.

            (i feel the need to clarify this before people bring this hurdle up and/or worry that I haven’t planned around it)

          • AR+ says:

            Wish you’d put that out before, then I’d have found some way to give directly.

            “I trust them,” said everyone who was betrayed ever.

            Though, similarly: “I probably don’t need to examine the details of how a reputable service like GoFundMe actually delivers its funds.” ~Me, yesterday.

          • stargirl says:

            I wonder if Scott would accept being the person to wire the Money. Alot of people in the community know who Scott is. And I cannot imagine stealing the money could possibly be worth it for him. Alternatively some other reputable person could be an intermediary.

          • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

            I am in agreement with AR+ and stargirl.

          • maxikov says:

            If you haven’t already thought about it, may I suggest considering marrying your SO as a fallback strategy in case the main plan fails? I’m sure you know a lot of factors that change odds, but the priors don’t seem to be that good. I know quite a few LGBT people who live or lived in Russia, and quite a few people who moved from Russia to the US, but only one guy who did so by claiming refugee because of his being gay (in fact, if chatting about his experience could be any use for you – let me know, I can introduce you). And I’ve heard accounts of women from central African countries being denied refugee status in the US, even though they were facing FGM upon returning. Obviously, the rules may differ between the US and Canada, and you may know something they didn’t know, but I just hope you included all the backups possible.

            Also, does your budget include expenses for hiring an immigration lawyer? If it doesn’t, that could also be an idea worth considering.

          • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

            @maxikov: I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know much about Canadian immigration law, but this seems pretty promising:

            The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that sexual orientation is a ‘social group’ within the context of determining convention refugee status (Canada v. Ward, [1993] 2 S.C.R. 689). This means that someone with a well-founded fear of persecution based on their sexual orientation can seek asylum in Canada. […] Canada generally accepts claims based on sexual orientation at a similar rate to other refugee claims. […] The supreme court of Canada has not yet clarified whether gender identity persecution is persecution based on social group, political opinion, or religion. However, Canada’s lower courts have taken on cases that deal with gender identity in refugee law. Appeals from the IRB are heard at Canada’s Federal Court, whose decisions set rules for future IRB cases. In Hernandez v. Canada ([2007] F.C.J. No. 1665), the Federal Court held that the IRB had erred in failing to consider that the claimant was transgender, or that she may face discrimination on the basis of her gender identity if forced to return to her country of origin.

            From So it might not be perfectly straightforward, but immigration never is, and I can pretty much guarantee it’s better than what you’d get in the US. (As a Canadian expat living in the States this is about what I expected. Also, I expect Multiheaded has done her research and this is why she chose Canada rather than the US.) Up until very, very recently, marriage to a same-sex spouse could not be used to gain immigrant status in the US, because the federal government did not recognize same-sex marriages.

            Anyway, your suggestion is still good, but I’d say only as a very last resort… while it’s a helluva lot better than facing serious persecution in Russia, marrying someone for immigration reasons is a recipe for emotional ruin. Also, if immigration officials find out that’s why you are getting married (which might be pretty obvious if you’ve already filed for refugee status), they probably would not look kindly on it.

  23. Muga Sofer says:

    So, I recently wrote a thing about libertariaism:

    It … started as my attempt to steelman libertarianism into something I could actually believe, but kind of ended up … going the other way. I’m worried I ended up producing a strawman.

    We have a lot of libertarians here, right? Can anyone tell me if I’m being horrible and unfair?

    • The central thesis of libertarianism, as an ideology – and I can say this, for once, without fear of contradiction; for it really is extraordinarily simple – is this:

      Imagine a world in which there is no such thing as force. There is no violence, no coercion.

      I don’t think this is true. Libertarians do believe in force in defending private property and family. Libertarians want to be the ones to carry our this force instead of being dependent on a state-run entity such as the police.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t think you have it right either. It’s not that libertarians want to carry out this force but that they are opposed to the initiation of force. I think pretty much every libertarian believes in the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle is the idea that you shouldn’t initiate aggression. What is aggression? Basically it’s violating your property, which includes yourself and and all your belongings.

        Someone who is an anarcho-capitalist believes that the government, pretty much by definition, initiates force. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a government. So they oppose the government and want to replace it with voluntary, private defense forces who will protect you instead of a violence enforced monopoly.

      • Ano says:

        I don’t think that’s really accurate; I think libertarians generally believe that the government should enforce property rights and laws against violence or fraud, but that basically everything else that the government does is done better by private organizations or individuals. From the Libertarian Party Platform:

        “The only proper role of government in the economic realm is to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected.”

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          Most libertarians are in favour of a limited government. However, there is also a subset of libertarians (typically called anarcho-capitalists) who want to get rid of government altogether and have even functions such as law and defence provided by private institutions.

      • Mr. Eldritch says:

        >Libertarians want to be the ones to carry our this force instead of being dependent on a state-run entity such as the police.

        This doesn’t ring true to me. A central component of libertarian ideology – or at least the branch of libertarianism I’m familiar with – is that the state should have “a monopoly on the use of violence.” In a very real sense, to the libertarians I’m familiar with, having someone to carry out the use of force and prevent other people from doing so is the *entire point* of having a government in the first place instead of going full anarcho-capitalist or whatever. The state ensures law enforcement, protection of rights, maintains a military force, and all else (public works, accounting for externalities, providing a social safety net) is largely dependent on your personal opinions about government.

        • Nita says:

          A central component of libertarian ideology – or at least the branch of libertarianism I’m familiar with – is that the state should have “a monopoly on the use of violence.”

          Actually, that is the mainstream view, first described in those terms by Max Weber.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Like a lot of NRx I’m a post-libertarian, and I can tell you that your treatment here is really poor. It’s really short; you deal with a tiny part of libertarianism, on a really shallow basis. Compare with Scott Alexander’s Anti-Libertarian FAQ, which is page after page of arguments and examples and facts; that’s the level of depth you need to make a serious argument against libertarian ideas. Imagine that someone wrote a post, “On Liberalism” or whatever your political philosophy is, and dismissed it after as brief a treatment as you have given here. Would you feel like your beliefs had gotten a fair shake? I mean, you talk about incentives, but you don’t even anticipate the obvious libertarian counter: in a world in which the government forces the rich woman to give food to the poor man, what incentive does the rich woman have to create food? She simply goes and does something else, and the poor man starves.

      • Anonymous says:

        >I’m a post-libertarian

        If you don’t mind me asking, what views that you hold would you qualify as post libertarian, and what would you say makes them so?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Most of them are on the meta-level. I still think a lot of libertarian policies are great on the object-level, mostly the economic ones, but realize that democracy is inherently hostile to a libertarian economy, because Moldbug. Compare to mainstream libertarianism, which thinks getting a few more people to vote for a tiny third party is a worthwhile use of their time and effort and money.

          An object-level example of a libertarian belief I no longer hold is free speech. I agree with all the libertarian arguments for why free speech would be great, but the bottom line is that free speech is impossible, because someone is always going to control the discourse, legally or otherwise (see, for example, all the people who have gotten doxxed and fired recently for being insufficiently progressive). That being the case, if someone is going to control speech anyway, it might as well be my side.

          • Wirehead Wannabe says:

            Why do you believe control of speech to be inevitable? Surely we can make it illegal to fire people based on speech made outside work. I understand that not every space can be a free speech zone all the time, but that’s not the same as not having free speech at all.

          • Or you have one of two solutions:

            a) Everyone grows the hell up, the culture changes, and a person’s opinions outside the workplace no longer have a bearing on what s/he does at work, as long as s/he doesn’t bring said opinions *to* work, or
            b) A small number of people realise that the vast majority are too emotionally immuture to handle free speech, and a smart entrepreneur implements a technological solution which allows you to speak freely with likeminded people *without* running the risk of public censure, simply by not having such discussions public, and additionally implements *social* incentives to ensure that any betrayal of such privacy is punished swiftly and efficiently. This then slowly but surely spreads, and everyone starts using it.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Can’t you go for a compromise,w here you approximate the ideal of free speech closely as you can, while knowing that it cannot completely be done, and without just cynically giving up?

            That is after all how we deal with many things…eg crime.

          • Ano says:

            There are greater and lesser extents of freedom, and even if the concept of perfect freedom isn’t one that seems possible or even entirely rational, it might still be a ideal worth striving towards, like many moral principles. No doubt, speech is freer in the United States than it is in North Korea, so our attempts to create freedom do bear some fruit.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Surely we can make it illegal to fire people based on speech made outside work.

            Which works fine, until the lawmakers or judges decide to add an exception for “hate speech” or whatever other bullshit rationalization they can come up with to silence their political opponents.

            Everyone grows the hell up, the culture changes, and a person’s opinions outside the workplace no longer have a bearing on what s/he does at work, as long as s/he doesn’t bring said opinions *to* work

            Sounds about as realistic as all those people who believe humanity will somehow “outgrow” war. It’s not that SJWs are taking a principled stand in favor of employers being able to monitor your off hours, it’s that they have found a convenient way to crush their political enemies. There is nothing immature about it; they know perfectly well what they are doing.

          • Ahilan Nagendram says:

            It’s simply asinine to take away the right of businesses to fire those who through their own stupidity have made themselves a liability. The way you people talk makes me realize that probably none of you have ever had to deal with such crap as a business owner, entrepreneur, PR dude, or whatever else. It just feels like you people want to say whatever stupid bullshit you want without any consequences or criticism, which is not viable, nor is it ideal. Holocaust deniers, climate deniers, race and intelligence deniers, deserve all the criticism they receive, and if they create enough hoopla over their idiocy, their place of work has no obligation to keep them at the job if the controversy can damage them.

            And before someone strawmans me, I do not want “hate speech laws” or any crap like that.

    • sards says:

      You made a number of false claims about libertarians in your first paragraph. Libertarians don’t side with the rich, the upper-class, or the system; they don’t “battle hardest” for kings; and they don’t generally vote Republican.

      As you note, voluntary trades are guaranteed to be mutually beneficial, but are not guaranteed to be optimal (in the utilitarian/economic efficiency sense). Libertarians disagree that big government intervention in the market is an effective way of forcing market activity in a more optimal direction; based on empirical observation, we think this almost always does more harm than good. There are also theoretical reasons to expect that big government won’t work. So if you want to argue the case for big government vs. libertarianism, you need to do more than point out that free markets don’t lead to Utopia and that some trades are suboptimal. You need to show that your proposed solution is actually beneficial.

      But even if you succeed in making that case, your work won’t be done. Most libertarians, like most liberals and conservatives, are not consequentialists; many of us believe in rights (freedom from coercion, property, etc.) and reject arguments for the legitimacy of political authority. Any serious critique of libertarianism needs to address those points.

    • Tarrou says:

      I don’t know about horrible or unfair. Vastly wrong? Describing some sort of mutant Pacifist Anarchy Randian thing that doesn’t exist and thinking it is libertarian? I can’t even call it a strawman, it’s a rock standing in for a car.

      • Muga Sofer says:


        I based that on conversations I’ve had with libertarians, but it’s also the opener for Scott’s FAQ on the topic:

        The Argument:

        In a free market, all trade has to be voluntary, so you will never agree to a trade unless it benefits you.

        Further, you won’t make a trade unless you think it’s the best possible trade you can make. If you knew you could make a better one, you’d hold out for that. So trades in a free market are not only better than nothing, they’re also the best possible transaction you could make at that time.

        Labor is no different from any other commercial transaction in this respect. You won’t agree to a job unless it benefits you more than anything else you can do with your time, and your employer won’t hire you unless it benefits her more than anything else she can do with her money. So a voluntarily agreed labor contract must benefit both parties, and must do so more than any other alternative.

        If every trade in a free market benefits both parties, then any time the government tries to restrict trade in some way, it must hurt both parties. Or, to put it another way, you can help someone by giving them more options, but you can’t help them by taking away options. And in a free market, where everyone starts with all options, all the government can do is take options away.

        The Counterargument:

        This treats the world as a series of producer-consumer dyads instead of as a system in which every transaction affects everyone else. Also, it treats consumers as coherent entities who have specific variables like “utility” and “demand” and know exactly what they are, which doesn’t always work.

        In the remainder of this section, I’ll be going over several ways the free market can fail and several ways a regulated market can overcome those failures. I’ll focus on four main things: externalities, coordination problems, irrational choice, and lack of information. I did warn you it would be mind-numbingly boring.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Libertarians oppose the initiation of force, not all violence.

        • Tarrou says:

          Where do you get the idea that libertarians concieve of no force or coercion? And just because that is the attributes of a theoretical ideal state doesn’t mean that’s what libertarians think happens in the real world. There are no free markets, and never have been. We just want them freer than they are currently.

          What delineates libertarians from anarchists is precisely that they acknowledge violence, force and coercion, and condone collective action (government) as a means of combating these problems. That is the whole wheelhouse of libertarianism, that government should be small and focused on eliminating instances of violence, fraud and coercion, not on handing out candy.

          Finally, libertarianism is most definitely NOT focused on shilling for the rich. We support them when their interests align with our principles, and we trash them when they don’t. Libertarians almost all opposed things like the bank bailouts. Our biggest fear is not big business, nor government, but the collusion of the two.

          I think what happens is that libertarianism is pretty small, and only gets heard when it’s opposing something popular (even if it’s stupid). Do we get credit from liberals for opposing stupid foregin wars, supporting gay marriage and opposing the drug war? Nope, all we hear about is how evil we are for opposing whatever idiotic flavor of the month political scheme to force nuns to pay for triple-gay double pregnant trans-racial gang member’s tattoo removal or some such BS.

          • Luke Somers says:

            > Do we get credit from liberals for opposing stupid foregin wars, supporting gay marriage and opposing the drug war?

            Yes, I’ve heard liberals give libertarians a lot of credit for those things.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          Wait, you based your impression of libertarianism on the position ascribed to libertarianism by someone writing a “Non-Libertarian FAQ” specificially for the purposes of refuting that position? Scott is one of the fairest and most reasonable critics of libertarianism, but even so you can surely see that this method would be liable to give you a distorted view of libertarianism.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            >Wait, you based your impression of libertarianism on the position ascribed to libertarianism by someone writing a “Non-Libertarian FAQ” specificially for the purposes of refuting that position?

            No. I based that section on conversations I’ve had with libertarians; and the essay as a whole was inspired by the opening quote.

            I just had Scott’s FAQ open in another tab, and figured it would do as a source. (Although, for the record, Scott identifies as “left-libertarian” himself; the FAQ is only aimed at refuting “a certain more aggressive, very American strain of libertarianism”, according to the introduction.)

    • John Schilling says:

      Well, first, you’re addressing laissez-faire economics, which is at best a subset of libertarianism.

      And second, you’re using what I call “Disney Economics”, the economic model where all wealth is manifest as the Giant Money Bins of Scrooge McDuck. A static supply of Valuable Stuff, in your version food, which the rich possess for no good reason and hoard out of sheer greed, such that any economic benefit to the non-rich can come only by extracting the Valuable Stuff from Scrooge’s Money Bins. In this model, yes, various forms of socialist redistribution are more efficient than groveling for whatever pittance the Rich will choose to share.

      In the real world, the rich woman has food to spare only because the poor person works for her. There is a certain maximum wage of foodsquares per hour of labor beyond which she cannot go, no matter how generous she may be, no matter how powerful the mob or law demanding redistribution may be, else the granaries will be emptied and there will be no more food. And, of course, a minimum foodsquare wage below which the worker will starve. The actual wage should be somewhere in the middle, and likely will be so long as neither party is privileged to issue take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums.

      If someone is foolish enough to try…

      In the real world “the rich” is plural, not singular, and they compete. Specifically, they compete for the loyalty of the poor, as both laborers and customers – the richest people in the world today, mostly got that way by selling cheap but broadly popular consumer goods to the poor and middle class. So one rich woman offers one foodsquare per fifty hours of labor. Nobody works for her. Her rich cousin figured out that offering one foodsquare per forty hours means all the starving poor people work for him instead. If the first rich woman doesn’t wise up, she’ll wind up having to sell her boarded-up food mine and empty granary to her now-much-richer cousin.

      No matter; there’s plenty of other rich people around, along with plenty of poor. By the time they are finished working this out, the foodsquares-per-hour going rate will be within about ten percent of the empty-granary limit from the last paragraph and the excess wealth will be going into producing other neat stuff. Er, unless the state comes in and says that rich woman #1 is “too big to fail”, and that the prospect of her particular granary going empty is so unthinkable that the power of the state must be used to support her current business model including its price/wage structure.

      Finally, in the real world it is never as simple as just a Rich Person buying labor from a Poor Person, which he uses to Make Stuff for consumption by rich and/or poor people. There are no “food mines” that turn undifferentiated labor into foodsquares. Every real economic benefit of the modern world, even something so simple as a foodsquare or a pencil, is the result of an ineffably complex web of transactions involving millions of talented people in dozens of cities and provinces. No person can understand the entire process by which a pencil comes to be, nor any bureaucratic agency nor any massive supercomputer anyone has yet invented. But any person can understand his own part in it, and his relationship with his immediate partners. Let each of them make his or her own best deal, and in the end we get pencils for a quarter, foodsquares for three bucks. Intrude and say, “but you’re clearly overcharging for raw rubber at the eraser factory, wrongfully impoverishing the rubber farmers”, and you get some happy rubber farmers in the short term and a severe pencil shortage in the long term.

      There are problems where some degree of simplification is necessary to achieve understanding. But reducing economics to Scrooge McDuck vs. the Poor Starving Masses, promotes misunderstanding

    • Princess_Stargirl says:

      Have you ever read the USA libertarian Party Platform. Libertarians disagree on many issues. But the stated views of the Libertarian party seem like a decent model of “Libertarian Beleifs.”

      *I would prefer survey data of what Libertarians believebut I don’t have any.

      **I am not a libertarian. My main disagreement is I think very large amounts of re-distribution would be ideal. Libertarians tend to want very, very little. Though I share much of there skepticism for government. I especially find their analysis of regulations and regulatory capture insightful.

    • blacktrance says:

      I agree with most of the criticisms already made, but to add one more – it is not a thesis of libertarianism that markets create utopias. Markets create a playing field in which the creation of value is less inhibited, which results in improvements, but utopia is far from guaranteed. Libertarians also tend to acknowledge the importance of productivity and technology – if you traveled back a few millenia and established a free-market order, people would still be extremely poor. It’s also strange to claim that libertarianism leads to tragedy of the commons when libertarians are such ardent advocates of privatization.

      Also, it is a mistake to treat markets as something more than people engaging in voluntary exchange. Markets don’t have values of their own.

    • Pasha says:

      You are being horrible and unfair.

      Libertarian here. Not going to speak for all of them, but a few of the many issues:

      – Simple idea: state coercion should not be the first option that everybody jumps towards in solving social problems. US Government is 40%GDP and everybody still thinks US is capitalist and we need more coercion.

      – Providing hypotheticals of two people and claiming that God can do better than some sort of market is not an argument for government, unless God is running government, which it is not. Real-life markets have both a larger level of options and charitable giving.

      – If you approaching something on purely consequentialist grounds, you need to address the prior of why governments have killed 300 million people last century. Proportionally speaking it was even worse before 20th century. The idea of simply dropping “government” or “democracy” and pretending it’s somehow watching out for the good of people run counter to history. This isn’t just about “corruption”, which doesn’t even come close to being the worst thing in government.

      – At the fundamental level, there could be reasons why agent A could use some sort of physicality against agent B, such as parent dragging a child away from a car. However, it’s harder to argue that a government official knows better than a person of what to do with money, time, including where to donate it.

      – Semi-Slavery based employment is perfectly sanctioned by the government today. It’s usually called immigration contingent on employment, aka, you will get kicked out of the country if you don’t work. If your worry is “exploitation” may i suggest using your time to lobby for more green cards?

    • RCF says:

      The central thesis of libertarianism, as an ideology – and I can say this, for once, without fear of contradiction; for it really is extraordinarily simple – is this:

      Imagine a world in which there is no such thing as force. There is no violence, no coercion.

      But neither is this world perfect; there is inequality, and want, just as in our own. Different people have different resources, different skills.

      So, you’re saying that the central thesis of libertarianism is that even without any force, the world would not be perfect? On the one hand, this such a vacuous statement, that I can’t see how you thought this could be the central thesis. On the other hand, if you intended to assert something else, then you failed miserably. It’s really incredibly bad essay construction to say “Here’s the central thesis” and then wander off into some thought experiment that you think somehow illustrates the thesis. If you think that some thought experiment is necessary, then okay, present it. But clearly delineate what is your thought experiment, and what is the thesis. I can’ critique your steelman attempt, because I have no idea what it is.

      Also, watch “it’s” versus “its”.

  24. 3. Some people seem to have gotten genuinely upset about some of the recent discussion of IQ, on grounds something like that if high IQ is a necessary ingredient of some forms of academic success and they’re lower-IQ than other people, then they are bad and worthless. I strongly disagree with this and think it gets the reasoning exactly wrong, and I hope to explain why. But work has been pretty crazy lately (no pun intended) and I might not get the chance to write it up for a little while. Until then, please do me a favor and just take it on faith that you are a valuable human being who is worthy of existence.

    Which comments or thread did people get offended? curious because this is a favorite subject of mine and am always looking for new content for my own site/

    I surmise IQ has become a touchy subject (or at least more so than in the past) because of the greater role biological determinism plays in our increasingly competitive economy. Today’s hyper-meritocracy amplifies the socioeconomic ramifications of individual cognitive differences such that a person with an IQ >110 is much more likely to succeed than someone with an IQ <90 , whereas decades ago the differences in outcomes wasn't so obvious. IQ has become our new caste system, and this is understandably a disconcerting concept because it goes against our ideal of free will.

    • Creutzer says:

      Which comments or thread did people get offended?

      Upset, not offended. I remember seeing a few posts in that vein, but I can’t tell you where. Hell, if I had the value system that I perceive as the median in this community, I imagine I’d be facing some issues of that kind myself.

  25. Zorgon says:

    Donated to Multi, because fuck Russia’s attitude to transfolks.

    That aside, I’ve been waiting for an open thread to ask: Does anyone have suggestions for a good place to start someone with Christian Rationalism?

    I have a friend who is a member of a rather dubious strand of Christianity and she’s been showing clear signs of wanting to shift to a less… completely crazy… approach to thinking. She’s already a big fan of HPMOR and reasonably well read, but is also a fervent believer, so deconverting her is pretty much out of the question (and I suspect would have severe and long-lasting deleterious effects on her mental health).

    So my question is, where to start? I don’t personally know very much about the theistic sides of rationalism, being the never-believed kind of atheist, so any advice is welcome.

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      Presuming that you mean Less Wrongian rationalism, Leah Libresco.

      • Can someone please summarize why Leah Libresco is Catholic? I am super confused as to how someone could both be a rationalist and actually believe that the claims of the Church are true.

        • Anonymous says:

          To the best of my understanding: she noticed that she thought of moral law as a person who loved her, and that Catholicism seemed like the best way to reach back to that person.

        • I’ve wished she would give a lengthy explanation of this for a while–there are a few blog posts about it, but none of them are of Scottist length and address the millions of objections that come to mind when reading them.

          • RCF says:

            I do find it a bit unseemly to be objecting to Leah not presenting an account of her religious journey satisfactory to random strangers on the internet. My main objection to Christianity is Christians’ common idea that their personal beliefs should affect my actions. If Leah rejects this idea, then I don’t see a pressing need to discuss the rest of her belief system.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Thank you! Thank everyone!

      And yes, it’s pretty fucking bad. Don’t even want to talk about it. Suffice to say, the vast majority of people here aren’t aware of a *single* queer person they might personally know. And there are no high profile, publicly visible trans people *at all* – and most LGBT outreach efforts, such as they are, don’t even mention our existence.

      (I don’t want to go into the practical dangers and impossibilities of living while trans.)

      • haishan says:

        And yes, it’s pretty fucking bad. Don’t even want to talk about it….I don’t want to go into the practical dangers and impossibilities of living while trans.

        I do hope that you will talk about it at some point, with as high-powered a signal as possible, although I totally understand that it might not be prudent or psychologically healthy to do so now. I may not agree with your politics, and I may be kinda-sorta conflicted about your right to express them, but I will fight to the death for your right to tell your story. (Also your right to, like, not die, although that’s not a particularly universalizable impulse.)

        Gave $20.

      • llamathatducks says:

        <3 </3

        I am Russian-American and LGBT (not trans, but still) and while I don't have to deal with the actual dangers of being an LGBT person in Russia, I get heartbroken pretty much every time I hear anything about LGBT stuff there. I'm so glad you're getting out, and so sad that the only way you can live well is to leave.

        And thank you for reaching out to this community and letting us help you achieve your goal. I fervently wish you the best of luck.

    • Irenist says:

      I think it depends in part on which strand of Christianity, and what you find rather dubious about it. Depending on what kind of denomination your friend is coming from, some kinds of discourse will produce less culture shock than others. Likewise, if a more rationalist-inflected Christianity prompts your friend to switch denominations (rather than just reweave her belief web around the edges), the culture shock issue will be a much bigger deal.

    • Deiseach says:

      Depending on what exactly you mean by “rather dubious”, quite frankly I’d be encouraging her gently to explore less batshit crazy (is that the meaning I should take?) traditions within Christianity to help her on the way. She can sort out rationalism later on.

    • Troy says:

      A large swath of analytic philosophy of religion is Christians attempting to give reasoned defenses/analyses of their faith and/or use reason to determine whether/what kind of Christianity to believe in. Some of them (e.g., Alvin Plantinga) endorse epistemological views at odds with the rationalist community, but they are also full-blooded Bayesian evidentialists, like Richard Swinburne. There’s plenty of good discussion among said philosophers about issues like heaven and hell, Christian exclusivism, Scriptural inerrantism, creation and evolution, and so on.

      I recommend, as always, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as an introduction to these topics.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that an unwanted/unplanned poor child has a significant cost to society in terms of welfare, crime and possibly a whole lot of things I haven’t thought about. Let’s fix that cost to an arbitrary number, say 1/5th the cost of bringing up a child, or for the US roughly 50k USD.

    Now, let’s offer 1/10 of that cost as a direct monetary incentive to have people sterilised. For maximum effect, we would offer this only to women.

    If you are rich enough to actually bring up a child, 5000 USD is a trivial sum and not worth the hassle. If you are too poor to bring up a child, 5000 USD is a substantial sum, and if you want your tubes tied anyway, today you probably can’t afford it.

    If you have taken the money and your financial situation changes from winning the lottery or whatnot, well these things are reversible now, and I suspect that the cost of a reversal operation is higher than the 5k.

    Why isn’t this the obvious solution to a LOT of problems related to poverty?

    • It’s a good solution, but one that farces major hurdles being implemented because it evokes fear of Nazism and compulsory sterilization, even if such comparisons are unfounded. Politicians like to talk about poverty of a social problem, not a biological one. Scientists have to tread this water carefully. This censorship, whether self-imposed or imposed by society, hurts potential progress that can be made on these issues

    • Nita says:

      If you are too poor to bring up a child, 5000 USD is a substantial sum, and if you want your tubes tied anyway

      Most childless poor people probably hope to get out of poverty and have children eventually.

      I would support subsidized temporary contraception like hormone implants or RISUG, with sterilization only for those who actually want it.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        $X per month (or $3X quarterly, for 3 month implants or such) would be cheaper initially, too.

    • Deiseach says:

      Why women only? Why not men only? Part of the problem here is that prevention of pregnancy is seen as the woman’s responsibility. Given that it’s complicated to mess around hormones, and even laparoscopy for tubal ligation is still major surgery, why not encourage men to get the snip or have polymer gel injections? Quicker, cheaper and they can bang as many chicks as they like without having to use condoms or worry is she really on the pill or IUD!

      • lmm says:

        Non-rigorous thoughts:

        Higher variance in male sexual behaviour. Most unwanted children are conceived by a small tail of highly irresponsible men, whereas they’re spread across a wider spectrum of women. That kind of cuts both ways though, hmm.

        Raising any children will be the woman’s responsibility, so her financial state is more important to the child’s life outcomes than the man’s. And if you encourage men to be sterilized, you’re going to have many more cases of provable cuckolding, which seems like it will lead to bad outcomes all round.

        • Deiseach says:

          Provable cuckolding? Let’s unpack the whole raft of attitudes there, shall we?

          (a) suppose Mr A and Mrs A, or Mr A and Ms B, are in an intimate relationship. Mrs A/Ms B is also – the hussy! – having a bit on the side.

          Why the blue blazes would she get herself knocked up?

          Okay, you say, the little minx wants a baby or wants to humiliate her poor deluded spouse/partner or was careless, and thinks she can pass off baby as Mr A’s child.

          But! Mr A then says “You home-wrecking cheating deceiving wanton, I am sterile and here’s my receipt for the medical procedure to prove it! This pregnancy is none of my doing!”

          (b) If Mr A has not informed Mrs A/Ms B that he is sterile, and therefore she need not worry about contraception (prevention of sexually transmitted disease is another thing), then either their relationship is of so informal a manner that “cuckolding” is hardly a concern (there is no emotional depth or investment in what is a casual sexual arrangement), or matters between them are at such a pitch that her having an affair is a symptom, not a cause, of their disunity and disintegration.

          (c) Also, I very much resent the perhaps unintentional implication that oh noes, we must not interfere with men’s potent virile fluids because otherwise bitches would be out there spreading their legs for every dude who whistles at them and getting themselves up the duff by strange men not their master. But making women as a population, or a very large slice of it, sterile is no problem, apparently (we need not worry about men deceiving their tube-tied women and fathering children by other women, is that so?)

          (d) That last may seem harsh and even rude, but if the first objection that occurs to you is “if men are sterilised, that means women could be cuckolding them” and you don’t consider or weigh the equal risk that sterilised women might be cheated on by men fathering children by other women, I think you need to question why cuckolding was the big problem that leaped out for you.

          • Jiro says:

            (d) That last may seem harsh and even rude, but if the first objection that occurs to you is “if men are sterilised, that means women could be cuckolding them” and you don’t consider or weigh the equal risk that sterilised women might be cheated on by men fathering children by other women, I think you need to question why cuckolding was the big problem that leaped out for you.

            I don’t think he needs to question it; rather, you should have been more charitable and tried to figure out possible reasons for it.

            One of the most obvious ones is that cuckolding is far more costly for the man than for the woman, since it is always possible to know who the mother is, but not the father, enabling a woman cuckolding a man to impose costs on the man that a man cheating on a woman cannot. It just wouldn’t make any sense for a man to cheat on a woman, pretend the child is hers, and get her to raise it and spend money on it. Basic biology prevents that.

          • Deiseach says:

            You know, I said to myself this morning “Why am I always getting into fights on Scott’s blog? Why am I not a nicer person? I need to do more ‘I love little kittens because they are so soft and furry’ comments and be a smiling ray of sunshine!”

            Well, looks like I picked the wrong day to make a resolution to be nice and sweet and non-confrontational.


            You know, I cannot believe I am a socially conservative, traditional Catholic when I seem to be on the left-ward side of attitudes like the “cuckolding” one.

            I repeat: if your first objection to sterilisation of males is that their womenfolks will be rushing out to get themselves up the pole by sneaky sex with the other men sniffing around, why would this be your first objection? Why not on health grounds? Grounds to rights of autonomy over their body? Religious grounds?

            Women have the risk of constant doses of artificial hormones or major surgery to control their fertility. None of this appears to be a problem. But mention the equivalent responsibilty for men to control their fertility and all of a sudden it’s a recipe for cuckoldry!

          • lmm says:

            May have been a poor choice of word (it evidently has stronger connotations than it does for me); apologies. I started, as I usually do when trying to come up with conservative objections to relationship policies, by thinking of the children: how might male or female sterilisation harm their children? From there the thought process is obvious and never felt particularly purity-oriented. The child of a man cheating on his sterilised wife could probably have a normal, positive life (no-one would ever know). The child of a woman cheating on her sterilised husband, not so much. If anything I’d expect widespread male sterilisation to /reduce/ cheating, but that’s not something I weigh at all heavily in comparison to child welfare.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I feel like everybody has missed the provable part of the phrase “provable cuckolding.” That’s an important modifier; the objection isn’t to cuckolding; it’s to the cuckolding being found out.

          • Deiseach says:

            The child of a man cheating on his sterilised wife could probably have a normal, positive life (no-one would ever know).

            (1) The woman in the case above is married or in a permanent relationship herself. Her husband is either (a) not sterilised and accepts the child as his, or (b) like our friend Mr A, sterilised and
            is highly upset about being provably cuckolded.


            (1) (a) Nobody says anything, nobody finds out anything, and indeed everything goes along nicely (I know from local gossip about one guy who doesn’t know who his real grandfather is, because his own father didn’t know it – but because of Circumstances, i.e. Ireland is a small country, your neighbours do know your business, and my mother did a lot of visiting amongst elderly relatives and heard all the gossip, I in turn know about it because Great-Grand-dad was a notorious cocksman and fathered a whole rake of illegitimate children). Nothing to arouse suspicion like “Hm, nobody in myfamily ever had red hair, darling!” comes up, there are no messy vicious rows where it gets thrown in B’s face “And by the way, that’s not your kid!” and everything in the garden is rosy. Could happen. Probably does happen. Mr and Mrs/Ms B don’t break up over her fling with Mr C, and Little C never finds out (or not until later in life) that B is not his dad.

            (1) (a) People know anyhow because neighbours, family and others have ways of finding out. Even if Little C and Little C’s foster-dad never know, Mrs/Ms B knows and Mr C may or may not know. I’m also seeing in my work cases where the Little Cs find out later in life about their real dads and change names, try to find their ‘real’ father, etc. It’s not without upheaval of some kind.

            (1) (b) Mr B divorces his wife/dumps his girlfriend for being a cheating hussy and refuses to pay maintenance for a bastard that’s none of his get. Mrs/Ms B gets a bad reputation in at least some quarters. Little C learns all about “hey, your mom cheated on your dad! Only he’s not your dad, is he?” from their little schoolmates, who learned it in turn from overhearing the gossip of their parents about Mrs/Ms B. Upheaval and rancour and all kinds of emotional upset, not to speak of the environmental consequences (chances of poverty, disrupted/broken homes, etc.)

            (2) The woman is not married. Unless she is in a position where she has ample means and doesn’t need any material support from the father, she’ll probably look for child maintenance. When looking for child support payments (because if you’re claiming lone-parent allowance, you have to prove that you’ve made an attempt to gain maintenance from the other parent), she needs to name Mr C as the baby-daddy. Mr C, as we’ve seen, is married. Mrs C, unless it’s a particular set of circumstances, will not be happy to hear about this. Mr C may not be too happy himself. Little C will come in for some of the fallout from all the adults fighting over this.

            (2) (b) Mr C makes a habit of spreading his seed and Little C finds out that they’re just one more notch on the bedpost as far as Dear Old Dad is concerned. This may or may not be a matter of distress to them.

      • Kevin says:

        I fully support encouraging men to take as much responsibility as women for contraception. However, ceasing the use of condoms would still not be advisable, as vasectomies sadly do not prevent STDs.

        • Deiseach says:

          (1) Original suggestion about making women infertile did not address disease prevention

          (2)Trouble is, the pregnancies are happening because guys are not using condoms (in conjunction with the women not using any/effective contraception), so their fears of sexually transmitted disease obviously are not scaring them into behaving in a manner to prevent that as well as pregnancy.

          If we’re going to treat women as a population to be neutered to prevent unwanted pregnancies, we should do the same for men. If you want to sleep around without let or hindrance, fine for you, but then what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, or, it takes two to make a baby.

          • AR+ says:

            Women are far more of a bottleneck to fertility. Neuter all but a fifth of the men and you might well get about as many babies, so depending on the exact goals of the effort, the sexes are not symmetrical.

            I feel like this should be obvious.

          • Anonymous says:

          • Kevin says:

            I would be interested to see numbers on causes of unwanted pregnancies: refusal to use condoms, using condoms incorrectly, etc. I haven’t been able to find a study that fine-grained.

      • Anonymous says:

        Right, reading this one and the comments below, that one went off on a tangent I hadn’t anticipated.

        The “women only” bit was intended as a purely return on investment consideration and not in any way a slight against women. For much the same reason that fertility in populations is measured in “children per woman” and not in “children per person” or “children per couple”, the actual impact of a sterile woman is simply higher than that of a sterile man. This is why I started the sentence with “For maximum effect”, sorry for the misunderstanding.

        If implemented for both sexes, there would probably need to be a different price structure, because the reversal is also simpler on men, so that you could go get the 5k, then get the reversal for 2k, rinse and repeat.

    • Anonymous says:

      Several reversible birth control methods (such as IUD) are just as effective as tubal ligation (as is RISUG, which really needs to become available to men who want it). I can see a scheme like this being implemented with these types of more-easily-reversible methods, which are less likely to conjure the specter of eugenics.

    • Corwin says:

      Totally is. Who’s organizing the fundraising?

      Just one objection : men AND women both.

      One more detail : free reversibility on demand, no question asked, over the counter if at all possible. Just that it has to take at least a fleeting instant of actually wanting to make a baby, with consent from both partners. But not necessarily more. There MUST be no test, no license, no question – so that there is no denial of reproductive rights, just that it would make them opt-in.

      • Anonymous says:

        Actually I thought of this mainly as a const-savings measure from the state, not as a subject for fundraising.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sounds a bit like Brave New World, with a whole lot of potential to become 1984-ish, depending on government-evilness.

        Also, if opt-in is free of charge, you’re facing underpaid personell in sub-par facilities, should you be able to make it to the facility 200km over (if you can pay for the train/bus/car ride). Or you probably won’t, for a long time, since the waiting period would likely be ~3 years+.

        Or so I’d imagine, at least…

      • Gbdub says:

        if you allow for free reversibility, what’s to stop someone from taking their incentive payment to get sterilized and then immediately demanding reversal?

        I guess I just weigh the “right to reproduce” much less than you, in that I’m not sure the right to produce a baby trumps the collective right of society to not have an unproductive new member thrust upon it.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      I agree that unwanted children born to poor parents are probably on net a bad thing for societal welfare. But it’s not at all clear to me that the same can be said for planned children born to poor parents. Especially considering that most First World countries today have worryingly low birth rates.

      When considering which people would be affected by this sterilisation premium, you quietly drop any talk about children being unwanted. This proposal would significantly reduce birth rates among low income people and would cut down on unwanted as well as on wanted children.

  27. So Scott, I posted a moral philosophy theory that I feel you might like. It’s probably quite closely related (though perhaps a little more formal) to your relentless march of niceness theories 🙂 I’ve put a lot of work into this one and I hope it has broad appeal across multiple philosophical camps.

    The Ideal of Comprehensive Morality

    As always, feedback welcome on my blog or here.

    • 27chaos says:

      I liked this. Even as you were discussing your moral hero, I found myself wondering what a defense of a more myopic morality might look like, and then you immediately proceeded to illustrate one.

    • This goes into detail about the sort of mistakes abused children are likely to make about morality and safety, simply because children don’t have great tools for thinking about what’s happening to them.

  28. Brandon Berg says:

    Hey, Scott, could you send me an email at the address I used in this comment? I was going to mention what I think was an error in your Untitled post, but thought it might run afoul of the no-gender rule.

  29. Aneesh Mulye says:

    I just matched your donation, Scott.

  30. Jaskologist says:

    It’s time for something completely different:

    Share with us your spooky stories, whether supernatural, weird, or glitches in the Matrix. In the spirit of the genre, there are only two rules:

    1. The story must have happened to you or to a close friend.

    2. Lying is, of course, completely permissible.

    • gwern says:

      Here’s one from me: It may not strike others as all that spooky, but I found it as disturbing as heck to have a prophetic dream. (It’s too bad I don’t have access to the NYT corpus so I could calculate the chance of my dream being right by seeing what fraction of Wiktionary entries have exactly one attestation in the NYT corpus.)

    • Anonymous says:

      >Lying is, of course, completely permissible.

      Only lies the reader would want to believe!

    • Brad says:

      Oh goodness. I have far more than you would care to hear. Seriously – if I had the time or inclination, I could fill up this forum with replies until I got banned or you stopped caring. I’ll warn up front that I am a Christian fundamentalist – and I am not lying, not on purpose by any means. This is not a concocted story (at least, it is not meant or intended to be), but rather my sometimes fuzzy recollection of …unusual things that happened to me.

      There’s a line in the novel Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami where the main character, after a series of fairly blatant coincidences, kind of exhasperatedly goes “alright, alright, you win. This is not a coincidence, these things are connected.”

      I feel like the protagonist of that book an awful lot.

      Here is one: when I first became a Christian – when I really considered myself converted in 2005 – I had a pornography habit, and I asked God to help me stop said habit. Maybe what happened, began to happen before I asked, it’s been a long time and I might be getting details wrong.

      What is clear to me is this: I began to get sick, most typically with really incredibly awful stomach ailments, within 24 hours of looking at pornography, and this would subside when I repented in prayer to God. It wasn’t limited to that, but it presented in a variety of misfortunes. You would think after this happened a few times, someone would get gunshy enough to quit porn cold turkey, but I continued to look at porn well into my freshmen year of college; in fact, because I wasn’t monitored at college, I ended up looking at porn more, not less. *Incidentally*, I was incredibly sick that year, I had all kinds of incredibly gross infections and I recall one incident where I suddenly couldn’t see in the middle of an exam because I was afflicted with pinkeye and my eye’s view was obstructed by discharge.

      Anyways- I did awful, awful in school that year, nearly dropped out (but didn’t, although I got ghastly grades) – and after deciding to commute, asking for help from my parents, ended up dropping my porn usage a lot (and eventually entirely), and finally stabilizing my GPA.

      I looked through the bible on this later, and discovered, unbeknownst to myself up to this point, that it turns out the notion of God chastising those who are his sons is an idea remarked on more than a few times in the bible; Hebrews chapter 12 in the new testament, verses 4-13 are relevant here, as are Psalm 94:12, Revelation 3:19, Proverbs 3:11-12 … among others.

      What makes this strange is how a few months ago, I, having been in a way of walking that was largely free of browsing porn for several years, ended up recently faltering and looking, at something I should not have been looking at – for rather too long. I prayed to God to help me not to do that again.

      Immediately after, the same day, me and my wife then went out for a walk, during which, (in an effort to get our dog to chase me), I fell and gave my ankle a mild sprain. I felt rather thankful for this, namely because I believed it to be an answer to my prayer previously.

      Again, this is a weird story, and it is possibly not the *weirdest* story I could remark on, although truthfully this one sticks with me because it is not something that has vanished into the past, but which exists on a continuum to this day in my life.

      I’ve told people about this before, and the usual response is along the lines that it is a big coincidence, or (if I examine a criticism from my own mind) I am reading too much into it – but I ultimately persuaded that, yes, Jesus Christ was, chastising me to drive me away from sin. I don’t know what else to say here; this is my testimony on this matter and one I hold deeply in my heart.

      • Brad says:

        I will remark one more, seeing Gwern’s post about a dream: do note this post should be read in the context of my previous post.

        When I was still single, and I believe, working on my undergrad, I had a dream that was rather remarkable because it was when I awoke, “the best dream I had ever had”, as I thought at that time.

        The dream was as follows: I am running through misty, foggy, deserted, cobblestone streets at night, and a monster is pursuing me. It is nearby, although I know not where it is, exactly, only that it’s chasing me. I only vaguely recollect what it was like, being something like a wolf (or werewolf?) or vampire – it was terrible.

        I am chased into a graveyard, which is also a deadend, and I go up to a grave and begin to dig up a grave – but when I get to the grave, there is no body in the grave – rather, there is a sword.

        I pick up the sword, and the entire dream shifts; I am no longer fearful, and I now run out of the graveyard and defeat the beast, tearing it apart with the sword.

        When I first had the dream – and I don’t know exactly when I had it – I was happy, because it was the best dream I ever had, as mentioned before. Nothing else came close. But then I went to sleep (or got up? – again, I don’t recall) and I generally didn’t think too much about it.

        A few years later, I was studying the bible more and I ended up reading the book of Daniel, a prophetic book in which dreams figured prominently. An evening (or two?) after I read the book, like a flash of lightning, as I was either going to or arising from bed, the memory of the dream came back to me, particularly this interpretation (which, again, came on me suddenly): the empty casket was the empty tomb of Christ; and the sword which I came upon therein was the Sword of the Spirit from Ephesians chapter 6 – which, as the passage informs the reader, is the Word of God.

        What’s weird about this is these were connections I was totally ignorant of these symbols beforehand when I *first* had the dream; I wouldn’t have connected the dots before hand; and the whole thing just seemed, at the time I had it, to be a very vivid and strange dream. But it has, frankly, influenced my theology, making rather more bible-centric than it had been before.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        I have a counter-question for you.

        I am also a Christian fundamentalist, when I am not wallowing in nihilistic despair or trying desperately to be a rationalist.

        Why is it that God sees fit to grace you with evidence for His existence, and yet when I pray – desperately, honestly, passionately, and with utter lack of selfish desire – for any kind of strength to carry on and follow His will and commandments, or just for the ability to maintain some shred of faith in Him – I am answered by nothing but a black void?

        Why does He love you and not me? And if He does love me, why doesn’t He let me know that He loves me, even for a second?

        I pray with all my heart and soul and mind for nothing more than for God to show His love through me and guide me to do His will. The clearest answer I have ever got in response is “fuck you. Kill yourself. Rot in hell.” When I accept that that could not be His voice talking, and pray for Him to overcome those thoughts so that His true will shines through, I get nothing. I have got nothing since I was nine years old. I am now forty. What am I doing wrong?

        • Brad says:

          I am under personal duress at home, but allow me to as concisely as I can, address the broad points here.

          I must remark on this first, although it seems harsh: either you are one of his sheep, or you are not. If it is the former, have faith, and if is the latter, repent. I do not know you personally; you will come to God and test yourself on this matter. This is a serious point which should not be dismissed out of hand; this sermon might be a good starting point: ( (and a general link:

          While that sermon I linked is principally about how to understand assurance of salvation in a biblical manner, I do want to point out that there is a statement the speaker of that sermon makes early on, and which I quote here:

          >”This silly Christianity in America. “Repeat these words after me.” No, you might have to wait upon God. You might have to cry out to Him until the work is done—a true work, a finished work, a complete work”

          And I want to point something out: This is how it works in the bible. It does not (necessarily) happen quickly, let alone at our whim; God does things at his pace, fast or slow. Jesus said this:

          > 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

          Consider also the prayer of Daniel, in Daniel chapter 10:

          > 2 In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. 3 I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.

          When his prayer is fulfilled, he receives this vision:

          >5 I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! 6 His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude. 7 And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision; but a great terror fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves.

          >12 Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.

          Daniel had to wait three weeks for an answered prayer, and the reason his prayer was delayed was because of a demonic enemy – the “prince of the kingdom of Persia”.

          I also give another example from the scriptures: In Jesus’s encounter with the Canaanite woman, it looks like he is being needlessly harsh to the woman – in verse 23 it reads that Jesus “answered her not a word” – here is the quotation of the verse:

          >21 Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

          >23 But He answered her not a word.

          >And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”

          >24 But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

          >25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

          >26 But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

          >27 And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

          >28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

          There are elements here, then: First off, we must test ourselves to see if we are in the faith; if we are in the faith, things might take longer than we wish, and we have demonic enemies who would want to drive us from God and take the word of God away from our hearts.

          Which brings me to your last remarks about voices telling you to kill yourself and rot in hell – sir (or madam), do not listen to those voices – for understand, what the word tells us:

          >For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

          This verse is very simply talking about spiritual enemies, demonic forces, which are trying to destroy you. Perhaps this is manifestation thereof, or perhaps of our own hearts, (which is desperately wicked – C.f. Jeremiah 17:9), but please do not allow such discouragement to dissuade you from continue to seek after God in prayer.

          One last thing to consider: In the story of Prodigal Son (, one son is disobedient and to quote, “took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” This is the son whose return is celebrated, for he was dead, and now is found.

          The elder son gives us this exchange on the return of his brother:

          >25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’

          >28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

          >31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”

          I bring this up for the following reason: I remarked on what you call a “proof”, as though I described angels singing before me joyously – but my “proof” was agony and pains, which I interpret (I feel, correctly,) as the lash of discipline. Do you not consider, that I have sometimes wondered why I did not experience in my walk with God something more light, peaceful and full of joy, rather than something painful? When these “proofs” were coming to me, I was generally wishing they would go away, because they were so unpleasant. Although I am happy, in retrospect, for such things, I sure wasn’t anticipating them in the beginning of my walk; I’m not sure if I had known what would have happened that I *would* have asked for them.

          The prodigal son – the disobedient one – is the one who experienced these difficulties of having to feed pigs while being himself hungry, after he wasted all his money. The other son did not have to go through such a trial – yet he is displeased, even though his Father has a good explanation available, which is actually mentioned twice in the passage:

          > 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

          Anyways, my question is this: what exactly is it you’re expecting God to do to prove he loves you?

          I have felt the love of God in experiences, yes, but perhaps I gave the wrong impression that this is where I have most strongly felt his love – I do feel his love in those, but I feel his love more, and most strongly, in reading his word. My friend, if you want to understand the love of God, read his word, read the bible, in prayer and faith. (See: Understand that the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom (C.f. Proverbs 1:7, among other locations in the bible), and I feel this is true with understanding God’s love as well as other forms of his wisdom. That is, we should understand God’s love, ultimately, at the cross ,where Christ was crucified for us. He *has* shown his love for you and me there, by paying the penalty of your (and my) sins, dying in our place – how can God show his love any greater than that? If you want to understand the love of God, look at the cross, for it is written:

          > 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.

          I don’t think making this post longer than it needs to be will be useful. I hope that this will help.

          Good luck and God Bless.

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            Here’s the essence of what I don’t understand:

            Why would God allow me to come into being with a mind incapable of having faith in Him as my loving creator, and then punish me forever for not having faith in Him as my loving creator?

            And if that’s simply not logically possible, which therefore proves that I must be capable of having faith in Him as my loving creator, how much harder do I have to try? Is there any evidence that could prove that I’m trying as hard as I can to believe, short of actually believing?

          • drunkenrabbit says:


            Have your read about “spiritual dryness” in Catholic thought? It’s a feeling of desolation, loneliness, and separation from God that’s not uncommon, and that a number of people, including Mother Theresa, endured. I can’t recommend anyone in particular, but there’s a number of saints and theologians who have written about it who might be helpful.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’ve read most of the literature on this. Here’s the problem:

            It sounds like extremely motivated reasoning, from people who desperately want to keep believing something.

            My model-of-the-world says that, if I had some kind of sense of God the way Brad did, of COURSE I would be motivated to maintain that sense. Or, if my lifestyle and identity continued to be intertwined with a belief in God the way Mother Theresa’s were, I would likely be motivated to maintain that sense. But without those motivations, and without any sign, I’m not sure if it’s within my psychology to continue to hold onto these beliefs – any more than it’s within my psychology to abandon them.

          • Excatholic here.

            I went through this forever–especially the thing where everyone else seems to have some kind of experience of God, but this experience is noticably absent from one’s own life. It’s really painful, and continually causes one to ask oneself if one is a horrible, evil person. At least, I was doing that pretty much constantly. Because, after all, if God loves you, and wants you to be with him, and the only way for you to be happy is to be with him, then the only reason for constant experience of absence would be on your side, right? So yeah, that sucks.

            I eventually noticed that this kind of “experience of God” seemed to track naturalistic explanations better than spiritual explanations. I.e., people who are in circumstances more apt to promote deep-feeling experiences, because of natural surroundings, do so–and those who aren’t in such natural surroundings don’t, even if it would be spiritually fitting.

            So both Catholic and Buddhist monks report experiencing overwhelming peace in similar ways, and natural explanations of this are more parsimonious than theistic explanations. Similarly, Christian parents trying to follow what they think is God’s will outside of surroundings apt to promote such feelings do not get them, even though (were the spiritual account true) this would not happen.


        • Anonymous says:

          What’s wrong with black void’s all of a sudden? Not what you were expecting?

        • 27chaos says:

          Similarly, I have had many experiences where I prayed for something, for example, “insight”, then believed fully that I received it, and then acted on that insight, and then found out that it was completely and totally wrong. This happened literal hundreds of times before I deconverted.

          Every time I have thought I heard from God, it turned out to be my own voice. Now I try to listen to my own voice directly, and to be aware of its limitations. It works better.

    • Deiseach says:

      I wish I had Big Exciting Future Prophecies to share, but all I have are mild cases of what is like déjà vu; sometimes I’m doing something, or engaged in a conversation with someone, and then I get the feeling “Hang on, I dreamed this!” It’s a sense of recognition of ‘experienced this before’ but not in the “yeah, that’s because you’ve photocopied this file five times already”.

      Nothing exciting or ominous, completely ordinary mundane things. But they strike me as “I lived through this already in a dream; I remember this from before”. Just with the very strong conviction that this was an experience in a dream. Now, whether that’s a form of psychic time-travelling ‘when you’re asleep your etheric body wanders and there is no time so past, present and future are all one’, or whether it’s just brain weirdness I have no idea.

      It’s never anything like the lotto numbers or ‘don’t go out that door, you’ll be chased by a lion!’, it’s really brief momentary ‘oh that line they said/this action/I stood up and turned to the wall exactly like that’ is familiar from a dream.

      • ckp says:

        One of the very few habits that I have managed to successfully train myself is, as soon as I feel deja-vu coming on, I immediately try to explicitly predict what happens next. It’s pretty much a reflex by now.

        I haven’t been able to predict anything, and I think experiencing that on a gut-level has reduced how convincing the “memories” feel from the inside over time.

        • This seems like a good habit (or a fun one, anyway). I almost never feel deja vu, but I did once read a webpage that I was convinced I had read before (but I had some reason to doubt I had actually read it, I forget the details). Anyway, I stopped myself and tried to predict what the document would say next, and I was right, I had read it before.

          • Gbdub says:

            Similar things for me. I’ve gotten to the point where I am convinced that not only did I dream that this happened before it happened, but that the dream included thinking about the fact I had dreamed it before.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Didn’t you say you saw a pooka in a recent post? That sounds like a spooky thing.

        • Deiseach says:

          It was, and I’m fairly convinced it really was a pooka, and in general I don’t have much time for pishogues and superstitions.

          But I’m still damn sure that was a pooka and not just a puck goat.

    • ilzolende says:

      When I was in elementary school, one of the Macs logged in the user as an administrator by default. Some students were responsible for shutting down the computers at the end of the day. One day, when I was on the computer that gave me partial admin privileges, I found the scheduling options in the Energy Saver section of System Preferences and configured them to start the computer automatically at 8 and shut it down at 3. A couple days pass, and then I told my teacher what I did and how she should use her admin account to set it up on the other computers. “Oh,” she said, “that’s what’s been going on!” She then explained that one of the more … spiritual … students in the class had been telling her about the “ghost computer” that a ghost pressed the power button to start each morning. (My request to have all the computers start up automatically was not approved. I did end up getting an admin password for all the classroom computers later, when I was setting up some restrictions on a set of 5 computers and the teacher was not eager to enter her password 10 times. I didn’t do anything of interest with the password, apart from moving some applications to the Applications folder.)

      Non-supernatural scary story: I was dealing with the school psychologist. Note: If the psychologist is being paid by an organization with goals related to you that you do not share, you should probably be careful. (The first incident I had with this one was noticing that my behavior in a religious setting was far more compliant and conforming than I expected it to be.) I was in her office during 0 period when the fire alarm went off. I got up to leave. (I don’t take 0 period classes, so I’m not actually required to be on campus then.) She told me to sit down. The alarm was still going off, so I left. When the alarm stopped and I reentered, she was naturally upset. She then lectured me, with no sense of irony whatsoever, on how I always need to obey authority figures such as teachers, even if I think what they’re telling me to do is wrong. (“Obey authority figures” is a good heuristic if the authority figures are competent, but “do stuff you think is wrong” is usually a bad idea.)

      When I am partially asleep, my intuition always reverts to quite confidently classifying time as being as easily bidirectionally traversable as space is. Unfortunately for my desire to sleep 8 hours in a 6-hour period, this is wishful thinking.

      I once saw an opaque raindrop in a cloudy but not-raining sky land near me. This was when I was in elementary school, so I thought that it was a tear from a dragon.

      • ilzolende says:

        Forgot to mention: My printer really hates me. It was refusing to shut down properly no matter how I pressed the power button. I unplugged it from the wall … and the power button light stayed on. (Probably something with a capacitor or a battery backup or something, but still not fun.)

      • Anonymous says:

        When you eventually got admin privileges, did you set them to start and stop automatically?

        • ilzolende says:

          No, because doing stuff with admin privileges that are technically not yours that the authority figures explicitly asked you not to do is usually a bad idea. I did set them to shut down automatically, but automatic starting up had been very firmly vetoed.

    • My wife’s father grew up in one of those famous Romanian orphanages. At the orphanage, there was another boy who would crawl on the walls and the ceiling like Spiderman, but only in his sleep. If you woke him up, he would fall. My father-in-law swears that he saw this with his own eyes. The orphanage workers told the boys that if they ever saw the boy crawling like this, they shouldn’t make any noise to wake him, for fear that he would fall and hurt himself.

    • Jaskologist says:

      When we were very young, my brother was convinced that aliens were contacting him and a few other children around his same age. They would appear to him at night, and communicate with him telepathically. Once, they showed him around their ship. While he was there, he happened to see another student from his school there. He later asked him about it in real life, and the kid seemed to know what he was talking about.

      I should really ask him what came of all that.

  31. moridinamael says:

    I’m sure this has been bugging everyone as much as it bugs me.

    Why the NRx fixation on 16th century? On monarchies, hierarchies, castes, monolithic social institutions? All that stuff is way too progressive. Some of it is only thousands of years old. Such Cathedral, very Leftism. To be truly reactionary you’d need to aim at what people were doing 100,000 years ago, preferably as close to the dawn of homo sapiens as possible.

    Living in small hunter-gatherer bands. Practically no concept of a nuclear family unit. Weak to nonexistent central authority, egalitarian social structure. Very different concept of gender roles, with woman possessing as much decision-making power as men, and in some cases performing the same tasks. Matrilineal kinship lines. Status contests centered around hunting and art and practical skills, not typically around warfare. Animistic, non-organized religion, serving primarily as a tool for storing practical and moral knowledge in the form of stories. Minimal material possessions. Greater focus on physical activity, greater general level of fitness and health and lifespan compared with later agrarian (hierarchical) societies. Less work-hours, more meaningful work.

    Also, we should clone and resurrect Neanderthals, so we can have a group that we can all agree to view as explicitly bad and wrong, and we can hunt and kill them with impunity because they Aren’t Human. Basically they would serve the role of orcs. I imagine this would lead to much greater solidarity among homo sapiens. Failing that, we could channel our aggressive and competitive instincts into hunting bears and lions and elephants with intentionally handicapped weapons like spears.

    In light of all this, the social institutions NRx is looking to bring back are just a pathological reaction to overpopulation, in the same way that NRx accuses democracy of being a pathological reaction to modernity. Ares only manifests when there are too many damn people and not enough real threats.

    You might say, “Hey, it wasn’t actually so nice as you’re making it out to seem,” and then I might just slowly slide across the table toward you an artist’s rendering of conscripted malnourished peasants being ridden down by Janissaries or something.

    I’m probably not the first person to make any of these points but. If Scott is right in his point that bringing back a powerful monarchy would require defeating Vast Formless Things, momentum-laden technological and cultural forces, then returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle faces only a few more hurdles than does returning to the Napoleonic Age. Namely, a tremendous reduction in human population, OR a tremendous increase in available space, either of which could be accomplished with massive environmental catastrophe on the one hand or space colonies on the other. Modern medical technology would neutralize almost everything that we view as unappealing about the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. If life expectancy and infant mortality were brought to modern levels, I say without hesitation that I would rather live in the Pleistocene than in the 16th Century. That last sentence is the only fully serious part of this post.

    • Short answer: take a few seconds and look through Post Anathema

      Long answer: NRx likes technology, science, hierarchy, and high-trust societies. None of those things existed in the neolithic, except maybe the trust. We don’t like chaos, distrust, leveling, and pretty lies. The 15th-17th centuries provide an approximation (very imperfect, of course) of the things that we do like without the things that we don’t like.

      (As an aside, I’m very skeptical of almost all descriptions of life in the neolithic, as there tends to be a suspicious concord between the politics of the author and their descriptions of neolithic life. Plus, the answer to the question of “how do you know that” is usually “extrapolation from the few remaining hunter-gatherers”, which is problematic for all sorts of reasons.)

      • Peter says:

        There’s a quote from Bertie Russell here, ah yes:

        “What do we, who stay at home, know about the savage? Rousseauites say he is noble, imperialists say he is cruel, ecclesiastically minded anthropologists say he is a virtuous family man, while advocates of divorce law reform say he practices free love; Sir James Fraser says he is always killing his god, while others say he is always engaged in initiation ceremonies. In short, the savage is an obliging fellow who does whatever is necessary for the anthropologist’s theories.”

        (Except these days we don’t use “savage” as a noun)

      • Deiseach says:

        I like the 10th – 13th/14th centuries; what does that make me? 🙂

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m not a neoreactionary or an anthropologist, but I’ve read a lot of ethnography, and I feel compelled to qualify “egalitarian” in a forager context. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s equal; it means that there isn’t a class system or other formalized hierarchy. The impression I get is that it’s a lot like high school: there are no ranks and no titles, but the status games are no less intense for that, and everyone knows who the winners and the losers are.

      Also, while nuclear families are rare (and don’t really make sense in the context), kinship structures viewed more generally tend to be a big fuckin’ deal. And they aren’t necessarily matrilineal, although they sometimes are.

    • Deiseach says:

      Neanderthals are human, just not Homo sapiens sapiens.

    • drunkenrabbit says:

      As far as I can tell, NRx thinks you can have technological modernity with something resembling a 16th century social structure, but going full paleolithic totally precludes that.

  32. A request for explanation regarding philosophy of mind. (I do not currently, adhere to any philosophy of mind–every one seems problematic in some way or another.)

    I do not see how a particular view in philosophy of mind–namely, that subjective, first-person experience is a result of computation–is coherent. This view does not make sense to me because I can give an absolutely complete explanation of why any computation, given a certain input, results in a particular output, without ever appealing to subjective-first person experience within that computation. Thus, the “consciousness” that this theory seeks to explain is completely unneeded for one’s explanatory and predictive apparatus, and so one should not posit it-which is obviously a problematic conclusion.

    One rejoinder to this is that consciousness is like the wings of an airplane. Sure, you could model the wings using quantum physics, but that would take forever; so also, you could model another person as computation, but that would also take forever. So it’s legitimate for you to talk about airplanes as having wings, as people as having consciousness–and airplanes really have wings, and people really have consciousness, even though these aren’t ontologically fundamental.

    But this rejoinder seems to fall through. Wings in the engineer’s model are defined in terms of a certain set of inputs and outputs. So also, if you wanted to model people at a higher level in this case, you would also define “consciousness” as a certain set of inputs and outputs: angry people are those apt to hit you, to say things like “I am angry,” and so on. But this seems to be behaviorism–that there’s no more to one’s mental states than the actions they produce or are apt to produce.

    More generally, far as I can tell the LWosphere tends to say “Ok, we can’t really see how computations can produce consciousness at the moment, but in the future we’ll have a breakthrough that will let us understand how this is possible.” (Show me where I should look if I’m wrong, please) But I can’t even imagine what kind of breakthrough that would be. If we were to be able to put someone in a magical MRI, which tracked everything going on in their brain at the ion-pump level, such that we could see exactly what sensory input and memories combine to make someone say “Hey, I’m experiencing qualia!”–all this seems to do is make it so that we no longer have reason to think someone who says “I’m experiencing qualia!” is experiencing qualia, because we now have a predictive apparatus which explains what they do in every detail, without ever invoking qualia.

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m actually kind of confused by this sort of argument, and will try to explain why. It seems to me that my conscious thoughts motivate my behavior; to take a trivial example, I seek out or avoid certain foods because of how I feel about the experience of taste I get from them. More generally, it just seems to me that conscious states do something, at least in general. The idea that you could separate out the part that does something (what you call the “computational” part; I wonder if the terminology is part of the problem) from what it feels like just seems absurd to me; what it feels like just is what does things. And so if the neuroscientists say these neurons doing that are what are doing things, it seems to follow trivially that these neurons doing that must be what it feels like. Not that you can capture the feeling from an external perspective, of course; no matter how you look at them, looking at neurons is surely going to feel different than having them hooked up and firing in your brain. But that point hardly invites the generation of any mysteries.

      • No, I absolutely agree that conscious thoughts motivate your behavior.

        If I gather what you’re saying correctly–it’s that the computation is identical to consciousness, so from the inside “Feeling hungry” is identical to “Neurons firing in X and such patterns,” and so there is no problem. The computational part is the motivated part.

        The thing is, because any computation whatsoever is completely tractable without reference to conscious thoughts–or any reference to what the computation is like “from the inside”–then I’ve really got no need to posit an inside, in hunger or in any computation whatseover. Why posit an inside, when everything that’s going on from the outside can be explained without an inside?

        My argument is that (Consciousness = computation) and (All things done by computation can be explained without reference to an “inside”) –> (No need to posit view from the inside). This last seems false, which leads me to drop (Consciousness = computation).

        I need to head out for now–but does that make sense?

        • Protagoras says:

          No, it doesn’t. You still seem to be treating the “from inside” as if it must be a different thing from the computational part, something that would need to be added. But, as I said, since the computational part is what actually does things, responding to the environment and motivating action, and the from inside part is what does things, responding to the environment and motivating action, it seems that they have to be the same thing. Izaak was perhaps right to emphasize the quantum physics analogy; to me, it seems as if you were complaining that if you just look at all the quantum activity, you never need to posit the wing. Well, of course you don’t need to posit it; it’s right there. The quantum activity is the wing. I continue not to see why it shouldn’t be the same for consciousness.

          • Thanks for following up. I still disagree. Sorry, this is going to be absurdly long. This has been bothering me for a while.

            “Particular kinds of computations” and “subjective experience” are clearly different in intension; so some kind of evidence is required to say that they’re the same in extension, just like it would require evidence to show that Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford are the same in extension. I’m not trying to treat the motivated part as if it must be something different from the computational part–but I am starting with the premise that there can at least be evidence pro / con this, which I think is fair.

            The evidence offered for identity is that–if I grok what you are saying–when we run a brain scan, it seems like particular computations have input / output relations with the environment; and when we introspect, it seems like particular subjective states have input / output relations with the environment. So if every change to the former results in a change to the latter, and every change to the latter results in change to the former, then it seems that the former and the latter are the same–just like punching Alfred Bordon at time t, and seeking that Alfred Bordon has a bruise at time t + 1 day, is evidence that the Alfred Bordon at time t is the same as the Alfred Bordon at time t + 1.

            I accept this as evidence and as quite good evidence. (This theory of mind is most probable of those I know.)

            (I don’t think that consciousness is like the wing. Wings are built of things in quantum states in such a way that we could, in theory (maybe) explain how quantum phenomena cause the appearance of solidity, the general features of lift, etc, etc, which we associate with the physical wing. The gross features of your anatomy, similarly, are built of minicolumns and computation-doing things such that you can explain the gross behavior of your brain in terms of the fine. There hasn’t been an explanation of conscious states in terms of minicolumns and computation-doing-things in the same way that there has been an explanation of the grosser features of the brain in terms of minicolumns and computation-doing things; the supposed knowledge of the identity of these former two (computations in brain and subjective brain states) seems to depend on the argument given above, not on any detailed understanding of how conscious states arise from computation. If we did know how conscious states arise from computation in this detailed and predictive way (that kind of computation has an inside, that kind does not), then we would be able to settle arguments about strong AI and vegetarianism and vegetative states much more easily than we currently seem to be able to. [If there is this kind if description, I’d be interested in hearing it, of course.])

            Now let’s switch to a problem. In every case of any kind of computation that occurs outside of a human mind, we’re not tempted to think about an inside. I can implement A* or a Bayesian sorting algorithm or what have you, and it never crosses my mind to think of an inside. I might think about efficiency, memory use vs. demands on the processor, whether the algorithm always comes up with the best answer; but thinking about the “inside” would seem dumb. Talking about an “inside” is totally causally superfluous in all these other cases–which, it should be noted, are the only cases when we have a really clear understanding of what is going on. We’re still figuring out Really Important Things We Didn’t Know about the brain; we don’t have a Really Clear Understanding of how the brain does computation the same way we do about A* and naive Bayes (I’m pretty sure, at least). Talking about “insides” of computation is to use a kind of language foreign to the formal study of computation and paste it on to the study of computation, without a clear explanation of how they relate.

            So on one hand we have
            1. Changes to mental computations seem to occur iff changes occur to subjective experience.
            2. A thing intensionally different from another thing, which changes iff the other thing changes, is probably identical to the other thing.
            3. So mental computations are probably identical to subjective experiences.

            But on the other hand we have
            4. Positing inner states is unnecessary to explain what any computation does.
            5. So if (the relevant part) of what humans do is a result of computation, we have no reason to judge them to have inner states.
            6. Ah, um, modus tolens.

            And again, the obvious response is that from our own, introspective experience we use our inner states to explain our own actions–so if these are computation, then computations must have inner states. But if every other kind of computation is inner-stateless, then perhaps the right conclusion would instead be that there’s more to conscious states than simply computations. Our current state of knowledge about the human brain is also compatible, say, with the idea that consciousness requires a particular physical substrate; or (probably) with whatever it is that Penrose thinks the mind does; and so on.

            I’m not really happy with the above. I think the first numerated argument above is probably stronger than the second, but I think the second decrease the probability of what the first argues for.

          • Mr. Eldritch says:


            “4. Positing inner states is unnecessary to explain what any computation does.
            5. So if (the relevant part) of what humans do is a result of computation, we have no reason to judge them to have inner states.
            6. Ah, um, modus tolens.”

            My reply to 4:
            Well, yes. And if I have a complex computer performing an operation on two vectors such that a third vector perpendicular to both of them is produced, then this can entirely be described in terms of quantum states of electrons and silicon atoms (with the occasional dopant) without ever positing the mysterious abstract concept of a “cross product.”

            Nonetheless, for all inputs, its outputs are identical to an algorithm implementing a cross product, so we say it performs a cross product. And, indeed, it is. In fact, this is what “this algorithm performs a cross product” means.

            Likewise, it’s entirely possible to fully analyze the brain without ever making reference to conscious states, just neuron weights and synaptic potentials – just as it’s entirely possible to fully analyze a computer without ever making reference to, say, “Microsoft Windows” (which it is in fact running) and simply looking at transistors and voltages and hard-drive magnetic fields.

            That doesn’t mean the conscious states are not, inevitably, there. Those bit-patterns and hard-drive states and their passage and transformation through the circuitry, and the way these patterns react to input from various channels to produce internal state-changes and output ARE, indeed, Microsoft Windows. They aren’t anything else, and indeed can’t be anything else. Your computer is running Windows.

            So it’s not quite correct to say that your computer can be entirely analyzed without positing Windows. Your computer can be entirely analyzed and perfectly simulated (step-by-step, with pencil and paper) without ever making reference to the abstract, higher-level features of what those voltages and magnetic fields “mean” – but they nonetheless translate to Windows anyway. Even your pencil-and-paper implementation of your computer’s voltages and magnetic fields will still be running Windows, even though you may not realize it. (And if you deleted Windows, you’d get different results.)

            Same deal with the brain. You can analyze the brain without ever making reference to conscious states, but they’re still *there* – you’re just talking about a system which gives rise to certain neuron patterns, which is like talking about “1 + 1 + 1” instead of “3.” They certainly look different, but they’re the exact same thing from a different frame of reference.

          • @Eldritch:

            I will need to think about this more.

            It still seems fairly clear to me that my painful, pen-and-paper implementation of windows combines small parts into larger parts in a way that permits us to understand how these large parts inevitably result from these smaller parts–but that we have no such knowledge of how computations, etc, combine to inevitably form subjectivity. (We might have knowledge of how lower-level brain functions combine to form different higher-level brain parts, which result in visible behavior–this seems to me analogous to the example with windows– but this doesn’t mention subjectivity, so the example seems dissimilar.) And this doesn’t seem to me merely a case of a lack of current knowledge; I don’t know what an experiment would look like which showed that a particular (conscious) higher-level thing was a result of lower-level results.

            If this is an intelligible question–would you say it a result of mathematical or of scientific process that one comes to the conclusion that X computation results in consciousness? Maybe if I knew what the reductionist / computationalist answer to this question was, I would be able to think about this more clearly. (Either of these seems very weird, and trying to pin down what such a process would be… I can’t think of a way to do it.)

          • Paul Torek says:


            First, my cards on the table: I think that for all practical purposes (but not “in principle”) consciousness-as-we-know-it does require a particular physical substrate. Still I want to critique your argument. For that critique let me start by recommending Jenann Ismael’s paper, or better yet, her book The Situated Self. The argument centers on a map-territory analogy, where your model of physical reality is the map, and your experience the territory. To locate your phenomenology in physical events is like locating yourself on a map. Your location need not be explicit on the map itself, for the map to be accurate and complete. A map does not become more accurate by adding a red dot saying You Are Here. (It does, however, become a lot more useful!)

            Suppose the map is a real-time display which updates based on automated measurements. It can display all that happens without explicitly telling where you are. That does not mean you are not there, in the mapped territory.

            Now for my own favorite point on the subject. In addition to being aware of external conditions like day and night, light and dark, we are also aware of some of our own internal states along the cognitive pathways, pathways from external world to belief. So, in addition to being able to estimate objective brightness we are aware of subjective brightness. Maybe that helps us overcome certain sorts of illusion. However it evolved, we’ve got it. Could an organism be designed to expose to executive processes, only the (best representation available of) objective brightness, without any subjective brightness? I don’t see why not. Such an organism could compute the same function of radiant emittance detection, albeit by a different algorithm. So I share your distrust of one variety of computationalism, namely functionalism.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      “you could model the wings using quantum physics”

      I think the point is that in the real world, wings DO work via quantum physics. You have the analogy backwards. Instead of saying that quantum physics is a way of modeling wings, we say that wings are a term we use to refer to a particular form of quantum wavefunctions. Instead of saying that a computation is a way of modelling consciousness, we say that consciousness is a term we use to refer to a particular form of computation.

      • Irenist says:

        consciousness is a term we use to refer to a particular form of computation

        How is consciousness different from other forms of computation? I.e., is there a way to tell from the “outside” that a given computation will be conscious?

        • Protagoras says:

          On your second question, not with perfect reliability, certainly. But sometimes we seem to be able to tell with reasonable confidence.

          • Irenist says:

            Fair enough. So, IIRC:
            1. Insects are thought to be conscious. There’s a “what it’s like” to be an insect.
            2. Some of our computers (and maybe some of our robots?) nowadays are “as smart as an insect”

            So, are the insect-level smart machines conscious? How do we tell?

            (Serious question. I think hylemorphic objections-in-principle to conscious AI are one of the potentially weakest arguments offered by Feser & Co., and I’ve been thinking about the issue a lot, wondering whether to part company from them on the issue.)

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m not actually convinced that insects are conscious, and I’m equally agnostic about machines that seem at the same level as insects. Perhaps I would have a more confident opinion if I knew more about insects, and about consciousness for that matter. But all I claimed was that sometimes we seemed to be able to tell with reasonable confidence; I was particularly thinking of the fact that we are reasonably confident that other human beings are conscious. Animal cases are mostly less clear.

          • Relevant to our uncertainty regarding what is unconscious or not. And a DFW article, which is always fun to read. It’s all about how no one really knows what it’s like to be a lobster which is boiled alive.


    • lmm says:

      > you would also define “consciousness” as a certain set of inputs and outputs: angry people are those apt to hit you, to say things like “I am angry,” and so on. But this seems to be behaviorism–that there’s no more to one’s mental states than the actions they produce or are apt to produce.

      I believe behaviourism denied mental states entirely. But more to the point: so what? I’m happy to endorse functional definition of conscious experience (like an aeroplane wing): we consider someone to have conscious experience if they do things that are most easily explained as consequences of having conscious experience, like caring about the consequences of their future actions, having emotional states, writing angsty poetry and so on.

    • youzicha says:

      Re your last paragraph, I think the problem is not with the computational theory of mind, but with this conception of qualia. (E.g. Daniel Dennett maintains that “qualia don’t exist”, meaning that the common conception of qualia is an incorrect analysis of how subjective experience works).

      I think the concept of qualia rests on a kind of Cartesian intuition: there is no way for me to be 100% sure what happens in the outside world, but I have certain sense-impressions, and at least by introspection I can infallibly correct about those. And then we expect these sense-impressions to play a distinguished part in the explanation.

      But given that thoughts are implemented in the brain, surely this is not right. Our beliefs about the outside world are stored somehow in the brain, but so is our beliefs about our own thoughts. It’s not that I first perceive a field of unstructured color-sensation, and a little homunculus carefully analyses it and deduces that there is a pillow in front of me; I first know that there is a pillow, and if I then introspect where that knowledge came from, I can deduce that I see a red color. (The ability to recognize objects is the simpler one, e.g. lower animals can recognize objects, but not introspect about how their vision works).

      So, suppose your magic MRI machine scans my brain, and it shows no qualia as such, but it does show bits of my brain that made me believe that I have qualia (the bits responsible for representing information about my own thoughts). Then I think the thing to do is to bite the bullet and conclude that the mMRI-machine is right! After all, it perfectly accounts for all the data I got from introspection.

      • I don’t see how having non-primary origin of qualia means I don’t have them. I think you’re right that we often identify objects, then their constituent parts, and so on and so forth–I don’t see a colored bitmap and then deduce “Ah, a pillow!” But even so, surely I’m at least certain that I am being appeared-to redly, even if the origin of being-appeared-to-redly involves some preprocessing?

        I guess I’d have to ask, when Dennett denies that there are qualia, what is he denying?…I need to think about this more.

        • youzicha says:

          I can’t really speak for Dennett, because it’s been too long since I read him. There is a short and readable explanation of his anti-qualia stance in Sweet Dreams.

          In a hypothetical future materialistic theory of mind, there would presumably by definitions like “we say that a computational system is conscious if it has the following property …” along with an explanation of why such systems tend to claim that they have conscious experience. (And similarly, a definition of “a system which is being-appeared-to-redly“, and a derivation of why such systems claim that they are.) We don’t yet know what the definitions would be, but you (and many others) say that we can already tell that they are not satisfactory, because they cannot be the right explanation of qualia. So there must be some properties which we intuitively feel that qualia should have, but which any such materialistic concept doesn’t have.

          I don’t know which properties in particular that you have in mind, but two that Dennett has focused on are “Cartesian dualism” (there is a separate someone or something to whom the sense perception is presented), and “infallibility” (when I introspect about my conscious experience, I am logically guaranteed to be right). Neither of these hold in the materialistic theory.

          I guess you already reject the first one. As for infallibility, I think this also falls apart if you look at it more closely. Of course, it often happens that we misremember things, so if we are infallible about something, it can only be about the our experience in this very instance. But in fact, there is no “this instance” in the brain—different subsystems process sense impressions at different rates, and their outputs are then timestamped and later reconciled. So even our experience of the current moment works a lot like a memory, albeit a memory of what happened 100 to 300 milliseconds ago.

          Even if the Descartes-style intuitions about qualia don’t hold true, there clearly is something which causes us to believe that we have subjective sensations, and it should be possible to formalize what that something is. My guess is that it will come out to “true knowledge about what our perceptual systems are currently doing”. But if so, that concept is easy to accommodate in a materialistic framework.

        • Anonymous says:

          Here’s Dennett’s paper, Quining Qualia: