Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

OT23: Thread, White, And Blue

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

1. Comment of the week is queenshulamit on Pope Francis being a tricksy Jesuit

2. I’m interested in switching this blog to a two-sidebar design kind of like Popehat so I can have more links. I can’t do the CSS myself. If anyone thinks they can help, let me know. [EDIT: Already have offers, no more necessary, thanks]

Please steer the open thread away from the five toxic topics that mindkill SSC readers: race, gender, doge, one-tailed t-tests, and cuddling.

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694 Responses to OT23: Thread, White, And Blue

  1. Creutzer says:

    I know this is an open thread and not a dumb question thread, but I’m going to post something of a dumb question nonetheless. I’m somewhat confused with regards to the relation of autism spectrum disorder to social interaction. Now I know that they give rise to dysfunctions in this area, lack of eye contact, difficulty understanding social norms, … but what I wonder is what the emotional side looks like. Do people on the spectrum also experience less desire for social interaction in general and for sharing things with others in particular?

    And is my understanding of the following correct? The ability to recognise emotions in others is impaired, but once they are recognised, empathy (or should this be called sympathy then?) and a concomitant desire to help occur in the normal way?

    • walpolo says:

      I know an autism-spectrum person well. (Closer to Asperger’s than classic autism, I’m told.) She has very strong desires for social connection in the abstract, but doesn’t seem especially motivated to pursue connections in real life. She’s always dreamed of true love, but has never had a boyfriend and only rarely even talks to guys. I think part of it is that social stuff is a bit exhausting for her, and her energy for it runs out rather quickly. But she also seems to like performing publicly (community theater and dancing). Sample size of one here, obviously.

      And yes, she’s very conscientious and wants to help people once she finds out what they want. Indeed, this gets her into a lot of trouble. Bums can just come up to her on the street and she won’t disengage like most people do, because it feels callous and wrong to do so.

      • LTP says:

        That first paragraph sounds more like social anxiety to me than asperger’s (though, the two often, though not always, go together). I fit all the traits in the first paragraph (with the genders flipped) and I have social anxiety, but I’m not on the spectrum.

      • PGD says:

        Yeah, this just sounds like an introvert to me.

        I remember back in the 70s the autism diagnosis was reserved for really profoundly disabled people, kids who were non-verbal or could barely speak and often acted out in ways that made it impossible for them to function in society. Over my lifetime I’ve seen this ‘autism spectrum’ thing spread to cover seemingly everyone who was a geek in high school.

        • US says:

          I’d certainly not dispute that diagnostic creep has taken place – I point this development out myself occasionally – but I’m not sure this (“I’ve seen this ‘autism spectrum’ thing spread to cover seemingly everyone who was a geek in high school”) is a fair characterization. My impression is that that’s still mostly a US phenomenon, to the extent that it’s true (I’m from Denmark, btw.).

          Below a few numbers from the brief outcome review I linked to below:

          “NAS [National Autistic Society] statistics show that only six per cent of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (12% of those with Asperger Syndrome (AS)) in the UK are in full-time employment.”

          “Forty-nine per cent of adults with ASD are still living with their parents.”

          “30% of individuals with autism develop fluent spoken language”.

          Not all of these estimates are based on 2015 data, but they’re not based on data from the 70es either. The employment data are relatively new and they have not improved.

          Sure, a lot more people are diagnosed now (especially in the US) than used to be the case, and less severe cases are presumably now included in the spectrum. But outcomes are not particularly great even among the supposedly ‘high-functioning’ individuals (another example from the comment: “Individuals with Asperger’s are 5.7 times more likely to develop symptoms of depression in comparison to the typically developing population (McHale, Dariotis, & Kauh, 2003; Stewart et al., 2006)”). Writing off the people who are not non-verbal or similarly impaired as ‘just being slightly geeky’ or something along those lines is probably not a good idea, though a case can certainly be made for a less ‘inclusive’ diagnostic framework (especially in the US).

          • LTP says:

            I think there is a phenomena of geeky people who have social anxiety, are socially awkward, and/or highly introverted to self-identify as being on the spectrum without ever seeking formal diagnosis for various reasons, which maybe is what PGD is responding to.

          • US says:

            Right, this interpretation makes a lot of sense given the context of PGD’s comment.

    • 27chaos says:

      Yes, looks correct to me. However, there are some complications. First, people who frequently fail when they attempt to reach out to others sometimes become bitter and hostile. Second, people on the autism spectrum are not easy for parents or peers to socialize into society’s beliefs about morality and altruism.

      There’s nothing intrinsic to autism that causes autistic people to dislike other people, but within any normal societal context you’ll tend to see such results occur anyways. Gene-environment interactions, etc.

      Not a dumb question.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Second, people on the autism spectrum are not easy for parents or peers to socialize into society’s beliefs about morality and altruism.”

        As someone who *might* have AS (50%, I’m sure I could get a diagnosis if I said just the right things), I can say that I’m very attuned to issues of morality and altruism*. Reading the first-person accounts of people who are Actually Autistic would, I think, confirm this.

        *Whether my beliefs are in line with society’s beliefs is a whole different question.

        • 27chaos says:

          You’re misreading my remark. I’m not saying people with Asperger’s are actually less moral or altruistic; I’m saying that they are likely to be perceived that way because they’ll have different beliefs about morality than society in general. I was talking only about the second question, not about actual morality.

          I myself have Asperger’s.

        • US says:

          “As someone who *might* have AS (50%, I’m sure I could get a diagnosis if I said just the right things)”

          I’m not sure this is a good way to approach this. The implicit question you seem to be answering there is the question of whether or not you could get the diagnosis, which in some specific cases may well be argued to be a question perhaps only tangentially related to the implicit question of where you actually stand in terms of what the diagnostic procedure is trying to measure. (A cautionary note from me would however on a related note be that one of the diagnostic components in my case was information about my childhood provided by my parents – an ASD diagnosis does not rely exclusively on self-report measures/variables you can control).

          Have the behavioural patterns you’ve observed which have lead you to believe you may be non-neurotypical caused “clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning?” That’s a diagnostic requirement, and if they haven’t you should not get a diagnosis. You may already know this, but it’s my impression that a lot of People on The Internet who talk about these kind of things do not appreciate that there’s more to an autism diagnosis than just satisfying some of the ‘oddness criteria’. My diagnosis came after 2-3 years of living as a hermit/hikikomori followed by a suicide attempt, and I’m on the mild end of the spectrum – I don’t think it’s very likely I’d have got the diagnosis if I’d somehow made an approach 5 years before that sequence of events happened (‘somehow’ because I’d never even heard about autism at that point in time).

          • 27chaos says:

            Clinically significant impairment is a diagnostic requirement, hah. Looks a bit like a Catch-22.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Have the behavioural patterns you’ve observed which have lead you to believe you may be non-neurotypical caused “clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning?” That’s a diagnostic requirement

            This is due as much to a person’s circumstances as to their neurology, though. If someone is able to get a type of job they’re comfortable with, live in an environment they can totally control, and has good luck finding friends and/or a partner who can tolerate their differences, then their autistic traits may not cause them significant impairment. On the other hand, someone with the exact same neurology who has a stressful job, lives in a stressful environment, and has no friends or partner will probably have a lot more impairment as a result.

            I guess it comes down to how you define autism. There’s the social model, which says autism/ASD is a particular set of traits stemming from an individual’s neurology, which is probably at least somewhat innate and which is not inherently deficient, just different.

            The medical perspective is that autism is a diagnostic label and the diagnostic label is a tool for receiving help, so it makes no sense to label someone as autistic unless they’re having serious problems, regardless of their neurology.

            I may be oversimplifying a bit, but I think both perspectives have some validity.

          • US says:


            On the other hand if people disregard the requirement that the autism component actually cause significant issues in daily living, you might end up with a lot of neurotypicals making observations like: “Over my lifetime I’ve seen this ‘autism spectrum’ thing spread to cover seemingly everyone who was a geek in high school.” (see above). This development is not, I believe, in the interest of the people who actually have significant impairments and so meet the formal (‘medical’) diagnostic criteria.

            On a different note, I think it’s highly likely that environmental factors will to some extent vary in importance with the level of impairment, meaning that one should probably not overestimate the power of the environment. A substantial proportion of ASD patients would in my opinion almost surely be expected to experience significant impairment regardless of environmental factors, due to their biological setup – this would e.g. be the case for the approximately 10 % of children being evaluated for ASD who have an identified medical condition with a known genetic lesion (the most important ones being Fragile X and tuberous sclerosis). The environment will still matter for the outcomes of non-verbals, but the kind of outcomes considered to be of interest in those cases will be different.

          • Hyzenthlay says:


            I think an actual medical diagnosis should be reserved for people who have significant impairment.

            At the same time, I think there’s value in recognizing that there are quite a few functional people (functional in the sense of having relationships and full-time jobs and all the usual cultural markers of normality) who may have a neurological setup similar to those diagnosed with ASD. Granted, this is hard to prove or disprove because (I assume) most of the research is being done on people who are suffering or having difficulties.

            I do think a big part of it is environmental. Look at animals in zoos. It’s common to see them exhibiting odd, repetitive behavior such as running in a certain pattern over and over, or swaying back and forth, or grooming themselves excessively. I don’t think there’s something genetically deficient about those animals, I think they’re trying to cope with a stressful and unnatural environment.

            Same with humans. Yes, there are those who will have problems no matter what type of environment they’re in. But if you look at the broader autistic phenotype, those on the “milder” end of the spectrum, I think what kind of outcome a person has depends a lot on how much stress they’re subjected to.

          • US says:

            As mentioned I do not disagree with the notion that the environmental component probably varies with the level of impairment. However at least in the diagnostic context clear evidence in favour of specific environmental components is …sparse, to put it mildly (“no evidence currently exists to support any association between ASD and a specific environmental exposure.” Autism Spectrum Disorder, by Lubetsky, Handen & McGonigle), even if it’s plausible that environmental factors play an important role.

            The ‘biological underpinnings’ are better understood/elucidated at this point than are potential environmental factors mediating the relationships.
            [A relevant illustrative sample quote: “Thus far, [fMRI and fcMRI] studies have identified underconnectivity with the frontal cortex as a specific characteristic of the altered connectivity in autism, and this characteristic is present across the same wide range of domains of complex information processing that are affected in the disorder, including social, language, executive, and motor processes. […] measures of functional connectivity between specific areas have been shown to reliably predict the degree of impairment in specific domains among those diagnosed with autism. For instance, individuals with poorer social functioning measured by the ADI-R show lower functional connectivity between frontal and parietal cortices. These findings gave rise to the underconnectivity theory in autism, which now has sufficient support that it is accepted as a central feature of the pathophysiology of autism […] Diffusion-weighted imaging measures the direction and speed of microscopic water movement in the brain, allowing inferences about the microstructure of the tissue that constrains such movement. These studies have consistently found reduced structural integrity of white matter in adults with ASD, indicating reduced anatomical connectivity […] like measures of functional connectivity, measures of anatomical connectivity derived from diffusion imaging have been shown to reliably predict symptom severity among individuals with autism.” (same source as above)].
            Which to me seems an argument for withholding judgment on environmental factors until these types of effects are better understood/documented than is currently the case.

            “At the same time, I think there’s value in recognizing that there are quite a few functional people (functional in the sense of having relationships and full-time jobs and all the usual cultural markers of normality) who may have a neurological setup similar to those diagnosed with ASD. Granted, this is hard to prove or disprove because (I assume) most of the research is being done on people who are suffering or having difficulties.”

            It’s a while since I looked at these things but I recall that at least one large UK study tried to screen a large population segment for autism with the intention of trying to elucidate e.g. whether or not women were less likely to be diagnosed than males, considering actual (estimated) prevalence rates in the population (in the diagnosed population, so-called syndromic autism (including individuals with identifiable autism syndromes with known genetic causes) have a roughly 50/50 sex distribution, whereas the sex ratio in ‘non-syndromic’/’idiopathic’ ASD is skewed: “individuals with idiopathic ASD are more likely to be male, with sex ratios approximately 1:4 (F:M) but approaching 1:7 in milder cases” (same source as above)). I can’t recall the details of the study and I can’t be bothered to look it up now, but that’s just to say that some people do agree with you that this perspective may be important to keep in mind for various reasons.

    • Nestor says:

      Aspergers in my experience (One close relative) are extremely interested in social interaction, they just suck at it. They can also come across as callous/lacking in empathy because they missed cues or implications. In as much as empathy comes from modeling other people’s inner states I suppose they can be considered so. But yeah once aware of people’s pain they’re quite sympathetic. Sometimes it just needs to be spelled out to them.

      As for pope Francis I think the strongest aspect of his personality is his “Argentineness”, they have quite a strong “national persona”, sometimes they seem like a nation of stereotypical narcissists.

      • 27chaos says:

        I think it goes a little deeper than this. Some types of pain or emotional distress are not perceived as quite as “real” as other types of pain.

        For example, it is emotionally understandable to me that someone might be in so much physical pain that they will refuse to have a necessary surgery performed, even if that surgery would reduce their pain in the long run. But I have a very difficult time accepting the validity of pain experienced in an analogous situation where someone does not want to talk about their problems because of emotional pain they’re experiencing. This is true despite that I’ve experienced such situations myself (though not nearly as often as is common)!

        Even for people who feel strong empathy with others, not all types of pain will be empathized with. Some pains will be seen as unimportant, if the context is just so.

    • ozymandias says:

      In my experience (a whole fuckton of autistic friends), autistic people tend to be just as interested in social interaction as anyone else, but tend to have different ideas than neurotypicals about what counts as social interaction. (ETA: all my friends are more introverted than average, so it’s possible that autistic people are *also* more introverted than average and I would have no idea.) For instance, autistic people are more likely to infodump about their special interests, or to do separate activities next to someone.

      One big difference is that autistic people tend to find environments overstimulating more easily than nonautistic people do. Imagine that all your senses were turned up: noises were louder, lights were brighter, smells were smellier. That makes it hard for autistic people to participate in some kinds of social interaction, such as crowds, which tend to be very overstimulating; that can range from finding it uncomfortable to melting down. (Also, many autistic people– including those we’d read as more Aspie– sometimes go nonverbal under stress, which means that overstimulating environments aren’t even good for social interaction.) So an autistic person might be less likely to want to go to a party.

      Some autistic people I know are not capable of feeling sad when other people are sad; they can still abstractly value other people’s happiness. Most autistic people I’ve met are capable of being sad when other people are sad. Many autistic people have difficulties with figuring out what other people are feeling.

      • 27chaos says:

        I have both ADHD and Asperger’s, and your description of my environment is rather good. It ties to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is what the distinctions between the two are, and whether or not it might be possible they’re actually related disorders.

        The main place where they diverge is that ADHD people tend to switch tasks and interested whereas Asperger’s people tend to stay highly focused. However, among ADHDers there is a semi-elusive phenomenon known as “hyperfocus”, where a task is focused on with ease and subjective time passes extremely quickly. So I think that it might be possible they’re really two different aspects of the same thing. A lot of their perceived differences seem to stem from cultural myths and baggage, rather than detailed study.

        In case anyone is wondering, in my case the possible differences between the two are resolved in that I have several different interests which I focus on almost exclusively, but within any given day I’ll play with many of them, switching between them rapidly.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        Probably not a full-blown Aspie myself, but the “going nonverbal under stress” thing is a big problem for me. In general I’m better at articulating my thoughts in writing than verbalizing them, but if I’m distracted or in a very stimulating environment, it becomes pretty much impossible. I just blank out and my brain literally refuses to produce words.

    • Liskantope says:

      This comment is based on a few data points of people with Asperger’s I know well, but little actual research into the autism spectrum. Asperger’s does not seem to impede the desire for social relations in the abstract at all, and the trope of the autistic person who would be happy if everyone else in the world evaporated (as in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) seems misleading. On the other hand, social interactions of the type considered typical by society may be difficult to navigate or severely anxiety-inducing or exhausting. Therefore, high-functioning autistic people may have less desire for concrete social situations that come up.

      This is only one article and may already be dated, but it suggests that autistic people are not at all lacking in empathy, only in the ability to accurately model others’ emotional states.

      • But doesn’t empathy come from modeling others’ emotional states?

        • Liskantope says:

          I think the word “empathy” can be sort of ambiguous. It can refer to interpreting other people’s emotional states. But it can also mean feeling firsthand what you perceive other people’s emotional states to be (whether or not that perception is accurate).

        • Careless says:

          Not accurately modeling them. Empathy can be misguided, even in neurotypicals

    • Said Achmiz says:

      (Note: I am making this comment (as opposed to my usual practice of going “eh, SSC gets so many comments, mine will just get lost in the flood”) because the way the responses to this comment are, at the time of this writing, dominated by “Well I am not autistic myself but I know this one guy who is” is making me uncomfortable. No offense to folks who responded, but I’d like to pitch in as a primary source.)

      First: there’s a saying I’ve heard many times in ASD-related communities online: “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve… met one autistic person.” It’s called a “spectrum” for a reason, and people on it really do differ quite a bit.

      As far as my personal experience goes (official diagnosis: Asperger’s)… there’s a couple of aspects here. It seems like some people (probably those who get labeled “extraverts”) enjoy social interaction as, like, a general phenomenon, almost regardless of details or content or anything. I certainly do not. I find most people to be boring. Interacting with them is worse than almost anything else I could be doing (uh, short of unlikely but actively-terrible things, I suppose).

      Then there’s the fact that autistic people are better than average at entertaining themselves. That is to say — it’s an oft-cited point that people on the spectrum tend to have “rich inner worlds”, strong imaginations, etc.; so an autistic person who is by themselves can probably find something interesting/fun to do: read, write, think, draw, build something, etc. etc. Certainly this is true for me. That devalues social interaction in a relative sense; many people simply find being alone very boring, so social interaction is a big improvement.

      Then, there’s the matter of feeling lonely. This does happen. How much interaction with other people, and what kind of interaction, it takes to dispel that feeling, to satisfy that basic emotional need for genuine human contact and connection, may be different for me (or another autistic person) than it is for people not on the spectrum, but then again, it may not be; the difference may simply be made up by the aforementioned considerations. It is difficult to judge, without really understanding many other people in a thorough manner — and that, of course, is harder for me than for non-ASD people! Irony.

      Now, I do have some very good and close friends, and some more casual acquaintances, and so forth; i.e., people I enjoy spending time with. I see some people spending a lot of time, close to most of their time, with and around their friends; that would drive me crazy. (Of course, I can’t say what the mean here is, or the median, etc. Maybe these people are outliers.) I am very fond of my friends, I can’t imagine my life without them, I find spending time with them to be a genuinely joyful experience — but too much time with them and I start desperately wanting to be by myself. (Of course, that may be described as a matter of introversion rather than of being on the autism spectrum. Then again, how clear a line is there, between those things?)

      Finally, one reason some people desire social interaction is that having high social status in a social group is something that (most?) humans desire and enjoy. I also experience this. I can’t say for sure whether I experience it less than others, but my rough estimate tends toward “no, not much less than most people”. How exactly that relates to *desire for social interaction* as a unitary concept is a difficult question.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      (Note: This is a continuation of this comment.)

      My other comment was getting long, so I didn’t address the “empathy/sympathy” part of your question. That’s actually more difficult. The thing is, it’s fairly hard to compare one’s internal emotional state with another person’s, so in any given case it may be hard to say whether I am feeling the same thing as you are, or a different thing, or a lesser version of the same thing, or what. Alexithymia is a thing that many people on the autism spectrum experience, including me (to some degree? it’s hard to measure this sort of thing). And though you may be tempted, having found words inadequate and unreliable, to attempt to infer mental/emotional states from behavioral reactions, remember also that autistic people may (for a number of reasons) react to various situations (even situations-as-perceived or situations-as-experienced) differently from non-autistic people! There really is no royal road to comparing one’s internal experience to another.

      That having been said, I have at least some anecdotal/experiential evidence that I, personally, experience empathy less intensely than the average … rationalist — but note that the average rationalist (it seems to me) experiences empathy more strongly than the average person in general. I am not sure what to conclude from this. To be honest, it seems to me like the matter of “how much empathy do you feel” is quite confounded by many aspects of rationality (or lack thereof, in most people).

      By the way, if you are aware of any test or other instrument that claims to measure empathy directly, I would be curious to hear of it (and it’s an online thing, I’ll gladly take it).

      • James says:

        the average rationalist (it seems to me) experiences empathy more strongly than the average person in general.

        That’s funny; that’s the opposite of my intuitive feeling about rationalists. Perhaps it depends on the precise sense of ’empathy’ (an overloaded word, as noted above) that one is using?

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Is this intuitive feeling borne of much interaction with individual rationalists? If so, has this interaction been in person, or online, and in either case, in what contexts or situations has it taken place?

          • James says:

            Only from collective experience of the community at large, rather than from any individuals, and purely from online contact.

            Rougly, the sense of ’empathic’ I had in mind was something like the following: I think of rationalists as less likely than the general population to be emotionally moved by observing, say, a puppy in distress, or other classical heartstring-tugging stimuli. You disagree?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            That seems to me a bizarre definition of “empathy” (a puppy? really?). I didn’t think anyone else in this thread was using a definition like that.

            However, given your definition, I agree. Rationalists are, thankfully, less likely to be moved by such things.

          • Adam says:

            I don’t know what it means, but I’m absurdly irrationally moved emotionally by scenes of animal suffering, but human suffering has almost no effect on me. Neither moves me to actually do anything or take policy stances based on being emotionally moved, though, which seems to me like a decent measure of rationality. You can’t exert much control (at least in the short term) over your gut emotional responses to things, but you can control the extent to which you base decisions and take stances on emotion.

          • LHN says:

            That may only be a stronger form of a common tendency. I think it was Roger Ebert who observed that someone who tried to figure out the world by watching movies would conclude that most dogs are immortal. (And the exceptions tend to be memorable.) Harm to a dog onscreen tends to be treated much more seriously than comparable harm to a human.

          • gwern says:

            I suppose that’s why the trope is called Kick the Dog and not ‘kick the man’…

          • onyomi says:

            I think our brains process cute animals as if they were innocent children. People also have a much stronger negative reaction to child abuse than to abuse of adults–so much so that it is rarely shown in any TV or movies I can think of.

            GoT recently did it, but that was an incredibly shocking scene in a show full of shocking scenes. Though still not as outrage-worthy as a teenager being raped by her husband on her wedding night, for some reason.

          • Adam says:

            Hmm, that’s a good one. I’d put it out of my mind, but as terrible as that show generally is about horrible things happening to characters you love, that scene killed me, way more than any others. I just went and laid in my bed all night, could barely sleep, and wouldn’t even let my wife touch me.

    • LPSP says:

      This is my first This is my first time commenting in SSC. It just so happens that somewhere else on the internet I am talking about autism and while waiting for a response decided to check out one of these threads for the first time. Straight away I find this discussion. Serendipity, eh?

      Autistic people feel exactly as much empathy as any other human being does. Empathy is generally directed towards one’s fellow humans, for the obvious reason that the desire to socialise is at the forefront of the non-autistic mind. But it entirely possible to feel an emotional connection or oneness to a place, time, group (regardless of the individual constituants), institution, object, activity or even simply put an idea. Human beings have a very strong desire to find and identify patterns, and without an overwhelming drive to socialise the autistic mind has no reason to not rate raw data as the most desirable and, if you will, “personable” trait for anything to possess. Depending on the severity of the autism, this may described the hard limits of their affection – to things that cater to their technical interests – or may simply inform its first developments and ground base from which all other emotional attachments would radiate. Non-autistic people can be interested in technical subjects but will become tired, frustrated and maybe even mad if they can’t socialise during or with regular intervals throughout an event; invert this and you have an accurate picture of high-functioning autistic priorities. The autistic mind likes to socialise, but likes and needs detail.

      I hope that helps. On the desire to help frontier, autistic people varying ultimately in niceness as much as any other human being. It’s possible for an autistic person to be very sweet and considerate/concerned for the well being of others, and once they are aware of their status and have a good enough ability to guess their emotions they would never hesitate to assist them. Others may be more bitter or cynical for the same reasons anyone might be.time commenting in SSC. It just so happens that somewhere else on the internet I am talking about autism and while waiting for a response decided to check out the site, and straight away I find this discussion. Serendipity, eh?

      Autistic people feel exactly as much empathy as any other human being does. Empathy is generally directed towards one’s fellow humans, for the obvious reason that the desire to socialise is at the forefront of the non-autistic mind.

      • LPSP says:

        Just spotted the repetition in the first sentence, nice. I take it there’s no way to edit comments?

        • LPSP says:

          Thank you. I have no idea how to however. I’m not seeing an edit button in a corner or anything. Maybe I’m blind, or just tired.

        • The edit link is a blue link at the bottom of the new comment, above the “Hide” link. The link reads “Click to Edit” and is followed by the constantly-updating time remaining to edit, like “59 minutes and 24 seconds”. You might need JavaScript enabled to see it.

        • LPSP says:

          Javascript, of course! Thank you very much, I often forget I have it blocked by default.

    • Psycicle says:

      Marginal Asperger’s here (it was a very accurate diagnosis in middle and high school, but I feel like I’ve grown enough beyond it that I’m uncomfortable appropriating the label for myself).

      Modulo all the standard caveats about how this is a sample size of one and it may not generalize, here is what it feels like from the inside for me.

      There’s a difference between how much you want to do something, and how much you retroactively enjoy having done the thing. Compare eating potato chips to going on a hike. Wanting is different from Liking, but Wanting (the spontaneous impulse to take some action) is responsible for most of what people do. I don’t want to socialize, but I like socializing. By that, I mean that the impulse to socialize with people increases very slowly with time. There’s no “socialization hunger”, nothing in me that specifically forces me to go out and interact with people, so if I am snowed under with work, I can easily go a week and a half without interacting with any friends. Socializing is something I have to actively choose/go out of my way to do, like going to the store.

      And the thing mentioned earlier about the sensory issues gives me a burning hatred of parties, bars and concerts, they are just superincredibly unpleasant places to be.

      There’s also something about conversations that I have spotted but haven’t fixed yet. The best conversations seem to ramble on kind of like a wiki walk. They start about a thing, and just keep winding on through multiple discussion areas, always moving on before the topic overstays its welcome. In contrast, the tendency to dump information/thoughts related to the current conversation topic (which I do quite a bit) kills conversations stone dead unless someone manages to derail the topic in the middle of the conversation. The topics people think of and default to when asked to think of “conversation topics” aren’t actually the most fun conversations to have, and they tend to end really fast. So really enjoyable social interactions tend to happen on accident, like that time I got drunk at a Truth or Dare game with my roommates.

      I’m fine with sharing things with others, and like socializing, I just hate the two standard locations for socializing, don’t feel any particular impulse to start under normal circumstances, and the thing that makes socializing really enjoyable happens sometimes and randomly.

      About emotions, empathy, and such…. That sounds about right. I am oblivious to lots of the nuances and body language flying back and forth, but once I pick up that something is wrong, I try to help. It doesn’t take the form of thinking back to a time I felt the same emotion, though. It’s more like “Oh no, they have an unpleasant emotion, I need to fix it immediately.” It’s the feeling you get when you have accidentally left a pet locked in a room and are running back to let it out, kind of a frantic “oh shit fix the problem now” awkward feeling rather than feeling their same emotion.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Asperger’s checking in here. I’ll leave it up to you if Asperger’s is relevant enough.

      The short answer: no, yes. No, I don’t really have too much of a desire to interact with many people on any given day, yes, sympathy occurs just fine.

      Part of it might be that my IQ is very high, and that I find most people boring. Despite that, I don’t seem to experience loneliness very quickly, or even at all. I remember my mother asking me, before I got diagnosed, if I didn’t feel all lonely, friendless as I was. I just.. Shrugged. It truly, genuinely bothered me a lot less than it did with her.

      Sympathy still occurs, yes. I’m not sure how to elaborate on this. An autist might feel much less acute emotional stress when confronted with, say, the victim of an earthquake, but will realise that aiding them is a good thing to do regardless.

    • US says:

      1. “Do people on the spectrum also experience less desire for social interaction in general and for sharing things with others in particular?”

      Some quotes which may provide an answer:

      “Just as there is a spectrum of autism, there is also a range of social motivation. Some individuals are extremely interested in engaging with their peers, but struggle to appropriately initiate or maintain social connectedness. Others with ASD have very little social motivation. These individuals often report extreme anxiety when engaging with people for a variety of reasons. For example, it may be difficult to predict how the people around them will behave and, therefore, individuals on the spectrum may chose to avoid all anticipated anxiety-provoking social environments. […] Many people assume that a lack of social initiation and reciprocal communication indicates that individuals with ASD lack the desire to engage in social interaction. On the contrary, many individuals with ASD lack the skills to be successful socially, yet they desire to be a part of social relationships”. (from the book Autism Spectrum Disorder, by Lubetsky, Handen & McGonigle)

      “Most outcome studies indicate that few adults with ASD develop significant relationships outside of their families of origin. […] In terms of outcome studies to date, very few adults with ASD have been reported to have successful, long-term romantic relationships […]. Some outcome studies indicate that no participants or only one participant has been involved in a romantic relationship […] The literature suggests that most individuals with ASDs show a desire for relationships, but experience loneliness because their difficulties with social skills often interfere with friendship formation […] as a whole, studies repeatedly show that although individuals with ASD desire intimate relationships, few actually have them.” (From the book Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, by Volkmar et al.)

      2. “The ability to recognise emotions in others is impaired, but once they are recognised, empathy (or should this be called sympathy then?) and a concomitant desire to help occur in the normal way?”

      “It is my experience that far from being unfeeling, people with ASD are often very sensitive. They care deeply about those close to them and are unfailingly loyal. They are hurt by rejection, lack of understanding and bullying. […] Neurotypical people (NTs) are as lacking in empathy towards people with ASD as vice versa.” (From the book Providing Practical Support For People With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Supported Living In The Community, by Denise Edwards).

      I’m not sure I necessarily agree with the last sentence in the last quote, but it’s obvious that people with ASD – people who have problems in terms of understanding social signals, non-verbal communication, etc., etc. – are often judged in social contexts by neurotypicals as if they did not have any skill deficits. Which seems cruel. Skill deficits vary as this is a spectrum, but one problem for people with only mild skill deficits is that the social expectations of others tend to vary with the level of skill deficit displayed; a person with ASD of normal intelligence who ‘seem normal’ is judged much harder by peers and other social interaction partners than is a non-verbal autistic, and some of the higher functioning people on the mild end of the spectrum will be aware of this dynamic and so will tend to focus on indications that they’re doing things wrong and so on in social contexts, which is cognitively taxing and may well increase the risk of rejection; anxiety disorders are common among ASDs on the mild end of the spectrum.

      I incidentally recently wrote a comment on slightly related matters on the r/slatestarcodex subreddit which might be of interest. I’ve also covered related topics in much more detail on my blog, where I’ve e.g. reviewed some of the books I quote above (click on my name above and search for autism in the sidebar…).

    • Montfort says:

      I don’t have much experience with the topic, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest the other commenters are incorrect, but can we admit it’s amusing when people answer the question “does group X like social interaction as much as non-X?” with “well, among members of X I socially interact with…”?

      (Posters who are of group X are probably better information, though I guess lack of desire to interact socially might push people away from commenting on the margin)

      • Evgeny says:

        As an autistic person, I don’t comment often on blogs and social media, not because it’s a social interaction (although it is), but because I tend to spend a lot of time composing the comment and thinking about the thing I commented on afterwards. My focus tends to stay on one thing for a long time, even when I don’t want it to. Predicting that this will happen, I often avoid commenting in the first place.

    • Careless says:

      I forget where I’ve read it:

      “a sociopath knows what others are feeling but doesn’t care; an autistic cares but doesn’t know”

      I had a more or less normal desire for social interaction as a child, but years of disastrous interactions with others largely killed that off.

      One thing that I’ve never gotten around to asking other Aspies is if they also have an easy time with eye contact with people they want to fight or have sex with.

    • Evgeny says:

      I am autistic. Specifically: I was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child; I would often lose control and have screaming fits throughout elementary and middle school, and my parents fought my teachers/counselors/principals to keep me in a “normal” classroom. As an adult, I have a mid-to-high-status job and a stable and happy relationship, and I generally “pass” as non-autistic (although I experience social anxiety and other issues).

      I have a desire for social interaction, and I’ve been lonely before. However, I am introverted, and am happy to spend many days at a time entirely alone if I’m working on an interesting project. But not all autistic people are introverted! I know five other autistic people fairly well, and I’d describe two of them as extroverted (i.e., actively seeking situations in which they’re talking a lot in a large group of people). On the other hand, I think all of these people, myself included, find social interaction tiring to some extent.

      I experience emotional distress in settings with too many “conflicting” stimuli: Originally just about everywhere with more than two people, bright lights, or loud sounds; now, after 26 years of practice “filtering,” mostly just the mall.

      I don’t think my empathy/sympathy is impaired. I think my social impairments are a consequence of impairments in sensory processing and sensory-motor interfacing. Activities that require lots of glancing back and forth (e.g., grading papers, entering data) are difficult for me, not because I have bad short-term memory, but because (it seems) some mid-level brain processes involved are slow: loading sensory data into short-term memory, and converting my mental picture of, “I’m going to do physical action X” into actually doing X. So, when I am having a conversation, I spend longer than most people “formulating my responses,” so I may come across as quiet, contemplative, or detached. In a group of loud or aggressive people, I just won’t get a word in. I can pick up body language and nonverbal cues, but I often miss some because I can’t pay attention to all of them at once. I used to find it unpleasant to look at faces and maintain eye contact for more than a brief moment, but I no longer do.

      As far as empathy is concerned, I am often the one who can see the perspectives of friends (or non-friends) on both sides of a fight (political, personal, or otherwise), and act as a mediator, sometimes successfully. And…I give to Givewell’s top charities, FWIW (you should, too). I occasionally think that my experience as an autistic person trying to understand neurotypical people has made me especially empathetic to a wide range of minds and mental states, but I try to avoid such thoughts to ward off overconfidence and useless self-congratulation.

    • Murphy says:

      The problem is that people conflate empathy [percieving other people being happy/sad] and empathy[actually caring about other people being happy/sad].

      Now the thing is that it’s a wee bit heritable to say the least and my family is a little touched. My father especially so.

      You’ve probably heard of system 1 and system 2 reasoning.
      One fast and automatic, the other slow and conscious.

      There’s one for math, one for theory of mind etc.

      Imagine that you had no system one or a very very weak system one for reading the body language and facial expression of others. Imagine that you had to learn to explicitly reason about the body language of other people rather than just feeling it.

      People also tend to mirror the emotions they percieve in others so someone who isn’t picking up and mirroring emotions comes across very poorly.

      Imagine getting your first kiss purely because you’d read medical textbooks and books on body language and one night suddenly realised that the pupils of the girl you’re sitting with talking to were dialated[check], that she touches your arm while talking[check] is leaning in etc [check][check][check] *kiss!*

      People who are on the spectrum but still socially functional can often cope quite well with simple mental checklists and semi-scripted or standard social interaction. Individuals tend to be easier to deal with than groups.

      You still like being with people and romantic intimacy etc is still extremely important but interacting with groups is exhausting beyond almost anything else.

    • Creutzer says:

      Many thanks to everyone who replied!

    • blacktrance says:

      I’m undiagnosed but likely somewhere on the autism spectrum.

      Do people on the spectrum also experience less desire for social interaction in general and for sharing things with others in particular?

      It’s a combination of several factors. I feel like I have less in common with the average person than is typical, so interaction with someone I don’t have much information about isn’t very interesting. That’s further aggravated by me not enjoying small talk, so getting to know new people is difficult. On the other hand, once I’ve made a connection with someone, I enjoy interacting with them, and seek it out. But I also handle being alone and without in-person friends better than most people I know.

  2. walpolo says:

    What are people’s opinions of memetics? It seems like pseudoscience to me. “Survival of the fittest” just by itself is fairly tautologous, but when you try to take the details that make evolutionary bio actually work (like heredity, random mutations being frequent enough but not too frequent to interfere with adaptation, specific means of reproduction) and apply them to ideas instead of genes, I don’t know of any actual evidence that “memes” will be relevantly analogous to genes.

    Maybe not pseudoscience, but at the very least so speculative as to be almost certainly false. Is that other people’s impression?

    • What would it mean for memetics to be “false?” That the analogy between ideas and genes isn’t tight enough to be useful? It seems like there’s at least some useful intuition there. Ideas that people like to repeat, for whatever reason, get repeated a whole lot until everyone’s heard them. Ideas that people don’t like to repeat aren’t repeated and only a few people hear them.

      It’s a more useful way of understanding the world than, say, imagining that ideas gain wide acceptance primarily because they are true.

    • haishan says:

      “False” is a category error, I think. Statements can be true or false, but not things like “memetics” (or “physics” for that matter).

      As for whether it’s “real” science… probably not? It’s certainly true that ideas, cultural practices, etc. don’t propagate and survive because they are true, or useful to humans, or anything. To the extent that observation is part of memetics, it’s useful. But I’ve personally never heard of any falsifiable claims made by memetics, and if your theory isn’t making falsifiable claims, it probably doesn’t deserve to be called a science.

      Of course, then you get into the question of whether something has to be science to be useful. But that’s a whole nother can of worms.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      It’s one of those incredibly useful metaphors which can be made more metaphorical or less metaphorical according to the needs of the moment. I am convinced by the facts; you believe what you’re told; he is infected by a meme.

    • David Pinsof says:

      The term “memetics” is out of date, but “cultural evolution” is a legitimate field of inquiry and there have been many good scientific papers in this area. It’s called cultural evolution now because most people have moved beyond the idea that there is a perfect analogy between genes and memes. Most people now defend a more reasonable view: Whereas cultural evolution is not “exactly” like genetic evolution, it has many “evolution-like” properties and can be analyzed using some the same tools used by evolutionary biologists. For an up-to-date review, check out Alex Misoudi’s paper “Cultural Evolution: A Review of Theory, Findings and Controversies.”

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Cultural evolution seems very different from memetics.

        Memetics claims that memes will spread by sheer spreadability without concern for the people involved – eg chain letters.

        Cultural evolution says that the best ideas and systems for running cultures will rise to the top and help their cultures survive.

        Memetics seems to be brought out a lot to support atheism (religion is a useless, parasitic idea) and cultural evolution to support religion (practically all cultures have religion so it must have survival value).

        I think both memetics and cultural evolution might be true on different scales.

        • Isn’t this equivalent to saying that both genetics and macro-evolution are true at different time scales? The “selfish gene” idea is that the locus of selection is the gene rather than the organism, but nonetheless the organism is the thing that survives and reproduces, and genes cannot exist except as part of an organism’s genome.

          • chaosmage says:

            It is not only the organisms that survive and reproduce, and the Selfish Gene idea is more radical than I think you make it out to be. Dawkins talks quite explicitly about genes surviving and reproducing, in groups (genomes) that build organisms to carry them through the generations. In “The Ancestor’s Tale” (another great book, though less essential than The Selfish Gene, and more illustrative) he goes as far as to explain how gene genealogy works differently from organism genealogy, and how they interact.

      • Your description of “cultural evolution” sounds to me like the obvious definition of memetics. I’ve never heard anyone claim that there’s a perfect analogy between genes and memes.

        • Sokka says:

          I’m about to start work on sequencing the human memome. I just have to figure out what the nucleotides are.

    • tailcalled says:

      Well, you would need to combine it with either some knowledge of psychology or some general observations of what makes memes fit to be able to extract predictions.

      Memetics makes many things easier to understand. For example, as pointed out in The Toxoplasma of Rage, activists frequently end up with the worst possible flagship case. This is easily explainable with memetics.

    • John Schilling says:

      IMO, memetics is on its best days a protoscience. The theoretical basis is there, and sound, but nobody has yet figured out enough of the details to make useful (i.e. accurate and non-trivial) predictions.

      If someone wanted to advance the state of the art in memetics, they would be well advised to start doing some experiments; approximately zero useful science has been done by reasoning from theoretical principles alone. And if you insist, on the basis of ethics or laziness, that you’re only going to do observational memetics, do your observations in a field where you have no personal interest and don’t care whether any particular meme is true or false. Come up with a model that predicts, e.g., the propagation of sighting reports among birdwatchers, and we can work to generalize it.

      When memetics is used to produce post-hoc explanations of why other people believe things we know are stupid, it descends into straight-up pseudoscience. But that’s more fun than gathering boring observational data on things we don’t intrinsically care about.

      • TomA says:

        Evolution is not a predictive science. It is essentially a retrospective analysis of how we got where we are today (and similar deduction for all life forms). Even if you could make scientifically justified predictions, the evolutionary time scales are quite long and you would waiting a long time for results to compare against. It is helpful to remember that evolution is an attribute of life form persistence and that evolutionary processes end with extinction.

        • Izaak Weiss says:

          See: Fruit flies, viruses, and single celled organisms for examples in which evolution happens on the scale of years. We also can make predictions about the sorts of creatures we will find in unexplored areas of the globe based on evolutionary principles.

          • Anonymous says:

            Also: Predictions about what kinds of fossils will be found where, in rocks of what age (a la Niel Shubin).

          • lumenis says:

            TomA, I think you may be conflating two different definitions of prediction here. 1. knowing something as-yet-unknown-to-you; 2. knowing that which has yet to transpire.

            Being able to know whether there is a goat behind door #2 requires some power to eliminate bits of entropy, regardless of how long the goats have been standing there.

            Evolutionary example: predictions about what kind and how many less-efficient forms of hemoglobin we will find encoded in unused sections of a given animal’s genome based on how taxonomically distant they are.

            Apparently hippos have at least one ancient type in common with us and some number of divergently evolved improvements.

            (I remember seeing a documentary about it and I’m sure I’ve got some detail wrong in my recollrction but I was struck by it at the time — the way you could trace the branches of life by just picking any given protein and its history would be there, mirroring the history of every other one. I’ll be glad to find some links if asked.)

    • TomA says:

      People forget that, for most of our species existence, we had no knowledge of evolutionary principles. A few thousand years ago, insight into heredity became a source of useful knowledge. A few hundred years ago, the concept of Darwinian fitness competition paved the way for a deeper understanding of evolution and the role of genetics. A few generations ago, the discovery of DNA and gene functionality resulted in an explosion of new insight into how we became the unique species that we are. Today, we are at the early stages of understanding memetics and it’s role in cultural evolution.

      All living things are creatures of habit and our species is unique in that we have evolved complex language. This uniqueness allows us to pass along useful fitness-enhancing information from generation to generation via wetware programing of our young offspring’s brain morphology (encoding habits via language). For example, at the large social scale, this is the essential feature of all religions.

      Memetics exists because it “works” to enhance our specie’s survive and thrive imperatives.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Memetics exists because it “works” to enhance our specie’s survive and thrive imperatives

        It’s a while since I read up on it, but if I remember rightly, one of the important things about memetics is that it doesn’t necessarily work to help our species (genetically) survive – that memes, as a replicator whose method of replication is very different from that of genes, can become completely uncoupled from the selection pressures that drive genetic evolution; indeed, the ability of certain memes to directly counteract our tendency to obey the interests of our genes can lead to all sorts of evolving-to-extinction scenarios.

    • Agronomous says:

      1) People don’t talk about memetics because it’s true; it’s just an idea that’s very good at propagating itself.

      2) It took me a long, long time to realize this: I don’t have political ideas—political ideas have me.

      • Jiro says:

        People don’t talk about memetics because it’s true; it’s just an idea that’s very good at propagating itself.

        Wouldn’t that mean that it is true after all?

    • DavidS says:

      I don’t think it’s ‘science’: just put forward by people who tribally identify with science, and drawing argumentative strength from scientific analogy.

      BUT, I think it’s a very helpful concept, perhaps one that’s losing its punch as it’s more implicitly accepted. If you read books discussing histories of ideas etc, there’s a huge tendency to assume that if a society has adopted a belief/practice/custom you have to explain this in terms of why it benefits the society. Having the concept of memetics stached away means you will more easily consider things in terms of ‘what would make this idea survive’, for which ‘people consciously decided to maintain it due to real or perceived benefits’ is only one.

    • Viliam Búr says:

      The part that genetics has and memetics doesn’t is the precise mechanism and numbers.

      Genetics (today) has a lot of data about DNA, protein encoding and synthesis, how often do the symbols in DNA mutate, we can use search engines to compare pieces of DNA across species. We can look at genomes of different species and make a probabilistic prediction which was an ancestor of which; i.e. we can use numbers to determine which two of {human, chimp, gorilla} are closer to each other than to the third one.

      (In Darwin’s era these data were not available, but you could still look at individuals of the same species, describe the variations of their observable traits within the species, and compare with other species. You had lists of objectively measurable attributes; you could e.g. show the same species of pigeons to ten different biologists and they would produce very similar descriptions that other people could use to determine whether another pigeon belongs to the same species.)

      All that memetics has… is a metaphor. Some things are vaguely analogical to some things in biology; end of story. We are trying to use the power of analogy to transfer the scientific status of genetics. But science is not powered by analogies.

      • Alraune says:

        That might, of course, be because the sciences that should be attempting to apply it are busy disdaining quantitative research in some sort of bizarre “we can become a fake science too, guys!” status bid.

      • Creutzer says:

        But science is not powered by analogies.

        I dispute this. The finding of common structure in different phenomena seems to me to play a huge role.

        The cultural evolution paper that David Pinsof referred to above also seems to point to quite some quantitative work. You are, of course, perfectly right about the differences between genetics and memetics, but I’m not convinced that the fact that we have no such things as cultural genomes is a good reason to abandon the idea yet.

        • Aaron says:

          I agree. Often, advances in science come about by looking at problems or phenomena in new ways. They must then be tested though experimentation of course but conceptual frameworks can be the driver for new kinds of experiment.

          It seems very straight-forward to me to think of ideas as something that can evolve. Probably not like genes but at least according to some discernible pattern.

          Life isn’t the only thing that evolves; cities evolve, music evolves, religious ideas evolve, stars evolve, cultural norms evolve, computer programs evolve, etc. Name your science and part of it will include the question of how its subject phenomena became what they are now or what they were at a particular time. Perhaps everything evolves (changes according to some non-random pattern)? The rules and structure of these changes isn’t very well known yet which I think is due to the newness of the idea of evolution as a universal phenomenon.

          • Creutzer says:

            Evolution in the technical sense is a much narrow concept that does not capture every development over time. Cities and stars most certainly do not evolve, although they develop and change over time. The cultural evolution paper cited above cites someone else for giving the three ingredients of an evolutionary process, which make a lot of sense to me:

            “1. Different entities in a population vary in their characteristics (principle of variation).
            2. These entities have different rates of survival and reproduction (principle of differential fitness, or what Darwin called a ‘struggle for existence’).
            3. There is a correlation between parent and offspring entities in those characteristics that contribute to differential fitness (principle of inheritance).”

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    An aerial 3D display which is now also safely touchable and can be made interactive:

    I didn’t realize the predecessor to this (namely, a similar display which is not safe to touch) existed, so I was pretty surprised to learn about this. Seems like it could be a big deal.

    Also, from Language log, Some of the more ridiculous categories you create when trying to classify all possible health problems a person could have.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Question: How should we argue with people whose arguments we know are made in bad faith? To pull an example from the fake consensualism post, a person who claims to oppose gay marriage “because of sincere concern about the fate of children adopted by gay couples” but is truly homophobic.

    This example presumes that we have outside evidence that they are homophobic.

    In other words, if I see someone arguing the adopted-children argument, then look through their post history and see them saying vile things about gays in general, is it worth trying to convince them to support gay marriage?

    If you contend that it is not worth trying ton convince them, I have a follow-up: Suppose we somehow accurately know that x% of people making the adopted-children argument make it for homophobic reasons, rather than primarily out of concern for children adopted by gays. For what value of x should we not try to convince people making the adopted-children argument? You do accept x=100% as such a value. What about x=95%? 90%? 50%? How would we determine a reasonable threshold?

    • Anonymous says:

      Some would argue by attacking the stance rather than the argument, and _never_ taking the argument at face value.

      (Personally, I don’t recommend this tactic, which I think is one of the big failure modes of internet feminism ((not to veer too far into forbidden topic territory)).)

    • ThrustVectoring says:

      How you should engage with them depends on what you’re trying to get out of the argument. I can see at least two distinct goals:

      1. Turn the homophobic person into a less homophobic person.
      2. Convince people who are reading the interaction that saying homophobic things will get them social scorn, and supporting gay rights will get them social laurels.

      For the first, the only position you can get them to consider is being slightly less homophobic. Perhaps something along the lines of convincing them that gay people actually love their partners like heterosexual people do, and aren’t gay in order to be “sexually deviant”. You have to cut to the core of why they believe what they believe, model it, and find something close that you can convince them of.

      For the second, you can simply engage with the surface level argument and demolish it.

      • DavidS says:

        I don’t think either of these capture the desire to counter the specific argument (‘someone is wrong on the internet’).

        I will often argue against people putting forward crappy arguments for things I agree with. This isn’t (1) or (2), it’s truth-seeking if you’re generous and irritation with what I see as faulty logic if you’re not. The surface outcome of addressing the argument directly might be
        1. Onlookers who aren’t homophobic but for other reasons such as conservatism are primed to accept arguments against gay marriage less critically might be pushed into rejecting that argument (and perhaps supporting gay marriage)
        2. The homophobic person might realise that the argument is a rationalisation, and work out why they actually think it. This could even lead to them changing stance (it’s not clear why banning gay people from getting married is an obvious consequence of homophobia)

        The latter obviously depends on if this person is just parroting an argument which they think is acceptable while thinking ‘actually, I just hate them’, or whether they think the argument is their reason. I’d guess in most cases people at least somewhat believe the specific argument even if the source is deeper.

    • I think it reasonable to note that, although under these circumstances we think we *know* that they are making an argument in bad faith, the story that they tell themselves probably does not involve them making the argument in bad faith. The story tell they tell themselves (assuming they have some kind of natural-law epistemology) is probably something along the lines of “Well, I have a well-ordered / virtuous distaste for gay people, but I also oppose gay marriage for these rational reasons which could be verified by any objective 3rd party.” I don’t know whether we should say that these arguments are made in bad faith or not. Such arguments may be made with spectacularly little self-knowledge, and may reflect rationalizations, of course. But pretty much everyone tells themselves such a story: “I personally would find a world where abortion is wrong exceedingly distasteful, but I also think abortion is fine for X reasons.” Etc etc.

      I think there’s this thing that goes on when people from very different worldviews disagree. Each worldview involves living a certain way, and living a certain way involves getting certain dispositions and likes and tastes. People from different worldviews always interpret this to mean that people from the first worldview are really horribly biased. But people from the second can’t tell people from the first this profitably, because essentially what they are saying is that “You’re horribly blinded to your own motivations,” so they come across as just being abusive.

      Everyone wants to be a shrink to people in massively different worldviews, and everyone is really poorly suited to this because shrinks probably need to not appear to be winning glorious victories *over* their patients.

      So, in answer to the above, I think generally criticizing people whom you think are so blinded and living in bad faith is useless, unless you have a really good relationship with them that leads them to think that you are a very reasonable and not-abusive person–and even then it is risky. My two cents.

      Edit: The above presumes interaction with them is going to involve some attempt to show them that their prior arguments were made in bad faith.

      • I’m not sure your example is good evidence that the argument is dishonest.

        One way of interpreting our moral judgements is as, in part, statements about correlation. We believe that someone who would lie is more likely to be willing to steal than someone who would not, and similarly across a range of acts that we consider wicked. Even if a particular wicked act has no effect on us, the fact that someone would commit it makes it more likely that he would commit other acts that do affect us, so we avoid him.

        Suppose gay sex feels disgusting and evil to you. It’s natural enough to conclude that people who engage in it probably do other wicked things as well, so you wouldn’t trust them to have power over weak and innocent children.

        • Protagoras says:

          As I understand it, social scientists have made some unsuccessful efforts to detect such correlations. Perhaps we’re making a mistake in those judgements.

        • Well, moving from “This kind of thing feels gross and evil to me” to “The people who do this kind of thing are likely to do other bad things,” may or may not be a substantive argument.

          But if I were to in fact be reasoning or associating in accord with this argument, while acting as if my arguments were springing from natural law, this would seem to be a kind of bad faith (or at least lack of self-knowledge). If I think something is bad because of a gut reason, I think it’s incumbent on yourself to admit that it is because of a bad reason, and not pretend that you think of it for some non-gut reason.

          Although, I of course admit that it is difficult to know if someone is acting in bad faith and most accusations of people doing so are worse than useless.

          • ” If I think something is bad because of a gut reason”

            Ultimately, isn’t that what thinking something is bad comes down to? So far as I know, nobody yet has come up with a proof that his ethical intuitions are correct.

    • Jiro says:

      My response is that arguments made insincerely by people are exceptionally likely to be dishonest or at least flawed in ways that are less likely when people make arguments sincerely. So you should pay less attention to them in a way that corresponds to the lowered likelihood that such things in general are true. and relevant.

      The exact amount is subjective, but it doesn’t include 0% or 100%.

      Also: Most people, probably including you, are not good at determining when other people are making arguments insincerely.

    • 27chaos says:

      I think refuting specific arguments that they make in bad faith can sometimes help. Suppose that they believe in 5 reasons gay marriage is bad. When they have a debate about reason 1, they’ll argue in bad faith because reasons 2-5 make them confident in their position. And suppose the same is true of all other reasons. They will continue to oppose gay marriage until the point where they realize all at once that they’re losing/have lost 5 separate debates about reasons to oppose gay marriage. This point is difficult to reach due to working memory limitations and bias, but with a lucky coincidence or two they’ll eventually end up changing their minds.

      • Nathan says:

        I think a “bad faith” argument in some cases might be simply a good faith attempt to find common ground.

        For example, suppose I believe homosexuality is aberrant and sinful. I know ahead of time that you do not believe that. So instead of arguing from my own base principles, I might try to adopt a basis for argument that you have a chance of agreeing with, perhaps arguing that just as the intent of Obamacare was not to ban federal exchanges, the intent of the legislators who passed the fourteenth amendment in 1868 was clearly not to legalise gay marriage.

        A cruder form of this might be that I debate from principles I don’t in fact hold because I want to debate rather than just get called a bigot.

        So my answer in general is to try to make people feel that it is safe to actually say the things they actually believe.

    • tailcalled says:

      … maybe it would make sense to bypass the object-level discussion and attempt to make them more sympathetic to other tribes? (since it is usually tribal politics that cause these sorts of rationalizations)

    • Texan99 says:

      Maybe they’re homophobic and also believe in good faith that there is reason for concern about children adopted by gay parents. If you can’t see how this could be possible, it may be that your arguments are going nowhere because you’re trying to fit your debate partner into your own cognitive scheme, instead of considering his views on their own merits. Unless you can convince him that homosexuality is not a terrible idea, you’ll probably never convince him that it’s OK to expose young children to it. And you’re probably not going to convince him that homosexuality is great by calling him a troglodyte and rolling your eyes. He’s tuning out your opinion just like you’re tuning out his.

    • vV_Vv says:

      If you want to argue, always take their arguments at face value, even if you know they are made in bad faith. Keep engaging until you are bored or their argument start to become self-refuting or vague.

      Note that it is possible to make a good argument in bad faith.

      Whether gay adoption is harmful to children its and empirical question, and what kind of experimentation is acceptable before allowing it is an ethical question. A person who brings up gay adoption just because they are disgusted by homosexuals may nevertheless raise good empirical facts and ethical concerns about it.

    • John Schilling says:

      Most people are deontologists or virtue ethics who use consequentialism when arguing with outsiders. This is not necessarily insincere; this is often an honest attempt at communication with the only “language” they have in common with outsiders. They are truly homophobic, and they are concerned about the fate of children adopted by gay couples, and they are wise enough to understand that you will only understand what they have to say about one of these two things.

      Or possibly they are being insincere, but that’s almost impossible for you to know and it doesn’t change anything. If they are arguing consequentialism, you can try to defeat their consequential arguments. It probably won’t do much good, but attacking their sincerity definitely won’t do any good.

      Better, if you can pull it off, is to learn their language and find a way to show that gay marriage is virtuous by their standards or required by their rules. Probably not the rule or virtue that drives their homophobia, but it’s only when you can e.g. convince a deontologist that his rules both require and prohibit [X] that you really have an opening for consequentialism as a tiebreaker.

      And if the real audience for your argument is the bystanders, learn their language and argue accordingly. For extra bonus points, bait the homophobe into doing something they see as viceful or against the rules.

    • Anatoly says:

      Why argue anything on the (I’m assuming) Internet?

      1. To attempt to change the other person’s mind.
      2. To get your own arguments tested and possibly change your own mind.
      3. To influence other readers and possibly change their minds.
      4. To signal, or more generally acquire reputation (e.g. as a crafty arguer).

      If the other person is definitely arguing in bad faith, then 1 is a lost cause and 2 is very unlikely (anyone who’s smart and knowledgeable enough to defeat your arguments and get you to change your mind is overwhelmingly likely to argue in good faith).

      I believe that 3 and 4 are generally incredibly overvalued and their effect exaggerated. It’s almost always the case that your time is much more valuable than the effects of 3 and 4. The exceptions are things like arguing on live TV or in front of a large captive audience, like a structured debating event (a comments section of anything is never an exception). Another remote possibility is that you have an argument that is fresh, compelling and not likely to be familiar to much of the passive audience; then 3 might be worth it. It is much rarer the case than it might seem to you, though.

      To sum up, I recommend ignoring arguers in bad faith, with the exception of “I can say something to efficiently disarm their bad arguments for the benefit of other readers, and I’m pretty sure it’s something those other readers haven’t seen before and are unlikely to see if I don’t write this”.

      More generally, the possibility and likelihood of 2 should be the major factor in deciding to argue back-and-forth with someone about anything. This doesn’t apply to things like factual replies or statements of opinions or whatever else you might comment for – all those aren’t the time and energy sinks that back-and-forth arguments are.

    • zz says:

      I will appeal to Scott’s post on well-kept gardens and suggest that, if you don’t engage people who don’t make good-faith arguments (a) you only engage with people making arguments in good faith and (b) eventually, bad-faith people become good-faith people so as to gain entry into your garden.

      (I feel slightly slimy because I haven’t actually answered your initial question; I don’t actually know how to engage with bad-faith people because I, for above reasons, think the best strategy is to not.)

    • Unique Identifier says:

      If you’re going to call anyone out on bad faith arguments, you might want to first get rid of that ‘homophobia’ word. It’s about as helpful as accusing people who consider prostitution or religion to be harmful, of being ‘prostituphobes’ or ‘religiohobes’.

      ‘Homophobia’ is a bad faith argument condensed into a single word.

      • Anonymous says:

        What word would you substitute?

        (Note: This has been tried, and the people previously referred to as “homophobic” took issue with the alternative term, IIRC.)

        • Alraune says:

          “Anti-gay” would be the obvious choice.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          Do we have a catch-all term for people who don’t think prostitution is something to celebrate? Some lovely little word, where we can collapse all detractors into a single group?

          Such as:
          I wouldn’t want my daughter to become a prostitute, because it doesn’t seem like a good life to me and I love my daughter.
          I don’t think women should be allowed to chose a life of prostitution for themselves, because we know they’ll be better off otherwise.
          I don’t think there’s anything wrong with prostitution, per se, but there is so much potential abuse in that business that we’re better off banning it.
          Only people with mental and drug problems and abusive childhoods end up as prostitutes, it’s best to stay away from them.

          Do we need such a term? Would it promote nuanced discussion?

          I have no idea which word the original poster should have used, because the only thing I ever got to know about the defendant is that the original poster considers him homophobic, and that he allegedly said -vile things about gays in general-.

          These content free accusations seems to be a feature of the word, not a bug, and that’s the real problem. -Misogyny-, which doesn’t share its etymological issues, suffers the same abuse, and I object for mostly the same reasons.

      • Viliam Búr says:

        That’s some nice and civilized debating culture we have — if someone disagrees with me, I will invent a word that means “they only disagree with me because they are mentally ill”, and will use this word to label my political opponents everywhere.

        (Note: I am 100% pro- equality for homosexuals. But I am also pro- civilized debate; and anti- this, and anything that feels like a first step towards it.)

    • Ptoliporthos says:

      I’ve always assumed that anyone using the term homophobe is arguing in bad faith. In it’s most innocent (least guilty?) form it deliberately frames the argument in such a way as to bypass discussing a number of your moral axioms which your opponents do not share, and which you may not even believe in yourself.

      *edit* Unique Identifier beat me to it

    • NZ says:

      [EDIT] Now I see that two people beat me to the argument I make below, and in much fewer words. In my defense, I think I unpack it pretty well:

      Since there’s a mental disorder tie-in here, I think it’s safe at SSC to take a closer look at the use of the word “homophobic.”

      You can feel a mild sense of disgust and repulsion at the sight of spiders without being an arachnophobe. You can insist that any spider found in your house be killed on sight without being an arachnophobe too.

      To have a phobia of spiders, we’re really talking about being totally unreasonable, to the point where you can’t function normally. Screaming at the sight of every little spider, not wanting to go into a room where a spider was seen even a few days ago, having nightmares about spiders, instantly changing the channel when an image of a spider comes on TV, imagining all spiders capable of horrible things that no spider has ever done. Someone with real arachnophobia is in need of psychological or psychiatric treatment.

      Now, I would say if a person is mildly disgusted by homosexual acts, that’s probably pretty normal. (I’d venture to guess that of the straight people who aren’t repulsed by homosexual acts, most had to go through some not-insignificant amount of acculturation or careful reasoning to get there.) Believing homosexuality to be a sinful practice according to one’s religion–that doesn’t seem like evidence of a “phobia” either. And opposing various political goals of the gay rights movement, that obviously is not conclusive evidence of homophobia.

      So, I would say it’s “bad faith” to label someone homophobic unless those “vile things” you found in their post history really are evidence of a phobia on par with arachnophobia. Essentially, it seems like an attempt to call someone crazy for disagreeing with you.

      • Creutzer says:

        Nobody who calls another “homophobic” means to ascribe a literal clinically significant phobia to that person. I think what people commonly mean is a rejection of homosexuals on the basis of these disgust reactions that you describe as normal. In principle, I suppose it’s useful to have a word for that kind of reason that people may have for opposing gay rights, because it’s a really bad reason.

        • satanistgoblin says:

          Yes, but the word still carries those semantic connotations.

          • Creutzer says:

            Sure, it’s a loaded term. People who use it might say that its having these connotations is a good thing, because it is, after all, referring to something that is not justifiable by any good reason.

          • NZ says:

            But it’s disingenuous.

            It’s also lazy. There’s a difference, for example, between someone who opposes gay marriage because they earnestly don’t have any repulsion to homosexuality but merely think the outcomes for society would be bad, and someone who opposes gay marriage because his spiritual beliefs are that this would be a destruction of a sacred bond that God has defined in a certain way. And neither one of those people necessarily wants to go out of his way to harm homosexuals. Yet the word “homophobe” and its variants, the way they’re used, lump both of these people in with someone who, on principle alone, actually wants to go around beating up homosexuals, or having them jailed, or worse. (There must be someone somewhere like this, right? …right?)

            And if people are demonstrably willing to be disingenuous or lazy just to make their point and get their way–if, in other words, they make it clear that to them, their ends justify any means–then how can they be trusted? How can they be thought to be arguing in good faith?

          • Creutzer says:

            I totally agree with that objection, and I think it is descriptively wrong to call the first example homophobic. Whether any such people actually exist is a different question. It’s just that this objection to the term is much better than your first one, which I think it would be a bit mean, but descriptively accurate to call hyper-literalist sophistry.

          • NZ says:

            But my first argument was not hyper-literalist sophistry. In fact, it was an attempt to call out the sophistry of people using the term “homophobe”: With that medicalized term, they are smuggling in their own (typically false) conclusions about the emotional and mental health of those who disagrees with them. Even if they don’t intend it, the suffix “phobia” connotes these things.

      • Fairhaven says:

        Your examples of normal heterosexual reactions to homosexuals are convincing to me – and not overly literal. By caling them phobic, they are being lumped in with people who are so emotionally upset by homosexuality, they become irrational and even violent.

        But in general homophobia is used as a shorthand insult meaning ‘ a bad person.’ I think this is what some of the commenters here mean when they use the word ‘bad.’ Not bad arguments but a bad person for having feelings that are not acceptable to the pro- gay. Did I misunderstand?

        I would add one more normal reaction that is neither amoral nor unkind nor irrational – a sense of unease that what should be private and personal is being used as a power move by the government to gain power, divide the country in a biitter and unnecessary struggle, attack religious conscience (which does not bow to government and is a threat to the Stalinist left) and distracts from issues such as the economy, jihadi Islam, China, Russia, where the administration is performing badly. Oh, and did I say iran.

        Compromise between the needs of gays for legal rights and the needs of religion and the family to be sacrosanct was entirely possible: civil unions for all, govt out of the marriage business, and anyone can find their own church for their own private ceremony. We could look for ways to accommodate one another like a loving family, where you aim for win win.

        Many people have a vague sense of unease that in all of human history, even in homophobic societies like Ancient Greece and Rome, they never defined homosexual unions as marriage. To see what we are doing in such a sudden and coercive way as decadent may not be incorrect, and while it expresses anxiety, it is not ‘bad’ and not irrational.

        • Fairhaven says:

          I wrote ‘homophilic’ societies like ancient Greece and it spell checked me to homophobic!

          • NZ says:

            I disagree about civil unions, but I don’t feel like getting into the reasons right now.

            My understanding about Ancient Greece, by the way, was that they didn’t have acceptance of homosexuality the way we think of it today. Men were uniformly expected to be attracted to women, and to have wives and kids. But sex with little boys was also an expected part of many men’s lifestyles, part of grooming those boys for later life as men. And that sex they were having was NOT anal, but intercrural–between the thighs.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Compromise between the needs of gays for legal rights and the needs of religion and the family to be sacrosanct was entirely possible: civil unions for all, govt out of the marriage business, and anyone can find their own church for their own private ceremony.

          This was C.S. Lewis’s solution in _Mere Christianity_; the issue there was divorce. It was what some early settler colonies did, apparently without controversy, and many people in England. I wonder if the newfangled fufurah of a church wedding was opposed then (as was celebrating Christmas).

          But now when separation of church and marriage is mentioned, there is loud opposition from some Christians.

          • LHN says:

            The proposal also sort of undermines the idea that changes pose no threat to marriage as an institution. A proposal that begins by asking for legal recognition for same-sex couples would end by removing legal recognition from millions of existing marriages.

            (“But they’d be replaced by civil unions, which are just as good!” “No one seemed to think so when civil unions were being offered to same-sex couples as a compromise position.”)

            I’m guessing that the renewed value placed on marriage during the struggle over it makes withdrawal of the state from marriage unlikely in the near term. But during the decades when it was being debated, any conversation about SSM invariably drew that suggestion.

            (Which made me more sympathetic to those who expressed widely-mocked fears that recognition of someone else’s relationship could somehow affect the status of their own. That was exactly what some people were proposing.)

            I can still imagine it happening via an alliance of those who want still broader relationship recognition– egalitarian polyamorists, traditionalist polygynists, etc.– and religious conservatives who’d rather have all marriage entirely out of the public sphere than same-sex marriage be within it. But I’d at least guess that it’ll be a little while before that sort of momentum is likely to build if it ever does.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ LHN

            As a pro-gay USian, personally I support the SCOTUS ruling as the best possible thing in the real world. Using civil unions for gays would have been much less practical for everyone involved, and changing to civil unions for everyone would cause more controversy and make more people upset.

        • brad says:

          First, there is no Stalinist left in this country or much of anywhere else these days outside of North Korea. This kind of hyperbole is not productive.

          And it is a little late in the day to be proposing government get out of the marriage business. Where was this idea in 1890 when the Mormons were coerced into eliminating the doctrine of celestial marriage on pain of Utah not being admitted to statehood? Where was this idea in the 1930s and 40s when religious Jews were moving en masse to the United States and were unhappy that the laws permitted the remarriage of a Jewish woman who did not receive a get and thus encouraged the birth of mamzers?

          All of a sudden now religious people have to be not just let alone to practice how they like, but entire government structures have to be reworked and government job descriptions rewritten because conservative protestants are unhappy they are no longer in charge. This is exactly about whose ox is being gored and nothing at all about fundamental principles.

          • Alraune says:

            Yeah, it’s a bizarre historical accident that gay marriage made it through the gate before polygamy.

            And welcome to legal precedent, where the rule that everyone gets to use the same weapons means unprincipled arguments still advance the creation of principled doctrines.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Those religious people who did that stuff back in 1890 sure are being hypocritical with their current actions.

          • Fairhaven says:

            I’m consistently in favour of ‘live and let live,’ which means not being bullied, by either the government or by well meaning activists.

          • James Picone says:

            This isn’t a matter of live-and-let-live – there were legal rights afforded to heterosexual couples that homosexual couples could not access, and they are important rights – the ability to file joint tax returns. Being considered next-of-kin for medical, legal, and inheritance purposes. Simultaneously, the solution that the SCOTUS ended up enforcing doesn’t require you to do anything, it’s just a change in how the government handles a thing they already handle.

            Your characterisation of the situation ascribes too much purpose. It’s not like the President signed a law. Presumably the case was brought by someone backed by a group that wanted SCOTUS to rule this way, but that doesn’t imply that that group was specifically trying to improve the outlook for progressive politics generally. There’s no coordination, just people arguing for/bringing cases for the positions they support.

            The solution you suggest is the solution currently active in the U.S., to the best of my knowledge, with the caveat that both the civil and the religious version is called ‘marriage’. Priests aren’t required to marry some people if they don’t want to, are they?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To signal boost, nor is anyone required to recognize these as valid Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, Hindi, Mormon, etc. marriages.

            The marriage that SCOTUS ruled on was civil marriage, not religious marriage.

          • Deiseach says:

            the ability to file joint tax returns

            So why are there cohabiting/unmarried heterosexual couples, then? Get thee to a registry office sharpish, you’re missing out on that sweet tax money!

            At least the “I want to get civilly married so I can reduce my tax bill” argument is more honest than all the treacle about Love Wins and the gushing by Justice Kennedy how marriage is the sum of all human happiness and merit. Reading the summing up of his judgement had me eye-rolling about us poor wretched subhumans condemned to live lives of loneliness, lacking in all hope of achievement, because we aren’t in a position to get drunk married in Vegas and divorce three months later.

          • brad says:


            Couldn’t agree with you more re: Kennedy’s opinion. If it was the price of the fifth vote, and I’m sure it was, I would have done the same thing as Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan — held my nose and signed — but boy was it a stinker.

            It was both legally and rhetorically weak.

          • brad says:

            @Mark Atwood

            Anyone can file a lawsuit over anything, but they won’t win. Was Hobby Lobby really so long ago that everyone has forgotten it?

          • James Picone says:

            Presumably because that particular unmarried cohabiting heterosexual couple doesn’t want to get married, Deiseach. They have the option. I notice that you’ve picked that out and ignored the much nastier case of power-of-attorney and next of kin. Although as I recall last time those got brought up you flatly refused to believe that it could be a problem.

            I’m honestly astounded at how cynically this is being presented by the resident conservatives. It’s all signalling! It’s all a distraction! It’s all about money! Really? If you were in a happy relationship with someone and wanted to get That Social Ceremony That People In Committed Relationships In Your Culture Have, but legally couldn’t, I would expect you to want the law changed.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >I’m honestly astounded at how cynically this is being presented by the resident conservatives. It’s all signalling! It’s all a distraction! It’s all about money! Really? If you were in a happy relationship with someone and wanted to get That Social Ceremony That People In Committed Relationships In Your Culture Have, but legally couldn’t, I would expect you to want the law changed.

            Since hypotheticals have been all the rage this thread, allow me to present you with two:

            Gay marriage has not been legalized, and it doesn’t seem likely to happen soon. However, an alternative seems to have a good shot, this is…

            A. Civil Union with all the same rights of marriage is instated for homosexual couples.

            B. Marriage by the state is abolished, and Civil Union (with all the same rights and benefits than before) takes its place, regardless of the partners’ genders.

            Would you have been okay if either these scenarios were what actually happened?

          • CJB says:


            the 5-4 decision that sparked a massive firestorm of rage on the left?

            Yeah, I really feel like that’s settled law.

            But fine:


            Now, snopes does raise the good point that they’ve done other faith marriages in the past.

            But that’s pretty clearly a case of people being legally forced to perform a wedding that went against their religious beliefs. Even if you hang on the “but they married muslims that one time!”- that’s a very, very small fig leaf, and one that isn’t gonna last.

          • James Picone says:

            I consider B a satisfactory situation, although I’d probably snark about “marriage is a term that belongs to society, not to religions!”.

            I consider A better than the no-gay-marriage-at-all solutions, but worse than B, for all the usual reasons that separate-but-equal is considered a bad idea. I would probably support a movement in that universe that wanted to remove the distinction.

          • CJB says:

            @Whatever Happened to Anonymous:

            As a radical conservative that is pro-gay marriage and increasingly anti-gay rights movement, allow me to explain.

            I grew up with gay rights, and this was the deal:

            I don’t give a fat flying french whores finest fuck about your beliefs. I expect you to extend the same to me. You have every right to not marry us, or serve us, but you have to extend us the same rights you get. That’s what equality under the law means.

            And now, we’ve got florists being sued for seven dollars and forty two cents, pizza places getting death threats, people who contributed small amounts of money to anti gay campaigns being the subject of witchhunts, and people who don’t accept Caitlyn Jenner going the same way.

            So I’m glad that gays can get married.

            But we’re done now. Me and your movement. You lied to me. You lied to me, and you used my support to push your abusive agenda. You took what I supported as a good, clean fight for an oppressed people and turned it into a gloating chance to whip on people who dared disagree with you in public.

          • brad says:


            That was October of last year, so what happened? Did they give in and perform same sex weddings? Are they in prison? Or did the town fold like a wet paper bag once the federal lawsuit was filed, since they couldn’t possible win it?

            Just today I read about a judge in Florida who tried to forbid speech that calls into question his integrity on the sidewalk outside the courthouse. That’s blatantly unconstitutional and won’t last long, but it happened. It’d be better if they didn’t, but they sort themselves out quickly.

            Also if 5-4 decisions that one part of the political spectrum flip out over aren’t settled law, what does that say for Obergefell?

          • James Picone says:

            @CJB: According to that Snopes link, that council exempts ‘religious businesses’ from its nondiscrimination stuff, and it is alleging that the people concerned aren’t running a ‘religious business’, just a perfectly-normal-business which does have to abide by nondiscrimination requirements.

            This seems broadly like a legitimate complaint by the government to me (not that they’re right, necessarily, but that there are scenarios broadly consistent with the facts in which they are right), and is subtly different from forcing a priest at a church to marry some people. For example, I think if it was an Elvis impersonator/registered celebrant in Las Vegas (i.e., same service, similar business model, without the religious overtones), it’s more clear-cut. Further along the spectrum is an operator of a business with absolutely zero religious overtones (say, a McDonalds) refusing to serve a customer because they’re gay and it’s against their religious beliefs.

            There’s definitely an interesting conflict around here, but broadly speaking I would be very surprised if it were resolved such that priests were forced to marry gay people (do we know what happened with that case, incidentally? Is it still going? I’d expect that the city lost).

          • CJB says:


            this os the only reference I found for 2015. I’d guess based on the timeline of lawsuits that theyre still picking a venue.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            So why are there cohabiting/unmarried heterosexual couples, then?

            On a lighter forum, in celebration of the SC ruling, a gay person (female from the style) posted something like this:

            “We are legal now. We can drive through any state and if one gets hurt, the other will be accepted for medical decisions. If one of us dies, our child will not be a legal football.”

            These are problems that hets don’t have to think about. Even if they haven’t officially married, the survivor will be accepted in hospitals (passing as married if necessary). If they are the biological parents then the child automatically belongs to its mother or father. A surviving het partner is unlikely to be asked whether the child is adopted, and if zie was, both names will be on the adoption papers. In common law / community property states, I think most property will automatically pass to the survivor, so normal life won’t be upset.

            Hets don’t think about such issues because they don’t have to. Gays do (or did).

          • “If you were in a happy relationship with someone and wanted to get That Social Ceremony That People In Committed Relationships In Your Culture Have, but legally couldn’t, I would expect you to want the law changed.”

            You could have the social ceremony whether or not the result was recognized by the state–I’ve known people who got married without being legally married and considered themselves, and were considered by their friends, to be husband and wife.

            What you can’t get without state approval are some of the legal consequences of marriage.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            You could have the social ceremony whether or not the result was recognized by the state–I’ve known people who got married without being legally married and considered themselves, and were considered by their friends, to be husband and wife.

            What you can’t get without state approval are some of the legal consequences of marriage.

            This is confounded by, e.g., common law jurisdictions (except were modified by statute) considering the act of cohabitation while publicly presenting yourselves as married to be equivalent to a solemnized marriage.

          • Deiseach says:

            James, I used tax returns because that was the example you put first. I am also a little cautious about the arguments re: visitation rights and so forth, because they equally apply to unmarried straight couples (and people who are not in romantic relationships but are friends or not immediate family members).

            Since straight people, as you point out, always had the option of getting married, and if filing joint returns and inheritance rights and visitation rights etc. is all this hugely vitally important part of marriage which they are losing out on, why are they not getting married? How are they managing when it comes time to pay their taxes, or one of the couple gets sick and has to go to the hospital?

            Switching to the “It’s all about Twu Wuv” selling point impresses me even less, James, when it was you who led off with important legal rights and said nothing about “They only want the right to love and be loved”.

            And what about families by blood (e.g. siblings) who lack these legal rights? My brother could get someone he cohabits with (and who might break up with him/he might break up with them) on his work health insurance plan (which is a very good plan) but not me, because I don’t count as a dependant – despite the fact that we are sharing a house and the running expenses of that. There are plenty of disadvantaged single people out there who might object to being unable to claim dependants on tax returns, etc.

            While we’re at it, perhaps we should bow to the demands of the child-free that couples who choose to have children should not be preferentially treated when it comes to tax allowances, simply because they have a few squalling brats?

          • Creutzer says:


            How is the fact that not all, and perhaps even only a minority of, members of one group make use of a certain right an argument for just flat-out denying that right to members of another group?

            And how is the fact that some groups for whom an argument can be made that they should have certain rights don’t have those right an argument for denying them to a certain group?

          • James Picone says:

            Unmarried straight couples are less likely to need to invoke the pointy legal end here – they’re less likely to have a family member of one of the people in the relationship fundamentally disapproving of the relationship and so seeking to exclude the partner, for example. Unmarried hetero couples for whom that’s a problem who are intending to be long-term partners are probably taking a risk, though, yes. But they have the option not to take the risk – gay couples don’t. That’s important.

            Why aren’t they getting married? Dunno. Up to them. Doesn’t matter.

            Ah, I have to have all my arguments on the board to begin with, I see. Well you didn’t lead with anything but “Heterosexual people sometimes don’t use this right they have”, an implication that it’s All About Money and that the people who talk about True Love are doing cynical manipulation, and mockery, so I must insist that any argument other than those three you present is out of order.

            I’d actually have no problem with society pivoting to a flexible legal-kin-specification-mechanism that’s entirely unattached to marriage and doesn’t carry connotations of It’s A Big Deal, permanence, exclusivity, ceremony, etc.. Low-key enough that if you’ve been going out with someone for a while it’d be strange to not have them specified as kin. Don’t know how the tax arrangements would work, but in principle I don’t see anything wrong with having the option to specify people as being a household with all the resource-pooling stuff and associated tax handling. In such a society, ‘marriage’ would be a legally-meaningless ceremony two people can have if they want to and can find someone willing to perform that service for them (or do it themselves if they want). Like birthday parties.

            But that’s a longish way from here, so it’s probably not surprising that the simple, one-small-change patch that makes our current system/s much better is the one people were pushing.

          • brad says:

            I tracked down the Idaho lawsuit on PACER. As it stands now, the city has repeatedly attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed on the basis that the defendants lack standing because they are exempt from the law, and have been repeatedly told that they are exempt from the law. The judge dismissed the motion for a restraining order as moot because the city has represented that it cannot and will not prosecute the plaintiffs.

            The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint changing their litigation posture to seek economic damages for supposedly having to close their business for a week due to the city having (perhaps erroneously) claimed that the law applied to them, and seeking standing under the theory that they might not be exempt in the future if they changed their business model. The city replied that the plaintiffs misread the letter and did not provide enough information at first, and until filing the lawsuit, for the city to determine that they were exempt from the law.

            In any event the Knapps never went to jail or were fined for refusing to marry a same sex couple or are not currently being threatened with such.

            The case number is 2:14-cv-00441-REB in the District Court of Idaho if you want to check out the filings yourself (unfortunately PACER charges a per page fee).

          • LHN says:

            PACER is messed up for reasons that largely are above its pay grade. It’s required to be self-funding, so it has to charge, and Congress has never shown interest in allocating it money to improve its 90s-vintage interface. (Though it looks like that may finally be changing.)

            That said, if you incur less than $15/quarter in page charges, you’re exempt from paying.

            And if you’re using it much, you might want to install the RECAP plugin for Firefox or Chrome. It does two things: 1) copies any documents retrieved to the Internet Archive (legal, since Federal documents generally don’t fall under copyright), and 2) provides a link to any search results that have already been deposited there so you can retrieve them for free instead of incurring a page charge.

          • brad says:

            Isn’t the new upgrade going to wipe a significant amount of older documents? I seem to vaguely recall reading about that somewhere.

          • LHN says:

            @brad Announcing the prospective legacy document loss (but don’t worry– you can go physically to the courts and look at the hardcopies!) produced sufficient outrage that they had to reverse course. The last official announcement from PACER back in October said they were on course to restore access to the material by the end of last year.

      • Deiseach says:

        While “homophobia” seems to be constructed on the same basis as other phobias, i.e. an irrational or greatly exaggerated fear and dislike of something, when people who use the term are challenged on “But I’m not afraid of gays”, they generally reply that it isn’t intended to signify fear, it’s mean to show that you’re an irrational bigot hater.

    • satanistgoblin says:

      Well, if someone is homophobic wouldn’t they also be likely to honestly think that being adopted by gays would be harmful?

    • Geekethics says:

      I would expect it’s easier to beat and argument than to actually change someone’s mind.

      You’re unlikely to fix the homophobe, what you can do however is force them to argue only using arguments that work. As there are few of these for their position you constrict their freedom of movement in debate.

    • Evgeny says:

      In a face-to-face conversation where I expect to be talking to them for some time, I first engage with the surface argument, ask them questions to try to get them to say what they really believe, and then engage with that. It’s important to not make it clear that you think they’re arguing in bad faith, and remember that most people (including yourself, probably) resort to rationalizations and don’t say or consciously think what you really believe most of the time.

      On the internet, I just don’t argue with people unless I think there’s a decent chance (say, >10%) I’ll change someone’s mind. If I’m even 60% sure someone’s arguing in bad faith or without self-reflection, it’s not worth it. (Theoretically, I do support shaming people for expressing truly toxic opinions when doing so causes actual others to feel unwelcome/excluded. In practice, said shaming has already been accomplished before I get there, so I don’t have to do it.)

    • grort says:

      I’m confused about what you’re trying to accomplish. Many people who argue on the Internet are doing so with the specific goal of persuading others, and they’ve already precommitted to their position. Trying to change these people’s minds is futile. This is independent of whether they are making a “bad-faith” argument.

      On the other hand, you might be posting on a forum in front of an audience. If that’s the case, maybe your goal should not be to change your opponent’s mind, but instead to change your audience’s minds. There are more of them, after all, and they probably haven’t committed to a position yet, so they should be easier to persuade.

      If your goal is to change your audience’s mind, you might find it useful to directly point out when an argument is “bad-faith”, or you might find it useful to explain why you think the argument is flawed, or you might advance your own arguments for your opposing position.

      But there’s another party to all this mind-changing, and that’s your own mind. Suppose someone is advancing an argument for a position you disagree with. Have you thought carefully about whether the argument might be correct? Did the argument make you reconsider your own position on the issue? Are you feeling tempted to dismiss the argument as “bad faith” so that you won’t have to take it seriously and reconsider your own position?

      …Anyway, I think the best tactic for Internet arguing in general is to address all possible arguments, clearly and coherently, in an FAQ format, and then just link to that. The “bad faith” arguments are just as much worth addressing as the others, because you only have to address them once.

      • Part of the point of arguing with people currently committed to a position is to give them ideas that might eventually cause them to change it. People who like arguing generally don’t like to feel they are arguing a weak case, so may gradually morph their position in a way that avoids doing so.

    • Autonomous says:

      “a person who claims to oppose gay marriage “because of sincere concern about the fate of children adopted by gay couples” but is truly homophobic….This example presumes that we have outside evidence that they are homophobic.”

      A purer example would be a person who you know to be homophobic AND anti-child wasting people’s time
      by falsifiying his preferences.

      A pacifist who plays an outraged budget hawk ONLY when the topic is military expenditures?

      Discounting all those who are genuinely homophobic and love kids;
      further subtracting those who are homophobic, dislike kids, but are caught in a social situation where they are compelled to “act like” they care;
      you get past the nice in every other respect folks, the equal opportunity haters, derailers, (concern) trolls, silent gen ragebots, you eventually get down to the homophobic politician who refuses to pay child support to his ex-husband……..and below that you’ve House Speaker Gingrich initiating impeachment proceedings against Clinton while having an affair, and his successor Bob Livingston who resigned the night before the impeachment vote for having an affair, succeeded by Dennis Hastert R-Nambla who oversaw the impeachment trial itself….

  5. nupnup says:

    Do you have any thoughts on treating Dysthimia combined with social anxiety with Testosterone supplementation even if serum values in men are low normal? The symptoms of low T and Dysthimia match very closely in my case…

    Also, quite interested in other solutions (mainly meds, I don’t believe in CBT and already have a decent food, sleep and exercise regime going)?

    • Tom says:

      Honest question for anyone with experience with CBT: does a person necessarily need to believe that CBT could be helpful for it to be?

      • nupnup says:

        Fair question. The way I see it, without practicing it is unlikely to work and if you don;t believe in it, it is unlikely you will practice.

        The reason why I don’t believe in it: I know that many of my thoughts are irrational does not really make it any easier to ignore them…

        • Emily H. says:

          I think that good CBT is not concerned with identifying and ignoring irrational thoughts, but bringing thoughts/feelings out into the open where you can try on different framings of things.

          But there’s an offshoot of CBT called ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which might suit you better — it’s concerned with accepting distressing feelings when they come up and learning how to deal with that distress actively. One of my friends compared it to a kid at a playground who keeps yelling, louder and louder, “Mommy, look at me, Mommy, look at me!” — ignoring it is counterproductive; acknowledging it makes it a thing you can work with.

        • Matt C says:

          I didn’t have a very good picture of how often I was sitting around pointlessly cycling over unhappy events and possibilities, until I started paying attention.

          Once I was catching myself in the act, sometimes I could stop those gloomy ruminations and turn my thoughts elsewhere. Not always, but sometimes is still good.

          It’s not just about admitting that you have irrational thoughts, but changing the way you recognize them and engage with them, especially in the actual moments that you’re having them. Maybe you understand that already, but it seems like you might not.

    • chaosmage says:

      Wouldn’t the simple way to raise testosterone be to refrain from orgasm for a couple of weeks? I find that when I get lots of erotic stimulation but don’t orgasm for a couple of days, I get into a stimulated state that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear has antidepressant properties – although for me, to more salient effect is a heightened appreciation of beauty (not just in people). But then of course I don’t have abnormally low levels in the first place.

      • Creutzer says:

        Isn’t the idea that frequent orgasms reduce testosterone levels an urban legend?

      • Nupnup says:

        Tried nofap for a while. Mainly it was annoying and didn’t seem two have any obvious upsides…

        • chaosmage says:

          That’s a different thing.

          nofap is an attempt to break porn addiction; raising testosterone is one of several side-effects of that. If you go only for raising testosterone, you can still look at porn. You can even have sex, only orgasm is prohibited. In fact my subjective evidence, from having tried both, says a few hours of climax-less sex have consciousness-altering effects very similar to weeks of trying not to touch the penis. Specifically, much more vivid dreams.

          I heard long ago that some ancient Daoists said that in order to married life to go well, the wife should climax every day and the husband should climax once per week. I don’t believe in ancient Daoists, but there’s merit to that idea.

  6. Nonnamous says:

    I have a conspiracy theory about the Popes.

    The Catholic Church correctly concluded that some battles you cannot win and they have to make peace with the leftism of the world. So they needed a charismatic Pope figure who would be able to make the liberals like him while at the same time keeping the love of the actual Catholics. But after John Paul II nobody could seem charismatic in comparison. So they went to the nerdy guy and said, “Hey, why don’t you serve as a buffer. You get to be the Pope for a couple of years, but promise that you’ll abdicate when the time comes”.

    • LTP says:

      Interesting thought, though the funny thing is that most thought *Francis* would also be a caretaker, generic pope when he was first selected (save for him being a Hispanic), and his current style has been a surprise. Maybe people in the church knew better than the public at the time, though.

    • Deiseach says:

      First, I love how the Jesuit Pope brings out all the conspiracy theories, especially when he’s accused of being Jesuitical.

      Second, this opens up a rich field of extra conspiracy; since the Superior General of the Jesuits is often referred to by the nickname of “the Black Pope”, and since the Jesuits are under obedience to their Superior General, and since Francis is a Jesuit, is he under obedience to the current Superior General, in which case the ‘real Pope’ is the Black Pope? Or since the Jesuits swear obedience to the Pope, is he under obedience to himself? 🙂

      Thirdly, I presume that by “the nerdy guy” you mean Benedict XVI, Nonnamous. Alas, the idea that “they” (presumably the Curia or the most powerful members of the College of Cardinals?) cut a deal with him to be a ‘caretaker pope’ who could then abdicate founders on the fact that abdication by a pope was a question that raised much dubiety amongst canonists (the most famous example being that of Celestine V, but mostly occurring in the context of anti-popes). The idea that Benedict would resign or step down did come as a bolt from the blue.

      The election of Benedict (the former Cardinal Ratzinger) was also unexpected, since he was considered – as you say – very conservative and many at the time were making the same argument: the Church will surely go for a populist, someone in the vein of John XXIII (the idea of “next time for sure a liberal!” has been hanging on since his death at the start of Vatican II).

      Finally, the idea of Francis being a cuddly liberal is a media invention; the reality is something much different (and yes, it’s very hard to get a read on him; the way he seems to shoot his mouth off is probably one of those cultural differences so that a Latin-American as mediated through the Italian press translated into Anglophone terms is going to involve a lot of lossiness). Certainly there is a socially liberal element, even amongst the College of Cardinals; however, that tends to be concentrated amongst the likes of the German hierarchy which is rich, plugged into the State (for reasons) and has been involved in some messy public scandals like the Bling Bishop where liberal leanings were coupled with extravagances on the scale of the heyday of the Prince-Bishops of old, and the church tax threats.

      I am also amused by the idea of “making peace with the leftism of the world”. The Church has seen the rise and fall of empires, and indeed has colluded, been comfortable with, and made accommodations with all kinds of regimes. The idea that the current leaning to leftism will continue onwards unabated and never cease – that’s a different matter. The Roman Empire didn’t look like it was going to fall either, until it did. Today, tomorrow, even a century from now, progressive social attitudes? Sure. Two hundred years from now? Are you that sure?

      An example of dealing with the leftism of the world would be someone like Leo XIII, and I don’t think anyone would argue that Leo was the kind of liberal who completely changed the tenor of the Church. If liberals (God bless their hearts) are expecting a pope who’s going to cave in on divorce, contraception, abortion, female and married priests, remarriage in church of the divorced, same-sex marriage etc., I think they’ll have a long wait.

      (Yes, things like married clergy and the situation of the divorced are being examined as (a) a question of discipline and (b) a pastoral question, but that’s different from “hey, we’ve dumped Matthew 5:31”).

      • LTP says:

        “If liberals (God bless their hearts) are expecting a pope who’s going to cave in on divorce, contraception, abortion, female and married priests, remarriage in church of the divorced, same-sex marriage etc., I think they’ll have a long wait.”

        Why? I’m not very well-versed about Catholic history or theology, admittedly, but I do know that the church has reversed itself on many key issues from slavery to usury to latin mass. I don’t see why they can’t change on those but not abortion or women/married priests.

        Maybe Francis isn’t the pope for that, but I don’t see why you think it’s near impossible that the church will reverse itself on those issues.

        • Brett says:

          Because you don’t understand the actual changes that have happened, and why, and why those changes are radically different than the ones that most liberals seem to want from the Church. To take your examples of changes the Church has made:

          1) Slavery – The Church’s doctrine has changed on this. In ancient times, when slavery was a part of every known society, the Church’s attitude towards slavery was that it was generally legitimate but unjust. Masters were encouraged to free their slaves, and licit slavery would include obligations of masters towards slaves. In Early Modern times, with massive kidnapping and enslavement of both Africans and Indians, the Church initially kept its older stance of trying to moderate the terms of enslavement and eventually decided that slavery was intrinsicially unjust and not allowed at all.

          2) Usury – The Church’s doctrine has not changed on this. Usury is still a mortal sin, and still wrong. What has changed is that basically nobody in the Church preaches about it or tries to enforce it.

          3) Latin Mass – This is not doctrine, this is a practice of the Roman (note: not Catholic) Church. There are other churches in communion with Rome that did not practice the Latin mass and that was not a problem. Changing it was a big deal, but was not a doctrinal change.

          So, as for various pet issues people want change from the Church on, here’s a general guideline:

          Changes in Church practice are possible but unlikely. This is where, say, the priestly celibacy requirement lies. Also in this bucket are various aspects of the church hierarchical structure, increased use of women in (non-priest) roles, etc.

          Changes in Church focus are quite likely, although directions are difficult to predict. E.g., the church’s condemnation of divorce is, in the U.S. at least, essentially not effective. I think the way it works is you claim non-consent to the first marriage and get an annulment. Similarly with the prohibition of usury.

          Changes in Church doctrine and morals? Not gonna happen, not ever. Divorce and remarriage will remain officially banned even if walked around repeatedly by lax annulment standards. And this is where most of the wishlist lies. No, the Church isn’t going to pretend abortion is OK, or bless same-sex marriages, or ordain women, etc. etc. As Deiseach keeps saying, the Church is old. They’ve gone through a lot worse without recanting their moral doctrines. Why do you think that would change now?

          • “Usury is still a mortal sin”

            Usury defined as any loan at interest, which I believe was the medieval position (Catholic and Muslim), or as loans at unreasonably high interest, which is the usual modern meaning of the term?

          • Erik says:

            @David Friedman: Due to the abovementioned issue of “basically nobody in the Church preaches about it” it’s hard for me to give a confident answer, but AFAIK, technical definition of usury is loans that are a) interest-bearing, b) in currency or similar fungible goods, where the lender must be satisfied with getting same kind back rather than same object[s], and c) for which the borrower is on hook for more than the collateral.

            Clause A should be fairly straightforwards.

            Clause B makes it fine to rent out an item (say, a car) and get back item+fee. Usury is when you try to “rent out” money. There’s some debate here on what exactly constitutes class of currency-like fungible goods that I don’t understand, but I gather part of it involves consumption versus use.

            Clause C can be thought of as micro-bankruptcy. It enables the borrower to say to the lender “I’m not paying any more, take the collateral instead” and walk away with that as final resolution of a non-usurious loan. Usury happens when the borrower can’t pay and the lender gets access to the rest of borrower’s life to say “sell this and this and this to get me my money”. That’s where many of the complaints arise about usury leading to debt slavery (metaphorical or literal).

        • caba says:

          Just pointing out that, as an atheist, that in general, the church has had a recurring *tendency*, over its long history, to be uncomfortable with slavery, whether this discomfort expressed itself as outright “this is evil” or merely attempts to moderate and reduce it.

          I think it was because of this discomfort that during the middle ages, slavery had disappeared from Europe.

          So the essential “dna” of the church didn’t change here.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think it was because of this discomfort that during the middle ages, slavery had disappeared from Europe.

            I think the absence of practically exploitable slave populations may have played a role there.

            In general, it is not economically viable to maintain slaves by means of whips and chains alone. At some point, you have to be able to turn your back on a slave and trust that he won’t run away. Which, before ubiquitous biometric ID, means there can’t be any communities within running distance where a runaway slave will blend in. Various forms of serfdom are possible, because the ability to securely farm a plot of land and keep a share of the produce is valuable enough that people will stay put for it, but outright slavery doesn’t usually work that way.

            Dark Ages Europe, you could have e.g. Vikings sailing over to England or deep into Russia and bring back people who don’t look or speak Norse, who could not plausibly escape without being recognized as a probable runaway slave wherever they went. And you could sell the Russians slaves in England at the same time you sold the English slaves in Russia.

            By the Middle Ages proper, most of Europe was formed up into nations strong enough to resist slave-raiding, and Europe’s neighbors were stronger still – to the point where they were raiding Europe for millions of slaves, which doesn’t get talked about much. That left the various European nations with only their own citizens to enslave, as as already noted if you try to downgrade them from “serf” to “slave” they just run off and you can’t figure out who’s who.

            Then the Europeans develop guns and deepwater shipping, and suddenly the bit where Africa sends raiding parties to capture Europeans as slaves gets kind of reversed.

            Which is not to deny that the Church was trying to do the right thing all along, but it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that they had the power to take down even economically viable slavery as an institution.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Re: slavery requiring inability of slaves to blend in to surrounding communities-

            How would this have worked in, for instance, ancient Greece? In Athens, slaves dressed and often looked and spoke the same as citizens, and certainly could be mistaken for metics (resident aliens with civil rights but no political rights). This is one reason contemporary writers gave for it being a crime for a citizen to strike a slave he didn’t own- if it were legal, citizens could assault other citizens and claim to have mistaken them for slaves.

            Of course, they did trust their slaves in some cases, probably because some slaves were actually in quite good positions.

          • Alraune says:

            I believe the traditional solution to that problem was dress codes and/or visible branding.

          • ” but it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that they had the power to take down even economically viable slavery as an institution.”

            Was the Catholic church a significant player in the 19th c. anti-slavery movement? I associate it with Quakers and classical liberals—part of the reason economics was given the “dismal profession label” by Carlyle.

          • Asterix says:

            Lord Wilberforce was and evangelical Protestant. Bartoleme de las Casas, a Catholic priest. Harriet Tibman, AME. Douglass, a devout some sort of Protestant. William Lloyd Garrison, some variety of Christian, but I can’t tell which denomination if any.

            So that’s what I can find on spiritual views of prominent abolitionists.

          • John Schilling says:


            I don’t know nearly as much about slavery in ancient Greece as I’d like, but my understanding is that most of the brute-labor slaves (e.g. in the Athenian silver mines) were prisoners of war, thus obvious foreigners. Same “race” sometimes, but distinct accent and dialect and such. The local native slave class, as you note, tended to have pretty good positions – and I think positions for which there was no free equivalent. If your training and resources qualify you for the jobs of scribe, laborer, and beggar, and there are no job openings for a free scribe…

            @David Friedman: Mea culpa on mingling Catholicism and Christianity in general there. The Roman Catholic Church was active in the early modern (16th-17th century) antislavery movement; I assume they kept at it over subsequent centuries, but by abolition time the center of gravity of both the slave trade and abolitionism had moved to Protestant realms.

            Fortunately, evangelical Protestants were up to the challenge.

          • caba says:

            John Schilling: John Schilling: I’m not conviced of your points.

            You say that Christian nations were too strong to raid each other for slaves, but they were weak enough to be raided for slaves by Muslims in the early modern era. Which is it?

            My understanding is that there was an all Islamic demand for Slavic slaves around the middle of the middle ages. Slave traders (including Westerners) sold Slavs to Muslims. According to your logic that slaves need to be foreign, there could logically have been a demand for Slavic slaves in the West, since they were foreigners to westerners. If there wasn’t one, it was for cultural reasons, not reasons of practicality.

            Also I doubt that slaves in antiquity were always distinguishable for their foreignness. If there had been a requirement for slaves to have a foreign upbringing, a permanent slave class would not have been possible. They would have assimilated in a few generations.

            The theory you described sounds like it applies the experience of America with black slaves, to a very different context.

            In the end if it was no longer economically viable to enslave people because it was too easy for slaves to escape, it was probably because priests would have protected such a fugitive.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Continuing the Ancient Greece tangent, possibly the most interesting class of slaves in Athens were the Toxotai (lit. “archers”), a group of Scythian archers who were slaves owned by the State and acted as a sort of police force. They didn’t patrol or solve crimes, but they kept order in the Assembly and enforced the orders of magistrates (who could order them to beat or imprison a citizen).

            One reason for their existence was the way Athenian society worked. If a citizen was to manhandle another citizen in the street, it became a matter of honour and the wronged citizen would seek retribution. However, if a citizen was insulted in this way by a slave, he would instead be expected to take it up with the slave’s owner- in this case, the State!

            These were slaves in a very powerful position in society, so had no reason to escape- but their status as slaves and foreigners made them less likely to abuse this power.

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, let’s take these examples (and goodness me, I feel the strong urge for a Chesterton quote but I’ll sit on it for now).

          Taking those in reverse order:

          (3) The Latin Mass, or rather, the Mass of the Tridentine Rite. Never abrogated, despite what popular belief thinks. Indeed, the official Mass text remains the Latin one, and the current re-translation of the English vernacular Mass was based on the Latin text. Indeed, Benedict XVI’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum permitted greater latitude in celebrating Mass in Latin rather than the local vernacular.

          (2) Usury – since even today you get loud outcries about how there is no such thing as the sin of usury and charging interest on loan repayments and making profits is such a vital and necessary part of capitalism, Civilisation As We Know It would collapse without it- then the Church has accommodated changes in economic life (we don’t insist on feudalism as the Only True Way, for instance). That being said, even the modern secular world has its own notions of usury – loansharking, or monopolies. And popes still criticise modern capitalism, and get critiqued on a scale from being considered naively out-of-touch to being Communists and Marxists. Even a liberal/centrist (I don’t know his politics) like David Brooks, who appears to be socially liberal but fiscally conservative, can write in the “New York Times” twitting Pope Francis over his latest encyclical:

          Hardest to accept, though, is the moral premise implied throughout the encyclical: that the only legitimate human relationships are based on compassion, harmony and love, and that arrangements based on self-interest and competition are inherently destructive.

          …He is relentlessly negative, on the other hand, when describing institutions in which people compete for political power or economic gain. At one point he links self-interest with violence. He comes out against technological advances that will improve productivity by replacing human work. He specifically condemns market-based mechanisms to solve environmental problems, even though these cap-and-trade programs are up and running in places like California.

          Moral realists, including Catholic ones, should be able to worship and emulate a God of perfect love and still appreciate systems, like democracy and capitalism, that harness self-interest. But Francis doesn’t seem to have practical strategies for a fallen world. He neglects the obvious truth that the qualities that do harm can often, when carefully directed, do enormous good. Within marriage, lust can lead to childbearing. Within a regulated market, greed can lead to entrepreneurship and economic innovation. Within a constitution, the desire for fame can lead to political greatness.

          Gee, if only we’d give in and admit we lost to the wisdom of the wider culture on sex – but let’s not have any crazy talk criticising The Sacred Free Market! 🙂

          (1) Slavery – it has been permitted but was never compulsory. Even St Josephine Bakhita was a slave in the possession of an Italian family in the 1880s. And yes, disgracefully, it was permitted to the secular rulers as a political concession and a tool of war and conquest. The only shred to cover the disgrace was the distinction between chattel slavery (as in the Dred Scott decision: a slave is not a person but a thing or a tool) and just servitude, where as the spoils of war or for indebtedness a person may be enslaved, but still remains a person and the owner can only have rights to their labour (one of those distinctions more honoured in the breach than the observance).

          There’s a distinction here to be made between discipline (e.g. permitting married clergy; the Eastern Catholic churches permitted married clergy – but the rule often, as in the Orthodox Churches, is that bishops must be celibate and are often drawn from monastic orders), doctrine (and we hold the idea of development of doctrine, which often gets us into trouble; if we don’t surrender to the prevailing Zeitgeist on every question, then we’re seen as, well, Jesuitical – dumping old beliefs and practices when it’s politically or socially convenient but not really progressive, so we’re dishonest and unprincipled) and dogma (these are things that are necessary to be held as matters of faith and belief in order to be a Catholic).

          For example, Limbo is not a dogma. It was never required to be believed as a matter affecting your salvation if you disbelieved it, and nowadays it is not taught (on the other hand, neither are you mistaken or a heretic if you still think Limbo is an acceptable hypothesis). You cannot, however, deny something like the Virgin Birth because that is dogma.

          So things like divorce, contraception, abortion, etc. are matters attached to dogma. Can you get a civil divorce? Yes, if there’s good reason. But this does not affect a valid sacramental marriage (that requires annulment, which is a whole other matter, and in the American church became something of a disgrace, as it was regarded as churning out annulments to justify civilly-divorced people getting re-married in church).

          Ask Henry VIII how much wiggle-room we allowed there 🙂

          Contraception – in the 60s, it was considered that we’d get with the times on this (particularly as there is acceptance of natural family planning methods to limit family size). The Anglicans had caved in on artificial contraception in the 1930 Lambeth conference; now that John XXIII had convened in 1963 a Pontifical Commission on examining the question of birth control, the assumption was that Vatican II (even despite John XXIII’s death) would surely see this permitted.

          And then Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae to much disbelief in general from the world and squawks of dismay from the progressives 🙂

          Abortion – there have been varying views on this; you may or may not have seen the noted theologian Nancy Pelosi giving a lecture on St Thomas Aquinas supporting abortion at an early stage of pregnancy. Ironically, things like “the foetus is not really viable until the quickening” were based on The Best Science Of The Day, not theology qua theology, so improved science permitting demonstrations that foetal development takes place before the fortieth day and “quickening” is holding up progress on this one and indeed causing us to retrograde to disgraceful not even Mediaeval but Dark Age levels of superstition 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m going to throw that Chesterton quote at you (you didn’t really think you were going to escape, did you?)

            From “The Usual Article”:

            The Editor of an evening paper published recently what he announced as, and even apologised for, as “an unusual article.” He anxiously guarded himself from expressing any opinion on the dreadful and dangerous views which the unusual article set forth. Needless to say, before I had read five lines of the unusual article, I knew it was a satisfactory sample of the usual article. It was even a careful and correct copy of the usual article; a sort of prize specimen, as if a thing could be unusually usual. I had read the article before, of course–thousands and thousands of times (as it seems to me)–and had always found it the same; but never before, somehow, had it seemed so exactly the same.

            …So it is with this familiar product, the Usual Article. It is not only too usual; it has become intolerably, insupportably, unbearably usual. It is appropriately described as “A Woman’s Cry to the Churches.” And I beg to announce that, though I am of a heavy and placid habit, and have never been accused of any such feminine graces as hysteria, yet, if I have to read this article three more times, I shall scream. My scream will be entitled, “A Man’s Cry to the Newspapers.”

            I will repeat somewhat hurriedly what the lady in question cried; for the reader knows it already by heart. The message of Christ was perfectly “simple”: that the cure of everything is Love; but since He was killed (I do not quite know why) for making this remark, great temples have been put up to Him and horrid people called priests have given the world nothing but “stones, amulets, formulas, shibboleths.” They also “quarrel eternally among themselves as to the placing of a button or the bending of a knee.” All this gives no comfort to the unhappy Christian, who apparently wishes to be comforted only by being told that he has a duty to his neighbour. “How many men in the time of their passing get comfort out of the thought of the Thirty-Nine Articles, Predestination, Transubstantiation, the doctrine of eternal punishment, and the belief that Christ will return on the Seventh Day?” The items make a curious catalogue; and the last item I find especially mysterious.

            … But I touch rapidly and reluctantly on these examples, because they exemplify a much wider question of this interminable way of talking. It consists of talking as if the moral problem of man were perfectly simple, as everyone knows it is not; and then depreciating attempts to solve it by quoting long technical words, and talking about senseless ceremonies without enquiring about their sense. In other words, it is exactly as if somebody were to say about the science of medicine: “All I ask is Health; what could be simpler than the beautiful gift of Health? Why not be content to enjoy for ever the glow of youth and the fresh enjoyment of being fit? Why study dry and dismal sciences of anatomy and physiology; why enquire about the whereabouts of obscure organs of the human body? Why pedantically distinguish between what is labelled a poison and what is labelled an antidote, when it is so simple to enjoy Health? Why worry with a minute exactitude about the number of drops of laudanum or the strength of a dose of chloral, when it is so nice to be healthy? Away with your priestly apparatus of stethoscopes and clinical thermometers; with your ritualistic mummery of feeling pulses, putting out tongues, examining teeth, and the rest! The god Aesculapius came on earth solely to inform us that Life is on the whole preferable to Death; and this thought will console many dying persons unattended by doctors.”

      • AbuDhabi says:

        As Brett pointed out in this subthread, the Catholic Church is not just the Roman Catholic Church. The RCC is simply the biggest part of it. If someone objects really hard against priestly celibacy, they can join one of the Eastern Catholic Churches which allow married men to become priests. The first church-swap is allegedly no questions asked, even.

        (Not contradicting you. Good post.)

      • JDG1980 says:

        Finally, the idea of Francis being a cuddly liberal is a media invention; the reality is something much different (and yes, it’s very hard to get a read on him; the way he seems to shoot his mouth off is probably one of those cultural differences so that a Latin-American as mediated through the Italian press translated into Anglophone terms is going to involve a lot of lossiness).

        I think many Americans are confused about this because, at least for the past few decades, conservative Christianity in this country has been strongly connected with right-wing political positions on issues such as economics and the environment. That wasn’t necessarily true historically (see, for example, the career of William Jennings Bryan), and from what I can determine it isn’t true in much of the rest of the world, especially the “global South”.

        In other words, in the U.S., we hear someone talking about conservative sexual morality, and we naturally assume that they’re also against unions, against increasing the minimum wage, against controls on greenhouse gases, and so forth. Pope Francis comes from a Latin American background where none of this is true, so he confuses many Americans on both the left and the right with what seems to us to be an odd mixture of positions.

        If liberals (God bless their hearts) are expecting a pope who’s going to cave in on divorce, contraception, abortion, female and married priests, remarriage in church of the divorced, same-sex marriage etc., I think they’ll have a long wait.

        I suspect that, of the positions listed above, contraception is probably the most likely to be revised. Humanae Vitae isn’t that old a ruling, and was controversial even when made; the Pope overruled his own committee in issuing it. Worldwide polls of Catholics show that there is still a consensus against divorce, female priests, and recognition of gay relationships (acceptance of this is largely limited to the U.S. and Europe, while Latin America and Africa remain much more traditionalist). But the Church’s rulings on contraception are quite unpopular even in the Global South. And unlike with divorce and homosexuality, it’s not necessary to explain away inconvenient passages in the New Testament, just to accept that Pope Paul VI made a mistake. (As a liberal Universalist Christian, I can make what I consider a plausible argument why St. Paul’s writings on homosexual relations refer to the abusive Greco-Roman practice of pederasty and don’t apply to gay people today, but I doubt conservative Catholics would find them persuasive.)

        • Alraune says:

          In other words, in the U.S., we hear someone talking about conservative sexual morality, and we naturally assume that they’re also against unions, against increasing the minimum wage, against controls on greenhouse gases, and so forth.

          The cross-wired, “anti-libertarian” position there has only about 1% stated adherence in the US. When anyone remembers it exists, it’s usually referred to as hardhatism, and is, fittingly, still most associated with Catholics. Its relative rarity was responsible for the confused reactions that the more politicized sort of reviewers had to the Daredevil Netflix show.

          I don’t think the American version ever viewed environmentalism as more than a fancy-pants affectation though.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m starting to think that Trump may very well be a hardhat.

            Most people wouldn’t associate him with the “fiscally liberal” part, but so far, all of his talk on economics has been about how Mexicans are stealing our jobs. This sort of rhetoric is directly opposed to free trade, and economic protectionism has slowly but surely become a feature of the left more than the right in the U.S. (I recall an Obama campaign commercial blasting Mitt Romney for opposing a tariff on Chinese tires – the message being “Obama got tough on the Chinese and saved hundreds of jobs at the tire factory – while evil Mitt Romney would just allow cheap Chinese tires to flood the market here in the US!”)

          • Alraune says:

            Uh, no. He’s not what anyone would normally call a social conservative and he isn’t talking up the unions and the safety nets.

          • Matt M says:

            His very first public statement was to make an anti-immgration, “dey took our jerbs” argument in favor of economic protectionism. While this isn’t explicitly “pro-union” it’s also the same type of logic that is generally appealing to union voters. Also would be pointless of Trump to attack unions, as Christie can easily lay claim to the “anti-union” voting bloc.

            He’s not known right now as a social conservative, but do you really think he’s not going to run that way?

        • AbuDhabi says:

          From a cynical perspective, the Church has everything to lose from switching her stance on contraception, in the same way as with abortion. Both of these suppress natural growth, and natural growth is how you get the vast majority of the new Church membership in the West (not sure about Africa and Asia; proselytization seems to be doing extremely well there). Standing ground and becoming more and more alien to the non-Catholic public is definitely the way to go, since that would cut down on apostasy too (like things went with the Amish).

          • CJB says:

            I just converted back to Christianity- formally did so on Friday.

            And I don’t want a church that believes in I’m ok, you’re ok.

            I want something to give me structure, strength, hope, and will. I want the FAITH, boyo.

            There’s a reason that Unitarian Universalism never really caught on- I believe that people want structure, want guidelines, even somewhat arbitary ones.

            The increasing trend of alienation in modern society, the increasing reports of incredibly unsatisfied, lonely, alienated people….I think that the best move for Catholicism is to be precisely what it always has been- the rock of moral behavior and structure.

            There’s a REASON ISIS is having such an easy time recruiting, and it ain’t the coherent philosophy. It’s the meaning, structure, action, and moral structure. When you cast out the more or less harmless ones, people will find the bad ones.

          • Creutzer says:

            The increasing trend of alienation in modern society, the increasing reports of incredibly unsatisfied, lonely, alienated people….I think that the best move for Catholicism is to be precisely what it always has been- the rock of moral behavior and structure.

            Perhaps. Although I don’t know that catholicism is such a healthy religion. At least where I live, which is a traditionally catholic country, the degree to which people take their religion seriously seems to be positively correlated with how psychologically broken they are. (Usual disclaimers apply, mostly because of small sample size.)

            There’s a REASON ISIS is having such an easy time recruiting, and it ain’t the coherent philosophy. It’s the meaning, structure, action, and moral structure.

            As if Saudi Arabia didn’t have enough structure yet. (Recruitment of ISIS from the west is practically negligible, it’s just the media that make such a big deal out of this.) Also, what ISIS offers is not exactly a secure, structured, well-regulated life.

          • CJB says:

            From a traditionalist muslim stance, Saudi Arabia is becoming dangerous liberal- what do you think Bin Laden’s beef with them was?

            I’d point out that you’re much more likely to hear about the religious kooks, particularly as I’m guessing per your comment that you aren’t yourself religious- it’s an easy selection bias.

            From my own countervailing anecdotes, people who take religious SERIOUSLY tend to be quiet, polite, and well balanced. I separate this from people that are LOUD about their religion.

          • Creutzer says:

            From a traditionalist muslim stance, Saudi Arabia is becoming dangerous liberal- what do you think Bin Laden’s beef with them was?

            That may be, although I’m somehow skeptical that this is sufficient to trigger the kind of “lack of structure in one’s life” syndrome that may be becoming common in the west.

            I’d point out that you’re much more likely to hear about the religious kooks, particularly as I’m guessing per your comment that you aren’t yourself religious- it’s an easy selection bias.

            I agree in principle, although in my particular case it is the sample size that I’m more worried about because the impression is based on the people I personally know and among which I wouldn’t think that there are any well-adjusted individuals who hide their religious status.

            From my own countervailing anecdotes, people who take religious SERIOUSLY tend to be quiet, polite, and well balanced.

            Is that specifically about Catholics?

          • LTP says:

            @AbuDhabi, that would be fine except only a negligible portion of Catholics in the west don’t use contraception, and even many of those probably do “natural family planning”.


            I can sympathize with your decision a lot, though I agree with Creutzer that I don’t think Catholicism (and most established religions) is a healthy religion in the modern west, at least for most people, including myself.

            Also, why is is that people act like these comforting and structuring rules and morality are always super conservative? Why isn’t there a religion with rules and structure but doesn’t care who or how many people you fuck? Or if you’re gay?

            “The increasing trend of alienation in modern society, the increasing reports of incredibly unsatisfied, lonely, alienated people”

            My perception is that in modern society there’s fewer people in the middle and more at the ends of the bell-curve of social connectedness. There are more people who are alienated and alone, yes, but there are also more people who have found great niche communities where they’re far happier than they would otherwise have been.

          • AbuDhabi says:

            that would be fine except only a negligible portion of Catholics in the west don’t use contraception, and even many of those probably do “natural family planning”.

            And the usage of contraception would become even more prevalent were the Church to stop advocating the opposite. Just because corruption is in evidence is no reason to legitimize the corruption as standard practice.

            Also, why is is that people act like these comforting and structuring rules and morality are always super conservative? Why isn’t there a religion with rules and structure but doesn’t care who or how many people you fuck? Or if you’re gay?

            Because human sexuality is of critical importance. One might say that there’s scant little more important than a group’s attitudes towards procreation. Failing to be at least as fertile as the competition normally means that you will be promptly out-competed – evolution’s gentle hand pruning the tree. Being inferior in spreading its credo, such a sect would die out within a generation or two, never mind lasting thousands of years.

            Such sects did exist in the past. They got nowhere fast, for a variety of reasons, including their low fertility.

            Obviously, there is another method of spreading the faith – proselytization – which is especially true in modern times, with the advent of mass media. This helps the low-fertility groups spread, allows them to exist for longer than they’d naturally do. Eventually, though, I expect that those susceptible towards this will become increasingly rare, because they are quite naturally choosing against their own procreation, so nature favours those genetically-inclined towards a high degree of resistance to brainwashing in the end.

          • Dahlen says:

            @AbuDhabi re: sexual mores & fertility

            But really, how strong is the connection between conservative sexual mores and high fertility? Logically, not just statistically? Having gone neck-deep into the moral prescriptions of my local branch of Christianity, I noticed a general strong endorsement of chastity, to the point where the most highly acclaimed life for married couples was that of a sexless marriage. And at least around here, the most religious people tend to be those well past their fertile years.

            It makes me wonder: if someone were sex-negative on these grounds, would they eat their hat if they saw sexually liberal groups having higher fertility? It certainly seems as if these variables could at least in theory be de-coupled.

          • Adam says:

            One might say that there’s scant little more important than a group’s attitudes towards procreation. Failing to be at least as fertile as the competition normally means that you will be promptly out-competed – evolution’s gentle hand pruning the tree.

            Except the group we’re a part of is “humans” and we’ve already out-competed everything else fighting with us for control of the critical resources we need to make more humans. You can’t just pass on Catholicism the way you pass on humanity. Surely, it’s heritable to a greater degree than zero, but plenty of people born to Catholics don’t remain Catholic, and at least part of the reason is the stance on non-procreative sex.

          • Alraune says:

            But really, how strong is the connection between conservative sexual mores and high fertility? Logically, not just statistically?

            Won’t that primarily depend on how strictly you define the “sexual mores” part of society?

            I think you’re looking at it from the wrong angle though. High fertility is a constraint, not what’s being maximized. We’re optimizing for civilizational success, and though nobody’s quite sure what the underlying mechanism is, being, just, gratuitously into monogamy seems to create one of the necessary conditions across a wide variety of otherwise distinct cultures in different eras and locations. (My personal suspicion is that the active ingredient is a strong culture of respect for property rights.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            Why isn’t there a religion with rules and structure but doesn’t care who or how many people you fuck? Or if you’re gay?

            There have been many. They lose out to the ones that do care, because evolution is real.

          • Adam says:

            That seems like a very tenuous claim to make. Plenty of extremely successful and long-lived civilizations were dominated by religions without a heavy emphasis on sexual purity and chasteness. That didn’t even seem to be a particularly important feature of Roman Catholicism when it first won over Europe, and the success with the rest of the world seems to owe more to the fact that Spain and Portugal had really big navies and guns than anything to do with the memetic ingenuity of the doctrine. Same thing with Islam. It was practiced by really good empire builders. If anything, the most relevant part of both religions in getting them to spread seems to be the “convert everyone and burn them if they refuse” part more than no sex out of wedlock. I’m not all that familiar with Judaism, but I just looked it up and it seems to say they forbid sex out of wedlock, and a woman can’t withhold sex from her husband or that’s grounds for divorce. That sounds just as backwards and ridiculous as Christianity and Islam, yet Jews have never spread across the world and conquered half of it.

          • Alraune says:

            Tenuous, definitely. But when Babylon, Rome, the Song, and Catholic Europe all imposed a monogamous family structure first, then massively prospered, that tenuous link is very interesting.

          • LHN says:

            Both Christianity and Islam (the latter if anything even more so) are demonstrably effective at spreading themselves by multiple means. Being carried by empire builders isn’t a necessary or sufficient condition: when the Mongols conquered large segments of the Muslim world, they mostly became Muslim (and to a first approximation no one became Tengrist). Likewise, Christianity took over empires before empires tried to spread Christianity– whatever it did with the levers of power, it had to first be convincing without access to them. Likewise, every outsider who conquered territory in Europe became Christian (Muslims excepted), and that usually happened while they were more powerful than the Christians around them rather than being forced on them at swordpoint.

            They also appear to offer much better resistance to one another than most local religions do to either, with, again, Islam seeming to have something of an advantage. Islam was able to consolidate gains against Christianity in the Mediterranean basin, and then later in places like Bosnia and Albania. The only place offhand I can think of that went from majority Muslim to majority Christian is Iberia, and my impression is that was more by population replacement than by conversion.

            My impression is that to have general resistance to proselytization, a religion needs a certain level of sophistication (though that may be hard to pin down non-tautologically), and at least some pretensions to universal applicability even if not demanding universal belief. Hinduism and many strains of Buddhism do well generally. (Though South Korea’s looking to be an exception, with half again as many Christians as Buddhists and a widening gap.) And of course Judaism has been selecting for resistance against suppression or absorption since before either of the current big players appeared on the scene.

            More parochial or local beliefs are placed under serious evolve-or-die pressure. They sometimes find that syncretism (“this god is actually this saint!”) is easier than maintaining full independence.

          • AbuDhabi says:

            But really, how strong is the connection between conservative sexual mores and high fertility? Logically, not just statistically? Having gone neck-deep into the moral prescriptions of my local branch of Christianity, I noticed a general strong endorsement of chastity, to the point where the most highly acclaimed life for married couples was that of a sexless marriage. And at least around here, the most religious people tend to be those well past their fertile years.

            Chastity does not equate celibacy, and not every branch of Christianity is equal. What you describe sounds like that sect taking the proscription against illicit intercourse way too far, into licit territory. Properly traditional branches teach, for example, that it is the spouse’s duty to have sex when the other party asks, that half the purpose of marriage is procreation, and that neither can take up vows of celibacy unless both agree to this.

            Except the group we’re a part of is “humans” and we’ve already out-competed everything else fighting with us for control of the critical resources we need to make more humans.

            We’re not just humans. Yes, we’ve outcompeted everything else, to the point where the primary form of competition is between subgroups of humans.

            You can’t just pass on Catholicism the way you pass on humanity. Surely, it’s heritable to a greater degree than zero, but plenty of people born to Catholics don’t remain Catholic, and at least part of the reason is the stance on non-procreative sex.

            Catholicism (understood as acting Catholic) is conveyed differently than mere genes, but almost undoubtedly influenced by them, as you note. However, it is still conveyed through the parent-to-child indoctrination mechanism (as opposed to the missionary-to-convert mechanism). Those who convert away on grounds of the ideology being “too procreative” are basically shooting themselves in the foot, where the number of their descendants is concerned. In a way, it purifies the remaining stock.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          >acceptance of this is largely limited to the U.S. and Europe, while Latin America and Africa remain much more traditionalist

          That’s news to me, we’ve had gay marriage for five years now.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’ve never understood Popehat’s sidebar. What is the difference between a list of bloggers and a blogroll? Is one single-person blogs and the other group blogs? Is one simply a list of bloggers, whereas the blogroll contains endorsed blogs? It bloggles the mind.

    • Popehat has a policy of linking to almost any blog that asks, provided that the other blog links back to them. I think that’s what the “blogroll” category is.

      • satanistgoblin says:

        That seems stupid.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          Search engines, while of course sophisticated pieces of engineering, are rather stupid. Google’s search algorithms reward link trading.

  8. Gwen S. says:

    The Floor Employment thread is closed, so I’ll add my suggestion here.

    If you need a reliable job that can feed and clothe you, you could do worse than become a Certified Nurse Assistant. You can usually get certified for less than $1000 and a 100 hours of class time. When you’re finished, you can reliably earn $400-500 a week while having basic insurance coverage. With a few more classes, you can upgrade yourself to an LPN and start making $18/hr.

    Bottleneck: Ability to take a class for a couple month, tolerance of cleaning up poop

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Is that something different from the medical assistant programs that this article says are a terrible deal?

      • skulgun says:

        I took an EMT-Basic class one semester last year for $250 plus textbooks, and have a $13/hr part-time job now. I think CNA has a similar investment-reward ratio.

        It really just matters on how small the up-front cost is, I think.

      • Andrew says:

        I think so- certainly I have several friends who got their CNA license at a community college for even less than $1k, and got $12/hr fulltime + health insurance very easily. It’s more of a general license- I think the scams tend to be the overly specific sort taught/sold by “technical colleges” and other degree mills.

      • Gwen S. says:

        There are indeed a number of pro-profit schools that offer rip-off “medical assistant” classes. Make sure you see the words “certified nursing assistant” before enrolling. If in doubt, check with your local board of regents.

  9. ReaperReader says:

    I’ve started a new job. They say they want help with quality assurance (QA) of their data, and warned me not to be horrified by what they’re already doing, so I thought “Well it’s nice to have warning for a change.” This isn’t the whole of my job, officially I’m meant to be working with the data, but that always leads into questions of quality of the data.

    But instead it turns out they’ve got pretty good QA systems already in place. Can anyone point out some resources on the latest ideas on QA?

    • The sorts of places that have the presence of mind to warn you about their existing practices are probably already in the upper half of good practice. The ones you really need to worry about are the places that see nothing wrong with storing business-critical data in an Access 2005 database.

      • Agronomous says:

        Exactly: that’s what Excell 2001 is for!

        • stillnotking says:

          You jest, but at my current job — a large-ish telecom company whose name you’d probably recognize — our canonical hardware list is literally an Excel spreadsheet on a SharePoint maintained by four different managers.

          I’ve been trying for two years to tell them that “We don’t have the budget for a real solution” is the business equivalent of “I can only afford to eat at McDonald’s.”

          • Pku says:

            Don’t know which company you’re working with, but when I tried signing up for wifi with Frontier, they demanded I fax my documents over. And then didn’t get them. And also had terrible phone quality (in the technical lots-of-interference sense). Bear in mind that this is a telecommunications company.

  10. Muga Sofer says:

    Does anyone have a recommended alternative to Reddit?

    • Andrew says:

      Really depends on what you’re using it for- it’s largely a news-aggregator for me, so a good replacement is the accumulation of blogs in my bookmarks folder that posts frequent links posts.

      • tailcalled says:

        It could be a good idea to use an RSS reader instead of bookmarks.

        • Andrew says:

          I’ve done such in the past- largely I end up wanting only to read certain blogs in certain “moods”, and not have an undifferentiated feed. I suppose I could set up groups of feeds, but I don’t see the clear advantage to this over traditional bookmarks.

          • tailcalled says:

            “but I don’t see the clear advantage to this over traditional bookmarks.”

            I generally find that it’s easier to keep track of in an RSS reader, but if you’ve already tried RSS readers then it probably means they won’t help you.

      • brungl says:

        twitter also works well as a link aggregator, though the initial investment of time (finding people to follow who actually share interesting things) is pretty high.

    • Nuño says:


    • Wrong Species says:

      Voat is supposedly the new cool alternative.

  11. Gene says:

    CSS? If you haven’t found someone already maybe I can help.

  12. chaosmage says:

    Serious personal question. Should I try to promote my Seven Secular Sermons project – and if so, how? Should I do anything besides record it and put it on my blog? I’m insecure and queasy around self-promotional matters, but I crave publicity too. I’m usually a confident guy, but this is important so I get nervous about ridiculous stuff like whether people will hate this very post.

    Basically, part of me thinks I should just keep writing because the result is what counts in the end, but another part wants lots of people exposed to is finished so far, to make them happy and obtain feedback. How can I optimize my decision-making on this?

    • Sandy says:

      Yes please — promote it. It was amazing, and more people should experience it! That being said, I’m not entirely sure how to go about it.

    • It looks like a cool project. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at things like SEO and advertising, but I can at least advise you to get rid of the queasiness around self-promotion – it’s for a good cause and what you’re writing is worth promoting. Be shameless.

  13. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    The Anti-Democracy Activist recently answered several questions in which he laid out some criticisms of Slate Star Codex. His first complaint is that Scott is too charitable, and naively extends the assumption of good faith to people who, AntiDem believes, rather obviously do not deserve it. His next criticism is that Scott is too wordy, and that the same concepts he writes about in several-thousand-word blog posts could be explained much more concisely. His last complaint is that Scott accepts most of the same premises that reactionaries do as the foundations of his analyses, but then “pulls a big coitus interruptus on the conclusions and lets progressivism cuck him instead.”

    • skulgun says:

      Is there a reason ‘cuck’ needs to be part of anyone’s vocabulary at all?

    • Jordan D. says:

      In my opinion, the first post demonstrates within itself why it is wrong.

      It looks to me like this gentleman misstates Scott’s position, dismisses that position as an infantilization of his own position (because Scott agrees with him to some limited extent?) and then mocks that wholly self-created conclusion as obvious. The cause of this seems to be a lack of enough charity to discern the nuance of Scott’s position as opposed to glancing at a few of the statements in a post and assuming the thrust of the entire thing.

      (Also, from a stylistic perspective, I think Scott’s lengthy posts are interesting and engaging and I hate every minute spent reading Moldbug’s posts. No accounting for taste, I suppose.)

      If you’re not charitable enough while reading people who don’t entirely agree with you, you come to wrong conclusions as to what their positions are and why they believe them. I think this person has done so.

      …but I’ve only ever read three posts by them, so I could be wrong.

      • CJB says:

        Not to be a jerk, but as a fan of the english language-


        Is there any reason why typing “o-l-d” after “cuck” is not acceptable? a specific reason of utility? Because otherwise, it just sets my teeth on edge.

        I enjoy Moldbug and Scott for precisely and entirely the same reasons.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          >Is there any reason why typing “o-l-d” after “cuck” is not acceptable?

          “cuck” rolls better off the tongue, and can easier be appended to other words.

        • drethelin says:

          setting your teeth on edge is the point

          • Brad says:

            It’s unclear how that point is reconcilable with a desire to actually have any meaningful impact.

            The audience for ‘hey-look-at-me-I-don’t-care-about-taboos-or-social-norms’ is pretty limited. Inherently so.

          • CJB says:

            It doesn’t tick me off, or make me think.

            I feel precisely the same way about using “cuck” as I do about using ‘yolo’- it doesn’t make me see you as clever, it’s useful shorthand for “Person that, if I see them drowning, utilitarianism suggests I should keep walking.”

          • HeelBearCub says:


            The point isn’t to tick you off. The point is to demean Scott as unmanly. It is an insult. Like most insults, using the full or proper term is too precise, too concerned with meaning and not enough with emotion.

            This is why we call people “dick” and not “penis”, etc.

            Plus “cuck” is one syllable and ends in a plosive, which is always a plus when it comes to derogatory language.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            I think -cuck- is used much more specifically here than it’s given credit for.

            The traditional meaning of a cuckold is a man who is tricked into providing for children who aren’t his. It has also taken on a meaning of someone who tolerates his spouse’s adultery out of powerlessness or fear, as well as someone who encourages it and finds it sexually gratifying.

            I speculate that -cuck- is meant to imply that S.Alexander makes peace with the same tribe that distorts the truth and abuses the people who dare speak it. It’s sort of similar to accusing him of suffering from -Stockholm Syndrome-.

            [This was all my speculation about someone’s else’s speculations about S.Alexander.]

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Unique Identifier:
            Yes, I agree. I was attempting to make a similar point.

            Except, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as nuanced as your making it. Simply replace it with any other insulting euphemism for unmanly of the last several millennia (sissy, fag, etc.). The derivation is important, but doesn’t really affect how it is used in practice.

          • Alraune says:

            That dude’s ask response is the only case in which I’ve seen someone use “cuck” where the metaphor actually made sense.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I think the metaphor works better if you think of Scott as the wife, Neoreaction as the husband and Progressivism as the “bull”.

            As weird as it is, though, it seems to me as an attempt to make a metaphor, not just cuckposting. Besides, I don’t think the guy goes on 4chan, since NRx is not very popular there.

          • anon says:

            I take it you haven’t spent much time on /r9k/ (not that I can blame you)

          • Autonomous says:

            “Cuck” sounds like a compression of cock, cunt, and fuck and it makes me ill.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m kekking pretty hard at the neoreactionary scolding SJWs for being intolerant for a couple reasons. The main one should be obvious. But additionally, when have hardcore SJWs ever described their goal as tolerance? Tolerance is a nice way of avoiding a hostile workplace environment but not a particularly effective way of stopping oppression. You don’t stop people from doing a thing by tolerating the thing.

    • walpolo says:

      From the first of those posts:

      >>The real problem with him is that he *ever* thought that the left genuinely cared about free speech or opposed witch hunting,

      *The* left, eh?

      Perfect illustration of the difference between Scott and this kind of shallow thinker.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m not sure what the word “cuck” is meant to do in that sentence. If it’s “cuckold”, well, the verb already exists. If they don’t realise that “cuckold” is a verb as well as a noun and so “cuck” is a false backformation, then they should learn to use English. If they’re too queasy to say “fuck”, then they should expand their vocabulary of euphemisms. If they’re going for a cutesy neologism portmanteau of “cuckold” and “fuck”, nobody likes a smart-arse.

      Whatever the intention, they are not clearly communicating their meaning.

      • Rowan says:

        As I’ve seen it used, “cuck” is simply a shorter form/corruption of “cuckold” that can be either a verb or noun, presumably used because sounding like “fuck” makes it fun to say.

        • anon says:

          Cuckposting is just one of /tv/s many wonderful gifts to the internet, second only to Baneposting

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, well, I wasn’t impressed by FCUK and their “tee-hee aren’t we edgy” rebranding because I’m not six anymore, and “cuck sounds like fuck tee-hee aren’t we edgy” doesn’t impress me to any greater extent.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m pretty sure “cuck” is an explicit use of a word that implies unmanliness. The coincidence of it rhyming with fuck is just that. The shortening is because that’s what we tend to do with slurs.

          • Nestor says:

            I was nonplussed by it too until I realized the English language does not have a word equivalent for the Spanish “cabrón”.

    • Faradn says:

      “His first complaint is that Scott is too charitable, and naively extends the assumption of good faith to people who, AntiDem believes, rather obviously do not deserve it.”

      Most of the time Scott’s amount of charity is laudable and not excessive. He is smart enough that he can engage arguments charitably without compromising the truth. Something related to one of the banned topics for this thread falls mostly outside his charity because he’s too emotionally involved with it, but that’s understandable given his experience.

      Very occasionally Scott does seem err on the side of too much charity. Unfortunately is blocked at my work, so I am not sure if the writer already used the following example. On the polyamory thread there was a nasty troll who kept harping on the idea that poly people are ugly. This guy definitely didn’t pass the “kind” filter, his arguments’ quality made it unlikely that they would pass “true,” and their quantity was definitely not necessary.

      Anyway what made me feel sad and angry on behalf of Scott is that he actually acceded to this turd’s demands of pictures of himself (Ozy did too). There was nothing to be ashamed of in their pictures. Scott was hanging out with a bengal tiger in his if I recall. It seemed on principle, though, to be giving in to the demands of a bully–completely unnecessarily. It’s possible that Scott had motivations that I haven’t guessed. Maybe the idea of an internet turd evaluating his looks doesn’t bother him. Nonetheless it struck me as mildly heartbreaking.

      • Zykrom says:

        Wait, does Scott have a bengal tiger? Can someone link to the picture?

        • Scott does not own a tiger – if I remember the backstory correctly, he was at a zoo. The picture showed Scott sitting on a boulder, with a tiger lounging about two meters away on the same boulder.

          Scott used to have the picture on his old personal website, but that website has now been blanked. I couldn’t find the picture anywhere else on the web.

      • Adam says:

        I remember that guy and this is what I thought of when I saw “cuck” above. The dude’s premise was that poly guys only exist because they’re so ugly that no woman would ever fuck them if they weren’t allowed to fuck other men at the same time. This seems to be the same kind of argument. Scott just isn’t alpha enough.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      His last complaint is that Scott accepts most of the same premises that reactionaries do as the foundations of his analyses, but then “pulls a ____ on the conclusions and lets progressivism _____ him instead.”

      Silly words aside, that sounds like something I often thought about SSC a while back. Scott seemed to be talking about using rightwing means to accomplish leftwing ends.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        I think its more “effective” means to “making the world a better place by utilitarian standards” ends.

      • walpolo says:

        I would have thought that if he held premises in common with reactionaries but ended up disagreeing about concrete policies, that would mean he had right wing ends in mind and left wing means.

    • Berna says:

      I *love* Scotts charitableness. I wish more people would follow his example.

  14. Jade McGough says:

    Hey – love your blog. I work professionally as a software engineer (full stack web development) and would be happy to help with css etc. About to go on vacation, so I’ll have plenty of time.

  15. Peter says:

    As a military veteran I like to take my holidays to reflect on what a screwed-up activity working for the military-industrial complex is. After your recent posts on the case of the famous physicist i thought I’d share a couple of anecdotes from my time in the Service related to ADHD and PTSD diagnoses.

    I knew an enlisted who was concerned that he might be suffering from ADHD, and went to a military mental health doctor to see what his options were. He was told in somewhat ambiguous terms that the doctor most often heard this claim from people looking to get out of deployments (you can’t be sent on a deployment if you’re anything less than 100% fit) and that if he wanted to be tagged as undeployable, he’d just have to say so and they’d find something less onerous than SSRIs to tag him with. An interesting case of psychiatrists with a tricky position trying to do the best for their patients.

    Another interesting example of this is the pre and post deployment interviews. Before they send you to a war zone they give you some tests for reflex speed and ‘mental balance’ (read: propaganda regurgitation abilities), when you get back you do them again. But right before they send you back they ask a bunch of questions about how you’re sleeping, whether you ever have violent recurring thoughts, whether you have anyone who is the subject of particular emotional trauma, etc. I ended up tagged for a mandatory interview after that questionnaire- I have a traumatic figure in my life who, turns out, has a PTSD-grade presence in my thought patterns. But! The doc said I was good to go, as it wasn’t military induced or directed toward military personnel, gave me a clean bill of health, and told me to not mention it on questionnaires unless I want a medical discharge.

    Psychiatry’s interactions with the military are, i imagine, rife with stories to be told. Catch-22 is a book about it. I find Catch-22 both funnier and more accurate the more time I spend in the military. Thought I’d share in the open thread.

    Have a great fourth and blow up some ‘merica for me.

    • Tarrou says:

      I’m with you on the issues of being a soldier, but take it from me. Attempting to get advice or sympathy or gods forbid, therapy from civilians is a chump’s game. The comprehension gap is too great, and honesty will only make it worse.

      “Do you ever think of harming others?”

      “Every day, all day. I’m thinking of how I’d kill you right now if you turn dangerous”.

      See the issue? Find vets not connected to your unit or currently in. Pick their brains. Take up a hobby. I got myself an alcohol-and-WoW addiction for a few years. And try like hell not to talk to civilians about military life. Best I can give you.

      P.S. Get yourself a battle buddy (not necessarily military) who can keep you out of jail and on the straight and narrow. If this isn’t a problem for you, be one for someone for whom it is. Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help others.

      • The US military has a description of its culture(s) for therapists.

        A therapist has written a detailed account of what she learned and deduced from it.

        Yeah. You wouldn’t maybe think it, if you weren’t a member of that culture, and, heck, maybe not even if you were. But the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration are confronting the fact that they need to provide their charges with mental health care, but therapists, as a population, apparently show high levels of prejudice against people who serve in the armed forces, and even where not prejudiced, hold many stereotypes of and ignorant ideas about service members, compliments of mass media.

        It’s exactly the same problem as, e.g. gay and lesbian people had in the 1950s-1970s with rampant homophobia among therapists.

        Yes. I am being treated to the astonishing spectacle of the Federal government – of the United States of America, yes! – taking the position of an oppressed minority, and pleading for tolerance and understanding.

        And they’re not wrong! They’re actually precisely and perfectly correct, and the fact they’ve realized that the concept of “cultural competency” applies to service members and veterans, too, is appropriate, amazing, and actually kind of wonderful. In addition to being exactly what the problem needs, and likely to be enormously helpful for service members seeking care, it also helps advance the movement for cultural competency in general. This is a win-win all around.

        • Tarrou says:

          What some dipshit officer directed by a politician to write about military culture has the same rough approximation to actual military culture as a child’s crayon drawing has to reality.

          Officers are not soldiers. Civilians are not soldiers. Soldiers are soldiers.

          P.S. Now that I’ve read through the bits, this “course” was formulated by a pack of civilian therapists and officers, so, worst of all worlds.

          That said, the therapist writing about it is a pretty smart cookie with some of her interpretations, but it is also obvious she’s getting a lot of bad data.

          • Matt M says:

            I feel like any and all of these generalizations are equally useless. The experiences of “military veterans” are so completely unique and diverse as to make it totally useless as a qualifier. Trying to give shrinks special advice to “understand veterans” is like trying to give veterinarians special advice to “understand mammals” as if the difference between treating a rat and treating a chimpanzee is somehow trivial.

            I’m also a military veteran. You know what I did for nine years? Review policy documents about whether or not you were allowed to wear your black hat with your white shirt in order to ensure that the commas were all in the right places. Technically speaking, I was “in the Navy,” and yet I have more in common with your average civilian secretary than I do with a Navy seal.

            If I were to call a mental health line, they might have a phone tree that says “press 5 if you’re a veteran.” Technically speaking, I guess I’m supposed to press the 5, but of course, if I do, I know they’re going to transfer me to someone who wants to tell me that I shouldn’t feel guilty for shooting all of those Arabs in the desert.

          • Tarrou says:

            Were you the asshole in charge of AR 670-1?

            HAVE AT YOU, SIR! 😛

          • Adam says:

            Even the experiences of a single veteran can be pretty damn diverse. I started out as a tank commander and ended up in budgeting before I left the service and they were night and day.

        • Pku says:

          This seems more of the typical american “our military is composed of special, superior people, and even their problems are special and superior beyond your puny ordinary mortal grasp” than an actual argument. Therapists have to deal with problems they haven’t personally experienced all the time, and military service doesn’t seem like it would be an exception. Unless, of course, you start out believing these puny civvies are totally incapable of understanding you and refuse to even attempt actual communication, in which case yes, communication might be a problem.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed. Perhaps the best way to train psych students on how to deal with veterans is to tell them THIS:

            “You are dealing with a group of people who have been subjected to several years of propaganda designed to make them feel that they are superior and their experiences are incomprehensible to everyone in their outgroup, an outgroup which consists of 99% of the population and includes you.”

            Maybe the best thing we could do is tell shrinks that work with veterans to lie and make up their own military service backstory just so the veterans will actually listen to them. Maybe have an advisor handy to help you review the backstory to make sure it’s credible, lest you end up with one of those “stolen valor” psychos who decides to investigate your past or something.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Matt M: I sincerely hope this is satire, but Poe’s law applies.

            Either way, therapists systematically lying to their patients is probably not “the best thing” they can do. Dismissing veterans as “psychos” because they object to outsiders falsely claiming honors that the veterans have fairly earned and the outsiders have not, is also unlikely to be conducive to a positive therapeutic outcome.
            And the odds of a blue-tribe quasi-pacifist convincing a veteran that he is one of them, on the basis of having had an advisor review their backstory, are about nil. Veterans are from long experience very good at spotting bullshit of that sort, and there’s too much tribal knowledge to learn without deep, immersive study.

            Dismissing the entire identity and mindset of the veteran community as the result of propaganda immersion is also unlikely to be helpful, unless the objective is to feel superior. And even then it’s going to look quite silly to the rest of us, because the identity and mindset of the therapist community is at least as much a creation of propaganda as that of the veterans.

          • Matt M says:

            Not satire, but probably more hyperbolic than I needed to be. I tend to be a bit harsh on a community that I technically belong to and am therefore “allowed” to criticize.

            It’s not JUST propaganda in play, but that’s a large part of it. As Pku pointed out, psychiatrists are regularly tasked with relating to those with bizarre experiences, so the notion that veterans are “uniquely unique” is silly. If you can relate to a paranoid schizophrenic enough to treat them, then you can relate to to a veteran.

            As for the stolen valor people, some of them (but presumably not all) ARE in fact psychos who harass and bully people, often people who seem to be mentally ill.

    • chaosmage says:

      If you haven’t, you might want to read this excellent account of war-induced PTSD. This is certainly relatable to non-veterans, and I’m told it’s quite accurate.

  16. Liskantope says:

    I complained some months ago that The Sequences didn’t seem very accessible, and the few I’d read weren’t particularly engaging or easy reading, etc. However, now that they’re arranged in book form, and there is a discussion group for them over at LW which I recently joined (by following along, although I haven’t participated in the comments yet), my attitude is changing. Each of the essays seems relevant, eloquently written, and pleasant to read, something I can occupy myself with during a brief break from whatever else I’m doing. For the most part I still don’t find them super enthralling, but many of them are helping me see some things in a different light or at least understand more of what online rationalists are alluding to. If you are kind of overwhelmed by The Sequences as they existed in non-book form, as I was, it may be worthwhile to get hold of the book and try again.

  17. ddreytes says:

    In re: the Pope.

    It’s funny for me reading a comment like the CotW. For me, it’s incredibly easy to see Francis as a coherent figure, and someone who’s reasonably likely to be sincere. And I honestly don’t get what would ping the bullshit meter more than any other public figure. He’s certainly from a different segment of the church than Benedict was, but he still reads to me as Catholic.

    But then again this is almost certainly attributable to having had a Jesuit education – whether in the sense that I knew a lot of Jesuits and lay Catholics with similar views to Francis’ who I found to be both intelligent and sincere, or because I’ve been brainwashed by the Jebbies, I can’t say.

    • malpollyon says:

      I was disappointed that there wasn’t really any detail in that comment as to why Francis read as insincere. Exactly what belief is he being accused of misrepresenting?

      • Deiseach says:

        I think it’s not so much that Francis is insincere, as that the media are leaping on every opportunity to splash headlines about “Francis is for the gays! Francis will permit divorce! Abortion next, you betcha!” and that’s not at all what is shaking out.

        What usually happens is that Francis delivers extempore remarks, either in homilies or in press questions-and-answers, that depart from the script provided. Then the media churns out a headline like “Who am I to judge?*” Then the Vatican Press Office blanches and rushes out a retraction or clarification that actually, no, he wasn’t saying “Gay sex is A-Okay and not a sin as far as I’m concerned!”

        (*Part of an answer to a very specific question about a specific case, not a general “I’m down with the gays” response, but of course the sound-bite was the part that got publicity. Scroll down to nearly the end, to the question from Ilze Scamparini: “I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private life. I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this? How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront the whole question of the gay lobby?”).

        And that can look like insincerity, that he’s saying one thing to make headlines but when it comes to actually making changes to doctrine, he’s not doing anything.

        The media also loves them some “Francis is struggling with the Curia to modernise the church but the entrenched interests are resisting” narrative, which doesn’t help either.

        And finally you get stories like this which are so incoherent I can’t even 🙂

      • Jaskologist says:

        This seems like a good place to link the Lutheran Satire’s take on “Frank the Hippy Pope.” With a bonus follow-up video, too!

    • danfiction says:

      I think what Francis is extremely adept at—much more than Benedict, and to different audiences than JPII (left rather than right)—is code-switching. He knows who he’s speaking to and when, and often it’s somebody who’s not in the room.

      I don’t—and as a Catholic I’m biased here—but I don’t see him as insincere so much as intuitively aware of what pieces of Catholic doctrine his interlocutor (the media, ex-Catholics, trad and liberal Catholics, whoever) is going to listen to him about without rolling their eyes and walking away. That’s probably why Benedict XVI could go on and on about the environment and poisonous neoliberalism and not get any traction, while Francis can say a lot of the same things and be treated as a conquering hero; he knows where the mind-killers are. (And sure, it helps that he looks like a nice guy, and not the emperor.)

      To be clear, I think he’s calculating, in the sense that he knows how to talk to five different people and leave all of them convinced he secretly, when it all comes down to it, agrees with them. (Laudato Si has exactly enough talk about family and gender and relativism to convince orthodox Catholics he’s not trying to sneakily undermine Catholic social teaching so that they’ll get on board with the rest of it, which is also orthodox but aimed more at people who aren’t.) But I believe he believes all of it, so if he’s insincere he’s got me fooled.

      My example of actual insincere/Jesuitical behavior would be, say, Fr. James Martin. I love his books, but/and his Facebook page is an extended exercise in feigning orthodoxy while implicitly expressing what appear to be serious disagreements with Catholic doctrine on marriage, etc. (The Jesuit magazine, America, has the same manner; the German bishops, on the other hand, seem more sincere in that they just come out and say they disagree.)

      The difference, to me, is the way actual “Jesuitical” insincerity manifests as people saying “Church teaching is correct, but also, throughout history church teaching has evolved, as evidenced by the spirit of Vatican II, and it must keep evolving, also” while what they really mean is “Church teaching is wrong and I can’t wait until Progress allows me to say it.”

      In contrast I hear Francis saying “Church teaching is right, for instance—” and then leading with the part of the “seamless garment” he knows you’ll connect with first.

      • Deiseach says:

        I like Fr Martin well enough, but yes – he wouldn’t be my go-to example of strict orthodoxy 🙂

        Thing is, he is a Jesuit, and there’s a reason they kept getting suppressed and kicked out of countries and got on the bad side of Blaise Pascal.

        Also, he’s American, and the American church has long had a problem with “American exceptionalism, let’s adapt to the culture because it’s special snowflake, yay!”

        On the other hand, I do accept the idea of the development of doctrine. So I’ll just have to trust in the Holy Spirit to sort it all out 🙂

      • ddreytes says:

        An interesting point of view! I think there’s a lot of truth to it. But I also think there’s an extent to which Francis is just better in general as a communicator than Benedict was, and is able to communicate these ideas in a way that makes sense to people where Benedict just wasn’t.

        I also think there’s a real difference in views and especially in style between Francis and Benedict, even if it’s much less than what the popular press would indicate, and even if it explains much less about his positions than the popular press would have you believe. I mean, he does have a different position vis-a-vis the Vatican hierarchy and he has put different points of emphasis on the doctrine. But of course it all fits well within the accepted bounds of church teaching.

        It is kind of a tricky position for me to talk about, as an ex-Catholic who still respects the church, so please let me know if I’m going particularly out of line.

    • Adam says:

      He doesn’t seem insincere or inconsistent to me at all. Maybe because I’m Mexican? My entire family is basically the same shit – anti-abortion, probably even anti-contraception and pre-marital sex for most of them, against gay marriage, pro traditional family and gender roles, but also tremendously pro-labor and close to being socialists. This just seems like another case of white academic types trying to pigeonhole people into their own tiny notions of what it means to be left or right, as if the temporary and contingent coalitions formed by vote-seeking groups in the United States is the only possible way to ideologically group policy stances.

  18. Dude Man says:

    So I have a few questions about MOOCs to anyone who thinks they’ll revolutionize education:

    1. The main benefit of MOOCs is that they let the student learn in a self-directed way at a low cost. However, correspondence courses also tried this same thing and did not have the effect on education that many people think MOOCs will have. Why will MOOCs succeed where correspondence courses failed?

    2. At least some of the benefit of a college education is signalling to potential employees that you are intelligent, conscientious, and conforming. How will MOOCs offer this when MOOCs do not offer any sort of credential?

    • Asterix says:

      I don’t think they will. At the high end of the range of abilities you have students that can learn from a textbook. At the low end, you have students who can’t, and need personal interaction.

      I’d place “can learn from a MOOC” at a a higher level than the textbook-only student. MOOCs are lower bandwidth than a textbook, that is, they have videos, which are slower to use and not searchable, and forums, in which other learners will try to answer your questions. But the other learners don’t know as much as a textbook writer (unless it’s a bad textbook). The textbook, possibly supplemented by an online forum for the topic (and everything sems to have an online forum), is a better learning resource.

      Online can work for certification, I believe. But MOOCs don’t offer any. I expect the enthusiasm for MOOCs will die as people realize they’re not getting anywhere with them.

      • John Schilling says:

        There are people who can learn just fine with nothing more than a good textbook. Others, as you note, need the minimal structure and feedback of a correspondence course. The audiovisual aspect of a MOOC, while slower than text, will bring in some people who are specifically keyed to that style of learning, as will the more immediate feedback. There are real benefits to the MOOC format, which makes it an improvement if we use it in parallel, rather than in place of, other techniques.

        But it is a marginal improvement, not a revolutionary one. Even if the credentialing problem were solved, there probably aren’t enough people specifically geared to this style of learning to make a huge difference. If it were, we’d probably have seen that difference with the correspondence-course and read-the-textbook learners already.

        • Bassicallyboss says:

          I’m not sure that I agree with you about the last part. If I thought that I could take courses online (perhaps in conjunction with proctored tests requiring proof of ID), and get from them a credential of comparable weight for a B.S., I’d be sorely tempted to do that. The money would be nice, but the biggest thing for me would be the greater flexibility of schedule.

          I think it’s less about the inclination of prospective students and more about the status quo. If MOOCs and self-driven learning were the as the default “don’t want to work in terrible, low-paying jobs forever” option that college is seen as now, then you might hear people talking about how universities would never catch on. After all, why would people leave their families and communities and pay tens of thousands of dollars for something they could get at home, much more cheaply?

          There certainly are things you couldn’t do through a MOOC. I study physics, and I can’t imagine any other way to get laboratory experience. But if self-study started offering certifications just as useful to employment as a bachelor’s degree, I expect university enrollment would shrink dramatically over the following 20 years.

          • Chalid says:

            Lab isn’t that fundamental to a physics degree; you do 3 years of a four year physics degree online and just attend a university for the last bit. Same goes for most sciences.

            It’s the humanities courses that are tough to automate.

          • I’ve wondered about the possibility of online courses combined with realspace exams, so as to provide a more convincing credential. Once a quarter the student comes in to a suitable location in the nearest big city to take his exams.

          • James says:

            David Friedman: I’m not totally sure, but I think this is how the Open University operates in the UK.

          • Gamer Imp says:

            To David: My last online class had “web-proctored” exams, where I used an active microphone and webcam the whole time, and the proctor had me show a 360 of my room and desk, hold my ID up to the camera, etc.

      • Asterix says:

        Prompt feedback, or maybe any at all, wouldn’t be possible in a _Massive_ Open Online Course. It could work in a smaller class held online, though.

        • brad says:

          You get computer driven feedback instantly. Unfortunately that rather severely limits the quality of the questions and the feedback given the current state of technology.

        • Danny says:

          In addition to the computer feedback for some tasks already mentioned, you can also have tasks which are peer assessed. Obviously you’re unlikely to get as high quality feedback as from a dedicated teacher, but its still useful. Also, marking and giving feedback on other peoples work is helpful in improving your knowledge.

    • brad says:

      Re: #2

      Revolutionizing education is not the same thing as revolutionizing employment signaling. The benefits you mention flow from a college *degree* not a college *education*. One can currently get the former without getting the later. MOOCs offer people a chance to get the later without the former.

      • Adam says:

        +1 to this. I’ve been taking MOOCs like crazy for a couple years now, but I already have two grad degrees. They’re still great learning tools and ideal for keeping up to date on changing technologies without having to completely go back to school or change careers. The forums aren’t always full of stupid amateurs, either. I’m in the middle of Nick Feamster’s SDN course offered by Princeton through Coursera right now and he and his grad students are very active and responsive and a fair number of people in the course are long-time industry veterans just looking to keep up on new developments, not rank no-nothings.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Long shot, but, given that the topic of online courses has come up, can anyone recommend a good entry-level course in technical drawing and/or CAD, such as one could use to design musical instruments in 3D for subsequent building? There seem to be a few out there but a lot are quite expensive and if anyone has any feedback, that would be useful.

  19. Dude Man says:

    I wonder if re-posting the anti-libertarian FAQ on this site might be a good idea to try and fix the political imbalance of the comments section (assuming Scott views this as a problem, of course). Scott seems to be becoming more libertarian, and it makes sense that this change would be reflected by a corresponding change in the comments section. Running the anti-libertarian FAQ might at least help alleviate this effect a little.

    • drethelin says:

      The anti-libertarian faq is in essence pro-libertarian. By defining and demarcating the limits of what the free market can achieve, it implicitly recommends it as a solution for everything else.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Doesn’t that line of reasoning make every argument against anything an argument for that thing?

        • Alraune says:

          Nah, just means this one’s slightly misnamed. It’s actually “the anti-anarchocapitalism FAQ” or whatever.

          • James Picone says:

            I recall the FAQ making arguments for public healthcare and environmental regulation, neither of which are things I would expect to be supported even by non-ancap libertarians.

            Defining libertarianism as “The market should do everything that we don’t have a good reason for something else to do” seems to me to make everyone that isn’t an explicit communist a libertarian. And maybe the communists too.

            I certainly think I have good reasons for thinking public healthcare/transport/education are Good Things, why some licensing and some regulations in various industries are Good Things, and I think the free market should do its thing in other circumstances. I wouldn’t call myself a libertarian. I doubt the libertarians here would want me to call myself a libertarian either.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      Do you really think that reposting the Non-Libertarian FAQ (it’s called non-libertarian, not anti-libertarian) would substantially lower the proportion of libertarians here? Even assuming that Scott’s criticism is completely correct and all the arguments he makes in the FAQ are sound, I wouldn’t expect merely reading this thing to be at all likely to change a commited libertarian’s mind. Especially given that the hypothetical libertarian Scott is responding to is a particular kind of hardcore libertarian, basically someone who is more Rothbardian than Rothbard. Someone like that is unlikely to stop being a libertarian after merely reading an FAQ (even a novel-length FAQ). Probably the most you can hope for is to make such a reader less certain of his conclusions and to demonstrate to thim that people on the other side are also capable of making reasonable arguments.

      • I think the idea isn’t to change anybody’s mind, but to change the discourse by convincing the most extreme libertarians to leave, convince more nonlibertarians to join, and make moderate libertarians feel less welcome to post pro-libertarian comments.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          That kind of seems like a horrible way to behave. What did the libertarians here do to deserve such treatment?

        • As a rather extreme libertarian (anarcho-capitalist) who has next to no interest in political discussion, I have no intentions of being run off that easily. 😉

          (Since tone doesn’t carry: I am not offended by your comment – the above is purely meant in jest and mirth.)

  20. The Mad Hatter says:


    What if we used rockets to deliver cargo?

    You could send something from one end of Earth to another in 20 minutes. SpaceX and Blue Origin have helped bring down launch costs to around $5 to $7 million. Could plummet further if we had solid commercial incentives. The Falcon Heavy will soon be able to carry 53 tons, and will be completely reusable.

    How wonderful if the world could slowly develop the capacity to ship anything anywhere within a half hour. Might usher in an era of highly-integrated yet independent living.

    Do you think this goal could be translated into a proper business strategy?

    • drethelin says:

      What exactly is worth 7 million dollars to get there NOW instead of tomorrow or week from now?

      The kind of things that suffer from long transit times like extremely fancy foods or unstable chemicals are also likely to suffer consequences from being transported at very high G forces.

    • John Schilling says:

      People have been looking at this for a long time, and it is probably only a secondary market that opens long after cheap, reliable commercial space transportation is an unremarkable daily occurrence.

      First, your numbers are a bit off – halfway around the world is 45 minutes, not 20. Meaning several hours door-to-door, minimum. Second, Falcon Heavy only carries 36 tons of payload if it isn’t reusable. Drops to something like 36 tons if you recover just the two boosters, 18 tons if you insist on the first-stage core, and there are presently no plans to recover the second stage.

      And you don’t want a Falcon Heavy in the first place, because that’s too big for any plausible market. Virgin Galactic’s Launcher One aims for 500 lbs of payload at maybe $5E6/launch, and DARPA’s ALASA is 100 lbs for $1E6. So, six hundred dollars an ounce for Absolutely, Positively, Has To Get There This Afternoon.

      It doesn’t help that you’re only going suborbital. The energy requirement for transcontinental or transoceanic suborbital flight is almost as high as for a LEO launch, and what you save in fuel you probably give back in the reentry and landing system.

      It doesn’t help as much as you’d think that the suborbital trip lasts under an hour; the dominant issues will be last-mile and latency (yes, even with drones). Until every major city pair gets enough traffic for hourly suborbital flights this is still basically an overnight-delivery service with global rather than continental reach, and maybe same-day under very favorable conditions.

      It hurts, a lot, that the best modern rockets tend to explode once every fifty launches or so. Anything valuable and urgent enough for such a service, is probably too valuable to risk at even a tenth that failure rate.

      And, as drethelin points out, what is really the market? Even assuming an order of magnitude cost reduction over what Virgin and DARPA are promising, how much cargo is there really out there that is worth sixty dollars an ounce to deliver today rather than the day after tomorrow? Why can’t you find an adequate substitute on your own continent, where ordinary jet planes will suffice for same-day delivery and even warp-drive starships won’t do much better due to the aforementioned latency and last-mile issues?

      • The Mad Hatter says:

        Hi guys, thanks for getting back!

        So the main reason I brought up cargo-rockets was because I think we need to create a reason, an economic driver, for rockets to become cheap.

        Access to space is expensive. Too expensive. Because rockets and spaceships are too expensive. We need to make them heckalot cheaper if we want to make space travel a Sunday-afternoon thing.

        One way is space tourism. Like Blue Origin, Bigelow Aerospace, XCOR, etc. are doing. Except, no one really *needs* to take a space tour. It’ll take forever.

        What we need is a solid economic force function that makes going into space self-evident. If space can become a necessary component of our global economic routine, we’ll have found a powerful reason to make it accessible. Then: snowball. Access to space begets greater profits begets greater access to space begets greater profits begets greater access to space.

        The problem I have with SpaceX and Blue Origin is that they’re looking to make going into space itself the end. (Well, of course it is the end if you want humans to become transplanetary!) They’re trying to find reasons *in space* to jumpstart the space industry. But what if they’ve got it reversed? Maybe there’s reason enough down here to justify a space industry? The global logistics network?

        Cargo rockets?

        • Alraune says:

          The evacuated tube transport guys (“bring the convenient parts of space down here, and then ship things through it”) probably have a better model than using actual rockets.

          • The Mad Hatter says:

            Pretty neat, actually.

            Still, what if they’re just trying to breed faster horses? You know … circa 1890s … “Automobile? No sir we don’t need that, we need faster horses.” Also, you can’t go directly from anywhere to anywhere else, just from some major cities to other major cities.

            ET3 is probably a better bet given how things currently are. Way more cost-effective than many other options.

            Still … almost space travel vs. actual space travel …

    • Sam says:

      If you’re mildly lucky, none of the inter-continental cargo will reach its destination in an intact state. If you’re unlucky, you spark WWIII. You *might* not immanentise the eschaton and also get some things delivered if you’re very lucky and there’s a high degree of assurance between the sending facility and the receiving country (and also all other potential targets, given the flight profile…), which would add costs, and more importantly slow the process down from ’20 minutes’ to ’20 minutes plus however long it takes to establish that the rocket being launched is actually carrying refrigerated organs for transplant and not 8 nuclear-tipped MIRVs, multiplied by the number of actors with anti-ballistic missile defences or nuclear weapons’.

      • The Mad Hatter says:

        Assume it’s okay to have ICBMs and whatnot flying around. (We’re talking about the future here!)

    • Nornagest says:

      Like John Schilling says above, this is an old concept. To get an idea of its history, you might want to start by looking at the Wikipedia page on rocket mail.

      • The Mad Hatter says:

        Dr. Robert Zubrin, the onetime Mars Society head, had similar ideas, too. From that Wikipedia link:

        “Technologists like Robert Zubrin, of Mars Society fame, think that rocket mail, or at least ultra-elite business package delivery, may become commercially viable with the development of fully reusable launch systems, particularly single-stage to orbit vehicles. Such systems would allow package delivery anywhere in the world in 30–45 minutes. This idea has been forwarded by Zubrin and was the original business plan behind Pioneer Rocketplane (now Rocketplane Limited, Inc.), which he co-founded. Zubrin has since left the company, which is now focused on pursuing a somewhat more conventional space tourism strategy. The potential of package delivery with reusable launch vehicles is discussed in Zubrin’s book Entering Space.”

        Both Pioneer Rocketplane and Rocketplane Ltd, Inc. are long defunct. Still, there has got to be a better way than space tourism!

        • Adam says:

          The thing is you can achieve this through very good logistics planning, well-placed distribution centers, and just-in-time inventory management. It’s not an easy problem on a global scale, but probably easier than figuring out how to make it cheap to achieve escape velocity.

          • The Mad Hatter says:

            Adam, if there were a system that made logistics practically redundant,* what would it look like? Where you could ship from point of origin to destination without calculating for distribution or inventory management? What possible benefits (that we currently lack) could there be in such a system for the global economy?

            *Earth-based logistics; I’m not ruling out the possibility of propping up large distribution stations in LEO.

          • Adam says:

            Honestly, I don’t know. I used to work closely with logisticians, but I never was one. This was for the military, mind you, and forward staging was the best option we had for just about anything unless it’s B-2s delivering bombs. The obvious benefits is if the land and labor are very cheap where you manufacture, then you can simply store things where they get built. But in the long long run, it seems like forwarding staging of raw materials with the only thing being shipped the software design to a 3D-printer is the true killer app.

  21. Fairhaven says:

    I’d like to raise the question of empathy in the context of tribal identity.

    Scott writes: “The mirror neuron has always been one of liberalism’s strongest weapons. A Christian doesn’t decide to tolerate Islam because she likes Islam, she decides to tolerate Islam because she can put herself in a Muslim’s shoes and realize that banning Islam would make him deeply upset in the same way that banning Christianity would make her deeply upset.”

    Scott – I don’t think this comment lives up to your standards for rational discourse, neither the assertion that liberals are strong in empathy and mirroring, nor that liberals are Christian, nor that liberals tolerate Islam out of a desire for quid pro quo religious toleration. (Not to mention that the two choices are not ‘tolerating’ Islam or ‘banning’ Islam, an example of liberal tribal thinking and argumentation.)

    The ascription of mirroring/empathy to liberalism is unwarranted. I know it is one of liberalism’s fondest beliefs about itself, but it does not stand up to reality testing.

    In no particular order:
    – Religious toleration in America dates to the early days of our founding, and grew out of the competition among different Protestant sects. It was not based on empathy but on practicality. No one sect dominated the others, and none wanted the government coercively involved.

    – Modern liberalism is famous for intolerance towards people of faith in their own culture. You can’t use empathy to explain liberal toleration of Islam and ignore liberal intolerance towards Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews and pious Catholics.

    – Liberals are equally strong in intolerance as in tolerance. Some groups are privileged with tolerance, others are reviled and attacked viciously. Palestinians receive empathy, pious patriotic Israeli Jews are anathematized and have boycotts organized to destroy them. No empathy for them. Gays receive empathy, people loyal to religions that teach gay abstinence do not. Women receive empathy, white males do not. And so on. Empathy is hardly a liberal “neuron”, hardly a moral strength and so far from being consistent as to be meaningless. Liberals enjoy being empathic in ways that serves their tribal identity, and at the same time harms those they see as enemies.

    – There are alternate explanations for liberal tolerance of Islam that don’t have these inconsistency problems.

    o Empathy for Islam is required for this in-group membership. Alarm about jihadi Islam is labeled Islamophobia and ascribed to the Outgroup. Breaking this rule results in being cast out of the group, or attacked viciously. I’ve seen it happen here at slatestarcodex. This isn’t tolerance or a mirror gene, it’s tribalism.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      I don’t think he is claiming that is how liberals work, I think he is claiming that is how liberals get their goals accepted by broader society (in the US only about 40% bother to vote for midterms).

      • Fairhaven says:

        Good point. It is true that one of liberalism’s (blue tribe) biggest ‘weapons’ (Scott’s word) is that their self-image of being more empathic and tolerant (Scott’s ‘mirror neuron’) is broadly accepted and keeps many otherwise dissatisfied people in their tribe. who wants to leave the Good People and become one of the selfish, unempathic, intolerant Bad People?

        But I also think – from this comment ascribing religious tolerance of all things to the Blue Tribe – that Scott accepts this self-aggrandizing self-attribution of strength in mirroring as true.

        as to all of you who think Scott is talking about classic 18 century liberalism and not the Blue Tribe, that does not fit this comment or many other little similar examples and asides. Scott seems to take as given that Blue Tribe people are stronger in the empathic virtues.

        Samuel – I didn’t understand your point about the 40% turnout for midterms.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          People who identify with the political cause of modern liberalism are only about 20% of the population. It seems unlikely empathy is such an important tool if it is failing to get so few people to meet the low barrier of going to the voting booth.

    • anon says:

      “Liberal” as used on Rationalist blogs doesn’t mean “leftist” or “progressive,” at this point the two are basically opposites

      • Fairhaven says:

        While I agree with you that leftists and progressives are illiberal, if you use the word liberal without the qualifier ‘classic’ you end up calling Republican- voting libertarians and conservatives more liberal than Democratic voting progressives and self-styled liberals, which is very very confusing.

    • Kiya says:

      Scott uses “liberalism” to mean a concept closely related to “tolerance” (maybe more precisely “the unwillingness to use government to silence conflicting views”), not the political beliefs of American Democrats—that’s “liberals,” or “blue tribe.” The two can overlap, but I don’t think he conflates them. Note that your quote is taken from a post whose main topic is to note that people on both right and left have been known to make meta-level-similar bad arguments.

      We can argue about whether American liberals’ tendency to express tolerance for Islam stems from abstract liberalism or tribal signaling. (Well, someone can argue; I don’t really feel qualified to have an opinion.) But I think what the quote about mirror neurons is saying is that empathy can give rise to religious tolerance and to liberalism in general.

      You appear to be claiming that in no (major?) instance has religious tolerance actually grown out of empathy. I have no evidence on this issue, but the general case of being able to empathize with someone different from you and therefore deciding to allow them to continue in their difference is a story that makes a lot of sense to me.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Except that requires people to believe in belief instead of actually believing. If people hold that their beliefs are true, than it doesn’t matter if the other person feels similarly about them- they are still damned.

      • Fairhaven says:

        hi kiya – I wasn’t making an abstract argument about religious tolerance and empathy, I was making an observation about how religious tolerance arose in our history – not from a mirror neuron.

        Empathy is a major tool is psychiatry, but when Blue Tribe people claim it as a major virtue and the basis for their economic and geopolitical postitions, it becomes much less viable as a concept. If you claim to be empathic to Islam, where is your empathy for its victims (Moslem women, gays, Christians in Arab lands)? If you attack people who want to protect the Christians in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria etc from being raped, beheaded and burned alive, asIslamophobes, is this evidence of your empathy or lack of it? Labels of empathy in American culture wars and the political arena are psychological and political weapons, not accurate descriptors.

        • Anonymous says:

          Where *are* these blue-tribers who have massive empathy for Islam (in the abstract), but not for the people who are oppressed by Islamic fundamentalism?

          (What I’ve observed is blue-tribers defending everyday muslims who are not hurting anybody and just want to be left alone.)

          • Alraune says:

            It’s certainly not an original observation. The Charlie Hebdo (and followup PEN Gala) mess would be the most high-profile case in recent memory.

            The actual assortment of allegiances seems to be that the American left hates doing anything that could prompt identifying them with “Christendom” even more than they hate doing anything that could prompt identifying them with “white people,” and are willing to violate all of their other principles to avoid that association.

          • Protagoras says:

            As Anonymous says. I usually don’t waste the time commenting, but I never see any resemblance between the leftists/liberals/progressives/blue-tribers of the fevered imaginations of the right wing commenters and those I encounter all the time in my very left-leaning surroundings. I’m leftist myself, and I certainly don’t mind people noticing I’m white, and while I do get a bit offended at people associating me with Christianity, I am no more hostile to Christianity than I am to Islam (I’m a pretty hardcore atheist, so I have a pretty dim opinion of both, though I admit that I’ve known plenty of perfectly pleasant people who were religious).

          • James Picone says:

            This is the conservative equivalent of “you just hate the gays”.

          • Alraune says:

            I certainly don’t mind people noticing I’m white…

            That’s a completely different statement.

            …and while I do get a bit offended at people associating me with Christianity…

            And that one’s so far in meaning from “identifying them with ‘Christendom'” that it’s straining my credulity.

            This is a simple observation. You hate the “barbarians at the gates” narrative, think it gets too much attention* and promotes the interests of people you dislike and absolutely do not want to be confused with. So in order to balance the narratives and avoid the risk of being mislabeled, you ignore those stories, and where not ignorable, give stilted reactions.

            *It does. ISIS is a complete non-threat to the US and the war on terror has been a farce, a tragedy, and a debacle by turns.

            This is the conservative equivalent of “you just hate the gays”.

            i.e. true but impolite to mention?

          • Protagoras says:

            @ Alruane, As I said, these discussions are pointless. Your characterizations of leftist thought seem utterly inaccurate from my insider’s perspective, but it seems to be impossible to explain why, perhaps because you reinterpret anything I say through the same filters that led you to get leftism so wrong to begin with. I see no solution, and can only register my utter frustration.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Vis-a-vis Islam and the left I would say that you are seeing the result of tensions within some of Blue Tribes tenets and to you this looks like hypocrisy, but I don’t think that is a broadly accurate reflection of what is going on.

            Tenet 1: Support for multi-culturalism. This means tolerating a wide variety of different cultures existing side by side with each other and not falling victim to xenophobic tendencies to value-judge cultures because they are not the one we grew up in. In practice, this looks like Blue Tribe attacking traditional Christian culture, and at it’s most hypocritical that’s true. But mostly this is pushing back against the value-judgement of the dominant Christian culture, asking it to allow other cultures the freedom to express themselves.

            Tenet 2: Support for broad human rights, including women’s rights. This leads both to Blue Tribe celebrating people like Malali Yusef and the women in Saudi Arabia who want to get drivers licenses, but also condemning drone strikes in Yemen and the war on terror. The second thing can look like support for the same type of group that shot Malali in the face, and at times this can come across as unaware (or, to be honest, a certain naive idealism) but for those committed to basic human rights, there is no hypocrisy in condemning both her shooting and an unmanned drone strike against a presumed potential bad actor and a bunch of innocents.

          • “Support for multi-culturalism. This means tolerating a wide variety of different cultures existing side by side with each other and not falling victim to xenophobic tendencies to value-judge cultures because they are not the one we grew up in. ”

            In practice this is very selective. Consider the pattern of people who identify as on the left opposing home schooling on the theory that it perpetuates a fundamentalist culture that they strongly disapprove of. One common argument for the public school system, I think more common on the left than on the right at this point, is that it creates a less diverse culture—although that isn’t how people on the left are likely to put it.

          • Jaskologist says:

            See for example, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, recently dis-invited from Brandeis for “Islamaphobia.” Or note the many left-wing media outlets who flinched from publishing the Hebdo cartoons that were censored with gunfire (and you can tie it in with the NYT’s recent publishing of pope-as-condoms “art,” and their perennial attempt to explain why it is ok to offend Catholics but not Muslims).

            Sure, it may not be that way among your personal acquaintances, but it’s not unfair for the reds to point to the views of your priests and ascribe them to you, since they are the ones who form your opinions, or at least the opinions of the next iteration of “blue.”

          • Alraune says:

            Vis-a-vis Islam and the left I would say that you are seeing the result of tensions within some of Blue Tribes tenets and to you this looks like hypocrisy, but I don’t think that is a broadly accurate reflection of what is going on.

            I don’t even think it’s properly hypocrisy. There’s a clear hierarchy of values. But sure, let’s go through this.

            Tenet 1: Support for multi-culturalism.

            Read “belief in the triumph of white academic monoculture over people of all cosmetic kinds.”

            This means tolerating a wide variety of different cultures existing side by side with each other and not falling victim to xenophobic tendencies to value-judge cultures because they are not the one we grew up in.

            This means sending everyone in the world to the same schools, teaching them to think the same way, and grinding down any natural in-group formation that appears to be offering resistance to the homogenization effort.

            In practice, this looks like Blue Tribe attacking traditional Christian culture, and at it’s most hypocritical that’s true. But mostly this is pushing back against the value-judgement of the dominant Christian culture, asking it to allow other cultures the freedom to express themselves.

            In practice, it means antagonism to all non-cosmetic religion, because the non-cosmetically religious care quite a lot about keeping their kids distinct from the rest of the lot.

            Tenet 2: Support for broad human rights, including women’s rights. This leads both to Blue Tribe celebrating people like Malali Yusef and the women in Saudi Arabia who want to get drivers licenses, but also condemning drone strikes in Yemen and the war on terror. The second thing can look like support for the same type of group that shot Malali in the face, and at times this can come across as unaware (or, to be honest, a certain naive idealism) but for those committed to basic human rights, there is no hypocrisy in condemning both her shooting and an unmanned drone strike against a presumed potential bad actor and a bunch of innocents.

            No, “opposition to the drone war” is not the issue here. That’s barely even a live concern since it’s got pretty much unanimous establishment support, though I’m glad for the fitful noises that get made against it.

            For that matter, the left stance on Islam is probably the most practical one: pretend that there are no unbridgeable gaps, pretend that westernization is orthogonal to religion, and then throw up the malls, worm in the schooling, and wait for the generational changes and economics to grind them out from the inside. I give it less-than-even odds of working, but it’s a lot more likely to win than the military or religious missionary approaches are.

            The problems are that the “westernization is not opposed to your religion” script is fooling absolutely nobody at this point (though it’s maybe providing plausible deniability to some west-allied leaders), and that keeping up the pretense requires either very noticeable circumlocutions or mindkilling yourself. The politicians tend to be in the first category, the academics and activists tend to be in the second, and in both cases it results in a lot of downplaying of harm done by abjectly unsympathetic oppressors to unambiguously innocent victims.

            Whether that sort of moral compass distortion has any downstream effects, I’ll leave for you to judge.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman @Alraune @Jaskologist:

            Each of you point to an example of the left being intolerant of intolerance and segregation. To the extent that a group wants to either separate itself from everyone else, or have certain other groups separated from everyone else, the broad left will be generally disapproving.

            If you are a female who is Muslim and chooses to wear the hijab. No problem. If you want to force your daughters’ to wear the hijab, force them into an arranged marriage and disown them if they do not, this is antithetical to Blue tribe values.

            To the extent that a group wants to separate themselves from broad society and regard others as not tolerable, Blue tribe will be less tolerant of this behavior. The more power that a group has to enforce that on others, the more condemnatory Blue tribe will be. This is why the Christian Right gets more condemnation than conservative Muslim adherents.

            In addition, given the natural xenophobic tendencies in every society, more tolerance is given to those from the outside than those already here. This is to offset the perceived damage done by the xenophobic tendencies. Minority and immigrant populations are both less powerful and seen as outsiders, this engenders more tolerance from Blue tribe.

            If you choose to understood the competing priorities, they are easy to grok. You may not agree, but you can understand. If you choose to look at Blue tribe as “teh evil” than you will continue to find everything they do as evil.

          • Alraune says:

            To the extent that a group wants to either separate itself from everyone else… the broad left will be generally disapproving.

            Would you like to rephrase that in a way that doesn’t completely concede my point?

            If you are a female who is Muslim and chooses to wear the hijab. No problem. If you want to force your daughters’ to wear the hijab, force them into an arranged marriage and disown them if they do not, this is antithetical to Blue tribe values.

            Which is simply a restatement of my point that the only religion tolerable is cosmetic religion, and anyone attempting to raise their children outside the designated monoculture is bad.

            The more power that a group has to enforce that on others, the more condemnatory Blue tribe will be. This is why the Christian Right gets more condemnation than conservative Muslim adherents.

            Oh, finally, a spot where you said something that wasn’t just agreeing but with a different tone. But it’s absurd.

            Let’s pull some numbers here. You’re against cultural dominance? Well, 696.4 million Muslims live in a country that is over 95% Muslim, compared to 119.1 million similarly situated Christians, and another 95 million American evangelicals. Let’s pretend all American evangelicals and all de facto-theocracy-dwelling Christians are exactly as culturally oppressive as Muslim theocracies. (And realize that we’re including Iceland as scary Christian right oppressors here.) The Muslim issue is still over three times larger. Do your own comparisons if you’d like, I’m genuinely interested in how low you have to set the bar for religious prevalence = religious oppression before you can claim the Christianity problem is bigger.

            And this is defining oppression in a soft structuralist fashion, not counting, say, number of slave-brides taken per year.

            If you choose to understood the competing priorities, they are easy to grok.

            Until you can give a colorable explanation of how “the Christian right” is oppressing more people than Islam, my model of your thinking predicts your thinking dramatically better than your model of your thinking does.

          • James Picone says:

            @Alraune: Supporting exit rights for subcultures is not the same as forbidding subcultures.

            Political arguments in my home country are unlikely to affect the political situation in shithole Muslim-majority countries. I don’t think it’s an easy problem to solve.

            EDIT: Couldn’t you argue that the left is only in favour of cosmetic sexuality, because they’re fine with people being homosexual or transexual or bisexual or whatever, but not in favour of people raising their child to be *sexual?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If your point is was that Blue Tribe doesn’t tolerate people who don’t believe in tolerance, you could have stated it better.

            This conversation is occurring within the US and mostly about things the US can affect through elections and policies within itself. I already made the point that Blue Tribe is not generally tolerant of oppressive behavior in other countries by Muslims, but it is less of a pressing concern because there is little Blue Tribe can do about it.

            You can have thriving sub-cultures in the US that build in tolerance of other sub-cultures. These aren’t merely “cosmetic”. Unless of course you mean that the only “real” cultures are those that hate everyone else and don’t tolerate them. Apparently, a culture is required to be xenophobic and oppressive of all dissent to qualify as a real one in your mind.

            There is a big difference between teaching your child your values and forcing them on your child. I would think a rationalist community would value the difference quite a bit more than seems to be on display here.

            Except I don’t think you actually believe these things, but simply refuse to acknowledge that being intolerant of intolerance is actually coherent.

            Charlie Hebdo should (does apparently) have the legal right to publish what they want, but that doesn’t mean I have to celebrate it or regard the content as a public good. If a Jewish man shot a neo-nazi magazine headquarters, killing tens of people, it would be an abominable act that should and hopefully would be condemned. But it wouldn’t make the contents of the magazine any more palatable.

          • Alraune says:

            James Picone:

            Supporting exit rights for subcultures is not the same as forbidding subcultures.

            Was that meant to say “not supporting exit rights”? Because HBC clearly stated that he/”Blue Tribe” is opposed to subcultures wanting to stay separate, so opposes exit rights.

            Political arguments in my home country are unlikely to affect the political situation in shithole Muslim-majority countries. I don’t think it’s an easy problem to solve.

            As I said, I think the “educate and capitalism them to death” strategy is as good as we can reasonably get. My main wishes on the subject are, in order, that we’d stop breaking the program with slapdash military interventions, and that we’d figure out a way to approach the subject rhetorically that isn’t insane. Failure to properly equivocate between the evils of honor killing and homeschooling is not going to bring about the Tenth Crusade.

            EDIT: Couldn’t you argue that the left is only in favour of cosmetic sexuality, because they’re fine with people being homosexual or transexual or bisexual or whatever, but not in favour of people raising their child to be *sexual?

            The left is clearly also in favor of the cosmeticization of sexuality.

            HeelBearCub: (and I apologize for chopping this into bits and replying out of order.)

            If your point was that Blue Tribe doesn’t tolerate people who don’t believe in tolerance, you could have stated it better.

            My point was that progressivism is aggressively pro-monoculture, and you’re agreeing.

            I don’t think you actually believe these things, but simply refuse to acknowledge that being intolerant of intolerance is actually coherent.

            Oh no, Progressive tolerance is most definitely a coherent ideal, just as Roman religious tolerance was. You may worship any god you like so long as it does not get in the way of your exaltation of the emperor.

            There is a big difference between teaching your child your values and forcing them on your child. I would think a rationalist community would value the difference quite a bit more than seems to be on display here.

            I disagree, the two activities are not meaningfully distinguishable and the only people who don’t have to force their values on their children are those for whom society will do the forcing for them. The rationalist community tends to have a better-than-average grasp of that fact.

            If you had wanted your kids to grow up not believing anything irrational, how difficult a task do you think that would have been, and how isolated from the cultural mainstream do you think you’d have had to keep them to prevent the adoption of, e.g., Sword of Goodisms?

            You can have thriving sub-cultures in the US that build in tolerance of other sub-cultures. These aren’t merely “cosmetic”. Unless of course you mean that the only “real” cultures are those that hate everyone else and don’t tolerate them. Apparently, a culture is required to be xenophobic and oppressive of all dissent to qualify as a real one in your mind.

            Culture and belongingness are defined by the non-fungible value they have to their participants. If the thought of your culture being overtaken by outsiders does not fill you with existential dread, it isn’t your culture.

          • James Picone says:

            No typo. The exit rights in question are the right of children born in a subculture to exit that subculture. Opposition to homeschooling is based on the idea that it makes a mockery of that right – kids never get the chance to see what any other culture is like.

            The left is clearly also in favor of the cosmeticization of sexuality.

            Ah, I expected a different answer here. I don’t see how the position ‘you can have sex with whichever consenting adult you want, but your kids have to form their own view of who they want to have sex with’ is ‘cosmetic’ in any meaningful sense. Would the left be in favour of non-cosmetic sexuality if they thought it was okay for, say, homosexuals to raise their children to be homosexual? I’m not sure ‘cosmetic’ is a good term for ‘must not be forced on children in a significant way’. If you just mean “doesn’t break democracy too badly”, isn’t that a premise of classical liberalism, which as I understand the terms in use here, isn’t ‘left’ or ‘right’?

          • James Picone writes:

            “Opposition to homeschooling is based on the idea that it makes a mockery of that right – kids never get the chance to see what any other culture is like.”

            So the same people who oppose homeschooling also insist that the public schools should make sure students are exposed to religious fundamentalism, as propagated by fundamentalists? I hadn’t noticed that.

            Insisting that children from a variety of cultures, including yours, all be exposed to your culture, where “be exposed” means “be compelled to spend about a third of their waking hours being instructed and tested in,” doesn’t look to me like making sure that all kids are exposed to a variety of cultures.

            Imagine that you are in a society where the dominant culture is Catholic, or Protestant fundamentalist, or orthodox Jewish or Muslim. Your children are required to attend a school whose instruction is based on that culture. Would you take seriously the claim that the objective was to make sure that the children of people like you are exposed to a variety of cultures?

          • lvlln says:

            As a far-left liberal, I just want to chime in and say that I find the criticisms Alraune levels on progressive culture to be broadly accurate and on-point, though perhaps not charitable (and also occasionally not on-point).

            The strongest part for me is progressives’ near dogmatic rejection of criticism of Islamic extremists, often conflating such criticism with bigoted criticism of local Muslim immigrant populations. It doesn’t seem dissimilar to how progressives often conflate criticizing affluent powerful cis straight white men with criticizing poor powerless cis straight white men, using the former to justify the latter.

          • Alraune says:

            For the record, I think no longer being Christendom is a good thing. It’s the pretense that the new heading is 180 degrees from it rather than 1.8 that aggravates me.

    • brad says:

      I never thought I’d live to see the day that moral relativism was picked up by the right as a sword against the left.

      • anon says:

        Depending on who you read, “moral relativism” was always the province of the right. Leo Strauss liked to blame Burke for taking universal moral laws out of political theory (an odd reading, but those were Strauss’ wheelhouse), while NRx types idolize him for taking a stand against the “enlightenment universalism” of the left.

      • Fairhaven says:

        sorry, brad, could you explain? I don’t understand what you’re referring to as moral relativism.

    • As others have pointed out, you may be confusing liberalism with US SJW leftism? I also imagine the second group would respond by saying they only target groups who are illiberal (given that liberalism doesn’t claim to be tolerant of intolerance). I don’t agree/disagree they do actually target opponents based on that criteria (I’m not from US so I can’t really comment), but I think you need to demonstrate how they don’t rather than just stating that they are famously intolerant.

      • Fairhaven says:

        Tolerance by definition means tolerating things/people you disagree with – otherwise tolerance and empathy aren’t required. If you disagree with all religions, but are empathic to Islam and viciously attack Judaism and Christianity, you are not religiously tolerant.

        Do you really mean to imply that Islam is tolerated by the Left because Islam is tolerant, and Christianity is not tolerated because it is more illiberal than Islam? Take the one example of tolerating gays. Gays are executed in sharia law countries. Gays are peaceably asked to keep their business private in Christian America.

        Yes, of course SJW ascribe themselves as tolerant and their chosen victims as intolerant. Straight out of Aldous Huxley’s 1984.

        I don’t need to demonstrate their victims are liberal or tolerant. I want to return to an America where our ideal was mind your own business and you have no right to tell other people how to think – a narrow government sphere and no coercion in matters of conscience, only in anti-social behaviour.

        • brad says:

          That America never existed. In the times and places where conservatives held sway they made damn sure everyone toed the line. And if you didn’t the consequences ranged from shunning to outright violence.

          The Christian Right isn’t asking for tolerance. It is asking for unqualified acceptance. The demand for tolerance is in practice a demand that everyone else to really believe in their heart of hearts that you can be a good person and still be against gay marriage, and never, ever hold it against anyone. Any particular legal right or cultural norm isn’t enough. It has to be a deeply internalized refusal to judge. As if somehow beliefs — especially those rooted in religion — were this immutable characteristic that no one has any control over and therefore no one has any responsibility for. Even if those beliefs are freely talked about and lead to concrete actions.

          Such demands are not symmetrical. No Evangelical church is hiring SJW as pastors because “you need to be tolerant of other people’s deeply held beliefs”. No one is out there saying that government officials shouldn’t have to issue marriage licenses to religious people if they don’t want to. Where are all these people who want to talk about government staying away from anything that intersects with conscience on Under God in pledge of allegiance or In God We Trust on the money?

          The claim is that I have to accept conservative Christians for who they are. If they have beliefs that people like me are evil and going to hell, well that’s just their belief. I can’t judge. All beliefs are equally valid, especially religious beliefs, those are even more equal than all the others. If I were to make any judgement about such a person or not want to associate with them, well that would intolerant. And if they don’t want to associate with me because I’m an evil sinner, well I need to tolerate that too!

          It’s competently ad hoc. At absolute best it is a form of tu quoque, not an actually argument in favor of an ethic that anyone intends to apply for themselves. Even tit for tat, tat with forgiveness isn’t just never defect no matter what the other side does.

          • Alraune says:

            Such demands are not symmetrical.

            No, what you’re describing is perfectly symmetrical with the “bake me a cake or I sue you out of existence” crowd. Which is precisely why the only way out of this cultural conquest bullshit is to keep all those people away from any levers of state authority.

          • CJB says:

            And this is ad hominem.

            I mean- wow- WHENEVER conservatives have been in power they’ve ALWAYS used violence?

            Would you care to cite? Because…..errr….george wallace liked public schools and government roads, as I pointed out above. He just didn’t like some people using them.

            Actually, even that’s too far. He didn’t want some people using the same schools at the same time.

            I hate the “oooooh nixon’s southern strategy, oooooh southern DEMOCRATS’ but….the segregationists were actually democrats, and even in 1950, that meant a lot of other ideas that modern demmycrats could get behind (Remember- these people voted in FDR all four times).

            If you look at 1928, the mostest racisest segregationisty states were the only ones that went democrat

            A platform that included:

            “e hold that government must function not to centralize our wealth but to preserve equal opportunity so that all may share in our priceless resources; and not confine prosperity to a favored few. We, therefore, pledge the Democratic Party to encourage business, small and great alike; to conserve human happiness and liberty; to break the shackles of monopoly and free business of the nation; to respond to the popular will.”

            Occupy Hoover.

            “Never in the entire history of the country has there occurred in any given period of time or, indeed, in all time put together, such a spectacle of sordid corruption and unabashed rascality as that which has characterized the administration of federal affairs under eight blighting years of Republican rule. ”

            If only Rachel Maddow was so well spoken.


            Yes, there’s a lot there that is situational, but it’s a pretty standards democrat, liberal, big government is your friend platform.

            Now lets look at the Republicans:

            Pro cutting taxes? Check.

            Anti-immigration? Check.

            Pro-protectionism? Check.

            Pro-traditionalism? Check.

            And their stance on black people, circa 1928?

            “We renew our recommendation that the Congress enact at the earliest possible date a Federal Anti-Lynching Law so that the full influence of the Federal Government may be wielded to exterminate this hideous crime.”


            Simple citations that demonstrate it was the liberal democrats whose liberal policies would be not out of place today (except for this mysterious “states rights” clause they gots RIIIIIGHT up at the top.) who were doing nothing about segregation….

            And it was those mean ol’ traditionalist, pro-business, anti-anti-monopoly laws, traditionalist conservative republicans trying to do something about it.

            So at the very least, in the year of 1928, you’re demonstrably, factually wrong.


            And fuck me, I forgot the most fun of all.

            Woodrow. Wilson. Most progressive. INVENTED progressivism more or less.

            So racist. SO. GODDAMNED. RACIST. So Racist he’s responsible for vietnam.

            EDITY EDIT:

            This also came off as more dickish than I intended. Plz to read as enthusiasm for a subject I’m passionate about and evidence I’ve recently discovered, and not trying to slap you down for disagreeing with me.

            (Also a little defensive. That was a pretty general call out. )

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >that everyone else to really believe in their heart of hearts that you can be a good person and still be against gay marriage

            I don’t get it, that (obviously, expanded to cover most beliefs, not just that one) sounds great to me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You know, down below you almost had me convinced that you at least had some sort of consistent view of what you meant.

            But now, you are going back to 1928 and trying to figure out which party was conservative? And you are trotting out the “Democrats were the racists” thing?

            You do understand that talking about hegemonic parties on the conservative vs. liberal axis in the U.S. makes zero sense until very recently, right?

          • brad says:

            In this comment I was talking about social tolerance. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

            So by “time and place where conservatives held sway” I was thinking of towns, villages, and neighborhoods where conservative mores dominated. For example, how well “tolerated” were gay men virtually anywhere in the country more than 50 years ago or in most small towns even today? Or, leave aside transgender, how about just a woman that prefers stereotypical masculine dress?

            You think people ought to believe in their heart of hearts that everyone else is a good person, regardless of whether or not they have beliefs that person finds repugnant? What if they don’t? Are *they* bad people?

          • CJB says:

            “But now, you are going back to 1928 and trying to figure out which party was conservative? And you are trotting out the “Democrats were the racists” thing?”

            First: The claim made was that Conservatism has a lock or near lock on hatred, bigotry and oppression.

            CF: “In the times and places where conservatives held sway they made damn sure everyone toed the line. And if you didn’t the consequences ranged from shunning to outright violence.” (I’m reading an implication that liberals were different)

            And I’m pointing out two things:
            The general party platforms laid out by the two parties in 28 (I could’ve used any number of other years, but 28’s an excellent illustration of my point- FDR won pretty much everywhere) align in intent and general goals with modern ones.

            B. The policies of the
            traditionalist conservative, small government, pro-business, pro-american protectionist, anti-taxation party, anti-union, pro-agricultural relief, party
            were actively pro-black,

            while the policies of the:
            progressive, socially activist, pro-union, anti-monopoly, pro-taxation, pro-civil service, pacifist, pro-league of nations, pro-conservation party were blatantly anti-black, and the only people who voted for them were the segregationists. WHATEVER definition of “conservative” and “liberal” you are using, those parties fit.

            And therefore:

            C. Claiming that bigotry, oppression, hate, murder, and so on is somehow a CONSERVATIVE monopoly is bloody well silly.

            “You do understand that talking about hegemonic parties on the conservative vs. liberal axis in the U.S. makes zero sense until very recently, right?”

            Dude, this is THIRTY YEARS after the progressive movement started. This is well within living memory. This IS the “very recently” we’re talking about.

            How about this. Explain to me HOW the democratic party platform of 1928 is not a pretty bog standards liberal-progressive stance (with various allowances made for the state of knowledge/American power/stuff that simply has no analogy anymore) that is either stuff modern democrat/liberals/progressives would approve of or are trying to do. I look forward to your response.

          • CJB says:

            “by “time and place where conservatives held sway” I was thinking of towns, villages, and neighborhoods where conservative mores dominated.”

            So again- not to be a dick- but that’s A. pretty disingenuous and B. feels pretty motte-and-bailey. Talking about conservatives, the religious right, modern political stances, and then going back to “social tolerance.”? That feels a lot like you MEANT “Rethuglicans hate everyone” but then it sorta got pointed out that bigotry is at best very bipartisan.

            No one liked gays or women in pants. Anywhere. The most radical social progressives around (Various flavors of commie) actively persecuted homosexuality. The commies actively recruited among the blacks, chinese, indigent- those least socially tolerated. But until 2001, the official stance of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA’s policy that “struggle will be waged to eliminate [homosexuality] and reform homosexuals” Other groups aren’t much more helpful.

            They killed gays in 1918 Moscow and outlawed them in 1930’s Alabama. Not much to choose between.

            I’ll say that practical attitudes towards homosexuality have been a lot like that towards Jews- everyone hated them. But active pogroms were fairly rare.

            Oscar Wilde’s trial, for example, set off a bit of a minor pogrom among the gay community of Victorian london, for example. But prior to that there was a fairly public gay community, it was…well, it was actually tolerated.

            Not as we use it, but as the word means: accepting something you don’t like. I’m sure the usual indignities of police harassment and shakedowns applied, but- it bears little resemblance to what the laws say should have happened.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >You think people ought to believe in their heart of hearts that everyone else is a good person, regardless of whether or not they have beliefs that person finds repugnant?

            Not that “everyone else is a good person” but rather that “everyone else can be a good person”, benefit of doubt and all that. Going back to the specific example, do you really consider opposing gay marriage so absolutely repugnant that you’d refuse to consider anyone who held such view as a good person?

            >What if they don’t?

            Well, that’s too bad. Hopefully, we’ll be able to change some of these people’s minds.

            >Are *they* bad people?

            That depends on a whole lot of things, most of which are completely unrelated to said belief.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Do you acknowledge that populist policies are not the same thing as liberal policies?

            Do you acknowledge that the parties were not ideologically sorted in 1928?

            If you don’t acknowledge these things then I need draw on some evidence. The Republican Party in 1860 was anathema to Southern whites. Southern whites were anti-federalist then and have tended to continue to be so. FDR forged a coalition of poor whites (including the anti-federalist Southern whites) to enact populist policy for underclass whites across the nation.

            At that time you have allied relatively socially conservative Southern whites with relatively liberal Northern whites in a coalition against the pro-business, fiscal conservatives who held sway in the 20s Republican Party. But it’s a coalition. There are still liberal and conservative Republicans and Democrats, and they cross the aisle to vote on various policies in Washington. State and local politics go on their own merry way, only somewhat informed by Federal politics.

            That coalition holds until the 60s when a Catholic JFK and the passing of The Civil Rights act sets the stage for Nixon. The liberal Rockefeller Republican becomes a vanishing beast and Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms cross the aisle to the Republican side forevermore, while folks like Jim Hunt and Terry Sanford stay Democrats (NC examples abound, owing to where I grew up).

            George Wallace isn’t liberal. He is a populist. Willing to represent the White, Southern common man at the expense of blacks, Jews, Catholics, effete intellectuals and whoever else they consider a threat.

          • Fairhaven says:

            I don’t suppose you’d find it all cheering to learn you are wrong about Christians (if we are going to generalize) thinking you are evil? Christians believe we are all sinners and all need grace, and all receive abundant forgiveness. That includes any sexually active homosexual, but it also includes 100% of everybody in the world, as the perfect person free of sin does not exist. (I’m not Christian, but I’m pretty sure I have that right).

            Still not the acceptance you want, but they absolutely do not hate you. ‘love the sinner’ is a Christian ideal, so even if they condemn your actions (yes, understood this pisses you off royally and you find it unforgivable), their ideal is to love you and to be humble about their own imperfections being just as bad as what they see as your imperfections. their whole belief system is that God loves us despite our failings.

            I get you don’t like that belief system. you want them to be like you, not like themselves. but at least be honest and accurate about it

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Guilty as charged! Not mistaking political disagreements for moral failings is exactly the sort of thing people usually have in mind when they call for “tolerance”. The fiends.

          • Deiseach says:

            The Gay Rights Movement isn’t asking for tolerance. It is asking for unqualified acceptance. The demand for tolerance is in practice a demand that everyone else to really believe in their heart of hearts that to be a good person you must be for gay marriage, and never, ever hold it against anyone.

            There. Fixed it for you.

            Now we can pull one another’s hair over “No, you’re mean and that’s not what I said at all!”

          • brad says:

            When the one and only indication of “love” is that they tell you repent or you are going to hell over and over again that’s indistinguishable from “hate”.

          • brad says:


            There are certainly some who do. I won’t disagree with that. But the movement as a whole aimed at legal equality. Something the religious have long since achieved.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That is quite uncharitable. Certainly there are plenty who are as you describe, but there are plenty who are not. I’m an atheist, but I know plenty of Christians who fit Fairhaven’s description.

            It doesn’t make them right about gays or gay marriage. But it doesn’t make them hateful either.

            @Fairhaven: do you actually think the Christian’s who truly embody the sentiment you are describing are the ones driving the debate on the side that does not want gay marriage? It sure doesn’t look like it from where I sit.

          • CJB says:

            “Do you acknowledge that populist policies are not the same thing as liberal policies?”

            The el numero uno undisputed king of the southern populists was the Kingfish.

            Here’s his populism:

            But our great populist, George Wallace He ran for President- and he ran on….


            Welfare, education spending, public investment, segregation, and helping the poor farmer. Again- these are not conservative policies in any definition of conservative I have ever heard.
            You’re trying to lean on “coalition” as though somehow it’s a welding of progressives and then this group that only wanted segregation. Explain Jim Folsom. You know- the guy who was anti-segregationist in the thirties? In Alabama? His liberal populism kept him going until he self destructed in true southern politico style.

            And of course, there is a little known southern populist who you might have heard of: LBJ. The Great Society is just George Wallace’s non-segregationist policies on the national scale.

            Look, this is turning into the comment thread that ate New York. So- I’m having fun in this debate, but, I think obsessive ten page debates on the fine points of the 1932 presidental election is a little recondite even for this group. i have more to say, but if you’d like to continue, please contact me at:


          • Fairhaven says:

            what I wish is that you would enjoy full tolerance and respect, and so would pious religious people. this is a goal worthy of everyone striving for. moreover, I wish you could see that if you were able to demonize and destroy those you disagree with, you would no longer be living in a safe or free country.

            I also wish that you would realize that all the tolerance being granted to gays is an outgrowth of the basic, fundamental right to religious freedom, which is basically freedom of conscience, to follow your own values. it is what you want for yourself, and wisdom dictates it is a right you would want just as strongly for others – not because you agree with them, but because none of us will have freedom in a country of witchhunts by whatever group has got their hands on the levers of government power, or media/Hollywood/academia power. mob rule via the internet is not in anyone’s interest.

          • “And if you didn’t the consequences ranged from shunning to outright violence.”

            As some evidence to the contrary, I offer the case of the Oneida commune in the 19th century.

          • Fairhaven says:

            Brad, are you talking about an actual, real Christian? or just a caricature you’ve read about? I suppose there are some extreme people/sects who talk about gays,repentance and hell, but I don’t think that is the mainstream teaching in Christian churches or Christian individual’s behaviour or thinking. it’s nothing like the evangelicals I know very well. they do talk about ‘loving on’ sinners, and praying for them, and then quickly turn to humble talk about all their own failings. that’s just much more typical.

          • Nathan says:


            “When the one and only indication of “love” is that they tell you repent or you are going to hell over and over again that’s indistinguishable from “hate”.”

            Suppose for a second that they actually do believe what they are saying. Suppose they do believe you are living a sinful life and that you will suffer in hell for all eternity because of it, but that this horrible fate can be averted by the act of repentance.

            What, with those beliefs, would you consider to be a loving action? To shrug and let you burn? Or to try to at least warn you?

          • James Picone says:

            @Fairhaven: The Ugandan law specifying life in prison for homosexual acts was lobbied-for by some American Christians (as referenced in the wikipedia article). That seems a pretty clear-cut example of Christians hating the sinner and ignoring the beam in their own eye. So yes, these people do exist.

            @Nathan: If I really, truly believe that punching you in the face will ultimately make you happy, even if it results in short-term pain, and I know you disagree, is it ethical for me to punch you in the face? Are you entitled to complain about me punching you in the face?

            My answers are ‘no’ and ‘yes’. The analogy to people who really truly think gay people are going to hell should be obvious.

          • brad says:


            Sometimes I get the weird sense that there’s an epistemological nihilism to this whole tolerance/respect/acceptance thing.

            I’m not going to a place where devils torture me for eternity, because there is no such place and there is no such thing as a devil. It’s a silly notion that no one ought to believe.

            I don’t see why I should give a pass to people acting objectively hatefully towards me because they have silly subjective beliefs.

            @Whatever Happened to Anonymous
            I’m not a Manichean, I believe people can change. But so long as you hold unto hateful beliefs, I consider you a hateful person. I think that’s more respectful on a meta level of people’s deeply held beliefs than treating them as an irrelevant preference on the order of what kind of ice cream they like, of no real consequence as compared to — say — whether or not they say thank you when a waiter refills their water glass.

          • “I don’t see why I should give a pass to people acting objectively hatefully towards me because they have silly subjective beliefs.”

            “Objectively hatefully” sounds as though it means that it is an objective fact that their behavior is motivated by hate. But what you seem to mean, in context, is only that their behavior has bad effects on you.

            I recently heard a pretty reasonable analysis of the effect of FDA regulation of drugs which concluded that it’s net effect was a cost of something over four million lives—people who died because the regulation sharply reduced the rate at which new medical drugs were introduced with no detectable effect on average quality. Should I describe anyone who supports such regulation as acting objectively hatefully?

          • Nathan says:


            You’re substituting the question for one you prefer. Using your analogy, obviously I would prefer you not to punch me in the face. However, if those are indeed your beliefs then I don’t see how such a punch could be described as a hateful act. You’re clearly acting in what you mistakenly believe to be my best interest.


            I don’t understand what the word “hate” means to you, if it can include people acting in what they sincerely believe to be your best interest.

            Suppose I’m chasing a dream of being a rockstar. I might get annoyed at my mother nagging me to give up the music, get a degree and get a real job, but I’d never call her hateful for it.

        • Agronomous says:

          War is Peace.

          Freedom is Slavery.

          Huxley is Orwell.

        • I didn’t make any of the empirical claims or suggestions that you are ascribing to me. I’m merely pointing out a way your argument appears to not refute a common argument of your opponent. Like quite a few people on SSC, I view both the right and the left as an unimpressive, tribalistic mess at the moment. Either camp can have my support when you come up with arguments that appear to me to be based on reason. The fact that one group or the other is worse doesn’t really interest me.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      I’m not exactly sure what sort of groups you frequent, but your examples of liberals being tolerant vs intolerant towards certain people are almost exactly (with the exception of the gay straight one, which I’ll deem pleasantly neutral toward loyal religionists) backwards in the liberal communities I grew up around…

      • Fairhaven says:

        My main point was that the Blue Tribe are as tolerant (empathic in Scotts original comment about the ‘mirror neuron’) and intolerant as any other group of people, rewarding the groups they privilege and punishing the groups they see as opponents. they show no more ‘mirror neurons’ than any other group.

        I picked examples that are well represented here on Slatestarcodex discussions and the media in general. I personally hear bigoted comments about Christians among liberal friends, family, and liberal media, Hollywood.

        I actually find the Blue Tribe have glaring failures of empathy, even to the groups they care about. For example, the Blue Tribe is full of self-congratulations that they are for welfare without time limits or work requirements because they really care about blacks (as if all people on welfare were black, which is not true).

        But if you really had empathy for young black women, would you really bribe/reward them for getting pregnant young and dropping out of school? would you really say great, Uncle Sam will take care of you for life, drop out of school, , have as many boyfriends as you want but never get married – sorry, it’s going to be a crummy apartment in a dangerous neighbourhood, but you can’t expect more than that for yourself, now – and oh, this is a guarantee you’ll live in poverty for the rest of your life. I’m doing all this because I care so very much and empathize with your situation. it’s Lady Bountiful and Madame Bovary scale lack of empathy. No mirror neuron in sight, but tons of self-congratulation on one’s moral superiority. And then they have the nerve to tell truly caring people who say, wait, welfare destroys people’s lives, that they are heartless.

        • Protagoras says:

          OK, again, as a blue tribe insider, I find myself completely failing to recognize anything that resembles what I encounter. I’ve been thinking about this way too much, because there seem to be ever more of these conservatives explaining what liberals believe and doing an appallingly bad job of it in the comments section of late. It feels to me exactly like some other situations, one or the other or both of which some of the conservatives may actually have experienced, so I will try to illustrate by way of those analogies.

          I’m an atheist. Like many atheists, I have encountered theists who think it’s obvious that I must really believe in God (because it’s so obvious that nobody could really doubt that), and so that I’m denying or rebelling because I hate God, probably because I’m being childish or I want to get away with sinful behavior or something. This naturally bears no resemblance to my actual views, or those of any of the many atheists I know quite well.

          I’m also male, and a porn consumer. I have, of course, read things that anti-porn feminists have written about male sexuality. Again, their descriptions seem to have nothing to do with my own experience. Here, I’m a little more open to the possibility that I’m a bit of an outlier, but I do talk to my fellow men, and we do occasionally even talk about subjects like sex and women. And I note that the porn industry has managed to succeed better at producing stuff that turns me on than I would expect them to manage by chance, so I am somewhat inclined to suspect that they are in fact targeting an audience of people who are probably not entirely unlike me, and so probably not much like the men the radical anti-porn feminists describe.

          In both cases, I have tried to have discussions with the people who had such extraordinarily misguided views of what people like me were about. Such discussions seemed to be capable of being dragged out without end, but they never seemed to make any progress; anything I might provide as evidence was either rejected as insincere or reinterpreted as meaning something quite different from what I actually meant.

          As a liberal, reading people around here talking about what liberals are like has felt exactly the same as the two analogous situations I have described. I could try to point out the mistakes; indeed I have once or twice, and a few of my fellow leftists have also done once in a while. But it hasn’t worked any better than it seems to in the analogous situations I’ve mentioned. So what I would really like would be for people to stop bloviating about what they’re sure their ideological opponents believe, as it seems to me these discussions are a massive waste of time. Like this comment, I suppose.

          • Tarrou says:

            Well, congratulations to the non-liberals I guess! They’ve hit the necessary critical mass to not understand their opposition. This is what everyone who isn’t an anodyne “liberal” feels like all the time. Imagine if every time you expressed any random political opinion about, oh, say the Export Import bank, you got accused by every news media organization in the nation barring Fox of being a racist. Now imagine this lasting for forty years.

            Now imagine how much fun your opponents are going to have if they ever get that level of social penetration. The rules of free speech and civility were there for everyone’s protection, but apres moi and all that.

          • James Picone says:

            Oh please. I don’t know what it’s like in America, but growing up in Australia (and in the present day) neoliberal economic theory (i.e., right-wing) was the /only/ major opinion in the public space. Concerns about welfare or the environment or public education could only ever be expressed in terms of money potentially saved down the line, or investment in the future, never in terms of letting people live a happy life or self-actualisation or not destroying something irreplaceable. Trying to describe something in terms like that was a great way to get roundly mocked from approximately everywhere and depicted as an airy-fairy hippy with no concern for what’s Real And Practical.

            The 2001 election was decided in favour of the Right by the right-wing party using concerns about national security (September 11), and border security (the Tampa affair – posturing over Hazara refugees from Aghanistan). By the present day, both major left and right wing parties are competing to be as cruel as possible to refugees trying to get to Australia via leaky boats from Indonesia, on the basis that this way people won’t have an incentive to make dangerous leaky-boat trips across the pacific and drown (Most recently, the right-wing party, in government, passed a bill making it illegal for people working in detention centres to talk about the conditions in those detention centres). Solutions like “Set up a processing centre in Indonesia and ferry people over ourselves iff we decide they’re refugees, return them to Indonesia and refer them to the processing centre if people try to come over on leaky boats” aren’t in the national conversation at all.

            The position that left-wing dialogue is utterly dominant and no other form of politics is allowed is trivially false.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          > “glaring failures of empathy”

          I agree there are glaring failures, but I’m not sure they are failures of empathy. Near as I can tell, blue-tribers really honestly don’t believe the policies they favor will have the horrendous effects that these policies pretty obviously will have. When blue tribers advocate a $15 minimum wage or oppose “welfare reform” or try to mandate stronger “diversity” requirements, they honestly think their programs will help the disadvantaged classes. Or at least they think it’s possible the programs might help…if we throw enough money at it and put people with sufficiently good intentions in charge. The fact that these programs invariably fail and usually make the exact problems they’re trying to address worse they can usually blame on the other side – see, it totally would have worked if those mean red-tribers hadn’t somehow botched the implementation or been stingy with the funding!

          I don’t know what to do about this. But the neurons that are missing aren’t mirror neurons. If you could magically give people the economic intuition to REALIZE their policies are unlikely to work, they’d probably advocate different policies that DID stand a chance of working. Because of empathy.

  22. CAE_Jones says:

    A company has been working on a vision replacement device that converts images into electrical impulses on the tongue. It seems to have only taken 6 years for them to make it through FDA trials.
    Naturally, it will be stupidly over priced, because the market is tiny and FDA trials require ritual sacrifices of a billion dollars. However, the market is also poorer than average, and it turns out that a company finally realized this and is asking for philanthropists to help reduce the cost for those who can’t afford it (PDF).

    I had nothing to do with the trials, have no idea how well it works, and really hope the device comes with cleaning instructions.

  23. zz says:

    A friend of a friend reviewed the literature on effective fundraising techniques for his senior thesis. Worth a read for anyone interested in EA.

    In a previous links thread, Scott linked to the story “A Billionaire Dinosaur Turned Me Gay”, mostly for the Amazon reviews. Well, he must have inadvertently driven business with his massive readership, because now there’s a sequel.

  24. J says:

    I know this is a taboo topic here, but I’m trying to figure out which race is best. I’ve been running around in circles a lot trying to nail it down, but mostly I find that people say it doesn’t matter, and I’d like to find more concrete evidence than that.

    I get the whole thing about running a mile in someone else’s shoes before you judge them (because then when you judge them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes). But seriously, though, I just don’t see how all the different races can simply be interchangeable. Not to name any names, but some of the races just seem to be objectively a lot slower than others. I mean, they’re also typically a lot longer and that can count for a lot, and people from the shorter races will have long since crossed the finish line while the others are just getting started.

    And then there are the races that put a lot of effort into passing the baton to those that come after them, and that sort of team culture seems pretty valuable to me. I get that there are a lot of hurdles that some races have to overcome, but I don’t know if that’s a good enough reason to always be falling flat on one’s face.

    Anyway, my track and field coach says I need to decide which race I want to pick for the big meetup next month, so I’d appreciate any input you all can give.

  25. Goldblum says:

    Why is it that only the far left has used entryism historically? It seems like a tactic that could work for any side.

    • Alraune says:

      That page notes a couple examples of pro-lifers attempting to move the dial in an entryist fashion, so apparently it’s been tried. I also occasionally see complaints by liberal groups that they’re attracting too many libertarians, though never an accusation that this was a coordinated action.

      To your point though, entryism depends on looking innocuous. You need to be able to argue your political goals are aligned with the group’s, at worst orthogonal to them, and ideally it just doesn’t come up. We’ve had related discussions before over how far from Naziism a new fascism would have to look in order to avoid triggering people’s defenses, and I expect there’s a similar factor at work against conservative entryism: in order to succeed, conservative entryists would have to not look like movement conservatives.

      • Goldblum says:

        These are good points, but they still don’t explain why those on the left would have more success with entryism. Maybe the left is just more competent at it? Maybe they are sufficiently dedicated to live a lie for decades, and organized enough to all try to penetrate the same organization at the same time and saturate it?

        Or maybe entryism will no longer work for leftists now that there are cultural antibodies against leftism in the form of conservatism, and entryism is basically a relic of a bygone era?

        I tentatively like the idea of political factions fighting via entryism. Entryism is an ideological turing test, so it’s a tactic that works best for people who familiarize them with the other side’s arguments thoroughly. Entryism teaches you that the other side is made up of real people, and you get to understand their thinking in great depth. And entryism, if widespread, could have the effect of moderating organizations regardless of where they stand politically.

        • Jiro says:

          Entryism is an ideological turing test, so it’s a tactic that works best for people who familiarize them with the other side’s arguments thoroughly.


          1) It doesn’t require that you be able to pretend to be a typical member of the other side. You can have gaps in your knowledge such that you can’t pass for a typical one, just a somewhat strange one.

          2) Entryism sometimes happens in contexts where the entryist doesn’t have to be able to pass, such as Christian groups at universities who have to allow in non-Christians and gays. The Christian group knows very well these guys are entryists, but they’re not permitted to reject them. Even outside universities, the test is often not “does he look like a real member of the group”, the test is “can it be spun in the press or Tumblir that he’s a real member of the group”, which is a much lower bar.

    • Tarrou says:

      I’d argue that they don’t, not consciously. The left has benefited greatly from the relative immaturity of its ideas. They appeal to the sort of people who don’t understand reality (not to say all leftists don’t understand reality, but it is palatable for those who don’t). College kids, artists, actors etc. all find these sorts of shortcuts and justifications to be attractive. What we’ve seen is a relative shift in the cultural status awarded to the sort of people for whom a sort of lazy leftism comes naturally.

      The hard left are still the hard left, and they are pretty much in academia and journalism, the only two places that will have them and where they can make a living. There they can get by on their own echo chamber, but in most other areas, the “entryists” aren’t motivated by politics, they’re just lukewarm people who get in. Then the hard left can trigger their tribal instincts to attempt to change whatever industry or group is involved. They don’t go in with the idea of entryism, but they get activated.

      At least that’s my read.

      • HeelBearCub says:


        I think your analysis is too facile.

        Broadly speaking, when we speak of right and left, we are talking about “conservative” and “not conservative”. I’m going to avoid using the word liberal because it gets into “classical liberal” vs. “liberal” vs. “progressive”, etc.

        Again, broadly speaking, conservatives want things to stay as they are, or were. They are averse to change. That’s baked into the definition. This means that the conservative label is able to be applied far more easily to people the older they become. If you are young and you want things as you like them (and that is different than the non-young), you are not conservative. If you are old and you want things as you like them (and that is different than the non-old) then you are conservative.

        By and large, this has very little to do with differences in naivety. Older people are far less likely to use various forms of internet based communication and see less value in them. This has absolutely nothing to do with how “fact based” their judgement is.

        • CJB says:

          I disagree.

          At it’s most fundamental, conservative thought generally trends towards classical liberalism- small government, strong defense, lots of focus on freedom that is actually free. Free speech don’t cost a dime, baby!

          At it’s most fundmental, left wing thought tends towards a more statist view and a focus on freedoms that cost something- IE healthcare.

          Now- obviously, at any given moment, the ebb and flow of politics in the real world will fuck with this.

          For example- the anti-gay marriage argument fits into the liberal worldview: “This is a crucial underpinning of society, we’re sorry, but your right to own guns/drive diesel trucks/gay marry does not outweigh the concerns the rest of us have about the impact to OUR lives. Sorry, minority of people, but the impact to the majority is more important.”

          NB- I think this argument is factually as well as philisophically wrong- but it is the best anti-gay argument.

          The conservative argument is- the fuck are they doing to me? You’re worried about the impacts? Fuck you, you statist prick, how about my fist impacts your face?

          • brad says:

            Is this a no true Scotsman argument? Because historically the conservative elements of society haven’t been all for free speech or otherwise in favor of a hand’s off government. On the contrary.

            Even today, the libertarian leaning side of the Republican coalition is a minority and is riddled with exceptions.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            As brad points out, your definition of what conservatism is “at its most fundamental” is factually wrong and has much more to do with today’s coalitions than any fundamental definition of conservatism.

            Conservatives like things they way they are. They don’t like change. They favor the mechanisms that have grown up since antiquity (as they see them).

            Because the mechanisms of the state pushed on conservative mores in the 60s, those who favored things as they were in the 50s and before started resisting the state, especially the federal government. This has lead to a coalition between those conservatives and those who favor “small” government via resistance to the federal government.

            But that coalition would rapidly fall apart at the state level, and has been non-existent in regards to federal policies, like support for a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage or support for the war on drugs, where conservative goals don’t align with the ideas of libertarians.

          • CJB says:

            I’m referring to the various positions generally taken by those people considered to be highly influential on conservative thought and actions.

            “Because historically the conservative elements of society haven’t been all for free speech or otherwise in favor of a hand’s off government. On the contrary.”

            Define “historically”. The entire course of history? I mean- on the world scale and historical scale, I’m a “far left” radical because I think slavery is bad.

            Generally, to be very specific about it- those forces in existence within democratic/rebublican government since approximately 1776.

            And I think you’ll find if you sift through the right wing vs. left wing throughout say, the history of the US, this is what you’ll find.

            So when you say historically I hear “in the 50’s, Joe McCarthy and in the 60’s, the free speech movement”- IE the popular, shallow conception of who is “conservative” and “liberal”.

            I’d also say that it’s not so much “No true scotsman” as “Votes Republican, isn’t necessarily conservative.” Which sounds the same, but eventually you have to be able to go “I don’t care if he lives in Edinburgh- he was born in london and lived there for 20 years, he’s not a Scotsman.”

            “Even today, the libertarian leaning side of the Republican coalition is a minority and is riddled with exceptions.”

            This is what I’m basing my “shallow understanding” on- it’s one small step above going “you know, DEMOCRATS were segregationists.”

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Who were the conservatives in 1776? What positions did they back? Who opposed them and what would their ideological stance be called?

            Give me a definition for conservative that allows one to identify not Democrats, Whigs or Republicans, but those who are conservative in 1776, 1860, 1960 and today.

          • CJB says:

            Those in favor of a small, decentralized government system, with most power devolving to the states.

            I mean- I’m sorry, but “states rights” for all the taint of the civil war, stretches back to the very begining of the revolution. The debate over Federalism is the first debate we had.

            So conservatives? The Anti-federalists, recognized at the time as being conservative.

            So these gents:


            And their various successors- including Jackson, Goldwater, Lincoln (I’ve got a whole thing on Lincoln)

            Notably, the precise same debate shows up again and again- sometimes for the good (Jackson refusing to make a federal bank) and sometimes bad (The states should be allowed to decide on slavery)

            And also, again, this shows up.

            For example, segrgation was a “liberal” policy by my definition- the state should enforce certain codes.

            And if you look at the other stances of noted segregationists, they’re….pretty bog standard liberal. George Wallace, for a good example, was big on government roads, and government schools, and government segregation. Unions were notably pretty segregated for years.

            Intruth, the modern concept of “liberalism” as a socially tolerant attitude based around letting people do what they want is EXTREMELY modern- as in, since the 60’s, and the anti-communist backlash.

            I could go on a whole reactionary bit about Alinsky and using social liberalism as a dark horse for socialism, but this comment is long enough.

            In other words, you need to look at history beyond the immediate.

            “Who were the conservatives in 1776? What positions did they back? Who opposed them and what would their ideological stance be called?”

            I’m being charitable, because this feels like a gotcha where I go “uhhhhhhhh wait shit, the conservatives wanted to stay with…*GASP* WH-AAAA-AAAT? THE BRITISH? NO! NOT MUH ‘PUBLICANS!”

            In actuality, there was a group that was seeking to increase the power of a centralized power in a firm belief that an increasingly centralized government would provide ye these many blessings.

            And there was a group going “we think that the responsibility for determining local issues should devolve on that locality, and self-determination is better than a social safety net.”

            And later on, when writing legal documentation, their entire philosophy would be shaped by a screaming terror of government and it’s abuses, leading them to consciously create a system where the power of a centralized government was crippled.

            So from an ideological perspective, the Founders were conservative. From a perspective of “just the founders” the anti-federalists were conservative. From a perspective of the 1960’s, yes, the anti-segregationists were conservative.

            The Republican party didn’t embrace a southern strategy until Nixon- the people opposed to segregation were a bunch of tony New England conservatives- includling Buckley- after some other conservatives talked some sense into him.

          • brad says:

            If we look at the two centuries in the US, we have a few choices about how to define conservative.

            We can go with those who were opposing whatever the social movements of the day were — so the pro-slavery forces in 1850s, anti-women’s suffrage in the 1920s, pro-war on drugs in the 1960s and so on.

            Another option is to look at the kinds of issues that have had staying power over the long term. That’s going to be mostly economic — we can say the people who were in favor of lower taxes and less interventionist government were conservative in 1890 and 1950 and 2015.

            The option you present “generally taken by those people considered to be highly influential on conservative thought and actions” is circular. You can’t dismiss the overwhelming number of people alive because they don’t fit your neat model. If these thinkers were so influential, wouldn’t you think more people would have been influenced by them?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The leaders of the 1776 revolution were, broadly, radical and liberal thinkers born from the age of enlightenment (who also engaged in plenty of Realpolitik.) There is a reason that the libertarians of today refer to themselves frequently as “classically liberal”.

            The mere fact that anti-federalists existed says nothing about whether they were conservative or not.

            Again, what is your definition of conservative? Because the conservatives in Iran, Isreal and many other places don’t seem to agree with your assertion that “conservative” = “decentralized power”.

          • Anonymous says:

            @CJB, What, exactly, does carving up conservative vs. liberal in the way that you propose *get you.* I mean, let’s assume you have adequate historical justification for it. What does using your definitions (vs. some other) help to accomplish?

          • CJB says:

            “We can go with those who were opposing whatever the social movements of the day were — so the pro-slavery forces in 1850s, anti-women’s suffrage in the 1920s, pro-war on drugs in the 1960s and so on.”
            “One of these things, is not like the others…”
            The drug war was vastly popular among all but a tiny fraction of people EDIT: At the time of inception. It’s MUCH LESS POPULAR now. Sufferage and pro-slavery- well, I’ll give you pro-slavery, which I already pointed out.
            “Another option is to look at the kinds of issues that have had staying power over the long term. “

            Which was my point- getting bogged down in the issue of the moment elides the parts that don’t change.

            “ You can’t dismiss the overwhelming number of people alive because they don’t fit your neat model. If these thinkers were so influential, wouldn’t you think more people would have been influenced by them?”

            Buckley, (who was, admittedly, initially pro-segregation but came around) Thatcher, Reagan, Chambers, Mises, Goldwater- I could go on.

            These are not small names. These are men and women whose ideas are A. focused on small government and B. highly, highly influential.

            I mean, I’m sorry, but you’re literally talking about the Republican movement in the post-evangelical era as though this somehow represents conservative thought through 250 years of the republic. That’s very, very, very….myopic.

            ” Because the conservatives in Iran, Isreal and many other places don’t seem to agree with your assertion that “conservative” = “decentralized power”.”

            Which would be the reason that I specifically pointed out we’re discussing modern democratic nations. Israel is a terrible example for talking about anything other than what happens to politics in very weird situations. It’s like Japan or Taiwan.

            Consider conservatives in- all of europe, really.

            “What does using your definitions (vs. some other) help to accomplish?”


            Lets pretend that you, like me, are a Republican, and ergo would like republicans to win. (Lets also pretend it’s more complex than that but I don’t want to post 2K+ words laying it out)

            It’s pretty obvious that gay marriage is a seriously losing fight that is going to demographically fuck us in a big way.

            And I hate to break it to you, but small-government Republicans make a huuuuuge part of the party, with consistent goals. The Tea Party is genuinely,, actually worried about government overreach (and, admittedly, the gays gettin’ hitched- but that is genuinely the less important opinion to most of them.)

            Pointing out that gay marriage, this immensely stupid fucking issue we’re wasting so much time LOSING on, is actually a conservative issue based around traditionalist small government principles hits the right shibboleths. It enables my point to bypass their initial objections. (my general agreement on other principles helps).

            The numbers suggest that the millenial generation is surprisingly conservative in modern republican terms- limited abortion rights, very fiscally conservative, global warming isn’t even on the top ten lists of concerns. I could go on.

            But since we all actually know gay people, anti-gay marriage is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow, even for me.

            So from a tactical point of view, ignoring the question of “facts”- it’s a highly, highly USEFUL argument.

          • ddreytes says:


            So as I gloss your argument here (given that you’re trying to cast Lincoln as someone on your side) part of what you’re trying to do is build a position that’s in favor of state’s rights without being tied to the legacy of segregation?

            All I can really say is that I’d be on your side, but I think your project is more or less doomed to failure in the broader scheme of American politics. I mean, one of the dominant coalitions in American politics today is between those who want less government regulation on business, and those who are committed to the idea, specifically, of state’s rights as part of the legacy of segregation. You want to talk about Reagan, fine, but my question is, does Reagan win in 1980 without the people who still really care about segregation? If there’s a concept of state’s rights that’s dissociated from segregation, why’s Reagan going down to Neshoba County, Mississippi in 1980 and talking about states’ rights?

            It’s much the same talking about something like limited abortion rights. It’s all well and good to talk about millenials being in favor of limited abortion rights – but when the Republican Party is tied to the position of no abortion rights whatsoever under any circumstances, it’s hard to put that policy into practice.

            It’d take one hell of a realignment for most of these positions to actually make sense in American politics – is I guess my point.

            (But mandatory disclaimer, I’m a few drinks deep at this point)

          • CJB says:

            “part of what you’re trying to do is build a position that’s in favor of state’s rights without being tied to the legacy of segregation?”
            Nope. It’s to build an argument that gay rights fit neatly within the scheme of what most conservatives actually believe. And also having an interesting discussion about what the word “Conservative” means in American political thought. It’s sort of a sprawling discussion.

            “does Reagan win in 1980 without the people who still really care about segregation?”
            Have you ever seen the electoral map of 1980? Losing the hardcore dixiecrat states wouldn’t have been noticed.

            If there’s a concept of state’s rights that’s dissociated from segregation, why’s Reagan going down to Neshoba County, Mississippi in 1980 and talking about states’ rights?”

            See, this sounds less like “I’d be on your side except for these reasonable questions” and more trying to blindside me by pretending to agree except that I’m a total segregationist racist evil person and so was Ronnie nah nah boo boo. Why was he there? A little thingy called “campaigning”. County and state fairs are politician crack. Lots of happy people looking for a show.

            So lets look at, oh, I dunno. What he actually said?

            “In more recent years with the best intention, they have created a vast bureaucracy, or a bureaucratic structure …. when you create a government bureaucracy…its top priority becomes preservation of the bureaucracy.

            Today, and I know from our own experience in California when we reformed welfare …We found the overwhelming majority would like nothing better than to be out, with jobs for the future, and out here in the society with the rest of us. The trouble is, again, that bureaucracy has them so economically trapped … they’re trapped because that bureaucracy needs them as a clientele…

            I believe that there are programs like that… that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them, and let the people [applause drowns out end of statement].

            ***I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.***

            This is the one and only paragraph where he mentions states rights. I edited for length, but I believe I edited nothing of substance out (Reagan was a talker).
            So tell me. Do those words, in that order mean “I secretly wanna reinstate Jim Crow”? Because to me they sound like a list of grievances with federalism.

          • ddreytes says:

            @CJB – sorry, I probably should have explicated where I was coming from a little better – the reason that I was emphasizing states’ rights and segregation so much was partly because of your identification of Lincoln as someone in the tradition of small-government, states’ rights conservatism. Which struck me as being out of tune with common interpretations, and certainly out of tune with the way that states’ rights are invoked in contemporary American politics.

            If you want to say that Reagan was simply talking about federalism in Mississippi in a way that had nothing to do with federalism, that’s fine. It’s difficult for me to divorce the statements from the context and the location. But it wasn’t a great example for my point, probably, which was just that I think your project is very difficult in the context of actually existing American politics.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            a position that’s in favor of state’s rights without being tied to the legacy of segregation

            Dunno from ‘position’, but some of us out here on the Left Coast would like to have the Federal Government bound to respect our states’ decisions on recreational drugs, various gay benefits, assisted suicide, abortion, etc.

        • Nornagest says:

          Religious fundamentalists want change. Libertarians want change. Neoliberals want change. Seventy years ago, fascists wanted change. We could dispute how accurate it is to call any of these right-wing, but they’re all generally counted as such in modern discourse, and some of those groups are now more common than old-school paleocons.

          Sure, some of those groups hearken back to imaginary golden ages in the distant past, but that’s hardly a trait unique to people on the Right spectrum: see anarcho-primitivism, back-to-the-land hippies, feminist interpretations of the Graves/Frazer Mother Goddess concept, Margaret Murray’s ideas about prehistoric European witchcraft, Marx’s concept of primitive communism, etc.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Not always the distant past either. Mourning the relative economic equality of the 1950s is a popular hobby among left-liberal American economists nowadays.

      • Anonymous says:

        Anecdata: All of the scientists I’ve known, with a couple of exceptions, have been leftists.

    • anon says:

      Nationalist Anarchists are the first example that springs to mind when I think of conservative entryists. You can even find examples of them “sneaking in” to regular anarchist marches and getting into fights with the other protestors once people realize they aren’t actually on the same side.

  26. Greg says:

    From the mundabor blog, linked from your comment of the week:

    It takes an ass like Francis to give a SJW reading to the Old Testament

    There may be plenty wrong with Francis, but reading the OT not literally but metaphorically is Catholic tradition, a good and necessary one. Otherwise Cristianity would be mere Judaism Plus, which it isn’t.

    • Moshe Zadka says:

      Ummm…Judaism doesn’t read the bible literally *or* metaphorically — this dichotomy is a weird (to Jews) discussion between Christians.

      Judaism reads the bible-as-interpreted-by-the-Talmud (to a first approximation: as in most things in Judaism, “it’s more complicated than that”).

      • The way I like to put it is that, by the standards of Rabbinic law, every Supreme Court justice in history was a strict constructionist.

        Your preferred legal rule is inconsistent with the written Torah? No problem. It’s in the oral Torah—which, conveniently enough, isn’t written.

  27. zz says:

    I play in a summer ultimate [frisbee] league which has set teams which play each other in a round-robin fashion each week (contrast to pick up, where you bring a light and dark shirt and switch colors on the fly so you have fair(ish) teams). It’s an explicitly social thing (there’s a league on other nights for people looking for competitive play). The league’s website includes rosters for every team, accessible to all the players in that league.

    To aid social interaction, a few days before game night, I go through the roster of the opposing team and make Anki cards with a photo of a player on the front and their name on the back. (I have, of course, done this for my team); a few players optionally included photos with their registration; the rest come from Facebook accounts (when available). How creepy does this come off as, and should I avoid mentioning that I do it?

    • Alraune says:

      The trick is to push this as “I made Ultimate Frisbee Trading Cards!” rather than “did I mention I have photos of you all pinned to the walls in my soundproof wood shed?”

    • Geirr says:

      Unless someone asks where your excellent memory for names and facts comes from don’t mention it. If they do don’t mention the Anki/flashcards thing or Facebook. The only context in which is tell anybody about that is if someone specifically asks for advice on remembering names and faces.

      I’m probably overestimating how weird that would seem to normal, non nerd people but even the Facebook stalking bit o I’d leave out. Honestly I can’t see any way for this to redound to your benefit so why tell anyone?

      • zz says:

        I should have mentioned my reasons for asking.

        Reason #1 is that I’m writing about Anki under my real name and am trying to calibrate whether to use this example; it’s the most illustrative, so if I’m not coming off as creepy, yay, but I have other, slightly less illustrative examples, to fall back on.

        Reason #2 is that some people on my team have expressed difficulty remembering everyone’s names, and I’m unsure whether I should recommend Anki to them (yay being helpful!) or keep it to myself (yay not having people thing I’m creepy!)

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Isn’t a near universal that people have trouble with names? Haven’t you shown competence in doing so?

          “I use a kind of flashcard to help me remember names” is pretty easily digestible. However, I think where you might elicit some strange reactions is that most people don’t want to go through ANY kind of process to remember names, beyond something that can be done when meeting the person.

          I honestly doubt that people are going to get upset that you are facebook profiling people. It seems like a fairly standard thing that people do. Printing out the pictures? Not creepy in the context of flashcards.

          Being process oriented enough to print out flashcards? You have to counteract that by being matt-of-factly, mildly positive about it. Muster every confidence you have to not be nervous about it (which seems like it might be an issue), but don’t sell it.

    • NZ says:

      It’s awesome that you did it, but you shouldn’t even have mentioned it here.

    • Anonymous says:

      I play MUD recreational too. While it’s ok that you do it, and people probably appreciate you remembering their names, normal people would find it weird/creepy if they found out. It’s probably not worth giving the hint to other people. But I will be on the lookout for people who remember an inordinate amount of names…

    • I think it is weird to most people but not me.

  28. XerxesPraelor says:

    I know this might not belong here, but could whatever Christians who are on here pray for my friend HeFeiYang, who has gone missing?

  29. Yadal says:

    It’s probably a bit late for this to work, but I’m try to write a decent Luminosity fanfic, am having trouble getting the characters reasonably IC (though I have a few radical rewrite ideas to do that), couldn’t get help on Alicornutopia (long story), and decided to try here.

    Is there anyone here who can help me out?

  30. HueyPriest says:

    Hi Scott,

    The previous linkfest had this link to an article focusing on the economic performance of scandinavians versus other ethnic groups in the US, and how scandinavian-americans are supposed to replicate the low poverty rate of their brothers across the atlantic.
    Just thought to bring this to your attention:

    This paper discovers that its not only scandinavians that do this. Practically all ethnic groups that have immigrated into the US replicate the economic performance of their home countries, except for the recent ‘model minorities’ (South Asians, Africans, also East Asians to a lesser extent) that have been economically selected as part of the immigration process. They discover this by tracking the economic performance of counties versus changes in their ethnic composition over time.

    They also find that levels of social trust and willingness to cooperate are the most important correlates to economic outperformance, and surprisingly the value ‘obedience in children is important’ correlates strongly to economic underperformance. And they discover that South Asians are some of the least trusting ethnic groups in the US.

    Interesting stuff.

    On a fuzzily related note I wonder if its possible to create a ‘Social Factor’ that accounts for variance in performance in health and education at all income levels for different countries? Aka create a regression line for health and education scores over wealth, and countries below the line score -ve and those above +ve. E.g. Russia, the Arab Oil Monarchies, and especially India and South Africa will perform extremely badly in this factor as the Human Development Index for these countries are very low for their level of economic performance. In contrast Sri Lanka, Botswana, SKorea, and China will come out relatively well as their health and education standards are higher than their wealth levels predict.

    I strongly suspect such a social factor will correlate very strongly with measurements of social trust in different countries.

    • Charlie says:

      As always, I’d be super excited to see a more global study of this, to help tease out how much this is the USA being awesome, and how much it’s the immigrants being selected for awesomeness.

  31. Nam says:

    A convicted rapist recently received a lifetime ban from playing Magic: The Gathering – a trading card game – in officially sanctioned events. He was doing well in tournaments, and his matches were featured by the tournament organizers. A fellow player then called his character into question on twitter.

    “Quick reminder: PLAYER is a literal rapist who got away with serving three months of an eight year plea deal.”

    Now there’s an argument to be made for banning registered sex offenders from your game. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. If you want to do that, you need to have a discussion about rehabilitation and when a person is considered redeemed. But I would say that’s a defensible position to hold.

    However, this wasn’t a lobby for a policy change. This was a witch hunt to ostracize an unsympathetic character. A lot of people got angry on twitter, called into question the player’s character, whether he was punished enough, whether he shows enough remorse. And they were rewarded. I believe the company acted out of fear for headlines such as “Rapist wins children’s game tournament.”

    This series of events makes me very uncomfortable. There’s nothing in the logic of this situation that limits it to serious criminals. The threshold is “enough people angry on twitter to negatively affect brand” and not “seriousness of crime.”

    If companies feel the need to disassociate themselves from any unsympathetic character, then this places too much power in the hands of lynch mobs. People get very emotional about topics like rape, racism, but they can also get very emotional about politics. If you have a controversial opinion, you too may become the target of a witch hunt. And you might start negatively affecting a company’s brand. And then be banned from your hobby. Or fired from your job.

    Now this has me worried, but I’m also wondering – is this effect also doing good? Is this kind of censorship having a positive effect on society by incentivizing people not to be jerks? How do we incentivize people not to be jerks while still allowing stigmatized individuals to function in society?

    • zz says:

      There’s a failure mode caused by not recognizing tradeoffs (and thus exacerbated by partisanship which makes policy debates seem one-sided) that reads something like “X does good thing Y, thus X is good and we must have X,” along with the obvious analogue if X is bad. For instance, I remember a fb post that went something like “taxes disincentivize productivity, productivity is a good thing, so any good economic policy must have low taxes…”

      Nobody is perfect. Being maximally mean to people whenever they’re not perfect will, indeed, incentivize people to be more perfect than they are, which is a good thing. It will also entail being maximally mean to everyone. It is written

      Chen Sheng was an officer serving the Qin Dynasty, famous for their draconian punishments. He was supposed to lead his army to a rendezvous point, but he got delayed by heavy rains and it became clear he was going to arrive late. The way I always hear the story told is this:

      Chen turns to his friend Wu Guang and asks “What’s the penalty for being late?”

      “Death,” says Wu.

      “And what’s the penalty for rebellion?”

      “Death,” says Wu.

      “Well then…” says Chen Sheng.

      And thus began the famous Dazexiang Uprising, which caused thousands of deaths and helped usher in a period of instability and chaos that resulted in the fall of the Qin Dynasty three years later.

      We have built a Schelling fence that prohibits vigilante justice. There are undoubtedly problems with America’s criminal justice system, but IMO we’re better off defending the fence and trying to reform the system (which has been happening, if not as quickly as the reformers would like) than saying “well, I disagree with the system’s justice, so I’m gonna take things into my own hands.” To my knowledge, nobody tried to imprison or execute OJ Simpson, no matter how guilty they thought he was, because the system thought he was innocent, and thus, he was not to be punished. Miscarriage of justice? I’m told it was. Would we net more miscarriages of justice were we to abandon the established Schelling fence and make it acceptable for people to punish those who the system had dealt with? I haven’t seen any sort of empirical evidence, but I have high priors that it would.

      So, my answer is that, no, this is (probably) not doing (net) good; these people seem to be abandoning the “criminal justice system punishes people” point in favor of “criminal justice system punishes people, but anyone who disagrees with their punishment can add on more.” In my estimation, the net harm done to society by abandoning this point does more harm to society than being awful to people who have been imperfect—changing my beliefs from “if I don’t rape anyone, I will never be found guilty of rape by a criminal court” to “if I don’t rape anyone, I will never be found guilty of rape by a criminal court, but I’ll nevertheless be punished if people—who, unlike a jury, have no requirement to hear both sides, and many will be predisposed to not—believe I’m guilty” will (a) do nothing to disincentivize me to rape and (b) empower abusers. We can perhaps incentivize people to not be jerks by pointing out to them that, by being horrible to innocent people (or being horrible to people disproportionate to their crime), you give people less reason to remain innocent.

    • Alraune says:

      We’ve been discussing this sort of thing on a rolling basis, with various people proposing extremely varied (and often pretty absurd) standards for what cases do or don’t constitute unjust campaigns. I might as well take my own stab at it.

      The missing principle here is “no excommunication without creed.” If you’ve got some form of actual organization and consultable set of rules, people can judge the size and influence of the group and choose whether to follow them or manage the risks of not doing so. What we’ve got instead are ex post facto campaigns usually based on stuff everyone previously thought was a non-issue.

      Going after specific people instead of arguing for changes to standards is not only unjust, it probably isn’t even effective. The ruinous miasma of nonspecific social taboos lets you have ambiguity about whether your complaint reflects a larger group or just some fringe nuts, which will sometimes get you your way on specific cases, but it also means nobody can comply with your social standards even if they want to.

      • PSJ says:

        But the very issue is that this is a somewhat new, somewhat non-centrally organized group. The idea that every organization needs explicit instructions on what level of criminality or harassment is sufficient grounds for expulsion seems like unrealistic thinking.

        This case sets a precedent for future actions, so the organization now has a slightly more firm body of precedent for expulsion. This is exactly how creed is developed.

        And the idea that rape would have been thought of as a “non-issue” in the organization is laughable. It’s just that it wasn’t brought up prior to this case.

    • John Schilling says:

      Is this kind of censorship having a positive effect on society by incentivizing people not to be jerks? How do we incentivize people not to be jerks while still allowing stigmatized individuals to function in society?

      It is generally acknowledged that for a punishment to be an effective deterrent, it need not be severe but it must be certain and swift. This sort of behavior fails on all three counts. The punishment is intended to be ostracism and exile, and the people that impose it rarely acknowledge any limits on the legitimate reach of their “authority”. The punishment is random; twitterstorms are as rare and unpredictable as tornadoes, and maybe one victim in a hundred will be so punished. And in this case, the punishment is a decade behind the crime.

      Which brings up another problem with the “deterrence” theory of social shaming and boycotts. You need a credible “off” switch. There needs to be a set of clearly defined, broadly accepted rules that a person can obey and know they will then not be punished. And you need a point at which, even when an offense has occurred, the fear of punishment goes away either because the punishment is over or the statute of limitations has expired. Otherwise, the don’t-be-a-jerk strategy only marginally reduces the threat of being ostracized and exiled for future jerk behavior.

      The analogy that occurs to me at the moment is the Palestinian practice of randomly firing homemade artillery rockets at Israelis on order to “incentivize Israelis to not be jerks”. Raise your hands if you believe this is ever actually going to motivate Israel to treat the Palestinians better. Raise your hands if you believe the actual motivation of the Palestinians firing the rockets is anything but “We hate them forever and it makes us feel good to scare and hurt them”.

      • Matt M says:

        “It is generally acknowledged that for a punishment to be an effective deterrent, it need not be severe but it must be certain and swift.”

        This really can’t be stated enough.

        A freshman psychology student could look at how twitter-mobs work and easily declare that this wouldn’t be a good enough form of conditioning to house-train a dog, much less re-shape all of human society in one’s preferred image.

        These types of punishments are all based on virality, and absolutely nobody can predict what goes viral (whether we’re talking about hate-mobs or about cute kitten memes). Therefore these punishments will do as much to deter rapists as randomly hitting your dog with a newspaper will do to teach it to pee outside.

        • PSJ says:

          A freshman psychology student might note that probabilistic punishments are generally MORE, not less effective deterrents assuming imperfect application.

          And it seems implausible that non-organized communities could ever enforce perfect application of punishment.

          That said, I accept that more consistent, less severe punishment may be more effective, but don’t accept that the current system is totally non-deterrent.

          • John Schilling says:

            Fortunately, we already have a very well organized community for the purpose of e.g. punishing rapists. And for punishing people whose disorganized ad-hoc efforts to punish rapists are likely to do more harm than good, if we feel it necessary. So what is not necessary, is figuring out which of the various random and disorganized methods of punishing rapists is least objectionable and endorsing that plan.

          • Matt M says:

            What John Schilling said. I’m not saying that twitter mobs are TOTALLY non-deterrent, just that it’s a significantly worse deterrent in just about every capacity than other, more established systems are.

            Nobody is ever going to be in a situation where they might take advantage of a drunk or underage girl and say to themselves, “I shouldn’t do this – after all, there’s a 1% chance that 10 years later, a social network that doesn’t even exist today will grow to power, find out about it, and rally a mob to prevent me from playing in organized card game tournaments.” To the extent that a deterrent comes into play here, it would be “I shouldn’t do this – after all, there’s a X% (don’t want to have this debate now) chance I’ll be caught by the police and jailed for Y years”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            But isn’t it probable that the underlying message, the one that leads to later , admittedly poorly applied, additional punishment, is actually sinking in?

            I.e.” Woah, that person is sloppy drunk, let’s hold off”
            seems like it might take root.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, but it’s taking root because the traditional deterrence methods are being applied to it – not because people are worried about Twitter-mobs.

            I guess maybe you could argue that Twitter mobs are influencing popular opinion to the extent that the citizenry as a whole are demanding the police more vigorously investigate and punish these types of incidents – but that’s really a different mechanism entirely.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is also taking root because it is a morally persuasive argument propagated within at-risk communities. If your bros tell you that taking advantage of unconscious women is uncool and gets you no status points with them, if your wingman won’t back your play when it goes into that territory, you probably won’t do it. If your female social acquaintances, who might plausibly be your consciously willing casual sex partners tomorrow, are clearly opposed to the practice, same deal – and they are likely also working to make sure that their sisters aren’t in a position to be so exploited.

            This is a big part of what drove littering, smoking, and drunk driving into socially unacceptable territory.

            And random attacks by outsiders, are not helpful. To the extent that they cause communities to close ranks in defense against those random attacks, they are openly harmful.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            The traditional deterrents? Are you speaking of the ones John Schilling lays out? Or are you talking about prosecution?

            My sense is that prosecution of “sex with very drunk but conscious” person is actually rare.

          • Matt M says:

            All things considered, it’s probably still rare, but significantly LESS rare than it used to be.

            Also, it depends on where you categorize the “thrown out of college for sex with drunk person” deterrent, because that doesn’t seem to be all that rare at all.

          • Alraune says:

            The incentive there seems to be “Date Off Campus.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            When you say “thrown out of college for sex with drunk person” doesn’t seem rare, what do you base this on? Certainly there is a lot of reporting around this issue, but do we have any data to say what the frequency is?

          • Matt M says:

            No, I don’t have any data – but having data isn’t particularly relevant here, because the potential rapist won’t have any data either.

            Whether this works as a deterrent is entirely contingent upon how young males perceive the likelihood of being punished. And constant media reporting on this happening will cause that perception to be quite high, regardless of the truth.

            That’s why people fear school shootings despite them being statistically incredibly rare.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        You need a credible “off” switch.

        The mention of an “off” switch made me think of a switch to turn off a Twitter storm in progress — which does exist and can be used any time, by Twitter. (That is, a patch that will deactivate the focus hashtag, or temporarily freeze the accounts that are making the storm, or both, or etc etc.) So I wonder what Twitter thinks about these storms.

        • John Schilling says:

          I would assume they think, “Whoa, that’s a lot of passionate interest. There must be some way we can monetize this!”

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Why not split the wicket; charge to be part of a twitterstorm! If Twitter identifies an anti-individual twitterstorm brewing, they can set it up so that in order to post on the hashtag you have to pay. But if you pay more, your tweet is promoted more under the tag!

            This cost is of course doubled if it involves the words “gate” or “ghazi”

          • Matt M says:

            Twitter’s inability to competently monetize any of its popular appeal and userbase has become something of a cliche – to the point where Jim Cramer rants about it on an almost nightly basis.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Jim Cramer’s job is to rant about things, regardless of their truth. See John Stewart’s takedown of him for one understanding of how Cramer’s thoughts might be compromised.

          • Nornagest says:

            John Stewart’s job is to make fun of things, regardless of their truth. I think we’re better off ignoring that whole scale of punditry.

        • Alraune says:

          Twitter seems to quite enjoy its status as a place that doesn’t simply spread news, but where news can happen.

    • Unique Identifier says:

      Vigilante justice never turns out well, outside of actual personal relationships, where it’s called something else. Almost any set of laws, if practiced predictably and evenhandedly, is better than a mob of saints and philosopher kings.

      [Perhaps the only thing I can say in favor of vigilante justice, is that it can be a useful way for the people to signal to the authorities, that they feel that the laws aren’t representing their interests. Shame about the collateral damage, though.]

      Also, I have a feeling that ‘literal rapist’ in this case means either statutory rape or both parties drunk, which doesn’t fit my standards of literal rape. Does anybody know the case, or enough to guess from the three month settlement?

      • gattsuru says:

        There’s some documentation available (content warning : sexual assault, rape) through here. Both parties were drunk, but there’s evidence that the victim was then intoxicated to the point of (0.15 BAC + several hours ~= >0.25 BAC), and that she reported to police fairly soon after the event. This may not feature violence or the rapist drugging the victim directly, but the plead behavior is about as clear an example of someone being unable to consent as can be. The rapist’s lack of challenge to the facts doesn’t really tell us much about whether the plead behavior occurred — the constraints of the early release and state bar systems strongly encourage contrition regardless of actual guilt — but I’m unable to find any evidence separating this from a reasonably accurate base rate.

        At a meta level, this seems to be a political answer rather than a pragmatic one. I’m not particularly focused on the trading card community, but card tournaments do not seem a common or effective place for sexual predators to stalk or act, especially not predators that targeted adult women who were inebriated. Likewise, his online account was allegedly frozen, and this does not seem like a major vector for assault. If the man can no longer be trusted among society, then he’s far more dangerous doing pretty much anything other than playing a trading card game and especially playing its online variation.

        On the gripping hand, as “overaggressive signalling things done to convicted felons” goes, restricting access to a playing card game ranks very close to the bottom of things that actually worry me.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          > restricting access to a playing card game ranks very close to the bottom of things that actually worry me.

          I’m not familiar enough with the MtG scene, but there is such thing as playing games (in general, and card games, specifically) professionally. If this were the case, then it’s much more than forbidding someone from playing games, it’s forbidding someone from doing their job, one that they spent a lot of time, effort and probably money (Magic cards can get crazy expensive) on.

          This doesn’t necessarily make it unacceptable, but I feel like the phrasing was significantly downplaying its impact.

          • gattsuru says:

            Point, and one I’d not considered. ((Apparently someone annually wins hundreds of thousands of dollars in a card tournament. The world is weird.)) The individual in question here looks to have a different career and be more of a dabbler, but that does bump it up a bit, even if still a long way from the top.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          Thanks for doing the research. It seems that instead of a literal rapist, he’s technically a rapist, maybe. This whole case is an absolute travesty.

          [I’m assuming the girl in question wasn’t actually passed out.]

          • gattsuru says:

            Over 0.25 BAC tends to include actually passed out in the unresponsive sense, or close enough for government work, especially for someone without long-term acclimation to alcohol. Nearly all novice drinkers in that range can’t walk, and even the ones that don’t really pass out will appear like it to outsiders and have blackouts. Between 0.25 and 0.3 it’s increasingly quick to get hospitalized for the side effects so you don’t die on a vomit-filled coma of miserable, and we don’t have enough information from the reporting to tell which side of that range this fell into.

            This isn’t really ‘reduced inhibitions’ drunk or even ‘funny clumsy jerk’ drunk range.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Close enough for government work? What the actual … ? This is a nineteen year old becoming a registered sexual offender. It is serious business.

            We need to at least establish that her judgement was severely impaired, that this was obvious enough that he should have known, and that his judgement was not similarly severely impaired.

            EDIT: Here’s a quick tabloid article, including a woman driving a car with a BAC of 0.55. The 0.15 value hours later is hardly conclusive.

          • gattsuru says:

            True, it’s not conclusive. Anyone claiming perfect confidence is overconfident, and doing so in a sphere as complicated as crime a fool.

            That said, the effects of a high BAC on a very experienced 30-year-old alcoholic don’t seem to tell us much about the typical college freshman, especially since she passed out, too. As sources of uncertainty, the definitions of “several hours” or whether she’d had alcohol more recently seem bigger possible sources of confusion. And even those aren’t twinging my confidence levels very far from the base error rate.

            This is further harmed by the imprecise terminology. Drunk can mean anything from literally having had anything to drink at all in the last twelve hours (aviation) to a BAC over 0.15 (driving law) to falling-down blackout drunk (common college definition) to even more limited terms. You use severely impaired judgement, but it’s trivial to find sources, including military or state ones, that’d claim 0.15 as such, even though that seems a little counter-intuitive to me.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Let’s just make this official policy, so that there won’t be any needless uncertainty or confusion. If you are less than 25 years old and not an alcoholic [we’ll ask your parents, I guess], and you have sex with >=0.25 BAC, then you have been raped, legally speaking.

            I’m not certain if it should be the victim’s choice whether to press charges, or as in cases of children being molested, these cases are rape regardless of how the victim feels about it. If cases of mutual drunkenness happen, we can perhaps use -who has a penis?- as a tiebreaker.

            It is taken for granted that it is immediately obvious to all parties whether someone has a BAC >=0.25, or that in any case of reasonable doubt they must abstain from sex. The de facto limit -to stay on the safe side- will be much lower, maybe in the >=0.15 region. Perhaps we can mass produce breathalyzers. That way, the girl has something to do, too, while the guy is putting on his condom.

            Of course, the possibility that some people might in fact enjoy getting seriously drunk and having sex is a somewhat thorny issue. Should people be allowed to waive their rights to press charges by signing a contract beforehand [while sober!], or is this wrong in the same way as allowing people to sell themselves into life-long slavery? Consent can, of course, be withdrawn at any time, so if the woman is unable to change her mind [because she is drunk, after all] and would have wanted to stop having sex [because her tooth is aching], were she sober, then this does seem like a form of rape.

            Now, of course, all of this seems patently absurd to me, but I’m an old fashioned guy, and I don’t much care about the specifics of the law, as long as I can know in advance what I’m not allowed to do.

    • NZ says:

      That’s a tricky one.

      On the one hand, I like the idea of ostracizing rapists. I feel like if our culture treated convicted rapists–even apparently reformed ones–more harshly, then it might act as a deterrent that would obviate the urge to obsess over whether a drunk coed maybe didn’t sign a letter of consent in a dark back room at a frat party.

      On the other hand, there could be a slippery slope: if we can ostracize people whose sexual or legal histories we find offensive even when they don’t enter into anything we’re doing, then it’s not so hard to ostracize people whose political views we find offensive in the same context.

      • CJB says:

        I’d say it’d raise the entry bar, but thereafter, lower it astonishingly.

        The general theory of punishment goes we punish ya to learn ya. You go “well, that’s not a smart tradeoff- 8 years for a few minutes of fun.”

        But part of the point is that AFTERWARDS, you’re done.

        There’s an ancient saying: “Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb”.

        The penalty for stealing a sheep and a lamb are both hanging. So fuck it. The penalty for raping one women or twenty is the same. So fuck it.

        The concept you’re talking about is, essentially “outlawing” someone. “Outlaw” didn’t originally mean someone who broke the law- it was someone explicitly placed outside the protection of the law.

        So outlaws tended to be exceptionally violent people because they had absolutely nothing to lose.

      • DrBeat says:

        I feel like if our culture treated convicted rapists–even apparently reformed ones–more harshly, then it might act as a deterrent that would obviate the urge to obsess over whether a drunk coed maybe didn’t sign a letter of consent in a dark back room at a frat party.


        Also, how would we treat convicted rapists any worse? Our culture basically says “If someone is a convicted rapist, give them infinite punishment. If at any point in time a person is in your sensory range who is a convicted rapist, and you can think of a punishment, punish them.”

        People are beaten to death because they are ACCUSED of rape.

        • John Schilling says:

          Tone down the hyperbole, please. People being literally beaten to death over a rape accusation is A: rare and B: not encouraged by our society. There is a wide range of obvious punishments one could think of to privately apply to an accused or convicted rapist, that our society very strongly discourages. It is legitimate to discuss whether random boycotts and organized ostracism should be added to the list, but not to claim that we have declared no-holds-barred open season on anyone accused of rape.

          There’d be a lot more dead rapists if that were the case.

          And while we are on the subject of hyperbole: gattsuru did the research and posted the link. What this guy is accused of doing is rape by any definition, brutal and unambiguous, and all available evidence indicates that he did what he is accused of doing. It is reasonable to suspect that the criminal justice system’s machinery might have failed in this case as it did so many others, and that both the victim and the accused decided to play along and accept that outcome rather than risk something much worse, but that’s nothing we can resolve from this distance.

          What we can reasonably do, is what we started out doing – discuss whether it is reasonable for private entities to formally impose additional punishments on a convicted criminal who has served his sentence under the law, whether it is morally righteous to add public ostracism, exile, and/or boycott under such circumstances.

      • Tarrou says:

        I used to think like this, until I found out exactly what was meant by “rape”. Now when I see “rapist” I don’t think “horrible violent felon”, I think “pissed off a woman at some point in his life, poor sucker”.

        Too bad, the moral clarity was nice while it lasted.

        Oh, and rapists are already the lowest possible status people in our society. Ain’t much more we can do to them. And this is WITH that category including a ton of guys who didn’t do it, didn’t do what was claimed, never even were in the same state as the claimant or technically never existed outside her head.

    • brad says:

      As an aside, I don’t think witch hunts are the best analogy for this sort of thing. At the end of the day, there were no witches. No one was actually causing her neighbor to have a stillborn baby by making a deal with the devil.

      Even if there had been, elements might still have been problematic in terms of due process — sweeping up the guilty and innocent alike, over-punishment, and so on. But if there is any substance at all to the underlying accusations, it is a different situation than a pure witch-hunt.

      For example, in the 1950s there were actual Soviet spies in various parts of government. That doesn’t mean that McCarthy was a great guy who deserves a medal but it does mean that some response was called for.

      • Alraune says:

        A. Which “this sort of thing”?

        B. Not all literal witch-hunts were devoid of substance.

        • Martin Spencer Hyman says:

          For those of us who do not speak german, can you explain that link? I have no idea what I’m looking at.

          • Alraune says:

            The Salzburg witch trials were prosecuted against criminal beggar gangs, that were supposedly led by a monstrous sorcerer who was never caught. Unlike the death-spiraling witch hunts in other places that would in some cases depopulate entire counties if someone didn’t step in and squash them, the Salzburg trials stayed tightly focused on the beggars, and continued until their gangs evacuated Salzburg.

            Not sure what to take from it overall, but it’s an interesting case that if nothing else demonstrates the heterogeneity of witch hunts.

    • Agronomous says:

      The guy in question cut a plea deal for aggravated sexual battery, which in my limited understanding of the law is not rape. If you want to know about prosecutors and plea deals, google “Aaron Swartz”.

      The incident happened in 2003, when he was just shy of 19; it will surprise nobody to learn he and the victim were both college students, and both drunk. The plea deal specifically said he’d serve only three months.

      In the eleven years since then, the guy has had no further trouble with the law, has served his probation, has apparently notified everybody he needs to notify about his conviction, has attended and completed law school, and has even had his civil rights restored by the Virginia government.

      Let’s say he was completely guilty in fact of what he pled to. Then he’s a poster boy for rehabilitation, and should be held up as an example of How the System Works, rather than further punished for a single bad mistake he made when he was a teenager. (Consider what his situation would be if he’d gotten drunk and fatally run over the victim, instead of having sex with her.)

      Postscript: I should note that there’s no fucking way I would say any of the above under my real name; it’s just too easy to take it out of context as ammunition in an attack. And I’m having trouble thinking of another forum where I’d even bother saying it anonymously.

      • Nam says:

        One thing I find interesting about the whole controversy is that many people who condemn the banning rush to defend his character.

        As an internet mob, I believe we are in an extremely poor position to judge this player’s character. The overwhelming majority of us don’t know him, we don’t know what happened 10 years ago, and we don’t know how he has conducted himself since.

        It seems a lot of people agree that the important question here is whether this guy is or isn’t deserving of having bad things happen to him.

        Rather than, say, whether he is a real threat or nuisance at events, and if not, whether him being an unsympathetic character outside of the game is relevant as a reason to ban him from a game community.

      • walpolo says:

        Do you have a link to a source for this description of the crime?

      • anonymous says:

        I find it surprising that he attended law school after having been convicted of a sex felony. It’s possible, but you would be taking a big risk because a state might deny your bar application and you would have wasted your time.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The term “rape” is so devalued these days. Anytime I hear something about someone being a rapist, my first thought is that they probably had sex with someone a few years younger than them or had drunk sex.

        • cbhacking says:

          But this was “literal rape”, which – according to the modern definition of “literal” – apparently means metaphorically similar to rape, but probably not actually rape as per the definition of rape. See? The system works!

          Redefining terms like rape “works” (in a dark-arts-y kind of way) pretty well for a while, but in the end the term simply loses most of its impact; it’s been diluted to the point that things it’s associated with no longer have the visceral negative associations that the accusers want.

        • Tarrou says:

          And I assume they broke up with a girl, or didn’t call them back, or (and this is particularly likely if it hits the papers) they aren’t even technically a real person!

  32. Deiseach says:

    This study is really cheerful news for us potential alcoholics, isn’t it?

    People with blue eyes had the highest rates of alcohol dependence, according to the study. Scientists controlled for other variables that could influence the result, such as age, sex and genetic ancestry.

    I’m Irish and I have blue eyes. There is just no feckin’ chance for me, is there? 🙂

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Meh. I have problems all up and down both sides of my family. One side has blue eyes and the other brown. The brown side are the alcoholics.

      Anecdote not equal data. But still.

      • NZ says:

        Sorry, nitpicking:

        You said

        Anecdote not equal data.

        and I think that was courteous shorthand for the oft-repeated phrase “The plural of anecdote is not data.” So let me know if I misunderstood, because that’s the nit I want to pick.

        The plural of anecdote absolutely IS data!

        • Creutzer says:

          As I understand it, the point of the saying that a plurality of anecdotes is still not (good) data because it is unsystematic and collected under uncontrolled conditions; in particularly, it is most likely distorted by selection effects.

          • NZ says:

            But it isn’t scientists levying that complaint against each other for things they wrote in their studies. (In fact, case studies mostly get a free pass despite being singular or small-sample anecdotes!) It’s typically levied by one layman in a debate against another, in which neither side can reasonably be expected to have systematically collected thousands of data points. In practice it’s just a condescending way to say “You are noting an exceptional case that I don’t feel fits the general pattern I believe holds true.”

            It also fails to acknowledge that sometimes a small sample size is sufficient. For example, I do demographic research as part of my job. An old refrain for people in my field (software development) is that talking to one user is infinitely better than talking to none. And I’ve found that after 5 or 6 interviews I have enough to form a pattern that almost always holds after I’ve done a dozen or two dozen more. The same is true for survey data, only scaled up: the first 25 respondents almost always show the same pattern that emerges after 300.

            The universe seems to me an incredibly ordered place, and while of course it would be foolish for scientists and statisticians to abandon their efforts to get as large a value for n as possible, it’s amazing how powerful n=1 can often be.

        • HeelBearCub says:


          Yes, you understood me correctly.

          I endorse @Creutzer’s reading of the the shorthand phrase.

  33. HeelBearCub says:

    A few posts ago I mentioned trying to find out something about treatment of secondary symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD using CBT. I found the article I was trying to find.

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps reverse the negativity that torments adults with ADD — and prevents them from reaching goals.

    About two months ago I tried a CBT therapist. She was extremely unhelpful. Worse than nothing. Emotional wreck after both sessions. In the middle of me starting to break down she actually said “Wow. You’re hard.” This was not helpful.

    I think the base problem was that she started out by doing the “refused to talk to patient, give patient directions, answer patient’s questions” which I assume is a technique therapists are taught at some point.

    Is the above standard practice in CBT?

    Does anyone have any experience in CBT that would help me understand what I might expect out of a competent practitioner?

    Does anyone have any thoughts on the article and/or the idea of treating feelings of worthlessness associated with ADHD via CBT?

    If I wanted to try again, does anyone have any ideas about finding someone ando/or assessing their competence in treating ADD side-effects using CBT?

    • Creutzer says:

      Can I just point out that the syntactic ambiguity in the title of the article you linked is hilarious?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Oh. I hadn’t even caught that.

        Yeah, pretty funny.

        Thanks for making me feel even worse. ;-D

        (No, seriously, it is funny.)

    • Matt C says:

      I did some CBT by reading Seligman’s Learned Optimism, doing the self-evaluation, and following the suggestions that he described using with his patients. It helped enough to notice. I would recommend trying it out if you are a bookish introspective type and are curious about it. A used copy of LO will cost you less than $10.

      I think if you give Seligman even a light read, you’ll get an idea of what CBT is trying to do and if hiring a CBT therapist sounds useful.

      I’ve never been to a therapist, but my second-hand and internet-hand experience is there are a lot of crappy ones. If you think your therapist sucked, I wouldn’t question your own judgement.

      A buddy of mine (who was depressed and also diagnosed ADHD) got a lot of benefit from a therapist who practiced REBT (which is similar to CBT). There exists at least one person similar to you who believed it helped, how’s that for a ringing endorsement.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Matt C:

        This is useful. I will try and pick up a copy of that book before I go on vacation.

        • Autonomous says:

          Practictioners of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy tend to be very warm and some even make themselves available for random texts or five minute calls, as-needed, on days between appt.s–at no extra charge.

  34. FemnoSkeptic says:

    I encourage you to post on the following topic. As is well-known, women live longer than men by 4-5 years on average (this appears to be primarily due to greater male susceptibility to heart disease). However, Social Security and other retirement-related programs have “hard-coded” retirement ages (e.g. 65) that do not reflect this asymmetry in life expectancy.

    I submit that this is an *astonishing* injustice to men. To the grievous injury of a shorter overall life, society adds the insult of forcing men to underwrite longer retirement for women.

    To remedy this injustice simply requires that retirement programs take the Life Expectancy Gap into account, such that if X the male retirement age, and D is the male/female lifespan gap, then the female retirement age is X+D. This will ensure that men and women have equal expected length of retirement.

    • Creutzer says:

      Gender is a forbidden topic in the open threads here, unless we’re talking about agreement morphology.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      Well, if it makes you feel better, several countries do have a differential retirment age. It’s usually lower for women.

      Also, it’s forbidden to discriminate between genders for insurance. This has a mixed effect (because death insurance, better known as “life insurance” would be generally cheaper for women), but is ovbiously disadvantageous for men in the subject of annuities.

      But with your higher income from the pay gap, you can just buy a better annuity, so it’s all good.

      • Brock says:

        In the US, life insurance is regulated at the state level, and most states allow gender discrimination in life insurance.

        And auto insurance as well: In the under-25 age bracket, women will pay substantially less for auto insurance.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          This is 100% true, I was sure I added “in Europe” (Or, more precisely, in the European Unión) somewhere in that sentence.

          Alas, it is too late to edit the post now.

      • Matt M says:

        Fortunately, the courts have ruled that, clever name designed to intentionally mislead voters aside, social security is not actually insurance.

    • NZ says:

      As a chivalrous man (i.e. a sexist pig), I don’t mind subsidizing retirement for women for a few years.

  35. Andy says:

    Okay, this is going to run very close to a third rail, but for a science fiction project based partly on Neoreactionary doctrines and thinking, I’ve been having trouble getting a clear picture of how NRXers are thinking about eugenics. Does anyone have a link to a readable (ie not Modbug or someone imitating Moldbug) synopsis of how these eugenics would work under a NRX regime? Especially eugenics programs that aren’t race-based, or are focused on improving the entire population, for a certain definition of “improving.” I’ve got a number of SF works on the topic I’ve been looking at, but I’d like to get a sense of what NRXers are saying.

    • anon says:

      I don’t remember where I read it, but one that some DE types seem to like is a basic income guarantee contingent on voluntary sterilization.

    • Alraune says:

      The obvious choice would be to sterilize the children of violent felons.

      • Andy says:

        I should maybe clarify: positive eugenics, making sure children are high-“quality” rather than negative eugenics of removing the “unfit.”

        What I have are a group of people who were more or less engineered by a massive corporation to be its peons, they revolted and secured their freedom, but they’re mostly sterile, so they’ll have to figure out who gets to have babies and who doesn’t, using the artificial womb infrastructure they took from their overlords. That’s a simplification, and there’s another faction, that has been free longer, that grows some of its own foot troops a la the Clans in Battletech, but I haven’t quite got them figured out yet.

        • CJB says:

          Ok then.

          The neoreactionary in that situation (which is a good situation for us, honestly) is going to point out that we don’t have time to waste on petty bullshit.

          IQ tests now. Fitness tests now. Careful charts matching people with the best bodies with the people with the best minds. Are resources limited? Then unsupervised reproduction is punishable by death.*

          I mean, in this society “geneologist” is a position of importance like “doctor”. More so, really, as their work will end up controlling who can reproduce.

          Do you want to here what a NRX would suggest for the raising of the children, or are we just interested in Eugenics?

          Are you going to make us look evil? I’m assuming SSC readers are much less likely to do stupid political caricatures in a book, but you never know.

          *Or so we claim- the inner circle of “High IQ people” would probably mix the child back into the population (I’m assuming there are birth defects to be compensated for?) Rebelliousness and willingness to defy authority have value, but it must be controlled. Those brave+firm+confident enough to deny Our Mandate has genes we need- but you need to watch them like Nitroglycerine.

          • Andy says:

            I see neoreactionaries as not evil but somewhat misguided – offering a solution for a completely different setting than the one we happen to live in. The primary nation, Tesoro, is a planet surrounded by hostile enemies, including its former slavemasters, and there’s a population of very tough, fast-breeding and aggressive aliens around, occasionally invading and leaving feral populations on many planets. Thus, a society optimized for defending itself against outside attack, and to set hard rules on competition by royal fiat and the Monarch always having the biggest army. Their former slavemasters, the Orions, are another idea gleaned from NRX, the state-as-corporation, and yeah, they’re pretty much pure evil due to a corporate culture that sees those outside its leadership caste as about as expendable as bacteria. “Fuck people, make money” is practically written into their DNA. With that exception, most of the characters and cultures are of good will – they all want the best ends, but are at odds over their perceptions of each other, and empathy and understanding are very important to bringing them to a negotiating table. The more reactionary faction of the Tesorans is actually key to the eventual compromise over who owns and controls the artificial wombs, while the more progressive faction is causing more friction with demands that the freed slaves drop all their culture and assimilate.

            The newly-freed-slave nation, for now the Kitsunen until I find a better name, is an extraplanetary annexation of Tesoro, and they’re walking an interesting (to me) tightrope between being reconquered and being forcibly assimilated into their new patrons’ culture – they’ve built a culture of their own over hundreds of years of resistance, one that’s clashing with the laws they’re expected to live under.

            Why slaves and not robots? Robots have to be programmed, humans program themselves. I’ve closed off true AI research in this universe because I want wars of people, not just machines.

        • Alraune says:

          I should maybe clarify: positive eugenics, making sure children are high-“quality” rather than negative eugenics of removing the “unfit.”

          All the neoreactionaries I can think of would dub any “positive eugenics” program an evil progressive bid to destroy the family and enslave everyone to the state in the name of perfecting humanity.

          • Would neoreactionaries have that attitude to Heinlein’s version of eugenics–technology that let each couple choose, among the children they could have, which ones they did have?

    • Ever An Anon says:

      This seems rather against the spirit of the whole “avoid mindkilling topics” request.

      As a practical suggestion, it depends on what you mean by NRx. Neoreaction is a conclusion, one that people usually come to by three paths: libertarianism / ancap, religious conservatism or ethnonationalism. The shared features are that they prefer “lean-and-mean” monarchies / aristocracies a la Hoppe, a strong sense of subsidiarity bordering on feudalism, and a sense that natural selection / natural law and the market will generally sort things out. The nonshared features should be pretty obvious given different perspectives.

      I would say something like Stephenson’s Diamond Age would be a good example of a general NRx ideal. Neovictorian aesthetic, corporate aristocracy, ethnic alliances of otherwise independent city states. Drawing from that:

      >Patricians would likely use genetic engineering for “designer babies” should the tech be available, and would keep close track of their breeding anyway.
      >Patricians will naturally outbreed plebs in the absence of safety nets / subsidies, like the real Victorian England. That plus rough competition means there are probably a lot of black sheep running around at the lower edge of the aristocracy. If they’re desperate enough, they might try any nutty scheme to claw their ways back up the ranks including riskier enhancements.
      >Breeding slaves seems inefficient if robots are available, though then again it’s your setting. I would suggest something like bioroids as personal servants if you really want a replicant rebellion: they can be manufactured to spec and are thus more reliable than plebs, plus they are in theory less likely to harbor republican (original sense of the word) sentiments.
      >Traits which are adaptive for someone living hand-to-mouth in a cyberpunk ghetto are probably different than those for a posthuman nobleman. Human evolution can work on a surprisingly short timescale, so even without deliberate modification the plebs might become very distinct from baseline humans.

      Hope that helps.

    • Alraune says:

      I assume you already considered plagiarizing Dune?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      From a bit before nrx was a thing, but you might find it interesting: Constructing fictional eugenics

      Since then, I’ve become a convert to the “take the modal nucleotide at anything that isn’t a known SNP” school.

      • Andy says:

        I am trying not to unironically squee because Scott-senpai noticed me.

        …my Tumblr is showing, isn’t it? 😛

        But thanks, I’ll look those over. Am I right in guessing that part of those came from the same place part of mine is – Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold?

      • rsaarelm says:

        There were some comments on LW as well.

  36. Hyzenthlay says:

    I hope this topic is not too mindkilling, since it’s political, but it’s not technically about race or gender. I have a thought experiment regarding abortion.

    For those who think it should generally be illegal: Would you feel differently if we lived in an alternate universe where pregnancy had nothing to do with sex? If it just kind of happened, randomly, and had nothing to do with the choices of the individuals involved? Let’s also say, for the hell of it, that humans are hermaphroditic in this universe so anyone can get pregnant. Every day, people wake up not knowing if they’re going to be pregnant or not.

    EDITED: Here’s a better scenario for those who are against abortion. A race of sentient alien bugs invaded Earth and enslaved the human race and used humans as involuntary incubators for their young. The alien bug race has since been defeated but many people still have little sentient alien bugs growing inside them. Note that the bug babies are helpless, innocent beings who personally had nothing to do with the enslavement and exploitation of humankind. Should abortion be legal in this case? If so, why shouldn’t it be legal all the time?

    For those who think it should generally be legal: Would you feel differently if we lived in an alternate universe where you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the fetus was sentient and that it had thoughts and feelings just as complex as an adult human’s? And let’s also say there exists a technology that can allow fetuses to communicate with the outside world so they can plead for their rights and they have their own online activism and social justice groups and everything.

    • Alraune says:

      Your cases are a bit imbalanced. Scenario A only speaks to the Shared Property objection to abortion, which is pretty marginal, while Scenario B goes straight to Is It Murder?

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        It probably is imbalanced. Maybe I’m being harder on the pro-choice side because I am pro-choice myself?

        But it does seem to me like personal responsibility is a huge sticking point with the anti-abortion side (which is why many are willing to make exceptions for rape) so that might shift the balance for a lot of them.

        Edited to add: I could also offer an alternative to the first scenario in which anyone can get pregnant AND the baby eats its way out, resulting in the probable death of the host. But I’m not sure the human race would survive long in that case.

        • Wrong Species says:

          People make an exception for rape because people aren’t always consistent in their views. One thing that really annoys me about the pro choice side is that they assume since someone isn’t being 100% consistent, that they don’t really believe what they are saying is true.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Believing that different rules should apply in different circumstances isn’t necessarily inconsistency, it’s taking context and extenuating circumstances into account.

            Also I should apologize for the remark about “the anti-abortion side,” since they’re not a hivemind. Neither side is. I’m just trying to get a feel for how people on both sides react when you change different variables around. For my part, my beliefs are based on the assumption that the fetus isn’t sentient (at least not early on in the pregnancy) and I wondered if that was the case for others.

        • kerani says:

          But it does seem to me like personal responsibility is a huge sticking point with the anti-abortion side

          Or it could be that one might feel the consequences of a “do-over erasure” for a pregnancy loom a bit larger than that for a business deal or a draft of a newspaper article, and should be treated with like seriousness.

          (which is why many are willing to make exceptions for rape)

          Speaking strictly for myself – I hold that the moral and logical thing to do in cases of pregnancy by rape is to heal the victim, investigate (and where possible) punish and heal the attacker, and nurture any positives which come out of the situation. (I hold that new humans are positives.)

          In an imperfect world, I make legal allowances for abortion of healthy children of rapists because the primary people involved (ie, the now pregnant woman) are generally so emotionally distraught that it is a negative for society to criminalize their action (aborting the child of their attacker, even though that child did not make any attack against them). It’s a measure of practicality, and making imperfect decisions with imperfect power as a fail-tropic mortal.

          If we hold that personal or social revenge is an acceptable guiding principle for the actions of justice, *and* that children should be accountable for the crimes of their parents, then permitting abortion of the children of rapists just because their father was a rapist seems logical. To me, not otherwise.

          But again, sometimes we do what we can, and not what we should.

          • I see two related issues in moral intuitions about abortion:

            1. Is the fetus the sort of being that one should not be free to kill?

            2. Is the mother responsible for the fact that the fetus depends for its life on the use of her body?

            If you accept both, then there is a strong argument against abortion. If you reject 1, it’s hard to see any good argument against abortion.

            If you accept 1 but reject 2, you are in the situation of Judith Jarvis Thompson’s violinist essay. Someone else depends for his life on your assistance, but you didn’t create the situation so have no obligation to give it. Arguably most of us are in that situation with regard to people whose lives we could save by contributing to a suitable worthy cause–and most of us don’t feel obligated to do so.

            Which provides one explanation for why people can be opposed to abortion but make an exception for the case of pregnancy due to rape.

            One way of bringing out the importance of issue 1 is by applying arguments pro-abortion to the case of infanticide, since most of us feel that infants are people with a right not to be killed.

    • James Picone says:

      If foetuses were sentient, then yes, I would feel that abortion should not be legal past the point where they’re sentient (with a significant safety margin prior to the point of sentience).

      • Wrong Species says:

        I concur. It’s why I think first trimester abortions are always fine and third trimester abortions are usually bad. I can’t stomach the argument “Who cares if it’s a sentient being or not, it’s a parasite and the mother should be allowed to expel it from her body”.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      Well, I’m weakly in favor of abortion.

      In case A, the argument that loses ground would be the one of personal responsibility, and I guess some people would become more sympathetic if it was something that could happen to them, but I think the main objection to abortion still holds up.

      Case B, as Alraune said, is kind of over the top. I know some people that would argue that it’d still be A-OK, but it’s a very small minority.

      Maybe a better scenario would be one in which the fetus has the same mental qualities as a newborn baby from conception. In that case, I (as well as many people) would probably change my stance to significantly more anti, but I feel many people would remain the same.

      Still feels imbalanced, though.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        Many arguments for keeping abortion legal have nothing to do with whether the fetus is sentient, though. A person’s right to control their own body, if that is indeed a right, should remain the same regardless of the sentience or insentience of someone/something living inside their body without permission.

        People can choose not to have their organs donated after death even if it would save lives. It’s the same premise: no one gets to use any part of another person’s body without permission.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            What would be your stance in the alien bug scenario I edited into my first post?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            First, the involuntary implantment of alien beings removes the argument from personal responsibility, and together with the “alien enslavement” scenario evokes the idea of a rape pregnancy.
            However, I don’t think that’s enough to justify the murder of babies of an intelligent race… Of course, then we have to go back to the nature of the bugs, if they are naturally predisposed to hurt humans, and are generally able to, then (for me, for the record, I’m pretty much an unrepentant speciesist) the situation changes.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Well, let’s say the bugs aren’t inherently anti-human, just raised that way.

            Thanks for the reply. And if you’re pro-life even in the case of bug aliens, I’d say you’re not too speciesist.

          • cbhacking says:

            My response to that image boils down to “fine, as soon as you cut the cord between us that it relies on for sustenance, it’s not my* body. That doesn’t give it a right to be physically resident in my body; if I want to evict it tht is my right.” Until you cut the umbillical cord, though, it is at best an unequal partnership (one partner carries around a bunch of weight and eats for two, the ssecond kicks the first one in the bladder and ranges from totally to merely *presently* reliant on the first for survival).

            I suspect that, in the hypothetical world where fetuses were unambiguously conscious and sentient, uterine replicators (artificial wombs) would have been a *MAJOR* focus of medical science for a long time now.

            That said, my view (somewhat influenced by Lois McMaster Bujold’s excellent Vorkosigan series) is that uterine replicators ( really ought to be the focus of a lot of research anyhow, because it would allow society to address one of the major sexual inequalities in human physiology. I have trivial knowledge in this area, though, so I certinly can’t say whether the idea is viable enough to be worth researching it in particular right now.

            * I’m male, so it’s not literally my body, but I am responding as though I was the “logic impaired” entity being addressed.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            I suspect that, in the hypothetical world where fetuses were unambiguously conscious and sentient, uterine replicators (artificial wombs) would have been a *MAJOR* focus of medical science for a long time now.

            Yeah, I am hoping we will reach a point as a society where this technology exists and then the whole thorny question of abortion will just go away.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >“fine, as soon as you cut the cord between us that it relies on for sustenance, it’s not my* body. That doesn’t give it a right to be physically resident in my body; if I want to evict it tht is my right.”

            I’m not sure I follow, we have strong countermeasures to eviction of grown adults if we’re fairly certain said eviction will lead to their deaths. We certainly don’t condone dumping babies in a trashcan, and babies can survive that, sometimes.

          • Arthur B. says:

            @Whatever Happened…

            Who’s “we”? At any rate, the parallel you draw is correct and many hardcore libertarians do bite that bullet, down to the trashcan example (though some claim a duty to do the least harm when the costs are trivial, which would create a duty to at least place the baby somewhere it can be found and rescued).

    • Nathan says:

      Pro-life, it would not change my view at all.

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      I think I have gone on a midnight posting binge w.r.t. abortion before, so I’ll just briefly summarize: if your solution to minor social problems involves the widespread denial of rights to members of our clade (regardless of the relative levels of sentience) you’re probably doing it wrong. Believing that certain, ever-so-slightly different hominin’s aren’t close enough to deserve rights is, every instance of empirical evidence suggests, universally bad.

      The first option makes no difference. Personally responsibility doesn’t enter into it.

      The second–setting aside ramblings about the homochirality of all observable life and hypothetical alien life–is interesting. Ultimately I am a cladist first and sentientist second. Given sufficient thought-experimentally-categorical assurances that alien chest bursters are (a) sentient, (b) not inherently detrimental to hominins, (c) can be sufficiently enculturated, (d) etc.; then they would deserve rights.

      I haven’t performed an exhaustive attempt to balance rights in the case of rape. There are competing interests involved, but I still instinctively lean strongly away from abortion. Whatever the result of that balancing is would be similar for human on human rape and (provisos as states) alien bug monster on human rape.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        I’m glad I don’t feel called upon to decide this sort of thing. All these seem to me like religious-type questions, so all I need to believe in is separation of church and state.

        (ETA: Yes, equivocation on believe/believe in.)

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          The equivocation on believe/believe in is pretty small potatoes compared to the equivocation on “religious-type questions”/”church”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            How familiar are you with the phrase ‘separation of church and state’? It’s not actually in our Constitution, but it’s from one of our Founding Fathers and very important.

            I was using ‘church’ as a rhetorical figure*for ‘the anti-abortion faction that wants the government to impose their rules on everyone’. It includes atheists and others who oppose abortion because of their personal opinions on what I call ‘religious-type questions’.

            * part for whole.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I can’t even remember a time when I wasn’t familiar with the idea of “separation of church and state”, at least as applied to actual churches. The version where it also applies to atheists is new to me, and there seems no way to stop it from unrolling to “separation of ethical philosophy and state”, which strikes me as untenable. At the very least, it’s an overstatement to say that all you need to believe in is separation of church and state; you also need to believe in something which will tell you why the anti-abortion faction that wants the government to impose their rules on everyone is a church, while the anti-rape faction that wants the government to impose their rules on everyone is not.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Here is part of why I said ‘religious-type questions’, but I’ll have to back off and get a running start on it.

            SJWs stretch terms too far (rape, microaggressions, racism) but what the words really mean, and what new things they’re being applied to — are all objective things in the mundane world. Therefore not ‘religious-type’. (I oppose SJW on other grounds.)

            Non-religious anti-abortion people talk about ‘sentience’, ‘becomes sentient’, ‘when human life begins’, ‘human’, ‘conscious/ness’ etc. These are all emotionally charged abstractions* whose definitions they scarcely try to agree on within their own group, saying things like “my personal take on ‘sentience’ is ____”. Otoh, strong anti-abortion churches define their abstractions* within the solid framework of their doctrines, which claim objectivity as coming from (an objective) God — but even so, our Founding Fathers rejected rules coming from churches as not belonging in our legal system.

            Rules imposed on others limiting objective physical actions in the mundane world — in my opinion should not rest on abstractions* that ‘every person must choose for zimself’, either.

            I put both religious and non-religious anti-abortion rules as belonging in both categories:

            1. resting on subjective abstractions* (even if attributed to God)
            2. not belonging in the US legal system

            * I have tried to think of a better word than ‘abstractions’ here. Is there one?

          • Jaskologist says:

            “Human” is an abstraction but “race” isn’t?

    • Jiro says:

      Would you feel differently if we lived in an alternate universe where you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the fetus was sentient and that it had thoughts and feelings just as complex as an adult human’s?

      I’ll give you a counter-hypothetical: someone makes a billion copies of a brain upload. Are you obliged to not turn them off?

      And a second hypothetical: A political group captures hostages and puts one at every important military base. Are you no longer permitted to attack the military base because it kills an innocent person? (Of course, you might say you can do it if you save more people than you kill, but what if the group thinks “well, this is 1/100 of our forces, we want to kill 20000 people, so that’s 200 enemy saved per base. If we put 201 hostages there the attack will kill 201 and save only 200, so the enemy cannot attack it.”)

      Also, a third hypothetical: Exactly the same as your sentient fetus example, except the Supreme Court rules that letting the fetus have a claim on you is okay because it is a type of tax, which imposes uneven burdens but is still a tax, and taxes inherently require that something of yours is taken for the benefit of someone else. If you object that taxes must consist of money, imagine that you can pay the monetary value of a human life in lieu of keeping the fetus if you wish.

      And variation 3b: suppose the Supreme Court says that pregnant women are obliged to pay as a tax the monetary cost of a human life. The penalty for refusing to pay the tax is to have the fetus as your jailor (that is, to remain pregnant until birth). Killing your jailor in an escape (that is, having an abortion) is as illegal as killing any jailor in an escape.

      (In fact, now that I think of it, 3 and 3b don’t even require sentient fetuses.)

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        I’ll give you a counter-hypothetical: someone makes a billion copies of a brain upload. Are you obliged to not turn them off?

        That’s an interesting question. My first impulse is to say yes, you’re obligated to leave them alone because those are all individual self-aware beings, so turning them off is tantamount to killing them. I also feel that’s a bit different from abortion though because the brain uploads aren’t residing in someone else’s body. If they need to exist within machines, they would be more akin to people on life support. And if maintaining all those machines was really expensive, people would probably be forced to make some tough choices about whether it was feasible to keep them all alive regardless of whether the uploads had rights.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes. Everyone is obligated to not turn them off. “Someone” is obligated to pay the electric bill for the computers. How is this part even remotely controversial?

          If there’s some question as to whether the brain uploads are sentient beings or just p-zombies, OK, that could get interesting. But then we start asking questions like why “someone” was creating all these uploads in the first place.

          • James Picone says:

            I guess if they’re identical uploads there’s an argument to be made (from pattern-identity) that there’s really only one ‘person’ there, and turning off some-but-not-all is therefore okay.

            Not sure it’s a good argument, but that’s the most sensible objection I can see.

          • Adam says:

            But unlike organic brains, electronic brains can maintain state between reboots. Shutting them off isn’t the same as killing them.

          • John Schilling says:

            A pretty good argument, if they’ve been fed the same input stream since creation and use the same seeds in their pseudorandom-number generators, less so otherwise.

            But that just brings us back to the question of why “someone” was creating all these uploads in the first place, with an extra dose of bafflement due to the pointless repetition.

            Hmm, maybe Data was save-scumming when he insisted on playing that Sherlock Holmes video game against an AI opponent. Careless of him, but he’s still on the hook for a whole lot of computronium…

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            For some reason I assumed that the “someone” had their brain copied and uploaded against their will by a third party. Like maybe this was done by alien pranksters or Dr. Weird.

          • Jiro says:

            I guess if they’re identical uploads there’s an argument to be made (from pattern-identity) that there’s really only one ‘person’ there,

            The same thing could be said about the hypothetically sentient fetuses that I’m comparing them to. A fetus that was just created is, even if sentient, going to be pretty similar to other fetuses in mind, since it didn’t have any different experiences from the others. (Unless the hypothetical sentient fetus gets thing s copied into its head from somewhere, which still has an obvious analog in the upload comparison.)

          • James Picone says:

            Foetuses have different genetic makeup.

    • Jiro says:

      Also, counter-hypothetical #4: Instead of aliens invading Earth and putting bug babies in people, there is no implantation at all. The aliens are just people from Mexico illegally immigrating, and what they take is not one’s body, but bits of one’s country. An alien brings in a 3 year old and raises the 3 year old to not speak Spanish and think of himself as an American. Can he be ejected from the country, the same way a fetus can be aborted, on the grounds that it’s not his country, just like it’s not his body, and it doesn’t matter that he’s dependent on our country (since he wouldn’t do well in Mexico being unable to speak Spanish), just like it doesn’t matter that a fetus depends on the woman for life?

      Of course the illegal immigrant who came here at 3 is sentient, but on the other hand, we’re not actually propose we kill him, just that we ignore his dependency on us because the dependency was created by a third party against our will.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Do you think it would be wrong for a parent to simply abandon their baby on the side of the road while trying to make it to America? Whether you starve your kid out of neglect or simply shoot them, both are wrong because you have special obligations to your kids.

    • kerani says:

      An alternate scenario:

      The alien bugs have used the humans as hosts for the infants of a third species, which is also under the social/legal control of the alien bugs. (Let us call them ‘alien pollywogs’.) The humans, with polly assistance, manage to overthrow the alien bugs, and humans and pollys alike rejoice. However, there are still humans “infested” with polly infants, who would die if removed early from the humans. (As with ordinary human births, modern medicine makes it quite rare for a human to be medically harmed by “birthing” the polly.)

      Also (again, as with humans) it is not possible for pollys to reproduce without a human host. (In the native polly ecosphere, there was another species that filled this niche, but that species is long since extinct.) (Science may yet solve this in a generation or three, but cannot today.)

      Each polly, once birthed, undergoes a period of stasis and transformation before peeling out of it’s final “shell” – at which point it is self- mobile and begins to speak intelligently, and is, at that point, by polly culture, a legal individual.

      Ramifications for legalizing removal of polly infants from “infected” humans?

    • Adam says:

      I’ve long mostly considered myself pro-life, though shy away from public declarations that almost never go anywhere because of how ingrained it is in the leftist consciousness that misogyny or religious extremism are the only possible reasons a person could ever feel this way. For me, the sole consideration is sentience of the fetus, and for the most part this actually makes it not a huge concern to me, as I’m pretty sure the overwhelming majority of abortions are early term when there is very little doubt all you’re hurting is a blastocoel that doesn’t have a brain yet anyway, but trying to find a cutoff for this type of thing is tricky, and I generally prefer to err on the side of not murder when what you’re doing might be murder.

      It has absolutely nothing to do with the association between pregnancy and sex. As for the second part, surely a world in which we reproduced at random would suck for the people who didn’t want it, but no level of suck justifies murder. As a counterpoint to the hypothetical, if you could push a button that guaranteed you no pain, injury, or inconvenience for the rest of your life, but pushing the button killed a random person in the world, would you? Probably not, but if the button killed a komodo dragon, then I’m guessing you would. The sole question of importance is whether or not it’s murder, not how terrible pregnancy is, how it happens, or who it happens to.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        As a counterpoint to the hypothetical, if you could push a button that guaranteed you no pain, injury, or inconvenience for the rest of your life, but pushing the button killed a random person in the world, would you?

        No. But I’d question how accurate an analogy that is, since it skirts the whole issue of control over one’s body…and along with the nonsentience of the fetus, that’s probably the biggest argument for the pro-choice side. (I’m not counting the claims of misogyny or religious extremism since those aren’t really arguments.)

        To bring up the organ donor analogy again, if someone doesn’t check the organ donor box, you could make the argument that their choice is killing not just one, but several people who might be saved by those organs later on.

        Nonetheless, this is a choice we allow people to make because we consider individuals to have ownership over their own bodies and organs. If someone wants to take their kidneys to the grave with them just cuz, that’s their right.

        You could argue a similar case for abortion, that a fetus is using someone else’s organs without permission. Of course it’s not the fetus’ fault, no more than it’s anyone’s fault that they need a new kidney to live. But nonetheless, someone has a right to say, “this is my body, no one gets to use it without my permission.”

        Granted, whether someone has a legal right to do something is different than whether it’s compassionate to do so. So if fetuses were unarguably conscious it would at the very least make things more complicated.

        • Adam says:

          Yeah, but this is kind of why I don’t like to wade into these types of debates. I don’t think people should be able to refuse to donate their organs. If you’re dead, whatever used to be a part of your body is not meaningfully any person’s property and should be used for whatever good it can be used for.

          Not that that’s completely the same. A pregnant person is still alive. You’re basically just getting at the Famous Violinist argument, which in my opinion is probably the best argument in favor of completely unrestricted abortion rights, in large part because it skips over empirical questions of sentience and killing and just straight away says murder is justified to prevent undesired use of one’s body. If that’s the position, fine. I’m not sure I agree (at least, it doesn’t seem to work when the person does very specific things knowing they are likely to lead to pregnancy, as opposed to just waking up and finding a violinist sharing their kidneys), but it’s at least a coherent and honest position and I understand it.

        • John Schilling says:

          But nonetheless, someone has a right to say, “this is my body, no one gets to use it without my permission.”

          Unconditionally, under all circumstances?

          So, I can e.g. refuse to donate bone marrow even if I’m the only matching donor. Or, I can agree to donate bone marrow, then the day after the intended recipient undergoes the chemo-plus-irradiation treatment to utterly destroy their own bone marrow, I can change my mind? Decide to go on a prolonged vacation and refuse to submit to the inconvenience and discomfort of the donation because, hey, it’s my body and no one gets to use it without my permission? They’ll be dead by the time I get back, but that’s not my problem, right?

          If by your actions you create a circumstance in which another person is dependent on a particular use of your body, and if you then chose to deny them that use of your body, then the totality of your actions is that you have done wrong. This seems obvious to me; am I missing something?

          • Matt M says:

            If you back out of a legitimate promise, you are guilty of fraud, and should be punished accordingly. Whether or not an appropriate punishment is “you get scooped up and held down and forced to donate the bone marrow you originally promised to donate in the first place” is up to society I guess.

          • To expand on John’s point in case it isn’t obvious …

            If pregnancy was the result of voluntary sexual intercourse, as it almost always is, then the actions of the mother have put the fetus in a situation where it is dependent for its survival on the use of her body. That undercuts the famous violinist/organ donation argument, so gets us back to the question of whether the fetus is the sort of being that it is normally wrongful to kill.

          • blacktrance says:

            If you agree to donate your bone marrow, you take on an obligation to the recipient, and thus can’t morally back out of it. This is compatible with bodily autonomy because you aren’t required to take on that obligation, but by doing so, you waive part of your rights (and being able to waive them is part of self-ownership).

            But this isn’t analogous to sex and pregnancy because you don’t agree to be obligated to anyone. If you promise to bear a child (e.g. surrogate motherhood), you may not get an abortion because you temporarily transferred some rights over your body to someone else. But no such transfer is made simply by having sex.

          • John Schilling says:

            But this isn’t analogous to sex and pregnancy because you don’t agree to be obligated to anyone.

            Creating a child isn’t an an implicit agreement to care for that child, and comes with no obligation whatsoever?

            I disagree. And it doesn’t matter that the creation of the child was not the intent of the act; law and ethics hold people responsible for all reasonably foreseeable consequences of their actions, not just the intended ones.

          • blacktrance says:

            Creating a child isn’t an an implicit agreement to care for that child, and comes with no obligation whatsoever?

            An implicit agreement with whom? In the bone marrow case, I have an agreement with the recipient or the hospital. A surrogate mother has an agreement with the would-be parents. But who’s the other party here? It can’t be the fetus, because it doesn’t exist and therefore can’t accept any agreements.

          • John Schilling says:

            The fetus will exist in the future. If I can make an agreement with a person who is physically distant from me in space, then I can make an agreement with a person who is distant from me in time.

          • blacktrance says:

            If you try to make a contract with someone distant in time, they can’t accept it until later (much later, in this case), and you can withdraw your offer of contract in the meantime. Until they accept it, it’s an incomplete one-sided contract that only you are holding yourself to, and you’re free to release yourself from it.

            If you write “I will give $10 to Blacktrance” on a sheet of paper and we both sign it, you’re bound to give me $10. But if you write it today, intending to give it to me to sign tomorrow, and in the meantime you change your mind, the contract hasn’t been made and you don’t owe me anything.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            @John (parent post, not subsequent discussion so much)

            Unless I am mistaken, your hypothetical bone marrow retraction would be an actionable tort under common law (and probably statutory law).

            They relied in good faith that you would provide them with bone marrow and acted on that reliance in such a way that your subsequent breach not only denied them the benefit of the contract (i.e., receiving your bone marrow) but also materially damaged their other interests (e.g., the ability to postpone the operation until a different donor is found).

            The fact that it seems obviously wrong to you should not be surprising.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:


            I am just going to point out that a contract need be neither written nor explicit. They don’t even necessarily have to have an extant beneficiary.

            But they are still binding.

            Suppose I execute a trust. Under the Rule against perpetuities, the trust must vest in someone who is conceived within 21 years of the moment the trust was created. In the (I think) two US States that have not adopted the rule, I could conceivably create a trust that never vests (hence “perpetuities,” which are incredibly good at never paying inheritance tax), or that vests in someone hundreds or thousands of years in the future.

            Once the trust is created, I am bound by its terms. Absent some sort of claw-back clause, I cannot wiggle out of it. Once the beneficiary makes a good faith reliance, utilizing some sort of claw-back clause that materially injures the beneficiary is an actionable tort (or breach of contract).

            So obligations can be incurred with people not yet in existence, or not yet able to legally consent. And your ability to revoke the obligation is severely limited by whether doing so injures the beneficiary.

            I would argue that implanting in your uterus is a good faith reliance (like getting the irradiation treatment to destroy bone marrow) that you will make reasonably efforts to provide a steady stream of nutrient rich blood. Failure to perform either obligation results in a pretty ultimate injury: death.

            Furthermore, you implicitly consent to the possibility of implantation (and concomitant obligation) when you consent to the precipitating sex.

          • blacktrance says:

            Who wouldn’t want to be anonymous:

            I think the bindingness of “good faith reliance” is a weakness of current law. If the other person hadn’t actually agreed to provide you with anything, then you’re just assuming that they will, and they don’t owe you anything.

            Regardless, the fetus doesn’t choose to rely on you based on their belief that you’ll do something for them – in a real sense, it just shows up.

            And consent to the possibility of implantation is not consent to carrying a fetus to term. Otherwise, analogously a football player consenting to the possibility of a broken arm would also be consenting to not having his bones set.

  37. Kevin C. says:

    I’m wondering if there’s any rationalist terminology, arguments, or resources relating to a particular problem of categories and properties. Specifically, that it is not irrational to distinguish a group G of entities on the basis of a property P, and to extend this to all members of G, despite some small outlier members of G lacking P. To give a specific example, let’s consider grenades. We have laws restricting their sale and possession, and for a very good reason: grenades explode. But then, what about “duds”? Why are they included under the law, if they lack the ability to explode that justifies the law? And why doesn’t the law cover, say, movie-prop grenade replicas? If it covers one set of non-exploding objects (“duds”) on the basis of their similarity to the exploding grenades that are the law’s purpose, why not cover other non-exploding grenade-like objects?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Duds are a side effect, orthogonal to their basic nature. They have an explosive, a primer and a triggering device.

      Movie props and replicas don’t explode because of their basic nature. They have none of those things.

      But I’m not sure that is actually a great example of what you mean, as it is a difference by design, and that might not be what you are actually trying to get at. We classify grenades as grenades because of what they are designed to do.

      • Kevin C. says:

        You’re right that it’s probably not the best example (particularly given how some of the other replies seem to be caught on the particulars of the example rather than the principle I’m trying to get at), but I haven’t been able to come up with a better one. Do you have any ideas?

        You speak of “basic nature”; but how do you establish what is basic nature, and that failure of a group member to have it is “a side effect, orthogonal”? You point out that exploding is what grenades are designed to do; does this mean that the problem is a matter of teleology? That group G may be distinguished on the basis of P, even when the G/¬G boundary is not isomorphic to the P/¬P boundary, only when P is the telos of G?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Are we talking about groups that are designed? Or are you really more concerned about groups which emerge when you examine a population and attempt to apply categorization?

          You also mentioned legality in your original post, so is your primary question about legality?

          I don’t think you really actually care about any of these, but are more concerned with defining thing in a logical manner. But I’m not sure what your core objection or objective is.

          If we consider a (relatively) amorphous set of things that could reasonably called “grenades”, that is not the same set as “those things called grenades which are banned by law”. There are Nerf Toys that are called grenades. There are tennis balls that are called grenades in games of make-believe between children.

          In law, the set of things you would call grenades are actually probably part of a larger class of things called explosive devices, and grenades may or may not be mentioned depending on the specific criminal code in question. And the intent, the telos, will be paramount. Regardless of what energy source I use (even sufficiently compressed air released in a sufficiently short amount of time) the intent of the device to explode doing harm to others will be paramount.

          So, a Scuba tank is not a prohibited device. But a Scuba tank covered in ball bearings with a small charge intended to destroy the tank and release the energy all at once? That’s prohibited. Even if the charge fails to actually cause the tank to do more than hiss as it releases compressed air. In a court of law, I imagine the defense for this type of charge would attempt to establish doubt about what the intent of the device was.

          But this is a really different kind of question than “Why is a Platypus a mammal and not a bird?” which doesn’t depend on intent at all (as evolution has no intent).

          I’m not sure which of those kinds of questions you are most interested in.

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      A dud distinguishes itself from the grenade class a posteriori. You have to pull the pin and throw it at someone in order to know it is a dud. A prop, however, is distinguishable a priori.

      This seems like a relevant read.

      I might be misunderstanding the technical meaning. It seems to me that “this is a grenade” or “this is a prop” are knowable absent (a possibly incorrect definition of) experience; whereas, “this is a dud” definitely requires experience.

      • darxan says:

        You’re forgetting the Elitzur–Vaidman bomb tester.

      • Kevin C. says:

        As noted above, my example probably isn’t the best. Switching to more abstact “widgets”, is it your position that regulating (or otherwise treating) defective widgets similarly to non-defective widgets becomes irrational and unjustifiable when the defect can be identified a priori?

        • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

          Yes? I am claiming that it is completely reasonable that things distinguishable a priori are treated differently a priori. And the same posteriori/posteriori. Treating things differently a priori that must be distinguished a posteriori is probably not sound.

          Suppose there are two things widgets and wumpuses. Furthermore, we can make some a priori claims about these things:

          1. Widgets are designed to do A, B, C.
          2. Some widgets are defective and instead of C do X instead.
          3. Wumpuses are designed to do A, B, X.
          4. Wumpuses do not do C.
          5. Even defective wumpuses are incapable of C.

          Let’s try an underpants gnome experiment:
          1. Suppose you have a widget
          2. ???
          3. Therefore, this device will not do C

          There is no a priori knowledge that can be filled into (2) that could would logically lead to that conclusion. Everything requires experiencing some sort of test. Be it pulling the pin and seeing what happens, or employing some sort of quantum mechanical wave-function collapsing device. Or the QA department realizing somebody forgot to put the fuze in.

          However, if we replace a wumpus for the widget in (1), we can suddenly fill in a priori knowledge that makes the conclusion sound. So treating widgets and wumpuses differently based on whether it is possible they will do C, absent any experience, is sound. Furthermore, since we can say that a defective widget and a (functional) wumpus behave identically after we have a posteriori knowledge about defectiveness, it becomes sound to treat them the same.

          (We are, by the way, rather far from the grenade example. Even if one fails to detonate on command, a dud grenade might still detonate spontaneously. This would certainly preclude treating it identically to a movie prop.)

          • Kevin C. says:

            So, using your widget/wumpus formulation, you’re saying that, given that C-vs-X is our concern:
            1. Distinguishing functional widgets versus wumpuses and (known) defective widgets is rational, but
            2. Distinguishing widgets, functional or defective, from wumpuses is not,

    • Adam says:

      A dud can still explode. It’s the basic reason we don’t use DPICM on land we intend to later occupy.

    • Adam says:

      If you want a more nuanced take of what you’re asking about not hung up on the details of how explosives work and why we outlaw them even when some temporarily fail to explode, explain what you’re getting at. What do you mean about it not being irrational to “distinguish” between groups based on a property that not all group members share? How many of them share it? What completely shared property actually makes them a group? I would say it’s not irrational to not keep lions in your house as pets, even though there are one or two cases that could live side-by-side with humans without killing them. On the other hand, it would be pretty irrational to refuse to have sex with Egyptians on the basis of the high AIDS rate in Botswana, even though they’re both African.

  38. onyomi says:

    I read a meme somewhere claiming that thinking in a foreign language makes you more rational because words and concepts have fewer deep, emotional associations. This sort of rings true to me in the sense that curse words in foreign languages do not feel as “potent” to me as they do in English. I can still get insulted if someone is genuinely attempting to insult me, of course, but the words don’t have quite the same visceral impact.

    I wonder if anyone has ever tried doing this on a more systematic basis: try to express the same idea or think out loud (or in writing) in a different language and see if your thinking on the topic changes. I’m not sure it makes me more rational, but I do find it interesting to notice how different languages seem to “steer” my mind in different directions because certain vocabulary and grammatical structures can make certain ideas easier or harder to form than they might be in English.

    • Protagoras says:

      Rudolf Carnap said he never felt like he really understood something until he had managed to translate it into formal logic.

    • Creutzer says:

      It’s correct that people have weaker visceral associations with words in languages that are not their native languages. I don’t think this has anything to do with rationality.

      As to your other point, my experience is that my brain pools conceptual resources from all the languages I speak. This has the consequence that I sometimes get stumped in the middle of a sentence when my brain suddenly used a concept that is easier to express in another language.

      • onyomi says:

        I have also experienced that: I reach a point in a conversation where a particular foreign word would precisely express the nuance I mean, but because my listener does not speak the language in question (I will sometimes code-switch if they do), I have to find a more roundabout way to express it.

        This might mean that learning foreign languages helps your thinking not by giving you a new way to express the same thing, but by exposing you to new conceptual groupings and nuances (though I think these are often more social nuances than logical nuances, as learning Japanese, for example, tends to make one more attuned to fine gradations of seniority and familiarity).

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      I am capable of thinking in three languages (German, Icelandic, and English) and I haven’t noticed this effect. However this may be due to all three of these languages being Germanic, and thus pretty similar. As for curse words, I haven’t felt this effect, but then I’ve never been sensitive to them in any language.

      What I have found is that some concepts have no close equivalent in another language, so there are many situations where for example I’m speaking Germany, and there is a concept which I could easily express in English, but there is no elegant way of doing so in German.

  39. onyomi says:

    Am I the only one who finds the frequent use of the word “orthogonal” on this forum to be mildly confusing? People seem to use it in a very broad way that, so far as I can tell, usually amounts to something like “unrelated” or “statistically independent.”

    Is there a good reason to keep using this technical word so often when it seems like simpler, more colloquial alternatives usually exist?

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I do find it a little odd. “Statistically independent” is a lot of syllables so I guess it makes sense to have a shorthand version, but it seems to mostly be a matter of a subculture developing its own lingo.

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      It does seem to me that the use of orthogonal here is orthogonal to its meaning.

      • No way! Although the two distinct uses of “orthogonal” are not parallel, they definitely have an inner product greater than one.

        (And my response here is in itself a demonstration of how “orthogonal” does not have exactly the same connotations as “unrelated”.)

        • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

          No, you’re just doing your inner product in a dimensionally restricted projection of the linguistic space.

          Or something?

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      The wiktionary page (which you really should use for word definitions, not wikipedia) says that it can mean “Of two or more problems or subjects, independent of or irrelevant to each other.”

    • Alraune says:

      Connotations matter. “X is unrelated to Y” will evoke organic imagery. “X is orthogonal to Y” will evoke mathematical imagery. Even when they’re equivalent, knowing both words is useful for sculpting the audience’s mood.

      But there are also cases where one is a factually apt description and the other isn’t. Describing social and economic views as “orthogonal” is more correct than describing them as “unrelated,” for instance.

    • James says:

      It isn’t quite a mainstream usage, but I don’t think it’s rationalist-only or SSC-only, either. I feel like it’s common enough throughout a certain strand of geek/hacker/scientist culture. I like it. I feel like I’m used to it enough from that wider context that it doesn’t seem unnatural to me here.

    • Oscar_Cunningham says:

      From the Supreme Court:

      MR. FRIEDMAN: I think that issue is entirely orthogonal to the issue here because the Commonwealth is acknowledging –

      CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I’m sorry. Entirely what?

      MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal. Right angle. Unrelated. Irrelevant.


      JUSTICE SCALIA: What was that adjective? I liked that.

      MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal.

      CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Orthogonal.

      MR. FRIEDMAN: Right, right.

      JUSTICE SCALIA: Orthogonal, ooh.


      JUSTICE KENNEDY: I knew this case presented us a problem.


      MR. FRIEDMAN: I should have — I probably should have said –

      JUSTICE SCALIA: I think we should use that in the opinion.

      MR. FRIEDMAN: I thought — I thought I had seen it before.

      JUSTICE SCALIA: Or the dissent.

      MR. FRIEDMAN: That is a bit of professorship creeping in, I suppose.

      • Creutzer says:

        I actually find the statement there completely natural-sounding. Saying “statistically independent” or “logically independent” would both have sounded weird and not gotten the point across. “Unrelated” may sometimes work, and perhaps would have in this case, but in general, it feels somehow less specific than orthogonal. I feel that “orthogonal” really means something like “statistically or independent, whichever is applicable”. It seems more forceful than plain “unrelated”, and there may actually be two orthogonal (i.e. logically independent) issues that people might still, in context, call “related” due to some sort of superficial analogies. It’s much easier to just say “orthogonal” than say “unrelated, and yes, those superficial analogies you’re seeing don’t count for the purposes of relevant relatedness”. I actually think the word should be promoted, not contained.

        • onyomi says:

          I’m not seeing how “orthogonal” adds any useful information in the above. And if supreme court justices find your verbiage obtuse, that seems like a bad sign.

          To me it feels like translating into math language something that is perfectly explicable in colloquial language. Perhaps this facilitates understanding for the very visually and/or math-oriented minds somewhat overrepresented here, but for a verbal mind like mine (and probably for the vast majority of the population who don’t “get” math), it only adds a superfluous layer of complexity.

          I also have somewhat of a pet peeve due to being a humanities person occasionally forced to deal with things like:

          On the one hand, I am obviously making a value judgment. On the other, I think there may legitimately be (at least) 2 different styles of thinking: those for whom abstract symbols, graphs, etc. tend to make things easier to grasp intuitively, and those for whom they make it harder.

          I’m not saying I never like to see a graph or read a geometry term in a discussion of philosophy, law, etc.; I’m just saying that the percentage of cases when such will enhance understanding is lower for me (and probably for the general population) than, perhaps, for most of the readers of LW and SSC.

          • Creutzer says:

            I agree that in the supreme court quotation, he could probably have said “unrelated” without any adverse side effects.

            But in general, I think “orthogonal” is quite fit to become colloquial language, and there is a point in making it so. It’s not like it’s a hyper-technical term which can only be understood if you know its mathematical definition. I’m skeptical about “unrelated” as an alternative for the above reason, and “irrelevant” also feels off – the fact that something is orthogonal to something else may be the reason why it’s irrelevant. I kind of feel “orthogonal” has a little more meat to it than what colloquial language offers at this point, without itself being a strictly technical term. But YMMV.

      • gwern says:

        I wondered when David Friedman had argued before the SC, but checking the original source of that quote , it seems it was a Richard Friedman (who I’m not familiar with).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      As one of two people who used orthogonal in the comments on this post, I will say why I use it. To me, orthogonal does not come out of statistics, but rather geometry. The evocation is of a right-angle applied to two different concepts or ideas.

      What does it mean for ideas to be at right angles to each other? It suggests some intersection, or common point, but two lines, rays, or line segments going off in completely different directions. The ideas aren’t opposite, they aren’t non-intersecting line segments or parallel lines (completely unrelated to each other). The slope of the lines are not similar, but as different as possible. There is something in common, and yet very little in common.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        That’s how I always think of it as well. As a concrete example, there’s been a lot of loose talk here in the US lately about “the line between free speech and hate speech”, which I regard as loose just because it tries to reduce to a single dimension what is in fact an orthogonal relationship: “hate” has to do with the content of speech, “free” with how it’s treated by the government. Picture “free/unfree” as the X axis, “hate/non-hate” as the Y axis, and it’s easy to come up with real-world examples to populate all four quadrants.

      • onyomi says:

        This makes a bit more sense to me as a potentially useful distinction. Thanks!

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I will note, perhaps interestingly, perhaps not, that my use (and description) seems to fall into that “visually oriented” hole you identified for yourself.

          Any way, I’m glad I made some sense today.

    • James Picone says:

      I encounter the term a lot in a programming context; where it’s used in this semi-metaphorical way. Maybe it’s just cultural bleed from all the computer-science types?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Data point: HeelBearCub is a programmer and uses the word orthogonal. Don’t remember it coming up in comp-sci though.

        • Anonymous says:

          Data point 2: At some point in my early 20s, while struggling to express the notion that one thing is independent of and has no effect on another (right-angle ideas), I landed on the word “orthogonal.”

          Naturally, I was pleased to pieces when I found out that other people use this same word in the exact same way.

    • Adam says:

      Here’s a pretty good and extremely brief visual explanation of what it really means and why it’s such a useful idea statistically. It shouldn’t be taken as “unrelated” so much as “multiple axes that measure quantities that vary independently of each other.” Uncorrelated is more accurate, but the usage here seems to extend to axes of measurement that are definitely correlated and the speaker means something more like “|r| < 1" like a 30 degree angle rather than a 90 degree angle.

  40. Forlorn Hopes says:

    I found this article which I thought was very good:

    It’s very much about politics, but I don’t think it gets too close to any of the five topics Scott said to avoid.

  41. cbhacking says:

    I recently stumbled across Alicorn’s LW post from five years ago on improving her happiness set point (, and noticed your comment about it (; I was curious if anything ever came of it, or if you decided it wasn’t worth attempting, or if you made an attempt and failed, or…? Wondering whether attempting this from a position signifiantly better than “potentially suicidal” is viable.

  42. Like a team of typing monkeys will eventually pump out War and Peace, so every wannabe social science blogger must eventually publish a post that compares the Western world to Ancient Rome. It seems I am not immune to this trend, but I hope I am innovative enough to turn a short article in ancient history into a nice little (mostly apolitical) opinion piece relevant to modern culture and the state of politics:

    The Decline of the Republic and the Division of Democracy

    Feedback hugely appreciated.

    • Mark says:

      Hello. I think that this is a nice bit of writing: the ending was particularly stirring.

    • Protagoras says:

      Interesting discussion. I would have commented on one of the big reasons the soldiers were disillusioned with the Republic; the military successes of the Republic made the senatorial elite far wealthier than before, and they used their wealth to greatly strengthen their hold on the political process. This enabled them to get away with reneging on their deal with the soldiers, and not paying them or giving them the land they were promised, since the soldiers couldn’t raise enough political support to get their grievances addressed legally. And that’s why they backed the generals who promised to give them what the senators wouldn’t. So I’d say the defeat of the Gracchi (whose reforms were the biggest effort to actually address the problems of the military before Marius) is what made subsequent events inevitable. It’s actually somewhat controversial to what extent Marius actually changed recruitment policies; some historians I’ve read seem to think that the soldiers continued to be from largely the same groups, but changed their political stances as the Republic increasingly failed to serve their interests.

      • Thanks for the comment. From what I have read, I pretty much agree. The Roman veterans seemed to get screwed quite a bit and its no wonder they lost patience with the political process. You’re completely right that the seeds of the problem were sown considerably earlier (eg. Gracchi) and I think a failure to politically resolve real world problems and people’s legitimate concerns is always going to result in disaster for any nation or civilization.

        I was aiming to suggest that there is importance in recognizing harmful *processes* as the enemy rather than the people that you politically disagree with, so hopefully that came across too.

    • Kevin C. says:

      It was mostly well-written, if, as you admit, not particularly original. You’ve probably already read these: U.S. military and civilians are increasingly divided and Does America Have a Warrior Caste?, but if you haven’t, they’re pretty relevant.

      I do have some criticisms. First, your insistance (unsupporten, IMV) that “intelligent cultural integration” is a necessity.

      My biggest problem is, opposite of Mark above, your conclusion. I think you gravely underestimate technological determinism. You see that the nature of modern warfare and weapons technology makes the citizen-warrior of the Greek democracies or Roman Republic (or those invisioned by the standing-army-fearing Founding Fathers of the USA) impossible. And yet, you call for the production of the spirit of that role. But you can’t have the spirit without the substance. To quote from Tarrou earlier in this thread,

      Attempting to get advice or sympathy or gods forbid, therapy from civilians is a chump’s game. The comprehension gap is too great…


      What some dipshit officer directed by a politician to write about military culture has the same rough approximation to actual military culture as a child’s crayon drawing has to reality.

      Officers are not soldiers. Civilians are not soldiers. Soldiers are soldiers.

      Unless technology changes to make effective weapons of war affordable to the average citizen and low-training mass armies effective against specialized, professional warrior elites again, then, by your (IMO, generally correct) arguments, democracy is doomed.

      • Thanks for the great comment. I haven’t read those and will take a look, thanks.

        You’re certainly right about technology having a powerful influence on our social structures. And I don’t disagree that literal citizen-based armies are basically a fantasy. But I don’t think the technological change is the only factor exerting force in the system. Military colleges can (and do I think in many existing cases) teach on non-military topics and I would imagine could potentially play a massive role to helping depict the military as a vital integrated part of a wider society rather than a separate entity. Civilian education that teaches a serious military history curriculum (in a fact based way) can teach people living in the peaceful bubble about the dangerous nature of the world and in every nation show how other countries (and breakdown of rule of law) can pose serious threats to the safety of the population. This doesn’t need to and shouldn’t glorify war (jingoism won’t make you safe) – it should simply teach the threats that exist and encourage a widespread attitude of realism and responsibility. If we recognise the problem there is scope for us to actively develop an integrated citizen culture, especially if we can keep the issue out of the hands of politically partisian nitwits that will use it for political purposes. We can