"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

OT17: Their Hand Is At Your Threads, Yet Ye See Them Not

(source)

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

1. I’ll be pretty busy at work for the next few months, so expect a lower volume of blogging.

2. Comments of the week expand on the discussion of what is a “religion” vs. a “culture”, and bring up the importance of narrative and whether you can base a country on it.

I don’t know if Ozy’s still posting open threads on their blog. If they do, I’ll link it.

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843 Responses to OT17: Their Hand Is At Your Threads, Yet Ye See Them Not

  1. darxan says:

    [deleted – I think I know who does this stuff and I don’t want to encourage him – SA]

  2. Gundam Yeti says:

    Has you ever read The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas?

    http://engl210-deykute.wikispaces.umb.edu/file/view/omelas.pdf

    Somebody mentioned it in the post on Extremism in Thought Experiments as being overly sentimental. I can’t help but think of it as a very Archipelago micro nation type of thing that you would love.

    I have an ongoing fight with my friend about it. I say you should actually stay in Omelas, because if too many people leave they’ll just get together to create a regular, non magical, non perfect human society which will result in even more oppression and even more misery than just the boy in the closet. Then he tells me I’m missing the point of the story and I say “I get the point of the story I just disagree with it” I would be interested to see your thoughts on it.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      It’s been mentioned several times.

      It seems to be an argument against utilitarianism consequentialism. If you accepted utilitarianism, you’ll think it is acceptable and not worth leaving over(although improvement is always worth pursuing), if you don’t accept utilitarianism you will view it the opposite way.

      • Drake. says:

        i’m… not sure that’s true. well, maybe as an auxiliary point, but i don’t think it’s the purpose of the piece. i’ve always read it like a sort of “all happiness must come at the cost of someone else’s suffering” kind of thing (or at least, “we find it difficult to imagine happiness without commensurate suffering). the question it poses isn’t “is this acceptable” and more “are you willing to bring someone else pain, if it would mean that you would be happy”. the ones that walk away, then, are the people who would sacrifice their own needs if they came at the cost of another. i think.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          The problem with that interpretation is the kid is still in pain. So walking away doesn’t change that while in the real world not doing certain actions does actually have an impact, even if it is small (each person who doesn’t buy a blood diamond reduces the amount of money to fight over).

          • Tracy W says:

            Of course each person who doesn’t buy a “blood diamond” reduces the amount of money that diamond miners have to buy their kids’ food.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            No it doesn’t; they are already presumably being paid subsistence wages with the surplus being skimmed of by warlords.

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            In near-Golden Age SF, the ones who walked away would be building their own base in Galt’s Gulch to attack Omelas at face value. One faction among them would say, “What about the demon who must be maintaining this?” The hero, who saw through the hoax, would find a win/win.

            Hm, this sounds like a Buddhist parable.

          • 27chaos says:

            The Ones Who Fight Omelas

          • Tracy W says:

            @Samuel Skinner: And if the warlords aren’t getting money from the diamond mining, why would they bother paying miners anything? Indeed, why not steal what the miners have left?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “And if the warlords aren’t getting money from the diamond mining, why would they bother paying miners anything? Indeed, why not steal what the miners have left?”

            From the link
            “the opportunity cost effect dominates for labor intensive coffee production, but not for capital intensive oil production”

            Their case study is for a temporary ban targeting only a small area in Eastern Congo and the mining of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.

            I don’t think that applies to blood diamonds.

          • Tracy W says:

            I don’t think it matters what you think or not, what matters is what happens in reality. Why would you expect “blood diamonds” to be different from some other mining venture?

            And if it’s capital-intensive diamond mining (as opposed to alluvial diamond mining) then they don’t tend to be controlled by warlords.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I don’t think it matters what you think or not,”

            Remember the triple criteria? I guess “temporary ban” wasn’t explicit enough.

            “Why would you expect “blood diamonds” to be different from some other mining venture? ”

            Because the link wasn’t about mining in general? It was about a temporary ban on part of the Congo. Additionally diamonds aren’t like other mining ventures- only recently did it stop being under monopoly control and people care about individual diamonds. You can smelt down tin and sell it, something not so easy to carry out with diamonds.

            “And if it’s capital-intensive diamond mining (as opposed to alluvial diamond mining) then they don’t tend to be controlled by warlords.”

            The term also covers those that fuel civil wars. That’s also bad and a much more obvious version of the resource curse.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Samuel Skinner

            Remember the triple criteria?

            Nope. Probably because you never used it before.

            It was about a temporary ban on part of the Congo.

            Yes, which made it useful for testing, as one could look at when and where the ban was applied and when it wasn’t.

            It was about a temporary ban on part of the Congo. Additionally diamonds aren’t like other mining ventures- only recently did it stop being under monopoly control and people care about individual diamonds.

            You misunderstand De Beers’ old role. De Beers didn’t have a monopoly of all diamonds, instead it had a large enough share (including “independent” producers that it had managed to convince to join its channel) that if other producers supplied more diamonds then it was profitable for De Beers to cut its own production to maintain prices. (See page 4 of the World Bank report I linked earlier.)

            And if you’re a warlord fighting a battle against other warlords who would happily cut your throat, and also facing the survivors of those whose families you killed, then, yes, individual diamonds do matter.

            You can smelt down tin and sell it, something not so easy to carry out with diamonds.

            May I suggest reading the World Banks link I provided before? Indeed, I’ll even go further and quote from it for you:

            The characteristics of diamonds make them particularly desirable for rebel forces. They are often mined with rudimentary equipment from alluvial deposits which are difficult to control because they cover widespread areas in remote parts of affected countries. Due to their small size and high value, diamonds are also easy and attractive to smuggle.

            (page 6, section 3, paragraph 18).

            Diamonds are far more valuable per kg than tin, and once a diamond is polished the origin of them is apparently impossible to determine. Indeed, if you were right here and diamonds were hard to sell, why would conflict diamonds even be a problem? It’s contradictory to believe that diamonds are hard to sell and also that they’re very useful for funding bloody civil wars.

            The term also covers those that fuel civil wars. That’s also bad and a much more obvious version of the resource curse.

            Do capital-intensive-mining diamonds fuel civil wars? On a list of the top ten diamond producing countries, Russia, Botswana, and South Africa, while they certainly have problems, aren’t suffering civil wars. Australia and Canada may not be utopias, but I have friends in both countries and none of them have mentioned a civil war. And while the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most terrible civil wars in history, that’s generally thought to be funded by artisinal mining, because it’s rather difficult to persuade investors to fund a capital-intensive mine when it might be destroyed at any moment by the civil war, or commandeered by a local warlord (although the civil war also means no one is collecting good statistics on this).

            And, finally, miners in capital-intensive mines also use the earnings from those mines to feed their kids.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Nope. Probably because you never used it before. ”

            … its the rules for the blog. Be nice, be necessary or be true. 2 out of three.

            “Yes, which made it useful for testing, as one could look at when and where the ban was applied and when it wasn’t. ”

            No, it is horrible for testing because it only shows short term effects AND behavior is different between “we are undergoing a temporary ban” versus “we are undergoing a permanent ban”.

            “You misunderstand De Beers’ old role. De Beers didn’t have a monopoly of all diamonds, instead it had a large enough share (including “independent” producers that it had managed to convince to join its channel) that if other producers supplied more diamonds then it was profitable for De Beers to cut its own production to maintain prices. (See page 4 of the World Bank report I linked earlier.)”

            They controlled approximately 90% of the diamond market in 1987
            http://www.kitco.com/ind/Zimnisky/2013-06-06-A-Diamond-Market-No-Longer-Controlled-By-De-Beers.html

            It is fair to have called them a monopoly. They aren’t now, but at the time people started worrying about blood diamonds they certainly were.

            ” Indeed, if you were right here and diamonds were hard to sell, why would conflict diamonds even be a problem? It’s contradictory to believe that diamonds are hard to sell and also that they’re very useful for funding bloody civil wars. ”

            It isn’t contradictory. One is “easy to transport” and the other is “easy to get past inspection”. Its really easy to take a handful of diamonds and get them to people who will buy them. It is a lot harder to sell them if people start worrying about blood diamonds and start tracking diamonds.

            “Do capital-intensive-mining diamonds fuel civil wars? On a list of the top ten diamond producing countries, Russia, Botswana, and South Africa, while they certainly have problems, aren’t suffering civil wars.”

            From your link
            “the opportunity cost effect dominates for labor intensive coffee production, but not for capital intensive oil production”

            “And, finally, miners in capital-intensive mines also use the earnings from those mines to feed their kids.”

            So do the people working at the ak47 factories.

            For capital intensive diamond mining there was a humorous outlier. The 4th largest diamond mine in the world is in Angola. It was founded in 1997 and looks like it provided a fifth of the countries diamond output at the time. Amusingly 1997/1998 was when the Angolan government decided to end the truce and went into the third (and final) phase of the civil war.

            So diamonds fueling conflict appear to be good when only one side has them and uses it to utterly crush the other. We should inform the neoreactionaries.

          • Tracy W says:

            its the rules for the blog. Be nice, be necessary or be true. 2 out of three.

            And I hit two out of three nicely. Firstly, my earlier statement was true. To take the extreme, if I found someone who honestly thinks that diamonds all weigh about the same as an elephant and are worth about 10 cents each, would you then say well, okay, then conflict diamonds aren’t a problem?

            Secondly, yes I think what I said was necessary. Noticeably after I pointed out that I don’t think it matters what you think or not, you did actually provide a reason for your thoughts, something I could engage with. That was much more useful than you just making assertions about what you think. If I had responded to your “I think” with “I think differently” we’d’ve gotten nowhere.

            As for kind, well, personally I think it’s very unkind of someone who, when I have gone to the bother of supplying them links and actual arguments, to just blithely assert that they “don’t think that applies” without stating a single reason. To me, that’s like nails scraping on a blackboard. (Also, it would have been kind to actually give a little bit more context to your statement “triple criteria”, I first re-read everything you wrote about 3 times thinking I’d missed it, then wracked my brain trying to think of relevant triple criteria, unsuccessfully.) I know this is a personal preference of mine, but as you brought up a lack of kindness, I presume that you will be willing to go to a bit of effort to be kind to me.

            No, it is horrible for testing because it only shows short term effects AND behavior is different between “we are undergoing a temporary ban” versus “we are undergoing a permanent ban”.

            And why do you think that the long-term effects would be different? Why would warlords bother to keep paying miners a subsistence wage in the long-term if they don’t in the short-term? Or under a permanent ban, versus a temporary ban? The logic behind it: that if warlords can’t make money off alluvial miners because they can’t sell the diamonds/tin/etc then the warlords will stop paying the miners and just rob the miners of whatever they do have, strikes me as applying even more so with a permanent ban and in the long term than with a temporary one: with a temporary one there might be some expectation of wanting the miners around in the longer-term.

            These are serious issues here, people’s lives are at stake. I think this deserves some serious thinking on your part, not just hand-waving. Remember “is it true, necessary and kind, try to be at least two of the three?”

            “And, finally, miners in capital-intensive mines also use the earnings from those mines to feed their kids.”

            So do the people working at the ak47 factories.

            And American-based companies’ taxes help fund American wars, which have involved many actions which violate America’s own laws, let alone the laws of the countries in which they’re done. Shall we stop buying anything American-made? Or using Google?

            AK47s are different to diamonds, or Google, in that they are a type of gun which is specifically made to kill people. Also, working in AK47 factories doesn’t, in modern times, tend to be work of desperately poor people struggling to survive during war with virtually no other options (USSR during the Nazi invasion was different).

            They controlled approximately 90% of the diamond market in 1987

            Yes, which mean they didn’t control approximately 10% of it. (100% – 90%).

            It is fair to have called them a monopoly.

            Perhaps, although that’s a complex topic. (What is a monopoly is one of those things that seemed very straightforward to me when I studied it in Econ 101. Then I worked with some people who worked on competition law.) Anyway, whether or not we can fairly call De Beers a monopoly is pretty irrelevant to the question at hand, which is whether individual warlords could sell alluvial diamonds, and if they’d care about individual diamonds. As you yourself have said that De Beers only controlled about 90% of the market, I don’t see what point you’re trying to make here.

            Its really easy to take a handful of diamonds and get them to people who will buy them. It is a lot harder to sell them if people start worrying about blood diamonds and start tracking diamonds.

            Exactly. And if you’re a poor alluvial miner who doesn’t have the education and/or the capital to comply with the regulations about blood diamonds, then a ban on buying blood diamonds makes life that much more difficult for you. Which brings us back again to starving kids.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Secondly, yes I think what I said was necessary. Noticeably after I pointed out that I don’t think it matters what you think or not,”

            Is ” ‘Insult’ or do you honestly have trouble understanding why being insulting isn’t necessary when you simply ask someone to list their reasons” necessary or not?

            “when I have gone to the bother of supplying them links and actual arguments, to just blithely assert that they “don’t think that applies” without stating a single reason. ”

            I summarized the situation described in the link specifically covering the things that were different from what I was talking about!

            “Also, it would have been kind to actually give a little bit more context to your statement “triple criteria”, ”

            If you say something nasty and someone responds to your points AND subtly motions to something not mention in the conversation, they are trying to ask you to be polite without having to explicitly spell it out.

            “And why do you think that the long-term effects would be different?”

            For the same reason that business behavior reacting to short versus long term budget deficits is different? The difference is that they can’t get loans like companies. So they go, loot to make up the difference until such time as their payroll adjusts to the new realities/new smuggling options open up.

            “Or under a permanent ban, versus a temporary ban? ”

            The difference is you can wait one out and the other you can’t. One means a permanent drop in the revenue stream and the other implies a temporary drop. A temporary drop makes developing new ways to smuggle less attractive because the relative payoff is worse. Which means killing and looting gets more attractive by comparison.

            “that if warlords can’t make money off alluvial miners because they can’t sell the diamonds/tin/etc then the warlords will stop paying the miners and just rob the miners of whatever they do have,”

            If the warlords are existing purely by taking things from poor people, they will quickly run out of funds to operate. That sucks in the short term but is a long term win.

            “AK47s are different to diamonds, or Google, in that they are a type of gun which is specifically made to kill people. ”

            So? That doesn’t mean the people in AK47 factories don’t have families they are trying to feed.

            “(USSR during the Nazi invasion was different). ”

            The AK47 first saw service with the Red Army in 1949.

            “Yes, which mean they didn’t control approximately 10% of it. (100% – 90%).”

            Standard Oil was ruled a monopoly when controlling a similar percentage.

            ” Anyway, whether or not we can fairly call De Beers a monopoly is pretty irrelevant to the question at hand, which is whether individual warlords could sell alluvial diamonds, ”

            Part of the reason De Beers control slipped is because people started worrying about blood diamonds and so De Beers was forced to pay more attention to the sources of their diamonds. Having a single company to focus on meant it was easier to focus attention and force change.

            “And if you’re a poor alluvial miner who doesn’t have the education and/or the capital to comply with the regulations about blood diamonds,”

            That is a bit like complaining about poor oil drillers. As far as I can tell the natural resources in Africa tend to be owned by multinationals or state owned firms.

            In fact the bigger issue is that the people in charge have an incentive to screw over the poor miners, rather than follow the regulations.

        • I’m inclined to think the story is about people who are taking the risk of finding another way to live. They don’t know what they’ll get.

          The story is set up so that it’s impossible to make the child’s life good, though it could be less painful. The odds are extremely low of ever convincing the Omelans to stop torturing a child.

          The story makes more sense as a psychomachia (a war inside one person’s head) than as a moral discussion. It’s about whether you leave a situation that’s hurting you in ways you don’t want to think about, even though the situation has large obvious advantages.

        • 27chaos says:

          Steelmanned, it can be thought of as an exaggerated parable about walking away from a local maximum in order to explore other possibilities which might be even better.

        • Tracy W says:

          My apologies for insulting you by saying that “I don’t think it matters what you think or not,” and further not recognising that you would regard that as an insult as I think of insults as “you fool” or the like. If you could please tell me how I could have phrased that in a way you would not find insulting, I would appreciate that.

          I summarized the situation described in the link specifically covering the things that were different from what I was talking about!

          Yes, you summarised. And then you just asserted that you didn’t think that applied. I gave my logic as to why a ban on buying blood diamonds could lead warlords to start stealing what miners had left, there was nothing in what you summarised that gave any reason why you might think that logic didn’t appply to blood diamonds. Only once I replied did you start giving any reasons why you thought diamonds might be different to tin.

          If you say something nasty and someone responds to your points AND subtly motions to something not mention in the conversation, they are trying to ask you to be polite without having to explicitly spell it out.

          Personally I think that’s a nasty response. If you’re going to call someone out, don’t drop subtle hints. Dropping subtle hints is dangerous if the person you’re dealing with has high scruplosity and a tendency to anxiety. On a more minor point, if you’re dealing with someone like me who just has very different standards for insulting, you’re going to waste their and your time. Explicitly spelling it out is far politer.

          For the same reason that business behavior reacting to short versus long term budget deficits is different? The difference is that they can’t get loans like companies..

          I agree with this. Out of curiousity, though, why even bring in an analogy with western companies when you yourself point out that warlords aren’t them (in that they can’t get loans)?

          The difference is you can wait one out and the other you can’t. One means a permanent drop in the revenue stream and the other implies a temporary drop.

          But if you’re a warlord who suffers a permament drop in the revenue stream why would you pay alluvial miners a subsistence wage, if you wouldn’t under a temporary drop? Is your vision that with a permanent drop, the warlords will immediately dash to the peace conference, an agreement will be stuck, the warlords will disarm, and diamond selling can reopen before the diamond miners’ kids start going hungry? That seems awfully fast, has there ever been a war that ended that quickly? Eg the Vietnam-USA peace talks took more than four years. (Not to mention the question of how do you convince the warlords that this income drop is actually permanent?)

          If the warlords are existing purely by taking things from poor people, they will quickly run out of funds to operate. That sucks in the short term but is a long term win.

          Yes, and now we’re back to the problem of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. You are sacrificing some children of alluvial miners for what you hope is a better future.

          So? That doesn’t mean the people in AK47 factories don’t have families they are trying to feed.

          Good point. I just think there’s a difference between banning things that directly kill people and banning things that can be used to finance wars, as all sorts of things can be used to finance wars.

          The AK47 first saw service with the Red Army in 1949.

          Serves me right for relying on memory. Although I presume the same point applies with whatever the Soviets were ysing for shooting during the war.

          Standard Oil was ruled a monopoly when controlling a similar percentage.

          Okay, pet peeve, US Supreme Court rulings are not good authorities on statements about economic theories (a monopoloy is not a raw fact like a rock that you can trip over, instead it’s a theoretical concept. An important concept, and a valid one, but not something you can kick). On the assumption that you are referring to the ruling of the Supreme Court of the USA on Standard Oil, there are three problems with that reference:

          1. That was 100 years ago. Would you cite an economic paper from 100 years ago and expect that to be treated seriously by me?
          2. That was a legal ruling. Supreme court judges are not good authorities on statements of economic theories (or any science’s), because that’s not what they’re doing. They’re interpreting written laws. The Supreme court of the USA has also ruled that a tomato is a vegetable for legal purposes. It would be silly to cite that ruling during a discussion on botany.
          3. With all due respect to the judges of the Supreme Court of the USA, they are not specialists in anti-trust law. And they are not exposed to questioning by students or well-informed peers like a modern professor of economics or relevant specialist lawyer is. There’s no reason to think their understanding to be particularly good.

          The last two reasons are why Supreme Court rulings are generally totally inadequate as sources about scientific theories (or whatever you think the economic theory of monopolies). The 100 years old just makes it worse. The Supreme Court is the final authority on what is the law of the USA.

          If you are thinking of a modern ruling (eg last 10 years) by a judge specialising in competition issues, please give a cite.

          And I wouldn’t have gone into this much detail if this wasn’t a pet peeve. When I first said this, I said that De Beers wasn’t a monopoly in the sense of controlling all sales of diamonds, and you agree that they only had control of 90% of sales.

          Having a single company to focus on meant it was easier to focus attention and force change.

          Yes, doesn’t mean it was good change.

          That is a bit like complaining about poor oil drillers.

          Apart from that oil drilling is naturally a heavy-capital intensive industry, as the very-easily accessible oil deposits have been used up. Alluvial mining often isn’t. (Alluvial mining *can* be done in a capital-intensive way, but I’ve never heard of someone doing oil drilling without significant capital, of course I could be wrong.)

          As far as I can tell the natural resources in Africa tend to be owned by multinationals or state owned firms.

          But we are not talking about all of Africa. We’re talking about countries engaged in civil war. Even if on paper there natural resources are owned by multinationals and state-owned firms, if you’ve got four kids to feed and all your crops just got stolen by a marauding warband, but there’s a chance you could find a diamond in that river, would you really sit around watching your kids starve because some far off organisation claims it owns those diamonds?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “If you could please tell me how I could have phrased that in a way you would not find insulting, I would appreciate that. ”

            More detail, why do you think that

            “Out of curiousity, though, why even bring in an analogy with western companies when you yourself point out that warlords aren’t them (in that they can’t get loans)?”

            Because it is analogous behavior. Long term declines cause cut backs in core parts of the company (like scraping R&D), short term doesn’t.

            “But if you’re a warlord who suffers a permament drop in the revenue stream why would you pay alluvial miners a subsistence wage, if you wouldn’t under a temporary drop? ”

            You won’t pay them a subsistence wage, you’ll pay them the wage for the next most profit making enterprise.

            Under a temporary drop no one is going to be switching because the time frame is to small. Makes more sense to pillage what you can and grab the best resource pile when so you are in a good position when the ban ends.

            ” Is your vision that with a permanent drop, the warlords will immediately dash to the peace conference, an agreement will be stuck, the warlords will disarm, and diamond selling can reopen before the diamond miners’ kids start going hungry?”

            No, a permanent drop means they have less money so they can’t support as many troops and the national government can crush them.

            “Yes, and now we’re back to the problem of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. You are sacrificing some children of alluvial miners for what you hope is a better future. ”

            If you don’t pay ransoms, people stop kidnapping for ransoms. If you insist we can only act against warlords who aren’t surrounded by innocent people who may be harmed, what do you think they will do?

            “I just think there’s a difference between banning things that directly kill people and banning things that can be used to finance wars, as all sorts of things can be used to finance wars.”

            Usually yes, but the areas we are talking about tend to be reliant on very limited revenue streams. Cut those off and they don’t have the funds to fight- think about how Russia’s aggression is affected by oil prices only magnified.

            A better example would be illegal drugs which is actually a good comparison. Without the money the cartels wouldn’t be a blip on the radar. Unlike drugs there are legitimate sources of diamonds which makes it easier to cut off from other sources (although given the amount of money involved I expect a lot of leaking).

            “Would you cite an economic paper from 100 years ago and expect that to be treated seriously by me?”

            Well since I was stating the term was used in that form before, yes. Unless you are stating that I can’t use previous usage to show that words were used in such a way previously.

            “And I wouldn’t have gone into this much detail if this wasn’t a pet peeve.”

            It is a legitimate use a vernacular English. Economics has more exact jargon but there is absolutely no reason to bother with it here.

            “Yes, doesn’t mean it was good change. ”

            So? I mentioned it as a difference between it and tin, gold, cocoa, oil and the other goods the paper mentioned.

            “Apart from that oil drilling is naturally a heavy-capital intensive industry,”

            That’s my point. It was a humorous way of highlighting the thing you are worried about is the opposite of the problem on the ground (which are that people have an incentive to cover up atrocities against miners in order to keep the money coming in).

            “But we are not talking about all of Africa. We’re talking about countries engaged in civil war. Even if on paper there natural resources are owned by multinationals and state-owned firms, if you’ve got four kids to feed and all your crops just got stolen by a marauding warband, but there’s a chance you could find a diamond in that river, would you really sit around watching your kids starve because some far off organisation claims it owns those diamonds?”

            Yeah, the cocoa farmers in Colombia follow the same logic. It is part of the reason the fighting has raged so long.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Samuel Skinner
            On the issue of kindness, so how about in the future you aim to give a bit more useful a reason for disagreeing with me than summarising something and then saying you don’t think it holds, and if you forget then I will try to remember to use something like “More detail, why do you think that”? (Note: if that doesn’t result in an explanation, then I’ll go back to my original phrasing.)

            You won’t pay them a subsistence wage, you’ll pay them the wage for the next most profit making enterprise.

            No, a permanent drop means they have less money so they can’t support as many troops and the national government can crush them.

            These two are contradictory. If warlords have a reasonably attractive alternative enterprise, then they will still have (nearly) as much money. If the warlords don’t have a reasonably attractive alternative enterprise then why would they keep paying the ex-miners? (And note that the national government’s army is probably not going to be made up of soldiers who treat civilians with respect and kid gloves.)

            If you insist we can only act against warlords who aren’t surrounded by innocent people who may be harmed, what do you think they will do?

            Yes, and we are back to the problem of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. I’m not saying that these are better options, just that not buying blood diamonds causes suffering of kids on its own.

            Usually yes, but the areas we are talking about tend to be reliant on very limited revenue streams. Cut those off and they don’t have the funds to fight

            And cut those off and they also don’t have the funds to feed their children.

            Well since I was stating the term was used in that form before, yes.

            So what? We’re not having a discussion about the historical evolution of the term “monopoly”. Basically, what I want to say is just because a court, including the Supreme Court of the USA, applied the term “monopoly” to an organisation doesn’t mean that that organisation has all the features of a monopoly as in the economic textbooks (and vice-versa of course).

            So? I mentioned it as a difference between it and tin, gold, cocoa, oil and the other goods the paper mentioned.

            Yes, but if something is a difference, how is it relevant? In this case, the ban on tin, gold, cocoa and oil was effective enough to cause prices to drop sharply, and what happened was an increase in conflict.

            It is a legitimate use a vernacular English. Economics has more exact jargon but there is absolutely no reason to bother with it here.

            Firstly, economics doesn’t have more exact jargon. Indeed, economics (beyond Econ 101 levels), is the area which has a grasp on how inexact the idea of “monopoly” is (to outline one of the problems: whether something is a monopoly depends on how you define market. Eg if you define a market as “gemstones” then De Beers didn’t have a monopoly. One can buy a non-diamond engagement ring. On the other hand, the evidence is pretty good that De Beers was managing to hold up diamond prices).
            Secondly, the current vernacular concept of monopoly does come from economic theory.

            It was a humorous way of highlighting the thing you are worried about is the opposite of the problem on the ground (which are that people have an incentive to cover up atrocities against miners in order to keep the money coming in).

            Huh? Because oil drillers are rich, therefore diamond miners must all be rich? Do you have some data source on this? Because it’s a rather bold claim that contradicts what I’ve heard about African diamond mining. And yes, I agree that if banning the sale of diamonds means stopping the money from coming in, people have an incentive to take steps to stop such a ban from happening. Again, people like feeding their own children. Perhaps you could say they should take one for the team, and let their children starve, in the long-term interests of stopping a civil war, but you can say those sorts of things with sympathy for the poor people whose lives you are sacrificing, you don’t have to pretend that they’re all rich oil drillers “for humorous effect”.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “These two are contradictory. If warlords have a reasonably attractive alternative enterprise, then they will still have (nearly) as much money. If the warlords don’t have a reasonably attractive alternative enterprise then why would they keep paying the ex-miners?”

            Why would they have nearly as much money? They just need to be making more than what it costs to pay the miners subsistence wages.

            “Yes, and we are back to the problem of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. ”

            Omelas is magic utilitarian consequentialism. This is “people are going to die no matter what option we take. Lets not take the one that involves paying for the guns to kill them”.

            “just that not buying blood diamonds causes suffering of kids on its own. ”

            Since mined diamonds are used almost solely to make expensive jewelry and show they are expensive, you can help kids a lot more effectively by donating to charity and buying artificial diamonds or fake jewelry.

            “And cut those off and they also don’t have the funds to feed their children. ”

            Buy drugs kids or else Colombians won’t be able to feed their kids!

            “So what? We’re not having a discussion about the historical evolution of the term “monopoly”. ”

            No, but were are using it in the vernacular “dominates the market”. Precision doesn’t contribute anything to the discussion.

            “Yes, but if something is a difference, how is it relevant? In this case, the ban on tin, gold, cocoa and oil was effective enough to cause prices to drop sharply, and what happened was an increase in conflict. ”

            Tin and gold. Cocoa and oil were other case studies they mentioned; in those case studies different effects were seen and the effects changed based on what other commodities were also being produced in the area.

            “Firstly, economics doesn’t have more exact jargon.”

            Sure it does. Monopoloid.

            Me
            “It was a humorous way of highlighting the thing you are worried about is the opposite of the problem on the ground (which are that people have an incentive to cover up atrocities against miners in order to keep the money coming in).”

            You
            “Huh? Because oil drillers are rich, therefore diamond miners must all be rich?”

            Read my statement again.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Samuel Skinner: I note that you have not mentioned my deal about kindness.

            Why would they have nearly as much money? They just need to be making more than what it costs to pay the miners subsistence wages.

            And if the warlords are still making money, then why would they come to the peace table? (Also, if they have all of these attractive alternative options, why are they not exploiting them already? Fighting a war is expensive.)

            Omelas is magic utilitarian consequentialism. This is “people are going to die no matter what option we take. Lets not take the one that involves paying for the guns to kill them”.

            Which means you’re saying “Let’s take the option that involves depriving them of their livelihood.”

            And while we’re at it, we’ll compare them to rich oil drillers in a “humorous way”.

            Since mined diamonds are used almost solely to make expensive jewelry and show they are expensive, you can help kids a lot more effectively by donating to charity and buying artificial diamonds or fake jewelry.

            Charitable aid can be stolen.

            (Also, people who buy expensive jewellery for the purposes of showing how much money they have are not going to get the same effect by buying cheaper jewellery and donating money to charity, otherwise they’d already be doing it. They’ll buy something else expensive, eg diamonds from some nice stable country like Botswana or Australia where a detailed paper trail is much more achievable.)

            Buy drugs kids or else Colombians won’t be able to feed their kids!

            Pretty much yeah. Although drugs do have direct health effects on the buyer that precious stones don’t, so, my position is a bit more like “If you’re going to buy drugs, and the quality is the same, then consider buying them from poor people in third-world countries.”

            No, but were are using it in the vernacular “dominates the market”. Precision doesn’t contribute anything to the discussion.

            On the contrary, precision is essential. It’s one thing to use “monopoly” in the sense of “dominates the market”, but you were equivocating between the loose vernacular sense of “dominates the market” and the also loose vernacular, but different, sense of “is the sole supplier” (if you weren’t then your original claim about how people didn’t care about individual diamonds was entirely unsupported). It’s a logical error, the equivocation fallacy.

            “Firstly, economics doesn’t have more exact jargon.”

            Sure it does. Monopoloid.

            Nope, turning an ill-defined word into an adjective does not magically make it well-defined.

            Read my statement again.

            I did re-read as you requested. It didn’t improve on a second encounter. Really, you’re comparing poor African diamond miners to rich oil drillers in a “humorous way”?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I note that you have not mentioned my deal about kindness. ”

            Why would I? You were passive aggressive and I reserve the right to ignore anyone talking about politeness while being passive aggressive. (yes “I’ll go back to being an insulting jerk if you don’t meet my standards” is passive aggressive).

            “And if the warlords are still making money, then why would they come to the peace table? (Also, if they have all of these attractive alternative options, why are they not exploiting them already? Fighting a war is expensive.)”

            They don’t come to the peace table. They run out of money, can’t afford troops or weapons and the government strikes. We crush them until the remainder comes to the peace table.

            Also the reason they aren’t using the alternate options is because they pay less. They will only go into them if labor is freed up.

            “Which means you’re saying “Let’s take the option that involves depriving them of their livelihood.””

            Yeah, being shot in a civil war doesn’t deprive people of anything vital.

            “Charitable aid can be stolen. ”

            And? I’m claiming charity is a better option than funneling money directly to warlords. Even if ALL the money is stolen it is a better choice- you know, since it isn’t being spent on ways to kill people.

            “Also, people who buy expensive jewellery for the purposes of showing how much money they have are not going to get the same effect by buying cheaper jewellery and donating money to charity, otherwise they’d already be doing it. ”

            Yes, selfish jerks are selfish. That’s why you try to get their behavior socially disapproved of so they change it. You know, like the entire campaign against blood diamonds is about.

            “Pretty much yeah. Although drugs do have direct health effects on the buyer that precious stones don’t, so, my position is a bit more like “If you’re going to buy drugs, and the quality is the same, then consider buying them from poor people in third-world countries.””

            The Angolan civil war was fueled by diamonds and killed half a million people out of a total population of 24 million. Why are you ignoring “people killed in civil wars and by warlords”?

            “if you weren’t then your original claim about how people didn’t care about individual diamonds was entirely unsupported”


            Me previously
            “Additionally diamonds aren’t like other mining ventures- only recently did it stop being under monopoly control and people care about individual diamonds.”

            “Nope, turning an ill-defined word into an adjective does not magically make it well-defined. ”

            monopoloid in bing (first hit)
            exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or a control that makes possible the manipulation of prices. Compare duopoly, oligopoly.

            Yes, it has a definition that means exactly what we are talking about. If you want to exclude the ones that are related to true monopolies, you can put a qualifier in front of it. Or say monopoloid but not a monopoly.

            “I did re-read as you requested. It didn’t improve on a second encounter. Really, you’re comparing poor African diamond miners to rich oil drillers in a “humorous way”?”

            No, I’m comparing your CONCERN about how poor diamond miners will be tied up by paper work with worrying about poor oil drillers. Diamond miners get beaten and killed and your worry is that the paper work will be too complex for them to fill out. War wages, millions of people get displaced and you worry about people being able to get a paycheck. I’d say starvation, but all the other people screwed over by civil wars face starvation and don’t mention a glance so that doesn’t seem to be your true objection.

          • Tracy W says:

            Why would I?

            Because you want me to be kind to you by your standards, and this is a way of achieving that goal.

            (yes “I’ll go back to being an insulting jerk if you don’t meet my standards” is passive aggressive).

            Nope. That’s straightforward tit-for-tat.

            And I note that you’ve now called me a “jerk”, which I’ve never called you. So now I’m going to stop responding unless you either agree to take my offered deal or make a proposal of your own aimed at finding a way we can both be kinder to each other by our standards. Because in my experience once words like “jerk” get tossed around, the conversation is probably going to degenerate fast.

            If this is the end then, thank you, it’s been stimulating.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Because you want me to be kind to you by your standards, and this is a way of achieving that goal.”

            That would require me to believe that you don’t hold the same standards. I’m pretty you would not have used that phrase in a normal conversation.

            “Nope. That’s straightforward tit-for-tat. ”

            Those aren’t mutually exclusive. Passive aggressive is indirect hostility. Tit for tat is done when you don’t trust someone to the point where you aren’t willing to give them any benefit of the doubt and will immediately respond negatively if you think they are.

            “And I note that you’ve now called me a “jerk”, which I’ve never called you. ”

            How about this? You be polite because the rules of the blog rules of the blog require it and don’t view it as a zero sum bargaining chip to barter around.

          • Tracy W says:

            I note that your counter-proposal contains nothing about you being kinder to me.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Because this isn’t about a transaction- this is about obeying the rules of the blog.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Someone should write a rebuttal “The Ones Who Hang Around In Omelas”, because the story is framed as walking away being this brave unusual thing, but if you ask almost anybody who isn’t a hard deterministic nihilist sociopath they say they would definitely walk away. Why don’t we get stories about the exceptional people with the courage to inflict torments on a young child?

      • You mean heroes like Gendo Ikari or Kyubey or the brave men tasked with carrying out Procedure 110-Montauk?

        • Procedure 110-Montauk pushes my buttons in a way that Omelas doesn’t, in that it feels like a deliberately manipulative and trashy way to force me into a dilemma, and I don’t appreciate it. I also find that given the conditions of that SCP, the procedure is justified, even required, while I don’t feel any such certainty about Omelas. I’m not sure if this is the reason for my reactions. It’s probably relevant that the child in Omelas is merely neglected, while the one in the SCP is actively abused.

          (Someone else provide a link, because I’m not about to. Mostly because last time I spent time at the SCP Foundation I suffered nightmares for three days. The median entry is more amusing than frightening, but the top entries are in fact really fucking scary and I don’t deal with that stuff well.)

          • Zorgon says:

            I know exactly what you mean. I think it’s because the Cthulu-esque internal mechanics of the Foundation’s universe supports the idea that there is no other choice (and, conversely, also supports the alternate view of the situation put in the hidden messages in that page). Reality is rarely so clear-cut, and the Omelas concept is more grounded in reality than the Foundation’s universe.

            (I’m likewise not going to link it for the same reason as you, and also because it’s a TV Tropes/Wikipedia level timestealer, which a phenomenon for which we direly need a good term.)

          • gattsuru says:

            I also find that given the conditions of that SCP, the procedure is justified, even required…

            The interesting part to me is that it kinda isn’t. If you’re willing to accept a handful of deaths as a possibility — which is the rule for any containment strategy involving D-Class personnel — the SCP has a wide number of options to destroy this particular SCP. They’ve a surfeit of one-way-tickets to other planets or even other dimensions, where everyone involved could be mercifully euthanized and the ensuing eldritch horror could have fun with the other eldritch horrors on that planet/dimension. There are narrative reasons that they don’t — mixing Keter artifacts is a bad idea, several SCPs have ‘can’t fix this’ as a genre convention — but it’s actually a bit more horrifying if you accept that it’s unnecessary.

            ((And then the hidden text on that page implies that local containment has been infiltrated by the same cult that started this whole thing, which may well make it worse.))

          • Anaxagoras says:

            @ Mai: For what it’s worth, that’s a common criticism of the SCP (SCP-231) on the site itself. It’s very highly rated, but rather polarizing. I’m mostly with you on the whole manipulative thing, though there’s also a theory that the SCP is about a young whale rather than about a human child.

            I can say that we have been moving from “scary” more towards “interesting” as the target mood for some time. It’s much more sustainable, effective, and I’d say enjoyable. You’re right, though, that scary is over-represented among the highest rated relative to the site as a whole.

          • maxikov says:

            When I read reactions like these I start wondering whether I’m a sociopath or something. I’m trying really hard to imagine how it feels like to be horrified by vague descriptions of cruelty, and failing miserably.

        • Paul Goodman says:

          Well, IIRC the guys who actually carry out Montauk are deeply evil psychopaths/child rapists who actually enjoy that shit. The heroes are the ones who supervise.

          • IIRC they first tried to carry out the procedure with ordinary agents (who were afterwards treated with amnesiacs), but they had a problem when one agent rebelled and tried to rescue the girl, resulting in <redacted>. Then they switched to criminals/psychopaths, of which they apparently have an unlimited supply.

        • Eli Sennesh says:

          *applause*

          We already have enough people who think they’re brave, edgy adults for Making Necessary Sacrifices rather than doing the harder, more necessary work of finding Third Options.

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            We already have enough people who think they’re brave, edgy adults for Making Necessary Sacrifices rather than doing the harder, more necessary work of finding Third Options.

            Right, right, almost always!

            Now I’ll scroll up and see what you were referring to.

            ETA: Okay, a game I don’t know nor want to. In some games there is a third option, in others not. But in real life, right, right.

          • Nicholas says:

            I think that within the historical paradigm of the Omalas story being printed, when violent communist revolution and becoming a yuppie were the well explored hard-sacrifice versus sellout options, “what if we just opted out of the system” would have been considered a clever and difficult third option.

      • AFC says:

        There would be no point to ask what someone would do; the answer would reveal nothing. Instead, look. Do they walk away?

      • anodognosic says:

        You mean like all the people who walk away from our current consumption habits, which literally right now depend on literal slavery, literal sweatshops, the literal destruction of people’s communities, and, if you think it matters, on countless animals literally living lives of constant pain and misery?

        • Leonard says:

          I became much more tolerant of the abuse of “literal” once I realized that most people use “literal” figuratively.

          • anodognosic says:

            To be clear, I wasn’t.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m fairly sure that reading the word literal as it is defined, and not a superlative, is really the only way to interpret adongosic’s post. People chained to their stations, not “merely” wage slavery, buildings bulldozed to make way for factories, mines, etc. not simply an erosion of their traditional way of life.

            Although, if you simply omit the word literal from the post, its not any less clear, conceptually. So perhaps literal is just being used as a superlative.

          • Lesser Bull says:

            “Literally” has come to mean “metaphorically but without hyperbole”

        • not_all_environmentalists says:

          literal slavery, literal sweatshops, the literal destruction of people’s communities, and, if you think it matters, on countless animals literally living lives of constant pain and misery?

          I’d question “literal” as applied to modern “slavery”. Literally chained to workstations and/or kept prisoner may be happening. But ‘slavery’ means when it is _legal_. When if you escape, the police will catch you and bring you back to your owner. When if you have a child, the child is legally a slave, property of your owner, whom your owner can legally sell to another owner. When you cannot change your status to legally own yourself, without permission of your owner. And you did not have a legal voice in making those laws. Ie, the same legal situation that modern laws apply to animals.

          So literal iron bars do not a slave make — only an abstract law can make slavery literal.

          We need a term for what is happening now, but instead of “literal slavery”, what about saying “de facto slavery”?

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            >When if you have a child, the child is legally a slave, property of your owner

            While I generally agree with your argument, I just wanted to point out that, in south america, freedom from the womb policies meant that there existed literal slaves whose children were free, as a transition towards the abolition of slavery.

          • AFC says:

            By that reasoning, Solomon Northrop was not a slave. That seems like a silly distinction.

            (Also, slavery in all likelihood predated the existence of law.)

          • >I’d question “literal” as applied to modern “slavery”. Literally chained to workstations and/or kept prisoner may be happening. But ‘slavery’ means when it is _legal_. When if you escape, the police will catch you and bring you back to your owner.

            This very much does literally happen. The primary group of people it happens to are people in jails.

          • Taradino C. says:

            “””This very much does literally happen. The primary group of people it happens to are people in jails.”””

            And kids.

        • AFC says:

          What they would walk away from would be a matter of individual interpretation. For me, Thoreau came to mind.

        • Tracy W says:

          @anodognosic

          which literally right now depend on literal slavery, literal sweatshops, the literal destruction of people’s communities

          Western economies in the 19th century coped just fine with the ending of slavery in the French and British empires, South America, the Caribbean and the USA. If you are going to argue that somehow we are now dependent on some kind of slavery, you’re going to have to make some actual argument, with some pretty good evidence.

          Literal sweatshops are an improvement over literal subsistence farming or literal rubbish heap combing. Or literal starving to death.

          And the “literal destruction of people’s communities”? People’s communities are forever changing. New communities get built. Yes, it might be nasty to live through, but yeah, so is what happens without our current consumption habits.

          Yeah, there’s serious problems, but, one of them is people who make silly claims without bothering to do any research.

      • Mary says:

        Walking away is futile grand-standing.

        Walking into the room and saying something nice to the child, now that’s brave.

        • David Moss says:

          OK, but since it’s made clear that “there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child” or else their civilization collapses, if you’re going to “say something nice to the child” you may as well just try to free the child entirely, clearly.

          • Amy says:

            If you attempt to free the child entirely, other people have a chance to stop you.
            Saying something nice is the act with the highest probability of success. When you collapse the system, you remove everyone else’s disincentive to rescue the child.

    • Peter says:

      Alternative interpretation: Omelas = Existence.

      Semi-alternative interpretation: the only way the Omelas scenario can work is if there’s a Being With Too Much Power[1] who maintains the deal for unknown reasons, maybe if enough people walk away the deal is off. Who knows?

      A while back there was also the “English teacher” interpretation (i.e. one favoured by people not steeped in science fiction tropes) where there’s nothing particularly magical or strange going on; the people see the boy suffering and think their own lives good by comparison.

      [1] We could call her “Ursula”, maybe? That said, I’d heard somewhere (oh, let’s wikipedia it) that LeGuin was more or less making it up as she went along, she started by seeing a sign for Salem, Oregon in a car mirror, and wanted to tell a story about a place called Omelas.

      • not_all_environmentalists says:

        Le Guin said that the premise was in something by Dostievski which she had read but forgotten. (Perhaps it was in Wm James also). “So that’s how I get my ideas; from reading highway signs backwards, and forgetting Dostievski.” (IAQFM – I am quoting from memory)

        Fwiw, if I were in Omelas, I’d consider the boy in the closet a hoax. If it were true, the city rulers wouldn’t give anyone the chance to rescue him. Their purpose might be to drive out any rebellious people, but retain any people smart enough to see through the hoax.

        • Deiseach says:

          The real-world question is “Who suffers so that I can live my level of comfortable existence?”

          Vegans versus meat-eaters?

          American service industry, where apparently you make your wages on tips, not on the money your employer pays you? And it’s set up so that the onus is “If you’re good enough, you’ll work hard enough so that the customers will think you’re worth tipping, so you’ll have enough money from one job to only need to work two jobs not three”?

          Overseas sweatshop workers for clothing/electronics/other items?

          Immigrant stoop labour so that all-year-round fruits and vegetables can be in shops instead of only seasonal, and at prices cheaper than the real cost?

          The water situation in California, where people are being told to reduce individual private consumption while the majority use of the water is by commerical agricultural – and in turn, that’s propping up a business model where crops that natively could not grow in such environment have been made feasible by using irrigation so recklessly?

          Think of your own examples?

          • gattsuru says:

            American service industry, where apparently you make your wages on tips, not on the money your employer pays you?

            Most service industry employees are waged, and even the food service sector actually has more waged employees than tipped ones. Tipped employees also tend to make normal income for their industries: compare the BLS numbers for waiters and waitresses with those for short order or hourly restaurant.

            It’s also a bit more complicated than actually reported. Under federal law, the difference between normal minimum wage and tipped employee minimum wage actually has to function as a “tip credit”, so an employer must cover the different in costs if a tipped employee makes less than the normal minimum wage.

            ((The real problem as a tipped employee is reliability of funds — you can’t do any sort of serious income calculation ahead of time, and an eight-hour shift on a Tuesday may be worth less than a single hour on Sunday morning, and hours are irregular. It’s also a pain in the backside from a tax compliance perspective, although enforcement isn’t common.))

          • “The real-world question is “Who suffers so that I can live my level of comfortable existence?””

            This raises the moral issue of the difference between harming someone and failing to help him. From some standpoints it seems as though it shouldn’t matter, and yet to almost everyone’s moral intuition it does.

            There are poor people in China or India, perhaps closer to home as well, whose life I could make substantially better at the cost of giving up some things I enjoy. In that sense, your claim is true. On the other hand, if I ceased to exist, or if I stopped buying out of season vegetables, the result would not be to make those people’s lives better and might well be to make them (very slightly) worse.

            The case of animals (your vegetarians and another poster’s “literal” hyperbole) raises a slightly different issue. If we all became vegetarians, the result would not be millions of animals living pleasant lives and dying of old age instead of unpleasant lives ending in the slaughter house. It would be that those animals would no longer be brought into existence. Is causing an animal to live a not very pleasant life instead of not existing harming him?

            Which then leads into another interesting set of moral questions for humans—how do you compare alternative futures with different numbers of people in them in order to decide which you think better?

          • Tracy W says:

            Overseas sweatshop workers for clothing/electronics/other items?

            What do you think they would be doing without sweatshops?

            Immigrant stoop labour so that all-year-round fruits and vegetables can be in shops instead of only seasonal, and at prices cheaper than the real cost?

            Okay, I can understand why you wouldn’t think to wonder what people working in sweatshops would be doing if it weren’t for sweatshops. But why do you think that harvesting would be any less tough on the workers’ bodies if it was only done seasonally?

            As for California, if water there was priced more rationally, then presumably farmers in other areas would have a bit higher incomes, and perhaps my food costs might go up a few cents. As a non-Californian, I don’t really see this as a particular biggie for my lifestyle.

      • Jordan D. says:

        The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is an odd duck. When I first read it, before I’d heard of consequentialism, I assumed that it was an extreme allegory for society as it exists. A while back, Scott posted about ‘Bottomless Pits of Suffering’, wherein a happy town discovers a bottomless pit of eternal torment on the municipal outskirts and must give up their own joy so that the Pit Gods will release people. That’s the same thing as Omelas, except that the people in the nice town aren’t directly responsible for the suffering and there’s way more of it.

        Bottomless Pits of Suffering was an allegory for the Third World- there’s enormous evil, but it’s unbelievably hard to give up your own happiness just to make an insubstantial, invisible dent in it. When I first read Omelas, that was the allegory which I immediately jumped to as well. In that context it seems to me that most people do not walk away from Omelas, even when it isn’t perfect and the suffering is of a vast number of people.

        • [I wrote this reply once but it seems to have vanished as a result of odd features in the commenting software, which showed me my previous and already posted comment instead of what I had written and not yet posted]

          “Bottomless Pits of Suffering was an allegory for the Third World- there’s enormous evil, but it’s unbelievably hard to give up your own happiness just to make an insubstantial, invisible dent in it.”

          To shift from philosophy to economics, it’s worth noting that one result of giving up a little of your own happiness in order to improve things in the Third World might be, I would argue to a considerable extent was, to make things worse in the Third World.

          I’ve been reading a good deal about events in China since the death of Mao, since I’m working on an article largely based on Ronald Coase’s final work, a book he coauthored on that subject. One interesting figure is Chen Yun, arguably the second most powerful figure (after Deng) and the “economic czar” in the early period.

          Chen was a supporter of central planning, believing that the USSR had used it to successfully transform itself into a modern economy. His doctrine was “the planned economy as primary, market adjustment as auxiliary.” He had been in charge of China’s first five year plan and had fallen from power when he (courageously and correctly) opposed Mao’s shift to the Great Leap Forward. He came back into power after Mao’s death—and was generally opposed to the economic reforms which ended up transforming China to a mostly market economy and, in the process, increasing per capita income more than twenty fold over what it had been when Mao died. The changes happened not because of Chen but despite Chen.

          What struck me was that Chen’s position was the orthodoxy of western development economists at the time. They too, with less excuse, believed that Stalinist central planning had been a great success—based on statistics produced by the Soviet government. For more than twenty years, every edition of Samuelson’s textbook claimed that Soviet growth rates were two or three times as high as U.S. growth rates–despite the fact that each edition reported the ratio of GNP of the two countries at about the same value as the previous edition.

          India, until the nineties, followed the same model, guided by foreign advice and Indian economists mostly trained in the U.S. and the U.K. Producing what was sarcastically referred to a the “Hindu rate of growth,” along with the Permit Raj.

          So that looks like a case where the people who prided themselves on their generous efforts to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty were to a considerable degree responsible for keeping hundreds of millions of people in poverty. An argument against being too sure you know how to help people.

          • Murphy says:

            I’m pretty sure I saw almost this exact post under a different comment thread. I believe the parent was referencing effective atruism rather than political policy hence your post is addressing a totally different issue.

            If you have x thousand dollars of disposable income per year then you can have a very real, very measurable positive impact on the lives of a relatively large number of people. The opportunity cost of say just for example : buying an iPhone rather than a cheaper brand and using the cash saved to help people in the “infinite pit of suffering” is 4 or 5 people who could be *not blind* and hence could continue to work and help their families.

            Statistically it’s stunningly unlikely that such interventions will have anything but significant net positive outcomes. Yet people don’t because they’re facing an infinite pit of suffering and the new iphone is so so shiny. It has basically nothing in common with you raj example.

          • Deiseach says:

            This is also (Stay in Omelas, walking away is futile grand-standing, those who walk away only create an imperfect society where more people, rather than just one, suffer) a great argument for why Ethical Altruism is a failure 🙂

            What good is one person contributing their money for mosquito nets? Better to keep it and use it for your own purposes, even if that includes entertainment, clothing for pleasure/fashion and not work/protection from weather, or a little treat after the hard working week. So what if some person you’ll never know suffers? That’s an acceptable deal.

            And besides, what difference does one person make? Unless everybody in the world contributes equally to GiveWell’s maximum ranked charity, it’s not going to make enough of a difference to be anything but signalling your superior virtue.

            And how do we know that we’re making things better, anyway? The person we save from malaria will probably only live to suffer from the other ills throughout continental Africa, from the other diseases rampant there to poverty to civil war to being forced to mine blood diamonds – we might save them from malaria only for them to live long enough to catch Ebola!

            Let’s stay in Omelas and enjoy the fruits of pleasure 🙂

          • Tracy W says:

            The person we save from malaria will probably only live to suffer from the other ills throughout continental Africa,

            Death: “You’re just putting off the inevitable.”
            Rincewind: “That’s what being alive is all about.”
            ~Terry Pratchett.

      • Protagoras says:

        I guess this fits with your “English teacher” interpretation, though I find it strange to call it that under the circumstances; I like to pair Omelas with the Brave New World. If the savage is to be believed, the Brave New World has made everything horrible by being too successful in their quest to eliminate suffering. War, famine, etc. are worth the cost, according to the savage, because life without suffering is too shallow. Whether one agrees with the savage that the actual suffering in a world like ours is worth it because it provides depth (and many seem to; in particular, theists often say similar things when defending their God against the problem of evil), Omelas provides what seems like it should be a much harder to resist trade. Omelas as described manages to acquire the same (or perhaps even greater) depth with only a tiny sample of suffering. I interpret the story as implying that that’s what the suffering is there for, and there is textual evidence for that interpretation (so perhaps it’s an “English teacher” interpretation because it involves actually reading the text?)

        • Peter says:

          I call it the “English teacher” interpretation because a while back on here there was an Omelas discussion and that interpretation seemed to be popular among English teachers. I forget who, or which thread.

          Strictly speaking, I’ve never read the story – I’ve only heard it read aloud. Another issue is the way the story talks to the reader. Refreshing my memory on Wikipedia, it almost seems that the boy suffers so that the reader will be convinced Omelas exists. It’s certainly the element that makes the story memorable.

      • Also, I’ve seen an argument that the Omelans have to be torturing the child for superstitious reasons because there’s no way their good weather can be a result of torturing a child.

        One way of finding out whether they’re being superstitious is to learn something about the rest of the world. Maybe there’s an even better utopia with no tortured child.

        Meanwhile, back in the real world, there are children being tortured to death by their parents. What would it cost in surveillance (call it connection if you like), loss of privacy, loss of variation, and emotional effort to make extreme child abuse impossible?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Sure, the answer to most problems is to learn more. But that is not Le Guin’s answer. That’s not what the people who walk away do. “Each one goes alone…they do not come back…But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

          Well, OK, I suppose this is maybe compatible: “The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist.” But I think that the other lines trump it.

          • Omelas is a thought experiment, and like most thought experiments it goes wacky if you think too hard about its real-world implementation. In this case, it appears to be asking whether the pleasure of some can ever justify the suffering of others, and in good philosophical style LeGuin has taken the least convenient world, one in which a gloriously blissful society is bought at the cost of just one person’s suffering. Pointing out ways to escape from the situation is just fighting the hypothetical.

          • 27chaos says:

            The fact that we feel an urge to fight the hypothetical isn’t a bad thing, if we’re also capable of recognizing the hypothetical’s implications. Truths are correlated with one another, so I’m inclined to think if the hypothetical is flawed in some specific detail about its implementation that is slight evidence the hypothetical is also flawed in a deeper sense which is less trivial to patch. If you notice you’re confused by a detail, and then investigate, sometimes you end up changing your larger understanding of what’s really going on.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I took Nancy to be mentioning an interpretation, not fighting the hypothetical. I object to it as an interpretation.

          • Deiseach says:

            You could think of Omelas as the ultimate gated community; the troublemakers are winnowed out by self-selection (they are the ones who walk away) and those who remain enjoy the perfect security and tranquil lifestyle they signed up for, and everyone agrees to pay the price, and the machinery of their existence goes on without them having to see or acknowledge it (though in Omelas, instead of the cleaners and landscape gardeners and the likes being let in and then let out at set hours where there is minimum disruption to the residents and they don’t have to see poor people walking down their streets, the child is kept out of sight in a cellar).

          • not_all_environmentalsts says:

            Does “don’t fight the hypothetical” mean we must believe everything an NPC within the hypothetical says? Such as Pascal’s Mugger, or the person who promises to pay you back tomorrow $1002 if you give zim $1000 today?

            If the Olemasans really believed their system was so easy to collapse, they wouldn’t give everyone access to it.

            It’s like if NPCs ask you to choose the square circle or the four-sided triangle. The only rational conclusion is, “These guys are crazy or lying. — Why, and what can I do about it?”

      • Matthew says:

        For the record, I’m not an English teacher, and I am well read in sci-fi (more so now than at the time I was reading Omelas), but I draw the distinction between reading a work as sci-fi and reading it as literature in the thread that starts here.

    • Zakharov says:

      Horrific child abuse happens often enough in the real world; a city with only one case of it sounds excellent even without being great in every other way. I don’t see how one can walk away from Omelas without walking away from all society. Perhaps that’s the point.

      • Deiseach says:

        Omelas is very unfair in a way the rest of the societies of that world are not; in the imperfect rest of the world, everyone suffers something. Yes, some suffer more than others, there is injustice, there are the very rich and the very poor, the weak and the strong – but everyone has some element of suffering or imperfection in their lives, the ordinary chance of good or bad fortune.

        Omelas cuts all that out. You can have a blissfully happy, perfect life – at this price. You get to see the price, and then you decide for yourself: do I buy my happiness at this price, or do I go out into the world of suffering and happy humanity who are at the mercy of forces outside of them but are also responsible for their own good, their own evil?

        • Held In Escrow says:

          I like to assume that Omelas just makes the cards fall just right that we never have any incentive to do wrong. Everyone can just broadcast “I cooperate” and be understood. So it isn’t really a question of choices and free will, but rather if you’re willing to pay that price.

      • Mary says:

        Except that in Omelas you know exactly where and when it is done. And you are free to go in there at any time.

    • keranih says:

      IMO, walking away from a bad situation and abandoning the suffering to their fate is neither the most moral choice, nor automatically the worst option.

      Walking away, however, does maintain the fiction that there is a distinct difference between those who suffer and those who benefit, and that the only notable action must come from the non-suffering. (Because the suffering are powerless, and incapable of action.)

      Me, I stopped being impressed at all by Le Guin’s moral taletelling when I re-read the story, and noted the passage which held that the Omelas society was so happy and wonderful, that very few people would take mind-altering drugs. (And this being Omelas, none of the drugs had bad side effects.) Because only people who are in misery take drugs. Or drink. Or do anything else self-destructive.

      My hat’s off to Le Guin, though, for crafting a story which still manages to engage (and enrage, and inspire) the reader so many decades later.

    • Jiro says:

      My interpretation of Omelas is that the child is a taxpayer. The society has an uneven tax rate (100% for the child, 0% for everyone else) but the system is otherwise pretty good: the number of people who are at a net loss after taxation is reduced to a minimum (1) and the benefits are never wasted and are at a maximum (everyone in society benefits from redistributing the taxes except for the single child).

      Compare to the current tax system which leaves a lot of people with a net loss.

      If you would walk away from Omelas, but you are happy with taxes, even though they involve taking from some people to distribute to other people, you should rethink that.

      • Peter says:

        Eh. I don’t need a LeGuin story to know what it’s like to be a taxpayer. I just look at my payslip, and actually it feels pretty good.

        OK, I could be paying more taxes. Arguably[1] I could be paying far more taxes than I derive in benefits from the system. But in that case I’d be rolling in cash, even after tax, and that doesn’t seem like a pitiable position to me.

        [1] Counter-argument – if I have more property, then I derive more value from the property laws being enforced.

        • Vaniver says:

          Eh. I don’t need a LeGuin story to know what it’s like to be a taxpayer. I just look at my payslip, and actually it feels pretty good.

          Eh. If my government only did good things, then I would feel better about taxation. But looking at my payslip and seeing “you will spend at least X% of your income on causing oppression and harm, or you will go to jail” and I think “dang, I wish I didn’t have to choose between being an accomplice and jail.”

    • Jiro says:

      Omelas is also very similar to torture versus dust specks. Torture for the kid versus smaller losses to millions of people. And in this case, the benefits to millions of people from torturing the kid are hefty; the loss from not having them is a lot bigger than just dust specs.

      Walking away from Omelas is subject to similar objections to choosing dust specs over torture.

      • Held In Escrow says:

        I disagree. It’s more of a trolley problem; do you place a difference of moral judgment upon making an active choice vs refusing to act? In Omelas we have eliminated all sorts of bad shit that you aren’t directly responsible for (gang warfare, drug addiction, child abuse) in exchange for one bad thing that you are directly responsible for (the one abused child). Does effectively being an active participant in abusing that one child through your social approval outweigh just having the abuse happen?

        Walking away from Omelas is equivalent to refusing to pull the lever to switch the trolley’s tracks or being unwilling to push the fat man onto the tracks. Technically freeing the child and stopping the magic would be a better fit, but the core point is there.

        • Deiseach says:

          But if everyone walked away from Omelas, that would free the child and stop the magic. The people of Omelas could move and build a new city and a new society.

          Is humanity so flawed we cannot choose to have a city where there is no injustice or inequality by our own efforts? Do we need to make a magic bargain to take away the responsibility and the possibility? After all, if there is no cruelty (and that’s part of the point: the foundation-myth of Omelas is that no-one suffers, no-one is cruel or unfair or unjust or a criminal to others, but that’s a lie at bottom; they are all complicit in the torment of the innocent child by choosing to remain and enjoy their perfect lives) – if there is no cruelty or unfairness in Omelas because no-one is cruel or unfair because no-one wants to be cruel or unfair because no-one can be cruel or unfair, how free are the people of Omelas? Are they conscious beings or are they puppets?

          The ones who walk away from Omelas may be the ones who choose to be free. The ones who choose to eat the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with the concomitant there of being able to be evil, wicked, unjust, cruel, unfair, criminal (and I’ve read plenty of wannabe rebels, progressives, free-thinkers and the like who think that Eve and Adam eating the apple was great, was the right choice, was choosing freedom and adulthood – think Philip Pullman in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy and his view of the choice of Eve).

          • Sly says:

            “Is humanity so flawed we cannot choose to have a city where there is no injustice or inequality by our own efforts?”

            Obviously *yes* by most meanings of injustice or inequality. We don’t live in a magic fairy tale land, and humans are just social kinda smart animals.

            “Are they conscious beings or are they puppets?”

            I despise this line of thinking. Conscious beings is the trivially correct answer. Just because their lives are really good at a cost does not make them puppets.

          • Deiseach says:

            Just because their lives are really good at a cost does not make them puppets.

            That’s part of the question we have to ask about Omelas, though; why aren’t people jealous and violent and all the rest of it? Why are they different from the world outside the city walls?

            It’s not because the people of Omelas are just that nice; it’s because they don’t have (we are led to believe) the problems and temptations of the outside world. Everyone is young and handsome and happy and healthy and well-adjusted and has a blissful career, sex-life, love-life and the rest of it. Nobody is a thief or a murderer or a swindler or angry or quarrelsome or greedy because –

            – because all this good luck comes with a price tag.

            So the people are being mind-controlled. They’re not greedy and quarrelsome because of superior virtue, but because something is interfering with their ability to choose anything other than the nice, friendly, liberal, happy way to treat one another.

            It’s the mirror of Pratchett’s “Witches Abroad”, where the Fairy Godmother is making the fairy tales come true: you will get your happy ending – whether you want it, or like it, or not.

            That’s what I meant by saying are the people in Omelas, in some sense, puppets? If they can never choose freely not to be virtuous, of what avail is their virtue? Especially when it all comes with a price tag – the suffering of an innocent person.

            Would you, would anyone, on here like a mind-control chip in their head that monitored their behaviour and flipped the switch when the ‘wrong’ choice looked to be coming up? So that you would always be pleasant and virtuous (by the standards of the society of the day as to what is virtue)?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Why do they have to be mind controlled? Rewiring people’s brains when they are born seems a lot simpler.

          • Eli Sennesh says:

            Is humanity so flawed we cannot choose to have a city where there is no injustice or inequality by our own efforts?

            Don’t be silly. We’re just young, and this takes a lot of hard work to set up.

            If you don’t know that we can do it, you’re just not thinking hard enough.

            The ones who walk away from Omelas may be the ones who choose to be free. The ones who choose to eat the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with the concomitant there of being able to be evil, wicked, unjust, cruel, unfair, criminal (and I’ve read plenty of wannabe rebels, progressives, free-thinkers and the like who think that Eve and Adam eating the apple was great, was the right choice, was choosing freedom and adulthood – think Philip Pullman in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy and his view of the choice of Eve).

            Dichotomizing between being good and being free is a young person’s game, or perhaps a divine-command theorist’s. If you use any kind of consequentialist ethics, then you precommit to being good and you cooperate without others because that’s the rational thing to do (given your initial motivations): because you’re old enough to have learned what to do, not because you’re young and ignorant.

          • youzicha says:

            @Deiseach

            If they can never choose freely not to be virtuous, of what avail is their virtue? Especially when it all comes with a price tag

            Well, but the rest of the argument seems to apply equally well even if there is no price tag. I.e. remove the child from the story altogether, and just have a city of of really happy people, and the same argument still says we should walk away from it for the sake of freedom…

            (As for whether we should wish to live in a society where everyone is constrained to be good, to some extent I’m inclined to say yes. Isn’t that what police departments are for—getting rid of our freedom to rob people?)

          • Sly says:

            You have made the story about mind control, not the torture of a child and thus basically invalidated the entire thought experiment.

      • Emile says:

        Erm, there is a significant difference between “millions of people” and 3^^^3 people… the whole point of torture vs dust specks is to multiply a small nuisance by an mind-bogglingly huge magnitude.

        • Jiro says:

          The thought experiment here is that one child suffers but society benefits as much as possible. It’s the same sort of tradeoff: will you let one person be tortured, so that a lot of people can benefit by an amount smaller than the torture, but where the benefit to the other people adds up. Sure, you could argue that it doesn’t add up because there are only a few million people, but I could modify the hypothetical and ask the same question about a big Omelas with one suffering child and 3^^^3 people.

          The same reasons you would give for walking away from Omelas would also make you want to walk away from big-Omelas, but big-Omelas is just a version of torture versus dust specks. (In fact, it’s even more weighted towards torture than torture-versus-dust-specks, since the benefit to each other person is substantial and is much greater than just getting rid of a dust speck.)

    • Emile says:

      When I read the story as a teen, I’m pretty sure I didn’t think I should walk away from Omelas, and I haven’t changed my mind. Does that make me a “hard deterministic nihilist sociopath” ?

      I didn’t read it as being a metaphor for anything special, more as a trolley-style thought experiment (for which fighting the hypothetical can’t be the right answer).

      Our society already has suffering of that kind without it being “necessary”, so I see no reason to think that leaving Omelas would lead to a society with less suffering than ours. So between a society with plenty of suffering children, and an utopia powered by a forsaken child, the Utopia seems better from straightforward utilitarianism, that still works with a Veil of Ignorance.

      Totally as an aside – the Organ Harvesting thought experiment seems like the closest to Omelas among those usually discussed ’round these parts.

      • li says:

        Wasn’t the point of Omelas to have the child experience extreme suffering every moment of its long life – to portray it as suffering more than anyone would in a normal society? I suspect assuming that society would have that kind of suffering regardless is just cheating and avoiding answering the question the story is trying to pose.

        • Emile says:

          Probably more than anyone would in his life in a normal society, but not more than anyone would at any given instant.

        • Protagoras says:

          No. It is part of the scenario that the suffering of the child isn’t even as bad as the suffering of plenty of people in the real world, it just is in jarring contrast to the incredible happiness of absolutely everyone else in Omelas.

          • Mary says:

            Plenty of people in the real world? total social isolation like this child suffers drives people crazy. How many people suffer so much that it drives them mad?

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            total social isolation like this child suffers drives people crazy.

            That loops back to another utilitarian issue. If this child has taken so much psychological damage that he could never be happy even if rescued, would that life be worth living?

          • Paul Goodman says:

            @Mary: How likely something is to drive you crazy isn’t necessarily proportional to how unpleasant it is.

          • Mary says:

            You can’t know you can’t make him happy until you try.

            Besides, you’ve got that marvelous drug that she described.

    • princess_Stargirl says:

      In the following I assume the supernatural explanation is accepted by all parties:

      I find it disturbing people even consider walking away. In fact I find it disturbing many people are not overjoyed and ecstatic at the idea of taking the Omelas deal. Trading one person’s torture for that much prosperity is an insanely good trade. I feel like people should be dancing and singing the praises of whatever demon offered such an incredible generous offer.

      • Deiseach says:

        Trading one person’s torture for that much prosperity is an insanely good trade.

        Well, that’s why people walk away. They don’t make the decision for the whole of Omelas (which is what overpowering the guards and rescuing the child would do), they make the decision for themselves: I choose not to accept my prosperity at this price. So they leave Omelas, instead of trying to raise a popular revolt or staying and taking advantage of the other citizens while complaining about the system and blaming the other citizens for not doing more. The ones who stay behind are those who think it’s a great and acceptable trade, and that’s their choice and their decision.

        Besides, if it is a demonic bargain, there is bound to be a catch. What happens when the ones who stay in Omelas die (because they do all die eventually; they’re not immortals). “Surprise! Welcome to the Demon Dimensions; you had one hundred years of a happy human life, the happiest human life possible, but now I get my payment: your spirit stays here for one thousand years and suffers unimaginably horrific tortures because that’s what powers our dimension and keeps us happy, just like that suffering of the innocent powered your city.”

        Demons tend to be tricky like that 🙂

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Fortunately they are Disgaea demons which means you are a prinny.

        • Princess Stargirl says:

          Does the demon dimension run on the same ratio? One person suffers powers extreme amounts of demon happiness. If so the demons are doing the morall righteous thing imo.

          Of course I do not want to be the one who has to suffer! But this is in some sense a moral failing of mine. An ideal agent would be happy to suffer in order to bring so much happiness to the demons!

          Also I would be very happy to accept a one/500K or whatever chance of being the sacrifice if it meant the city could prosper.

        • Jiro says:

          Besides, if it is a demonic bargain, there is bound to be a catch.

          That’s called “fighting the hypothetical”. Assume there’s no catch.

          • Deiseach says:

            If there’s no catch, it may well be that Omelas is the society of psychopaths – the ones who walk away are the empathetic, the ones who stay are quite happy because the suffering of others means nothing to them. That’s why everyone in Omelas is happy; not because there is no sickness, poverty, war, etc. but because nobody feels any guilt, responsibility or sympathy at the pain of another. There are no ugly or unhealthy because they’re killed or allowed to die. There is no jealousy because crime passionel is the rule, not the exception; everyone agrees that you can ‘cheat’ and everyone agrees that if you’re dumb enough to get caught, you can be killed. It’s more like sporting odds on a race, running the risk of can you get away with it? The strong steal from the poor and hold on to it, until they run up against a stronger who can take from them. The weak go to the wall. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, without even the caveat of “An it harm none”.

            There are a lot of ways to make Omelas work.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s still fighting the hypothetical. Assume that the causal relationship between the child’s suffering and everyone else being happy is such that it doesn’t depend on everyone else being psychopathic.

          • Deiseach, I think that only makes sense if you can somehow stock your society with psychopaths who want pleasure but not status.

            People like that may actually exist, but not be easily noticed because the psychopaths who want status are so much more conspicuous and damaging.

    • Eli Sennesh says:

      Both of you are missing the point of the story. How many times does Le Guin have to beat it into you people before you get it?

      The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe happy man, nor make any celebration of joy.

      Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.

      The entire story is an elaborate mockery of everyone who believes that there must always, for some reason, be a broken, tortured child locked in a room somewhere.

    • grendelkhan says:

      I saw that story a while back, and Fermi-estimated an upper bound of at most twenty-two hundred happy citizens per starving waif in the real world, whereas I’d be shocked if Omelas didn’t do at least an order of magnitude better, concluding that Omelas would be a tremendous improvement over the real world.

      The real problem with the story is that it devotes a roughly 1:1 ratio of attention to the miserable child and the happy citizens, which is awful.

      We’re much better at accepting this kind of tradeoff when we can’t see it. (TW: scrupulosity.) As I put it over in the linked thread, we quietly accept that Westerners’ lives are valued more than sub-saharan Africans’ by several orders of magnitude, but when the IPCC dared suggest that Westerners are worth ten or fifteen times a Third Worlder–a laughable understatement, speaking purely descriptively–it touched off a whole lot of sacredness alarms.

    • Elissa says:

      In This Thread: No one can agree on what the hell The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is supposed to be about.

      Myself, I think the simplest readings of Omelas as a challenge to aggregative consequentialism are basically right, although some consequentialists, in their eagerness to refute it, are a bit uncharitable to Le Guin– of course she knows that Omelas is a thousand times better than what we’ve already got. The whole first half of the story is elaborately and deliberately utopian. I think the idea is to stir our moral imagination, to evoke the surprising intuition that all this wonder is not worth the suffering of the child, even though in ordinary life we are willing to accept worse for less.

      I don’t think I really agree with her. I am willing to aggregate utility, all the alternatives appearing to me worse. But I think she means to indicate that this is a failure of imagination on my part. She accuses the reader of not really believing that there could be joy without someone else suffering, as if to point out that cruelty and violence are baked into our very model of how people work, how people can work. The ones who walk away are going somewhere “even more unimaginable to us than the city of happiness”.

      I think (based on Le Guin’s utopianism in other works like The Dispossessed) that she’s asking us to conceive of the possibility of a world without winners and losers, without what’s sometimes called “structural violence”. Being a good utilitarian, I don’t usually have very strong moral intuitions about fairness, when you call it fairness, when it means making sure everybody has the same thing as if doing better were cheating. But this idea seems subtler and more interesting, and I do sometimes feel as if there’s something in it somewhere.

      • not_all_environmentalists says:

        I don’t read authors I can’t spell, but your idea reminds me of something I’ve seen quoted from one of those Russians. Google hasn’t found it, but it was something about an epileptic dreaming that someone in a snowstorm was telling him there is a country where it never snows, and it’s presented as something unimaginable, heavenly. When he wakes up he says, “I have had a good dream.”

        I don’t think it was Dostievski, whom Le Guin said had had the Omelas idea long ago.

        I can’t usually spell Le Guin either, but she’s been mentioned a lot here.

    • no one special says:

      PRESS RELEASE

      Scientists at Omelas Technical University announce major breakthough.

      According to Dr Alexander, Head Ethicologist, “We have found a more effective method of converting misery into happiness. Once the mechanisms are completed, we believe we should be able to power our society on a sad puppy, rather than a forsaken child. This is a major improvement in our social technology.”

      An attempt was made to contact the Walkers, the group of deontologists who have opted out of our society, to invite back those who do not concern themselves with animal suffering. Rangers dispatched to their last known campsite report that the group appears to have died out; Preliminary tests suggest dysentery as the most probable cause.

  3. JRM says:

    Two California cases of interest:

    1. In re Hong Yen Chang. Mr. Chang was involved in two separate bar-related cases, some years apart. In the first, he was denied entry to the bar as an attorney. In the second, he was granted entry. Unfortunately, by “some years” I mean “125 years,” and I sense his practice opportunities declined with his death. Here’s a link to the second one: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S223736.PDF

    So this is a terrific runthrough of California’s anti-Chinese efforts. As a guy with some interest in the dying declaration rule as it applies to various religious groups (and the answer is not what you might expect; that’s another long item) I became aware of the anti-Chinese sentiment in California court cases ranging from the mild to the extreme. (“Although it can be assumed he was of a heathenish religion,” or “Chinese are disabled from testifying,” which makes your Chinatown murders unprosecutable.)

    I get very tired of the race-baiters, but we live in a society where I was alive when the FBI tried to blackmail MLK into killing himself and even California was uber-racist at the turn of the 20th Century. Go read about Mr. Chang. He sounds like an awesome dude who got a raw deal.

    2. Not awesome dude: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/F068833.PDF

    You need to read this one. Really. Go read it.

    So the media, being themselves, has gotten some things wrong about this. Let’s start there:

    First, the California AG’s decision to appeal the dismissal is fully reasonable. Dude sounds guilty of Something You Should Not Do from the case. There was a colorable argument to be made, and they made it.

    Second, from the other side, the appellate court was looking for reasons to dismiss for this conduct. They found an easy one. The idea that letting someone get away with Something You Should Not Do is terrible is, well, true, but the precedential value is necessary.

    Now let’s get to the parts which may not be fully obvious to the non-legal observer. (I have no inside knowledge of the case, and I make these determinations solely on the basis of the appellate court writeup. Sometimes, such writeups are mistaken. But this sounds properly documented.)

    Murray, the prosecutor, gave an account during sworn testimony that this was a joke. (Ha! Ha!) I am known as a raconteur and caustically funny person by some; I have made jokes that are inappropriate for anywhere, and so far I’ve read my audience correctly. This here by Mr. Murray is not what we call a joke. (Did you read the case? Seriously, man. Worth it.)

    The thing that really puts frosting on this turdcake, though, is where in defense of the motion to dismiss the prosecutor says the defense attorney told him he had no defense. Why you would ever burn a fellow attorney like this is beyond my understanding – these talks happen. Reasonable evaluation is important from both sides. Sometimes, a defense attorney says, “I’ve got nothing – I’ll try, but I got zero. Give me something I can take to my client. He only robbed the liquor stores because (sad childhood/good childhood/whatever.)” (Note again: This is just the rancid frosting. The turdcake itself is the falsified confession part.)

    Prosecutor Murray, after a very long time, is getting hit by the state bar. I’ve read the prosecutorial misconduct cases over the years, and there are some themes – forging evidence has been done before. But this is the worst non-Nifong, non-Louisiana thing I’ve seen in a very long time. I don’t know what the proper punishment is for him, because my instincts are wrong on this case; my views support plainly improper, if imaginative, punishments.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I thought prosecutors were just allowed to lie. It’s not like he gave the transcript to the court. What’s the misconduct?

      Nifong is your benchmark? Don’t you read about worse cases every month? Or by “worse” do you just mean likely to result in disbarment, which is driven much more by publicity than by actual misconduct?

      • AFC says:

        Prosecutors actually have obligations with regard to sharing exculpatory evidence with the defense. In general, their duty is not solely to the state that they represent; they also have a duty to the accused.

        Relevant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brady_disclosure

        “Following Brady, the prosecutor must disclose evidence or information that would prove the innocence of the defendant or would enable the defense to more effectively impeach the credibility of government witnesses. Evidence that would serve to reduce the defendant’s sentence must also be disclosed by the prosecution.”

        Sharing fabricated evidence obviously isn’t going to satisfy the obligations of evidence sharing that are in place.

      • JRM says:

        This seems unhelpful. There are worse cases than Nifong every month? OK, let’s hear about October, November, and December of 2014. (Nifong’s misconduct was spectacularly wide-ranging.)

        I think you know prosecutors are not allowed to lie. If you sincerely believes this is not misconduct under the rules, I think you may want to re-read the case.

        (I may not respond further. This is not the first time Mr. Knight has taken personal issue with me.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I suppose that I have never directly heard addressed the question of whether prosecutors are allowed to lie to defense counsel. All I know is that police are allowed to present fabricated evidence to suspects. Are you going to try to tell me that isn’t true? I suppose that there are a large number of details that could make the difference, such as spoken vs written, police vs prosecutors, suspect vs counsel, suspect vs arraigned. You really think that I know this difference? They all seem absurd to me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The police aren’t allowed to lie in court, nor are prosecutors, nor are they allowed to hide evidence from defense counsel.

            You really think that I know this difference?

            Well, if you don’t know the difference, and you are concerned with the issue, wouldn’t you spend some time learning about it?

    • Nita says:

      Re: case 2. I’m impressed with the sheer shamelessness of this guy. The defendant, the defense attorney, the original victim, the justice system — he was willing to screw them all just to win this case. Now that’s a can-do attitude! And on top of that, “You’re so guilty you child molester” does sound like a groan-worthy line.

      So, can they fire the prosecutor and restart the case with a new set of lawyers? Or are they letting the possible molester guy go to teach prosecutors a lesson about lying?

      • suntzuanime says:

        If you didn’t want child molestors walking the streets you should have done a better job of electing officials who would ensure that prosecutors would properly safeguard the rights of the accused.

      • JRM says:

        The case: It’s dead. The court ruled that Mr. Molester’s right to counsel was impeded (getting a new defense attorney is not an entirely clean method; he had counsel he liked, according to him, and he wasn’t able to keep him because of the issues created by the prosecutor.)

        Under California law, Mr. Badprosecutor can do every terrible thing but the defense must show prejudice to get a dismissal. Angry judges can just refer the prosecutor to the state bar. Unsurprisingly, courts look askance at horrifying behavior by prosecutors and if there’s a path to prejudice on a case like this, it’s likely to be found.

        It’s an awful result, of course, but… awful results of a different sort happen sometimes. I have seen some pretty nasty people acquitted; the nature of the burden of proof means some of them were guilty. But if you counter that with flagrant cheating, the courts must crush skulls to stop it.

        The prosecutor: Evidence-messing-with is one of the surest ways to get the state bar to notice a prosecutor. (For civil attorneys, the usual bit is stealing money.) This one is more severe than most. He was put on leave from his job, but is still employed by them. The State Bar has initiated proceedings, and it seems likely that a lengthy suspension (years) is a-comin’. But he’s been on (likely paid) leave for a long time. Justice delayed…

    • CThomas says:

      I really don’t understand how the first one presents a cognizable case or controversy. I assume that California recognizes ordinary principles of mootness, and a descendant’s reputational concerns with regard to a putatively erroneous bar admission ruling cannot possibly warrant reopening, or else every ancient decision — whether civil, criminal, or regulatory — would be subject to relitigation forever at the whim of any great-great-grandchild. At the very least one would have expected some substantial legal analysis about this question, right? Or am I missing some procedural wrinkle here?

      • JRM says:

        You’re absolutely right about the law. It’s plainly moot, which is why there was no discussion – the discussion would lead to that conclusion. But I don’t think this means that this slippery slope will be descended further.

        It looks like law students at UC Davis started this project, and the Supreme Court was amenable. I can understand why; the anti-Chinese stuff was just awful and it was over a very long period of time. The direct appeal to anti-Chinese sentiment in the very old court cases is striking.

        My view is that this was the right thing to do. It’s a one-off acknowledgement that society really, really screwed up. This also is not a well-known aspect of California history. Sure, it’s moot. Or moot-ish. But the courts’ contribution to this travesty ought to have been acknowledged. 115 years earlier would have been better, but here we are.

      • Lightman says:

        I don’t mean to be hostile, but this sort of comment is part of why I have trouble with the rationalist community – there’s a tendency to abstract away from the emotional impact of things in favor of cold analysis. The point here is not to redress a specific wrong – that harm is moot, as you said – but rather to symbolically acknowledge and rectify harms done to Chinese people in California. Much like a funeral, the real beneficiary of this is not the dead – it’s the living.

        • Highly Effective People says:

          If we want to help Asian Americans symbolic gestures fall a bit short of the mark. Why not do something which would actually help them, like removing the 400 SAT point admissions penalty they face due to affirmative action or improving policing in urban areas where Asians are preferentially targeted by criminals? Hell, what about not rolling them into ‘whites’ whenever there’s a discussion about minority representation?

        • CThomas says:

          Well if it’s any comfort, while I like to be rational, you probably would not consider me to be a part of the “rationalist community,” so whatever bothers you about my comment probably should not be considered exemplary of a problem with that community. (I’m a believing Christian so you guys would probably not class me as a member of the “rationalist community.”) The problem, for what it’s worth, is that courts have limited roles in our system of government and using the judiciary to make ultra vires expressions of personal opinion, no matter how sweet and nice and right thinking, is just not something that in my view the courts should be in the business of doing. If there is a legal rule that properly bars this action, the court’s only duty is to apply the rule and leave it at that. The reason I’m sensitive to this is that not all elevations of personal policy views over the law are as innocuous as this one is. This is a small and relatively trivial instance of a phenomenon that is widespread among judges in our country and that has had very profound (and in my view seriously improper and detrimental) effects on our legal system and society. So there’s at least a well thought out rationale for my concern here.

          • FJ says:

            If it makes you feel better, I don’t think Mr. Chang’s claim was mooted by his death. It’s true that he can no longer practice law, but mere biology is nothing in the face of the law. See, e.g., Roe v. Wade, where Texas argued that Jane Roe’s (Norma McCorvey) claim was moot because she was no longer pregnant. The Supreme Court reasoned that it was a little silly to allow trivialities like the human gestation period to interfere with their schedule.

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            You’re not actually associate justice Clarence Thomas, right?

          • JRM says:

            To FJ at 9:08 p.m.:

            That’s a known exception to mootness rules. Whatever the critique of Roe v. Wade (and I think there are quite sound critiques), the mootness argument isn’t one. Recurring problems that are unlikely to be justiceable timely are in the court’s purview. There’s no way an abortion case is going to make it to the Supreme Court timely. (Like this exception to the mootness argument, I plan to acknowledge the other repeated arguments, but I intend to evade review.)

          • CThomas says:

            Whatever Happened to Anonymous: I love that you got that reference! But of course I’m not claiming to be the real justice.

          • FeepingCreature says:

            Note that he didn’t answer the question of whether he actually is Clarence Thomas. Suspicious.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            This thread reminds me of the opening of The Truth

            “Say, your name is reminiscent of Clarence Thomas.”
            “If I were Clarence Thomas, I certainly wouldn’t say that I was.”
            “Well, are you?”
            “No.”
            “Ah-ha!

        • Irrelevant says:

          Symbolic gestures do not do good, they replace doing good.

          • Lightman says:

            Of course they do good – if the gesture is well designed, they make the targeted feel less alienated from their larger community.

            Why do you think the failure to indict in the Michael Brown case drew such ire from a large segment of the black population? The verdict of that particular case had no practical bearing whatsoever on the vast majority of their lives. The reason that the failure to indict had such an effect is that it made that segment of the population feel further alienated from the justice system and the rest of the nation as a whole.

            (Note that I’m not claiming that Officer Wilson should have been indicted).

            Symbolic gestures that are matched with real action promote the psychological health of the targeted people.

      • AFC says:

        Racism is a special case, insofar as everyone is willing to bend over backwards to repudiate it. It’s not just for the benefit of the descendants; it’s a cleansing ritual for the State.

        For example, in the case of the Scottsboro Boys, Alabama actually changed the law specifically in order to be allowed to grant them a posthumous pardon. (The law now says that 80 years after death or later, a person can be pardoned.)

        As far as finer points of law, without reading up on the case I can make a guess: the case would have been moot if California had raised the issue, but they didn’t because they wanted to “lose.”

        • CThomas says:

          I can’t speak to California law on this point, but in the federal system and most other common-law jurisdictions mootness is a jurisdictional rule that cannot be waived, so California’s failure to raise the obvious point would not matter. Indeed, California’s lack of interest in defending the earlier decision would merely underscore the absence of a real dispute here, and make the matter all the more clearly non-justiciable. (Of course, mootness is only one problem here. There are almost certainly other procedural bars, some of which may be waiveable, to the reopening of this matter so long after the fact even if the applicant had still been alive.)

          P.S. There’s no problem with a legislature amending the law as in the Scottsborough case. The problem here is that the judiciary is not supposed to alter the rules on an ad hoc, case-specific basis out of sympathy for a particular litigant, and there is no “racism exception” to this principle.

          • AFC says:

            Well, there’s no racism exception under law, but you can see why judges would be looking for every excuse in such cases.

    • Irrelevant says:

      I don’t know what the proper punishment is for him, because my instincts are wrong on this case; my views support plainly improper, if imaginative, punishments.

      Haven’t read this case, but the just punishment for prosecutorial evidence falsification is clearly death. (Or if your system does not permit execution, whatever the worst punishment you’ve got is.)

      • John Schilling says:

        I’m sympathetic in theory, though I’d both broaden and dilute it to “the penalty for obstruction of justice in a criminal case shall be at least equal to the penalty for the underlying crime”.

        In practice, it’s nearly impossible to find a good prosecutor willing and able to prosecute a bad prosecutor when the punishment will be a suspended sentence and disbarment. You can postulate a parallel legal establishment for this purpose, but I doubt you can prevent it from devolving into a standard-issue star chamber. The more interesting problem is trying to figure out how to solve the problem if you have to assume that all prosecutors are at least somewhat corrupt and somewhat prejudiced in favor of their fellow prosecutors.

        • JRM says:

          Your second paragraph has a few misguided parts.

          1. State Bar prosecutors prosecute prosecutors for state bar suspensions. They seem not unhappy to do so.

          2. Most prosecutors do not commit penal crimes. Prosecutors who do commit crimes get prosecuted on a fairly regular basis; percentages are hard to call, but prosecutors seem to catch DUI’s (no personal experience) and the occasional traffic ticket. (First in two decades. Drat.) Murray probably committed perjury, but enforcement of perjury statutes is regrettably sparse overall and I very much doubt a similar-acting defense attorney would be prosecuted under parallel circumstances. (The one case I am aware of where a defense attorney was prosecuted for perjury was spectacular.)

          3. If you have to assume that all prosecutors are at least somewhat corrupt and somewhat prejudiced in favor of their fellow prosecutors…. why? (Alternate end to that sentence omitted as unkind.) I’m a prosecutor. Why are you assuming I am “somewhat corrupt”? [Terrible joke omitted. This is a lot of omitting I am doing.]

        • AFC says:

          Offer cash rewards for convictions of prosecutors!

  4. Princess Stargirl says:

    The SU tumblr fandom actually annoys me. Because they CONSTANTLY use the term “lesbians.” Despite the clearly stated fact that gems are either genderless or have a non-binary gender. What happened to respecting people’s gender! I guess because the gems “look female” the people use lesbian? The only gem with a binary gender is Steven I believe.

    • Anonymous says:

      There are tumblr fandoms that aren’t annoying?

    • Did Scott OK race and gender for this thread? Everyone here seems to be acting as though he did.

      • Godzillarissa says:

        Maybe because Ozy doesn’t seem to offer race & gender open threads at their place anymore, which means there’s no place left to talk race and gender?

        Also, the usual “no race & gender” disclaimer is missing this time.

        Would be cool to have an official approval/disapproval of Scott, though.

        • Jiro says:

          Also, I’ve been banned by Ozy for pretty much “I can’t put my finger on it, but you upset me.”

          • Nita says:

            Come on, some of your comments in that books thread were pretty mean. (It was an oddly bitter thread in general, considering the light topic.)

          • Jiro says:

            You’re basically telling me that a completely vague accusation is correct. Even saying I was “mean” is less vague than what Ozy said, and you surely don’t think that I can reasonably defend myself against an accusation of being mean.

          • Nita says:

            Eh, what Ozy said was not an accusation at all. “I felt annoyed while reading your comments” is a statement of fact, not a moral judgment.

            However, I think I understand why Ozy felt that way. If you honestly don’t, I can explain what I meant by “mean” with examples from your comments. Should I?

          • Jiro says:

            Saying that I’m mean while letting me defend myself is certainly better than saying that I’m mean without letting me defend myself. However, that’s damning with faint praise; it’s not really all that good either way.

          • Godzillarissa says:

            Well… it’s their turf, so they decide who gets to stay, I guess. But you’re not the only one getting banned for minor reasons* and anyway it leaves a bitter taste.

            *I wasn’t, though.

          • Nita says:

            @ Jiro

            I thought you knew you were being mean, hence the original lack of explanation.

            Here are some things you can defend yourself from:
            – you proclaimed with certainty that SJ people will engage in special pleading
            – you said they “are being nonsensical enough that we should stop worrying about what they say”
            – you accused them of “telling you that things which are perfectly normal should make you feel guilty”
            – you were abrasive to Ozy throughout the thread

            Ozy has certain neurological quirks that can make strong emotional reactions (for instance, to personal attacks) unmanageable. You know that, right?

            Now, if this happened in some neutral public space, Ozy could simply choose not to read your comments when they’re unwell. But it’s Ozy’s personal blog, and they have committed to moderating the comments, so that option was not available.

            Of course, it’s only my speculation about Ozy’s motives, but at least it makes more sense than “Ozy just randomly decided to hate Jiro”.

            Also, if you already know everything about SJ people and can predict their responses in advance, why are you reading Ozy’s blog at all?

          • Jiro says:

            I don’t think you seriously want me to address each one of those here.

          • Nita says:

            I certainly don’t! You complained about vagueness, so I tried to dispel it.

    • Daniel says:

      Agreed. I’m finding the whole pastel glitter background, calling yourself trash, the “mystical woman” meme etc. blog brand to just be really annoying now.

      • Anonymous says:

        What will the next popular blog aesthetic be? I like to stay ahead of the curve.

        EDIT: I’m seriously interested in internet subcultures and personal brand aesthetics and would love to have a discussion.

        • Bassicallyboss says:

          I think it depends a bit on age. Sparkles have been in fashion for the younger crowd since Geocities, and I expect they’ll stay when the next fashion comes in. I’m not sure whether the pastels are because they’re more in line with tumblr’s aesthetic and therefore offered as default choices/themes, which most choose, or for some other reason.

          Clean and geometric seems to be the new style for professional brands, and I expect that most people who want to seem professional will copy that (like Thought Catalog, for example, has done). I haven’t spent much time looking at personal websites, but every now and then I get directed to the site of someone who’s job involves feminist issues, and they seem to be mixes of dark colors with yellow or red highlights, when not pink. Maybe because those colors give the impression of being more radical, or part of “the movement”?

          Meanwhile, I hope the 90’s-internet aesthetic never goes out of style for personal sci-fi/fantasy websites.

    • RCF says:

      I have no idea what SU stands for.

      • Anonymous says:

        90% sure it’s Steven Universe, a western cartoon, based on context and a quick google search.

    • AJD says:

      The gems “look female”, mostly wear female-coded clothing, and use “she”-type pronouns; and moreover the only gem ever to participate in biological reproduction did so by experiencing pregnancy. Although in the context of Gem society, they’re genderless, in the context of living on Earth among humans—and more relevantly, in the context of the fact that they’re characters in a TV show watched by humans from Earth—it makes sense to describe gems who are romantically involved with each other as “lesbians”, in the same way as it makes sense for Bill Dewey to refer to the Gems as Steven’s “sisters” or “those magical ladies”.

      (Also, the relationship of Spoiler and Spoiler is explicitly queered from the perspective of Gem society, as represented in the season finale.)

  5. DrBeat says:

    So, which is more of the neoreactionary utopia: Equestria under Princess Celestia, or Crystal Tokyo under Sailor Moon?

    For that matter, why aren’t neoreactionaries funding more shows about magical princesses? They create cultural messages about the good and trustworthiness of monarchy, we get more magical princesses, everybody wins!

    • Tony says:

      Isn’t it obvious? Magical princesses are *girls* and therefore unfit to rule according to their axioms.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Neither. Both are adventurer states that have more in common with Table Top Role Playing countries than neoreactionaries, monarchies or right wing autocracies.

      Adventurer states occur when you have a very limited pool of people with incredible power, their power gives them an absolute military advantage over everyone else to the point where they can’t be taken down by any number of people at a lower level AND the activities done by mundane individuals can’t give them a military advantage.

      So while they both have the trappings of monarchy, that is only because the ruler likes having a title by their name. They are given the post to keep them happy and it may not even be an actual part of the political system. After all, their job is to deal with world ending threats so their interaction with the legislature or bureaucracy may be limited to getting resources to fulfill their personal desires, confront new threats or provide old threat/new friends citizenship.

      • DrBeat says:

        Princess Celestia doesn’t deal with world-ending threats to her kingdom on a regular basis, she has Twilight do that. She also explicitly interacts with the legislature and bureaucracy on a regular basis and it bores the shit out of her (but still does it anyway since that is her job).

        Crystal Tokyo circa 2994 had one major threat, who Sailor Moon was so out of practice in dealing with she foisted it off to her past self, indicating that world-ending threats are not what she spends her time dealing with.

        I do, however, appreciate that there’s an actual definition of “adventurer state”.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “Princess Celestia doesn’t deal with world-ending threats to her kingdom on a regular basis, she has Twilight do that. She also explicitly interacts with the legislature and bureaucracy on a regular basis and it bores the shit out of her (but still does it anyway since that is her job).”

          And before Twilight (who is explicitly so special she becomes an alicorn as well, only the 4th in the series) Celestia would have had to deal with these problems personally. Its mentioned she has had previous students, but we have no indication she has had anything like a full troubleshooting team or more than one at a time.

          And while there are plenty of things that you could say are all one offs (Luna, Discord, etc) due to prophecy, there are also more slice of life disasters. Changelings, dragons, magical locust, etc.

          “Crystal Tokyo circa 2994 had one major threat, who Sailor Moon was so out of practice in dealing with she foisted it off to her past self, indicating that world-ending threats are not what she spends her time dealing with.”

          In the manga Chaos declares it will fight her for eternity (and given it is apparently responsible for all the enemies she has faced is quite a credible threat). It also has Galactica being a power hungry sociopath and her minions being about as moral meaning that there are plenty of people willing to murder you for power out there.

          The anime is odd. There is a large gap of time where the world gets frozen and she is running around for about 1,000 years before she manages to fix it.

          We also don’t know what major threats the 3000s routinely face either- only those they failed to deal with. The 1990s Sailor Moon only had one enemy that resulted in her going back in time (anime only) but she still fought a lot of enemies and even the minor ones were not all foes that normal people could confront.

        • Eli Sennesh says:

          Princess Celestia doesn’t deal with world-ending threats to her kingdom on a regular basis, she has Twilight do that.

          This is exactly what an RPG Elements State looks like. And then Twilight literally acquired noble title by leveling up.

          The whole thing is obviously the D&D campaign of the daughter of a Hasbro executive.

      • Nornagest says:

        Huh, the nobility rules in vintage D&D suddenly make sense to me now.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Yeah, D&D really lends itself to feudalism. Since higher level guys can beat lower level ones you get a natural pyramid of badasses.

          The issue is in inheritance- being awesome is not necessarily transmitted to the next generation. There are four ways to deal with this- you can train your kids in your profession/send them out into the world, you can get them to be aristocrats and marry them off to a badass, you can go for immortality or you can search for some sort of magical boom to infuse them with (bribing the gods to give your kid cleric levels for example).

          Where it goes from there depends heavily on the specifics of the rules. If there is a low density of powerful people, new guys can simply carve out areas from the wilderness. If it is high density you start getting civility- badasses get together in cities and don’t have to worry about being backstabbed and you start getting other forms of government pop up.

          Of course if land and wealth isn’t useful (say spells can reproduce everything those can provide) the system gets weird as the strongest people simply go to other planes of existence (because they are more interesting/more important) resulting in a universe with lots of abandoned ruins.

  6. Joe says:

    This book might be of interest to SSC readers. It’s by the epic catholic heroine of CFAR Ms. Leah Liberesco. Just in case you were wondering what the prayer life of a rationalist might look like.
    http://arrivingatamen.com

  7. imho, I think my blog post does a sufficient job describing what a religion is http://tinyurl.com/sfswdwd32

    Loyalty to a set of beliefs that are not supported by the scientific method, combined with de-individualization, belief in end-times, creation myths, etc

    • LTP says:

      Would certain philosophical points of view be considered religious in your view, then? Stoicism? Or to give a more contemporary example, utilitarianism (as expressed through the effective altruism community)?

      • Transhumanism, a philosophy and movement, has some characteristics a religion in terms of the eschatology-like elements of the singularity, but the science behind it could theoretically work, and unlike some religions transhumanism doesn’t require loyalty to an omnipotent deity or leader . Stoicism, alt-right, utilitarianism, etc are ideologies, not religions.

        • John Schilling says:

          Are their any religions whose underlying science couldn’t theoretically have worked, at the time of their founding or rise to popularity? Granted, it’s a stretch to call the “Zeus hypothesis” a sort of science, but is it really any worse than some of the other crap e.g. Aristotle got up to?

          • Eli Sennesh says:

            Yes, but you can’t actually disprove a hypothesis by saying, “This seems like religious thinking”, merely reduce its prior probability before evidence is applied.

            So core transhumanist claims like, “Through sufficient technological means we could abolish death,” end up looking, well, pretty plausible. In fact, I’d have to say the question is not remotely whether we can abolish death, for instance, but what happens after that.

    • nydwracu says:

      “If religion is loosely defined to means a set of beliefs and rituals, then even brushing your teeth can be viewed a some sort of religion unto itself.”

      https://msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html

    • AR+ says:

      FYI, when I tried to follow those links, I found MalwareBytes believes them to be malicious sites to be blocked.

      This does not necessarily mean that grey enlightenment is deliberately spreading malware, but perhaps that the site has been compromised or he’s using advertisers with a past history of malware use.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      > subservience, de-individualization (individuals serve not themselves, but either a higher power and or the collective/community)

      I’m not sure, but I don’t think this describes Buddhism. There are ideas of compassion and right-action, but set in a this-will-decrease-your-personal-suffering context.

      > low barrier to entry for salvation/redemption (especially in contemporary religions)

      To enter the religion? Try doing that in Judaism.

      To be saved/redeemed? That’s a very Christian perspective, but I guess it can stretch to encompass other major religions. Let’s look within Christianity. In Calvinism, I think that barrier is insurmountable. And wasn’t there some sect that held that out of all the billions who ever lived, 144 thousand would enter heaven and everyone else was damned?

      > blank slate view of humanity, no one is intrinsically better than anyone else

      Many varieties of Hinduism have the caste system baked in. Temple-era Judaism had a hereditary priest class. Calvinism has its elect. I think there were a bunch of Christian sects in the early 20th century with holy racism.

      > creation myth or eschatology

      AFAIK, Buddhism has no creation myth. Pre-roman Judaism had no eschatology. Modern reform Judaism technically has both, but doesn’t take either at all seriously.

      • Nornagest says:

        To enter the religion? Try doing that in Judaism.

        IANJ, but I seem to recall that Judaism imposes a separate, less restrictive slate of requirements for being cool with God on people who are not Jews. It doesn’t seem to have the same emphasis on salvation/redemption that Christianity and Islam do, but that might still qualify in the context of the quote you pulled.

      • loki says:

        The incorrect part in ‘Buddhism is a religion’ is not ‘religion’, it’s ‘a’.

        De-individualisation is pretty prevalent in Buddhism, particularly the Tibetan-derived form most well known in the West. Nirvana, one of the more popular Buddhist afterlives, is often described as a state of oneness with some sort of ultimate wisdom.

        Forms of Buddhism have creation myths, many of them. Most forms of Buddhism that are less well known in the West generally map to ‘religion’ a lot better than the Theraveda form which is the Buddhism we all vaguely know about – these Buddhisms have Gods, miracles, more describable afterlives, etc.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Literally every set of morals is unsupported by the scientific method. Also, Buddhism remains a counter-example, or even Hinduism, where the wheel is ever-turning, as opposed to an end-time belief. And while I’m sure Buddhism has some creation myth in its local variations, they hardly seem all that important or central.

    • Local Hegemony says:

      I don’t like that definition. First and foremost, it doesn’t carve reality properly at its joints. You miss things like Shinto and Buddhism with your definition(both of which, as far as I know, aren’t apocalyptic), while including Conservatism and Transhumanism (both of which postulate a potential end to the world due to various actions). Second, it has this science-as-apparel feel, specifically because of the inclusion of “a set of beliefs not backed by the scientific method” bit. I have a strong loyalty to my belief that humans are valuable, and one can prove that I hold that belief through the scientific method(just like every accurate or inaccurate belief), but a belief that human life is valuable can’t be produced by the unoverse; it’s not an intrinsic property of the universe. Finally, I can imagine possible belief systems that don’t have any of those properties that I would call religions. The definition isn’t particularly good, nor accurate.

    • Brendan says:

      I the problem IMO is the attempt to separate religion from a culture.

      Even if you define a religion as simply as system of metaphysical or non-material beliefs, you’ll succeed in fitting 99% of all often described religions whilst simultaneously chopping off large aspects of the religion which end up blending into the culture. [Art, language, social structure]

      I’m also suspicious of attempts to define religion in an age where “religion bad” “Science good” –> Not because religion is good or science is bad but because it means someone’s trying to throw around bad karma.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Is internet addiction a real thing? How can you tell if it is a problem?

    • LTP says:

      In my layman view, I don’t think internet addiction is a thing. I think we as a society use the word “addiction” way too liberally.

      Now, there are cases where people use the internet as a form of escapism and enabler of avoidance to cope with mental health issues or bad experiences. And there are people who fall into bad habits of internet usage, such as checking their email every 15 minutes, using the internet to procrastinate, or using an online social life in place of a real life social life. But, these aren’t addictions. You won’t go into withdrawl if you stop using the internet. It might be hard, but lots of non-addictive habits are hard to change.

      • anodognosic says:

        In my layman view, I think we as a society use the word “addiction” way too *conservatively*.

        Of course, chemical addiction is a thing, and so is withdrawal. But my observation of addiction/dependence is that withdrawal is usually not the problem, just an aggravating factor. The real problem is that addictive substances both 1) provide an escape from unpleasant mental states and 2) tend to make the the negative situation even worse, which leads to a destructive cycle.

        If we take this as the consistent definition of addiction, which, I hold, is actually the way most people use it *and* is a useful way to approach it (although unfortunately confusing in that it shares a name with the similar but distinct phenomenon of chemical addiction), then it stops being about the substance and is instead about the dynamic. As such, all sorts of things can be addictive, from drugs to internet to porn to rage to food, and that these addictions are all closely analogous situations.

        (That said, I do think the whole approach to treating addiction is broken. But that’s another story.)

        • LTP says:

          “(although unfortunately confusing in that it shares a name with the similar but distinct phenomenon of chemical addiction)”

          This is why I don’t want these phenomena to get the label “addiction”. It makes equivocation, both intentional and unintentional, between these addictions and chemical addictions far too easy and common. For example, see the pseudoscientific belief that porn is literally chemically addictive, and that porn use can cause all sorts of negative psychological consequences (even though nobody in the academic psychological community buys it). It also lets people with those kinds of addictions off the hook, instead of realizing they just need to change a bad habit (which is, yes, much easier said than done).

    • caryatis says:

      I agree with both LTP and anodognosic. But using the word “addiction” to discuss what the latter is talking about tends to deceive people into thinking what they are experiencing is like an illness, for which they need professional help.

      What if instead of asking “is internet addiction real” we asked “can a person use the Internet too much?” Obviously, yes, and if you feel the need to ask it’s probably a problem. Good luck.

    • Tom Womack says:

      “In the old days, writers used to sit in front of a typewriter and stare out of the window. Nowadays, because of the marvels of convergent technology, the thing you type on and the window you stare out of are now the same thing.” (Douglas Adams, 1999-ish)

      So: yes, it’s a real thing, like most real things it’s a problem if you find that it is interfering negatively with your life. If you are productive enough, your desire for career progression limited enough, and your boss results-oriented enough that you get enough done in three hours of work and six hours of reading Slate Star Codex a day: no issue. If you find that you can’t drag yourself away from seeing if there are new comments on SSC every fifteen minutes to do things your absence from which disappoints people about whose opinion you care: issue.

  9. Shmi Nux says:

    Scott, I wonder if you have seen the movie Side Effects http://www.sideeffectsmayvary.com/ (now on Netflix), and if so, could you comment on how realistic the first part is, the relationship between the doctors and the pharmaceutical companies? The movie paints it as a bit more… direct than your previous posts on the issue seem to describe.

  10. Mark says:

    I feel there’s some phenomenon, perhaps related to that toxoplasmosis of rage post, where political debates naturally polarize around the most “interesting” views in idea-space, and all less interesting views end up more or less uninhabited. For instance, take multiculturalism: I constantly hear from one side that it’s a near unalloyed good that helps the economy and combats the insidious forces of oppression; I constantly hear from the other side that it’s a hideous, failed disaster, perhaps even going so far as to say that it’s catalyzing the collapse of Western civilization as we know it. Rarely, if ever, do I hear people suggest that multiculturalism induces a bunch of tradeoffs that will make things approximately 15% worse or something. That’s too pessimistic to be talking-points apologia, but not pessimistic enough to be attention-seizing alarmism.

    • Ornery Ostrich says:

      The honorable sport of high school policy debate has already figured this out. If preventing illegal immigration makes life 15% worse but providing amnesty for illegal immigrants leads to terrorism and eventually nuclear war, we should obviously prevent illegal immigration. In order to stay competitive, the teams arguing for amnesty need to show that not providing amnesty will lead to more terrorism / a higher chance of nuclear war. This leads to a strange equilibria where, if everyone is to be believed, every possible course of action we could or could not take will lead to global extinction.

    • Stezinech says:

      I think that is perfectly consistent with the toxoplasma idea Mark. Both sides of the debate use the toxoplasma tactic to their “advantage” by taking an extreme position. It garners them unjustified positive attention by exploiting the cognitive quirk that humans pay closer attention to radical and exciting ideas than realistic ones.

      If we were perfectly rational robots, of course, this tactic wouldn’t work. It probably works less well on rationists, but I would predict that even they are vulnerable to some extent just by being human.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        It probably works less well on rationists, but I would predict that even they are vulnerable to some extent just by being human.

        I think rationalists have our own “shiny ideas” that we gravitate towards. For example, I think various different organizational ideas that could be described in Utopian terms.

        I confess I am mystified by the high amount of support for Libertarian ideas in the rationalist space.

        BTW, rationists would, I think, be more of a subset of rationalists 😉

        • Held In Escrow says:

          Oh, that’s a simple enough explanation; rationalists have a tendency to assume people act in rational manners. Except they only do so in aggregate, and even then only with a post-hoc rationalization that’s really more descriptive than prescriptive and often tautological (they did this because it was rational, and we know it was rational because they did it).

          Libertarian ideals are actually really attractive if you haven’t dealt with serious poverty as well. The recent push towards a BGI from libertarians I fully grant to the Great Recession which gave a lot of people a nice big brush with being poor.

          I also suspect part of it is that libertarians occupy the same sort of e-space that rationalists do; willing to debate with anyone and everyone on equal footing. Red tribe tends to stay within their own space while Blue tends to only occupy similar areas to Red in that they make echo chambers to mock Reds, but otherwise stick together. Grays are willing to put down crop circles anywhere.

          I suspect part of this is because Grays are a minor tribe and thus have to convert; they can’t just talk within themselves or they’ll die out. Blues and Reds can make large scale varied forums for discussion and simply control the discourse through weight of numbers and reputation, pulling people who came for an unrelated aspect into the tribe. Hell, one of the forums I visit for fanfiction had a pretty stark red/blue split last year where the blues took their ball and made their own forum.

          But in summation, rationalists and Grays tend to argue in the same manner because they both need to expand and thus must be open minded. Blues and Reds don’t need to and thus don’t. Therefore Grays fit into the rationalist circle better and there’s a lot of crossbreeding

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That’s a good explanation for why Libertarians would tend to stick around in rationalist spaces.

            But I’m not sure why someone (like, say, Scott) would quasi-endorse the Libertarian perspective. Although, I guess I don’t understand the “ineffective altruism must be eliminated” concept either. And it seems they could map down to the same root idea (we should strive to do the most rational thing at all times).

            Maybe people aren’t thinking very much about how opportunity cost plays into it. Although that seems to simplistic an explanation.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            Because our inner child is often a libertarian. I generally see two types of hard core libertarians; those who come at it out of some honest naivety, who think that if we didn’t have governmental coercion we’d all be better off; that people and markets will honestly work together for a greater good. In practice this falls apart 11 out of 10 times, but it’s something we wish was true. The other side are those people who are honestly just assholes and see how libertarianism would benefit them. They’re the users and the oligarchs who everyone likes to complain about. They’re far more rare on a per capita basis, but they have enough money to throw around that they’re not just a boogeyman. Generally when I speak of libertarians I try and stick to the first definition, as bitching about the latter doesn’t have any positive outcomes and ends up just smearing a lot of honest folk.

            Personally I’m a big fan of cracking down in the market sectors with well thought out regulation and removing that regulation when it shows to be harmful. For example I’m a utilities economist, so I think that energy regulation is so very, very needed, but that we should have some sort of taxi medallion buyback.

            At the same time I think that social regulation is horrible. We need stuff like the Civil Rights Act for businesses, but my authoritarian alarm goes off and my buttocks clench tight when I hear fellow blue tribe members going off about banning private schools or racial quotas in television programming.

            This can make it hard for me to sometimes hang out in blue spaces because I view issues from a class rather than race perspective and find the best way to address this is through market intervention; expanded EITC, possibly a higher minimum wage, general stimulus, that sort of thing. Which means I end up spending time in more libertarian land because they’re willing to discuss these issues even if they disagree with them, because they have to in order to grow.

            That said, I think the whole Randian “charity is bad” approach is dying out somewhat; it’s generally found in the second subset of libertarians, and the Great Recession really gave them a massive kicking in recruitment, as seen by the support for a BIG being, well, big in modern libertarian circles.

            In the end, even if I disagree with it, I think libertarianism is worth discussing. You aren’t going to find that on a blue forum, and most red forums aren’t going to like people being willing to attack it’s tenants, so I’m glad I have a general sphere to talk about it in.

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            > who think that if we didn’t have governmental coercion we’d all be better off

            I think there would be a pretty large step between “less governement coercion than we currently have” and “no governenment coercion”. Particularly since “what we currently have” is different for lots of people.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Held In Escrow: I understand that there definitely can be a naive impulse to think “this produces results that are clearly sub-optimal and probably will never produce optimal results. We should go to a system that could produce optimal results”, but it seems like a pretty ironic failure mode for rationalists to fall into.

            I guess I haven’t seen much in the way of libertarian discussion of BIG, but my first impulse in to ascribe that the set of libertarians tends to have a lot of overlap with the set of populists. Not sure whether that impulse is supported though.

          • James Picone says:

            Alternate explanation: The rationalist community is contrarian, and is full of the young/educated/intelligent cohort that skews libertarian.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @James: Are you contending that actual rationalists are contrarian?

            Or, are you saying that contrarians are drawn to the rationalist community whether or not they are actually able interested in engaging in rationalism?

            The first seems like it should be incorrect. But, I’ll admit that I can see how contradicting the common knowledge for rational reasons and then being proven correct is satisfying, and much of common knowledge is incorrect, so perhaps there is some truth there.

          • James Picone says:

            I am contending that contrarianism is a failure mode common amongst people attempting to be rational.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @James: That makes sense. Anecdotally, contrarian is certainly one of my failure modes.

          • Cauê says:

            Alternate explanation: libertarian ideas are actually good, and this particular comment thread isn’t doing them justice.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Caue: My contention would be that Libertarians are good at identifying the failure modes of representative democracy. But they are not good at identifying the failure modes of Libertarian ideals and also not good at estimating how often these failure modes would occur.

          • Nornagest says:

            That could be rephrased as “libertarians are people”.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            There’s at least one other variety of libertarians: those who are well aware of the problems in libertarian economics, but see those problems being either equal or greater in all other economic systems proposed so far.

            I may be ascribing too much nobility to Scott, but I don’t mind doing so anyway: it’s possible that he endorses any rationalist here because of a sense of honor; it may also be that if he wants his ideas tested, then they need to be tested against the best of other sides. And that means other rationalists. Which happens to include a lot of libertarians. (It’s hard, IMO, to argue with a desire to maximize individual liberty. Although if anyone could, a rationalist could.)

        • Irrelevant says:

          Wait, wait. You’re confused by the attraction among the population of rationalists to the political theory designed to work when your population is a whole bunch of rationalists?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Do rationalists assume that the current population can be made instantly rational?

            Or, do they rationally take in to account the actual human population of the globe?

          • Irrelevant says:

            Why would the answer to that question be relevant?

            At the flag-waving ideological level, it doesn’t matter if your ideals are unattainable on human hardware. That’s arguably a feature, even, it lets you wring more status out of holding the idea. Knowing “true communism” or “true libertarianism” would never work with real humans doesn’t mean you can’t believe in (read “cheer the abstract idea of”) the system, it just means your support doubles as a statement that you think you’re part of that superior segment of humanity who could make the utopia work if everyone were like them.

            At the practical level, the nation is in no danger of suddenly going ancap. We’re not even in danger of suddenly legalizing hard drugs at this point. So there’s no skin the game when you’re drawing the line of how distant a libertarianism you in fact endorse, as long as you agree we should move closer to those ideas than we are now. And the composition of people under the libertarian label reflects that, encompassing a pretty massive range of ideas that are all pointing in vaguely the same direction.

            And strategically speaking, convincing people that they’re helping the fight against evil is just about the only way to get people to care enough to fight the kudzu growth of “harmless” minor laws and regulations and special interest exemptions.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Why would the answer to that question be relevant?”

            Well, it means that people who are arguing that it IS possible are either wrong or engaged in the various disingenuous behaviors you describe.

            Are you agreeing that libertarian government isn’t possible given human nature as we understand it?

            Looked at in one way, I think what you just said could be taken to mean that the primary purpose of arguing for the plausibility of actual libertarian government today is to convince the rubes.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Are you agreeing that libertarian government isn’t possible given human nature as we understand it?

            You’d have to define a libertarian government for me to have an opinion on that. Some of them seem plausible for real humans, others are clearly unstable, Rand discards the human psyche in favor of treating everyone as Pallas Athena, burst full-formed from the mind of god.

            My purpose, however, was to display the multiple layers of incentive alignment and its independence from believing any particular utopia is in fact attainable. There’s a similar structure inherent to all political ideologies, they’re probably better understood as narrative scripts than truth claims.

          • careless says:

            It’s more than that. “Hey, autistic people have a problem with theory of mind?”

  11. Anonymous says:

    Does anybody have any thoughts on the methodology of this study, which suggests that those who are extremely anti-Israel (answering against Israel to the 4 statements below) have a 56 % chance of being anti-Semitic as well (and 35 % for 3/4), compared to those who answered against Israel to none of the four statements below, who have a 9 % chance of being anti-Semitic as well?

    Anti-Semitism was measured using the same standards as the ADL Study. (Is this study a reliable measure of anti-Semitism in your opinion?)

    The four statements for those unable toa access the study:

    1. The Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is similar to South Africa’s treatment of blacks during apartheid.
    2. Who do you think is more responsible for the past three years of violence in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Israelis, or the Palestinians?
    3. In your opinion, during military activities inside the West Bank
    and Gaza Strip, do the Israeli Defense Forces intentionally target Palestinian civilians, or are civilian casualties an accidental outcome of Israel’s military response?
    4. In your opinion, is there any justification for Palestinian suicide bombers that target Israeli civilians?

    FYI this study was done in 2005-2006

    • idk, it’s almost impossible to have an honest discussion about this issue because it’s so heated . You get completely conflicting stories by both sides. That’s the problem with the social sciences . Anyone who is determined enough can dig up eviedene to show the other side is wrong. Re-sampling over and over until you get the data you want.

      • Paul Torek says:

        This. Also makes the issue almost un-actionable by anyone adhering to Effective Altruism or for that matter Effective Anything. Anything one does is a blip of noise in a hurricane-on-top-of-F5-tornado.

    • danfiction says:

      Based only on your description of it it feels a little… self-evident, I guess? I am a basically orthodox Catholic. Here are four statements about American pseudo-state-Christianity I would answer boo-Christianity to that would probably be a really good predictor of atheism, not that there’s anything wrong with that:

      1. Young Earth Creationists are attempting, through largely insincere arguments about free speech and science, to legislate religion into public school textbooks.
      2. Who do you think is more responsible for the past 30 years of culture war theatrics, Christians or non-Christians?
      3. In your opinion, are Christian sexual mores often intentionally used to target marginalized groups, or are marginalized-group casualties more frequently an accidental outcome of Christian social teaching?
      4. In your opinion, is there any justification for culture war protests that target Christians specifically?

      OK I couldn’t find a good analog for the fourth one, and these statements might also catch a ton of Episcopalians, but no study’s perfect.

      1) You can be anti-Israel without being antisemitic, but if you’re antisemitic being anti-Israel is kind of a free bonus you get from your belief that Jews run everything and do it to torment non-Jews, even though your anti-Israelism might flow from very different concerns and values than the rest of your cohort.

      2) I get the impression there are more antisemites out there than there are anti-Israel activists, in the same way there are probably more atheists than there are when you tally up the groups of strongly self-identified and engaged Christians with (different) major reservations about the way Christianity has been used and a specific willingness to cut out the only major political party that’s interested in pretending to tolerate you.

      3) If I were an atheist, I would readily accept all four premises. If I were me, I would readily accept all four premises, though I would worry a little that I was being led blindfolded into a Bill Maher documentary. If I were the majority of Christians or vague deists who don’t think much about this stuff, or don’t think about it except as it relates to their party affiliations, I would not know what to do, and probably end up in 2/4 or 3/4. At that point 4/4 is just a count of atheists who don’t like Ted Cruz vs. fussy Walker Percy readers who don’t like Ted Cruz, which is something a polling firm could probably figure out by itself.

      • Nornagest says:

        Who do you think is more responsible for the past 30 years of culture war theatrics, Christians or non-Christians?

        We’re talking about the US? Then Christians, obviously, but only because they’re a large religious majority in the US; unless we’re talking activism for atheism or non-Christian religions or close proxies for it, activists for anything are going to be at least 51% Christian.

        But you’re probably going for a question more along the lines of “is more of the last thirty years of culture war theatrics overtly Christian in framing, or secular?” And to that I’d say: Christian from 1994 to 2008, secular thereafter, and I don’t remember the culture war debates of 1985-1993 well enough to make the call.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Activists are not representative of the general population. Dramatically not.

          • Nornagest says:

            No, but I don’t have any particular reason to think that e.g. Iraq War protestors would not be Christian at fairly similar rates to the demographics from which they’re drawn. Opponents of e.g. creationism in science textbooks could plausibly not be, but that’s a relatively small part of the culture war.

            Given that something like 80% of the US population identifies as Christian now, and more like 90% in the Nineties, the differences would have to be very dramatic indeed for my thinking here to be wrong.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Have you met Iraq War protestors?

          • Nornagest says:

            I went to college in California. Does that answer your question?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Were the Iraq War protestors you knew college students? Did they reflect the demographics of college students? Of whom only a minority identify as Christian.

            Of the three people I knew who identified as Iraq War protestors, one had a Catholic wedding, one a Jewish wedding, and the third a Communist wedding.

          • Nornagest says:

            The ones I knew personally? Yeah, and most of them fell into “vaguely spiritual but not Christian”, but I don’t need to be posting on a rationalist forum to expect people to understand the selection bias issues there. When I looked at the larger Iraq protests off campus, they seemed to be — at a very rough estimate — maybe 1/3 college students, with the remainder drawn from the usual spectrum of liberal Americans and not a few protesting because of religious objections. I’d expect fewer self-identified Christians in that crowd than the general population, but still over the 51% mark.

            Do you have any actual data saying otherwise? Because we could trade anecdotes all day.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It depends on your definition of “activist,” but it is easy to systematically study leaders by pulling names from wikipedia articles. Easiest to restrict to those who have their own articles.

      • loki says:

        Wouldn’t the analogy to the suicide bombers be people with purported Christian motives who bomb/threaten to bomb abortion clinics or harm doctors who perform abortions?

    • Kiya says:

      Don’t feel like subscribing to the Journal of Conflict Resolution to read the study, but I’m not shocked. Giving yes-or-no answers to all four questions is a sign of having very strong confident views on the Israel-Palestine conflict—personally I’d start off with “I don’t know” and move on to “it’s probably more nuanced than either binary position captures, and I guess I can round to the nearest if forced to but your questions are bad and you should feel bad”. People who don’t walk out on this questionnaire in confusion either have studied the issue in depth and actually know how their nuanced positions should round, or have a strong preference for one side and won’t hear anything against them. Giving yes-or-no answers that favor the same side in all four cases is something I’d expect of the extremists more than the experts.

      • PC says:

        The fourth question attempts to select for a point of view that is arguably extremist, but doesn’t have much at all to do with expertise. One can be an expert on the Israel-Palesting conflict OR know next to nothing about it AND feel that suicide bombing is justified, just as one can be an expert on the Second World War OR know next to nothing about it AND feel strongly that the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasake was justified.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I haven’t read the study, but it seems weird that people who gave pro-Israel answers to all four questions got a 9% anti-Semitism rate. I would have put the base rate of anti-Semitism in the population as lower than 9%, but they’re saying you get those numbers in maximally pro-Israel people. That makes me worry their standards for “anti-Semitism” are kind of low.

      • caryatis says:

        I had the same reaction, but the population being measured is European.

      • James Picone says:

        Couldn’t it just be reptilian muslim climatologists?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Theoretically, an ethno-nationalist could simultaneously dislike the Jews, but be okay with them having their own state way over there. I doubt a significant number of such people exist, though.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t see a lot discussion about ethnic nationalism anywhere, sadly.

        • PC says:

          Wouldn’t the ethno-nationalist have some strong feelings about Israel’s reluctance to let the Palestinians have their own state way over there, and wouldn’t that make her at least somewhat unsympathetic to Israel’s point of view WRT question #2?

          • John Schilling says:

            What’s the proper reference point for “way over there”? An ethno-nationalist might well feel the Israelis were wrong if they refused to allow the Palestinians to form their own nation someplace far, far away from Israel, and maybe also want that place to be far, far away from the ethno-nationalist, but entirely sympathize with Israel’s not wanting the Palestinians to have their own state right next door to Israel even if that does happen to be far, far away from the ethno-nationalist.

          • PC says:

            I hadn’t thought about it like that, mostly because I don’t really know that much about ethno-nationalism as a developed principle. Would it not hold that ethnicities should be able to, when practicable, have their nation-states either where they are or where they (as a recognizable ethnicity) came from?

          • Irrelevant says:

            And for a… fifth? hypothetical EthNat opinion, they might not consider Palestinians ethnically distinct from Jordanians or whatever, in which case the thing could presumably be resolved by Israel cutting a resettlement check to the relevant country.

            have their nation-states either where they are or where they (as a recognizable ethnicity) came from?

            Depends. Are they the sort who think the world belongs to the living or that land rights properly reside in jealous ghosts?

          • John Schilling says:

            To the extent that “Israeli” and “Palestinian” are recognizable ethnicities, they both came from the same place, they’ve both been living in that place for a couple of generations now, and it demonstrably isn’t big enough for the both of them. So right now at least, by any theory of who ought to live where, it doesn’t seem practicable for them both to have their nation-states “where they are or where they came from”.

            Unless we take the Irrelevant suggestion that maybe “where they came from” can be expanded to include Jordan and maybe some of the Sinai, which gives us room for both populations and a buffer zone wider than the reach of light artillery. Of course, the Hashemite Kingdom made their opinion on that quite clear in September 1970…

      • Gbdub says:

        A 9% base rate in Europe actually seems pretty plausible, if not low.

        And the obvious thought – what if the pro-Israel anti-Semites are just general purpose racists who hate Arabs even more than they hate Jews?

  12. nydwracu says:

    Has anyone linked these re: religion yet?
    http://www.graaaaaagh.com/2014/11/religion-counter-religion-and-weirdness.html
    http://www.graaaaaagh.com/2015/03/european-religion-ritual-and.html

    The conclusion is, as far as I’ve seen, the generally accepted one in the study of religion: the word ‘religion’ doesn’t cut reality at anything resembling its joints, and should be thrown out.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Yeah, our concept of what “religion” is was formed back in the days when “religion” basically meant various forms of Christianity. These forms agreed on 99% of the things people must agree on in order to live together in society. The things they differed on were generally matters of individual practice, and so it was easy for Westerners to designate that stuff “religion,” cordon it off from the other stuff, and declare detente on it. This has become untenable as the belief-set has become more diverse.

      The other problem was that various “skeptic” types made the error of identifying all the things they didn’t like (irrationality, out-group hatred, mental failure modes, whatever) with “religion,” and “religion” with a specific class of supernatural beliefs. Through a flawed application of the transitive property, they concluded that since they did not have that class of supernatural beliefs, they did not have religion, and therefore did not have the mental failure modes either.

      Which is why folks enjoy needling progressives/sjws/environmentalists/etc about how religious they are.

    • Shenpen says:

      I think I have an opinion about this, but I find it really hard to put it into words.

      I guess part of the story would be that you cannot tell religion from non-religion in a supernaturalist (in which irreducibly mental phenomena exist) worldview. We cannot really draw a line that belief in poltergeist are a folklore and belief in Jesus is a religion. But probably we can draw a line between supernaturalist and non-supernaturalist worldviews.

      And another part is I guess basically other people not being philosopher-scientists with a helping of Asperger. People like me, you, Scott or Eliezer may be interested in the “naked truth” (i.e. whether there is a god) because we are kind of a bit outside social structures and perhaps are a bit on the spectrum. It is a neutral viewpoint coming from not much participation in society. But I think the view must be very different for people for whom social life is all, especially in the past, as they don’t have much private mental life. I think they don’t simply believe in god, I think they don’t even understand fully what it means to believe something _privately_. I think they are more like we, this tribe, repeat these words, such as that Jesus has resurrected, publicly, and in our minds too, and repeating those words is the closest thing they have to what we may call private belief. They have not belief as such, a private y/n answer, but they _profess_ their religion, and that basically means repeating it outward and inward. This is not the same experience as we having private beliefs.

      I don’t know if I am making any sense here. This stuff is hard to put into words. Can you glean some meaning from them?

      • not_all_environmentalists says:

        @ shenpen
        They have not belief as such, a private y/n answer, but they _profess_ their religion, and that basically means repeating it outward and inward.

        See _Busman’s Honeymoon_, Peter agreeing to read the X in church and Harriet thinking “I have married England.”

        ‘Believing in God, Country, and King is something a Gentleman does.’ — My attempt at stating it (not that I do it myself).

        ‘The God that my father and brother believe in, is not the same God I disbelieve in.’ — Garbled quote from a letter in C.S. Lewis’s young atheist period.

        We might look at different meanings of ‘believe in’.
        A) really being sure it is true
        B) approving it, agreeing with its effects
        C) keeping it in imagination/feeling/loyalty, acting according to it — though if pressed admitting it is a metaphor, or a lion on a flag. (Now, New Agers do a lot of this.)

        I think, at least in CSL’s time, there was a lot of unadmitted B) applied to C). ‘I believe in believing*’. And a gentleman did not pry into A).

        *With some relation to “cultivating sentiments” as in “Your sentiments do you credit”.

    • Paul Torek says:

      The categories were made for man, not man for the categories. Religion is a useful category, even if its membership function is complex and quite fuzzy.

  13. what do you think of this http://aeon.co/magazine/science/why-has-human-progress-ground-to-a-halt/

    lol I didn’t know teenagers were an invention. Did people between the ages 13-19 simply not exist until we devised a label for them?

  14. my comment linking to an aeon article went to spam. can you fish it out

  15. zz says:

    Update: last open thread, I asked for tips on dealing with performance anxiety for playing cello at a local church. Onyomi suggested a mental hack whereby you assume that the outcome is fixed upon walking on stage and determined by your level of preparation.

    For the past few days, I spent 10–15 minutes applying Richard Aaron‘s technique of designing mini-etudes for every technical issue in the piece I was playing. Earlier today, I performed the best solo performance of my life.

    Thanks so much to Deiseach, Airgap, Scott, and, of course, Onyomi, for their suggestions!

  16. Alex says:

    I was thinking the other day that public opinion places a kind of upper bound on the size of the future. It’s possible that there will be some disaster that folks don’t want but results from poor coordination or Moloch. That seems at least potentially avoidable. But if folks just don’t care about future centuries, then seemingly, they will take risks (e.g., nuclear war) that eventually blow up. And on reflection I admit that, like most folks, I value potential future people less than current people.

    • anon says:

      It could be that I’m just the sort of person who identifies less with Manfred Macx (we can create a future filled with positive sum outcomes) and more with his first wife (the best we can hope for is to mitigate damage to our Tribe), but I wonder if willingness to sacrifice for the deep future is affected by optimism or pessimism about what the future will be like.

      Anecdotally I can say that when I read about the possibility of being slurped up by Seed AIs or outcompeted by thinking machines with vaguely humanoid characteristics I get less excited about the prospect of making the world a better place for future generations. Why bother if they’re already doomed? If this is actually how a lot of human beings think, it has interesting implications for how people should be talking about things like AI Risk or Climate Change, specifically the sort of apocalypticism that characterizes the narratives put forth by some of the more extreme proponents

      • von Kalifornen says:

        Personally, when thinking about The Future I don’t separate current and potential people.

        More that I put infinite value in “the future” meaning some generalities of survival plus not-totally-screwed-over for *someone*.

      • Eli Sennesh says:

        Anecdotally I can say that when I read about the possibility of being slurped up by Seed AIs or outcompeted by thinking machines with vaguely humanoid characteristics I get less excited about the prospect of making the world a better place for future generations. Why bother if they’re already doomed? If this is actually how a lot of human beings think, it has interesting implications for how people should be talking about things like AI Risk or Climate Change, specifically the sort of apocalypticism that characterizes the narratives put forth by some of the more extreme proponents

        Second data point here: can confirm. As you increase the Expected Existential Despair to infinity, my impulse to just stop giving a crap and live as nicely as I can in the immediate present goes up.

        You can figure out why pretty easily if you consider that my mind is probably just modeling the possible timelines/histories up to some fixed time T. The more you fill those timelines with despair starting at T and working backwards, the more I would “have to” obtain high awesomeness nowish in order to “make up for it” and maximize awesomeness of the whole timeline.

        Mind, I tend to hold that one should kick despair to the curb and go beyond the impossible, but it is still actually quite nice to occasionally listen to someone talk about not being totally fucked.

    • Eli Sennesh says:

      Counterargument (Troll Hat is very much on, and none of the following is my true opinion):

      So far, having present-day people Care About X has mostly been the key to making huge amounts of pointless political arguing happen about X, tending to ruin X, or at least to overdetermine the present and future state of X, leading to conserving exactly the broken state of X everyone wanted fixed in the first place. Thus, the more opinions the public expresses about the future, the more they lock it down into being exactly the same as today.

      Thus, if you really care about the future, you will shut up about it in public.

      • Alex says:

        By the way, forget my example of nuclear war. If folks are more concerned with the short term, they ought to try hard to avoid huge wars. The real threat would be slow decay via things like global warming, or humans being gradually replaced by other life forms.

        To actually respond…I think debates about future technologies are more likely to waste our time than hurt the future–relative to humanity’s majority values.

        On the other hand, your values may be weird. Maybe they even align more with the Vast Formless Things than with humanity. If you really value potential future people the same as current people, your best hope might be that humans can’t trade off the far future for the present because they’re too dumb and selfish to invent the necessary technologies or institutions!

  17. Conspirator says:

    “A better slur-word for the unscientific type of religion might be idolatory, which can be defined as association of abstract values with personal rituals.”

    I’m not sure I approve of us having a slur word for this. By this definition, stoicism would also be idolatrous, due to its association between abstract value and personal rituals such as a daily review and negative visualization. The key question about personal rituals is whether they are actually effective for helping you achieve abstract value. If your personal ritual is donating 10% of your paycheck to EA charities every month, that seems like a pretty good way to achieve the abstract value of doing good for the world. Indeed, I’m more optimistic that someone with this ritual will actually do good for the world than someone who merely has the abstract value of doing good for the world. Personal rituals are a pretty good way to think about editing your own behaviors; see for example Scott Adams’ discussion of systems vs goals in his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” (excellent self-help book btw).

    The real problem is when these rituals continue firing even when they are no longer effective (or were never effective in the first place). This is probably more likely to happen if you don’t hold empiricism as a key value or your rituals include shunning people when they deviate from rituals.

  18. Anaxagoras says:

    I asked some social justice-y friends of mine about this, but didn’t get a very useful answer: Could smokers fit the social justice model of oppression and privilege and the like?

    There seem to be a number of parallels with classically oppressed groups and other places that make it seem a natural fit:
    * Smokers are subject to people telling them that they’re damaging their own health through their choices, similar to what obese folks have to deal with.
    * The government levies onerous taxes on top of the already expensive price of the habit, and also mandates advertising telling them that they’re killing themselves. In other countries, this advertising can get quite distressing.
    * Though it may have originally been a choice to start smoking, for nearly all smokers, it no longer is. Most social interventions are more effective at making smokers miserable rather than making them quit.
    * Nonsmokers don’t have to worry about finding accessible places to stave off the effects of being without tobacco, or have to suffer additional effects of long plane flights and the like.
    * It’s considered socially acceptable for people to avoid smokers just because they are smokers, whether or not they have smoked recently or not.

    There are certainly legitimate health reasons for some of this, but the burdens fall primarily on those who are already the main victims. These public health concerns don’t justify the social and economic oppression, any more than the prevalence of HIV among the gay population justified the homophobia of the 80s. As I said, it’s not even like they really have a choice in the matter any more, so it becomes really unjustifiable to say that they deserved it.

    I’m not a smoker, and I’m not involved in the social justice movement, so it’s quite possible I’ve made some significant error. How does this look to other people here? Have I made a reasonable argument? What am I missing?

    • Nita says:

      Well, cigarette smokers are like high-functioning alcoholics, stoners or amphetamine users, only smellier and more likely to produce noxious smoke in public areas.

      There’s no social justice consensus about drug users in general.

      Your parallel with fat people is interesting, but flawed — a fat person is fat 24/7, while a smoker is only identifiable while they’re smoking. Also, there’s r/fatpeoplehate, but no r/smokershate.

      It’s considered socially acceptable for people to avoid smokers just because they are smokers, whether or not they have smoked recently or not.

      Really? That’s news to me. I pretty much have to ignore the smell that clings to habitual smokers, even if I find it unpleasant.

      • Nonnamous says:

        cigarette smokers are like high-functioning alcoholics, stoners or amphetamine users

        Not even close. Smoking doesn’t mess with your brain.

        • Anonymous says:

          They did say “high-functioning” alcoholic, and amphetamine use doesn’t have much of a negative effect unless you use large doses or don’t sleep/eat/drink often.

      • bartlebyshop says:

        Also, there’s r/fatpeoplehate, but no r/smokershate.

        Well, actually…

        • Nita says:

          Thanks, I did enjoy the drama. The most upvoted post (by a huge margin) of r/SmokerHate is still mocking fat people, though.

          • bartlebyshop says:

            It’s certain that there’s far more anti-fat people sentiment on reddit than anti-smoker sentiment. There’s r/fatlogic, r/fatpeoplehate, and r/fatpeoplestories just off the top of my head. There’s also r/fatpeoplehategonewild (where FPH-ers post pictures of their slender selves). It’s possible to find the occasional r/AskReddit thread that turns into a smoker hatefest, though, which is mostly a function of AskReddit’s massive and horrible userbase.

          • Vegemeister says:

            Er, as far as I can tell, /r/fatpeoplehategonewild doesn’t exist. /r/FPHgonewild does, but it’s private.

    • Bassicallyboss says:

      Smoking is something quittable, even if quitting is difficult. If we look at SJ causes (gender, race, body type/weight, physical ability, age, mental status), it seems that most of them are:

      1. Things that people can’t help being/not-being
      2. Things that are apparent upon meeting someone for the first time
      3. Things which have stereotypes about them
      4. Things which are likely to make strangers treat you differently/worse

      That’s not exhaustive, obviously, but those aren’t random criteria: Social justice seems to be ideally about treating everyone equally all the time. 1-3 mean you’re more likely to get 4, either because you’re blamed for your condition, its more noticeable, or people just expect the wrong thing. You could make an argument for 4 alone, but I don’t think smoking passes 1 (quitting is certainly possible, and nicotine patches mean you can stop smoking without withdrawing if you want to) or 2 (unless you reek of smoke). I don’t know any smoker stereotypes, but I suppose that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. But regardless of whether smoking is something that ought to be a SJ cause, being a smoker doesn’t seem to be a central member of the category [privilege structures as understood by social justice]. So it’s probably not something you’re likely to convince the subculture as a whole to carry the banner for.

      That said, it doesn’t seem terribly far-fetched. I once had an SJ friend who wrote a long, serious post about how video games that include story content only unlockable on Hard mode or by 100% completion were unfairly discriminatory. I think you’d have a far easier time selling [smokers] as an oppressed class than [people who are bad at video games].

      • Tom Womack says:

        I am inclined to agree about the video games, but I’d go there from both a customer-satisfaction and a developer-satisfaction viewpoint – I do slightly feel ripped off when I buy a game and find that two hours in there’s a boss that I get frustrated before ever defeating, and from the other side, what’s the point in designing an awesome last-third-of-game which many customers will never see?

        Better hints mechanisms and incremental difficulty reduction are probably the way to go; or make it clear in advertising that the game has blockers of this sort so I can get round to not buying it.

        • Peter says:

          This has been a permanent bone of contention with World of Warcraft. I only managed to go raiding (i.e. endgame content) three expansions in, but even when I was starting, the old raiders were kvetching how Blizzard had make the game too casual. One thing that often happened was that a raid would be opened, and a few months later they would reduce the difficulty. And when the next expansion rolled around you could do ridiculously easy “nostalgia raiding” because with each expansion you got to go up another 5-10 levels and get ridiculously good gear.

          Later on there was the “raid finder” which let you get together with 24 randoms to go raiding – with the bosses being a lot easier and generally missing the trickier mechanics (having voice chat and people you know makes co-ordinating things soooooo much easier). The loot was not as good as real raiding but it was still worth going for, in fact people who did real raiding often resented “grinding” for the raid finder loot but felt they needed it anyway.

        • James Picone says:

          Speaking as someone who has bitched about games being too easy before, this feels like there’s a wide range of videogame skill in the market, and if there’s a mismatch between player skill and game difficult, no matter which way the mismatch goes, people are going to be frustrated.

          If you’re good at videogames, then games that are aimed much lower difficulty-wise feel like You Have to Burn the Rope, but without the artistic merit. I played Kirby’s Epic Yarn a while ago (I have a soft spot for Kirby), and while the game looked really good, it was so easy as to be trivial. As a result, it was boring. No challenge.

          I think a lot of the kvetching about games being casual is people who are worried that the videogame market will shift in the direction of Kirby’s Epic Yarn and there will be far fewer games that have appropriate levels of challenge for them. Or, I guess, want to look like they’re hardarses who finish I Wanna Be The Guy before breakfast. Or feel that things that they’d previously performed when it was ‘hard’ are being devalued by making it ‘easy’.

          Some of it might be a variant of typical-mind, too. Say you’re a hardarse who finishes I Wanna Be The Guy before breakfast. You probably don’t even remember the last time you were genuinely stuck in a videogame. And you’re obviously the average case here, so the people complaining that $THING is too hard are just terrible casuals and shouldn’t expect games to cater to them, they should cater to the average, you. etc. etc.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            I think the issue generally comes from when a game or series is originally targeted at one group on the difficultly curve and then gets changed to appeal to another. I’m generally one of the guys who goes for the harder games (although I generally avoid rote memorization games like IWBTG), but I also love my Kirby games. Sure, they’re easy (with the exception of Canvas Curse, bless its heart), but I know they’re going to be easy. So I set personal goals and achievements I want to make and work towards them within the game’s existing framework.

            If you have a game that’s relatively hardcore and make it easier for the playerbase to achieve the same status as the oldguard with less work, people are going to be pissed. If you make a Mario game and have mandatory pixel perfect jumps to beat it, people are going to be pissed. Most anger comes from betrayed expectations; if the developer is upfront about what you’re getting and isn’t going against what the franchise is known for, people will naturally weed themselves out of the playerbase if it isn’t for them.

      • grendelkhan says:

        It seems like fat is quittable, and ridiculously difficult to quit as well. Like, if you weigh yourself daily, count calories all the time, and spend a lot of your time exercising, then you can indeed stop being fat, but that’s a lot to ask of people, and it’s way, way more tenable to simply maintain the position that fatness is as permanent as skin color.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          In this sense, I suspect that many forms of criminal behavior are also as permanent as skin color. We nonetheless hold criminals responsible for their crimes.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Is “holding responsible” here referring to more than one thing? Punishing criminals by isolating them from society at large seems like a good idea whatever the reason for their behavior is. Being mean to fat people is a good idea if and only if fatness is a choice, because then you’re helping people. (And helping people by being cruel to them is delicious!)

          • Irrelevant says:

            Being mean to X people is a good idea if and only if X is a choice.

            Hello, remarkably non-trivial claim. As far as I can tell you can make this true only by defining meanness in such a fashion that it beggars the question.

            Natural use of “mean” is not a bright-line category. Things are able to be, if not definitely both mean and just or mean and necessary, in an illegible border-state possessing high attributes of just-like and/or necessity-like simultaneously with meanness-like.

          • grendelkhan says:

            That’s both irrelevant and mostly illegible!

            What you’re picking at isn’t the point. The idea behind fat-shaming is that it doesn’t matter if it hurts the target, because it helps them. If fat-shaming is as pointless as height-shaming (no matter how much you shout at people, it’s not going to be easier for them to get taller), then it’s a worse thing to do.

    • Anonymous says:

      You will find that people who, “Just want to destabilize norms, man,” are more than willing to adopt the norms that they like. I pushed this type of question a few times in my queer theory class, and I’ve never seen more cognitive dissonance in my life.

    • Zakharov says:

      Once pot is legalized, social justice types will probably have reason to make common cause with tobacco smokers.

    • Anonymous says:

      IDK. It might be because of anti-drug propaganda, or just that fighting for rights of “scum” like drug users isn’t very marketable, but the lack of social justice support for drug users, and for the end of the drug war, astounds me.

      On tobacco specifically: smoking is gross and not a hip cause to support. Same reason no one campaigns to save jenky-looking animals, and why the African children on the TV commercials always look sad and dirty but never ugly. But smokers do suffer from what seems to be “systemic oppression”. I think pushing that point might cause backlash against the movement in general though. It sounds almost like a reductio ad absurdum of SJ principles.

    • I don’t see a full SJ model working for smokers, but I do think the people who started smoking before the restrictions on indoor smoking got started were skunked, and I’ve seem a smoker with arthritis complain about the difficulties of going outdoors to smoke. There’s certainly some intersectionality in play.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It’s hard to take the side of smokers without also taking the side of tobacco companies, who, lets face it, have been, and continue to be fairly grossly unethical. If smoking heirloom pipe tobacco grown on small organic farms became “a thing” you might see the SJ types ease off on condemning all smoking.

      Smoking is also not a side affect (like “excess” weight) of some necessary activity. If we could magically eliminate tobacco, people would hate it for a while, and then things would pretty much carry on. But, you can’t eliminate the need for people to eat. Overweight, female, black, etc. are all things you are. Smoking is something you do. So, I don’t think the analogy really works.

    • Matthew says:

      I remain puzzled why my own position isn’t more common — tobacco and nicotine should be legal and generally free from social opprobrium, but smoking as the delivery method should not. The current regulatory system in the US is bonkers — favoring smoking over snus, etc. even though the alternatives don’t involve secondhand health risks, unpleasant odors, etc.

    • 123 says:

      In a way this is a rhethorical question – not so much asking why smokers aren’t classified as an oppressed group, but offering up a perceived inconsistency as a gotcha to social justice supporters. But if I had to give as concrete an answer as possible to why, I’d say this. SJ supporters are discouraged from questioning SJ norms, with consequences ranging from weird looks to extreme public shaming. So most of them, I think, don’t really have any coherent justification for those norms. They endorse them because they get rewarded for doing so and punished for doing otherwise. I’d say it’s maybe 1 in 20 supporters that are confident enough in their social justice credentials to actually think for themselves about social justice theory, and honestly grapple with questions like this, enough that you could say that they “have a reason” for believing whatever it is that they believe. Their voice is relatively small, so “reasons” are a relatively small part of why the consensus is the way it is.

      Of course the same could be said of all ideologies that have large followings.

      This is just a bunch of interesting thoughts, not something I’m confident about.

  19. DanPeverley says:

    I’m trying to get into (ancient) Chinese history. Anyone got any suggestions for good texts on the Warring States period?

    • Zakharov says:

      It’s not a history, but I’ve found the Book of Lord Shang fascinating.

      • Emile says:

        I haven’t read it yet, but I heard the same from other sources; along with the Discourses On Salt And Iron, which seems surprisingly modern.

        I’m a bit surprised at the amount of interest in ancient China in this thread…

    • Brock says:

      If your interest is mostly on the philosophical side, I highly recommend the edX course “Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science”, taught by Edward Slingerland of the University of British Columbia.

      https://www.edx.org/course/chinese-thought-ancient-wisdom-meets-ubcx-china300x

      It doesn’t have any scheduled future sessions, so all you can do is watch the videos and do the readings, but it’s very well-done. By far the best humanities MOOC I’ve taken.

      • DanPeverley says:

        Thanks, this seems like good material. I’ll be tucking into this on my down days between classes.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I actually dove into Chinese history last month. I’ve got a huge reading list to sort through, but when I’m home from work tonight I’ll have a few suggestions from what I’ve gotten so far.

      Right now, though, I’ve discovered that detailed sources on China’s ancient history are thin on the ground. There are texts like the Spring and Autumn Annals or Records of the Grand Historian, Confucian texts like the Analects, but no real detailed contemporaneous military accounts as far as I know. You don’t see the same tradition as in the West of soldier’s memoirs – China has no Xenophon or Thucydides, and certainly no Caesar.

      Thus, most of the histories of the time are compiled from the later sources, and focus more on social and political developments, that kinna thing. Like I said, I’m only barely dipping my toes into the period, and I’m reading about all Chinese history, so my sources are going to be understandably more general. I’ll try to have more detail for you this evening.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Okay, here goes (and I have more, but this will do as a start):

        (Okay, one more disclaimer: I am a rank amateur in this field, so some of this stuff may be outdated/just plain wrong)

        The Origins of Chinese Civilization, David Keightley, 1983 – one of the best introductions to ancient China.

        Ancient Sichuan and the Unification of China, Steven Sage, 1992, explores, well, exactly what it says on the tin.

        Chinese Civilization in the Making, 1766 – 221 BC, Li Jun, 1996 seems to get right at the heart of the era you’re interested in.

        Western Chou Civilization (Cho-Yun Hsu, Katheryn Linduff) might be a bit early for you, same with Mark Edward Lewis’s Sanctioned Violence in Early China, but hey, they’re there if you’re interested.

        The Multi-State System of Ancient China, Richard Walker, 1953 – dated, but a brief read and scholarly, it covers the wars and intrigues before the Han period.

        China’s First Unifier: A Study of the Ch’in Dynasty as Seen in the Life of Li Ssu, Dirke Bodde, 1938. Also seriously dated, but it’s apparently a great book on the period.

        Everyday Life in Early Imperial China during the Han Period, 202 BC – 220 AD, Michael Loewe, 1973, is a classic, and I think still relevant even if it is beyond the period you were interested in.

        Last one, Ssu-ma Ch’ien, Grand Historian of China, Burton Watson, 1958. Another older work, this is a biography that also illuminates China’s great tradition of history writing, and will probably serve as a window to the period.

        I hope this helps! I have more that I can scrounge up in other corners, including some more modern stuff. <_<

    • Not a text, but a couple of points worth mentioning, having to do with new information contradicting old:

      1. The standard story about the legalists and the Qin, the first unified Chinese empire, seems to be at least partly Confucianist propaganda from the second (Han) empire. At some point in recent decades they excavated some documents from the Qin and they showed a much less extreme system than had supposedly existed.

      2. The view of the Imperial legal system that was orthodox a few decades back, and shows up in Bodde and Morris, which was my original source on the subject, turns out to be seriously misleading. It correctly represents its (Confucian Imperial elite) sources, but they badly misrepresent their own legal system. That became clear when low level court documents became available after China opened up. What purported to be a pure criminal system turns out to have spent about half its time on “minor matters” (property, inheritance, marriage and debt), where it was functioning as something close to a civil system in substance, criminal in form.

      You can find more on this, and sources, in a draft chapter for a book I’m working on, webbed at:

      http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Course_Pages/Legal_Systems_Very_Different_13/Book_Draft/Systems/ChineseLaw.html

      It’s not really “ancient” since it’s mostly about the final dynasty, but there’s a lot of continuity in Chinese legal history, so it’s probably relevant.

    • The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine— it’s probably of general interest here because it’s about how what people believe shapes what they notice, but it’s also worth finding out that Taoism isn’t just one thing, it evolved over time.

  20. robonobone says:

    Anyone have advice about male performance anxiety with regard to sexual intercourse? I’m pretty sure it’s anxiety related given a clean bill of health other than GAD and the fact that I’ve been unmedicated for over a year. (Ironically one of the reasons I wanted off SSRIs is that they were killing my boners.)

    • zz says:

      The standard advice is to make her* cum before you so much as think about penetration, reducing pressure to perform.

      Last OT, I asked about musical performance anxiety. You may get something out of the responses.

      According to the internet, Kegel exercises just kind of make everything better. Googling something to the effect of reddit kegels should return a bunch of reddit posts.

      Porn is the devil. Even if it doesn’t directly contribute to anxiety (which is entirely possible), being so horny that you don’t have the attention to be anxious should prove beneficial. And, seriously, porn is the devil. (And, no, this isn’t a purity sex-is-sacred thing; I score 0.0/5.0 on yourmorals.org. This is a sex is fun and porn makes sex less fun and is therefore the devil, along with the religious right and some feminists.)

      *As I understand it, “sexual intercourse” refers to PIV sex.

      • robonobone says:

        PIV was my goal, but but the performance issues manifested way before vaginal penetration was viable. I did give her oral and it didn’t help my erection. No porn seems to risk the other failure mode (finishing too soon).

        Ultimately I think I had a core concern that I was insufficiently into her. But I feel like I should be able to enjoy some sex for the fun of it without being super into her.

        Kegels seem like they should help with both failure conditions.

      • About the porn thing. I feel like the anti-porn crowd tends to ignore reason why a lowered sex drive might be beneficial. Wanting to bone my classmates, for example, is not conducive to a learning environment, so it makes sense to rub one out beforehand. There also also be instances (like my current situation) where it would be inconvenient to become romantically or sexually involved with someone, so porn becomes a good option.

        Addressing the more specific claims about addiction, my main objection is that this contains elements The Worst Argument in the World. I am aware of the phenomena the anti-porn crowd describes, but I’m not sure how they differ from other common activities. Getting more and more involved in something and finding “lower doses” less gratifying occurs in everything from video games to disc golf. Porn can certainly cause problems in relationships, but I don’t see any justification in called it a special kind of relationship-destroying difficulty, assuming that both partners communicate and negotiate honestly.

        • Afeared of public opinion says:

          There seems to be confusion between porn and masturbation here; you can do one without the other, vivid memories of the last person you were in bed with are at least as effective as videos of implausibly liberated South Californians doing only such things as look good on camera.

          But “I prefer masturbating to waiting to see you” is how most porn-related interactions come across to a partner, and seems often a really great way to make your partner miserable.

          • Creutzer says:

            vivid memories of the last person you were in bed with are at least as effective as videos of implausibly liberated South Californians doing only such things as look good on camera.

            I would contest the generality of this. There may be all sorts of emotional baggage attached to memories of the last person one was in bed with.

          • John Schilling says:

            Or there may be no such memories, either none at all, none of memorably good sex, or none recent enough to remain vivid. Note that memories are analog, not digital, and are known to degrade with each playback.

            If you’re having so much good, baggage-free sex that you can afford to use those memories for purely masturbatory purposes, good for you, but that’s not necessarily the basis for good advice to the less romantically fortunate.

        • My main objection to porn is that most of it isn’t very good—repetitive descriptions (or videos) of a series of sex acts between good looking but otherwise uninteresting people. On the whole, I find erotic passages in real books more arousing as well as more interesting.

          My favorite example is Casanova’s Memoirs, which isn’t mainly about his love life and provides the best first hand picture of 18th century Europe I know of. He is making love to real women in real situations—and, contrary to the popular impression of him, some remained friends and correspondents for decades thereafter.

          The other thing that strikes me about some of this discussion is the apparent change since my youth. There seems to be a background assumption that the alternative to porn is sex with a partner. In the world I grew up in (I was born in 1945), most unmarried men, so far as I could tell, had the opportunity for sex with a partner occasionally (“getting lucky”) if at all, which was one reason to get married. The alternative to masturbating with porn was masturbating without porn.

      • Eli Sennesh says:

        (And, no, this isn’t a purity sex-is-sacred thing; I score 0.0/5.0 on yourmorals.org. This is a sex is fun and porn makes sex less fun and is therefore the devil, along with the religious right and some feminists.)

        Wait. Are you saying fun isn’t sacred?

    • busboy says:

      Buspirone? It’s a low cost generic, non-benzo.

    • Highly Effective People says:

      I was in a similar situation myself (GAD, performance issues) a while back so hopefully this will help.

      Firstly it helps to remember that women generally don’t ascribe anywhere near as much importance on being “ready to perform” as we do. If you finish foreplay and find you aren’t hard enough to keep going you can just take a break and make out for a while. She won’t care, she already came, and it let’s you de-stress. It will come if you give it time and after you’ve gotten over the hump so to speak you’ll find it becoming less of an issue later.

      The second thing is to remember that you don’t need to be 100% hard to get into a girl. If you can start with a semi then it will quickly get up to full steam once you’re inside. That’s mainly been useful for having seconds but there’s no reason you can’t start that way as well.

      Thirdly don’t forget about your own needs. Sometimes you have to be selfish: if you like it rough you have to take her roughly, if you like her to talk dirty or dress up then do that. Don’t try to be the good guy.

      Finally if she’s clean and on the pill ditch the condoms. They are really not helpful if you want to get and stay hard. Safety equipment is supposed to improve the activity not prevent it after all.

      • Nita says:

        If you finish foreplay and find you aren’t hard enough to keep going you can just take a break and make out for a while. She won’t care, she already came

        If she came, it was more than “foreplay”. Just sayin’.

        Thirdly don’t forget about your own needs.

        Excellent advice, 100% compatible with being an actual good guy.

        • Highly Effective People says:

          Well that’s really a question of semantics. Personally I go with the colloquial “foreplay = fingers/tongues/toys, sex = penetration” because it helps make my meaning clear. The Savage-esque “everything is sex” definition is not terribly useful for normal speech.

          And I absolutely advocate being a good man, just that that doesn’t require playing the boyscout either. You can very easily be respectful without being overly gentle.

          • Nita says:

            Well that’s really a question of semantics.

            Indeed it is. I think we can do better than the colloquial use — for instance, “fingers and toys vs penetration” is ambiguous, as fingers and toys can also be used for penetration. So, either we end up with lesbians never having sex, or we must make the fine distinction between insertable and non-insertable toys (and inserted and non-inserted fingers), which seems arbitrary.

            I propose a different approach — let’s reserve the term “foreplay” for acts that increase sexual desire but don’t satisfy it. So, oral as warm-up would be “foreplay”, while oral to orgasm would be “sex”.

          • Highly Effective People says:

            Defining terms by their exceptions leads to useless definitions imo. I’m ok with covering just 95% of sexual activity if it keeps the meaning clear.

            Penetration is another good example: there is a fairly clear difference between intercourse and fingering, and while calling the latter penetration is technically correct it weakens the word.

          • Nita says:

            Eh, “fingering” is an unhelpful word because people use it for two very different activities.

    • sour says:

      When I was in psych school a long time ago, the preferred treatment I read about was to build up to intercourse over a period of weeks. First week would be naked massages, next week heavy petting, third week putting it in her (soft) with no thrusting, and the fourth week attempt at intercourse.
      The idea is to do things that don’t need an erection so there is no anxiety about having one.
      Obviously this would only work with someone in a relationship.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m pretty sure it’s anxiety related given a clean bill of health other than GAD and the fact that I’ve been unmedicated for over a year. (Ironically one of the reasons I wanted off SSRIs is that they were killing my boners.)

      If you were doing well before you started SSRIs, and now you’re not, you might be one of the lucky few with post-SSRI sexual dysfunction.

      Rumor is that it goes away after a couple of years, though there’s no good data.

      • robonobone says:

        Post-SSRI sexual dysfunction sounds awful but I’m pretty sure it’s not what I have. When iI was on SSRIs, my sex drive and ability to get an erection was down across the board. In my current situation I’m only having trouble with a partner. By myself I’m as horny as ever. (Well for a few days after failing to perform with a partner my drive falls, but in a few days it’s back to normal.)

    • loki says:

      I’ve dealt with this problem from the side of the female partner – in my experience in the absence of an underlying physical cause, this method works:

      First, it’s difficult to fix this in a casual sex context. It’s probably better to have a long-ish term partner, but that doesn’t have to mean a romantic partner. It’s just that a new person will always compound the anxiety.

      As for how it’s done, the best thing to do IMHO is have a broader view of sex where ‘sex’ is a period of time in which you do stuff that is fun, and basically you don’t assume or hope or build toward PIV. You’re just having fun together. This takes the pressure off, everyone relaxes, and after a while of doing this you become more comfortable with the activity and with the person, and suddenly realise that hey, somebody down there is paying attention, we have another possible activity we can add in here.

      Obviously anecdata disclaimer applies.

  21. busboy says:

    Can someone walk me through the thought/real-world developmental process by which Scott Alexander wound up going to medical school in Ireland? It’s not exactly standard track for an American-born doctor.

    • not_all_environmentalists says:

      It was related as it happened in his blog (old one or this one).

    • Geirr says:

      Scott wasn’t a pre-med. He studied Philosophy and Psychology, which rather militates against getting into North American medical schools.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Quite the opposite. Med schools are swimming in biology majors and hate them. Philosophy is definitely preferable.

        • Thomas says:

          Citation?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          You’re both right. Med schools like people who are “well-rounded” ie studied something other than biology, but they also have a bunch of required prerequisites in biology, chemistry, and the hard sciences. I hadn’t taken those, so off to Ireland I went.

          • Deiseach says:

            I like the impression this gives that in my country, the attitude is “Don’t know your patella from your clavicle? Yerra, no reason you can’t be a doctor!” 🙂

            On the other hand, the notion that all our medical men and women are philosophers and gentlemen and ladies of letters is very flattering.

            Scott should do a memoir in the sub-genre of “Americans who visited/lived in Ireland for a while”, which seems to be quietly popular and profitable enough that people keep producing them. His account of “My Time Studying Medicine In The People’s Republic of Cork” would certainly be interesting!

          • Nita says:

            “Don’t know your patella from your clavicle? Yerra, no reason you can’t be a doctor!”

            Eh, I think the difference is that European medical education can start straight after secondary school, instead of requiring some sort of medical-but-not-really tertiary pre-education.

  22. chaosmage says:

    Scott, your Loopy theory of a year ago is better than you think. You count as a point against it that LSD (increasing loopiness) and SSRIs (decreasing it) “both increase serotonin”. But: Serotonergic neurons have autoreceptors for serotonin that make them actually decrease firing rate when a lot of serotonin is already present.

    So in someone who’s been taking SSRIs for a couple of weeks, where loopiness (or OCD or depression or other cyclic thought pattern) is reduced, serotonergic firing is also reduced. LSD, of course, temporarily increases serotonergic firing – I don’t know if it also activates the autoreceptors, but even if it does they appear to involve a time delay anyway.

  23. Ian James says:

    I’m still on a mission to let people know I changed my mind about MealSquares. After I publicly shamed them, they sent me an improved version of their product and I’m into it now.

  24. Will_BC says:

    So for me, the litmus test for whether a belief system was a religion or not was based on its inclusion of supernatural beliefs. This was in my college atheism club days, when I was still very keen on arguing definitions for rhetorical effect.

    • How did you define “supernatural?” If a religion is true, does that make its miracles natural?

      • Anonymous says:

        Eliezer agrees with Richard Carrier’s definition (Here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/tv/excluding_the_supernatural/) defining supernatural as “ontologically basic mental things, mental entities that cannot be reduced to nonmental entities”.

        This doesn’t define EVENTS as supernatural (like miracles), but rather THINGS, like ghosts or God.

        • Deiseach says:

          So kindness is supernatural? Because I don’t know about you, but I can’t pour out a glass of kindness (whatever about Robbie Burns).

          I can act kindly, I can do a kind act, I can behave kindly, people might describe me as kind – but kindness as a non-mental entity?

          • Nita says:

            Kindness is neither a thing (strictly speaking), nor “ontologically basic”, unless it’s a big lump of Kindness sitting in Plato’s World of Ideals.

            edit: So, if you’re acting kindly because your brain activity flows in a particular way, that’s not supernatural. If you’re acting kindly because you are, for example, literally possessed by the Spirit of Kindness, who is made of kindness, that’s supernatural.

          • Peter says:

            There’s the “ontologically basic” qualifier there. So if kindness exists in minds and minds exist in matter, then ultimately kindness exists in matter, although you can’t get it pure enough to bottle. Like information – I can have information in a book or on a CD or a USB flash drive or whatever, but I can’t have just the information without the thing the information is on.

        • Jaskologist says:

          It seems to me that under this definition, Karma would not be supernatural, especially in the Jainist tradition.

        • Jesse M. says:

          What does “reduced to nonmental entities” mean here? There are some “naturalistic panpsychists” like David Chalmers and David Pearce who postulate the behavior of everything in the universe is described by mathematical laws of the type described by physicists, but who think that on an ontological level, instead of imagining that these laws are describing the behavior of something called “matter” which may lack experience, the basic “stuff” whose behavior the laws predict is essentially mind-like (so for example all patterns of causally interconnected events might be understood to ‘really’ be descriptions of the objective structure of different subjective experiences or “qualia”). To deal with this, perhaps we should say that a modern definition of “supernatural” is something whose outward behavior is not ultimately the product of some mathematical laws (deterministic or stochastic), a mind-like entity that has some sort of libertarian “free will” which is different than just randomness.

          • Paul Torek says:

            I like how careful you’re being. Your answer seems plausible, but maybe there’s a better one: ontologically basic minds count as supernatural only if there’s an appropriate contrast class. Panpsychists would then be ruled out.

  25. no one special says:

    So, this seems like the best place to toss out this question that I’ve been pondering:

    Some traditionalists (/NRx?) claim that changing social mores are a net negative; That people were more happy when roles were more fixed. (Especially gender roles.)

    Progressive-types claim that the old roles made a lot of people unhappy, and that now we have more freedom, so people can do what makes them happy.

    It seems to me that there’s a trade-off here, where some people who would have done well under traditional roles are less happy, and some people who would have done poorly under traditional roles are more happy. The winners and losers shift.

    Has anyone done the utilitarian calculus (even with made up numbers) to determine which set of roles actually provides more net happiness? This seems like each side should be doing it, but both sides seem to want to pretend that their preferred set of roles have no losers at all.

    Does anyone here, traditional or progressive, dare step up and use math to justify their position?

    • Arguably, a vote is such a calculation.

      • Most social changes which occurred in the past 100 years were never put up for a vote; rather they succeed through a combination of propaganda war and judicial fiat. When such things are put to a popular vote, they tend to be unpopular.

        • Anonymous says:

          “Most social changes which occurred in the past 100 years were never put up for a vote; rather they succeed through a combination of propaganda war and judicial fiat.”

          I have to wonder if this isn’t just what it looks like to someone who disagrees with the changes. If you agreed with them, would it look more like free expression, legal changes that reflect popular sentiment, etc., etc.?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Some states never had laws against interracial marriage, there is an uptick in removals between 48-67 and then the court strikes it down for the entire country. A lot of the changes were like that.

            The only exception I can think of is compulsory sterilization which seems to have followed trends in the medical profession more than anything else.

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            There are some numbers we could look at. Iirc, there were two elections on some gay right in a NE state. The first one voted it down, the second one passed it. First I’d look at timing and turnout; conservatives tend to win special elections while liberals stay home. Especially if the issue was publicized through conservative churches, as there are more such churches than organizations of gay supporters.

    • Troy says:

      I won’t try to use math here, but it seems to me that a moderate view which agrees with the traditionalists as far as cultural norms goes and the progressives as far as coercion goes* can get the best of both worlds. In other words, we hold up traditional practices as ideal, but don’t force people to conform to them. A socially conservative libertarian view, if you will. Then those who would be happier under the traditional roles (the majority, if traditionalist arguments about human nature and most changes being for the worse are to be believed) will stick with those roles, and those who would be especially unhappy under them are free to get out of them. They may face social disapproval, but they will not face legal barriers.

      This position can further be fine-tuned for optimality, e.g., with respect to how much social disapproval non-conformers should face. I’m inclined to think that we should focus more on playing up the positives of traditional lifestyles than emphasizing the negatives of non-traditional lifestyles.

      ___________
      * I am being generous here, because many progressives want to use state coercion to enforce their own norms. But set that aside.

      • keranih says:

        How are you defining “coercion”? Is a society where everyone says, “It’s okay if you marry someone of the same gender – no one goes to jail, no fines, etc – but it’s really the best choice to marry someone of the opposite gender” – is that a coercive environment?

        (I’m thinking along the lines of social approval/disapproval of religious observance – being evangelical Christian, observant Orthodox, or atheist are all legal, but come with high social costs, depending on the outside environment.)

        • Troy says:

          I’m thinking of legal coercion as the paradigm case: for instance, facing legal punishment for your religious choices. However, I’m willing to grant that certain kinds of social sanctions can at least approach being coercive, and then hold that we should prefer less coercive social sanctions.

          • Nita says:

            we should prefer less coercive social sanctions

            How are you going to enforce that? Ambitious parents will not tolerate their children making an okay choice when they could be making the best choice instead. And in traditionalist societies, parents have a lot of power even when their children are adults.

          • Troy says:

            How are you going to enforce that?

            I’m not: that would be coercive. 🙂

            How would I non-coercively bring about adherence to my ideals? I suppose most realistically through a religious ethos that emphasizes the importance of traditional social values but also places a strong emphasis on love and forgiveness: i.e., traditional Christianity when it’s at its best.

          • keranih says:

            If you can come up with a way for one method to be preferred, and for that preference to be communicated to other people, without the existence of that preference being read as coercive by some portion of the other people…well, *I* would be impressed.

          • Troy says:

            without the existence of that preference being read as coercive by some portion of the other people

            Oh, I never promised anything so fanciful as that! My ideal was non-coercion, not non-[anything that can be read as coercion].

      • stillnotking says:

        The “traditional roles” were actually conceived as obligations, which means allowing people to opt out creates a massive free-rider problem, as well as subtler effects — role-adoption is rarely genuine when it’s seen as a deliberate means to an end. (Neal Stephenson’s great novel The Diamond Age covered this ground.)

        • von Kalifornen says:

          Yeah, the Diamond Age’s system of fomalized sub-state cultures is fairly cool.

          On the other hand, WHERE THE FUCK IS THE ARMY?

    • darxan says:

      Transferring status from men to women is a net negative, because men seem to get more utils out of their status than women,a possible explanation being that status was and is more highly correlated with reproductive success in men

      • Nita says:

        Transferring status from men to women is a net negative, because men seem to get more utils out of their status than women

        This principle is vulnerable to status-utility-monsters. “See, Frank here would really enjoy being higher status than you. He would really, really enjoy it. He would enjoy it so much that anything you might feel pales in comparison. Please kneel and kiss Frank’s boots, for the greater good.”

        • no one special says:

          Doesn’t daraxan’s claim round off to “men _are_ status-utility-monsters”? Literally that men should have higher status because they get more utility from it than women.

          daraxan: Is there some way we could approximate a measure to this? “Survey shows that women CEOs are less fulfilled than men CEOs,” or something like that?

          • darxan says:

            @no one special
            1.You ask people to perform utilitarian calculations and when they do you complain about stronger preferences mattering more.If you lie down with Utilitarianism, you get up with utility monsters.
            2.If we take money as a proxy for status we have this:

            One of the most striking differences revealed in the GSS—a survey sponsored by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago—was the differences in opinion between men and women. In short, money made men significantly happier, but had no effect on women’s happiness. While two out of every five males (38 percent) in the higher income category reported that they were very happy, only one out of four males (24 percent) in the lower income category reported that they were very happy. Contrarily, there was no statistical significant difference in the reported happiness among lower paid women (27.3 percent) and higher paid women (27.7 percent).

          • no one special says:

            @darxan

            1: I am suffering from a failure of tone because I don’t know a word for “utility monster” that doesn’t carry negative connotations. It does go with the territory, and I do not consider the appearance of a monster an axiomatic weakness, especially a bounded monster like this one.

            2: That… is actually a pretty strong indicator that your theory has merit.

            Thank you, you’ve done a strong job at mathifying this part of the question, and from a different direction than I had assumed it would go. I appreciate it.

            The above paragraph is serious, not sarcastic. I add this disclaimer because internet.

          • Nita says:

            Money is a poor proxy for status in this case because of the ongoing influence of the traditional gender roles. Men can directly derive status from money — the more you earn, the better you’re achieving what’s expected of you. For women, it’s complicated.

          • Harald K says:

            Literally that men should have higher status because they get more utility from it than women.

            That is not nearly enough to be a utility monster. To be a utility monster, you need to get increasing utility on whatever you get, or at least, not the diminishing utility everyone else gets in the real world.

            As sane non-neoreactionaries who assign men and women (and everyone else) equal moral value, we should not say that some people matter more in an absolute sense.

            But it’s no problem to say that, for instance, men get more happiness from X than women, and therefore we should be fine with them having a larger share of it, as long as the end result is equally happy men and women.

            The real problem with that, though, is that we judge a class of people instead of individuals. Some women may like X just as much, or more, than men, and we should not be allowed to discriminate against those based on class membership.

            That is for exactly the same reason we should not be allowed to preemptively put Roma in jail, no matter what the crime statistics say about their group.

            (Again, there’s an argument about gender and risk here that I have to skip in the name of the OT rules.)

          • no one special says:

            Nita: That’s interesting; We can’t measure status or utils, so we’re using money and happiness as proxies. Are there better proxies that we could use? It sounds like we’ve been trying to look at the status->utils conversion rate, but accidentally discovered the money->status conversion rate. How can we tease those apart?

            Harald K: You are correct that I have been misusing the term utility monster. I shall endeavor to be more careful.

            I think you’re right that part of this ties in to treating people as instances of class, rather than as individuals. I think stillnotking’s observation on the other thread that traditional gender roles were obligations is also germane. If we consider that, under traditionalism, men can derive utility from status while women derive utility from relationships (a gross simplification) Than we can compare, under progressivism that women can now derive utility from status, but at a lower exchange rate then men. You would expect that this would mean that women would be getting more utils overall, now having two sources, but, as Tarrou points out on the other thread, women have seen their happiness decrease, while men’s has increased.

            I notice that I am confused.

            I do not seem to be able to make a workable model here. I would hope that in the progressive world, people would be able to derive utility from whatever source is best for them personally, bypassing the instance of class problem. That doesn’t seem to be happening, and I cannot find a good explanation.

          • Nita says:

            @ no one special

            To be honest, I would like to know darxan’s definition of status before we go looking for better proxies of it.

            I think I understand what traditional gender roles are and how they have been changing. The transfer of status from men to women that darxan brought up (as equivalent to relaxing gender norms?) is still a mystery to me.

            IME, traditionalists usually claim that women are not low-status in their culture. E.g.: ‘Saudi women are driven around by their husbands, their sons, and their brothers. Everybody is at their service. They are like queens.

          • no one special says:

            @Nita: A fair point. Pert of the problem is that our concepts of status are themselves gendered. In a traditional model, men form a hierarchy, while women do not. When you say that “women have no status” under such a model, what you really mean is not “women have status 0,” but “status is not an attribute that can be measured on women.”

            As traditionalism dissolves, and women take more of their self-image from work, we find that now they do compete with men in the status hierarchy. Thus the “transfer” of status from men to women under progressivism is the same as the transfer of farmland from humans to cars under ethanol. A resource that once had value only to a smaller group of people now has value to a much larger group of people, with corresponding fights over the scarce resource.

            I’m not sure I buy into that model, actually. It seems to leave a lot of things unexplored. There’s no explanation, under that model, of where women got their utils under traditionalism.

            (I feel like I should make a comparison to Panda Bears here; They get so little energy from the bamboo that they eat.)

        • Jaskologist says:

          On the other hand, the principle seems to hold when we apply it to more easily verified instances. Instead of “status,” try “food.” Men need more food than women; a society which tries to distribute the same amount of food to men and women is seriously misallocating resources.

          • Nita says:

            1. Well, the argument was that men “get more utils” out of status, not that they need it more.

            So, we should envision a society that distributes more food to people who really love eating — and we’re talking about traditionalism, not capitalism, so it’s not about money. Eating more than others is just their traditional role, and they like it a lot, so it’s good.

            2. Eating definitely has a natural limit, which prevents any serious utility-monstrosity. I’m not so sure about basking in higher status.

            3. Status is relative.

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            >Well, the argument was that men “get more utils” out of status, not that they need it more.

            Not that I disagree with you, but I don’t think you want to be going into the path of “needs vs. wants” here.

          • stillnotking says:

            I think the main difference between food and status is that impartial assignment of status is impossible by definition. Status and partiality are, if not exactly the same thing, at least inextricable.

          • Jesse M. says:

            I think many people who oppose sexism would be OK with the idea that even in a basically non-sexist society, it might be still be true that average preferences would differ, so that on average somewhat more men than women pursue work that society assigns a high status, and somewhat more women than men would pursue certain types of work that are perceived to have lower status. The idea is just that being a woman should not be an obstacle to those who choose to pursue the higher-status work (and are capable), in the same way that there is no obstacle to a larger woman eating more food than an average man if that reflects her desires and/or caloric needs, even if on average women do eat less.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Main practical problem there is how you stop theoretically 65/35-split fields from instead polarizing themselves to 95/5.

          • James says:

            Irrelevant, can you expand on what you mean by ‘polarizing’ and/or how you might expect it to happen?

            (EDIT: and why it would be a bad thing if it did? Though this might follow trivially from the first point.)

          • Irrelevant says:

            People do not inherently know their own preferences and must discover them. The number of potential career preferences is too large to be searched exhaustively so we must pick a relatively small subset of all possible careers and choose between those. One of the primary ways we discover our career preferences is by discovering similar people and attempting to copy what they do. Human brains consider sex a major similarity trait. Human brains are sloppy at fractions. As a result, people will deem a career or hobby sex-specific at relatively small diversions from 50/50 and fail to investigate it, and therefore never discover if they would have preferred it over whatever they end up doing instead.

            Therefore, it’s entirely possible that the ideal sex ratio in many careers is unstable, and even if achieved by some magical thought experiment mechanism would collapse the next generation because the minority sex would fail to come in at replacement rate.

          • Harald K says:

            Irrelevant: “Therefore, it’s entirely possible that the ideal sex ratio in many careers is unstable”

            I don’t know about careers, but I know that for many practices, they are definitively unstable, because they have switched dramatically from one to the other. Knitting used to be men’s work in Norway, now it’s almost as exclusively women’s work. So it’s plausible.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Harald K.:
            The key to understanding this transition, is that knitting is now a hobby of very limited practical value. The same thing happened with horseback riding, for the exact same reason – men moved on to car and bicycles.

          • Nita says:

            @ Unique Identifier

            What’s the general principle you’re applying there? Women have hobbies, men do useful things?

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Nita:
            No, not at all. Men certainly have hobbies, too, many of them perfectly useless. After all, a large part of car culture is about styling. By and large, men seem much more partial to and obsessive about useless hobbies than women, such as playing computer games and collecting stamps.

            The principle here is that an activity can have both utilitarian and recreational value, and these need not appeal equally to both sexes. When the relative importance of these two changes, we should expect male to female ratio to change as well.

            For a different example, see how computer science and engineering is much more popular with women in less prosperous countries. One possible explanation, is that they are more willing to pursue well-paying jobs, regardless of the aesthetics – i.e. the utilitarian value trumps the recreational, when poverty seems like a more imminent risk.

          • Harald K says:

            Unique identifier: I don’t see any clear cut line between useful and leisure value of various practices and gender. Example: weaving and cobbling were both extremely necessary activities two-three hundred years ago in Norway, but the former was women’s work, and the latter men’s.

            So I don’t see why knitting first was popular with men, nor do I see why the diminishing relative utility of it changed that. True, we got mass produced cotton fabric and eventually clothes with the rest of the world, but knitting was never all that critical – most clothes were still woven.

            It could be that since knitting was first used for socks, mittens and unglamorous workwear, it became associated with men, whereas the finer woven stuff (including fine linen sunday garments) was women’s domain. The old utility vs. inherent value divide. Knitted clothing did become highly fashionable, though, so maybe that’s why it changed.

          • Nita says:

            @ Harald K

            Wow, did men really knit socks and mittens in Norway? It was considered women’s work in both of my cultures.

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            For a different example, see how computer science and engineering is much more popular with women in less prosperous countries.

            Does your source distinguish between “popular with” and “open to”?

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Harald K.:
            The point is that there is no such clear line. My suggestion is that knitting as a recreational activity might appeal more to women than men. In the past, when knitting was primarily productive labor rather than leisure, men were more inclined to knit, because it’s okay to do stuff you don’t really enjoy as long as it’s useful.

            The thesis is not, however, that men choose useful activities and women don’t. I suspect that for example fishing was useful and thus more egalitarian in the past, and is now almost exclusively male and recreational.

            [There are also plenty of examples of things people did in the past because they had to, but neither men nor women do for recreational purposes, such as carrying water or washing clothes by hand.]

            The point of this sort of model, is that it doesn’t require instability to explain the decline of male knitters. It can instead be explained by knitting-as-work transforming into knitting-for-leisure. I prefer this theory, because I think it generalizes well to some other cases I have mentioned.

            Cobbling and weaving would probably require us to delve into the effects of wife- and motherhood on career prospects.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            not_all_environmentalism:
            In my opinion, ‘open to’ does not explain the data at all.

            As far as I remember, countries like China and India (‘patriarchal’), Pakistan and Iran (Muslim) and Russia, Poland (former Soviet) have much higher female representation in STEM, than Scandinavia, France, the US (egalitarian, ‘western’).

            Again as far as I can remember, more traditionalist, prosperous countries such as Japan aligned with the west; apparently by prosperity, and not by women’s liberation.

            It seems patently absurd that countries such as Iran and China, should have STEM institutions that are more open to women than for instance Norway, a country which practices all sorts of dubious, affirmative action in order to attract women to STEM fields.

            But this is just my interpretation of data I studied in moderate detail some five years ago. If it sounds interesting at all, ignore everything I have said and make sure you can get a look at the data yourself.

          • Nornagest says:

            It seems patently absurd that countries such as Iran and China, should have STEM institutions that are more open to women than for instance Norway, a country which practices all sorts of dubious, affirmative action in order to attract women to STEM fields.

            There’s a hidden assumption there, and that’s that STEM is male-coded across cultures. You can’t tell that just from looking at the employment data (well, you can use representation as a proxy, but not if you’re trying to explain representation); you have to actually go out and ask about gender roles.

            Has anyone done that?

          • Irrelevant says:

            There’s a hidden assumption there, and that’s that STEM is male-coded across cultures.

            I believe the neglected variable is actually caste orientation. The Middle East and South Asia maintain a bright line between the Noble and the Technician, Western Europe and America blur them into the Technocrat. The ideal Noble woman need not work, the ideal Technician woman has a career that looks at the bottom line, and the way the blur has shaken out is that the ideal Technocrat woman pursues a career, but in a “soft” field which signals that she’s working for the intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. Ergo, stronger career segregation in the more progressive society.

            Amusingly, this theory explains both the real and imaginary components of the wage gap: Technocrat women are status-motivated both to pursue lower-paying careers AND to loudly proclaim that they are lower-paying.

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            There’s a hidden assumption there, and that’s that STEM is male-coded across cultures.

            A Real Brahmin in New Delhi told me that fields or professions that have existed a long time or developed gradually (as in prosperous countries) are already gender-coded or caste-coded or whatever; but when a new field opens suddenly (as in less prosperous countries), it’s more free-for-all.

            Isaac Asimov in the 1960s said that we can’t afford to waste the brains of half the human race [thus STEM should be more open to women]. Perhaps the less prosperous countries are more anxious to use all genders’ brains in the new fields.

          • Nornagest says:

            A Real Brahmin in New Delhi told me that fields or professions that have existed a long time or developed gradually (as in prosperous countries) are already gender-coded or caste-coded or whatever; but when a new field opens suddenly (as in less prosperous countries), it’s more free-for-all.

            That would have been my guess, yes. “Less prosperous” is doing less work than “recently developed”, but the two would coincide in most places.

        • AFC says:

          Well, the utility monster is someone who wants something more just so they can get it. But here we’re talking about some underlying biological fact. Like how a type-whatever diabetic wants a carby snack RIGHT NOW more than non-diabetics, say. It’s not a strategy to hoard the snack food.

          But, another interesting fact is that women seem to derive more utility from men’s status than men from women’s (much in the same way that men derive more utility from women’s being physically beautiful than the converse).

          Another way to put it is like this: men want to occupy the high-status positions.[*] Women want to marry the men in the high-status positions. So, allowing women to compete along with men for the same number of positions is going to be a loss for both men and women on average.

          [*] So that they can have their choice of woman.

          Perhaps a superior analogy to the diabetic one earlier is available in other species: male birds want the beautiful feathers, the long tails, etc., more than female birds. Allowing peahens to compete along with peacocks for the top spot at the lek isn’t going to help either gender of birds. It’s just going to reduce the rate of breeding.

          • Nita says:

            But here we’re talking about some underlying biological fact.

            Are we?

            also: Someone mentioned non-ambitious men elsewhere in this thread. They might not care so much about status. And many women (e.g., most feminists) claim to suffer some disutility from being socially doomed to low status due to their biology.

            On average, men have significantly larger feet than women. But a rule that men are only allowed to wear shoes of size >8, and women only <8, would still be silly.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s not that male peacocks “want” the beautiful feathers more than the female peahens; the point of the beautiful display is that it is for the benefit of the female birds, who (allegedly if we believe the evolutionary just-so* story) judge the reproductive worth of the males on their beauty as a signifier of health, good genes, etc.

            The male birds do not want to be beautiful for the sake of beauty, they want to attract mates. Peahens and other females of species which have very different sex-determined plumages are drab for different evolutionary reasons; camouflage from predators while brooding eggs in the nest, putting physical resources into egg-laying not display and so forth.

            So the analogy with status breaks down if it’s “male birds want to be beautiful/male humans want status for the sake of beauty or status qua beauty or status”. Both are mate-seeking strategies. Where high-status positions were reserved solely to males, the advantage in women seeking status through males, not through themselves was obvious; a woman could reach a certain level of status but to go higher, she was dependent on a man.

            Look at Salic Law monarchies; a woman could pass on high status to male offspring that she could not enjoy herself (giving them inheritance rights or claims to rule). Nowadays, when high-status positions like monarchs are figureheads with little to no actual power, there is no reason women should not be reigning monarchs (e.g. Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom) and indeed, given the cultural mythos of the fairytale princess, it may be more desirable or advantageous for a country to have its representative figurehead be a woman (there’s a reason the book and movie was “The Princess Diaries” and not “The Prince Diaries”).

            *I say “just-so” because it seems to be “Why does this thing happen? Well, it must have some evolutionary advantage!” as an explanation in some cases. I have no doubt if it were the other way round – female peahens were the flashy ones – we’d get the same rationale.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Heh, that’s an amusing observation. You’re probably correct that powerless Queen Elizabeth is more popular than powerless King Elisha would be, but that… doesn’t exactly smack of progress.

          • Peter says:

            Monarchies: one of the odd things I keep noticing is just how often women throughout history act as regents – often by being married to the king, or by being a boy king’s (or often emperor’s) mother. Examples: Henry VIII was happy leaving the defense of the realm against the Scots to Catherine of Aragon while out making war in France, and the Byzantine Empresses Irene and Theodora (apparently they played a key role in making sure Orthodox Christianity kept its icons) got their positions as regents for their sons.

            Which is all slightly odd. On the one hand you have status being formally attatched to men, on the other, you have actual power being wielded by women, which seems the opposite of the situations you describe. But somehow… all these things seem thematically compatible, if only we could just formulate it right.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Simple- since they were women and couldn’t become the monarch, they were trustworthy enough to give the powers of the monarch to.

          • AFC says:

            @Nita:

            Are we? Yes. At least that’s the nature of the claim as I understand it (and the interpretation under which I wrote my previous post).

            As far as rules, that’s _not_ the issue. Nobody even proposed a rule.

            (I certainly hope you didn’t take _me_ to be proposing to exclude women from competing in male status hierarchies. I didn’t say that! I said that including them may negatively affect men more than it benefits women, which is not at all the same thing as proposing anything.)

            The question is of fact. Do men care more about (their own) status? Pure question of fact, exactly analogous to the question of whether women care more about (their own) chest size than men. (And, to my mind, almost as obviously true.)

          • AFC says:

            @Deiseach

            First of all, there’s no “evolutionary just-so story” in play here. The behavior of peacocks and peahens doesn’t require anything like that. You don’t even need to believe in evolution to follow my point. That particular behavior is a matter of simple observation, and that observation has been done. Regardless of any theory of adaptation, the lek exists and operates as I described.

            (I would imagine that peafowl behavior must have been observed and written about well before Darwin wrote; but if not, surely some other similar-enough bird.)

            Second, you wrote:

            So the analogy with status breaks down if it’s “male birds want to be beautiful/male humans want status for the sake of beauty or status qua beauty or status”.

            Maybe, but that’s not what it is. As I said: men want high status more (or benefit more from high status) exactly because it is more useful for their mating strategy. Other than mating strategy, I don’t claim any difference between the sexes on that score. (There may be one, but it isn’t necessary to claim.) And of course women certainly benefit just as much from being able to eat well, take airplane trips, and whatnot. But they can’t convert cash into mate choice as easily as men.

            Where high-status positions were reserved solely to males, the advantage in women seeking status through males, not through themselves was obvious; a woman could reach a certain level of status but to go higher, she was dependent on a man.

            That’s an interesting theory, but it won’t jive with all the facts. Women prefer high status males even in cases where they can’t possibly raise their own status; for example, they prefer the fictional characters of their sexual fantasies to be high in status. Yet surely no woman ever increased her own social status by reading 50 Shades of Grey. There is also good evidence to show that this extends to actual sexual behavior (women don’t prefer higher-status males just in case they can raise their own status through relationships with them, but actually something almost opposite to that).

            (At this point, I could cite some evolutionary principles, but given your use of “just-so story” earlier, I’m thinking that might not be fertile ground. Instead I will just claim that I could cite several similar facts, that your theory can’t take into account.)

          • Nita says:

            @ AFC

            May I ask why you think that men care more about status? (I assume that’s what you meant, although men with a lot of chest fat probably do worry about it.)

            The most traditionalist Western woman I’ve heard of, Debi Pearl, seems to care about status quite a bit — from her writing, I’m getting the impression that she’s accepted her role as a submissive wife only in exchange for the role of a moral authority and judge of all other women. Obviously, a traditionalist society won’t be able to placate all status-hungry women that way.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Men don’t care more about status. The trick is that modern feminist society only regards the male status track as “real” status. In a bizarre twist, most female forms of status have been devalued by feminism. In the past, a woman could claim status from raising 5 quality children; now being a stay-at-home mom is seen as a waste of potential. Likewise for the status conferred simply by being married to a high-status man.

            So men care more about male status tracks. And to the extent that society as a whole only values the male status tracks, we can say that men care more about status. But we’d be better off bringing the other status tracks back and learning to appreciate them.

          • Nita says:

            @ Jaskologist

            In the past, a woman could claim status from raising 5 quality children

            In the past, childbirth was a dangerous occupation, and people believed that upbringing matters a great deal.

            Thanks to advances in medicine, childbirth today still might make you incontinent or unable to have painless sex, but it’s very unlikely to kill you. And it turns out that genes and environment are far more important than parenting, so the best thing a mother can do for her children is choose a fit mate and amass enough resources to afford a nice place to live.

            You can’t turn back time. The world has changed, and women have tried to adapt to it.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Nita, not to disagree with your main point, but one thing you said seems to me completely backwards. It seems to me that people today care about upbringing far more than in the past. You may have heard of Judith Rich Harris, but very few people have, let alone believed her. She certainly claims to be railing against a prevailing Nurture Assumption.

          • Nita says:

            @ Douglas Knight

            You’re right, my argument is a little forward-looking, since we’re discussing implementing traditionalist or neoreactionary policies in the future.

            As for the past and present — even in a society where different-but-equally-respected gender roles are a reality, rather than a pleasant fiction a la Saudi Arabia, this equal respect is rooted in the actual importance of those roles. When the delicate balance of importance is upset, people can observe the consequences. A stay-at-home mother of teenage or adult children is completely dependent on her husband’s good fortune and goodwill. Without exhausting chores to do, or a houseful of servants to manage, she may seem irritatingly idle to her husband. Who would want to end up in that position?

            Also — the single-earner lifestyle has never been economically viable for all families. For centuries, most women had to work. So they did. Farm and factory workers raised children in addition to their day-to-day work, not instead of it. It wasn’t feminism or divorce that made women’s labour necessary.

          • Irrelevant says:

            this equal respect is rooted in the actual importance of those roles.

            This is true, and points to one of the commonly neglected variables: in the Traditionalist model, social capital matters much more than in the Modern. Within the “Noble” caste arrangement I mentioned a couple seconds back, a “profession” like General’s Wife is in fact a relevant and productive occupation which accumulates real and necessary social resources.

      • lilred says:

        Are you sure men don’t get utils out of their status relative to other men? Then, transfer of power between genders wouldn’t change a thing.

        • Andrew says:

          No, that doesn’t follow. Men can get utils solely out of status relative to other men, yet the shape of the distribution still be shifted in a way harmful to men (on aggregate) by introducing women into the status hierarchy.

          For example, consider a simple society where everyone is exactly equal to everyone else, except for the King, and the Baron. Replacing the King with a Queen cuts in half the number of men who receive any benefit from having a high status relative to other men.

      • I agree with the suggestion that men value status more than women because it is more closely related to reproductive success. But that ought to be status relative to other men, since men are (primarily) competing for mates with other men. So in principle, transferring status from women to men is irrelevant.

        Of course, you might argue that our genes didn’t bother to distinguish between “status relative to other humans” and “status relative to other men,” in which case transferring status from women to men might increase utility, due to our utility functions being imperfectly optimized for reproductive success.

        Carrying the argument one step further, if men value status because it makes them more attractive to women, then one man’s gain in status is a loss to other men, who now find it harder to compete for mates. Here again, if we separate utility from the objective that it was “as if designed” to achieve, the result might not follow due to the imperfections of our utility functions.

        I have long suspected that the reason people care about relative income, to the irritation of economists who think they ought to care only about absolute income, is that men are competing for a nearly fixed resource, namely women.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Haven’t you met the Pick-Up Artists yet? Women are hypergamous; they want to marry up. Therefore, it’s just important that a man be higher status than the other men; he needs to be higher status than the woman, too. Distributing status from men to women is like distributing breast fat from women to men.

          • Nita says:

            You’re confusing PUA with redpill. According to PUA, all you have to do is DHV, no actual status necessary.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Good point, although I’m not sure they’re really that different. PUA is oriented towards faking the signals, but the underlying theories are basically same as redpill.

          • Nita says:

            Hypergamy can be divided into two parts: sexual preference and rational risk-management.

            The sexual preference can be satisfied with consensual status play in mating-related contexts — be it PUA posturing, D/s, MAP or whatever. So, it shouldn’t affect status in the workplace or in politics.

            The rational risk-management is a little more challenging.

            If pregnancy complications, a difficult childbirth or illness (your own or your child’s) destroy your earning potential, who’s going to take care of your kids? More generally, what’s the best choice you can make for your kids in a world where money seems to buy health, education and career prospects? If that’s your main consideration, marrying a (potentially) rich or high-earning man is an excellent choice.

            And yet, it would be silly to pay men higher salaries or promote them more aggressively just to make them more attractive husbands. Right?

          • loki says:

            ‘women are hypergamous’: cite please

            (also, while I am generally in favour of made-up words, I think made-up words can be intellectually dishonest when they refer to concepts that have not been proved to exist and that is not signalled with every use of the made-up word.)

            I actually think that in general people have a preference for high-status but this is not true of every individual. I think this fact is harder to see because society constructs status differently for men and women. PUAs are one of the most hypergamous groups out there, under a worldview where female status is highly affected by her conventional attractiveness.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Loki, hypergamy is not a recent coinage, but a well-established word in sociology.

            Your last sentence is completely wrong. Hypergamy does not mean caring about status. If female status were identical with attractiveness, PUAs caring a lot about it would not make them hypergamous.

          • Harald K says:

            About hypergamy. Since that word has become popular in PUA/redpill circles, I think it’s useful to point out that it’s not an “all women are like that” thing.

            But consider this: status, wealth, power is typically something you accumulate with age. Men stay fertile far longer than women. Women have an option of having kids with older, more powerful people. Men, for practical purposes, don’t.

            Actually, I think that over the generations, the longer fertility window of men may explain a great deal of that “twenty times as many stone age women have descendants today as stone age men” that was in the blogs lately. It certainly sounds more plausible than stone age men either having huge harems or being virgins, which was what a lot of people thought the study said. Even if everyone was strictly monogamous and each woman had exactly three kids, you’d expect higher variance for men since some older widowers would remarry younger women.

    • Highly Effective People says:

      Well the problem with these kinds of comparisons is that it’s too easy to say “that’s not really a problem!” to any point someone brings up.

      For example, it’s incontrovertible that the rate of marriage has fallen and that of divorce has increased in the last century. Most (>80%) of the divorces are in low-conflict marriages which do not have any abuse infidelity addictions or disease. And, putting aside eudaimonic benefits, even from a hendonic standpoint married folks tend to be happier after controlling for kids.

      And yet every time I’ve brought this up online people very quickly shift to “actually that’s a good thing! People aren’t getting stuck in relationships they don’t like! You’re just afraid your wife will run out on you with a black guy if you don’t legally own her!” Rather than arguing that the losses are justified by other gains they simply deny any losses occured.

      SSC folks are pretty reasonable mostly but it’s still very tempting to dodge the conclusion on these kinds of issues.

      • no one special says:

        Yeah, everybody wants to dodge the conclusion. My meta-conclusion is that most people’s arguments are plausible-but-unconfirmed rationalizations for what they already believed.

        I really want to hear someone say, “Ambitious women are helped by progressive policies, but nonambitious men are harmed by them. This is okay, because 25% or women are ambitious, while only 5% of men are nonambitious, so we get a net in utils by adopting progressive policies.”

        Example of a pro-tradition argument is left as an exercise for the reader.

        • Dude Man says:

          Part of the reason you don’t see these types of calculations is because they are very difficult to do, especially once you factor in the effects each decision would have on society. For example, if the reason a non-traditional society harms non-ambitious men is because it forces them to be ambitious if they want attention from the opposite gender (which I’m not sure I believe, but let’s go with it), then one could argue that this negative utility is a feature and not a bug in a society that wants more ambitious people.

        • loki says:

          The important question though is are the unambitious men harmed relative to their previous, advantageous position?

          Generally I find that ‘fairness is usually utility-maximizing’ is a good general principle.

          This is where utilitarianism runs up against a drive to equality – there isn’t really a factor in utilitarianism that distinguishes between someone’s relative loss from losing an unfair advantage, and their loss from becoming disadvantaged.

          • no one special says:

            I suspect this comes down to something like total utilitarianism vs average utilitarianism. In theory, it shouldn’t matter if it’s relative to an advantaged position; The utilitarian either cares about utility only, and fairness doesn’t enter into it, or they have a term for fairness in their utility calculation.

            (I agree with your general fairness principle, but if we try to apply it, we just end up punting the argument onto “what’s fair?”)

      • I get mind-boggled when people try to seriously argue that the rate of divorce in our society is not an ongoing catastrophe. Some people make this argument because they are survivors of seriously terrible marriages (their own or their parents) in which divorce was an escape hatch. Those people I understand. But they’re a minority of the people making the argument; the remainder are just mindkilled.

        • blacktrance says:

          What’s the alternative? If I could wave a magic wand and prevent divorces by making those marriages happy, I’d do that. But since that’s not a possibility, the only alternative is that they’d stay in those unhappy marriages and try to make them work – and that’s not a recipe for success.

          • Sigivald says:

            May it be so that the ease of divorce encourages more marriages that are fragile to be made in the first place?

            (I don’t think this can explain all or even most of it, of course, but it’s axiomatic that when you change the rules, you change the choices people make, in response.

            And while it’s understandable – intuitively – to prefer divorces to trying to make unhappy marriages work … do we actually know the latter produces worse outcomes?)

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            Presumably, the idea is that, if they didn’t divorce and worked on the issues, they’d be happier than if they went through with the divorce… There’s the obvious case of abusive marriages for which this is clearly not true for at least one of the individuals (non-intuitively, one might even argue that abused people are going to find more abusive partners anyway, so its better to have them be in a marriage where the other part has some degree of interest in their well being, but that’s probably false and perhaps a bit too neoractionary for me), but it might be for the much more common low conflict marriages that still end up in divorce many (most?) times.

          • Divorce should be stigmatized strongly enough that the only people who get divorced are those whose marriages are truly awful. The boring-but-functional marriages which today constitute the bulk of divorces should stay together, for the good of the kids, society, and themselves.

            Legally you can accomplish most of this by making divorce require evidence of infidelity, criminality, abuse, or neglect. But if the culture expects easy divorce then people will just perjure themselves about infidelity (as I hear was fairly common in the last few years before no-fault divorce was legalized), so you need the culture and the law to work together.

          • Highly Effective People says:

            Thing is, most (>80%) divorces aren’t actually from unhappy marriages: low conflict marriages are the baseline, the sort of friction every marriage goes through at some point.

            “Till death do you part” is strong enough to weather most ordinary problems, and not infrequently serious ones as well. But “as long as you both feel like it” isn’t and never will be.

          • blacktrance says:

            The boring-but-functional marriages which today constitute the bulk of divorces should stay together, for the good of the kids, society, and themselves.

            My true rejection is that if the marriage isn’t serving the interests of the people in it, then it should be dissolved. Any society that can’t handle that deserves to be destroyed.

          • Highly Effective People says:

            Believe it or not blacktrance, but sometimes you really do have to eat your Brussel Sprouts before you can have any ice cream.

            This whole Land of Do-As-You-Please thing in our culture is really bizarre. There is no freedom from consequence, the very idea is absurd. I am trying to be charitable but how is this any different than a 5 year old’s temper tantrum?

          • bartlebyshop says:

            Legally you can accomplish most of this by making divorce require evidence of infidelity, criminality, abuse, or neglect.

            By the time any of this could have been proved in court, my parents would already have been at the stage they were in real life when they divorced anyway, leaving 2 kids with massive psychological problems. They should have gotten divorced far earlier or never married at all. Getting divorced is like amputating the leg of someone with diabetes: by the time the gross, obvious signs of dysfunction are there years of unfixable damage have built up.

          • Dude Man says:

            @Sigivald

            While it is possible that divorce encourages unhappy marriages to form, the overall decrease in marriage rates suggests that it probably does not (or at least is counteracted by other forces that are causing the drop in marriage rates). It also wouldn’t explain why the divorce rates were highest about a decade after divorce laws were liberalized before dropping.

          • blacktrance says:

            This whole Land of Do-As-You-Please thing in our culture is really bizarre. There is no freedom from consequence, the very idea is absurd.

            Compared to what it could be, our culture is quite conservative and far from the ideal of individual liberation. No one said anything about freedom from consequence: the couple involved experiences the consequences of divorce, and no one is suggesting otherwise.

            The basic principles I’m advocating are simple:
            1. Other people are not your property.
            2. Within the constraint of 1, make yourself as happy as possible.
            A romantic relationship exists for the mutual benefit of the people involved in it. If it stops serving that end, then it should be dissolved, just like any other relationship, such as an employment contract.

          • @blacktrance, if your calculus of “people in the marriage” doesn’t include at least the children, then you’re not counting right.

          • Harald K says:

            As a divorced man, I think it was stigmatizing enough, thank you very much. One thing everyone seems to forget here is that it just takes one person to initiate a divorce. I was worried sick that people would assume I’d done something bad to deserve it.

            The first part of what they jokingly tell divorced men on reddit (“quit facebook, get a lawyer, hit the gym”) has a point to it. A few facebook acquaintances contacted me out of the blue to show sympathy (and, tellingly, share some of the taboo things they had been though), but for the most part they just exist there as a long list of people who might judge you, might side with your ex, and you don’t know and don’t dare ask. Better to just drop Facebook entirely.

          • Cauê says:

            When I hear something that sounds like “you can’t be free to choose about your own life, because generalizing that freedom would lead to a society that is worse in the aggregate”, I don’t even feel like I have to assess that empirical claim. Even if true, it wouldn’t matter. My response is “Fuck you”.

            This response is apparently not universal, and might account for most of my disagreements with all flavors of would-be social engineers.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            @Cauê

            Seeing as most people, at least in the West, are okay with things like “rule of law” and “democracy” I think you’re in a very tiny minority here. We give up all sorts of freedoms to live in civilization.

            Granted, I think the whole “you must have strict traditional gender roles for some kind of marginal benefit!” is taking it too far, as from a soft Rawlsian view the aggregate level of utility doesn’t matter so much as providing a basic level of human choices and rights, but the idea that it’s all freedom or nothing is a bit extreme.

          • Cauê says:

            I thought it wouldn’t be necessary to explicitly say that I’m talking about personal choices that don’t affect (unwilling) others.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            @Cauê

            I’m fairly certain the discussion here is about how setting societal norms affects others. There’s almost always knock on effects. The argument being put forth (which I’m going to steelman, as I don’t agree with it) is that when you make it societally acceptable for people to divorce at first trouble, people end up acting in ways that harms their kids and has a net negative effect on others. It’s like property values; you might not want to mow your lawn or take the truck off the cinderblocks, but as it ends up making my house less valuable I have a right to complain.

            That said, the proof that there is actually a knock on effect, that the knock on effect outweighs the benefits, and that having a net negative is inherently bad without regards to distribution or other factors have not actually been advanced. These all need to be actually discussed if people want to talk about the issue. Just shutting it out with “my freedom” is somewhat antithetical to this discussion.

            It’s a damn useful heuristic which I apply to most everything (the “do not bugger thy neighbor” principle), but we should look deeper at why it is useful and analyze counterarguments to it.

          • blacktrance says:

            It’s like property values; you might not want to mow your lawn or take the truck off the cinderblocks, but as it ends up making my house less valuable I have a right to complain.

            I’m inclined to bite that bullet too. You aren’t entitled to high property values, and I’m not obligated to not do something that decreases them. Just like in divorce, you may not like that I’m doing something, but that doesn’t entitle you to stop me.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            @blacktrance

            Which is a perfectly fine argument, that my right to do X outweighs your right not to have X effect you. The important part I wanted to illustrate was that knock on effects are real. Were I to spin out your line on entitlement into a grander theory (which I shall now proceed to do) the only question is what we’re actually entitled to. Which makes this into value judgments and fails to actually go against the original argument unless you can find some way to say that you are entitled to easy divorces.

            We’ve eliminated a lack of an effect on others as a reason for that entitlement, so from whence does it come? We’re accepting, for the sake of argument, that easy divorces are worse for society as a whole as much as it pains us. So why should you have the right to hurt everyone else for lesser gains?

          • Jaskologist says:

            People aren’t forced to marry. There’s nothing preventing a couple from holding their own “I’ll love you until inconvenient” ceremony.

            Scott likes to talk about credibly pre-committing. Marriage, properly enforced, allows people to credibly commit to each other. With that in hand, they are enabled to make a lot of very long-term investments which also happen to be pretty important for society at large.

            Divorce destroys the ability of people to credibly commit to each other, and forces even good spouses to regard each other with a certain amount of suspicion.

          • blacktrance says:

            Held in Escrow:
            Justifying it in terms of “why should I have right X” smuggles in that I don’t have a right unless I can justify it to others, which is backwards – it’s not being able to do something that must be justified to me. In the lawless state of nature, I can do anything I want, and the only restrictions I’ll accept in leaving that state are those that are in my self-interest. I don’t agree to be bound to not be able to divorce, so I’m entitled to easy divorces.

            Jaskologist:
            The concern is that people who have gotten married in the past few decades or are intending to get married at some point in the future expect it to be a dissoluble arrangement. I agree that people should be able to waive their rights, but they don’t consider marriage to be that waiving of rights, and they’re worried that they’ll unintentionally find themselves in (or be socially pressured into) an indissoluble union.

          • Cauê says:

            @HIE – This example isn’t even about knock on effects, it’s just the sum of outcomes of individual choices.

            To the extent that it goes beyond that, the argument for effects on others isn’t that my choice will affect other people no matter what they do, it’s that it will affect other people by making them more likely to freely choose as I did. To which, well, fuck off.

            @Jaskologist – I wouldn’t object to enforceable contracts regarding marriage, as long as that just means something like compensations, and as long as there isn’t as strong a cultural expectation to sign them as there used to be about getting married.

          • Irrelevant says:

            I don’t agree to be bound to not be able to divorce.

            Historically, that lack of agreement was referred to as “not getting married.”

          • Cauê says:

            Well, it was part of “not getting married”.

          • @Jaskologist

            “Divorce destroys the ability of people to credibly commit to each other, and forces even good spouses to regard each other with a certain amount of suspicion.”
            That would be better phra as easy divorce impacts pre commitment in propertiesion to how easy it is.

        • caryatis says:

          No one so far has mentioned exactly why they think divorce is bad. What’s the argument there?

          The evidence for its effect on kids is mixed. It’s true that married people say they are happier on average than unmarried ones, but that’s irrelevant because we don’t know that people in unhappy marriages are happier than those who end unhappy marriages.

          Divorce is stigmatized, difficult and unpleasant–maybe not as much as some would want, but enough to make me doubt the thesis that people turn to divorce anytime they get bored.

          • keranih says:

            The evidence for its effect on kids is mixed.

            Not really. Boy kids who grow up without their fathers turn out to be criminals more frequently (two parent married >widowed>divorced>never married) and kids of any gender are more likely to be abused if they are not in a household with their biological father.

          • caryatis says:

            “Kids of any gender are more likely to be abused if they are not in a household with their biological father.”

            Is this true as you stated it? I thought the risk of abuse was related to being in a household with unrelated men.

          • AFC says:

            @keranih

            There’s a big correlation/causation issue with that, though. Just to give one example that suffices to invalidate the naive use of those stats: within black communities, a frighteningly-large portion of men are imprisoned. The families with absent fathers are going to correlate with the families with imprisoned fathers, and one can imagine several causal pathways from criminal father -> criminal child, which do not have anything to do with the fact of the father’s absence. There’s more on top of that: entire communities where crime is normalized are going to correlate with absent fathers, etc..

            I mean, I do agree with you on the conclusion. I’m just saying that the statistical correlation isn’t enough to prove it.

          • keranih says:

            @ caryatis

            Your statement is worded more accurately than mine. So there would be three options: child in household with biological father, child in household with no males, child in household with unrelated males. Of course, the second option requires the mother to not get in any (male) relationships.

            (The data I saw said that stepfathers who married the mother were more likely to abuse the child than biological dads, but that the greatest risk was from unmarried “boyfriends”.)

            @AFC

            I’m not finding the study with the greatest number of confounding variables, so I can’t say to what degree criminality was accounted for. I”ve also seen a study that held that the primary factor was the number of intact households in the neighborhood – that the children of divorced parents in a neighborhood with largely intact marriages tended to do better than the children of intact households where the neighborhood had a large number of divorces and never marrieds.

            As an aside – the figures for African American families was 10% of men incarcerated (outside upper limit) and 90% of the families without a mother and father married to each other (in the same neighborhoods.) Given that I would expect the incarcerated men would represent the lower edge of desirable husbands, I really can’t put most of the single motherhood on the imprisonment of ment.

            (Someone tell me my reasoning is wack.)

        • Held In Escrow says:

          @blacktrance

          State of nature is that the guy with the army and the big guns can make you do whatever he wants or else you get killed. That’s not a particularly strong argument for human rights. It’s really an argument that we can just coerce people into doing whatever we want because they have no rights. I don’t agree to be bound to “not running through the streets naked, urinating on all those who cross my path” and therefore I’m entitled to do so?

          @Cauê

          The objective here was to look at this like a social engineer; society is not a thinking organism, but rather one that responds to inputs with certain outputs. We’ve already accepted the value of deterrence, that it is okay to punish someone beyond the exact value of their crime because it stops others from making that choice of their free will.

          And yes, there will be direct effects of an easy divorce in Divorceisbadistan. Kids for instance, are affected in a negative manner. Friendships get broken and divvied up. The value of marriage as an indicator of trust goes down, properties have to be split, and there’s a general air of malaise around the participants. In addition, as marriage is a governmental affair, there’s fees and paperwork! Hell, as a contract between you and the government there’s an implicit agreement here that you’re going to use the marriage to make society better off (thus the benefits given to married couples).

          So, in effect, why should society allow you to hurt it by making this choice? To pull this back to the beginning, the state is the guy with the army and guns. Why should he let you get better off while making him worse off? You’re basically trying to get everyone to choose defect, can you not see why it is in civilization’s best interests to stop you?

          (Playing Devil’s Advocate as the authoritarian is fun! I’d totally kick authoritarian me in the balls if I met him in the street though, so apologies for that)

          • blacktrance says:

            Held in Escrow:
            As Hobbes wrote, a state of nature is a state of war of all against all. It’s not a warlord forcing you to do something, it’s people hiding in their houses, protecting themselves from robbers (or engaging in robbery themselves). It’s not difficult to derive human rights from this state – we’d both be better off if we agreed not to kill or rob each other. Of course, the issue is more nuanced than actual agreement – what really matters is hypothetical agreement, that X is a right means that it would be in people’s self-interest to agree to establish X as a right, regardless of whether they actually do so. But this is an individual principle – if I benefit more from being able to do something than from everyone else not doing it, then there’s no agreement to forbid it. This is where easy divorce comes in – the benefits of making divorce difficult or impossible would have to be so great that even the would-be divorced couple would be better off in a world in which divorce is difficult/impossible compared to the alternative. This is a much higher standard than the utilitarian or the Rawlsian one, and it’s implausible that difficult divorce would be able to satisfy it.

          • Cauê says:

            @HIE,

            …honestly? Apparently this topic gets me mindkilled. I have counterarguments to the Divorceisbadstan externalities, but I don’t like the paths my brain is taking to get there. I’ll try to think it over later.

            But anthropomorphizing “society” as an individualized agent doesn’t work here. Costs and benefits will always fall on individual people, and the state doesn’t exist as an entity external to individuals.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            blacktrance

            I think you’re jumping forward a few steps of logic when you say that the would be divorced couple would be better off in a world with hard divorce in order to make having hard divorce the correct decision. You’re purely looking at this from a personal point of view, while the exercise is to look at this from a societal viewpoint.

            If we take your logic at face value, we should all be allowed to rob each other for property. Because from the individual perspective, someone with no property would gain from robbing someone for their property. Therefore we can not ban robbing people for the sake of the robbers. Basing society wide effects on the least convince individual simply does not work, as we would not actually have a society.

            As for the state of nature, again, if there’s a guy with a gun and you don’t have one, you’re best off giving him all your property so he doesn’t kill you. That’s not exactly where human rights come in. It’s rather when there’s a bunch of you and you all agree to cooperate and to punish anyone who betrays you and makes you all worse off.
            In this case the easy divorcees are slamming on the betray button and making everyone else worse off, so the cooperators have an incentive to ban that behavior.

            EDIT
            @Cauê

            That’s not really your fault; I’m trying to channel the most dickish “society first, individual last” mindset I can here because it’s the only way I can really get into the character and question my own priors, and I apologize for that. I’m looking at the societal benefit at the net and society as a machine. You put in X and you get back Y, distributed in Z manner. It doesn’t really matter from whom you take X nor how Z falls so long as Y > X. As a soft Rawlsian (which sounds like a nouget bar) I think that’s rubbish, that Z really matters and can accept X > Y so long Z is correct, but I think that comes more from a responsibility to your fellow man than anything else.

          • Blacktrance writes:

            “As Hobbes wrote, a state of nature is a state of war of all against all.”

            I can resist anything but temptation. The following is the introduction to part V of the third edition of my first book (discussed by Scott recently–each part starts with a poem).

            “In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”
            [THOMAS HOBBES, Leviathan]

            Hobbes had a vision, certain, crystal clear,
            Through logic’s lens alone he clearly saw
            The state of nature, red in tooth and claw
            And sword and axe, where each man lives in fear,
            A nightmare world unless a king appear
            Equipped with force enough to overawe
            All powers else and bend them to his law,
            A monarch absolute, without a peer.

            One question yet remains: In many lands
            Men lived and fathered children, planted grain,
            Slept soundly through the night, worked with their hands,
            Together or apart, for love or gain.
            How is it that the human race survived
            Through the long years before the king arrived?
            ————
            A doctor synthesized the perfect cure
            For a disease that he was certain sure
            Mankind without his aid could not endure.
            His flawless logic with no doubt implied
            That the disease existed, so he tried,
            To offer up the cure on every side.
            And many patients took the cure
            And died.

            “In total, during the first eighty-eight years of this century, almost 170,000,000 men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; or buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens or foreigners.”
            R.J. Rummel, Death by Government.

          • blacktrance says:

            Held in Escrow:
            Of course I’m looking at it from a personal perspective – society is made up of people, and, to use Rawls’s phrase, is a venture for mutual advantage. This is inherently an individualist principle because mutual advantage means both of us benefit – not you benefiting at my expense by restricting me. Putting society first assumes that what benefits it in some aggregate is justified, and that assumes too much of the conclusion.

            As for not having property rights because of robbers, that underestimates the benefits property rights have even to would-be robbers. It’s better to be a non-robber in a state with property rights than a robber in a state without them. So while basing rules on the least convinced individual produces fewer rules than we have now (which I think is a feature, not a bug), it still produces property rights.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            If the robber has the tools to rob you, why should he want property rights that would grant you your property back? He has no incentive now, nor does he have reason to rob you again.

            I’m actually going to apply a Rawlsian reasoning here to try and demonstrate this point. Nobody knows if they’ll want an easy divorce. They can see two societies; one where there are easy divorces, and one where there aren’t. The first society is, on average, worse off; the only people in it that are better off than those in the second society are those who get easy divorces. But seeing as we’ve established our average as being higher, a rational person will want to live in the second society, as there’s a much better chance of being better off.

            But back to the robber. I had intentionally structured this as a guy with a gun mugging you (to demonstrate inherent advantages and disadvantages), but let’s use it as an example of cooperation. Everyone works together and respects each other’s property; there’s no need for law and government, which are costly, because everyone is hitting cooperate. But then one guy decides to rob another guy. Now the townsfolk have to set up a law and government because one asshole decided to hit betray because it was more useful for him. Everyone pays and is worse off for it.

            (You can imagine the guy who got robbed as the kids in a divorce if it pleases you, otherwise just consider it the general negative externality)

            The whole point here is that we’re stuck in a constant Prisoner’s Dilemma, where there’s always an incentive to defect. Enough of us decided that, judging by how much it costs us from defections, it would be cheaper to just hire a guy with a gun to shoot anyone who defected. Thus we give up a little freedom (what we’re paying our sharpshooter) in exchange for a greater benefit (not taking the loss from the defectors running off with our communal stuff).

          • blacktrance says:

            David Friedman:
            To the extent that it’s possible to arrange cooperation through love and trade, government is even less necessary. My argument is that cooperation can be established even among people who don’t care about each other and are sometimes looking to rip each other off – but that involves government. If it can be solved without it (protection agencies), that would be even better, but I doubt it’d work (mainly because of the warlords problem).

            (The Machinery of Freedom is one of my favorite books, even though I don’t agree with all of its conclusions.)

            Held in Escrow:
            I agree that the Prisoner’s Dilemma is the correct tool of analysis, but it doesn’t justify as restrictive of a standard as the one you’re arguing for. In a PD, both players are better off if they both cooperate than if they both defect. If one player finds (D, D) to have a higher payoff than (C, C), it’s not a PD anymore. Hence the individualist principle – we cooperate if we’re each made better off by cooperation, but not if one is made better off and other is made worse off. That’s why your townsfolk example works – because we’re all made better off by hiring the sharpshooter.

            The problem with your Rawlsian “easy divorce” example is the assumption of a veil of ignorance – while no one knows if they’ll want an easy divorce, people can and do know whether they want to have the opportunity to have an easy divorce, even though they don’t know if they’ll use it. And having that opportunity is of high value.

            As for the robber, he enjoys a great amount of benefits from the existence of property rights. Suppose he wants to steal my TV and take it to his apartment, so he dissolves property rights. Soon he’s left not only with no TV, but no apartment, no supermarkets in which to buy food, no medicine, etc. Not worth the TV. Also, if there were no property rights to begin with, there wouldn’t be a TV for him to steal.

          • Blacktrance:

            The decentralized mechanism for maintaining social order and some protection of rights doesn’t hinge on love and trade but on a system of commitment strategies maintained by a mutually perceived network of Schelling points. That’s the subject of part of that section of the new edition.

            And what I was hinting at in the poem. Stateless societies may be better or worse than societies with states, but they don’t look at all like Hobbes’ state of nature.

          • If a stateless society is typified by a nomadic hunter gatherer band, they actually don’t have a lot of the things Hobes says they don’t have, even if they are not at each others throats.

    • I’m guessing this doesn’t work for the traditionalists, e.g., Ross Douthat in the New York Times.

      His/their analysis (I have seen others) is that when upscale highly educated folks adopt nontraditional gender roles or nonreligious sexual mores, it’s fine for them, but it sets a bad example for working class folks. And when the nontraditional “bad example” is replicated down through the status hierarchy, chaos and ruined lives result, compared to what they see as the good old days of stable religious nuclear families among the poor and working class.

      I don’t agree with this reasoning, of course, but Douthat and his allies argue that legalization of same-sex marriage and other nontraditional forms is a mistake. even if it would benefit some, because some other people “can’t handle” this kind of freedom.

      In other words, to allow people to freely choose nontraditional gender roles could be bad for them. Therefore, Douthat’s ideal society would highly discourage or prohibit that kind of thing.

      • no one special says:

        I’ve seen that argument before. I’d really like to see it done with numbers, even fake ones, as that will tease out assumptions that are currently hidden.

        If your model assumes that gay marriage will cause working class folks to get married 5% less, it’s a whole lot easier to sell than a model that predicts working class folks will get married 50% less.

        I’d love to see a worked example, with numbers showing either what portion of people will make bad choices if available, or what portion of people have to make bad choices before there are serious societal side effects*.

        Realish numbers would be better, but even fake numbers would tease out differences in the underlying models.

        * (My favorite example of this is that in polygamous societies, only 5%** of men have to take a second wife before there are gangs of unmarriageable men causing problems.)

        ** I am quoting from memory here, but it was low.

        • If your model assumes that gay marriage will cause working class folks to…

          Please, it’s not “my” model. I’m an advocate of marriage equality.

          I was responding to the original posting for this subthread, which proposed as follows:

          It seems to me that there’s a trade-off here, where some people who would have done well under traditional roles are less happy, and some people who would have done poorly under traditional roles are more happy.

          My point was just that traditionalist advocates like Douthat aren’t too interested in whether people are more or less “happy”, but whether they are behaving in objectively (?) self-destructive ways.

          • no one special says:

            Sorry, “the model under consideration”. But I see that’s off-point anyway.

            Form a utilitarian perspective, is there a difference between “happy/unhappy” and “sustainable/self-destructive”? Shouldn’t it all round off to utils in the end?

            Or do you think the traditionalist argument hinges on the distinction between those to classes, while utilitarianism throws them away? I’m not sure what that would mean, honestly.

            Can I get a traditionalist in here to tell me if utilitarianism is incompatible with traditionalism?

          • BD Sixsmith says:

            Can I get a traditionalist in here to tell me if utilitarianism is incompatible with traditionalism?

            If you’re a religious conservative it defies the will of God. If you’re a secular conservative it defies the will of nature.

          • no one special says:

            BD: Summing utils defies the will of God? Or eliminating the difference between happiness and sustainability?

            I mean, please expand, I don’t get it.

          • BD Sixsmith says:

            Sorry. Concision at the expense of comprehension. Placing utils above Biblical (or Judaic, or Islamic) law, which gives no primacy to worldly satisfaction, would be the problem. (It strikes me that one could make a utilitarian argument for religious law as a means of avoiding the Hellfires but I suspect that that would be to miss the point.) As for sec’ cons: even if they have no other objections, of which there could be many, they would be sceptical of our ability to maximise utils without endangering those which we have acquired, and would lean on the virtues of traditional wisdom.

          • no one special says:

            BD: Thank you, that makes sense. It smells a lot like Deontology vs Utilitarianism to me, so I could see where that becomes an issue. If traditionalism requires a deontological underpinning, then my original request is just so much gibberish for the traditionalist.

      • Harald K says:

        His/their analysis (I have seen others) is that when upscale highly educated folks adopt nontraditional gender roles or nonreligious sexual mores, it’s fine for them, but it sets a bad example for working class folks.

        Well, this is a questionable type of argument. It’s dangerous because it assumes some people (working class folks) don’t know their own good, and keep making decisions that aren’t reasonable in their circumstances. It can happen I’m sure, but the default assumption should be that people do know their own good, and are just as capable of making choices that make sense in their context as anyone else.

        Douthat has the burden of evidence here, he hasn’t carried it well if you ask me. On the other hand it’s easy to find reasons for little marriage/high divorce/”nontraditional arrangements” that have nothing to do with imitating the upper classes.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Yeah, default assumption should be that culture doesn’t move on its own, but rather chases material circumstance. (More accurately, culture randomly perturbates on its own, with successful trends more likely to be the ones that constitute an advantageous adjustment to material circumstance.)

        • not_all_environmentalists says:

          Well, this is a questionable type of argument. It’s dangerous because it assumes some people (working class folks) don’t know their own good, and keep making decisions that aren’t reasonable in their circumstances.

          I suspect the “idle hands” argument might be linked with this.

        • the default assumption should be that people do know their own good, and are just as capable of making choices that make sense in their context as anyone else.

          Strongly agreed!

        • FJ says:

          Well, this is a questionable type of argument. It’s dangerous because it assumes some people (working class folks) don’t know their own good, and keep making decisions that aren’t reasonable in their circumstances.

          This is certainly a good principle to bear in mind generally, but how pertinent is it to Douthat? His point, it seems, isn’t that working-class people are too dumb to realize that getting married has a lot of benefits for themselves and their kids. Rather, Douthat pretty consistently argues that the circumstances (including popular culture) are such that working-class people don’t think it makes sense to get married.

          You could certainly say, “The reason the divorce rate is so high is because people really enjoy getting married and then getting divorced, and the reason so many children are born out of wedlock is because women really like having kids without a dependable male partner.” In the sense of revealed preferences, it’s clear that people act as if those were their preferences. But I’m not sure the people who actually go through those life events would later describe them as part of a deliberate and well-chosen plan.

          • Nita says:

            It’s unclear why he accords so much weight to pop culture instead of material circumstances:

            Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry — even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expenses, and even if they have a child — is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.

            (source)

            They aren’t making a choice between having kids with a dependable male partner and having kids without one. The actual choice is supporting yourself and your kids vs supporting yourself, your kids, and a miserable* adult man. And banning divorce would simply make the latter option even worse.

            * bonus: depression can manifest as rage instead of sadness, especially in men

    • Not an answer, but I think a relevant story:

      A very long time ago, I was in an airport in Bombay waiting for a flight to Sydney, and got into conversation with an Indian woman waiting for the same flight. We ended up spending a good deal of time during the flight talking.

      She was from southern India and was flying out to join her husband, a physician in Sydney. It had been an arranged marriage. The couple got to meet before they got married and either could have vetoed the arrangement, but the basic search and selection were by their parents.

      She was as interested in the weird marriage customs of my society as I was in the weird marriage customs of hers. I could not offer any convincing arguments for the superiority of our system, and the (small sample) evidence was on her side, since my first marriage had at that point broken up and she was still happily married. She was an intelligent, educated woman from a different world, and showing the superiority of the “modern” system of mate choice was considerably more difficult than when arguing with dead people not there to rebut.

      • Nita says:

        Sure, the best case of arranged marriage is great — and so is the best case of romantic marriage, and even the best case of government-mandated marriage.

        • Jaskologist says:

          In terms of marital stability, the numbers for arranged marriage beat our method handily. You hardly need to look at the best case.

          I’m not sure if there are numbers available for overall happiness, but it’s much harder to decide how to measure that anyway.

          • Dude Man says:

            I seem to recall (but can’t find off-hand) evidence suggesting that marriage satisfaction rates are higher for romantic marriages at first, but higher for arranged marriages after five years. However, marriage satisfaction rates are not necessarily a measure of happiness and the cultural differences between those who have arranged marriages and those who have romantic marriages is a likely cofounder.

          • keranih says:

            I would like to see some sort of stats, but that ‘traditional’ ‘arranged’ marriages work better (on the population average) than the ‘love match’ marriages of Western society sounds very plausible.

            Arranged matches come together under the influence of paid professionals, are guided by mature, relatively detached adults who are invested in a good outcome, and who will give strong re-enforcing support to a marriage made under those conditions.

            On the other hand, love matches are an amateur affair start to finish, generally conducted by young people under the influence of powerful emotions. And there is much less motivation for the parents/extended family to support the match, as the whole mess was hardly their fault, but that of the idiot kids.

            Arrangements, of course, have downsides, but not the *same* downsides as love matches.

            I would interested in any examination of the courtships of the American uber wealthy as arranged marriages, with the families putting young people of the right sort together and hoping for sparks.

          • Nita says:

            I don’t see what’s so good about marital stability in itself, especially when we know how it’s achieved — that’s like praising the Soviet Union for its political stability: “Hey, the Party has been in power for decades! They must be doing something right.”

          • Anthony says:

            @keranih

            love matches are an amateur affair start to finish, generally conducted by young people under the influence of powerful emotions. And there is much less motivation for the parents/extended family to support the match, as the whole mess was hardly their fault, but that of the idiot kids.

            This is probably why U.S. upper-middle-class marriage works so much better than working-class (or welfare-class) marriage. The parties involved *aren’t young*, they’ve seen (and maybe made) plenty of relationship mistakes, they’re more capable of self-support, and they’ve realized that their elders really are wise.

      • Cauê says:

        The couple got to meet before they got married and either could have vetoed the arrangement

        Assuming this is accurate, and that non-arranged marriages are also allowed, and that divorce is possible, this situation looks strictly better than ours. They lose nothing, and gain a convenient way around many social hurdles that get in the way of starting romantic relationships.

        • This situation looks exactly the same as ours, because arranged marriage plus veto is legal anyway…..it just amounts to the parents making a suggestion.

          • Cauê says:

            …a socially acceptable suggestion that will be taken seriously and has real a chance of working.

            You kinda need some favorable cultural background to pull it off.

        • I didn’t have the impression from talking with her that non-arranged marriages were a practical option in her context. I’m guessing they were legal, but contrary to social custom.

    • Tarrou says:

      Odd bit is, general happiness surveys run the other way.

      In sex, for instance, the women’s liberation movement and the far greater legal and economic equality for women has corresponded with a significant decrease in happiness…………for women. Men have seen their supposed patriarchy diminished, but are far happier than their grandfathers were.

      If I wanted to argue the point, I’d say that perhaps the traditional gender roles were more oppressive to men than to women, and the entire edifice of female empowerment was entirely inverted.

      • Matthew says:

        An alternative explanation is that women’s share of work performed outside the home has increased more than men’s share of work inside the home.

        • Tarrou says:

          The very uncharitable alternative explanation is divorce and the rise of easy porn and gay culture. Men without (the need for) women are just happier! 😛

      • Nicholas says:

        A second alternative explanation, as discussed here under a review of The Road, is that the post ww2 feminist movement was largely reacting to the breakdown of an earlier order’s ability to provide promised benefits by replacing the system. This new system has either not found a local maximum, or has found a lower local maximum, depending on who you ask.

      • no one special says:

        I will find it massively hilarious if someone wants to argue that progressivism is better because it makes more men happier, despite making some women less happy, for overall increased utils.

    • Blogospheroid says:

      It’s very much possible to overdo fixed roles. The indian traditional caste system had 4 divisions. Soon, they realised that they needed classifications for highly skilled people like doctors, engineers and accountants, people whom if you classified as “labour” would surely rebel. End result is, indian society has hundreds of subcastes of all kinds and the association with occupations are at the least 50% gone.

    • no one special says:

      Thanks everyone; There’s a lot of good discussion here on a wider variety of topics.

      I’m surprised that no one has tried to justify their preferred arrangement by making a (people improved x utils gained) > (people hurt x utils lost) argument. So, to go meta-er, am I misunderstanding something? I thought this kind of calculation was the bread-and-butter of utilitarianism. Am I confused on the underlying philosophy here?

      • Irrelevant says:

        I think you’re confused about the degree of difficulty in doing that sort of calculation with actual utils rather than proxies like lifespan or material wealth.

        • no one special says:

          I’m fine with proxies, approximations, and even made-up numbers. Utils are an abstraction of an abstraction after all; We can’t define then, and we can’t count them.

          It seems like it ought to be a really easy argument to say something like “corn subsidies help 5000 farmers keep their livelihood, valued at roughly $1M each. Corn subsidies cost 100M consumers $.01 in raised prices per year. $5B > $1B therefore corn subsidies are worth it.”

          (Trying to find a non race-and-gender example here.)

          It doesn’t have to be a perfect utilitarian calculation! I’ll take swag percentages! Then we can argue about the numbers in the model instead of taking tribal sides and arguing that the other tribe is evil.

          http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/05/02/if-its-worth-doing-its-worth-doing-with-made-up-statistics/

          • I don’t know if you realize it, but what you describe is the conventional economic efficiency approach. For example, it can be shown that except under special circumstances tariffs lower economic efficiency, meaning that the gain to the gainers, measured in dollar equivalents, is less than the loss to the losers. Similarly for various other policies.

            Alfred Marshall, who was a utilitarian, justified that approach on the grounds that for most issues differences in the marginal utility of income average out, since most policies affect a large and diverse group on each side.

  26. Daniel Speyer says:

    I was considering trying to start a community for rationalist-inspired discussion of medical issues. Would anyone else be interested in something like that? Any preferences for mechanism?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      JenRM tried something like this once. The problem is “start a community” almost always ends with somebody setting up a forum or blog and saying “Okay, people who want to talk about rationalism and medicine, come discuss it here!” and nobody does. Sort of a Schelling point thing, plus the fact that you need a high volume of discussion to sustain it.

  27. Troy says:

    Installment III of ? in Arguments Against Consequentialism: What is Good?

    For a recap of Part II of this series, see the post below. Today I’m going to continue with a third argument against consequentialism.

    Consequentialist moral theories hold that we ought to maximize the good. Particular versions of consequentialism, such as utilitarianism, supplement consequentialism with a theory of the good. For example, hedonistic utilitarianism holds that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, so that what we ought to do is maximize pleasure.

    One problem for consequentialists is thus to identify what is good. Is there only one intrinsic good – e.g., pleasure? Or are there many? A more serious problem, however, is pushed by such critics of consequentialism as Peter Geach and Judith Jarvis Thomson. As these critics observe, to say that something is ‘a good K’ is not to attribute to it a property (like being pleasurable) separable from the kind K. In this sense ‘good’ is unlike predicates such as ‘male.’ “Sam is a male golfer” says two things about Sam: that he is male, and that he is a golfer. As such, “Sam is a male golfer” entails that “Sam is male.” But “Sam is a good golfer” cannot be similarly broken down into “Sam is a golfer” and “Sam is good.” To see this, note that it does not follow from “Sam is a good golfer” and “Sam is a person” that “Sam is a good person.” But if ‘good’ denoted some simple property of Sam, this would follow.

    In this sense ‘good’ appears to function more like adjectives such as ‘fake,’ in that the property they attribute to a thing depends on the noun they modify. (A fake dollar bill may be a real piece of paper.) Plausibly, then, to call something ‘a good K’ is to say that it is in some way a good member of its kind. A good golfer is someone who tends to be successful at the aims of golfing, for example. So whether or not some thing is a good K depends on the nature of the kind K.

    Now return to consequentialism. Consequentialism tells us to bring about as much good as we can. But what does this mean? We saw above that to say “X is good” is at least in some paradigm cases to say that X is a good member of a kind. Could goodness-of-a-kind be what the consequentialist has in mind? If so, perhaps he can say that we should bring about the best consequences, or best states of affairs, or best world. These seem, however, like somewhat mysterious notions. A good umbrella is one which protects you from rain. A good chess player is one who is able to checkmate his opponent’s king. We know these things because we know the function of umbrellas and the aims of chess. How does what kind of thing a consequence (say) is tell us what counts as a good consequence? It does not seem that ‘consequence’ is a “goodness-fixing-kind,” to use Thomson’s terminology. Similar remarks go for the other proposed kinds above.

    The consequentialist could also say that his sense of ‘good’ is a different one from that in ‘a good K.’ Call what the consequentialist is trying to pick out “absolute goodness.” Now, it must be admitted that goodness-of-a-kind is not the only thing picked out by our word ‘good.’ We also speak of “goodness for,” for example; we say that that salad would be good for me and that certain economic plans are good for the economy. But we can plausibly tell a story here about how goodness-of-a-kind and goodness-for are related: to say that X is good for Y qua kind K is to say that X contributes to making Y a good K, for example. (Insert further chisholming as needed.) If the consequentialist also wants to posit some further kind of goodness – absolute goodness – he owes us a story about how it is related to goodness-of-a-kind. It is very implausible that we would use the same word, ‘good,’ to refer to these two different properties unless there were some relationship between them (and that, e.g., Greek-speakers would do the same with ‘agathon’). ‘Good’ is not like ‘bat’ in being univocal between referring to a wooden stick and a nocturnal winged creature.

    Inasmuch as it is implausible that some such story can be told, we have reason to doubt that absolute goodness exists. An alternative worth investigating is that what actions we ought to perform is in some way based on what goodness is for actions, or that what we ought to do is what a good person would do, and then to look at the nature of actions and of persons to determine this. This, however, is a further task.

    To sum up:

    (1) Consequentialism says that we ought to maximize goodness. Either this command refers to “absolute goodness” or to a relative kind of goodness (goodness of a kind, goodness for).
    (2) It does not refer to a relative kind of goodness.
    (3) ‘Good’ is not univocal between a relative and absolute kind of goodness. So, if “absolute goodness” exists, it is in some way reducible to relative goodness, relative goodness is in some reducible to it, or there is some other similar relationship between them.
    (4) Absolute and relative goodness are not related in one of these ways.
    (5) Absolute goodness does not exist. [from (3), (4)]
    (6) There is no meaningful sense in which we ought to maximize goodness. So, consequentialism is false. [from (1), (2), (5)]

    • Jordan D. says:

      (Fair disclosure – I am not a student of philosophy and could easily be missing simple responses to my objections. I apologize in advance for anything of the sort.)

      I was under the impression that consequentialism is a class of ethical theories rather than a testible theory in and of itself. At the start of your disproof you mention things like hedonistic utilitiarianism, which are the theories that supply the concrete aim; I’m not sure how valid arguing against the [your theory’s concrete aim] tag by calling it [good] is.

      Certainly it can be- has been- argued that pleasure is not always good, or that preference-respecting is not always good. But if a majority of people prefer a world with maximized preference-respecting to a world without, why does it matter that we cannot logically prove that world’s goodness?

      But I would take a stronger stance. There is no ‘absolute good’ and we don’t mean ‘x is an unusually well-adapted referent of its kind’ when we say ‘good’, but we don’t mean *nothing.* If I tell people that I think Steve is a good man, I am referring to an only-partially-realized mish-mash of positive qualities, positive biases and half-remembered incidents.

      As you say, I can’t create a heuristic to maximize for ‘things which would, later, make me think that things are more good.’ Even if I did, it might turn out that my preferences and referents aren’t aknowledged as ‘good’ by everyone else! So it seems to me that the project of consequentialist theories has been to pick out what the theorist thought was a common and powerful aspect of ‘good’ and maximize for that. Thus, for example, hedonistic utilitiarians advocate that we maximize pleasure because the state of the world which corresponds to what a large number of people label as ‘good’ also produces pleasure.

      (I’m pretty sure that’s where the wireheading disconnect comes in. Wireheading, or drugs, or hypnosis disconnect pleasure as a variable from whatever aesthetic sensibilities people usually use to determine ‘good’ and people don’t like that because what they wanted out of utilitarianism wasn’t *really* maximized pleasure.)

      So, since ‘good’ isn’t an absolute thing, we’re forced into one of two positions:

      1) Accept that none of the consequentialist referants will ever perfectly capture the world of our aesthetic sensibilities but go along with whichever one we think is best because a world in which more people try to maximize that variable still seems better than not.
      2) Declare that since we can’t define ‘good’ universally we shouldn’t care about it.

      You seem to be taking option 2, here. Why? What are the superior alternatives? Deontology? Virtue ethics? Those also fail to produce the nonexistant ‘absolute good’! Is it because another system would be more logically coherent? It seems to me that any consequentialist system which has a referent tag in place of [good] is fully coherent, even if you don’t like it. Hell, Clippy’s papercliptarianism is a coherent and self-consistant ethical system which just so happens to produce a world that no human desires!

      In short, I suppose my confusion comes at step (7). Consequentialism is false? What does that mean? How is a system of behavior false, and what course of action does that suggest?

      • Troy says:

        As I understand it, you’re advancing the following challenge to my argument (feel free to correct me if I’m incorrect): say we’ve got some version of what’s usually called consequentialism that we like — e.g., hedonistic utilitarianism. Our theory tells us what we should maximize — in this case, pleasure. If we’ve got this specific theory that tells us what we should maximize, then we don’t need any theories about ‘the good.’ Our theory doesn’t have to tell us to maximize the good, just to maximize pleasure.

        I agree with you that such an ethical theory is coherent. The difficulty with it is that it appears to be ill-motivated. A utilitarian who says that pleasure is good can apparently explain why we ought to maximize pleasure: because it’s (the only) good. One who doesn’t think that pleasure is good — because he thinks that nothing is “good” in the absolute sense — needs some other argument for why we should maximize pleasure.

        So, in order to endorse your line, consequentialists of various stripes would then need to give some other kind of argument for their stripe. Some might be able to do this. For instance, a preference utilitarian might try to justify his view with some kind of contractualist argument. I don’t think I’d find such an argument persuasive, but such is philosophy.

        On what I think should replace consequentialism: well, big question, and my positive views aren’t as well-developed as my negative views here. But I’m inclined to think, along the lines I gestured at in the post, that some kind of virtue ethics based on what it is to be a good person is the answer. That requires a lot of filling out, though, in terms of more concrete normative upshots.

        • Jordan D. says:

          That’s essentially my challenge- but rather than saying ‘pleasure is the only good’, I would say ‘pleasure is most regularly coextant with the state of the world which most people percieve as good’. (I’m not necessarily a hedonistic utilitiarian, that’s just what I’d say if I were.)

          Now, you raise the reasonable question: “If I don’t think there is an absolute good to strive for, why should I maximize X?”

          …but there isn’t an objective answer to a question like that. We’ve reached the is/ought divide. The state of our knowledge about the universe can’t tell us what principles we should live by unless we already have principles for interperting the data.

          So it seems to me that most utilitiarians say ‘I want a state of the world that is good. I know good when I see it, but I don’t know a good-generalizing heuristic. Therefore, I shall use the most pleasing proxy I can find.’

          (Where do we get the idea of ‘good’ from? Acculturation, genetics, environment- all those things. Why should we strive to please those instincts instead of anything else? Because that’s The Gift We Give To Tomorrow – http://lesswrong.com/lw/sa/the_gift_we_give_to_tomorrow/ – the end state of any ethical system will be arbitrary, so it might as well be enjoyable.)

          So I agree that there’s no objective ‘good’, but nevertheless feel that most people are striving for a subjective ‘good’ – and I don’t agree that the nonexistance of good qua good means that it isn’t worth seeking. If I make someone laugh, I think that’s good for a lot of reasons which I could never ground in logical postulations, but my preference for a world full of laughter remains.

      • Paul Torek says:

        Jordan,
        You may not be a student of philosophy, but you’re doing well here. As a non-utilitarian myself, I think this objection doesn’t really fly. But also, it’s pretty obvious what kind of goodness most consequentialists are after: good lives. (Not all consequentialists, because some would say e.g. that a beautiful uninhabited universe is better than a boring uninhabited universe – which I can’t grok at all.)

        I haven’t read many replies in this thread yet – so if I’m repeating someone else’s point, oh well.

    • Peter says:

      If you like old books and tracing ideas to the source, then person to read on non-utilitarian consequentialism is Moore, and the Principia Ethica. Note that he called his thing “ideal utilitarianism” – the “consequentialism” was invented by Anscombe in order to criticise consequentialist theories, and somewhere along the line “utilitarianism” got narrowed to mean hedonistic utilitarinism – then broadened a little to bring in preference utilitarianism, but not to bring in any other form of consequentialism.

      Anyway, Moore has this idea that intuition says which states of affairs are good or not, but that there are no intuitions about which actions to take. He’s using a definition of intuition which… is a _lot_ narrower than my common usage (very roughly: anything that comes out of System 1, appearing in consciousness fully-formed without showing its working).

      Not that I properly read Moore – Mill’s Utilitarianism, Sidgwick’s The Methods of Ethics, yes, but I never felt inspired to do the same for Moore.

      • Troy says:

        I haven’t read most of the Principia, although I’m familiar with several of Moore’s strands of argument. I either had not heard or had forgotten the claim that we have intuitions about what is good but not about what to do. This claim seems odd to me, even on narrower uses of intuition.

    • blacktrance says:

      (2) It does not refer to a relative kind of goodness.

      Agent-neutral consequentialism (e.g. utilitarianism) doesn’t, but agent-relative consequentialism (e.g. egoism) does.

      • Troy says:

        Yes, I agree. I actually think there are better philosophical arguments for egoism than (impartial) consequentialism, even though I reject both.

    • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

      A good chess move is good for (helps) the purpose of winning at chess. An (unqualified-)good act is good for the “terminal purpose”, typically called “value” (the formal definition of is much *much* more complicated than winning at chess).

      • Troy says:

        By calling it the “terminal purpose,” do you mean to imply that all other ends to which goodness-of-a-kinds contribute are subordinate to it?

  28. Troy says:

    (In best TV episode trailer voice)
    Last time on Arguments Against Consequentialism

    Consequentialist moral theories hold that we ought to maximize the good. In our first episode, I defended the “infinitarian challenge” to aggregative consequentialism. For a recap, see this post. In our second episode, I advanced an Argument from Counterexamples. Both proponents and opponents of consequentialism agree that consequentialism is subject to numerous apparent counterexamples. Upthread people are discussing The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas as an alleged counterexample to some forms of consequentialism. (I haven’t read the story, and so can’t comment on it.) Here is a counterexample I mentioned in my post last time:

    An anthropologist is studying a tribe that does not want to be photographed. A member of that tribe agrees to assist him in his work on the condition that the anthropologist never photograph him; the anthropologist promises that he will not. One day, the anthropologist’s assistant is asleep. A photograph of him would significantly contribute to anthropological knowledge, and the assistant need never know. Nevertheless, [it seems that] the anthropologist ought not photograph his assistant.

    This counterexample takes a familiar form. It presents us a case C in which consequentialism says we ought perform action A. If the case is well-designed, it intuitively seems to most of us that we ought not perform A. So, we have a case where consequentialism renders a verdict that seems false.

    As I said up-front, counterexamples are not necessarily fatal to a philosophical theory. There is often good reason to either reject our intuition or to reject the claim that consequentialism really tells us to perform A in a case. For instance, perhaps bad long-term consequences will result from A that are being overlooked in the presentation of the example. Or, perhaps our intuitions about this case are being illegitimately influenced by morally irrelevant factors.

    I argued, however, that the counterexamples to consequentialism are so numerous and varied that these strategies are unlikely to succeed in all cases. In addition to the above Anthropologist case, I presented four other (well-known) counterexamples that describe very different cases and very different actions. I contended that because the cases are very different, it is unlikely that an explanation for why one of them fails will work for the other ones. Inasmuch as consequentialism has to offer a different error theory for each counterexample, it looks like a degenerating research program that increasingly has to rely on ad hoc modifications or explanations. Compare: we get a bunch of experimental results apparently inconsistent with our best theory of physics. One or two inconsistent results we can plausibly blame on bad experimental set-up or the falsehood of some auxiliary assumption used to derive the predictions. Five inconsistent results done in very different settings with very different equipment is much harder to explain away.

    Some of the subsequent discussion focused on the realism of one of the counterexamples (the Organ Harvesting case). I noted there that I did try to pick realistic counterexamples (with the honorable exception of the Utility Monster), because with respect to outlandish ones it’s more plausible to claim that we’re overlooking some consequences or that our moral intuitions are unreliable. The Anthropologist case above is very realistic, inasmuch as it’s an actual historical example taken from an anthropologist’s journal. (He did not photograph his assistant, for those curious.)

    By far the most popular response, though, was a wholesale skepticism about the evidential value of moral intuitions: roughly that what it intuitively seems to us we ought to do in a scenario is not a reliable guide to what we actually ought to do. Several people backed up this response by appeal to the claim that evolution would be unlikely to select for reliable moral intuitions.

    Of course I agree that moral intuitions are not infallible; I was explicit about that in setting up my argument. The counterexamples still have some bite provided that moral intuition is not completely worthless.

    Some respondents last thread argued that moral intuition is indeed completely worthless. This seems a problematic line to me for a number of reasons, some of which came out in discussion. Here are two:

    (1) This response is dangerous for the consequentialist to give, because the consequentialist is also committed to the truth of positive moral claims, e.g., one ought to maximize the good. These claims, or premises from which they are derived, will also be based on intuition – e.g., the intuition that I ought not count one person’s happiness as worth more than another’s. So if moral intuition is completely worthless, then our reasons for believing consequentialism are also undermined.*

    (2) More generally, evolutionary debunking arguments seem just as effective (if they are effective at all) against intuitions in domains outside of morality. For example, why would evolution select for reliable intuitions about what we ought prudentially to do, or when E is a good explanation of H? These questions seem no less mysterious than why evolution would select us to have true moral intuitions. But most skeptics about moral intuitions do not seem to be equally skeptical about, say, the possibility of scientific explanation or whether we ought to take the necessary means to our ends.

    ______________
    *Several respondents seemed to endorse some flavor of moral anti-realism, and thought that if there are no moral facts, consequentialism somehow followed. This view is common, but it baffles me. Inasmuch as consequentialism is a theory about what one ought to do (or what is morally right), it’s inconsistent with a view that says that there is nothing one ought to do (or that nothing is morally right).

    (Proponents of this view will no doubt feel that this reconstruction of it is not charitable. They are welcome to explain to me what is wrong with my reasoning here.)

    • Peter says:

      One thing that came up somewhere in between: I mentioned rule consequentialism and in particular acceptance-based rule consequentialism – see sections 6.2 and 6.3 of the link above. Basically: you follow those rules which, if generally accepted, will maximise utility. Arguably (Parfit argues for this at great length in On What Matters) you end up with an interesting form of Kantianism.

      I think this allows us to dispose of many counterexamples. Things that involve breaches of trust are the most obvious case. The “general acceptance” thing means you have to assume people know about the rules and react accordingly, so if you have an organ-stealing-is-OK rule then you get fewer people in hospitals – in extremis, you get no-one to steal organs from. I’d also argue that this allows us to dispose of strange hypotheticals (like the utility monster) – they never come up in the real world, so we never pay for the consequences of following the rules, but we still pay or benefit for having them. I think we can dispose of the get-yourself-the-death-penalty one too – if people know that some people will be getting themselves caught in that manner, then people would figure out that executions were of do-gooders getting themselves caught for show and that would destroy the deterrent effect.

      If-I-don’t-do-it-someone-else-will – hmm, I’m not sure how to handle those, although I think that I’m looking in the right area.

      There’s a general problem with act consequentialism in that it sort-of assumes that at some moment some person is free to choose between alternatives, but that once that decision has been taken everything proceeds deterministically or stochastically. If one believes in strongly libertarian free will then consequentialism seems ill-defined – I take an action, other people could react to it in a variety of ways, there’s no well-defined probability distribution for their reactions, so no well-defined expected utility. If one believes in hard determinism, then the best action someone can take is also the worst action someone can take due to being the only action someone can take – there are no dilemmas due to there being no “di”. We don’t need to be so extreme though – one can meaningfully talk about a chess computer considering multiple possible courses of action and picking one with the best expected results, even if the computer is deterministic, and thus there being only one move it could possibly make. Anyway, this is now getting messed up with the free will debate and this comment box is too small.

      As I noted a few threads back, one disadvantage of these acceptance-based consequentialisms is that you can’t use my nifty trick with limits to evade the problem of infinite utility in an infinite universe. Not without some clever modification, at any rate.

      • Troy says:

        Thanks Peter. I think you’re right that rule consequentialism can avoid a lot of counterexamples. My main worry about rule consequentialism is that it’s unclear how to formulate the relevant rules (a similar problem to the one that arises in Kantian ethics for how to formulate maxims). For example, what’s the reference class for “general acceptance” of the rules maximizing utility? Once we’ve fixed a reference class, how do we fill out the thought experiment of their accepting the rules? Keep all their other beliefs and desires the same? Give them ones more consonant with their new acceptance?

        That said, well, ethics is hard, and my own preferred ethical views may well end up facing similar objections.

        • Peter says:

          Rule formulation: I think there might be something interesting to do with induction, learning etc. and the possibility of taking any sort of action in a world of unknowns. Say I take some course of action, and there are some consequences, good or bad. How can I learn from those consequences? I can never take exactly the same action twice, so how do I generalise? How do I decide which other actions count as the same sort of action, so that I can do them again or not?

          I’m degenerating into vague noodling so I may as well go the whole hog. Hindsight utilitarianism: take those actions which in the past have maximised utility. By “take actions” I include “use various decision procedures, including those that employ various heuristics for foresight”. So if I needed to win at chess, I could use a chess computer program that had done well in the past, this avoids any need for “true foresight”, even though the computer “looks ahead”. I don’t know of anyone pursuing this line of thought as such but I’d be surprised if I was alone here.

      • Jiro says:

        I’ve seen utility monsters come up in actual situations when discussing whether you should avoid doing things that make people offended. Since the person offended gains more utility from you stopping than from you doing whatever it is that offended them, you have to stop, and the more things offend them, the greater your obligation.

        • Peter says:

          They’re not very monstrous, not eating-people levels of monstrosity. Furthermore, with hypothetical utility monsters you can stipulate that utility monsters are immutably so. With the real world, there’s at least the possibility that people can be persuaded out of monstrous ways, or persuaded not to get into them in the first place.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Obvious countermeasure to that: find the annoyance of utility monsters highly pleasurable.

      • Paul Torek says:

        Peter,
        This being the internet, I’m going to take your brilliant and well argued post, and pick the one nit I see in it.

        There’s a general problem with act consequentialism in that it sort-of assumes that at some moment some person is free to choose between alternatives, but that once that decision has been taken everything proceeds deterministically or stochastically.

        I don’t see a problem there. Cause I’m a compatibilist. Everything proceeds stochastically or deterministically all the time; choices are just a special case within that, involving agents, beliefs, desires, and modeled actions.

  29. onyomi says:

    So can we do social justice stuff here in the meantime?

    • Dude Man says:

      Everyone else seems to be doing it, so go ahead.

      • JRM says:

        I considered after posting if the Hong Yen Chang story was too race-y for this. I note that there is no stated rule against R&G this time.

        But I sense that if we end up in SJW v. MRA, it will all go away. So maybe let’s try not to urinate on the floor of our kindly host’s place?

        • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

          >SJW v. MRA

          But MRAs are SJW.

          • Sigivald says:

            That’s what’s so awesome about Social Justice!

            It can mean any preferred outcome.

          • Nornagest says:

            Some, maybe even most, strains of MRAs adopt a broad selection of the norms and language of SJ, either inverted with regard to gender or with more of an emphasis on egalitarianism. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m uncomfortable with MRA as a movement, since I think those modes of analysis are deeply flawed and counterproductive no matter who they’re pointed at.

            But they’re definitely not a central example of SJ: it’s pretty hard, for example, to find an MRA for whom privilege dynamics are central to their politics as opposed to an occasional one-off gotcha.

      • onyomi says:

        Recently I got an e-mail from my school about the “abominable” events at Oklahoma U. I am certainly against racist chants, but don’t you think “abominable” is a bit of a strong word for it? Like, if teenagers chanting racial slurs is “abominable,” what word do we have left for genocide?

        I also have an ex-military friend who is very bothered by the recent use of the word “trigger warning” to mean, basically, “anything that makes some people feel uncomfortable,” since, to him, it means, “things that could send a PTSD sufferer into a psychotic, potentially dangerous state.”

        On the one hand, I think it’s good we’re becoming a more sensitive society, and that the bar for being kind and accepting is, in some sense, constantly being raised. I also like being warned while browsing on the internet that I may be about to encounter something I don’t want to see (though for me, it’s generally just extreme gore and/or scatological stuff I really don’t want to see), but when we use words like “trigger warning” and “abominable” for stuff like this, do we not risk belittling more serious suffering, and/or drawing unjustifiable equivalency?

        I see it as part of the “more-tolerant-than-thou” arms race, I guess.

        • blacktrance says:

          Part of the problem is rewarding offense – if someone “wins” by claiming to be triggered or offended and gets to silence their opponents, that gets weaponized very quickly. But if we go too far in the other direction, some people get hurt. The challenge is to separate warning from winning. One suggestion I’ve seen for this is to warn for a seemingly absurd number of things (including social justice) so that no one would be able to get away with saying “It’s triggering, so get rid of it”.

          • onyomi says:

            I do like Scott’s argument that saying “we warned you” is a good way to shut down demands that something be censored altogether, though I think I’d rather a different term be used than one which implies PTSD.

            Speaking of which, I’ve noticed some people on Facebook complaining about their PTSD who I’m pretty sure just mean they’ve had to deal with emotionally abusive parents, etc. I don’t think this is appropriate.

          • blacktrance says:

            I would expect that some people get PTSD from purely emotional abuse, especially when there’s a power imbalance such as the one between parents and children.

          • Irrelevant says:

            I do like Scott’s argument that saying “we warned you” is a good way to shut down demands that something be censored altogether.

            I think Scott’s precisely backwards on that: saying “we warned you” is just a good way of rendering yourself defenseless to attack as a filthy bad person who writes mean things no good person will listen to because they require warnings. That’s a far more dangerous situation than having people demand you be literally censored. We have excellent, legally and culturally enshrined (though still not properly internalized by a remarkable number of people) tools for fighting against demands that things be censored altogether, but far less effective ones for fighting against smear tactics.

        • AFC says:

          On the one hand, I think it’s good we’re becoming a more sensitive society, and that the bar for being kind and accepting is, in some sense, constantly being raised.

          I laughed a bit when I read that. Because it seems so opposite of the truth.

          That is, it seems to me that “trigger warnings” don’t indicate people becoming more kind and sensitive. They indicate people becoming more demanding and quicker to condemnation. Because the function of the trigger warning and similar, in practice, is to provide a reason to heap hateful derision on those who refuse to conform to these demands. To call people fascists and wish death on them, to label them as less than human, as people lacking the common human experience of suffering, as people categorically not worthy of taking up space in a conversation or being heard.

          This I have seen countless times with my own eyes: the very same sensitive souls who put themselves forward as the enlightened perceivers of microaggressions, explicitly telling others to kill themselves.

          I don’t see how any bar is being raised anywhere. Maybe it is. But not where I’ve seen.

        • 123 says:

          Related to social justice and PTSD, I have a little inconsistency to point out that pops up in a lot of *criticism* of social justice. Some self-criticism as a break from patting ourselves on the back for noticing how awful those awful sjw’s are.

          Tick the statements that you agree with:
          [ ] “The social justice movement is running a terrible internet hate machine that ruins its targets’ lives and often causes lasting mental damage.”
          [ ] “Saying that you got PTSD from an argument over the internet is ridiculous, manipulative oversensitivity”

          You can’t tick both. But I get the impression that your average sj-critical person would tick both. Maybe not if they were presented one after the other, but you know what I mean. What’s up with that? Personally, I don’t tick the second one.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            If the only fallout from internet activism was mental damage, we would have been better off. As it is, people keep getting fired for wrongthink completely irrelevant to their work.

            Until the hate machine ceases escalating argument to destroying people’s careers, checking both boxes is indeed very much permissible.

          • Irrelevant says:

            You can’t tick both.

            Sure I could. I can gloss over the “mental” in box 1 as a trivial inconsistency vs. what I actually think and imply a “nearly always” into box 2 and check them both via slight subconscious mental editing. And if I’m gotcha’d on my oversight, I can additionally bright-line between “the internet caused me mental distress” and “the internet gave me a medically-recognized mental disease.”

            Check-boxes like that test willingness to endorse a person or platform supporting X, not literal word-for-word understanding and endorsement of the statement.

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            I would definitely tick 2, as for 1, I might tick it with a few modifications:
            -The SJ movement, for better or for worse, isn’t running anything, it’s just a variety of groups of people some of which sometimes coordinate to do some awful stuff, and most of the time are just kind of annoying.
            -It really isn’t an issue until it seeps into RL: I don’t mind the classic SJ circlejerks like ShitRedditSays, We Hunted the Mammoth, etc. But stuff like “Getting Racists Fired” is probably over the line.

          • John Schilling says:

            I can very easily tick both boxes, and the third:

            [ ] “Redefining ‘PTSD’ so broadly as to encompass virtually all forms of persistent or recurring mental distress is a disservice to actual PTSD sufferers and to mental health professionals who have to deal with a broad range of mental distress in their patients, and does not promote healthy public discourse.

          • Peter says:

            What John Schilling said. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression, I can see how all these would interact interestingly with the internet hate machine in a variety of ways[1], even if no PTSD _as such_ is involved. In the case of GAD, I’ve got some experience of this from the inside, although there’s lots of other stuff going on too, so apportioning blame, and working out what’s what is difficult.

            [1] In one direction, the internet could plausibly cause, prolong, intensify and/or exacerbate the symptoms of these conditions, in the other direction… I’m less sure of the details but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some interesting feedback loops.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            Are you asserting that all lasting mental damage is PTSD, and that the social justice movement only causes lasting mental damage from arguments over the internet? Because I disagree with both of those, and I don’t see how there’s a contradiction without them…

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, I agree with John Schilling and Inferential Distance. Not all mental trauma or distress is PTSD. I, for one, was fairly seriously bullied as a child, and have previously been diagnosed with: OCD, depression, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and bipolar ii disorder.

            No mental health professional has ever diagnosed me with PTSD, nor do I believe I have ever suffered from PTSD.

          • Rauwyn says:

            So I think that (at least some) social justice people acknowledge that PTSD isn’t the only harmful thing, and a “trigger” can be related to eating disorders, anxiety, depression… if seeing a trigger will make you suicidal or unable to be productive for the next hour or relapse into self-harm or, well, hopefully you get the idea, then that’s a trigger too. This also ties into an idea that people can be triggered by all kinds of things, even food being a common one (for people with especially bad eating disorders), and so triggering material is obviously *not* evil. Unfortunately that last part seems to be somewhat controversial.

          • AFC says:

            I’d tick them both, but not in the sense that you imagine (at least for the first one).

            For the first one, in my view, the major lasting mental damage that SJWs do is to make other people SJWs — to impose cultish conformity on others — to make them incapable of simple moral distinctions and incapable of seeing evidence for what it is, to cause people to interpret events through a received ideology on their own terms, to cause people to divide the world and their views of people into good/evil (often extremely poorly, so that certain people are allowed to get away with some very bad behavior that hurts a demonized other) and to make people incapable of understanding the true nature of social power. (None of that has to do with PTSD.)

            As far as the damage that SJWs do to non-SJWs on a personal level, I don’t think that is (usually) as significant, nor do I think it is primarily “mental.” The SJWs sow conflict and break apart or strain relationships; they do damage to other people’s social standing and reputation; etc.. Perhaps, through these indirect means, PTSD could result, but I’m fairly skeptical; it certainly couldn’t be common. Yet, the social/reputation/material damage is a real thing all the same.

            The most severe kind of damage though is political. At least to the extent that SJW analysis displaces more realistic political analysis, it hurts everyone by generating bad policy.

  30. shemtealeaf says:

    Does anyone here have any experience with or opinions on the efficacy of calibration training?

    I’ve tried some of the calibration games that are available online, and they didn’t seem like they were training me to do anything with real-world applicability. I got a little bit better at numerically representing my confidence level on multiple-choice trivia questions, but that doesn’t seem like a particularly useful skill.

    Scott has suggested that calibration training is easy and useful, so I’m wondering if I’m missing something about how it’s supposed to work. Perhaps I’m just not finding the best resources for it?

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I found calibration games of type “give your 50% and 95% confidence intervals for the number of landlocked countries in the world” to be moderately useful, since they helped me notice that my intuitive feeling of certainty for “well the number MUST be within the 95% range now” was often wrong. That transferred to the more general rule of “well once I have this particular feeling of being really certain, if I double the range then getting it right might actually be as probable as I naively feel”, which in turned transferred to the more general rule of “my intuitive feelings of certainty are pretty unreliable”.

      OTOH I can’t recall any specific real-life situation in which this would have been helpful, and I’m not sure I’m remembering the “double the range” heuristic right (it could have been some other number) since it’s been a while that I did calibration games. So take that with a grain of salt.

    • kz says:

      This comes up on LW semi-regularly, for example see here. A bunch of people seem to agree that it probably doesn’t generalize well and isn’t generally useful anyway. At best it could confront people with their overconfidence and help them internalize things like “some of my beliefs are probably wrong, I should be more humble/careful.”

      But there are some domains where it might be more directly useful, like time tracking / project management (mentioned in the comments at that link) or maybe standardized testing (if you’re in that phase of your life — although “guess no matter what” is usually already the right strategy).

      Also you can make money on some prediction markets with little more than good calibration in the question domains, although training that up might not be the most practical way to do so, if training is even possible.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ve seen studies saying they have good internal success (ie you’ll learn to play calibration games better).

      I wouldn’t expect them to cause greater external success (ie make you rich) directly, unless you’re a professional investor or something, and I assume professional investors already have domain-specific good calibration.

      But I would expect that, if you train yourself to think about questions in terms of probabilities (like: “I think there’s only a 0.005% that alien abduction story was real”) then you’ll know where you stand more in terms of belief, and it will be easier for you to communicate with and share opinions with other people who work that way.

      I could also imagine that it could help you make decisions, like “What is the chance that my new business idea works out?”, but I’m not sure.

  31. For an entirely different topic … .

    I think Scott should produce a book, possibly a self-published POD, containing a book’s worth of his best posts. Do others here agree? Anyone want to offer to do the work of selecting posts and converting them to POD (and, probably, eBook) format, subject to Scott’s approval?

    Why should all of this entertaining and enlightening writing be limited to people who read blogs, when the cost of making it available to the rest of the world is tiny?

    • Aleph says:

      Strongly agree.

      (Hey, if you’re not gonna implement comment voting, then you’re gonna get low-content comments like this.)

    • Anthony says:

      First – there’s two books: a psychiatry book and a more general book. (Maybe three, if he wants to do an anti-SJW book.)

      Second – a lot of the value of the blog posts is in the comments, and while just picking out the best three to five comments on each post would make for a pretty good book, now you’re looking at tracking down permissions. And it’s not the same three to five commenters making the best comments on each post.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I was going to say the same thing: much of the value is in the comments as well as the original posts.

        In fact, much of the value I see here is in *being able to comment on posts, and get feedback*. I can’t converse with a book.

        OTOH, I do acknowledge the value of an SSC book, say, for drawing more awareness to the blog.

      • not_all_environmentalsts says:

        Second – a lot of the value of the blog posts is in the comments, and while just picking out the best three to five comments on each post would make for a pretty good book, now you’re looking at tracking down permissions.

        I think a good number of permissions could be got relatively easily, by making a new top level blog entry something like: “May I put your comments in my book? //// Sign up here” and making it apply to any and all comments the poster has ever made.

        (Not that I’m recommending the book project itself.)

    • caryatis says:

      How big is the audience of people who read e-books but refuse to read blogs?

    • Liskantope says:

      I have a feeling this would never pan out. Apart from anything else, the majority of readers might not agree with Scott on which posts have been his best posts, or which ones he should want to be most visibly associated with.

      This reminds me that I’m curious as to which SSC posts got the most votes in the recent survey of SSC readers.

      • Dude Man says:

        FWIW, Scott wrote something up highlighting certain posts as his “top posts”. I assume these posts are the ones he wants to be associated with the most, but it appears that the most recent post mentioned is from August 2014.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Putting together some epubs or the like seems low-effort enough that someone who was particularly interested could do it, but for wider dissemination, collections of essays aren’t really popular in the wider world, are they? There’s sites like The Atlantic or whatever, but is there really a place other than threads on Reddit and occasional links from higher-profile bloggers to disseminate this stuff?

  32. Wulfrickson says:

    The Egyptian military government has recently announced a plan to move the national capital from Cairo to a new planned city in the desert. That link is from Alon Levy, who is (in my estimation) the best English-language writer on urban planning, and he argues that this decision is principally motivated by the government’s fear of popular revolt and would only be possible in authoritarian regimes. In a democratic system, Levy claims, the funds that Egypt is spending on a planned capital for the government elite (about a year’s GDP) would instead be spent on badly needed improvements to the current capital at vastly greater public benefit.

    In Levy’s telling, this seems like a clear example of the superiority of democratic to authoritarian systems, pace the neoreactionaries, which is why I offer it up for discussion here.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Authoritarian regimes spending to increase their own grip on power instead of the good of the country occurs frequently enough. Good authoritarian regimes require the assurance that they won’t be suddenly disposed and killed to mitigate against that.

      Democratic regimes are less vulnerable to this (because the losers of elections are generally not executed), but it can occur, especially in countries that are unstable and have weak democracy.

    • Didn’t Brazil do something similar (building a new national capital far from major population centers) while it was a democracy?

      It was done in a tremendous hurry, too, because of the fear that the next elected president would abandon the project.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Brasília

        However it was apparently a campaign promise (moving the capital to a new, more central location was apparently a constitutional provision). (warning- source wiki)

      • John Schilling says:

        Do you really need to look as far as Brazil to find a democratic government voting to establish a national capital in a purpose-built city on a greenfield site? Really?

      • Cauê says:

        (…) he argues that this decision is principally motivated by the government’s fear of popular revolt and would only be possible in authoritarian regimes.

        It’s conventional wisdom in Brazil that this was an important motive for building Brasília. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but I do think it works.

        • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

          Given how awful traffic is in Rio, without it being the capital, I’m glad they changed it, for whatever motives they might’ve had.

    • Deiseach says:

      This wouldn’t be the first time in Egyptian history such a plan was implemented. I get the impression that Cairo is very much over-developed in that it keeps expanding in a haphazard, unplanned, and chaotic way, and that it’s very much over-populated.

      The idea of a planned city for moving out at least some of the administrative/business infrastructure, and encouraging people to follow the work there, does not necessarily have to be an authoritarian scheme for preventing or quashing popular revolt. In practice, it may of course turn out like that, but it’s easy for a capital city to unbalance the rest of the country (we suffer from that in Ireland, where Dublin is the largest population centre and everything as a result is tilted towards a small section of the east coast).

    • Wulfrickson says:

      Whoops, link is broken. Should be here.

    • darxan says:

      Maybe it’s an Egyptian thing? Every thousand or so years someone founds a city and makes it the new capital (Alexandria 332 BC ,Cairo 969 AD ).

      • Tom Womack says:

        The proposed new capital is located just outside the Second Greater Cairo Ring-Road; this feels more like a bigger version of the Stratford regeneration prompted by the Olympic Games, or the way somewhere like Istanbul has a big pile of skyscrapers well to the east of the ancient centre on the Golden Horn, than like Brasilia or Canberra.

        Maybe the right comparison is Malaysia, who built a new administrative capital Putrajaya located 25km south of the original capital because the middle of Kuala Lumpur was hopelessly congested.

        I visited Putrajaya in 2006, and it felt like the failure mode in Sim City where you’d used an infinite-money cheat, built lots and lots of landmark buildings, and not actually managed to arrange things such that citizens turn up among your landmark buildings; there were three consecutive showpiece bridges.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Wait, if you built a bunch of skycrapers EAST of Constantinople’s old city center wouldn’t you be building ’em in the middle of the Bosporus, or in Asia?

          • Tom Womack says:

            Yes, the bunch of skyscrapers is in Asia: Istanbul is a bicontinental city, it extends for thirty kilometres along the coast east of the Bosphorus.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Well, huh, TIL.

            For some reason my mental model of Istanbul always spread the city along the European coastline and never really into Asia, even though with today’s bridges crossing the straits is really quite trivial.

            In my defense, I know very little about the history of the City after May 29, 1453.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      My inner reactionary responds as follows:

      Governments’ first incentive is to stay in power. In a dictatorship, you stay in power by doing things like moving your capital somewhere far from rebellious citizens. In a democracy, you stay in power by doing things like starting programs that make people want to vote for you.

      If we say that ideally a government should be focusing all its energy on improving the country, then both of these activities are potential wastes. Both incur side benefits – the new capital might be a national morale boost and relieve housing congestion, and the programs that convince people to vote for you might be useful programs – but they both incur opportunity costs relative to the optimal program you’d choose if your hands weren’t tied.

      Egypt’s new capital will cost something like $50 billion. In the US, corn ethanol subsidies alone cost $5 billion per year, because candidates want to win in Iowa. Give the corn subsidies a decade, and they’re worse than the Egyptian capital. And at least the Egyptians get some pretty buildings out of it. And only have to do it once.

      (on the one hand, the comparison is unfair because the US is way bigger than Egypt; on the other, it is unfair the opposite direction because the US also funds programs other than those subsidizing corn)

      • AFC says:

        I’m extremely skeptical of the premise that farm subsidies are simply wasted money.

        For one thing, they directly lower the price of food (and ethanol, in the case of corn). For another, they promote international food independence, which is a strategic benefit. And for yet another, they provide a buffer of overproduction, so that if there is a bad year agriculturally, it’s less likely to result in human disaster. (Pure market forces run a risk of creating dangerously-high levels of efficiency, wherein there is no redundancy, and everything lies on the verge of collapse.)

        Crops are still subject to price competition, so farm owners can’t just pocket the subsidies; they have to use them to lower prices. We should expect the overall effect of farm subsidies to be that the economy is “distorted” in such a way that slightly more crops are produced and there is slightly more investment in agriculture; meanwhile slightly less of other things are produced, and there is slightly less investment elsewhere.

        That’s nothing like the same thing as destroying the equivalent value of the amount of the subsidies.

        • Matthew says:

          And for yet another, they provide a buffer of overproduction, so that if there is a bad year agriculturally, it’s less likely to result in human disaster.

          That’s not an accurate description of how farm subsidies work. Subsidies are also paid to get farmers to not produce crops in quantities that would drive the price down too far.

          • AFC says:

            It’s an accurate general description of the majority of farm subsidy spending, historically in aggregate, and currently. The type of program you’re talking about is not.

            USA farm subsidies have changed form quite a bit in the last 100 years. I know a little bit about it, and even what I know, is too much to get into here.

            But the bottom line is that:

            1. USA farm subsidies lower crop prices to below global market rates. They don’t raise them above the global market rate.

            2. The bulk of historical farm subsidy spending is in the form of price support programs of one form or another.

            3. The type of spending you’re talking about was abolished (entirely?) in 2014.

            4. 1996-2014 was strange.

            5. Something something crop insurance subsidies too.

            Here’s an article that (in part) describes how USA farm subsidies worked before 1996:

            http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc1/AgriculturalPriceSupports.html

            Note it also links here:

            http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/AgriculturalSubsidyPrograms.html

            (Also note that the source is critical of these supports.)

    • Secretariat says:

      Ohio moved its capital several times. It moved from Chillicothe to Zansville and back. Then they finally moved to the greenfield site of Columbus. The Columbus site is more centrally located than the previous capitals. There are many criticisms of Ohio but it’s usually not considered authoritarian.

      • Michigan also moved its state capital to a greenfield site in 1847. Part of the rationale was that Detroit, being right across the river from Canada, was vulnerable to foreign attackers.

  33. pkinsky says:

    RE: environmentalism as religion.

    I spent this weekend camping in the redwood forests north of the Bay Area, and I think I now understand, at some instinctual level, the impulse to worship nature. This is all very crunchy-granola, hippy, etc, but a millennia-old grove of redwoods is more impressive than any cathedral I have ever seen. Continuing with this metaphor, the monks of environmentalism are not pro-AGW media figures, but camp wardens who volunteer to spend seasons or years tending to the park, spreading the gospel of leave-no-trace, pack-out-your-trash, and put-out-your-fires. The saints are people like Jadav Payeng and Colonel Armstrong, not Al Gore.

    This is a bit rambling, so let me close with this: before you sneeringly dismiss environmentalism as a suburban religion, spend time in one of its cathedrals. Hike a redwood forest. Dive the Great Barrier Reef. The impulse to biosphere-worship is easy to understand, in such a setting.

    • I don’t think you need distant cathedrals to make the argument.

      I have, by Bay Area standards, a large yard. After about nineteen years of residence it is mostly filled with fruit trees I have planted. There would be more of them were it not for the existence of a very large live oak shading one corner of the yard. If I woke one morning to find that the tree had mysteriously vanished I would be happy, since it would open up space for a few more trees I would like to plant, as well as permitting more sunshine for some of the ones already there.

      I could, at a tolerable cost, hire someone to cut the tree down and take it away, but I haven’t. The reason is that it is a large living thing, and destroying it because its existence is mildly inconvenient feels wrong to me.

      • Anon says:

        Also it’s often illegal to kill old-growth oaks in the Bay without good reason, I understand.

        • Nornagest says:

          Depends on the city and the species, but most cities in the Bay Area require permits to cut native trees above a certain trunk diameter, and almost all have an interest in one species of live oak. Berkeley, unusually, seems to be one of the less restrictive towns — it protects only Q. agrifolia and only above a trunk diameter of eighteen inches (which is uncommon — they’re slow-growing trees).

    • Anon says:

      Relatedly, it has the property of being an automatic community, like religions. It’s amazing how readily backpackers can start chatting with each other, and it’s my impression that a lot of the reason that they respect “leave no trace” so much is that they consider it to be something they are doing for their community, rather than because it is required of them.

      • not_all_environmentalists says:

        it’s my impression that a lot of the reason that [backcampers] respect “leave no trace” so much is that they consider it to be something they are doing for their community, rather than because it is required of them.

        Yes. And it can be a community fetish, if ‘no trace’ is taken literally. The 80% result of no actual harm done to the local ecosystem (no plastic, buried or not, no plants removed, etc) is pretty easy and obvious. But when taken to actually no tiniest clue that someone was there — it takes a lot of attention away from activism (or even looking up at the trees).

        So there’s purity and ritual too. Hm, trouble is, arguing for my own (extreme enviro) side is more complicated.

    • not_all_environmentalists says:

      This is all very crunchy-granola, hippy, etc, but a millennia-old grove of redwoods is more impressive than any cathedral I have ever seen. Continuing with this metaphor, the monks of environmentalism are not pro-AGW media figures, but camp wardens who volunteer to spend seasons or years tending to the park, spreading the gospel of leave-no-trace, pack-out-your-trash, and put-out-your-fires. The saints are people like Jadav Payeng and Colonel Armstrong, not Al Gore.

      Al Gore is John the Baptist, martyred for being a voice crying for the wilderness.

  34. Vamair says:

    I’ve got a question about utilitarianism. If modern people can have preferences about future after their death, and their preferences matter, wouldn’t modern utility calculations be ovewhelmed by preferences of people already dead? What about future people that have preferences about the past? Should we devote resources to finding out these preferences? How much?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I don’t have anything to say about this, but I do have some relevant links!

      Robin Hanson: Ancestor Worship is Efficient
      Gwern: The Narrowing Circle

      • Vamair says:

        Thank you for the links.
        My problem is that it seems that preference utilitarianism either:
        a) is wrong;
        b) is dynamically inconsistent as the utility of the same act depends on who’s alive at the time of calculation even in the state of perfect knowledge;
        c) only cares about the brain states, and not about reality;
        d) requires us to care about the preferences of dead people and future people.

        I’d bite the last point, but that may change the way I think about moral dillemas. Maybe a lot. While needs of future people are somehow intuitive, the idea that we should care a lot about the preferences of the dead intuitively sounds more like ancestor-worship and less like normal utilitarianism. Is it a controversial view, a common one I’ve missed or a one that was disproved long ago?

        • mayleaf says:

          Choice (b) is the generally accepted utilitarian view. So, for example, the immorality of chopping down a particular tree depends on the number of currently living people who value the tree’s continued existence.

          Why would utilitarianism care about the preferences of dead people? They’re not alive/conscious/able to derive utility from having their preferences fulfilled, so fulfilling their preferences wouldn’t increase net utility.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Why would utilitarianism care about the preferences of dead people?

            Well, it is one way to stop smothering the poor in their sleep being an acceptable means of suffering reduction.

          • Irrelevant offers one way of getting utilitarianism to be opposed to smothering the poor in their sleep.

            If “the poor” really have a negative utility flow, then they would presumably be happy to take some painless lethal pill. If they don’t, then smothering them may raise average utility but it reduces total utility.

            This is essentially the argument Mead offered long ago for why average utility makes no sense as a moral criterion. His version was a world with two cities, A and B, both filled with happy people. People A were a little happier than in B, and the cities had no interaction. Would you really say that a catastrophe that painlessly wiped out the population of B was a good thing?

            That gets one into the (hard) problem of how to compare futures with different numbers of people in them. I have an old article on the subject, but unfortunately it is not, so far as I know, webbed anywhere. although I did find an abstract at: http://www.popline.org/node/394240.

            “What Does Optimum Population Mean?” Research in Population Economics, Vol. III (1981), Eds. Simon and Lindert.

          • blacktrance says:

            Would you really say that a catastrophe that painlessly wiped out the population of B was a good thing?

            One way out of this that seems reasonable to me is to treat death as massively negative-utility event (even if it’s painless) rather than as just the disappearance of the population of B as if they had never existed. In this view, creating a person whose utility is at all points equal to the world’s average utility and then killing them painlessly is worse than not creating them in the first place, but the other desirable aspects of average utilitarianism wrt population ethics are preserved.

          • not_all_environmentalsts says:

            two cities, A and B, both filled with happy people. People A were a little happier than in B, and the cities had no interaction. Would you really say that a catastrophe that painlessly wiped out the population of B was a good thing?

            I feel like I’m writing some sort of D&D rules here, but I’d set a threshold floor on “happy people”. If all the people in a group really feel happy, say 75% of the time, then they qualify as “happy people”. With City A at 80% and City B at 75%, you add those people together and add up their total happy moments — don’t average. If City C is at 70% (I’m being draconian here) they are below threshold, so ignore them. Don’t kill them or be mean to them, but put your resources into improving A and B (or starting a B1 in hopes of it doing well as B does. Etc etc.).

          • Irrelevant says:

            Blacktrance: That appears to be equivalent to the system where you incorporate the hypothetical preferences of the unliving, except in edge cases, and in the edge cases seems less desirable. You’re giving massive point deductions in situations like assisted suicide (which you should expect to be a continuing issue in any society which has yet to cure aging and dementia) and deaths from basejumping (where, while death was undesired, a remarkably high risk of it was) and, since your death=bad equation isn’t preference-based, you need to special-case abortion. Since we appear to be speaking in the morality-for-AI sense, preference utilitarianism modified by hypothetical preference extrapolation seems much better than preference utilitarianism modified by some ad hoc large penalty for deaths. Doubly so because accurate hypothetical preference extrapolation is already a necessary part of the system for working with people who are actually alive.

          • Vamair says:

            I’ve seen more people arguing for choice c) than b). Dynamic inconstistence feels like a damning flaw, as the same action in y. 2020 may be moral if we count utility in 2000, immoral if we count it in 2010 and moral again if we count it in 2020, even if we know everything about actual reality. If we want to do what’s ethical, should we get ready for this action in 2000, than thoroughly undermine our own plans in 2010, than do it anyway in 2020? Even when we know we’re going through the whole routine? I’d be more comfortable even with the idea that people aren’t allowed to have preferences about the time after their death, or about anything other than the state of their minds, but that’s patently wrong. A lot of people sacrificed their lifes exactly because they had preferences for what happens after their deaths.

            As far as I understand, the personal utility is a function of (mind, timespace Universe state), that returns a real number – and these numbers are aggregated somehow for all the minds who ever exist. In that case fulfilling the preferences of the dead actually increases net utility. Preferences shouldn’t nessesarily have any component to limit the utility to the period when the mind is alive, even though most people care more about that period – as they care more about things they actually interact with. Actually the time-independent utility is well-supported by acausual trade between moral agents, when the people in the past care about the preferences of the people in the future, and the people in the future care about the preferences of the people in the past, so they can both escape some of the Prisoner-Dilemma-like situations.

            A fictional idea I’d like someone to use – a common ability to put a powerful curse of bad luck on any action. Like “the one who cuts this tree down will be cursed”, when the curse is only powered up when the person who has put it there dies. A person has only some energy for the curse, but may distribute it however they want (for N smaller curses, for example) and redistribute it anytime while alive. Each curse works just once (you may put N smaller curses on the same action if you want it to work more than once).

          • blacktrance says:

            Irrelevant:
            By “death” I meant “unwanted death”, so it’s still preference-based. Thus, euthanasia is fine, as are the deaths of people who are suffering so much that they prefer to die. As for abortion, I don’t think it needs to be special-cased because it happens before the person is brought into the world, so it’s not like creating someone and then killing them.

          • Irrelevant says:

            By “death” I meant “unwanted death”, so it’s still preference-based.

            Then how is your view different from incorporating the hypothetical preferences of the unliving?

          • blacktrance says:

            Because their preferences matter in determining whether they should die, but once they’re dead, their preferences regarding anything else cease to matter.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Alright. That seems contradictory. Tell me if I’m missing something:

            You’ve rejected giving weight to the general preferences of the dead because those preferences are fictional.

            You’ve rejected preference-agnostic condemnation of death as wrong because preferences regarding death are not singularly distinguishable from other categories of preference.

            You’ve endorsed giving weight to the preferences of the dead regarding their deaths because ???

            This appears to be a “choose two” situation.

          • blacktrance says:

            I’m not giving weight to the preferences of the dead regarding their deaths, I’m giving weight to the preferences of the living, who prefer not to die. The living generally prefer not to die, so death is considered a highly negative-utility event even if it’s painless. But once they’re dead, their preferences no longer matter.

  35. Sigivald says:

    I am disappointed at the lack of Lovecraft displayed in this thread.

    A lead-in like that, and nothing?

    • Jordan D. says:

      The Lovecraft replies are in this thread, yet ye see them not!

    • John Schilling says:

      We’ve got Social Justice, Utility Monsters, and Omelas in this discussion already. Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and Azathoth are just sitting back and laughing.

      • Nornagest says:

        I know what Cthulhu and Azathoth are, but what’s Nyarlathotep in this analogy — other than the Black Pharaoh, the Haunter of the Dark, he of a thousand masks, and so forth? Our Lovecraftian demon gods are proliferating so fast, I can’t keep track of them.

        • Susebron says:

          Nyarlathotep is (IMO) a better name for Moloch. The Soul and Messenger of Azathoth, the Crawling Chaos (crawling can totally be interpreted as optimization), who likes to torture humanity.

          Also, then you can replace Elua with Nodens, who doesn’t have specific aesthetic connotations.

          • Jordan D. says:

            Eh.

            Nyarlathotep, as I understand it, is perhaps the most motivated of the traditional pantheon of Things which appear throughout the Mythos. It *does* things.

            Moloch, on the other hand, is a uniquely sedantary monster. It’s the big bull statue which sits there, promising you advantage if you’ll just sacrifice your children upon its altar- and once you’ve done it, everyone has to do it and everything is lessened.

            It seems to me that the second image better communicates the fact that the runaway process is not an agent, nor something seperate from the intentionalities of humanity.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Yeah… Nyarlathotep conquers countries, possibly is the one who sunk Cthulhu, and generally acts like a comprehensible agent. He’s just a big not-so-friendly alien dude.

            I think Moloch was just selected for being the most stereotypically evil of the false gods rather than for any specific characteristics of his mythology. If you want symbolically dense entities to play with, try Hastur and Leviathan.

          • Sigivald says:

            I dunno, I stick with pure Lovecraft, where Nyarlathotep is still pretty vague in motivation and action.

            (IIRC more of the “human-like” characteristics were added by Derleth, but it’s been a while since I read Derleth, who I enjoy far less than Lovecraft.)

          • Susebron says:

            Going by pure Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep is only really described in two places*: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and a few of the sonnets**. In the first, Nyarlathotep doesn’t actually do much directly. Quite a bit of manipulating others, and then eventually lying to Randolph Carter, but conquering countries personally does not seem much like Its style, and the only apparent motive is sadism.
            In the sonnets, it’s still pretty vague. Depending on how unified of a story you think they present, and how much you care about similar phrasings between them, Nyarlathotep either appears throughout them or appears only in two. In the sonnet of the same name, Nyarlathotep is presented as a sort of dark herald – the Messenger part of Soul and Messenger – whose appearance signals the end of the world. There’s no real motive or comprehensibility.

            Moloch was selected for the promise: sacrifice your kids and I’ll give you power. This does fit, and perhaps it fits better than Nyarlathotep, but the problem with anthropomorphic personifications is that they get vague as to what they personify. Moloch, by the name, refers only to a part of the concept that it generally gets used to represent. Moloch doesn’t have a canonical nemesis like Nyarlathotep does, which can be viewed either as a positive or a negative. On the one hand, it’s good to point out that there is no natural nemesis. On the other hand, people nevertheless use the concept of Elua, which has a specific aesthetic and values attached to it.

            Jordan D.’s objection is of course valid, and it’s a matter of tradeoffs here as ever. I personally think Nyarlathotep better personifies the concept, but one of the main problems with personifications is that they tend to come out too agent-like.

  36. Deiseach says:

    We’ll be going back to all the old cures our grannies recommended, if this keeps up 🙂

    • HeelBearCub says: