OT28: Where In The World Is Comment Sandiego?

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

1. After reading one of my past posts, probably The Right To Waive Your Rights, someone mentioned that they’re no longer willing to see a psychiatrist for their suicidal thoughts because they interpreted me as saying psychiatrists always (usually?) involuntarily commit people with suicidal thoughts. So just to clear this up for anyone else with the same misapprehension: THAT IS NOT WHAT I SAID. I said that it sometimes works that way in hospital emergency rooms, where there are special incentives to be risk-averse and where the patients are usually very ill. This is NOT THE CASE if you just make an appointment in your average outpatient psychiatrist’s office. Most outpatient psychiatrists are comfortable with people who have occasional suicidal thoughts as long as they say they don’t immediately plan to act on them. Please do not let fear of being involuntarily committed prevent you from talking about your problems with an outpatient psychiatrist.

2. Comment of the week is Gwern’s reanaylsis of the cost-benefit ratio of some of the low-specificity suicide biomarkers I talked about last month. But also, Steve Sailer talks about who supported Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.

3. Some corrections from the last links post: the Japanese may not be moving quite as fast to cut down on humanities education as previously reported; Vox may be prematurely hasty in dismissing police shootings/subsequent riots as related to recent urban crime upticks.

4. There’s been some discussion of x-risk charity recently, and a lot of people have mentioned that preventing pandemics is a pretty important underserved area. I agree. Are there any good organizations working on the problem that accept donations?

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1,162 Responses to OT28: Where In The World Is Comment Sandiego?

  1. CThomas says:

    One of the things I like about this web site is the unusually good quality of the comments. But precisely because it is so unusual that I find value in reading the comments here I’m struggling to figure out the right way to do so. Suppose I read the comments on a posting early on, when there are (say) 70 comments. Later on the post has accumulated 150 comments, and in an ideal world I’d like to be able to read the new ones. But the way it works is that the new comments are interspersed among all the old ones, and you have to re-read (or at least skim over) all the old comments looking for a new one interspersed here and there. Sure you can go to entirely new “primary” comments (the left-most aligned comments) because I guess those would all be new but it’s frustrating not being able to easily follow along the whole conversation more easily. Is there a good way to do this? I’m technologically dumb, and many of you guys know all about this sort of thing, so I worry that this is a stupid question, either because everyone knows that there is no solution to this or because everyone knows of an obvious thing to do. If so then I apologize, but it would be interesting to hear how you deal with this even if the answer is something everyone knows.


    • Montfort says:

      We mostly just muddle through. There are a couple features you didn’t mention and thus may not have noticed.

      1. Next to the reply button is the hide button, so you can close entire subthreads you don’t care about. Weed out the threads you don’t like; you can expand them later.

      2. Also, floating in the upper right hand corner should be the new comment tracker. A little plus sign will appear on the left side, allowing you to expand it and see a list of posts since your last pageload (timestamped with poster’s name). If you click on an entry, you’ll be scrolled to it directly. The time at the top (“X comments since [time]”) can be edited to give you comments after some other time if you wish.
      I think this feature relies somewhat on cookies(?) to save state, but it’s mostly reliable.

      Many people have missed these in the past, so I hope this is helpful to someone.

      (ETA: feature 2 might actually be a plugin Bakkot made that I’ve had installed for so long I forgot about it? I had the impression this had been incorporated officially somehow, but I am now filled with doubt)

      • 27chaos says:

        Feature 2 appears on my screen, pretty sure I didn’t install a plugin for it.

      • Zebram says:

        As Montfort said, we muddle through. It’s siimply our cross to bear with patience. May God reward us for our fortitude through thick and thin in the hereafter.

      • thedufer says:

        Feature 2 is not a plugin, as far as I can tell. It relies on local storage, rather than cookies, but those are typically cleared by the same actions so I guess I’m not really adding anything to the conversation with that bit of information.

    • Scott Alexander says: highlights new comments by surrounding them with a green box. It’s supposed to be on the site itself so that it appears for everyone automatically, but something might have gone wrong.

      • Evan Daniel says:

        It seems like it’s “working” for me. There are green highlights; they change if I change the “x comments since ____” date in the upper right. But it doesn’t do anything automatically; the date currently reads 12/31/1969. I don’t know when I last read the thread, so I can’t set it accurately. And even if I did, typing in a new date is awkward and silly.

        • Nita says:

          The date should change after you reload the page — if your browser accepts cookies.

        • Creutzer says:

          Does your browser automatically delete local storage data when you close it? Because that’s where, I think, the script stores the date of your last visit.

        • Cauê says:

          Clicking the [+] to the left of that box shows a clickable list of comments by date. You can check a few to find the time you last read.

      • Would it be nuts for me to suggest crowd funding to hire a someone to write/install a comments system specifically designed to the requirements of the site and its community? It feels like the community is large enough to justify it?

        Like something that still allowed unregistered comments, but with up/downvoting, and also allowed frequent posters to register, PM eachother, see replies to their post etc.

        • Error says:

          ObUsenetReference. A discussion system capable of handling a hundred thousand times our volume intelligibly has existed since the 80s; nobody uses it anymore because it’s not in a browser and the Internet Is The Web.

          (well, there are browser interfaces to it, most notably Google Groups, but they are uniformly terrible because the browser is a terrible platform for the purpose)

          I actually think the best solution to the overflowing-blog-comments problem is to use some kind of nntp-backed blog software, so that people who get confused outside a browser can still read but people who really need a more intelligent interface have a better way to participate.

          Any time I put serious thought into it I stumble over quoting convention conflicts, though.

          • Doug S. says:

            I thought nobody uses Usenet because there’s no spam or troll control?

          • BBA says:

            The problem with Usenet is that it’s too decentralized to moderate effectively. If a spammer or kook gets kicked off a server they can just join another one; if a server is a hotbed for spam or kookery you need to get every other server on the net to block it, which is extraordinarily rare. I’ve read of one case where a newsgroup’s members had to get a court order to ban one particularly persistent kook from posting there.

            An isolated, tightly controlled NNTP server (or an IRC-style closed network) could avoid these issues, but for the reasons you describe it’s unlikely to get off the ground.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ all

            TW: made-up or pre-historic names used for examples

            Usenet was wonderful. What about a Facebook site with a link to 40tude with or whatever as its default target.

            Usenet had great moderation options, or the Facebook site could include a gateway/filter. David, have the usenet sites you used to patronize found a way to deal with hackers/robots from alt.spam-nya-nya?

          • Assuming that Houseboat’s question was to me (there are other Davids here).

            I’ve pretty completely abandoned Usenet over the past year or so. But HPO (Humanities.philosophy.objectivism), which I was active on for many years, was a moderated group and seemed to work pretty well. I’m not sure what finally happened to it.

            There are five groups that I was reading a year or so back. Glancing at all of them they seem to still function without heavy spam infestation. But low traffic.

          • Error says:

            @ Doug: It depends on where you are, but I was more thinking of a private NNTP server rather than Usenet itself. The mechanism isn’t bound to the existing network. BBA has the right idea. Post editing and deleting can be implemented as supercedes and cancels, and with a standalone server they can be trusted. Bans are easy for the same reason. The special status of our host could be implemented by only allowing Scott to make a top-level post.

            Admittedly there’s no crowd-scoring mechanism akin to upvotes, but with sane thread navigation much of the need for one is gone.

            Of course, this will never happen, but I can dream about it. 😛

        • Josh says:

          The big thing for me would be push notifications of replies to my comments… I’d definitely get into much richer conversations here if it was more like texting or emailing back and forth with friends…

          I run a site for building tech quickly and easily without code (, if there’s interest from Scott I would happily build something using it for free. Could have threading, notifications (email / text / chat client), anonymous or nonymous users…

          • nydwracu says:

            There’s Sovevos, but I haven’t looked at that at all.

            I’ve been thinking about writing an entirely new platform, since Tumblr is garbage, everything else was badly hurt by the decline of RSS, and nothing has sane privacy options. But Usenet was before my time, so I’m probably the wrong person to do that.

          • Any improvement wouldbe awesome. Do we know if Scott is amenable to that sort of thing?

          • Josh says:

            So, ironically enough, I wrote myself a reminder to check this thread to see if anyone had replied to me. Since interest seems mild, I will stop checking this; if anyone wants to follow up my email is on the site linked to from my above post.

            @Citizensearth — no idea if Scott is amenable to this. Sadly I think this needs Scott’s support to get off the ground, since I don’t think anything that’s not the primary, approved, Official (TM) commenting solution will get enough traction.

            @nydwracu — “But Usenet was before my time, so I’m probably the wrong person to do that.” It was before my time too, but I’m a little skeptical that it represented some sort of sublime high point in discussion software. See The hordes moved in, Usenet failed to adapt, people voted with their feet and port 80 won. See also Slashdot, Digg…

            I actually think Facebook is a pretty good model for how it should work, now that they have decent threading; the problem is that facebook is not anon or psuedo-anon friendly, which is a dealbreaker.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Josh

            I agree about notification of replies, or at least something to make it easier to follow a conversation that has endured through more than one blog entry.

            As for U*s*e*n*t, yes it was s/u/b/l/i/m/e/l/y better, but WordPress ate my reply about that.

          • nydwracu says:

            It was before my time too, but I’m a little skeptical that it represented some sort of sublime high point in discussion software. See The hordes moved in, Usenet failed to adapt, people voted with their feet and port 80 won. See also Slashdot, Digg…

            Well, yeah, any system that doesn’t allow the greybeards to retreat to the hills when the Mongol hordes come in is dead. But most of the internet even today is a collection of steppes, hence the communist problem on Twitter, Tumblr, etc. (What would the digital equivalent of a mountain range look like?)

            But that’s a problem with most of the internet, including the SSC comments section.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ nydwracu
            Well, yeah, any system that doesn’t allow the greybeards to retreat to the hills when the Mongol hordes come in is dead.

            Usenet had hills but they were steep, and websites like LiveJournal had greener bells and whistles.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            nydwracu: “What would the digital equivalent of a mountain range look like?”

            High visibility, extremely low accessibility: any news source without a comments section, particularly sources that have a dead-tree version.

        • I don’t know a lot about USENET, but aren’t we looking for something that’s web based and easy to moderate, given the political content?

        • Anonymous says:

          > still allowed unregistered comments
          Vital. Lower entry cost to post = more participation.

          No no no. If someone has made a particularly good or bad post tell them so, and more importantly tell them why. Cheering and booing belong to the domain of sport games and political rallies. Comments are more conducive to the sort of dialogue people seek here. (The astute reader will observe I am demonstrating my point with this reply.)

          >allowed frequent posters to register
          Doesn’t WordPress already have this? Or are poster’s avatars related to their email? Some people have the geometric patterns, but others have actual avatars. I assume the latter are registered.

          >PM each other,
          Unnecessary feature. Can easily contact off-site via email, twitter, etc.

          >see replies to their post
          Very useful feature. My current workarounds are to remember a phrase used in the post and search the page for that phrase later OR save the actual link to the post (i.e., to save your post I would middle-click on the date under your name to open that link in a new tab, then refresh the page later when I want to see new replies).
          On a related topic, the “N comments since DATE” popup is useless for me because it orders the new comments by date, which is not how I imagine anyone reads new comments (if you do, I admire your ability to remember the contexts of every thread, and switch contexts as much as each post you read). Ideally new posts would be sorted by parent post — that is, the first-level reply to Scott’s post to which the new post replies. No further nesting is needed, and would in fact be messy to show in many cases.
          Here is what I mean:
          [Scott’s article]
          -Post_1_2 ~new~ 9/20/2015, 1:00:00 PM
          –Post_1_2_1 ~new~ 9/20/2015, 3:00:00 PM
          -Post_2_1 ~new~ 9/20/2015, 2:00:00 PM

          The current ordering is

          Whereas I think

          makes more sense.

          • Creutzer says:

            Excellent point about the ordering in the floater. This would, in fact, be trivial to implement by just removing one line from the script.

          • thedufer says:

            Avatars are coming from Gravatar, I suspect, since I don’t have an account of any sort here. Which means they’re just tied to your email address.

          • Bakkot says:

            You can go through the comments in that order by searching “~ new ~”, less the spaces. Since page-order is available by that means, I think it makes more sense for the popup to have them in date-order, since you can’t otherwise readily see comments laid out that way.

        • brad says:

          The specifics of how a forum works shapes the resulting culture. Even so much as adding a like button and only showing the raw number of likes is enough to change things in noticeable ways. Something like ordering by up/down votes is seismic. And not positive IMO.

    • Paul Kinsky says:

      New comments also contain ‘~new~’, so if you CTRL-F for that you can browse through them in thread order.

      • Except that I will always get your post, however many times I have read it.

        • 578493 says:

          CTRL-F ‘m ~new~’

          …oh wait

          • Matt S Trout says:

            I’m unsure why you think actively making the problem worse was any of kind, necessary, or true, but please try and refrain from doing so in future. It really doesn’t help anything. As a sarcastic comment to a friend, it might come across as countersignaling, but on here it’s basically just petty nastiness – that actually makes it harder for people to use the functionality.

            Please don’t 🙁

          • Agronomous says:

            a) It’s funny, in an xkcd sort of way.
            b) It doesn’t really make the problem significantly worse; I just tripped over it myself, but a moment before I’d tripped over someone else’s literal (and unwitting) tilde-new-tilde anyway; net loss to me: 5 seconds. If you feel strongly about it, though, maybe you can argue for banning it, like R***’s B**** over on Less Wrong. The debate over that would probably look a lot like this.

            (If, 10,000 years from now, all our uploaded descendants have of SSC to study is this single comment, it’s not going to make a damn bit of sense.)

    • E. Harding says:

      I’ve had the same issue, which led me to start commenting later. I usually like threaded comments, but I can see the value of their absence on Scott Sumner’s blog and the problems with them on this blog. On Sailer’s blog, the Unz commenting system pretty much makes up for whatever costs there are to the lack of threaded comments.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think a single comment thread, with linking and quote functions, is superior to threaded comments. (examples: Scott Aaronson’s blog, *chan boards)

    • RCF says:

      If people are writing up plug-ins, I’d like to express interest in a “mark as read” option, with all comments lacking that flag being marked somehow.

      • Katherine says:

        With a button for “mark this comment as read and go to next unread [not marked as read] comment”

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        My (possibly impractical) first choice would be to make the ‘Hide’ function sticky between sessions.

        • RCF says:

          But that wouldn’t let me see replies to comments that I’ve “marked as read”.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I suppose it comes down to how you use the ‘Hide’ function. I only ever use it on the first posts of subthreads whose subject matter doesn’t interest me; it’d be a real time-saver if I found them still hidden on my next visit.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      A thing I notice doesn’t seem to be working is that sometimes when someone links to someone else’s comments (or, as here, previous top comments are linked to in the OP), if you open those in a new tab, rather than scrolling you to the linked comment, it just takes you to the bottom of the page. I’m mostly on a MacBook with Firefox; I don’t know if that combination is relevant.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Interesting; that doesn’t happen for me on either of the setups I’ve used (Firefox 40.0.3 on Windows 7, or Internet Explorer on Windows 10.)

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      On a related note, is there a way to see when someone replies to one of my comments? What I currently do is to go to the comment page and search for my name with ctrl+F, which is rather tedious. It also means that I will almost certainly miss any replies on older articles.

    • Randy M says:

      I read this site often on an older computer at work and on a phone, so I don’t always have these neat highlighting features (which aren’t entirely useful if you browse from more than one source anyway).

      If I get involved i a thread and check out a few times a day, I get to recognize new comments by the general shape of the thread as I scroll through and skim.

      But the real trouble is that the pages take quite awhile to load once it gets up to ~200 comments. It’s not a huge problem since there’s usually a new thread a day or two later. I do like the Less Wrong feature where you can see one thread at a time sometimes. Generally have pages of comments is hard with threading.

    • Pku says:

      What I wish we had is an option for replying to the bottom comment in a maximally nested comment section. (That is, if you’re answering the bottom comment, you have to scroll up to the last nonmaximally nested comment and reply to that). It seems like it would be a pain to fix though, so I’m not going to complain.

    • Vinay Bhaskara says:

      I agree. Something that would really help is having comments that are numbered. I frequently use the site on IPad and IPhone, and one wrong swipe/slide and I lose my place and have to try and search through the comments thereafter.

    • I agree that the commenting software could use an upgrade, but then again, most comment threads are difficult to follow on the internet on repeated viewings, particularly if nested rather than linear. It’s been five years; why SBNation’s system isn’t ubiquitous by now I’ll neverunderstand (SBNation has nested comments but you can press the “Z” button on your keyboard to warp to the next unread comment, which then marks it as read. Good stuff)

    • Max says:

      We could all migrate to /r/slatestarcodex 🙂

  2. CThomas says:

    Thanks, guys. This is all great.


  3. Conditionable says:

    All academics: I’ve recently decided that I’d like to study computer science or engineering, up to and including grad school. However, my college requires that I made that decision at age 18; they don’t allow inter-college transfers into the college of engineering, where both departments are housed. The school of science does, and I’m now a math major. I’ve heard both that you can get into graduate school in computer science with any quantitative degree, and that you you are at a severe disadvantage if you’re not coming in with a bachelors in CS/CE. Are one or both of those true? Is there anything I can do as an undergrad to improve my shot at grad school other than major in math with a good GPA?

    • Cole Gleason says:

      Do you have any idea what field/sub-field of graduate school you are interested in? It may depend somewhat on the program. Due to the uniqueness of my department (CMU HCII), for example, we have people with CS, psychology, design, and other backgrounds. That might not be necessarily true in pure CS graduate programs, but again, it depends a bit on if you are interested in data mining or operating systems.

      • nico says:

        As Cole says, intended area is very relevant here. For instance, many of the theory people that I know (CMU CSD) were math majors in undergrad. You may also have good luck in something like ML.

    • Not Robin Hanson says:

      My impression, and definitely get a second opinion:

      If you’re going for a Master’s, a good GPA in math should be fine.

      If you’re going for a PhD, the most important thing to demonstrate in your application is research potential in Computer Science, and the best way of doing that is actual research experience. It will also help you determine whether a PhD is really the right choice for you. GPA and majoring in math (given that you can’t major in CS) are good, but secondary. Don’t rely exclusively on formal, institutional channels—take personal and proactive action to find professors who are doing computer science research and get in with what they are doing. Be prepared to knock on a lot of doors.

      • Pku says:

        This, especially the part about making sure research is right for you. There are plenty of brilliant people who have a hard time with research just because it’s not a right fit for them, and halfway through grad school is not the best time to find this out about yourself.

      • Ptoliporthos says:

        Yes! This is true for any STEM PhD! Make sure that you want to do research before you get to grad school. When you are doing research as an undergraduate, make sure to talk to the graduate students and post-docs about their experiences, since both institutions and individual labs vary widely and they will have already experienced several.

        Also, think a lot about why (and if) you want to do a PhD. It’s easy to fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy once you get halfway through a PhD and psychologically hard to leave, even when it’s clearly the right thing to do.

    • Science says:

      In some areas of computer science you’d actually be at an advantage. For example, if you wanted to write a thesis in cryptography, several of your math classes would be far more useful than the classes in compilers and logic design typical of many CS programs.

      That said, presuming you can take CS classes without being in the engineering school, I would at least take a classes on the theory of computation, data structures, and algorithms. And these days you should know how to program in at least one language. If you have absolutely no preference, something like Haskall would look great on grad school applications. If you want the option to bail for industry something like python or c++ would be better.

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        This; absolutely take some CS classes! But a Math degree with some CS classes shouldn’t leave you too far behind most other applicants to grad schools.

    • Asterix says:

      I can answer this, I think, because I got a grad degree in CS but did not have an undergrad major. They were happy to take me (YMMV), but before I could get to the graduate classes, I had to take the undergrad classes. So it introduced over a year’s delay for me.

    • RCF says:

      “they don’t allow inter-college”

      I take it you mean “intra”? If you’re really determined to get a CS BS, you could look into transferring to another school (Not saying that’s a good idea, just giving you all the options here).

      Are there many CS classes available to non-CS majors?

      • Vaniver says:

        I take it you mean “intra”?

        Probably not. Many large unversities are a collection of colleges, with wildly different standards. Where I went to undergrad the situation was similar, that one could not join the engineering college (which was very competitive and in demand) without applying as an external student to it. Among other things, it prevents people from applying to an easy department and then switching.

    • Tracy W says:

      FWIW, I nearly crashed out of elec engineering into comp sci and they made it clear they would be happy to have me.

    • Anon says:

      Studying CS and finding summer research placements is probably a strong way to improve your résumé for grad school. Note that an undergrad in the UK is three years, so if you’re a year in transferring over here is a good idea, and the course is more focused too (you only get classes in CS, nothing else).

    • Daniel Ford says:

      Try setting up a meeting with the chair of your Engineering department to ask about this. Go in and say, “I just discovered that I really want to work in engineering, but I don’t have the opportunity to study it at this university. What would you do if you were in my position?” If you get the go-talk-to-advising brush-off then respectfully point out that there’s no way anyone in advising is going to know as much about a career as the person who has practiced it for decades.

      Most new students don’t realize some rules of an academic bureaucracy can be negotiable. For example, when I ask my students how many of them know that our dean will alter degree completion requirements in reasonable circumstances, only 3-5% of them are aware of this. It may be that there’s an off-the-books mechanism for transfers, but if you don’t ask you’ll never find out about it.

      Even if you get immediately shut down you still have the chance to get some useful career advice you may not have been aware of.

      • chaosmage says:

        This is excellent advice, except maybe don’t ask only the dean, but a few other senior staff too. Especially ones that like you. Because the rules of academia are not only sometimes negotiable, but success in bending them can depend on knowing the right precedent to point to. (Source: I sat on a committee that decided appeals from students who had failed courses in a technical college.) Even a dean won’t necessarily know everything that’s potentially relevant to the discussion, especially if he became dean only recently.

    • Eli says:

      Actually, if you’re getting your undergraduate in mathematics, then all you have to do is specialize in category theory, logic, algebra, combinatorics, topology, or graph theory (these are various mathematical subjects connected to computer science), and learn a good amount of programming on your own time. Then apply to a Computer Science program for your postgrad, and you should have a fine time getting in.

      You’ll have to do some make-up courses to supplement your lack of a computer-science degree, but in fact, once you do those, you’ll have a more rigorous background for academic CS research than most people with CS undergrad degrees (since those mostly just teach programming and software engineering).

      Also, as everyone else said, look for ways to do undergraduate research! In math or CS, it won’t precisely matter.

      And pick yourself a subfield of CS, then focus on the maths relevant to that!

    • Adam says:

      I can’t advise on a PhD, but I did a CS MS program after a math undergrad and it wasn’t a disadvantage. I didn’t even specialize in any of the discrete topics Eli mentions. I specialized in statistics, modeling, and numerical analysis, but given how the rage is all about spectral and statistical methods to efficiently approximate global maxima in learning systems these days, I’d almost say that was an advantage more than a disadvantage. I did come in knowing close to nothing about architecture and networking and had to get up to speed on my own, but those things aren’t that complicated, I mean, not at the CS level. It’s complicated if you’re an electrical engineer studying digital signal processing and circuit design.

    • stubydoo says:

      Whether you can get in to grad school is one thing. Whether you’ll prosper assuming you get in is a different thing. Of course, a well designed admission process would generally minimize that difference, and I believe that such well designed processes do exist to a certain extent.

      I did graduate school CS at NYU, coming from a background of exactly zero prior CS classes, but a few years of professional programming experience. This turned out fine. In order to have been better prepared, a little more undergraduate math would’ve probably helped more than a little more undergraduate CS (I had a pretty good math background but less than a major). In my case the programming experience was certainly key – university CS departments get a lot of flak from some quarters for having curriculi that are totally removed from practical programming, but I don’t think there’s so much of a dichotomy. It might be more true if programming to you means setting up webpages.

      Now if you’re setting your sights much higher – say Berkeley or Urbana-Champaign – then you certainly have to have a very clear focus on what the admissions expectations are going to be.

  4. pistachi0n says:

    The best way to prevent a pandemic is for doctors/scientists/public health people to be made aware of emerging outbreaks while they are still small. It’s better to go overboard preventing a pandemic that wouldn’t happen anyway than to ignore something until it goes viral (pun intended.) ProMED-mail is a reporting service that provides information about emerging outbreaks all around the world to anyone who subscribes (but most of the people who subscribe are doctors or people working in public health.) Their website would explain it better than I could:

  5. Cole Gleason says:

    Hi everyone!

    I’m a new Ph.D. student studying Human-computer interaction and I was wondering if the community here has any research problems relating to that (admittedly broad) field. I have a research agenda for the short (6-12 months) term focusing on smartphone applications to assist the blind, but I’m interested in getting a cursory overview of high-impact problem areas that could use some attention from technology-focused research. I find health interventions fascinating (as I assume many of this community do), and I am especially looking for problems to tackle in that space in a year or two (assuming I think I can tackle it and there is funding to do so), if software can be an effective solution.

    • ioannes_shade says:

      I’m not sure this is what the field of human-computer interaction studies, but I’m interested in interventions that make the computer an easier-to-direct tool. I think computers currently capture far too much of people’s time and energy.

      Lately, I’ve been thinking specifically about designing software that could effectively block all porn on a user’s machine (I think internet porn is a substantial, under-addressed problem for large groups of people, both in terms of wasted time and mental agony).

      Does this sound up your alley?

    • J says:

      I think there’s a lot of potential for computers to augment willpower. We used to carry around (paper) personal organizers and had to remember to watch the time, now our phones remind us of our appointments.

      In medicine, patient compliance is terrible, so much that it’s hard to even do studies on treatments because patients never follow the instructions. So instead of just sending you home with a rubber band and hoping you do your elbow exercises, add a microcontroller that counts reps and sends you encouragements and prizes via email or facebook, and lets your doc know how well you’ve done. (Beware though, people will sometimes actively resist — I’ve heard stories of people putting their (mechanical) step counters in the tumble dryer to make it look like they were walking farther.

    • Benito says:

      Reading the second chapter of Bostrom’s ‘Superintelligence’ might give you something to work with. It details Bostrom’s beliefs about the potential of a variety of technological research areas wrt developing intelligent tech.

    • Rehabilitation after injury, and health maintainence for the elderly, are two areas that are increasingly being computerised (rehab using a wii etc). For example, if there is a program to help someone practice walking again, can they use voice to control it, or maybe the feedback from their steps adjusts the difficulty. It’s not as shiny as some fields but there’s probably a lot of utility in it as an area, both for a career and the benefits to folks generally.

    • tgb says:

      With the increase access to voice recognition software, one thing I’d like to see developed is a commercial microphone that can pick up subvocalizations or otherwise allow the user to speak without making audible sound. I know some work has been done in this area, but it could be an area to look into. It sounds more like an electrical engineering problem than what you’re interested in, however.

    • chaosmage says:

      You might want to look into how online services for the management of mental health issues can improve user retention. In depression at least, none of the many tools on the market appear to retain users very well. Of course motivation in depression is obviously a hard problem for non-technical reasons. But there is uncertainty over how the difficulties of interaction that come with depression (and other pathologies) affect human-computer interaction, so I expect that’s a factor.

      Various projects over the last two decades have stumbled into the insight that very colorful or rapidly moving content can make depressed people feel overstimulated and leave. It is also generally assumed that they’ll feel slighted much more readily and when that happens will withdraw rather than complain, so the respectful and sincere language of “therapy speech” is essential. But if there are other undiscovered rules to follow, I don’t think anybody knows them and establishing them might be valuable.

      • anon1 says:

        > the respectful and sincere language of “therapy speech” is essential

        I can’t speak for all depressives, but I’m pretty sure “therapy speech” will repel a lot of people. It tends to stink of insincerity and fake empathy, my reaction is usually “just because I’m crazy doesn’t make me an idiot, now fuck off,” and I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way.

        Now a mental health tool (whatever it does – are you talking about mood trackers?) that copied the tone and humor of (SSC discussion at – that I might want to stick with. Wouldn’t be for everyone but I expect people like me are an underserved market.

        • Pku says:

          I can speak for depressives (well, for myself at any rate), and I’m going to say that for me it’s a fine line – if the therapist constantly toes the line and overuses therapy speech, it can usually come across as annoying or insincere. But I can feel slighted rather easily, and I’m far, far more likely to just quietly leave and not come back over actually complaining or anything. I guess the solution is to actually be considerate and respectful (and show it), but that gives about zero information on what to actually do.
          In practice, if you’re not sure, I think it’s better to lean a bit towards the side of therapy speech. I’m basing it on my current therapist (who I suspect is fairly new to it, based on his age): the first couple of meetings he overdid the therapy-speech thing, which made me feel distrustful and gave me second thoughts about coming back. But this superficial rule system did let me feel secure enough that he couldn’t do anything too sudden and bad, like suddenly shout “well of course you’re worthless! why are you even wasting my time denying it!”, that I felt I could come back and keep trying, which seems to be leading to gradual improvement and the ability to work on getting actual communication.

          • anon1 says:

            Just to be clear, I *am* pretty sure I’m some variety of depressive myself. The cynical bastard variety, maybe. Not sure which bin I fall into because due to various hangups I haven’t seen anyone about it yet, but I’d be surprised if it weren’t something.

      • Deiseach says:

        Speaking purely for myself, I’m using an online CBT therapy thingy (to use the technical term) for my depression, and it’s so positive it hurts at times; when my greatest achievement has been “Today I did not throw myself off the bridge”, the chirpy “real human stories” and meditation exercises make me give very negative feedback, which then makes me feel guilty about being a complaining bitch when they’re only trying to help, which – as you may imagine – doesn’t really help with the negative thoughts and emotions of depression.

        The respectful and sincere language of “therapy speech” is tricky; sometimes it can come across as canned or patronising. You have to bear in mind that people can be resistant (they might be sincere in wanting to access help but part of them doesn’t want to change and will take any opportunity to be picky and awkward.

        What I would ask is this: any chance of changing the voices for mediation exercises? Because…they….all….talk….like….THIS….in low tones….verrrrrry slowly….and….lots….of….pauses…. then….WEIRD UP-AND-DOWN on some words…. and honestly, I have to fast-forward through the exercise because the whole thing makes me want to jump out the window rather than practice relaxation or mindfulness or being in the present.

        • chaosmage says:

          I don’t think anybody’s thrown enough money at the online CBT thing to afford things like tone variations of materials (or even a choice between male and female speaker).

          A huge mistake in my book, because the entire market is amateurish and basically begs to be wiped out by one well-made multilingual tool. If a clear winner emerged, licensed to healthcare providers who’d offer it to their clients maybe for no extra cost, it’d throw tons of CBT in the water supply and quickly become the yardstick other therapy has to measure up to.

    • t dog says:

      When you’re in chronic pain you can do stupid things that make the pain worse because you’re in so much pain you can’t think. Wearable tech ir implants or whatever might be able to remind you about when your heart rate is increasing, you are bear abtrigger like temperature changes, there is vibration. Or to give you a reminder of what you plan to do ar certain times etc. I know you could do most of this yourself with a smartphone but oaradoxically chronic pain patients both desperately want to be pain free and are crippled by pain interfering with motivation memory self esteem decision organisation and coolnrationalnthought.

  6. LTP says:

    So, I have a question about how “neurotypical/neuroatypical” is used here and elsewhere. I had always thought this dichotomy was strictly about whether or not people were on the autism spectrum. However, lately I’ve started seeing it used to describe people with borderline personality, PTSD, depression, social anxiety (so even I would be neuroatypical, apparently), or even just lacking social skills/experience. It seems to be used in some quarters as a catchall for “has a mental illness of some kind or not”.

    Was I just wrong in perceiving this dichotomy as concerning one being autistic or not? Or has it recently been expanded (appropriated) to include anybody with a mental illness?

    • Alraune says:

      You were just incorrect. “Neurotypical” is a fancy word for, well, typical.

    • suntzuanime says:

      The autism-specific term is “allistic”. That said, there are certain communities where the most salient form of neurodiversity is autism, and they might talk about neurotypicality as referring to a lack of autism. Also, neurotypicality is of course a spectrum, so some of the more modest neurocripplings might still be called “neurotypical” in a context where the salient neurodiversity was much more vibrant.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’ve only ever heard it in the context of “not autistic”, but the word “neuroatypical” is pretty self-explanatory in being more general than just that.

      • Linch says:

        This reflects my initial experiences as well, though I have definitely heard of it referred to for other mental “disorders” as well.

        It seems like a useful definition will allow us to differentiate between disease and disorder, though I admit that the boundaries are sometimes shifty.

    • anon1 says:

      (1) “Non-autistic” used to be the standard meaning of the word. At some point it began to be used (2) to indicate people who weren’t fundamentally wired in an unusual and unchangeable way (eg dyslexia). The usage that excludes anyone with a mental illness (3), even people who weren’t always that way (eg PTSD) and who are likely to become normal in the future (many cases of depression and anxiety), is something I’d never seen before this year.

      The newer(?) term “allistic” is a pretty good replacement for (1), and the change in meaning from (1) to (2) seems reasonable and useful to me. But the change in meaning from (2) to (3) annoys me because (2) seems a much more useful concept than (3) and now we don’t have a word for it anymore.

  7. Machine Interface says:

    A question about Raikoth: what is the procedure for people from other countries who want to migrate to Raikoth? Does Raikoth accept migrants at all? How about refugees?

    • youzicha says:

      Non-Raikolin have a lot of trouble gaining entry into Raikoth. Legitimate reasons to want to go to a freezing island in the Arctic hundreds of miles away from anything else are few and far between, so it’s not like they have a big illegal immigration problem. Legal immigration is offered to anyone who can learn fluent Kadhamic as an adult, which when combined with desire to move to Raikoth turns out to be a very self-selecting population.


  8. Kyle Strand says:

    This is interesting. A fan of free markets might even call it “encouraging. And he even mentions the basic income guarantee!

    • Eli says:

      Seems that we could summarize the article as, “What the New Old Left needs to appeal to voters is to stop being itself, and start being the same neoliberal Blairite/Clintonite stuff that voters have already spat out. Because ‘Realism’.”

      For instance, much of the talk about tax rates ignores the simple fact that Corbyn supports nationalizing certain enterprises (namely, fundamental infrastructure and natural resources), as does much of the Old Left. At the very least, as in the case of British Rail, this state ownership will save money otherwise spent bailing-out failed private firms. In better cases, the state can use revenues from profitable nationalized enterprises to finance socially desirable programs without having to tax anyone to death.

      Further, one of the major elements of the New Old Left’s platform is to re-shift the tax burden from individuals to corporations. We can easily keep tax rates on human beings low if we make corporations and institutions pay proportionate taxes to how much of the national income they take home.

      The fatal weakness of today’s new old left is that it rarely seems interested in answering that question. If capitalism is evil at the core, why would you stop until you’ve replaced it with something you think is better?

      That’s not a weakness, by our values. We intend to replace capitalism.

      a more electorally purposeful left

      Or in other words, a Left that cares more about winning elections than about its own values and goals. A corrupt, self-serving Left.

      This is exactly what has lost elections for decades and what we need less of now than ever.

      • brad says:

        Further, one of the major elements of the New Old Left’s platform is to re-shift the tax burden from individuals to corporations. We can easily keep tax rates on human beings low if we make corporations and institutions pay proportionate taxes to how much of the national income they take home.

        I find this to be strangely euphamistic, if not somewhat dishonest, for a group that considers itself heirs to (the actual) socialists. Corporations can’t pay anything, they aren’t real. The money that is going to taxation would otherwise be going to some flesh and blood person. Traditionally that was the owner class, today more and more of it is going to the senior management and lenders of various sorts.

        • Gbdub says:

          Yeah this is the sort of stuff that makes me write off a lot of what passes for leftist economic discussion these days.

          “We’ll just tax the hell out of corporations! No way that affects actual human beings!” As if corporate profits just magically appear from no one’s pocket, and convert to pure evil if they don’t go into the government coffers.

          As it is, corporate profits already get taxed twice, once as corporate tax and again as capital gains.

          Even the “tax capital gains as income!” crowd seems to love bashing multimillionaires while being ignorant that most Americans rely on capital gains for their retirement funds.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            A lot of corporate money is spent on status signaling between competing corporations — ostentatious buildings etc. This is by definition easy to spot. Government waste is often camofloged as some worthwhile project, and even a bridge to almost nowhere may come in handy someday.

          • Doctor Mist says:


            A lot of corporate money is spent on status signaling between competing corporations — ostentatious buildings etc.

            Yes. And so? The money spent on ostentatious buildings ultimately goes into some humans’ pockets — architects’, contractors’, bricklayers’.

            You can dismiss it as irrelevant to the function of the original corporation (if you really want to try), but that doesn’t mean it’s “found money” that can be shunted into Federal coffers without affecting ordinary humans.

          • brad says:


            Just to be clear, I’m not saying don’t increase corporate taxes*, all I’m saying is that those of us on the economic left ought not to shy away from saying where the incidence of the taxes end up.

            Even the “tax capital gains as income!” crowd seems to love bashing multimillionaires while being ignorant that most Americans rely on capital gains for their retirement funds.
            But most retirement savings for most people are in tax advantaged accounts that aren’t subject to capital gains. So this isn’t a very good point.

            * Though personally I think corporate income tax is so intrinsically difficult to write in a loophole free way, that we’d be better off targeting the beneficial recipients more directly.

          • Paul Torek says:

            What brad said: tax corporate income when it reaches the individual stockholder. Except retained earnings – tax those at the corporate level.

          • Protagoras says:

            Limited liability is a really good deal. Do those who are opposed to corporate income tax think the deal should be available for free, or do you think there is some other way besides corporate income tax that corporations should have to pay for the benefit of that sweet deal?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Gbdub
            The money spent on ostentatious buildings ultimately goes into some humans’ pockets — architects’, contractors’, bricklayers’.

            I won’t try to put this in algebraic terms, but when those vendors build a public bridge, I think there is some greater than zero chance of it turning out useful some day. But the only use the ostentatious part of the corporation’s building might have, is being sold/rented to some other corporation for its ostentation.

          • Pku says:

            The argument for taxing corporations is that ultimately, you get net utility by moving money/effort from being used for signalling purposes to being used for actual benefit (example: if you take money from all billionaires so that they can only build 70-foot instead of 200-foot yachts, no one’s really losing, they just compare smaller yachts, and you can then pay the same yacht-builders to build houses for the homeless or something).
            The ostentatious building example is one example of why we might expect corporate money to be more likely to go to signalling (or, say, advertising), which doesn’t really benefit anyone but gives the company a competitive advantage.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Paul Torek
            What brad said: tax corporate income when it reaches the individual stockholder.

            But money the corporation has spent on bling, never reaches the stockholder. It is a business expense.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Since limited liability is of direct benefit only to shareholders, and benefits corporations only inasmuch as it makes prospective shareholders more willing to invest, there’s no reason why its existence should be considered a problem for those people who want to tax corporate earnings only at the point where they’re passed along to shareholders.

          • Gbdub says:

            @brad – yes, 401k withdrawals are of course already taxed as income, so that was dumb on my part. On the other hand, increasing the capital gains rate would probably not exactly encourage stock market growth.

            I wasn’t actually the one that brought up ostentatious buildings, but FWIW I don’t think taxes are actually relevant to that since buildings are written off as business expense, and corporate tax is on profit, not revenue. Also, I’ll just say that ostentatious business spending is hardly limited to the private sector.

            Generally I agree with Brad’s last point that trying to tax corporations just leads to shenanigans that mostly benefit bigger companies that have the flexibility and legal teams to take advantage, so it’s probably easier and ultimately fairer to tax it as income when investors / owners / employees turn it into cash.

            And while I agree that limited liability is valuable, that doesn’t necessarily necessitate corporate tax. The value of limited liability flows to the owners/investors/employees as income and capital gains. Tax it there. Plus, it’s hard to see how modern global capitalism would really work without the corporation or a similar legal concept, so I think society gets its money’s worth.

            @houseboatonstyx – bling turns into revenue for bling companies, and for the company with bling, it usually adds capital value to the company (as you say, ostentation can be sold or rented) which in theory is reflected in the stock price. So it does flow to stockholders.

            Conflict of interest alert: I’m an aerospace engineer, and know several people who are now unemployed due to the late 2000’s war on corporate jets.

          • Deiseach says:

            Mmmm – you might be interested to know that the Brits are a bit fed-up with the Irish government permitting corporations like Apple to funnel profits through Ireland to avoid paying tax on them (ironically, as the Brits were encouraging such schemes themselves to attract multinational corporations to use them for ‘the money was only resting in my account’ purposes). Hence the pressure from the EU to do away with such schemes – though now they’re being replaced with the idea of the knowledge box.

            So Apple (which is the big example here) doesn’t pay US tax on outside earnings; it doesn’t pay tax to the Brits on its UK earnings, and it only pays 12.5% corporation tax in Ireland while not employing anyone in the shell company (apart from a few people to sit in the office where the licensing etc. allegedly goes on, so it’s not really creating large-scale employment which is the rationale behind our favourable rate of corporation tax – attracting multinationals in return for lots of jobs). Your own country isn’t too happy about losing out on the tax revenue either.

            The subsidiaries are Apple Sales International (ASI) and Apple Operations Europe. Despite having sales that totalled more than $150 billion in the four years to 2012 they have paid less than €10 million a year in Irish corporation tax.

            In a letter to the Irish Government in June, commissioner Joaquín Almunia quoted figures from a US senate inquiry into Apple’s tax affairs which found ASI’s pretax profits in the three years from 2009 were, respectively $4 billion, $12.1 billion and $22 billion.

            However, the Irish authorities had told the commission the company’s taxable profits in Ireland had been between €30 million to €40 million for 2009 and 2010; between €50 million and €60 million in 2011; and between €40 million and €50 million in 2012.

            In each year the company had paid between €1 million and €10 million in Irish corporation tax, the letter said.

            Ireland’s arrangement with the companies involved their taxable profits attributable to Ireland being a percentage of their operational expenses. Apart from these profits, the companies were not tax resident anywhere.

            So it’s not so much “start taxing big corporations” as “do away with the loopholes letting corporations dodge taxes”. How much luck they’ll have with that, who knows?

          • “The money spent on ostentatious buildings ultimately goes into some humans’ pockets ”

            Various people in this thread seem to be making the same mistake. If I hire someone for ten dollars to mow my lawn, he isn’t ten dollars better off. He is ten dollars minus the cost to him of the time and effort of mowing my lawn better off. In a competitive market, price equals marginal cost, which means that, to first approximation, his benefit is zero.

            Similarly for architects, builders, etc. If the ostentatious building really is worthless, which is what the argument claims, then all the real resources of materials and human labor that went to build it were wasted. Those same resources could have been used instead to produce something useful.

            On the other hand … . The higher the tax on corporate profits, the less the cost to the stockholders of inefficiencies due to the management spending money on benefits to themselves, hence the lower the incentive to monitor such activity, leading to increased inefficiency.

            If you tax corporate revenue instead, you have an even bigger problem. Suppose revenue is taxed at fifty percent. Any project whose cost is more than half its return isn’t worth doing.

            The sensible approach, in my view, is to attribute all corporate profit to the stockholders and tax it as ordinary income.

            So far as the idea of corporate tax as payment for limited liability … . Individuals have limited liability too. It’s called bankruptcy law. And limited liability only matters to stockholders in corporations that have gone bankrupt, since that’s the only case where, without limited liability, the stockholder would be liable. It only really matters to corporations that have gone bankrupt due to tort damages, because any contractual relation the corporation enters could have limited liability as a term in the contract even if it did not exist as a general rule for corporations. Not a benefit worth the amount collected as corporate tax or anywhere close.

          • brad says:

            Although I said above that I don’t think corporate income tax is a good idea in general, for practical rather than ideological reasons, I do take the point regarding limited liability (and also artificial personality, another valuable benefit).

            I think if you have strictly cost free corporate entities you open the door to some shenanigans. A small tax, probably on revenue or assets rather than earnings, would have a laudable impact of adding a little bit of friction. I’d say include non-profits in this as well.

            As for the ostentatious building, eh I’m not sure I see that as huge problem. I do think there is a problem of untaxed executive compensation (especially in closely held corporations) but I don’t think I’d go so far as to say a garish building is compensation to the employee.

          • Pku says:

            @David Friedman: In terms of the government trying to get money spent more productively overall (assuming we regard advertising,competition,copyright lawsuits, etc as productive for the company but not for society), would you say taxing corporations gives an advantage over taxing the stockholders directly? Since the same stockholder could have stocks in multiple companies, it seems like it could be a way of solving competition coordination problems? Or does this just ruin the benefits of having market competition?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Gbdub

            “for the company with bling, it usually adds capital value to the company (as you say, ostentation can be sold or rented)”

            But the bling may turn out to be a liability, losing both property value and the money you paid for it originally, and certainly losing the opportunity cost of the bling company’s work that could have made something of practical use.

            “which in theory is reflected in the stock price. So it does flow to stockholders.”

            If there is any, it may flow towards stock price, and then be lost in the surf.

          • CJB says:

            “But the only use the ostentatious part of the corporation’s building might have, is being sold/rented to some other corporation for its ostentatious.”

            Yep! The public derives no gain from the empire state, Woolworths building, Rockefeller plaza- certainly NYC has never derived public benefit from all those ostentatious buildings on the skyline. We should replace them with cost effective warehouses.

            This is about as dumb as Bernies “no one needs 30 toothpastes ” line- part of the reason we can afford to have 30 types of toothpaste is we have 30 types of toothpaste. Part of the benefit of ostentatious buildings is being ostentatious.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            “In a competitive market, price equals marginal cost, which means that, to first approximation, his benefit is zero.”

            This is the point where economists either start to need different words, or need to acknowledge they aren’t actually talking about what everyone else is.

            In this formulation, no one ever benefited from any work they ever did. You can’t even benefit from doing your own dishes. All activities have zero net utility. Everything is a zero sum game and God is dead.

            All fine as a way to model the broad economic behavior of individuals. Useless when anyone else other than economists use the word “benefit”. You aren’t actually talking about the same thing.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Yeah, I wondered about that whole “ostentatious buildings” thing too. If the 9/11 hijackers had succeeded in destroying the U.S. Capitol, should it have been replaced with something in tilt-up prefab concrete?

          • Deiseach says:

            Isn’t the benefit to the architects that of repute? They get the goodwill value of “If you want a big ostentatious garish pile, CoolDudes Trendy and Hip are the ones you want to throw money at!” and that gives them a reputation that wins them awards and the respect (um…) of their peers? And being award-winning top of their field cutting-edge means they can hike up their prices for the next client?

            The corporations get the benefit of advertising “We’re so successful we’ve got money to burn, so we wanted The Biggest Eff-Off Building in the area and by jings, we got it!”

            The onlookers get “Yikes, that lot have less good taste than a wharf-side rat, but it is undeniable that they must be coining money hand over fist if they’re able to afford that monstrosity, so maybe they’re worth a punt for investment/buying shares”.

          • Healbearcub thinks economics makes no sense. He is, naturally enough, missing the distinction between marginal and total (cost or benefit), since I didn’t explain it in my brief comment.

            Consider the simple case of someone deciding how many apples to buy and eat each month. The more apples he eats the more utility he gets from apples (up to the point where he doesn’t want another) but the less money he has.

            Apples cost a dollar. Suppose he was eating 29 apples a month. At that rate, a 30th apple gives him 10 utiles worth of pleasure. The best alternative use of his dollar gives him nine utiles. So he increases his rate to 30 apples a month, for a gain of one utile a month.

            At that rate, a thirty-first apple would give him only 9 utiles more (more precisely, utility(31/month)-utility(30/month) =9). But since he is spending more on apples than before he is spending less on other things, so now the best alternative use of his dollar gives him 9.1 utiles—not worth increasing the rate. Hence thirty apples/month maximizes his utility.

            On the last apple he just about broke even–a one utile gain. If we switched from discrete to continuous, which doesn’t require pulverizing the apples since we are interested in rates and he can consume 30.1 apples/month by consuming 301 apples every ten months, that one utile becomes an infinitesimal. Price equals marginal value.

            He is still better off for being able to buy apples, because U(30)=[U(30)-U(29)]+[U(29)-U(28)]+ … + [U(1)-U(0)] and only the first bracket is approaching zero. The total sum is what economists describe as the consumer surplus from apples.

            Hope that helps. Economics is not simple enough for a one sentence explanation.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            “Healbearcub thinks economics makes no sense.”

            Go back and re-read what I wrote. Not what I meant, not what I said, and it ticks me off that you would start with something as casually dismissive as that. My dad is an economist, and has been for 45+ years.

            On talking through the flaws in treating people as rational actors he made the statement “It takes a model to beat a model”. I recognize the essential truth of this idea This is one reason why I explicitly recognized the value of your statement as a model.

            But it’s not the colloquial meaning of the word benefit. Giving me a treatise on what economists mean when they say benefit (as opposed to what anyone else means) is missing the point entirely.

            When you can claim that me hiring someone to mow my lawn for twenty bucks is of no benefit to them (in a competitive marketplace), you are talking past people.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            “Healbearcub thinks economics makes no sense.”

            and tells me to “Go back and re-read what I wrote.”

            What you wrote was

            “In this formulation, no one ever benefited from any work they ever did.”

            Were that the case, economics would make no sense.

            He adds:

            “My dad is an economist, and has been for 45+ years.”

            “On talking through the flaws in treating people as rational actors he made the statement “It takes a model to beat a model”. ”

            True. But the particular model I was using does not have the fault you attributed to it—in the simplest model of perfect competition, complete with rational actors and full information, both consumer and producer surplus still exist. The fact that you thought it had that fault meant you did not understand it, which was not surprising given how sketchy my explanation was—I referred to *marginal* cost but didn’t explain it. So I tried to respond to you with a slightly less sketchy presentation.

            Apparently it didn’t work.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            “Apparently it didn’t work.”

            I was explicitly talking about colloquial usage, yes? That was the central point which you don’t seem to have acknowledged. You keep going back to the dismissive backhand that I “don’t understand economics”.

            Do I understand economics as well as you? Certainly not. Never claimed to.

            But fine, if you want to talk about models, then here is the rub. Why do you get to make the assumption that the real world lawn mowing market is perfectly competitive?

            When the neighborhood kid comes around and wants to mow my lawn for twenty bucks because he notices it is long, did he get a benefit out of it?

            When the salesman for the commercial lawn mowing service comes by and I agree to use his service, does he get a benefit out of it?

            I think I’d make an argument about any perfectly competitive market having to be inherently unstable, if I knew how to make it. Basically, a perfectly competitive market would be static, and economies aren’t static.

            But, again, this slides right by my point. You are objecting to people using words in a manner that economists don’t use them. But they weren’t using the economists’ definition.

          • Adam says:

            What he is saying with the lawn mowing example isn’t that a lawn mower receives no benefit from mowing any lawns ever. But once he finishes your lawn, goes on to do another, etc, at some point, he stops, and that point is the point at which marginal cost equals marginal revenue, the point at which there is no more benefit to be had. He still benefited from all the other lawns he mowed. That’s producer’s surplus. And the people getting their lawns mowed stop purchasing more service when the additional cost is no longer worth it. However, up to then, they generally paid less for most of the service they already received than they would have been willing to on the margin, so they get consumer’s surplus, too. That’s how everyone wins in a market where many buyers and sellers have symmetric full information and equal bargaining power. Even in that idealized model, there is still benefit to be had, just not on the margin.

          • Luke Somers says:

            David Friedman, I am around 90% sure that would have gone more smoothly if you hadn’t led with a vicious rhetorical attack.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, I understand that.

            And all activity has opportunity cost. When I do my dishes I pay (mostly in the time it takes to wash them. I suppose you could include capital cost on the dishwasher and sink. Water costs. Soap costs. Dish sponge cost. etc. But, essentially dominated by the time cost, although, come to think of it, most people in the world don’t own dishwashers, so maybe not dominated by time cost.) From an economists perspective, you can talk about how many marginal utils you gained from doing your own dishes, but it’s still marginal.

            But you don’t get to claim the full benefit of “clean dishes”. Much as the you don’t get to claim the full benefit of each apple. And in a “perfectly competitive” marketplace the assumption is that everything is in balance. As he said, the net benefit of any activity is assumed to be zero. I think we could say that, in a perfectly competitive marketplace, my dishes are assumed to be as washed as much (on the margin) as I want them to be. Any more washing of the dishes is not beneficial.

            And when you talk about it this way, it becomes divorced from the realities of what people are saying.

          • Urstoff says:


            Are you simply saying, if we used the economists’ technical terms in their colloquial sense, economics is wrong? Because I suppose that’s true, but it’s not really relevant to anything.

            If you’re not saying that, it simply seems like you’re just missing the distinction between marginal and aggregate. In competitive markets, the marginal transaction brings no benefit, but there is a lot of economic activity that isn’t marginal. That’s simply the basic concept of economic surplus:

          • HeelBearCub says:

            David jumped into this thread to make an argument about whether things are useful/beneficial. In doing that he used the economist’s definition, not the one that was being used.

            Suppose a company, for hires 1000 people to build sand castles in the remote desert and then immediately destroy them with no witnesses, and further contractually prevents them from taking pictures or talking about what happened.

            In the colloquial sense, this activity was “useless”. In the economic sense this was perfectly useful, as the corporate accounting function was served, (and the economist would contend that it would not have happened had it not been useful, the market being composed of only rational actors.) Neither definition is “wrong”, but they are different.

            Conflating two definitions of the same word (and not being up front about it) is either a mistake or poor form.

          • Adam says:

            Maybe a better way to explain this, because the issue is really about having many buyers and sellers and about aggregation versus individual transactions.

            Let’s say you sell baskets for a living and your neighbor wants to buy a basket. There are a lot of other people buying and selling baskets, too, so neither of you alone has the ability to set the price. Let’s say the marginal cost to you of producing a basket, including opportunity cost, is $20. The marginal utility your neighbor gains from purchasing a basket is $30. However, the market in aggregate has set the equilibrium price at $25. For this particular transaction, you both win, getting $5 of consumer’s and producer’s surplus, respectively.

            However, as you pointed out above, markets are not static. The equilibrium price is constantly changing. Let’s say the price changes the following week to $30 because a lot more people want baskets or a few sellers die or something. Now your neighbor is indifferent between baskets and any other good, but he makes the purchase anyway because he can’t find any better use of his last $30, so you pocket all the surplus this time.

            Then, another week later, a bunch of cheap baskets from China flood the market and the price drops to $15. Now, you’re no longer willing to make baskets, so you exit the market. Suddenly, you just became the marginal producer and no more benefit was to be had.

            Nonetheless, for every transaction actually made, someone benefited, usually both parties, because virtually no single market participant is the marginal producer or marginal consumer.

            Of course, this is an ideal market and there are practical concerns in reality to consider. You can’t just ‘exit the market.’ You might have a whole bunch of excess inventory remaining and you need to sell that for a loss to cover your lease payments until you’re legally allowed to terminate and move out of your retail space. Which isn’t technically any violation of welfare economics. You’re still only selling when it’s more beneficial to do so than to not do so, even if it means taking a loss, but it does mean not every transaction is a clear ‘win’ in any common understanding of that term for every party even under perfect competition.

          • Cauê says:

            Suppose a company, for hires 1000 people to build sand castles in the remote desert and then immediately destroy them with no witnesses, and further contractually prevents them from taking pictures or talking about what happened.
            In the colloquial sense, this activity was “useless”. In the economic sense this was perfectly useful, as the corporate accounting function was served, (and the economist would contend that it would not have happened had it not been useful, the market being composed of only rational actors.) Neither definition is “wrong”, but they are different.

            Wait, who’s paying for this? If someone is, they’re probably getting some utility out of it, and it’s not useless in the coloquial sense.

            If nobody is, if nobody chose this as the way to use their resources, then this makes as much sense as an example as “suppose people collectively decided to up and burn money. What of your economics premises then?”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I originally wrote “for arcane tax accounting reasons” but put that in angle brackets as a way to indicate that it was only for discussion purposes. I assume it must have been swallowed as an unknown markup tag. Whoops.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I believe Friedman was only talking about the point at which the next marginal basket reaches the market price for the trade-off economic activity. So that $5 dollars you refer to isn’t a benefit, it’s the going rate for the trade-off, hence his statement that the basket maker (or lawn-mower) isn’t benefiting at all. They could make just as much doing something else. If that wasn’t the case, other people would have already flooded the basket making marketplace until the trade-off price was reached.

            So your use of benefit and his are different here, I think. He presumes the basket maker could make exactly $5 dollars per unit-of-basket-sale-time and thus each basket sold can’t be considered of benefit to the basket maker.

            Or I may have his thesis wrong, but then I don’t understand what he means when he says that, in a perfectly competitive market, the lawn mower receives no benefit when you employ his services.

          • “Why do you get to make the assumption that the real world lawn mowing market is perfectly competitive?”

            Because I’m not trying to answer questions about lawn mowing. I was trying to explain the logic of the situation discussed in the thread, and that was easier to do with a very simple model.

            The point of the post you objected to was that people were confusing revenue with profit (more precisely, producer surplus). The easiest way of demonstrating that was a model where surplus was zero. On the margin in a perfectly competitive market surplus is zero, so that was the model I used.

          • Luke writes:

            “if you hadn’t led with a vicious rhetorical attack.”

            What I wrote was:

            “Healbearcub thinks economics makes no sense.”

            Which was how I interpreted:

            “In this formulation, no one ever benefited from any work they ever did. You can’t even benefit from doing your own dishes. All activities have zero net utility. Everything is a zero sum game and God is dead.”

            I was giving a perfectly conventional explanation of an economic point, and he thought it had absurd implications.

            I went on to say:

            “He is, naturally enough, missing the distinction between marginal and total (cost or benefit), since I didn’t explain it in my brief comment.”

            And then tried to explain.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            “I was giving a perfectly conventional explanation of an economic point, and he thought it had absurd implications.”

            I didn’t say this. I have clarified what I meant. You keep persisting on acting as if I said something I did not.

            I don’t think conventional economic theories have absurd implications. I think they don’t match up with how words are used colloquially. The fact that you continue to refuse to acknowledge that this was my point is perverse.

            You seem to have objected to the way I stated my point, which I admit was flippant. Perhaps this original flippancy has so obscured my point for you that you can’t see it.

            “The point of the post you objected to was that people were confusing revenue with profit (more precisely, producer surplus).”

            If this was the point you wanted to make, you could have simply stated it. It’s perfectly clear and relevant, although converting potential profit into ostentatious display cost seems a fair counterpoint.

            However, your example also explicitly included opportunity cost, which, again, is another great example of how economists use words differently than everyone else. Accountants don’t deduct opportunity cost (or any other implicit cost) from profit.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          @David Friedman:
          “In a competitive market, price equals marginal cost, which means that, to first approximation, his benefit is zero.”

          This seems like a good argument against efficient markets. In a highly non-competitive market, both you and the boy who mows your lawn can consider yourselves to be getting a great deal out of the exchange.

          Happiness lives far from the margins. Maybe that’s a secret of capitalism that isn’t well known…

          It’s an argument for ‘creative destruction’ too. More disruption = more good deals = more happiness.

          On the other hand, being able to buy a wide range of cheap good-quality groceries could be considered a source of happiness too. And as a consumer I’m not indifferent to its benefits even though market efficiency has brought it about.

          • I hope my response to another comment clarifies matters. If the boy who mows my lawn is mowing ten lawns a week and gets a substantial benefit out of ten instead of nine he is missing a potential benefit and should probably be mowing more lawns. If I get a substantial benefit out of having my lawn mowed once a week instead of every eight days, I would probably be better off having it mowed every six days instead of once a week. Obviously there are all sorts of complications and lumpiness that mess up the simple picture, but the simple picture is the place to start, not the picture that treats revenue as if it were profit, which is what the comment I was responding to implicitly did.

      • Jiro says:

        We can easily keep tax rates on human beings low if we make corporations and institutions pay proportionate taxes to how much of the national income they take home.

        That link says nothing about institutions.

        It also fails to say what counts as a corporation. For instance, the New York Times and the ACLU are certainly incorporated; do they count as corporations?

        • Adam says:

          Of course those are both corporations. The ACLU is a non-profit, though, so doesn’t pay taxes.

          • Adam says:

            Jesus, dude, nonprofit management was actually my first job. I’m sorry my one-sentence answer was insufficiently nuanced for you. Yes, a nonprofit parent corporation that generates revenue from subsidiary business activities that don’t qualify for exemption pays taxes on that. They also pay sales taxes and payroll taxes and whether or not they pay local taxes on property is up to the local jurisdiction. The nonprofit status is for the IRS and usually the state franchise tax board and only exempts you from income taxes.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Your first comment was obviously not trying to recreate all of tax law and was clear on its own. Mark’s answer seemed like nit-picking for unknown reasons that I can only guess at.

  9. s4 says:

    Scott Adams mentioned your toxoplasma post in his blog today. I think he missed some of the point but got the gist, and your blog gets a favorable mention. Do you see an increase in traffic?

    • pneumatik says:

      The Scott Adams blog entry that talks about slatestarcodex: When Wives Attack. He actually pulls a lot from an particular SSC post, but he only links to the blog’s front page. He says it’s because he’s too lazy to find the link to the specific post, but given how Adams writes, especially lately, that may be a lie. He may want to be less specific on purpose, like (I’m wildly guessing here) to make people associate the ideas more with his blog than SSC, or to make it less likely that people will read the original blog so they rely on his interpretation of it (this would reduce the number of people who argue with him over his interpretation).

  10. R Flaum says:

    So I was talking with my 8-year-old nephew the other day, and he posed a question I couldn’t answer (I probably knew the answer when I was in college and just can’t remember it). I’m posing it here because I suspect some of the commenters here are likely to know the answer:

    When two light waves destructively interfere, where does the extra energy go?

    • Orin says:

      It is impossible for two waves to destructively interfere everywhere(1). If two waves destructively interfere at location X, then there will always be some location Y where there is constructive interference such that the total energy remains constant.

      (1) If you try to be clever and think you can create some laser setup with mirrors so that there will be destructive interference everywhere along the laser path, then if you were somehow successful, there still wouldn’t be any violation of energy conservation, since there wouldn’t be any laser beam at all (think about it) and the laser wouldn’t be converting any energy into laser light in the first place.

    • Chris says:

      That’s a great question, and the answer is quite subtle. When two waves destructively interfere in one place, they necessarily constructively interfere elsewhere.

  11. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    In this thread, a Redditor argues that the Blue Tribe enabled the loss of working-class service jobs and middle-class manufactoring jobs to immigrants and offshoring, respectively, as a form of economic warfare against the Red Tribe, and that it is only now that H-1B workers are threatening their upper-class tech jobs that they have suddenly rediscovered a love of protectionism as represented by Bernie Sanders.

    • Pku says:

      First of all, while I can imagine some scheming number-crunching political campaigners actually plan to encourage immigration in order to get votes, I find the concept of the average democrat voter thinking that way about as likely as Republicans encouraging terror attacks to strengthen the Red-tribe narrative.
      Secondly, while I’m willing to believe there are people who think like that poster, I think this dual narrative is more the cause of a split in democratic party membership (some blue-collar workers who oppose immigration, some latinos/pro-immigration liberals who do), in which Bernie Sanders is one of the pro trade-union faction within the party who believe in being anti-immigration rather than the other faction – that this isn’t so much a case of a lot of people being hypocritical, as of a representative of a different segment being a loud voice at present.
      Finally, I’d like to say that the concept of being anti immigration to protect jobs appals my liberal, conservative, and libertarian sides all at once (as well as being a threat to me personally, since I’m more or less one of those STEM immigrants): the libertarian side in that it’s one case where we should clearly let the market optimize the economics for us, the conservative side because it’s forcing america back rather than letting it advance (I don’t have a very convincing conservative side), and my liberal side over the fact that discrimination by nationality is terrible – especially when you don’t really have a good market for it. And if you’re nationalistically pro-american enough to prefer to employ americans over foreigners (who, probably need the money more anyways) at significant personal loss that’s one thing – but forcing other people to do it is kinda terrible.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        And if you’re nationalistically pro-american enough to prefer to employ americans over foreigners (who, probably need the money more anyways) at significant personal loss that’s one thing – but forcing other people to do it is kinda terrible.

        Whereas I think that if you are utilitarian enough to give up large fractions of your income to foreigners, that’s your business – but forcing other people to do it is what’s terrible.

        • Pku says:

          That’s an argument against foreign aid, which is a totally reasonable and legitimate thing to argue about. But how is it an argument against employing foreigners? You’re not giving them money, you’re making money off them (assuming you’re handling your business right).

          • Evan Þ says:

            Because you could instead be employing an equally-qualified American, making just as much money off them, and benefiting an American rather than a foreigner.

          • Science says:

            How exactly is not hiring someone “forcing other people to give up large fractions of (their) income”?

            Edit: in response to evan

          • Pku says:

            But could you? Employing americans is already easier because they’re right here, speak your language, and you don’t have to deal with a foreign country’s tax codes. If companies decide, after considering all these factors, to employ a foreigner, they probably have damn good reason to expect it to make them more money.
            (This aside, I can imagine a case where a foreign country has lower taxes in order to lure foreign investments, and as this is a country-level prisoner’s dilemma, it does seem like the US tax code should be built in a way that makes this hard to benefit from. But that doesn’t seem like the main draw here).

            Edit: @Science: I was talking about forcing a company to build factories in america because you want them to employ americans, which is forcing them to give up their income since it’s (presumably) much less profitable for them.

          • ryan says:


            Property rights are not absolute. Laws which control use of investment capital to favor quality of life for American families over profit for shareholders are simple value judgments. Of course I’ve seen people attempt to argue that maximizing shareholder profit also maximizes well being of American workers. It usually seems obviously flawed in many ways.

          • Cauê says:

            It usually seems obviously flawed in many ways.

            This is the kind of obvious that appears to become less obvious the more one studies the subject.

          • ryan says:


            This is the kind of obvious that appears to become less obvious the more one studies the subject.


      • Jiro says:

        First of all, while I can imagine some scheming number-crunching political campaigners actually plan to encourage immigration in order to get votes, I find the concept of the average democrat voter thinking that way about as likely as Republicans encouraging terror attacks to strengthen the Red-tribe narrative.

        They wouldn’t think of it in terms of getting votes. They’d just think of getting more of “my kind of people”, with the general idea that they’d like having more of my kind of people around running things. They would not explicitly think that having more of their kind of people around running things means votes, but that’s what much of it would amount to since that is, after all, one of the ways people run things.

        • brad says:

          They’d just think of getting more of “my kind of people”, with the general idea that they’d like having more of my kind of people around running things.

          Except that the kind of immigrants that are most Blue Tribe culturally are employment based legal immigrants. That is, the very ones that the Redditor claims are finally generating push-back by the Blue Tribe against immigration policies.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Except that most lower-skilled immigrants are ethnic minorities, which are (supposed to be) inherently Blue-Tribe. No, they’re not really, but that’s a problem with how the Blue Tribe defines itself internally.

          (Yes, Asians are also an ethnic minority. No, the Blue Tribe doesn’t usually treat them as such. That’s another problem with their definitions.)

          • brad says:

            Where is this supposed internal definition coming from?

            The first time I ever heard of Blue/Red Tribe was in “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup”. Here’s Scott’s definition:

            “The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.”

            I don’t see anything that says “disregard the above if the person in question is an ethnic minority” nor does that sound like a definition that fits the bulk of undocumented aliens from Latin America.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            It’s important to distinguish between tribes and political parties. Right now, the Democratic Party is basically an alliance composed of the Blue Tribe (primarily white), the Helot Tribe (immigrant workers, primarily hispanic), and the Dalit Tribe (the underclass, primarily black).

        • Pku says:

          That is something of a possibility, in a way. I can see a northern democrat being happy about illegal immigration to Texas (but not to their own town) because that would make them feel more at home in Texas over the current red-tribe control there (or at least, they would think it would).
          It still doesn’t seem like the overriding reason for immigration support now, but only in the same way that angry internet SJW posters are probably not the majority of democratic voters. Which is to say, I think it’s still a minority, but have to admit there are probably a depressingly high number of people who support immigration because of ingroup bias.
          That said, this reduces us to the argument of “their reasons for supporting immigration (wanting their ingroup to be dominant in America) is just as selfish as the reds’!” (this is caused by the weird phenomenon of “america” being the reds’ ingroup and foreigners being in the blues’).
          (I’m making a hidden assumption here, which is that the “american” ingroup is no more natural than the “blue tribe” ingroup. I can think of a couple of counterarguments to this, but it seems to be broadly correct).

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            What if this whole thread is overthinking people’s motives on these matters, and the reasons for supporting immigration are as simple as wanting to signal virtue(being inclusive, not racist, supportive of the downtrodden, multiculural, etc) and genuinely thinking the US is wealthy enough to be able to absorb immigrants?

          • Pku says:

            That’s my reason (though as I’m an NRA, I can’t really claim to be altruistic for it). And I think that’s most immigration supporters’ reason. But current US politics are polarized enough that there are probably people who do have tribal membership reasons (though I suspect they’re a fairly small minority).

          • brad says:

            Going through the largest metropolitan areas, Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Greater St. Louis, are Greater Baltimore are the only ones in the two twenty without significant Hispanic or Latino populations.

            Blue strongholds like Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco all have very significant undocumented alien populations. So I’m skeptical there’s much of a “let them screw up Texas, serves those guys right” effect.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I will once again forward the idea of empathy as a defining trait of Blue Tribe.

            Broadly, I think the driver is recognizing that the people who cross the border to work here are, in fact, people. When you meet them and have conversations with them they are nice. The lady who cleans our house and her workers are have been doing it for years. Many of these people may have been here for 20 years.

            They have built lives and are contributing. They work their asses off. The broad system has a big problem when folks like that are coming here illegally (or crossing the border legally and staying when their work visa is denied after many years, or what have you). It’s one thing to recognize that their are some really difficult systemic problems that don’t have great solutions. It’s another to think the answer is to try and push 12 million people back to their country of origin where their lives will be much worse.

            So broadly blue tribe supports immigrants for that reason.

          • Jiro says:

            I will once again forward the idea of empathy as a defining trait of Blue Tribe.

            Okay, so I’ll forward the idea that that’s backwards.

            I could equally well say that the red tribe has more empathy because they care more about the natives whose suffer from the increased crime rate from the immigrants, or whose votes are diluted by the presnece of illegal immigrants, or whatever.

            This amounts to a form of Bulverism. Your idea that the blues are more empathic comes about because you think the red policies are bad policies, and because you think they are bad policies, you think they harm people, and because you think they harm people you conclude the reds don’t care about harming people. If you did not think that red policies were bad policies, you would not be able to conclude that reds are not empathic. (And this is bad reasoning regardless of whether you are correct about red policies harming people or not, because it’s about motivations, so you can’t just say “well, red policies really do hurt people”; being mistaken is not the same as lack of empathy. )

          • Protagoras says:

            @Jiro, the problem with saying that the argument could be reversed is that pro-immigration people (though it’s probably a hopeless cause now, “blue tribe” and “red tribe” were originally introduced to speak of cultures as distinct from political standpoints) do not think that pro-immigration policies hurt the natives, while anti-immigration people seem to be perfectly aware that anti-immigration policies are bad for would-be immigrants, they just don’t care (or at least don’t think that matters enough to change their policy recommendations). Of course, the anti-immigration people will claim that the immigrants don’t deserve any better (at least not if it might come at any cost to the natives), but that sort of attitude to the immigrants is exactly what’s being referred to as the lack of empathy of the anti-immigration faction.

            So, to sum up, anti-immigration types openly endorse hurting one group to benefit another. Pro-immigration types may be wrong in thinking that they’re not doing the same thing, but they do at least think that; they are not consciously and deliberately in favor hurting one group to benefit another. The situation does not appear symmetric.

          • onyomi says:

            I am reddish-grey, but I think Heelbearcub is broadly correct about empathy (or at least signalling empathy) as a defining trait of the blue tribe. I certainly get annoyed when people claim that I, as a libertarian, must not care about the poor, when I actually believe that libertarian policies would be better for the poor than left-wing policies. Yet I also think it’s fair to say that red and grey tribes value other things at least as much, if not more than empathy, whereas the blue tribe truly does value empathy and equality of outcome more than the average red tribe member.

            Given the possibility of doing something arguably unjust but kind, like taking money from a hardworking rich person to give it to a poor but unarguably irresponsible person, I think the blue tribe member is much more likely to say it should be done. The red tribe member wants to know “did this person look for another job?” “Did they waste all their money on drugs and gambling?” “Does it create a bad incentive to give people money for irresponsible behavior?” The blue tribe member tends to say, basically, “it doesn’t matter: the person is suffering now. The kind thing to do is help him, regardless.”

            In other words, I think it’s fair to say that blue tribe more highly values empathy, at least in an abstract way (some may just be signalling empathy without actually being very empathetic in personal relationships: republicans give more to charity, for example), while red tribe values other things at least, if not more highly: order, justice, efficiency, etc.

          • Jiro says:

            Pretty much all political factions claim that some people deserve to be harmed. The blues do it too; they might characterize such people as oppressors or overlords or thieves or even bigots, but it amounts to asserting that it is okay to reduce the utility of those people because other things take precedence.

            (You could, of course, argue that the blues are harming the thieving capitalists for the sake of benefitting others, but the red positions in question amount to this as well, with, for instance, thieving capitalists replaced with thieving immigrants.)

            You’re probably right about signalling empathy rather than actual empathy, but I don’t think that’s what HBC was getting at.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Jiro, If you’re going to expand the discussion into how people loosely grouped into factions feel about every issue ever, the result will be hopelessly complicated and make cherry-picking effortless. The present topic was immigration, not how people of various stripes feel about the merits of capitalism in general.

            Still, if you want to talk about the amount of empathy involved in taxing the very wealthy, the very wealthy devote most of their spending to zero sum status games. As long as the taxes take away from all of them equally, they are not made worse off in their status games by the taxes (since their relative positions are unchanged), so the taxes don’t actually hurt them.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            I’m going to disagree here about it being empathy; the defining trait of the Blue Tribe is sympathy. The Blues, of which I am a card carrying member, are absolutely no better at putting themselves in another person’s shoes than any other randomly selected person. Rather, Blue Tribe tends to feel a lot of sympathy for those who they see as worse off for no fault of their own. It’s why there’s this big idea that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is bullshit, why Blues care so much about minorities and immigrants, why LGBT is such a big deal. We feel sympathy for these people and want to help them.

            The only real empathy as a larger measure of the tribe I can see is how the gay marriage push did a hard swerve from “equal rights” to “they’re just people like you.” It was a shift from “you are a bad person for not feeling bad for them” to a distinctly empathetic “you can put yourself in their shoes.”

            If anything, the Blue choice of political commentary in the form of satire should help drive this in. Stewart and Colbert had zero empathy or desire to figure out why the other guy thought the way he did, but they had a lot of sympathy for the downtrodden.

            But again, Reds are no better at empathy than Blue, but Blues aren’t anything special either.

          • Jiro says:

            Still, if you want to talk about the amount of empathy involved in taxing the very wealthy, the very wealthy devote most of their spending to zero sum status games.

            You seem to be arguing that blues don’t have empathy with the rich because the rich are not worth empathizing with. Exactly why they don’t have empathy with the rich, or whether their reason is good or bad, is irrelevant to the question of whether they have empathy.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Jiro, I didn’t say that it didn’t matter if taxes hurt the very wealthy because they deserve to be hurt. I said that more taxes (at the levels that are generally debated) don’t really hurt the very wealthy. I thought I was fairly clear about it, too.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, ironically, taxing the very wealthy more heavily hurts the rest of society more than it hurts them because the very wealthy will continue to consume whatever they want. They will simply save and invest less. And it is my opinion, that on average, the savings and investment of the wealthy, who, in many cases, got wealthy by making good investment decisions, do more good for society and the economy that whatever the government would have spent the money on. I think most government spending is harmful, so it’s not a very high bar to pass, but I think this would be true if government spending was mildly productive or helpful, only less than private sector spending–which seems a less controversial position.

            I think people imagine that when we raise taxes on the very wealthy, they will buy fewer yachts but continue to put just as much of their money into their businesses and investments, many of which employ people of all social classes and income levels. In fact, the opposite is far more likely to be true.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I think arguing that conservatives are the real empathizers is missing the point. This is not the first time I’ve seen a liberal self-describe empathy as a primary value, and I think it is at least important and true that they think of themselves as being more empathetic.

            You can certainly argue that they fail in this, but it seems true to me that empathy is a big part of the lefty self-image, in a way that it isn’t for the right. People on the right would be much more likely to say that they are hard-headed enough to recognize that sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind than to say that they are guided by empathy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That is certainly extremely adjacent to the point I was trying to make.

            I think I could re-state your point as “liberals place relatively more value on empathy than conservatives”. If that was a fair restatement, wouldn’t that say something about what we should predict about actual behavior?

            I think it would be possible for some to misinterpret my stance as “Liberals are empathetic and conservatives aren’t”. I want to make clear this is not my stance. It’s a question of where in the value stack empathy lies, not an argument about presence or absence.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            To jump onto the end of @HeelBearCub’s post there, I would like to reiterate that while Blues say “empathy” they mean “sympathy.” You see very little attempt to understand why the badwrong people do what they do or believe how they believe, and instead a preference to pretend to be psychic and place badwrong motives on them. This is again, not at all unique to the Blues and arguably worse for the Reds, but in the end it comes down to the fact that the actual valued idea by Blues is sympathy, not empathy.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            People on the right would be much more likely to say that they are hard-headed enough to recognize that sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind than to say that they are guided by empathy.

            More likely they might, from the group ’empathy’, ‘sympathy’, ‘compassion’, choose ‘compassion’. As in the 2000 ‘compassionate conservative’.

          • Jaskologist says:

            “Compassionate conservative” was a blatant attempt to steal the left’s brand, and fell out of favor when Bush did. I’m pretty sure the word “compassionate” was chosen over “empathy” and “sympathy” for no deeper reason than alliteration.

            (I’m in agreement with HeelBearClub here, and leave it to others to determine if HeldInEscrow has hit on a deeper truth.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Held In Escrow:
            You have tried to engage on the sympathy/empathy divide a few times and I haven’t replied, which is slightly rude. So, apologies.

            My gut reaction is that sympathy vs. empathy doesn’t actually do the lifting you want it to, and I’m also not sure what definitions you are using for the two words to be able to parse the difference so finely.

            For instance, do you agree with the divide as laid out here.
            “When you understand and feel another’s feelings for yourself, you have empathy. … When you sympathize with someone, you have compassion for that person, but you don’t necessarily feel her feelings.”

            I can feel sympathy for someone who is down on their luck as a result of a combination of bad choices and bad luck, but it is relatively easy to then feel no responsibility for helping them out. However, if I imagine how I would feel if I were in their shoes, it becomes much harder not to help.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ HeelBearCub

            I agree with the definitions you linked to, but as a snapshot of current usage. My impression from casual reading of texts going back at least to the late 1800s is that what’s happened is similar to the euphemism treadmill.

            Com-passion, sym-pathy, em-pathy all began, more or less, as ‘feeling with’. As each came in fashion as a claim, its usage cooled to less feeling and from further away. We see that happening now with ’empathy’ being used where ‘sympathy’ was used till recently.

            To riff off an Original Star Trek to show what the words meant when they were at a more distinct stage, the crew are as usual trying to figure out and solve some planet’s social problem. A visiting Empath is consulted, but when she connects with Group A, all she can do is weep, being possessed by their feelings; when she connects with Group B, all she can do is rage. This doesn’t tell much about the actual issue between A and B.

            McCoy is upset and anxious to side with A; he’s feeling a lot of sympathy. Kirk refrains from jumping to conclusions, but cares about solving the problem: compassion. Spock condescends to listen to both sides, illogical as they both are.

            @ Jaskologist

            Alliteration helped make ‘compassionate conservative’ effective, but I think the meaning was very important: signalling disagreement with the ideas of those who asked for help, and not being swayed by those people’s emotions. (More recently, a conservative might say his compassion meant forcing a poor mother into ‘the dignity of work’.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The phrase “I’m sympathetic to your situation” is usually followed by the word “but”, I can’t think of a similar turn phrase around empathy.

            Yes, words have treadmills (a favorite example, whether correct or not, is truly and literally), but the empathy/sympathy divide has been in place for my lifetime and your Star Trek example doesn’t server as a counter example, as near as I can figure out.

            Regardless, sympathy/empathy or whatever word is currently on the far end of the treadmill is the concept I’m talking about. Using more words, the concept is “I feel I understand the plight of someone else and therefore I am more disposed to help”.

          • Cauê says:

            I can’t think of a similar turn phrase around empathy.

            “I see where you’re coming from, but…”, and similar phrases.

            If we leave behind the argument about words, do you dispute HIE’s charge that “you see very little attempt to understand why the badwrong people do what they do or believe how they believe, and instead a preference to pretend to be psychic and place badwrong motives on them”?

            Using more words, the concept is “I feel I understand the plight of someone else and therefore I am more disposed to help”.

            As an aside, just because I find it interesting: we know people overestimate the impact of big life changes before they happen compared to their assessment a few months after the change. I think the same effect leads people to get it wrong when attempting to “understand the plight of someone else” in the cases where the change from your position to that someone’s would be drastic enough. I also think this explains some of the differences I’ve observed between the opinions of rich leftists fighting for the poor and those of actual poor people.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Basically when I look at a sympathy/empathy divide I see sympathy as being unidirectional while empathy is omnidirectional. With sympathy you are looking for the obvious hurt and you want to fix it. Empathy is rather an understanding of why people feel the way they do. This is more of a bird’s eye view of the problem; why do the people wronging you feel the need to wrong you?

            To look at an issue where, despite pretty much agreeing 100% with my fellow liberals I still argue with them for ages about, take abortion. Someone who primarily deals in sympathy will see opponents of it as being evil; how can they want to hurt women so much? They must hate women or want to control their bodies. Someone who deals in empathy will try and figure out why not only women want abortions but why pro lifers feel that way. Is it because they’re not consequtionalists (as Scott goes with), is it because they believe that abortion is murder, so on and so forth.

            The big swing in gay marriage support came from a conscious decision to use empathy more in several major campaigns. The switch went from “gay people deserve equal rights” to “gay people are just like you.” This was a targeted attempt at looking at real objections to gay marriage (which often came from a disgust reaction) and overcoming it by associating gays with the guys you drink beers with or the nice lady next door who lent you her generator.

            In effect, empathy is about understanding why everyone stands where they do. It’s a lot harder than sympathy but can be more effective if you don’t just want to rally your base but convert others. It’s not always the right tool (“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it”) but it isn’t something I really see being that widespread among the Blues, especially as we became the cool party thanks to Bush.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “I see where you’re coming from, but…”

            By the definition/distinction I quoted, that is sympathy.

            “I am outraged as well” is different than “I can see why you are outraged”. An obvious “but” phrase could be “I am outraged as well, but I don’t see that outrage is helpful/useful.” However I don’t see “I am outraged as well, but I don’t think what happened to you should be remedied” as a common sentiment. If you share the outrage, non-action is much less of an option.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Held In Escrow:
            “Basically when I look at a sympathy/empathy divide I see sympathy as being unidirectional while empathy is omnidirectional.”

            That is not a distinction/definitional difference that I am familiar with. To me this seems like you my have indirectly absorbed some personal connotations for the words that aren’t commonly shared. Even with you further expansion, I also don’t know that what you are saying really actually makes sense to me. I mean, I get an indistinct sense of what you mean, but your language seems very imprecise.

            You also seem very focused on empathy/sympathy for people who are engaged in harming others rather than being harmed themselves. On the one hand, I understand roughly where you are coming from; empathy for the person who murdered your daughter (for instance) is really, truly empathy.

            But, on the other hand, I find it a little weird that you view (or at least are framing) being harmed yourself as a prerequisite for empathy. I can feel empathy for someone whose child is dying of starvation without them harming me.

            Actually, that example, forgiving and showing empathy for the killer of a loved one would be an interesting test case. My prior is that those people will be overwhelmingly “on the left” in the US. Even if those cases were merely over-represented in the media if the person was on the left, that would still be evidence that empathy is valued more on the left, or at least seen as prototypical on the left.

            “Bleeding heart liberal” is a phrase for a reason.

          • Cauê says:

            By the definition/distinction I quoted, that is sympathy.

            I’m not a fan of that definition, then.

            “I am outraged as well” is different than “I can see why you are outraged”. An obvious “but” phrase could be “I am outraged as well, but I don’t see that outrage is helpful/useful.” However I don’t see “I am outraged as well, but I don’t think what happened to you should be remedied” as a common sentiment. If you share the outrage, non-action is much less of an option.

            “I feel your pain, but…”; “nobody hates X more than I do, but…”; “you know me, you know I love Y, but…”

            Seems common enough to me.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Oh, I’m not saying that empathy is only with people doing the harming, just that it’s the easiest way of showing a difference. I’m sure people have plenty of empathy for those whose lives are hard, but that’s because at some level sympathy and empathy tend to merge pretty well; if you already feel bad for someone then it isn’t that hard to put yourself in their place. Real empathy comes from being able to put yourself in the place of everyone involved, no matter if you like them or not.

            Perhaps it is more common on the left (and if so I’d guess that it was because groups devoted to empathy are part of the big tent left), but it is in no way a terminal value. Otherwise you wouldn’t see “look at how nasty and icky these Others are” as a huge talking point.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Hasn’t the Blue Tribe pretty consistently hated offshoring? Their politicians betrayed them, sure, but that’s what politicians do.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Now that you mention it, I do remember reading this Daily Kos article promoting immigration and condemning offshoring. However, I have no hard data.

      • ddreytes says:

        Anecdotally, pretty much every left and Blue Tribe member I’ve known has been very opposed to offshoring. It would seem very strange to me to think of that as a blue-tribe policy.

        Establishment policy, sure, but those aren’t the same things.

      • Jon Gunnarsson says:

        It’s not so much a divide between Blue Tribe and Red Tribe, but more about people who understand economics and those that don’t. It’s one of those issues where almost everyone who understands the arguments for offshoring agrees with them. Blue Tribe economists, such as Paul Krugman, are not against offshoring (though they typically avoid this topic so as to not offend their (less educated) base).

        The reason for this divide is that making the case for offshoring requires a basic understanding of economics, while it is very easy to make simple populist arguments against offshoring, from either a left-wing or a right wing perspective. Either it’s greedy capitalists squeezing the working class and exploiting poor foreigners, or it’s dirty foreigners taking away our jobs.

        • ryan says:

          I don’t think it’s a lack of understanding of economics. It’s value judgment. Protectionist policies are rampant in practically every corner of the economy, from structured markets for beer distribution to licensing of barbers. Policies like these are what allow for concentration of wealth inside borders/professions/whatever. If you value that wealth being concentrated over shareholder return/low cost legal advice/whatever, you oppose outsourcing. And when the economist comes along and cries “but that’s inefficient” you say “There are better things in life than efficiency.”

    • Eli says:

      This strongly depends what you mean by “blue tribe”. This is the kind of issue where Old Left socialists (like me) get in fights with New Left “we are the world” liberals. The liberals believe in a kind of fuzzy internationalism where first we open all the borders for the sake of humanitarianism and the global net increase in utility, and then everything just sort of gets better somehow. The neoliberals (on the Right) know damn well that the “global net increase in utility” is really an increase in accumulated capital, and that’s why they make common cause with the liberals in supporting open borders everywhere.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t think it was a political conspiracy as such, but I do broadly agree middle-class professionals were sanguine about shop floor jobs being pruned as market necessity and automation. Now downsizing is nibbling at their heels, suddenly it’s a crisis.

  12. s4 says:

    You blog about Basic Income sometimes. Have you heard of Basic Income Earth Network? They had an IamA on reddit recently, talking about some experiments they did in India. Maybe you’re interested

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I haven’t! I’ll check them out.

      • Kyle Strand says:

        I was about to go check them out, but then I remembered that if they’re really promising or otherwise interesting, you’ll probably blog about them.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          The ‘efficient Slate Star Codex blogpost markets hypothesis’?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Do realize that about 50% of the time my “I’ll check it out” means “I am very busy and saying something noncommital is easier than blowing you off.”

          • rminnema says:

            My son is selling popcorn for the Cub Scouts these days. When we go door-to-door, what a family means when they say, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash today,” is, “I don’t want to pay for this, but I also don’t want to tell a young boy ‘No.'” This is one of the many life lessons that selling popcorn imparts.

  13. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    In “A Winning Conservative Strategy”, Free Northerner argues that the GOP, if it decided to actually play to win for once, could easily do so by playing hardball at the lowest levels of violence and threatening escalation, relying on the Red Tribe’s ultimate control of the highest levels of violence (the military, the police, and armed civilian masses).

    • Zebram says:

      I don’t think most people in this country will actually rebel against the government or the majority. There will be talk, but nobody’s gonna do nothin’.

      • Pku says:

        There’s also the issue of how much red tribe loyalty someone has. Most military people talk a lot about loyalty to country, and I think enough of them actually believe it that the red tribe would have an incredibly hard time convincing the majority of the military to join in a coup.

        • Autonomous Rex says:

          This poll came out three days ago:

          43% of Republicans polled can see supporting a military coup.

          • suntzuanime says:

            in other words, 57% of Republicans would never support a military coup, no matter how bad things got?

          • Autonomous Rex says:

            Well, nothing to worry about then.

            As long as this contingent isn’t vulnerable to believing wild, thoroughly disproven, conspiracy theories we should be fine.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Being able to imagine circumstances where in military intervention could be justified isn’t quite the same thing as being pro-coup d’etat.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I question that poll. I’m pretty anti-coup, but even I can imagine a situation where I’d want the military to take over – for example if the civilian government ended up a genocidal dictatorship. If the poll isn’t just reflecting who has better imaginations, it’s probably reflecting some kind of knee-jerk response to the word “military”.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            That’s nothing. Nearly 100% of utilitarians can see killing an innocent person with a trolley car!

          • Autonomous Rex says:

            You’re being entirely too sanguine. According to many Republicans we’re already meeting those conditions, Scott.
            60% of Trump voters believe Obama is a foreign-born Muslim. Another large percentage believe in FEMA camps and plots like Jade Helm.
            Christian apocalypticists abound.
            Race war enthusiasts routinely post here.
            This week on Limbaugh the theme was “we could use some of what Honduras got”. The twelve GOP candidates speak as if entirely untethered to reality.
            Yet, nothing to see here, move along….
            I see a lot of intelligent people so ultra-committed to a belief in a demonic, intransigent, left, there’s no evidence that could convince them we have a serious mental health problem on the heavily-armed right. It can all be swatted down, if you’re sufficiently motivated.
            The question is why?


          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Autonomous Rex – “I see a lot of intelligent people so ultra-committed to a belief in a demonic, intransigent, left, there’s no evidence that could convince them we have a serious mental health problem on the heavily-armed right. ”

            Holding opinions you disagree with is not mental illness. Holding irrational views is not mental illness. Gun owners are significantly more law-abiding than the median American. And more to the point, you have demonstrated an inability in previous threads to distinguish between conservatives, even strident ones, and Adolf Hitler’s political organization.

            People occasionally post here saying that the comments have gotten more right-wing, or more stridently right-wing over time. I’ve actually started saving samples of your posts to quote the next time I see the meme.

          • Pku says:

            “Gun owners are more law-abiding” – can you link any sources? I’ve tried googling but couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t ridiculously partisan on the issue.
            Also, there’s an interesting issue on whether a large number of sane people could, when viewed as a group, be somewhat crazy. I’d say yes, and american gun obsession seems as good an example as any – the argument on gun control aside, it’s a bit strange that it’s such a big deal here. (Case in point: a few years ago Israel passed a law making it significantly harder to get guns. I only found out about it after an american newspaper cited it as an example).
            (To be clear, this isn’t “gun owners are crazy”, it’s “there are a lot of people who are pretty crazy about guns here.”)

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Pku – “Gun owners are more law-abiding” – can you link any sources? I’ve tried googling but couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t ridiculously partisan on the issue.”

            If yopu’re willing to use concealed-carry permit holders as a central example for members of the Gun Culture, then this might be a start:

            …Stats for CCW permit holders show them committing serious crimes at a rate 1/7th that of the actual police, using a possibly conservative estimate of police crime. There’s also the fact that gun ownership, “assault weapon” ownership, and concealed carry have all increased exponentially since the 80s/90s, while murder and crime rates have continued to drop.

            “I’d say yes, and american gun obsession seems as good an example as any – the argument on gun control aside, it’s a bit strange that it’s such a big deal here… (To be clear, this isn’t “gun owners are crazy”, it’s “there are a lot of people who are pretty crazy about guns here.”)”

            I’m not sure how to parse this. Like, you just think it’s crazy that we have such strong opinions, whether pro- or anti-?, since you see guns as largely irrelevent to lfe in general?

          • Pku says:

            About the article: Their conclusion of “there are more gun permits and less crime these days, even accounting for more police” seems tenuous at best.
            The last one, with “Concealed handgun permit holders are extremely law-abiding. In Florida and Texas, permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors or felonies at one sixth the rate that police officers are convicted.” Seems much stronger. I’m still not fully convinced though – stereotype (and the one person I actually know who lives in rural texas) seem to suggest it’s pretty easy to get guns without permits in Texas, so there could easily be a correlation there because law-abiding people are the ones who actually bother with getting a permit before they get a gun (among other explanations; it seems like a interesting but not overwhelming evidence for gun owners being more law-abiding, though).
            The second part got parsed weird because I switched ideas halfway through. The first one was that a society of mostly sane people can probably still be insane as a society (Nazi Germany, or if you want to avoid Godwin, soccer fans, seem like a decent example).
            The second one was that on both sides, guns seem a topic where americans have a very hard time being detached and rational (I’d say pro-gun people are significantly worse about this, partly because they tend to be more politically active, partly because it’s hard to get too excited about not owning a gun, and partly because building a huge armoury of weapons is something I can easily see people getting carried away with for the same reason people like pokemon).
            Case in point: the guy I know who lives in Texas has guns hidden in spots all around the house in case of a sudden burglary, but doesn’t bother locking the door when he goes out or in (I don’t know if he’s representative, but he’s a friendly and reasonable guy aside from that, not some cartoon redneck, so I can believe there are a lot of people like him out there). This seems like owning guns as a form of cultural signalling rather than actual utility, which is strange for someone coming from a culture where guns are mostly just regarded as weapons.

            Aside: Scott said he’s pro-gun because there’s no proof banning them would significantly decrease crime. I kind of agree, except my approach is “it seems like it would be more likely to decrease than increase, so we should probably do it just in case”. But once you see guns as part of a culture, the cultural war effect is way bigger than the might-decrease-homicide (or suicide) effect, so it’s really not worth the effort.

          • Autonomous Rex says:

            “People occasionally post here saying that the comments have gotten more right-wing, or more stridently right-wing over time. I’ve actually started saving samples of your posts to quote the next time I see the meme.”

            You seem less interested in responding to my examples than you do in shutting me up.

            EDIT: taking a quick look at your comment history shows you have a lot to answer for when it comes to
            making wild hyperbolic accusations. My comments are not phrased as undeniable assertions like yours.
            If you think you can bully me you will be sorely disappointed.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Pku – “Their conclusion of “there are more gun permits and less crime these days, even accounting for more police” seems tenuous at best.”

            There are definately more guns now, and there is definately less crime, and that drop isn’t attributable to more police. It’s not attributable to the guns either though; near as is possible to know, guns seem to have zero impact on crime rates. Law abiding people don’t abuse them, criminals can always get them anyway if they want them. Effects from self defense seem to balance out effects from easier access for criminals. It’s a wash.

            “It seems like a interesting but not overwhelming evidence for gun owners being more law-abiding, though).”
            that’s about all I expected of it. My main point is to argue against AR’s description of the gun-owning right as mentally ill. If CCW holders are an example of the “hard core” gun owning right, then he’s pretty obviously wrong.

            “This seems like owning guns as a form of cultural signalling rather than actual utility, which is strange for someone coming from a culture where guns are mostly just regarded as weapons.”

            Rule for Radicals #6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.

            Guns are hella fun, and being part of the Gun Culture has interesting positive knock-on effects for other areas of life. For example, I would argue that the way CCW holders are super-law-abiding is a result of the subculture itself. CCW holders take it seriously, and enforce group norms that encourage law-abiding behaviour. That makes them a desirable group to be part of, and people shape their behavior to conform to the group. They have their failures too; I easily believe that gun owners disproportionately believe Oama is a kenyan-born muslim. I also note that error has little real impact on their day-to-day lives.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            @Autonomous Rex,

            The reason people seem hesitant to engage you in debate here is that, in a delicious bit of irony, your ranting about Republican irrationality and alleged mental illness makes you sound crazy and irrational.

            More on point, can you offer any non-anecdotal evidence of widespread mental illness or violent tendencies on the political Right? Most of the studies I’ve heard of have conservatism correlated with slightly better mental health and slightly lower IQ, plus a few other traits such as the strength of disgust reactions. But nothing like what you describe.

            After all, if somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-50% of the country is as bug-fuck insane as you imply, you’d expect to see some hint of that in the data.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Autonomous Rex – “You seem less interested in responding to my examples than you do in shutting me up.”

            Previous interactions with you have left me pretty confident that you are not interested in civility, niceness, or productive conversation. You think conservatives are some combination of insane or evil, and your commitment to that position is not shakeable by the contrary evidence I and others have supplied. On the other hand, I have no power to shut you up, and would not if I could. You, like Steve Johnson, do an excellent job of serving as a bad example while still raising points that have to be engaged.

            I apologize if this is unkind, and submit that I find it both true and necessary.

            If you are belatedly interested in contrary evidence…
            1 – Members of the right-wing Gun Culture are in fact more law-abiding than the average citizen
            2 – While right-wing people believe some truly rediculous things, I hung out with the far left during the Shrub’s administration, and nothing you’ve cited (including the support for coups) is new or unusual or exclusive to the right.
            3 – While I have lately come to believe that conservatives have an apocalypse problem rooted in their ideology, you have repeatedly put forward that a significant part of the American population is crazy/evil and murderous, and we need to Do Something Immediately before they go Rwanda on their neighbors. That sounds suspiciously like an apocalypse problem rooted deeply in ideology, and it only confirms to conservatives that they’re right to be paranoid about the left.

            You come across as a jerk. Please find a way to be nicer. As a suggestion, try to accept the idea that the people you disagree with, even the ones that believe crazy things, are actually more-or-less decent human beings capable of leading fulfilling, productive lives.

          • Autonomous Rex says:

            Context, lads. Remember, this thread is in response to Free Northerner’s essay:

            “Find a leftist and destroy him/her on a personal level. Targets can include actual elected officials, bureaucrats abusing their positions for partisan reasons (ie. the IRS), leftist bloggers, leftist media figures, leftist academics, leftist activists, leftist businesses, leftists NGO’s and non-profits.
            The investigation network will find out everything they can about it, they will pass it to the information network who will distribute it, and it will be logged in the enemies list. If the person has done anything actionable, the legal war team will pounce on it. The street and phone team will protest in their own manners.
            You could have dozens of these campaigns running at once.”

            At the end this foreign national makes his appeal:

            “If any higher placed GOP flak with the funds would like to win, win hard, and win permanently rather than throw massive amounts of money down the RINO-hole, I am willing to sell my services. I will gladly be hired to write up a detailed plan and I would be happy to be hired to implement it (for appropriate compensation of course). I might not believe in democracy, but Democrat tears are their own reward.
            Also, my offer of selling my services applies to other country’s conservative parties. I do live in Canada after all.
            Think about it GOP operative or rich conservative donor reading this. You can hire me for peanuts (relatively speaking) and win, or you can continue to throw millions upon millions at candidates that always seem to let the country continue left.”

            Tu quoque, Brutus?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Autonomous Rex – “Context, lads. Remember, this thread is in response to Free Northerner’s essay:”

            That essay is about the Red Tribe responding to the blue tribe’s dirty tactics by adopting those same dirty tactics in an organized fashion. It is not, in fact, about shooting people. No part of his plan involves any form of illegal behavior, much less actual assault or murder. He is talking about using the tools of society to destroy and intimidate political opponents in exactly the fashion they are currently being used by sections of the blue tribe. If that pisses you off, take it up with the evil people on your side who decided that fucking up peoples lives to make an ideological point was the best possible way of securing political change.

            As it happens, his plan is probably a terrible idea, because Social Justice is probably a burnout fringe movement and not the next big thing. If it rallies and starts making major headway, I’d consider donating to his campaign myself.

          • Autonomous Rex says:

            Calm down. All my comments have been simple citations or quotations of people you make common cause with, filigreed with some sarcasm.

            “If that pisses you off, take it up with the evil people on your side who decided that fucking up peoples lives to make an ideological point was the best possible way of securing political change.”

            Is this about Moldbug’s disinvitation?
            The Eich firing of last year?

            You seem to be sheltered from authentic suffering. Why waste so much hatred on those who disagree or criticize businessmen you admire?

            So far you’ve claimed im ranting, guilty of calling opponents evil, and am “so pissed off” when none are true of me and all are true of you. Get a hold of yourself.

            You may be suffering from hysteria associated with unacknowledged shame, i.e. Humiliated Fury:

            You seem like a once normal person, perhaps intelligent and kind, who got caught up in a rightwing backlash, and is suffering from the shame and stress of defending the indefensible .i.e Ted Cruz et al. + violent and venal opportunists like Free Northerner.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Autonomous Rex – “So far you’ve claimed im ranting, guilty of calling opponents evil, and am “so pissed off” when none are true of me and all are true of you. Get a hold of yourself.”

            I guess I’ll have to leave it up to my fellow commenters to draw their own conclusions. Have a good one, sir.

          • James Picone says:

            @Autonomous Rex:
            Please don’t.

            I understand where you’re coming from. My view of reality is closer to yours than to Faceless Craven’s. I don’t think there’s some kind of Left Wing Dirty Tricks Thing going on that the right should hypothetically be responding in kind to.

            But you are not helping. Being a jerk is not ethical and not convincing.

            Your last several posts on this thread are not posts you should have made. They’re direct personal attacks. Please don’t make posts like that.

          • Luke Somers says:

            Autonomous, I’m a grayish blue, and I still can’t get behind statements like ‘we have a serious mental health problem on the heavily-armed right’ because you’re painting with too broad a brush. Or perhaps the brush is right but the paint is wrong.

            Sure, some people believe some really stupid things. Maybe a noticeable fraction of Republicans actually believe Obama is a Nigerian Muslim. Maybe they were BS-ing/signalling. Maybe the poll was made up (that’s a thing that happens). Maybe the sample was biased. Maybe the question was a bit more ambiguous, like this one was, and it doesn’t mean what the summary meant – is it conceivable, rather than do they think it’s true.

            This is not sufficient evidence to declare a mental health problem, unless failure to have highly developed rationality is a mental health problem.

            Hyperbole does not help, especially in politics, and especially when you’re blaming people for failure to be reflective, and especially ESPECIALLY when you’re blaming people for failure to be reflective in politics.

          • Autonomous Rex says:


            Az tsvey zogn ‘shiker,’ darf zikh der driter leygn shlofn (אז צוויי זאגן “שיכור,” דארף זיך דער דריטער לייגן שלאפן):

            The third time someone tries to put a saddle on you, you should admit you are a horse.
            (If two people say the third is drunk, he should go to sleep).



    • The_Dancing_Judge says:

      I have actually always wondered why the GOP never responds in kind to leftist tactics. There’s something there with the demographics preventing such activity.

      Though with the increasingly grey-red leaning anti-SJW crowd, things may be different.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        I obviously can’t speak for the GOP as a whole, but the general feeling is personal attacks and lawfare have a certain tinge of the “dark arts” about them.

        That said I feel that this inhibition has been waning in the last few years, There seems to be a growing sense in red tribe forums that the only way to defend against such tactics is to start punching back twice as hard.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        You could just as easily wonder why leftists don’t respond in kind to rightist tactics, so you have a lot more to ponder if you’re truly interested.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Can you give an example of what leftist tactics the GOP doesn’t respond to, and what would be an example of responding to those tactics?

        • Jiro says:

          I think Republicans are hamstrung by the media narrative. Republicans who try to claim that Democrats are racist or sexist will simply get ignored or laughed at regardless of whether they actually are, because the narrative is that those things are the fault of the Republicans. They *can’t* use the same tactics in many cases.

          It’s also unlikely that you’ll find Republicans *never* using some tactics. You’ll just find them using the tactic with much lower frequency, which is a lot harder to prove in a blog comment because people like arguing by examples. (This is true both of tactics that they are unwilling to use and tactics that they are unable to use. I can even think of single examples of Republicans pointing out Democrats are racist, like with the origin of some gun control laws.)

          That being said, I don’t recall any Republican protests that resemble Occupy protests.

          • s4 says:

            tea party rallies? also protesting/attacking abortion clinics seems like a leftist kind of tactic

          • Hlynkacg says:

            The Tea-partiers werent setting up semi-perminant camps so I dont really see them as comparable.

            I’ll grant the abortion clinic example but i think its worth noting that the abortion debate is one of the few topics where in the tribes’ typical argumentative roles are flipped.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            > tea party rallies?

            The tea party rallies were generally peaceful, had the appropriate permits, and cleaned up after themselves and went home at the end of the day. No real comparison to Occupy, unless you’re just talking about the broad strategy of “have a rally with lots of people in it.”

          • Simon says:

            When I first heard of OWS, my immediate reaction was to assume that the movement was a deliberate left-wing counterpoint to TP.

          • Limi says:

            I’m sorry, but what leftist tactics do murdering abortion doctors resemble? I never actually thought of abortion clinic attacks as right or left wing, just heinous religious zealotryzealotry, but I would love to know what the left does like firebombing clinics.

          • Limi says:

            Do you understand present and past tense? More importantly, are you really so committed to smearing leftists that you would rather go hunting through history for cold war atrocities than agree that abortion clinics are a result of warped religious zealotry as opposed to left/right political tactics?

          • Limi says:

            I don’t get it. I also don’t see how it passes through any of the gates.

          • suntzuanime says:

            it’s true because I really did laugh out loud, and relevant because I was laughing at you

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you understand present and past tense?

            All of the examples given here have been past tense. Murdering abortion doctors is past tense. It’s a thing that was done with some frequency (well, OK, seven times) in the 1980s and 1990s, only once in this century, and not at all in the past five years. Hasn’t even been attempted in this century except for the one anomalous case in 2009; modern anti-abortion violence is mostly arson and vandalism against unoccupied clinics.

            So, hunting through history for old atrocities rather than admitting that your tribe can be as violent as the other tribe, casting the six-sigma nutcase extremists as central examples of the other’s practices, engaging in the Chinese-Robber fallacy scarcely one post after our host suggested that maybe this isn’t a sound argument? That’s not something the animated Chinese general introduced to this discussion.

          • Urstoff says:

            Past and present tense are defined according to whatever definition makes my side good and your side bad.

          • Limi says:

            No John, it is not past tense. Multiple bombs have been detonated in abortion clinics in the past decade. Regardless of how many doctors have been murdered, that is an act of terrorism.

            And I went out of my way in my original post to say that I didn’t think those bombings were right or left wing and that my only question was what the left was doing like blowing up clinics, so I am really not sure how you got the impression I was doing the exact opposite.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling
            Murdering abortion doctors is past tense. It’s a thing that was done with some frequency (well, OK, seven times) in the 1980s and 1990s, only once in this century, and not at all in the past five years.

            How many late stage abortion doctors are left? This may be a case of no more mousetraps because there are no more mice.

          • John Schilling says:

            Multiple bombs have been detonated in abortion clinics in the past decade. Regardless of how many doctors have been murdered, that is an act of terrorism.

            Yes, it is. But terrorism and murder are two different things, and you very specifically…

            I’m sorry, but what leftist tactics do murdering abortion doctors resemble?

            …accused “religious zealots” of murdering abortion doctors, and one post later implied that this was an ongoing practice. That accusation was false.

            Lots of terrorists are also murderers. But lots of terrorists make an extra effort to not be murderers. By, e.g., setting their bombs to explode at 3:00 AM rather than 3:00 PM. To the extent that we are stuck having terrorists for the foreseeable future, this is to be encouraged.

            Falsely accusing terrorists who do not even attempt to kill people, of being actual murderers, is not to be encouraged. The first time is maybe ignorance, but if you double down on it we’re going to write you off as a liar plain and simple.

            And I don’t think you came into this intending to be a liar. I think you remember “religious zealots” murdering abortion doctors in the 1980s and 1990s. I think you occasionally hear about abortion-clinic bombings today and, not caring to look into the details, assume it is just more of the same. I think it was a careless error not to check on that before posting, but hardly an unforgivable one. But it’s not an error you can retcon away by redefining the terms. You stumbled into a shallow hole, and have been digging ever since.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Blowing up an unoccupied abortion clinic is perhaps not all that different from burning down an unoccupied BBQ joint because you’re mad at the Ferguson PD.

          • ” than agree that abortion clinics are a result of warped religious zealotry”

            Missing the word “bombing.”

            Which I assumed, perhaps mistakenly, was the basis of Suntzuanime’s “lol.”

          • Limi says:

            John, as David points out, in my second post I omitted the word bombing from before abortion clinics, which I blame on my alarm and my phone. I did mention bombing in my first post however, which should at least indicate that I didn’t switch to bombing in an attempt to backpedal. They are both heinous acts of terrorism, and while one is ‘better’ than the other, I honestly can not comprehend how you can think that only blowing up clinics is not a big deal, or somehow renders my concern about it being considered a political tactic not worthwhile. They both ruin lives and if the left resorts to such tactics then I want to know, because 90% of the people I know are left wing.

            Consider me a liar if you like, but I have not backpedalled or changed my position, or entered this conversation without knowing what I meant to write. And I don’t understand why you put religious zealots in quotes, do you think they are religious moderates?

          • Nathan says:

            The left definitely engages in its own political terrorism, most commonly on environmental issues. For example in my home town not long ago some people destroyed a CSIRO project researching GMO crops.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Limi: I noticed that you left out a “bombing”, understood what you meant, and decided not to call attention to the discrepancy. Not an issue.

            The issue, is that you accused a group of people of repeatedly murdering other people, and at the first opportunity clarified that this was present-tense murder you were talking about. You didn’t just accuse them of bombing, you didn’t just accuse them of terrorism, you didn’t just accuse them of ruining lives or of using political tactics that are a “big deal” and cause for concern. If you had, there would have been no problem, because at least some of them are guilty of those things.

            They are not, at least not the people presently in the anti-abortion activism business, even the terrorist side of that business, guilty of murder. And at this point you damn well know that.

            If you accuse people of a bunch of lesser crimes they are guilty of and also accuse them of murders they are not guilty of, you really need to walk that back immediately the first time someone calls you on it. Or you are a liar, not to be trusted on any assertion of fact, and have nothing of use to contribute to the debate. Falsely accusing people of crimes they didn’t commit is one of the classic Never Do This Ever moral failings all the way back to Moses. And I don’t recall an “unless they are bad people who do other bad things” exemption to that one.

      • Kevin C. says:

        (Second try on this comment)
        “I have actually always wondered why the GOP never responds in kind to leftist tactics.”

        Perhaps because many leftwing tactics only work for leftwing ends, but not for opposing purposes, much as a wrecking ball is useful for demolishing a building, but not for building one?

        • HlynkaCG says:

          An obvious example of this would be Nuisance Lawsuits and “SWATing” the GOP wants to be (and largely is) identified as being the pro-“law and order” camp and they can’t really use those tactics without undermining a major component of their popularity and support.

    • ddreytes says:

      Well, I think people are doing most of the things listed there, except for the part where it turns into a consciously organized campaign of persecution. On both sides. It’s being done in a much looser, less centrally organized and directed way – for many reasons, not least of which is that the money is not all in one central place but rather in the hands of a reasonably large number of donors and groups – but it’s being done. I mean, the steps that he’s outlining here are pretty much the constituent parts of partisan politics as it is presently practiced. The organizational stuff is absolutely not novel. Again, it’s done in a more diffuse way, but these are things that exist for both Democrats and Republicans.

      The part of it is novel is combining all of those things into one central apparatus to destroy political enemies on a personal level. And I hope you’ll excuse me if I say that I do not think that would be a good thing for American politics to have a massive, well-organized mechanism for the harassment of people on the basis of politics. I know that this is a minority opinion on these comments, but I do not think that the left does this in the kind of centrally organized and directed way that is being advocated in the piece (which is I think a crucial difference). To the extent that they do it, I think they ought not to do it. It is difficult for me to regard that kind of tu quoque thing as a valid justification.

      Yes, I think it would be an effective tactic. But I think it would also corrode the body politic. It would lead down a road that I think would be very dangerous. Certainly, I think it is dangerous if you value democracy or republicanism.

      • Alraune says:

        Free Northerner is, iirc, a Canadian Catholic Monarchist? He probably considers the erosion of the American body politic a feature here, not a bug.

        • ddreytes says:

          Yeah I was aware of the possibility. Didn’t want to argue to it because it’s not an argument that’s explicitly made in the post, and because the post seems to be trying to speak to partisan American politics as they actually exist.

          • Luke Somers says:

            Yeah, it’s speaking to partisan American politics, reminding it to slit its veins lengthwise, not across the wrist.

    • stillnotking says:

      He poses the question of why the Red Tribe doesn’t threaten violent escalation, but doesn’t attempt to answer it — a strange omission.

      Readers of this blog already know the answer. The cost of destroying the timeless Platonic contract would be much greater than whatever political gain is to be had from, say, electing Ted Cruz. Of course, the average Red Tribe member doesn’t literally think about the issue in those terms. Political violence against Democrats simply is not a live option to them. It’s the same reason pogroms have all but vanished from the developed world.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        My brother-in-law is voting for Bernie Sanders. The situation will have to be TERRIBLE to suggest using the military against my brother-in-law, or creating any environment which may lead to such violence, regardless of his political leanings.

    • It’s not clear how blue tribe could resist if it happened, but I don’t think your average conservative would think very highly of those who used such tactics. And like it or not, both blue and red tribe people play vital roles in the economy and society, and you don’t have to like them to realise that if you terrorise them you’re basically ruining your country. But I think the main thing preventing this is the awful consequences when its actually been tried. Pre-WWII conservatives in Germany tried political violence by allowing far-right street violence against the increasing tide of leftism. IIRC the Italian monarchy did something pretty similar when it came to the rise of Mussolini. That’s the problem – once violence is publicly legitimised conservatives have no hope of keeping the more thuggish individuals on their side under control. Not unlike how leftist revolutions often end in Stalin – there’s plenty of people in the woodwork just waiting for a good excuse to hurt some people, and once things get messy its the most ruthless who always gain control. Ideology just provides the facade of legitimacy. Unless you’re a fan of slippery slopes and eventual purges, I think a ban on all political violence is the only defensible and reasonable Schelling Point for any sane person. I think (or hope?) at least enough conservatives have an intuitive sense of this to prevent this from being seen as a legitimate tactic.

    • Andy says:

      When he called voting an act of political violence, I lost all respect for him. I mean, I admit that I don’t have a high level of respect for the average NRxian, but the ENTIRE POINT of voting is to avoid violence. It’s more an act of agency than violence, which I prefer to think of as restraining the agency of other. My vote does not restrain the agency.

      FN’s post reminds me of an engineer looking at some social problem (the dating scene, forex) and going “Oh, I’m smart, I can FIX THIS!” and making everything worse. But pretty much everything he’s suggested has been done or is being done.

      • Dave says:

        “the ENTIRE POINT of voting is to avoid violence.”
        I’m trying to think of an apt analogy, but failing. If that were the *entire point*, I would think we would take the “avoiding violence” part more seriously.

        Perhaps you meant to say that it is less prone to outbreaks of certain kinds of violence compared to feudalism or dictatorship. But it institutionalizes low-key coercion, where the majority informs the minority what they must put up with in order to avoid violence. This is not violent in the same sense that threats of violence are not violent; that is, no one ever ended up in the hospital or the morgue as a direct result, but that hardly lets it off the hook.

        • AJD says:

          My interpretation of “The entire point of voting is to avoid violence” is: In a non-democratic system, the way to replace a leader enforcing policies of which one does not approve is to stage a rebellion, depose the current leader, and install your own favored candidate (or, I suppose, to plausibly threaten such violence unless the leader peacefully steps aside). In a democratic system, the same end may be achieved simply by amassing the support of a majority of voters on election day, without committing or threatening violence.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I see voting as a (hopefully) voluntary exchange at a meta level. In a single vote, all parties commit to abiding by the majority’s preference; violence is only on the table if the minority then reneges on that commitment. Democracy is the meta version of this, in that we can look at it as a long term commitment to multiple voting instances.

          In this light, it looks more like Dave’s concern. Consider that once that long term commitment is secured, it’s now possible to game that commitment in various ways, such as controlling what gets offered for a vote, and what gets tabled; or by only putting things up for a vote when the majority is known beforehand. This type of manipulation is presumably not agreed to in most people’s minds.

          If those manipulations continue anyway, eventually a single vote will come about in which the speculated minority is unwilling to abide the majority preference, strongly enough to be willing to risk violence by reneging.

          • JE says:

            Something is only voluntary as far as you can say no. You definitely can’t decide that you don’t want to be bound by the results of the political process.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      One of the chief complaints here seems to be that leftists are getting conservatives fired for their political views. Are you absolutely certain that conservatives never do anything comparable, or worse?

      • Andy says:

        But those are perfectly legitimate firings for unnatural degenerate behavior! /sarcasm

      • DrBeat says:

        I don’t think it’s the same thing. It’s obviously not right or fair, but people who get fired for being LGBT, get fired by their boss because their boss does not approve of being LGBT. I’ve not heard of any examples in the past decade of a conservative learning someone somewhere was gay, rallying up his ideological allies, and having all of them apply pressure as a group in order to motivate the person’s employer to fire him or her for being LGBT.

        Conservatives (some quantity of them) fire their employees for being LGBT. Liberals (some quantity of them) GET other people’s employers to fire them for being conservative, and to do so, employ as much of the Blue Tribe as they can get to listen, and rely on no Blue Tribe members saying “No, we should stop doing this, this is morally wrong”. I mean, both of them are wrong, but I think the latter one is much firmer grounds for moral judgment of the group since it requires a significant proportion of the group to participate and none of them to oppose it.

        I think you can even argue it’s more harmful, because it’s much easier to find an employer who doesn’t fear LGBT people than it is to find an employer who doesn’t fear Twitter mobs.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          It’s not really true that “liberals get other people’s employers to fire them for being conservative”– it’s that liberals get other people’s employers to fire them for expressing or evincing politically incorrect views about historically marginalized groups.* Social media mobs don’t give a damn about your opinions on capital gains taxes or the Crimea.

          Your ten-year statute of limitations is also a bit of a cheat. As recently as twenty or thirty years ago there were many places where coming out as gay would make you a pariah, not just because your boss was a bigot, but because the upstanding Christian community would be outraged by your continuing employment.

          So the addition of a little context makes a big difference. The problem is not really that progressives are resorting to dirty tactics which both sides have hitherto avoided. It’s that they’re winning. I agree that it would be nice if no one got fired for stupid reasons, but if you think this is uniquely a fault of the contemporary left you’re deluding yourself.

          *The former does happen, of course, but I don’t think there’s any reason to think it’s more common than the reverse, e.g. the Kerry supporter getting fired.

          • nil says:

            Agreed. It wasn’t that long ago that a viral image of a young black woman stepping on an American flag was all over my facebook feed with text giving her name/address/imploring the viewer to never hire her and spread the word popped up about half a dozen times on my Facebook. I’m sure if you were loud and proud about your anti-patriotism or, especially, disrespect for soldiers, you could whip up a similar center-right mob baying for your life to be destroyed.

            There’s no difference between the left and the right in attempts to socially censor violations of sacred values. The only difference is in what causes the media (and especially the clickbait-based progressive internet media that most of us are disproportionately likely to notice) will pick up.

          • Jiro says:

            People use the rhetoric “never hire her” all the time. That’s undirected. That’s different from “get her employer to fire her”, which is actually aimed at a particular employer to cause a particular reaction.

          • nil says:

            This was not rhetoric, it was an intentional and clear attempt to informally blackball a particular woman. I doubt very much she would have agreed that it was “undirected.”

            I will grant that it’s less common, but I think that’s more due to the media bias already mentioned as well as the fact that the offenders on the left tend to be less vulnerable than those on the right (that girl might not even have a job, and certainly wasn’t in any sort of remotely high-profile position) rather than any sort of unilateral restraint

          • DrBeat says:

            I think the liberals are able to use a tactic on a scale that hasn’t existed before and that conservatives are unable to use it during the time that scale has existed. And if you are saying that comparable behavior happened 20 or 30 years ago, then that’s fine and I agree with you but it’s still dishonest to claim the same thing is happening now and draw equivalency with the thing that is happening now.

            A person being fired because their employer does not like them is not the same thing as a person being fired because a mob was whipped up about them. If someone says only liberals do the latter, and conservatives did the latter 20-30 years ago, then say THAT, don’t draw attention to the thing that is happening now but is not actually comparable.

          • brad says:

            Where’s the evidence of any scale? Is the number of people fired in the trailing year for crossing so-called internet social justice warrior mobs greater or less than the number that won powerball? Were killed by lightning strikes? Shark attacks?

            Be appalled by each incident all you want, but claiming there’s some sort of tsunami of occurrences on this of all posts is silly.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I think the most accurate characterization is that conservatives have rounded up plenty of mobs in the past and would still like to do so but now when they try to throw a mob nobody comes, or it has a tendency to backfire on them. Meanwhile, liberals mobs, amplified by social media, are more effective than ever. It’s hard to see a serious disequivalence there, other than that the leftists are winning.

          • DrBeat says:

            Earthly Knight, you just said pretty much what I think, with the added caveat that “pointing to things they do today, when they are unable to rouse up mobs, is not useful; point to when they roused up mobs”.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Brad – “Where’s the evidence of any scale? Is the number of people fired in the trailing year for crossing so-called internet social justice warrior mobs greater or less than the number that won powerball? Were killed by lightning strikes? Shark attacks?”

            The problem with that view is that in most cases I can think of, internet SJW mobs were clearly aimed at changing organizational/societal norms. They were test cases being used to shift policy for organizations or society as a whole, not simply attacks on individuals. Think about the times you heard some varient of the phrase “we need to have a national conversation about X”. They also displayed indicators of pseudo-organization: slogans, talking points, media narratives, go-to experts, etc. In short, they were part of a significant movement that (at least at the time) appeared to be making serious gains as far as the eye could see.

          • Nicholas says:

            @Earthly Knight and Dr Beat
            I would point you to the literal mobs of red tribers, who regularly got together up until (in my home city in the Midwest) 2009 to kill people like me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Faceless Craven:
            Well that’s the rub isn’t it? The societal norms?

            Lets take the issue of the employment of gay men. There are those who are prominent in the Republican establishment who still claim that gay men are pedophiles who can’t be trusted with children. But that attitude was completely mainstream 20 years ago, and the Boy Scouts didn’t change their policy banning gay men from being troop leaders until this year.

            The right didn’t have to employ a “tactic” to hound one gay person out of their job. The mainstream simply fired all people who were found out as gay as matter of course, and the government could out you in jail for it less than 20 years ago.

            All the talk about how powerful and scary the left is on this issue never seems to grapple with how comparatively weak the left is, as compared to the status quo they are fighting against.

            It’s only the fact that the left is gaining ground on the issue, something that was a huge power advantage for those who are anti-gay, that makes them seem powerful.

            Wake me up when heterosexual deconversion camps become a going concern.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “All the talk about how powerful and scary the left is on this issue never seems to grapple with how comparatively weak the left is, as compared to the status quo they are fighting against.”

            In the case of gay rights, how can they be weak if they won completely? The status quo you described is gone, and it doesn’t seem likely that it will be coming back. The question is, what replaces it?

            I was convinced gay rights was a good thing because it was better to have a pluralistic society with room for those who refused to conform, not simply to replace the tyranny of one narrow viewpoint with the tyranny of another. More to the point, there are a whole hell of a lot more social conservatives than there are gays and lesbians. If your future itinerary involves treating them the way their status quo treated gays, that seems like a pretty good way to fuck society up for a long, long time.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not sure you actually engaged with what I was saying. You are making the exact argument I was protesting against.

            Imagine Kim Davis going to jail, not for refusing a court order, but because she said “I hate gay people” in her own home with only her good friend present. But the cops overheard though the open window and arrested her on the spot and took her to jail.

            Loving another man or woman (well, making love to them anyway) was a crime, punished by the state.

            Imagine a world not where Brendon Eich gets golden-parachuted out of a CEO job for publically promoting an anti-gay marriage referndum, but where everyone lives in fear that there private anti-gay stance, expressed ownly in their own home, will make them unemployable by policy.

            Does anyone think that attending a Catholic, Baptist or similar church will get them jailed or fired? Yet merely being in a gay bar might get you arrested if you were there at the wrong time. You might be fired for simply being seen coming out of the bar.

            That is the kind of power that the anti-gay society had

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “That is the kind of power that the anti-gay society had”

            Yes. Had. That society no longer exists. We have been dismantling it systematicly for decades now, and for good reason. What are the new rules that will replace it?

            Was what happened to Eich acceptable? Was it useful? Should it be repeated, and if so how often?

          • “There are those who are prominent in the Republican establishment who still claim that gay men are pedophiles who can’t be trusted with children.”

            From the rest of your post, the context is gay scoutmasters.

            Is it understandable to you that the Girl Scouts would prefer to have the adults in charge of groups of girls be female and Boy Scouts prefer those in charge of groups of boys to be male? Not do you agree–I don’t actually know what Girl Scout policy is—do you see a plausible argument for such a policy? It doesn’t imply that all adult men are rapists or seducers of minors or all adult women similarly, just that a few are and the organization prefers not to take the risk.

            If you agree, then apply the same logic to the question of gay scoutmasters. The assumption is that gay men like to have sex with other males, straight men don’t, hence the chance that a gay man will have sex with a male minor he is responsible for is higher than the chance that a straight male will.

            I should probably add that “can’t be trusted with children” is, unfortunately, a very common view in our society, quite aside from issues of homosexuality. I’m a long time participant in the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group that does historical recreation for fun. Some decades back, one person in the organization turned out to have had sex with minors he was responsible for in the context of group activities, resulting in a lengthy and expensive law suit against the organization.

            The organization’s policies since have gone absurdly far in the direction of preventing any situation, such as a class, in which an adult is interacting with a child without another adult with some authority present. At one point there was an announced policy that a minor could not attend a class at Pennsic unless his or her parent was present–fortunately we managed to get them to back away from that, since it would in practice have meant locking minors out of most of the classes at Pennsic.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You are going right past the argument, again. Or perhaps conceding it and then disregarding it.

            From my first post:”It’s only the fact that the left is gaining ground on the issue, something that was a huge power advantage for those who are anti-gay, that makes them seem powerful.”

            There is a difference between saying “I don’t think what happened was right” and “They are so powerful that I live in constant fear”.

            The dismantling that occurred didn’t happen because of how much power the left or the “gay agenda” had/has. It occurred because people’s minds were changed.

            The power of gay people and their allies might be roughly equivalent to that of left-handed people once the dust settles.

            @David Friedman:
            Pedophillia and “sex with a minor” aren’t the same thing. No, my primary issue isn’t the Boy Scouts, it was simply one example. The issue of adults having sex with minors after pubescence but before the age of consent is a potentially interesting one, but is a distraction from this particular topic.

          • Limi says:

            David – in Queensland, we need to have a Blue Card to be part of an organisation that interacts with children, requiring a background check, police check ups and training and other assorted hoops. Is that not a thing in the US? It’s an invasion of privacy and a pain in the ass and it’s not flawless, but it seems like a far more efficient of dealing with the problem than what you had to go through.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “You are going right past the argument, again. Or perhaps conceding it and then disregarding it.”

            I appologize, but am not entirely sure how to fix it. We seem to be talking past each other a bit.

            “There is a difference between saying “I don’t think what happened was right” and “They are so powerful that I live in constant fear”.”

            I agree. I also agree that right now, constant fear isn’t warranted. Six months ago on the other hand, things seemed pretty scary. Part of the disconnect might be that you may be seeing Eich and gay rights as an isolated issue, where I see a connection from Eich to Listen And Believe to Tim Hunt to the Reproductive Ants to the Science Guy Shirt to the UVA accusations to Memories Pizza to RequiresHate to Sad Puppies and so on. All of those seemed to involve similar scripts, a lot of crossover between actors, and the same ideology. All of them seemed to be arguing that our social norms of Charity only served to protect racism/sexism/etc and should be removed immediately. A lot of them came right out and said so explicitly.

            That push seems to have stopped. Near as I can tell, the damage being done and the cruelty on display generated a serious backlash from the moderate left, and SocJus backed down for the moment. There’s no real indication that their ideology has changed. What happens when they decide to start pushing again?

            “The dismantling that occurred didn’t happen because of how much power the left or the “gay agenda” had/has. It occurred because people’s minds were changed.”

            People’s minds were changed about who was a victim and who was a villian. That change conveys enormous power. The push I decribe above was, I think, an attempt to use that power in an extremely harmful way. I would like to see more consensus on that point, because I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen again.

            “The power of gay people and their allies might be roughly equivalent to that of left-handed people once the dust settles.”

            That’s one possible outcome, and it’s the one I’m rooting for. Gay rights are more or less a foregone conclusion at this point. They won’t be reversed, and opposition to them has a high probability of dying out over the next few decades. I think we have a decent chance of seeing the end of the Christian Conservative vs Secular Liberal culture war, and I think it would be better for everyone if that happened. They’ve lost, and they’ll accept that quicker if the loss looks survivable. What happened to Brandon Eich makes it look less survivable. The broader SocJus push makes it look not survivable at all. If it’s not survivable at all, they have no reason to accept and every reason to fight as viciously as possible.

          • brad says:


            I don’t mean to be unkind, but have you considered the possibility that your risk calibration may be off? It never appeared to me that we were at any risk of snowballing into a sort of post-French Revolution dystopia lead by twitter mobs. And IIRC didn’t you also write somewhere on here not too long ago that you left the country during the GWB administration for fear that the country would fall into some kind of dictatorship?

            Now maybe those were both narrow misses, and don’t say anything about the reasonableness of the fear, but if you string a few together then maybe some updating is in order.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Think what it would mean if the “left-handers” cohort and their allies were attempting to use social justice to prevent further discrimination against left-handed people.

            Seriously, stop and think about it. What would that mean about the world? It would mean that left-handedness was still a going concern.

            But nobody thinks left-handers are evil (sinister, literally) anymore. So there is nothing to fight about. So no fighting is happening.

            Essentially this is a fight about whether it will still be OK to consider gay people evil. What it isn’t a fight about is whether some other group will be considered evil.

          • Cauê says:

            Seriously, stop and think about it. What would that mean about the world? It would mean that left-handedness was still a going concern.

            We have enough examples of outrage and movements about false facts to abandon this conclusion. The examples are mindkilling almost by definition, but regular SSC readers shouldn’t have difficulty thinking of some.

          • John Schilling says:

            Think what it would mean if the “left-handers” cohort and their allies were attempting to use social justice to prevent further discrimination against left-handed people.

            One problem is that this state of affairs is difficult to distinguish from the one where the “left-handers” cohort and their allies are attempting to use social justice to secure a position of absolute advantage for left-handed people and their allies.

            It would mean that [discrimination against]left-handedness was still a going concern.

            In the first case, yes, but not in the second. And I don’t see how you can avoid going from the first case directly to the second. Because…

            But nobody thinks left-handers are evil (sinister, literally) anymore. So there is nothing to fight about. So no fighting is happening.

            …this is ludicrous. Over the past generation or two, a great edifice was constructed for the purpose of fighting against sinisterian oppression. Some people actually make their living at this. Some people wield great power through this. And lots of people derive a sense of self-worth through being a part of this crusade. And all of this just goes away when sinisterian-dexterian equality is achieved, or fades away as the residual inequality asymptotically approaches zero?

            Pull the other one. Of course there’s still fighting going on; there’s a machine built for fighting and it doesn’t really have an off switch. The fighting is fun and profitable, particularly now that the opposition is crushed and demoralized. What begins as a fight for equality, ends as a fight for supremacy.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Brad – “I don’t mean to be unkind, but have you considered the possibility that your risk calibration may be off?”

            I know for a fact that it was in the past. I’ve had several extremely useful conversations here that have led me to conclude that this is a systemic problem with what remains of the conservative worldview I was raised with. In short, conservative values are on the decline for decades now, and I internalized the idea that Society Will Be Worse if they lose. I think this had an obvious effect in biasing me toward worst-case interpretations of available evidence. Lately I’ve been trying to correct that bias by updating based on a decade or two of additional evidence, and my conclusion is that certian classes of concern should be discarded. The Federal Government probably isn’t going to collapse into cartoonish supervilliany regardless of who wins the presidency. The economy probably isn’t going to melt down and leave us in thrall to Lord Humongous. Coming to those conclusions requires a fair number of data points, though. It’s hard to do so the day after the Patriot Act is passed, or in the middle of the housing crisis. And notably, the Patriot Act really did deserve to be opposed, and the Banking Crisis was actually really bad. Contrary evidence isn’t necessarily conclusive, but it is still real and needs to be dealt with.

            We appear currently to be at the tail end of a Social Justice crisis. Currently, my working model is that it was probably an aberration. Social Justice is unbelievably toxic, but that makes it self-limiting; sooner or later its excesses generate significant pushback from the moderate left. Seeing leftists argue that it’s no big deal or obviously good and people who say otherwise are crazy weakens this model.

            On the other hand, Social Justice itself claims to be the wave of the future, and if they get significant buy-in, their stated goals seem to be a direct threat to me and everyone I know and love. I don’t see how their program could be sustainable long-term, but it doesn’t have to be to do a hell of a lot of damage to a hell of a lot of people, especially considering the knock-on effects of re-escalating the Culture War rather than letting it die out naturally.

            Either way, taking them seriously seems like an obviously good choice. Is my risk calibration faulty? I don’t think so, but then I wouldn’t, would I? Part of the reason I’m interested in discussing it with people here is to get more data points. My model for the moderate-left backlash against SJ comes partially from observations here. My model for SJ itself comes in part from conversations with SJ advocates here and on ToT.

            A big part of it comes down to whether you believe the “Cthulhu always swims left” idea, and what implications you draw from it. I’m currently trying to put together a model that can reject it.

            @HeelBearCub – “Essentially this is a fight about whether it will still be OK to consider gay people evil. What it isn’t a fight about is whether some other group will be considered evil.”

            An uncharitable interpretation of that statement would be “everything will be totally fine once all those people we don’t like are gone.”

            I’m hoping it’s actually a fight over whether force of law or mainstream societal pressure (as in social pressure you can’t opt out of) can be deployed against gay people, and indeed that fight seems to be largely over. If you actually need everyone in America to believe that moral or cultural objections to Homosexuality are evil, then we have a problem, and the extent of that problem is bounded by how hard you are willing to push.

            And again, gay rights is only one portion of the overall picture, and arguably the least troubling one since it’s largely been settled.

          • Jiro says:

            Social Justice is unbelievably toxic, but that makes it self-limiting; sooner or later its excesses generate significant pushback from the moderate left.

            The reason that it seems like social justice isn’t a going concern is that social justice has accumulated victories, and things get quiet after the victory has been won. Eich is still fired. The media still misreports Gamergate as much as before, and the Wikipedia page on the subject is as bad as ever. I’m pretty sure that the Sad Puppies will face as much trouble at the Hugos next year as this year (and Sad Puppies is itself a failed pushback against SJWs anyway).

            I can’t think of any current SJW fights, but they haven’t lost; they just haven’t made further wins, while keeping the wins they already have.

          • “Essentially this is a fight about whether it will still be OK to consider gay people evil.”

            On one reading of “OK” I agree, on another I would take that as support for FC’s nightmares.

            I agree if it means “gay people are not evil so you shouldn’t think they are.”

            I disagree if it means “showing that you think gay people are evil, for instance being unwilling to assist with a gay wedding, ought to be punished.” Note that the symmetrical equivalent of that wouldn’t be “gay sex should be punished” but “demonstrating that you believe gay sex should not be punished should be punished.”

            It’s the latter version that has recently been implemented and that some of us find upsetting for reasons that have nothing to do with attitudes towards homosexuality. The same reasons we find the claim that criticizing global warming arguments ought to be a criminal offense upsetting–although in that case it is only an argument being made, not something that seems likely to happen any time soon.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Jiro – “The reason that it seems like social justice isn’t a going concern is that social justice has accumulated victories, and things get quiet after the victory has been won.”

            This is obviously true in the short term. The specific targets get burned down almost immediately, and there’s not a lot that can be done for them. In the long-term, I’m not sure. It seems to me that the obvious goal of Social Justice is control over social rules, and on that front they aren’t doing nearly as well. As I’ve argued previously, Gamergate was at least a draw on the social rules front (compare with, say, Dickwolves, which was a pretty clear victory). Listen And Believe looks like an outright failure; #TeamHarpy, Rolling Stone and so on were decisively discredited, and now we have excellent counterexamples if Listen and Believe is pushed again. Tim Hunt lost his position, but subsequent events have entirely vindicated him.

            Social Justice relies on lying too much, and I think that’s a problem for them long-term. It would work if the lies bought them full, permanent control of the group’s consensus, but in most of the cases last year, it didn’t. Burning Tim Hunt down didn’t actually advance their agenda much, and they can’t use their attack on him as precedent for future attacks because it opens them up to having their lies re-examined. All they can do is keep making the same claims, but each time a certian percentage of the audience isn’t fooled and won’t ever trust them again, and that percentage keeps growing.

            That’s how it seems to me, at least. I have pretty much zero contact with mainstreamish blogs/media and a lot of contact with SJ-skeptical sources, so there’s an obvious risk of sampling bias. Then again, the smaller spaces are what I think actually matter. MSNBC is irrelevent to my life, while the influence and editorial stance of Polygon effects my livelihood directly. I think that’s the way it works for everyone, which is why SJs are aiming at relatively small institutions and organizations for their takeover attempts in the first place.

    • Loquat says:

      Once the escalation has been pushed high enough, the left will blink at the implied threat of physical violence and then perhaps deescalation can occur.

      I’d really like to see a plausible explanation for how things would de-escalate back to a reasonably civilized level without passing through some sort of civil war first.

      • Andy says:

        Agreed – I am deeply suspect of plans that rely on the Left being made up of wilting violets that’ll cave at the first thought of political violence. Which is so completely not the case. As a leftist who writes military science fiction (and tried to sign up for the army, but was rejected on medical grounds) this isn’t even close to being true.

        Free Northerner cites the military, police, and the NRA as the people with the guns. While the military is very white and Red-Tribe, I’ve known many veterans who affiliate with the Blue Tribe, especially immigrants and minorities who signed up out of patriotism or for economic/educational opportunity, and many of them were Blue Tribe when they got out. Anti-war veterans groups are another example. I’ve also known many police who hold generally Blue-tribe values, even if the Red-tribe police tend to get more of the headlines and seem to dictate policy more. Lastly, the NRA represents gun manufacturers, not necessarily owners, and there are plenty of people who are generally Blue-Tribe but grew up around guns, own guns, and know how to use guns, but aren’t fond of the NRA.

        Progressives wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Which was originally John Brown’s Body, after a progressive who maybe had more crazy than strategic sense, but was unequivocal about the morality of using violence to achieve his moral goals. And a few years later, there were troops marching all over the then-Red Tribe strongholds singing “As he died to make man holy, let us die to make men free” as they trampled out the vineyards where the grapes of Red Tribe pride were stored. The South’s elites thought that the North would wilt at the first sight of Southern steel – some fire-breathers vowed that a lady’s thimble would hold all the blood shed.

        Free Northerner should look at his philosophical brethren of the American South to see where exactly this kind of confidence leads. Hint: it’s not with a victory for the conservatives.

        It occurs to me that the only context in which FN’s post makes any sense is if I assume that FN’s real goal is a kind of mad accelerationism where both Red and Blue escalate until all is fire and screams, the kind of environment where neoreaction can take root and establish a new order amid the ashes.

        • Doctor Mist says:


          I am deeply suspect of plans that rely on the Left being made up of wilting violets that’ll cave at the first thought of political violence.

          Part of the story is that the bulk of active military personnel are on the Right, and the Left doesn’t have to be wilting violets to be seriously outgunned by the active military.

          I can think of several counters, but I’m not sure I heard you say any of them. 🙂

          1. People in the military, while Red, are much more likely to view themselves as the referees, at last if it ever escalated high enough for it to be relevant.

          2. Gun-wielding Leftists are more than a match for the active military. (Note that this is counter to the usual Leftist position that the second amendment is useless for preventing tyranny because a lot of good old boys with shotguns are no match for soldiers with bazookas. Ditto for vets who turn Left after discharge.)

          3. The upper ranks of the military are not uniformly on the Right, especially if we include the Secretary of Defense and the Commander in Chief, and the lower ranks will obey orders.

          Personally, I can see #1 and #3, maybe, depending on exactly how things escalate.

          Progressives wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

          What have you done for me lately? 🙂 Presenting the Civil War as something with any relevance to a hypothetical Red/Blue struggle today seems like a stretch to me. Civilians on both sides were way more likely to be armed than even Red-tribe civilians today. And both sides were geometrically fairly convex; even with the Big Sort I’m afraid such a struggle would be more like the French Revolution than the Civil War, which was plenty bad enough.

          • John Schilling says:

            Part of the story is that the bulk of active military personnel are on the Right, and the Left doesn’t have to be wilting violets to be seriously outgunned by the active military.

            The military is at least an order of magnitude more anti-coup, anti-mutiny, and anti-civil-war than it is pro-Right or anti-Left. If the right instigates large-scale violence against the left, the very best that the right can hope for is that the military will remain neutral, and even that will be difficult to arrange – any campaign of violence against the Left powerful enough to greatly change the social or political dynamic, will look enough like a coup or civil war that the military will feel duty-bound to obey the legitimate government’s orders to put it down.

            If the Left tries to engage in large-scale organized violence against the Right, the military’s political leanings would be more relevant and the Left could probably not count on the military as a compliant tool in that scenario. But the Left isn’t planning to do any such thing, because they don’t need to do any such thing.

            If your plan was that your tribe’s martial supremacy would enable you to control the nation’s social or political destiny in extremis, you screwed up when you allowed the creation of an extremely powerful, professional, generally apolitical standing army.

          • I agree with what John Shilling says about the military, but I think this plan has an even greater problem in assuming that the activist class lacks a similar professional ethic that would make them balk at employing these tactics. I’m a left-libertarian blue triber that somehow wound up with an internship at the Heartland Institute, and I can say that even that supposedly most cynical and dirty-minded activist group was full of people that had gotten into the game for the right reasons and genuinely wanted a legitimate debate on e.g. climate change. Almost to a man, my colleagues would have started updating their resumes if their job stopped being publishing op-eds and started being digging up dirt and blackmail material on climate scientists. That goes double for the Institute for Justice lawyer making 35k/year struggling to pay back their law school loans. They signed up to fight taxi medallions, not practice lawfare. The idealistic college students pouring over their Rothbard and Ricardo at the Institute for Humane Studies’ seminars wouldn’t stand for it, either.

            I dunno, maybe the mainstream conservative movement has less healthy mores than the libertarian Kochtopus organizations I participated in, but I doubt it.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @James Vonder Haar – “I dunno, maybe the mainstream conservative movement has less healthy mores than the libertarian Kochtopus organizations I participated in, but I doubt it.”

            What happens if you wake up one morning and see, say, John Stewart celebrating the latest person hounded out of public life by an outrage mob with a quip about “Freeze Peach”? What happens if the next Social Justice push actually gets serious buy-in from the mainstream of liberal society, and starts really playing for keeps? It’s not like most of what they’re doing is illegal, and the parts that are can’t effectively be prosecuted or punished. What’s the correct response?

          • Luke Somers says:

            Faceless, this was all proposed on the idea that what the Left is doing is already bad enough to justify action, not that it could possibly escalate to that level.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Luke Somers – “Faceless, this was all proposed on the idea that what the Left is doing is already bad enough to justify action, not that it could possibly escalate to that level.”

            Yes, and I agree that he is definately wrong in the current situation. Six months ago, before the moderate left started pushing back, the situation was a hell of a lot different. The question is whether last year was an aberation and this year is the new normal, or whether last year was the new normal and we’re in a temporary lull. I would heavily prefer the former, but see less evidence for it than I’d like.

            If you see last year’s spectrum-wide brew up as a few irrelevent isolated incidents, then clearly this guy is unhinged. If you see the brew up as a budding cultural revolution, his suggestion is obviously useful and possibly necessary. I’ve seen too many leftists treating concepts like free speech, conscience, presumption of innocence and due process as jokes or blasphemy to think the latter view is trivially wrong.

          • Agronomous says:

            FacelessCraven wrote:

            Six months ago, before the moderate left started pushing back, the situation was a hell of a lot different.

            It’s interesting that you see it as the moderate left “pushing back” and I see it as them “yanking on the leash”.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Agronomous – “It’s interesting that you see it as the moderate left “pushing back” and I see it as them “yanking on the leash”.”

            I voted for Obama. Until last year, I considered myself a Feminist and bought the statistics about campus rape and so forth uncritically. Last year punted me way rightward, but my sympathies for the left haven’t been entirely extinguished. A large majority of Gamergate self-reported as leftist. A lot of the people registering as anti-SJ here claim to be leftist. I don’t know if there’s enough of them to be decisive, but the moderate left pushback seems to be a real thing.

        • keranih says:

          @ Andy

          While the military is very white and Red-Tribe,

          You might want to look again at the military demographics, as your assessment of the military as “very white” is quite incorrect.

          It’s also worth a word of caution comparing the povs of military personnel across generations – firstly, as recently as 1970, a majority of (male) US citizens were military veterans. That is not the case today. Secondly, many people may say that they were military veterans, but are not.

          Lastly, the NRA represents gun manufacturers, not necessarily owners,

          I have heard people say this. I have never heard an NRA member say this. (I don’t know any gun manufacturers, and I know many NRA members.)

          By my experience, it is correct that not all military, police, and gun culture people are Red Tribe. However, I have met very few of them who counted being “Red” or “Blue” over being “Military” or “Cop” or “Gun Owner”.

      • Doctor Mist says:


        I’d really like to see a plausible explanation for how things would de-escalate back to a reasonably civilized level without passing through some sort of civil war first.

        Without endorsing FreeNortherer’s strategy, I think the answer is that it’s all about incentives.

        The starting proposition is that the Left is using illegitimate tactics. In a magic world, the solution would be just to ensure that those tactics were unsuccessful — wave a wand so that votes from dead people or illegal immigrants somehow don’t get counted (I’m making no claims about how many there are!), or so that the directors at Mozilla grow a spine and are unmoved by the lynch mob coming after Brendan Eich, or so that the ambitious DA trying to trash Scott Walker is reined in by a more fair-minded superior.

        But this isn’t a magic world, and the next best thing is to make such an activity be a net loss for the perpetrator. The way to accomplish this is not to go nuclear right away, but to use a measured response that is just enough to offset whatever payoff the perpetrator gets, such that he or someone like him will not do it next time.

        This is the sort of feedback we use every day to ensure public civility. If someone is rude, we don’t start by punching him in the nose — but if we always just shrug and ignore it, some people will take that as evidence that they can go on being ruder and ruder. Intermediate indications of disapproval are usually sufficient, but for some people that’s true only because the possibility of a punch in the nose is always hovering in the background.

        The paradox FreeNortherner is grappling with (and @stillnotking is right that he doesn’t answer it) is why the Right, which owns the guns, doesn’t even take the first step, since in the Absolute Worst Case Scenario of escalation all the way up to civil war, it would easily win.

        I took FreeNortherner’s essay to be more of a Modest Proposal, to highlight the paradox. But I haven’t studied him, so I could be mistaken.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          Doctor Mist says: The paradox FreeNortherner is grappling with (and @stillnotking is right that he doesn’t answer it) is why the Right, which owns the guns, doesn’t even take the first step, since in the Absolute Worst Case Scenario of escalation all the way up to civil war, it would easily win.

          I took FreeNortherner’s essay to be more of a Modest Proposal, to highlight the paradox. But I haven’t studied him, so I could be mistaken.

          That was my interpretation as well.

          • Autonomous Rex says:

            Modest Proposals usually don’t end with an appeal to be hired to carry out said proposal.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ Autonomous Rex


          • Autonomous Rex says:

            Colloquially, “A Modest Proposal” is a satirical critique/protest; a hyperbolic inversion of the author’s true feelings.
            An NRx “Modest Proposal” would be done in the voice of a “shitlib” calling for a pua holocaust.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            I’m starting to wonder whether or not you read Doctor Mist’s reply or A Modest Proposal.

          • Autonomous Rex says:

            Eich think you need a more compelling martyr.

          • Luke Somers says:

            This thread confuses me. Dr. Mist’s analogy to A Modest Proposal is really, really strained. FreeNortherner’s essay is not structured like A Modest Proposal at all. And yes, he did end the essay by suggesting that people could pay him to flesh the plan out more.

            Dropping snark hinting that it really is and that Autonomous didn’t read things, when he basically hit the nail on the head, is baffling.

            And then Autonomous turns around and makes a REALLY baffling response. What what now about better martyrs? How does that even begin to be relevant? Unless you’re responding to nonsense with nonsense, in which case I think you jumped the gun?

        • Loquat says:

          …use a measured response that is just enough to offset whatever payoff the perpetrator gets, such that he or someone like him will not do it next time.

          The main flaw I see in this theory is – how do you make sure the correct perpetrators receive the correct message from the response?

          Take the Brendan Eich case – and note that he wasn’t fired, he voluntarily left because so many people were threatening to stop using Firefox that his continued presence seemed likely to seriously harm the company. So the only perpetrators here would be the people who protested, and they pretty much all did so because same-sex marriage had become a deeply-held moral value for them, to the point that they didn’t want to do business with someone who opposed it. Any conservative attempt at escalation in response would then be extremely likely to be spun by the left as gay-bashing, or a message to stop defending gay rights – “Your moral values are wrong! Stop standing up for them!”

          And this is a common thread in a lot of the leftist behavior FreeNortherner is complaining about. (Speaking here about the SJW tactics, not the voting irregularities. The correct response to vote-rigging is prosecution, not counter-vote-rigging.) The part of the Left that goes after conservatives personally is primarily motivated not by a desire to put their own candidates in office, but by a desire to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. (Or at least to earn virtue points by appearing to stand up for the rights of the oppressed.) Attack them for doing that, and they’ll call you an oppressor and feel even more self-righteous about what they’re doing, much the way the BLM activists who disrupted a Bernie Sanders speech called the crowd racist for booing them.

          So I think that’s the answer to the paradox – escalating against people who genuinely believe they’re fighting for what’s morally right would be counterproductive, and escalating against dirty election tricks would be much less popular than just trying to ensure honest elections.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Loquat – ” Any conservative attempt at escalation in response would then be extremely likely to be spun by the left as gay-bashing, or a message to stop defending gay rights – “Your moral values are wrong! Stop standing up for them!”’

            This seems like a very strange thing to say, since that’s exactly what the left is saying to social conservatives. Why is it okay for the left to escalate in the face of the moral values of the right, but not okay for the right to escalate in the face of the moral values of the left?

            “So I think that’s the answer to the paradox – escalating against people who genuinely believe they’re fighting for what’s morally right would be counterproductive,”

            So let’s say tomorrow Social Justice rebounds in a big way and starts picking off crimethinkers left, right and center. The mainstream left abandons charity as a principle and starts supporting them wholeheartedly. Then what? How should conservatives respond?

            As I see it, it’s a question about what the rules are going to be. Are we going to have a pluralistic society where room is left for people who reject the consensus, or is securing the consensus for your group a matter of life and death?

          • anon says:

            “Take the Brendan Eich case – and note that he wasn’t fired, he voluntarily left because so many people were threatening to stop using Firefox that his continued presence seemed likely to seriously harm the company”

            Isn’t that how executives are generally fired though? Since firing an executive reflects poorly on the company (admitting to having bad leadership), it is beneficial to both sides to just announce that the partnership was ended by mutual agreement so they can pursue other opportunities or whatever.

      • Dave says:

        Germany and Italy did not have civil wars when the brownshirts went around attacking their political enemies. Maybe that would have been preferable.

  14. JakeR says:

    Can I bring up a controversial topic from current events? I hope I’m not violating any rules, but I’m so baffled at the popular reaction to this issue that I’d like to hear from the smart, objectives readers here to make sure I’m not missing something obvious. (If I am violating any rules, please just delete this comment, I’ll understand.)

    I’m talking about the whole Ahmed-clock debacle. Everyone in the media (and of course social media too) is reacting as if being suspicious of a bomb-looking device is the most irrational, Islamophobic behavior conceivable, but it seems pretty sensible to me. In fact, it’s absolutely in line with the official policy directive plastered all over NYC, “If you see something, say something.” It’s even in line with President Obama’s own advice, when after the Boston marathon bombing, he said, “…this is a good time for all of us to remember that we all have a part to play in alerting authorities — if you see something suspicious, speak up.” ( They want us to report backpacks left behind at a bus stop but not a device that looks to the average Hollywood-informed Joe to be eerily similar to an actual bomb?

    That being said, I absolutely do acknowledge that there was definitely an *overreaction* in how they treated the kid, arresting him, questioning him without his parents, etc. but almost all the criticism I’ve seen is focused on the very premise that anyone should be wary of such a suspicious looking device in the first place. I think caution and prudence was definitely warranted here. Wasn’t it?

    Does this make me an ignorant, Islamophobic bigot?

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      They never claimed they thought it was a bomb, but that it was a fake bomb for a hoax — presumably a hoax involving reverse psychology.

    • suntzuanime says:

      The official policy directive plastered all over NYC is insane, a huge number of false positives for every true one. It would be nice if it didn’t take stuff like this to help us see that, or if people were capable of generalizing from stuff like this to realize that the policies are insane, but what can you do.

      • JakeR says:

        I agree that the policy, and the general irrational paranoia, is unwise. However, it’s still what’s being publicly advocated. So it seems inconsistent to tell people, “If you see something, say something,” but then go on and tell them, “but not if it plays into the stereotyping of Muslims.”

        • Wrong Species says:

          That’s exactly the policy they want to promote. You’re allowed to be suspicious of white people, not anyone else.

        • Eli says:

          It’s inconsistent because it’s two different groups: you have one group who instituted “if you see something, say something”, and they’re actually quite in favor of applying that policy to Arabs and Muslims, and then you have another group who yell about Islamophobia (which is a legitimate problem in America, though I’d dispute the degree to which you can call European Islamophobia a racist ideology these days) and also consider “if you see something, say something” to be overly paranoid in the first place.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            Specifically, it’s public figures pandering to these two different groups (hence Obama, for example.)

    • Pku says:

      In terms of the direct impact, I agree that it was a classic dumb flag-waving competition about complaining about islamophobia.
      But, in this case it had a lot of potential good side affects, which (hopefully) might not go away completely. because it also involved complaining about school overreactions, bomb threat overreactions, and a bunch of supporters saying things like “cool clock” – which, truth or motivation aside, is a public affirmation that making clocks at home is cool, which is a nice (if minor and probably insincere) side effect.

      • nil says:

        Bingo. It’s an overblown media circus, and it’s irritating to see people who are 35+ proclaim that this could never happen to a white kid when anyone who attended public school after Columbine knows that, yeah, it totally could, but we need some overblown media circuses to give school administrators and their associates at least a minimal disincentive to fucking up kids’ lives over infinitesimal or purely hypothetical risks.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        I wish I could agree with you. Unfortunately, the only part that’s gotten any real media traction is the “ha ha, look at those knuckle-dragging racist Islamophobes in Texas” part. I will guarantee you that moronic zero-tolerance policies in schools or general American security theater, and tolerance/approval of same, will not decline the slightest bit due to this event.

    • Asterix says:

      The problem I saw people having — that I had — was not that the school authorities panicked over something they thought looked like a bomb (and that I thought looked like a computer). It’s that they handcuffed him and said they were going to charge him with a hoax bomb, though he kept telling everybody it was a clock. The caution was not, I think, the problem.

      • JakeR says:

        Well, there were myriad news outlets covering this, so I have no doubt that some of them might have taken that position. But the viewpoints I heard were more expressing shock that a teacher/principal/police could be so stupid as to even think this was worth being suspicious about. One quick example I can point to is the popular tech show “This Week in Google” which started this week’s show spending 10 minutes covering the story. Another example is this framing of it in Gawker’s coverage: “Ahmed’s English teacher believed the device was a bomb. Why? Could it have something to do with Ahmed Mohamed’s name, or the color of his skin?”

        Again, just to be clear, I want to reiterate, I absolutely do think the extremely harsh way he was treated was wrong. But to express caution and suspicion when faced with this situation does not seem at all uncalled for, IMHO.

      • Jiro says:

        Even if it really was meant as a hoax, once the police come he’d tell them it’s just a clock and not intended as a hoax. So any such statements made by him carry zero information. You have to determine that it’s a hoax or not based on the circumstances and his actions at the time he is caught, not based on his later statements.

        • multiheaded says:

          Totally Kafkaesque, yo!

          • Jiro says:

            It’s not Kafkaesque that stating you are innocent doesn’t work as evidence for your innocence. It’s how evidence works. Evidence that would exist independently of your innocence cannot be evidence for your innocence, by definition.

          • Nicholas says:

            Which means that confessing guilt is not evidence of guilt. Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Absence.

          • Montfort says:

            Nicholas: unfortunately your technical nitpick is about to be nitpicked. You have failed to consider that there are actions besides confessing guilt and protesting your innocence. In fact, there are many such actions, but we’ll refer to them collectively as “staying silent.”

            Imagine innocent people, when accused of a crime, choose the following actions with the given probability: P(protest|innocent) = 0.5, P(silent|innocent) = 0.49, P(confess|innocent) = 0.01. For criminals, we assert P(protest|guilty) = 0.5, P(silent|guilty) = 0.4, P(confess|guilty) = 0.1.

            You can see that in this world as P(protest|innocent) == P(protest|guilty), the fact that the suspect claims innocence is literally no evidence at all, and yet a confession still is 10 times more likely to occur if your suspect is actually guilty – i.e. confessions are still evidence of guilt.

            Is this likely to be the case in the real world? Probably not, I made it up as an explicit counter-example. A charitable reading of your comment would be something like “I very much doubt innocent people are exactly as likely as guilty people to protest their innocence.” But it takes only the same amount of charity to read Jiro’s point as “protests of innocence are very weak evidence wrt innocence, the sign of which may be uncertain.”

        • Jaxon Jensen says:

          He didn’t do that though, he did not clearly say “It’s a clock, yo” at all. He optimized for maximum news coverage, courtesy of his coaching from dear old dad.

          • AJD says:

            Jiro: “Even if it really was meant as a hoax, once the police come he’d tell them it’s just a clock and not intended as a hoax.”

            Jaxon Jensen: “He didn’t do that though, he did not clearly say ‘It’s a clock, yo’ at all.”

            Irving, Tex. police officer James McLellan: “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.”

          • Jaxon Jensen says:

            ugh, lack of threading. Other local news sources (dallas news IIRC as one example) indicated that the kid gave evasive responses.

          • Deiseach says:

            If he kept saying “It’s a clock” when they were asking “No, come on, what is it really?”, that might be classed as an evasive response if you’re convinced in the first place it couldn’t be a clock, it has to be part of a sinister campaign to make adults in the school and police look like racist bigots by tricking them into arresting a 14 year old so as to manipulate them for your plot of getting maximum public attention and sympathy.

            See, I don’t necessarily think the school were racists (I think they over-reacted and badly needed to heed the advice “When you’re in a hole, stop digging”). But when the conspiracy theories about “The kid plotted all this to have this exact outcome” and “he was radicalised/coached by dear old dad”, then the assumptions that we wouldn’t be hearing this talk if it was Joe Smith and not Ahmad Muhamed who was called to the principal’s office start to look more credible.

            Can you really not conceive the school and the cops made a mistake and this whole affair is a storm in a teacup? That the police and the faculty are not so flawless they had to be right in assuming this was meant to be a bomb, or a hoax bomb, and that they didn’t stick to their script even when it looked like they were wrong because they had made such a fuss, they had to keep going in the hopes they could salvage something along the lines of an admission of wrong-doing?

            Seeing as how neither the school nor the police treated it as a real threat (nothing like they would have reacted for a real bomb threat), they obviously had their minds made up that this was meant to be a hoax bomb and equally obviously were trying to break the kid down to admit that was what he did. Now, if that was true, they were in the right (though not going the right way about it) but if that’s not true, then what else can the kid do but keep on saying “It’s a clock” even if they don’t believe him and threaten to, and do, arrest him and put him in handcuffs and march him off to the station to be fingerprinted and processed?

            I think the school handled it badly, for whatever reasons. I think the kid was spectacularly unaware of what the repercussions could have been, probably because he’s a 14 year old geek with poor social skills who was more interested in showing off his invention to the teachers than thinking “Hey, this maybe looks like a prank bomb!” I think there’s been a lot of bandwagon jumping by both sides (the rush for the invite from the White House, for instance, is pure political PR).

            I also think imagining some kind of radical Sudanese Muslim immigrant plot masterminded by either a 14 year old or his father to create chaos through bomb hoaxes and manipulating the authorities into seeming racism, as a face-saving exercise for the authorities, is going too far and is toppling over into anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant sentiment territory.

          • DrBeat says:

            Dies, the “he planned this” theory isn’t hinged on him being Muslim either, and most of the people I have seen talking about it don’t cast it as any kind of “radicalized Muslim” thing.

            It hinges on him wanting to get attention.

          • Dr. Beat:

            I’ve seen a range of interpretations of what he did. That includes the one in which it was a deliberate plan, presumably by his father, to produce a news story that would benefit Muslims and make people hostile to Muslims look bad. It doesn’t strike me as very likely, but it’s not impossible.

            A somewhat more plausible theory, I think, is that it did occur to him that some people would think it was a bomb and he thought that would be fun–they could react in fear and he could then say “ha, ha, fooled you” or the equivalent. Teenaged boys do sometimes do such things.

            A still more plausible theory, in my view, is that he was showing off—pretending to be what his father later claimed him to be, a brilliant techie kid. That fits his describing it as his invention when, it now seems clear, all he did was to transfer the innards of an old clock to a pencil box. Although, of course, he might have thought of that as being an invention.

            Part of what is disturbing about what happened is the way people on each side of the political spectrum grabbed the story and fitted it into a form that worked for them.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      You think something is a bomb; you call the bomb squad, you evacuate the school, you question people related to it; the bomb squad determines it’s not a bob, everyone was like, “Yeah, we knew it wasn’t a bomb, but we had to be sure”, we groan about the hassle, and the kid is told “don’t leave a backpack with a science experiment alone on the bus again.”

      That happened at my high school. In this case, the procedure seemed to be: You think something is a bomb. Bring bomb and kid into office. Don’t move anyone out of office. Leave bomb in populated office. Call police officers – not to deal with bomb, but to arrest kid.

      This discrepancy is unexplained except by malicious intent or stupidity. Usually I’d say stupidity, but in this case, the student is muslim, which makes the prior for malicious intent much higher.

      • DrBeat says:

        Thinking it was anti-Muslim is just fitting the events to the narrative.

        School administrators are stupid. Really, really stupid. The malice they exhibit is but one aspect of their stupidity. The rules made for them to follow are stupid, because if they were not stupid, they would not be able to follow them.

        OP of this subthread pointed out that the stupid school administrators followed the stupid rules made for them to follow exactly.

        School administrators are not capable of deviating from the rules when the result of deviating from the rules would be less stupid than adhering to them; you have probably had the “pop-tart bitten into gun-shape” example brought up by now, which had nothing to do with race.

        The school administrators behaved exactly as we would predict they would behave just knowing about the rules they are meant to follow and their endless need to maximize the stupidity of their actions. So, if their behavior is perfectly predicted by our model without knowing the race of the student in question, the race of the student in question can’t be the cause of their behavior.

        • zz says:

          Indeed. I first saw the story in the news section of a tech forum that I get my tech news from. OP made no mention of the kid’s race and I wasn’t surprised at all.

        • Can’t it be both?

          It looks to me like this was overdetermined. A white kid would probably be under suspicion if he had something like that clock, too. But the fact that he’s a Muslim named Ahmed surely didn’t help matters.

      • Jaxon Jensen says:

        No, they were following “hoax/fake bomb” procedures because they believed that was the situation they were dealing with and the responses from the kid were nebulous enough to make them believe it might be what they were dealing with.

    • Yes, the whole business is dumb. Kids have gotten expelled (or otherwise disciplined) from school for biting graham crackers into the shape of a gun. The clock definitely did look like an actual suitcase bomb, just missing, you know, the bomb part. I don’t expect the kid’s teacher to know what a bomb looks like, but I do expect the police to.

      But the whole business plays really well into the whole SJW-narrative of “Americans are evil paranoid racists who are so dumb, they can’t tell the difference between a bomb and a clock if it happens to be held by a Muslim!”

    • Alraune says:

      He was going to be charged with, and was treated in the standard manner for, committing Criminal That’s Not Funny.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      JakeR says: Does this make me an ignorant, Islamophobic bigot?

      If it does they might as well throw me in the box-car with you.

      That said, that clock only looks like a bomb to someone who has no idea what a bomb actually looks like. Personally I feel like the accusations of racism/anti-islamism are just a smoke-screen to preempt criticism of the obvious incompetency on display.

      • JakeR says:

        First of all, why would the average person know what a real suitcase bomb actually looks like? I’ve never seen one in real life. Have you?

        Secondly, if you search Google Images for “suitcase bomb” some of those contraptions look quite similar to Ahmed’s device.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          For that matter, why would anyone assume that a bomb built by a 14-year-old could only look like a bomb built by an adult professional, and not like the sort of bomb you’d see in those action movies that are so popular with 14-year-olds?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            You wouldn’t, but you would expect it to have some sort of reaction mass and power/ignition source. Point being that the kid’s “bomb” is pretty obviously non-functional which leads us to facelesscraven’s point below.

        • Eli says:

          Well, if you don’t know what a suitcase bomb looks like, why would you confidently identify some device placed before you as a suitcase bomb with high probability?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @JakeR – “First of all, why would the average person know what a real suitcase bomb actually looks like? I’ve never seen one in real life. Have you?”


          OK, I am hereby invoking authority of expertise. I am probably the only person in this thread who has actually made a fake bomb and used it to scare someone. Also, making “fake bombs” is a small part of my actual job.

          A real bomb can look like anything. Scrap wood, a toolbox, an amazon package, a shitty car. The point of most real bombs is to NOT LOOK LIKE A BOMB UNTIL THEY EXPLODE. The goal is for people to look at it, see nothing, and let their attention wander elsewhere.

          The point of a fake bomb is to LOOK LIKE WHAT PEOPLE THINK A BOMB LOOKS LIKE. You want people to look at it and immediately think “sweet jesus that’s a bomb we’re all gonna die”.

          Anyone talking about how the thing didn’t look like an actual bomb, THAT IS THE POINT. You know how the save icon is a floppy disc even though most people using computers have never seen a floppy? Floppies aren’t the platonic ideal of the symbol for “saving”, they’re the symbol we use for the saving function because people associate it with the saving function in a progressive recursion back to the point that floppies were actually used. Suitcase + exposed wiring + digital display = “bomb”. There are even subvarients. If you want something that people will immediately recognize as a bomb but not find scary, you use black ball + fuse sticking out the top. We associate that with cartoons and funny rabbits, not actual terrorism (though back before those cartoon rabbits, people actually associated them with hairy-faced anarchists). Above all, fiction has to be plausible. It’s reality that can play fast and loose.

          To the point at hand: the school thought it was a fake bomb, not a real bomb. There’s layers here.
          a – Is it a real bomb? no, definately not.
          b – Is it a fake bomb? no, definately not.
          c – is it an innocent device that can be mistaken for a or b depending on circumstance? Yes, clearly so.
          d – Is it a plausably deniable fake bomb? probably not.

          Some of the background on the kid’s dad, and the statements the kid made, make it seem distantly possible that this might have been a publicity stunt, but there’s zero proof, zero way to get proof, and at the end of the day it’s way safer to grant him the benefit of the doubt and wish him well, and use this of another example of the absolute insanity of our modern schooling system.

          Visual aid for those needing one:

          Also, for those who want to think about the racism angle, a helpful control:

          • JakeR says:

            I forgot about that Boston marketing stunt that freaked out the authorities. Thank you for bringing that up. It’s not quite a perfect counter example to all those who are saying, “they were only suspicious of it because of his race” (since the race of the 2007 perpetrators was unknown when the devices raised suspicion) but it’s pretty close.

          • nydwracu says:

            A few months ago, an 11-year-old white kid around here got suspended for a year because the school found a maple leaf in his backpack and thought it was weed.

            The public school system is a jobs program for morons and sadists. Anyone who thinks the clock thing happened because the kid’s name is Ahmed has somehow managed not to realize the obvious fact that the public school system is a jobs program for morons and sadists. People who have somehow managed not to realize an obvious fact are unlikely to deserve even ten seconds of your attention.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      I think a lot of the fuss is people way out on the fringes of the incident and/or of US stuff in general, taking map as territory. They’re reacting to the term ‘alarm clock’ instead of looking at a picture of the whole actual object (per Steve Sailer).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      What do people who know about electronics think of this article?

      • Partisan says:

        (Electrical Engineering graduate) I think the main claim is about right – that circuit board probably came from an existing clock.

        That said, I don’t think that really matters much. Taking apart existing electronics and re-constructing them is a great way to learn.

        To put it in context: As part of a college class I had to make a circuit to control one digit of a clock. It was difficult! A 14-year-old re-wiring an existing clock with all the digits and functions is impressive.

        • Saal says:

          I dunno…I could see the case for “He disassembled and reassembled this device”, but it looks an awful lot like he just stripped the plastic case and screwed it into the pencil box. Pretty sure I could pick any random fourteen year old who isn’t in a special needs program and they could do it, and furthermore, wouldn’t gain any knowledge from it.

          • Partisan says:

            It’s interesting to me that there seems to be a desire to take this kid down a peg. I think it’s wrong, but maybe understandable.

            The adults who suspended / arrested / etc. the kid obviously overreacted. I don’t know whether this reaction was motivated by structural racism; anti-Muslim paranoia; anti-intellectualism; an out-of-control zero tolerance mindset; or what, but it’s clear the response was disproportional.

            The response to this incident in the media, on the Internet, etc. has also been an overreaction. There are lots of motivations for this – some noble (“scientific curiosity is to be encouraged!”) and some not (“ha, those stupid conservative Texans, let’s all signal how much smarter we are than them”). But there’s been a rush to make sure everyone knows that this kid is great and everyone else involved sucks.

            But now there’s a reaction to the reaction to the reaction. There seems to be the notion that this kid has received undeserved status, so it’s now important to make sure we know he didn’t _really_ build a clock, or isn’t really a perfect angel genius, etc.

            And maybe that’s the real issue – we’re trying to make sure the relative status changes of people involved match our preferences? I’ll admit that’s what I’m doing: I want the kid to have some more status (but let’s not go overboard with it). I want the adults involved to have less (and let’s see how far we can take it).

        • Gbdub says:

          Did he even rewire it though? To me it looked like he ripped out the innards and repackaged them (in something that, like it or not, triggers the public zeitgeist of “suitcase bomb”).

          Clever, yes, but the race to nominate this kid for a science Nobel are just as absurd as the alleged technical ignorance of the teacher.

          Kids the same age with the same or better technical talent are a dime a dozen at e.g. FIRST robotics. I don’t mean this as an insult to Ahmed, just as a note that teens are more capable than they are often given credit for.

          • Partisan says:

            I certainly agree that the notion that the kid is the next Tesla is unwarranted, but I stand by my claim that disassembling and re-assembling electronics is praiseworthy and to be encouraged.

            When I was around his age I replaced my Sega Dreamcast memory card’s CR2032 batteries with recharge-able AAs. How did I do it? I bought an AA case at Radio Shack and used alligator clips to attach it. As far as projects go, $5 of supplies and 10 minutes of assembly isn’t very interesting, but the adults who saw me do it were impressed. The good feedback encouraged me to study electronics, and encouraged my eventual career in engineering.

            So, I don’t really think that saying “well other kids in robotics competitions are more talented” is very useful. The kid should get praise for taking on a project, not arrested and subjected to dissections of his merit on the Internet (sorry kid).

          • DrBeat says:

            I think your project is a lot more laudable because you were trying to add utility, by replacing those tiny little goddamn disc batteries that cost way too much with normal people batteries. Ahmed wasn’t trying to add utility at all; he wasn’t trying to DO anything even in the most favorable interpretation.

          • Partisan says:

            Re: DrBeat, the other benefit of my project was that the memory card didn’t beep every time you turned on the console because the disc batteries were dead…

            You say “he wasn’t trying to DO anything even in the most favorable interpretation,” but I think that might mean you’re not very good at imagining favorable interpretations!

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >he wasn’t trying to DO anything even in the most favorable interpretation.

            That just isn’t true. Hell, if you consider the unfavorable interpretation that he intended to use it as a hoax time-bomb, what he did clearly had a purpose to it!

          • Gbdub says:

            I fully agree that technical tinkering and experimentation should be encouraged. I’m less trying to take Ahmed down a peg than I am trying to take a peg from the people who laugh at the teachers technological incompetence while simultaneously lauding Ahmed as a little Tesla without understanding what he did either.

            Also, the fact that he didn’t add any utility to the clock is I think relevant to whether or not it’s plausible that Ahmed intended to provoke a reaction. It’s not really relevant to whether or not the school officials overreacted, that I agree on. I just think it’s another reason that the social media reaction is over the top.

    • Saal says:

      TBH, I’m not really interested in the school’s reaction, the media’s reaction, or Obama’s reaction.

      What I wanna know is, wtf? Why does rehousing an off-the-shelf alarm clock (look at the damn thing!) get you “offers from Twitter, NASA, and MIT” and make you some kinda boy genius?

      Edit: Here’s a guy who actually tracked the clock in question down:

      Edit2: oops, Scott beat me to it.

      • Eli says:

        He’s 14, that’s why. Managing to do a bit of trivial tinkering without having received any former education in the subject raises the expectation that he could become a useful electrical engineer (which is what, last I heard, he wants to be), if you actually go and give him the formal training — probably more so than people who just go through EE majors in school because their parents said to major in engineering.

        • Gbdub says:

          Ever seen FIRST robotics? Or Team America Rocketry Challenge? Or any of a number of other technical clubs and competitions? Yes, it shows some aptitude, but I and a number of students at my fairly small school were doing similarly technical things at that age and no one was falling all over themselves to give us a MacArthur grant.

        • Saal says:

          I think it’s pretty salient that the kid is running around saying he designed and built a “homemade alarm clock” which is, in reality, an old alarm clock with the plastic stripped off stuffed into a pencil box. Which means, at best, he went into that school looking to be fawned over as Mr. Boy Genius for a project he didn’t do, and the fact that he (intentionally or not) whipped up a media controversy is now supposed to somehow make him worthy of accolades and fast-track into high-status tech careers.

          • Gbdub says:

            His engineering teacher probably should have confiscated it for having exposed AC wiring. Obviously can’t blow anyone up with it, but would be pretty easy for a kid to get seriously zapped by it.

      • Partisan says:

        Point one: “Twitter, NASA, and MIT” probably want to ride the wave of positive feelings toward the kid more than they want to actually bring him onboard.

        Point two: My guess is that P(person will be a talented electrical engineer | person rebuilt clocks as a teenager) is much greater than P(person will be a talented electrical engineer | person did not rebuild clocks as a teenager).

      • Not Robin Hanson says:

        Hello. I am Not Robin Hanson, but I’m here to tell you about signalling anyways. This is not about Ahmed, the person, as e.g. Gbdub’s argument demonstrates. This is about Ahmed, the social phenomenon. Twitter, NASA, MIT, et al. are taking this opportunity to say “YEAH SCIENCE LOOK HOW SCIENCY AND SUPPORTIVE OF SCIENCE WE ARE WE ARE SCIENCE.” This isn’t about sending an offer to Ahmed, it’s about sending a message to everyone. “Sending an offer to Ahmed” is simply a vehicle for making that message as conspicuous as possible, as is making the offer in as public a place as you can find. It is irrelevant whether the clock demonstrates that Ahmed is a boy genius because we have already decided that Ahmed is playing the role of Boy Genius in this drama. The only question is whether you are on Team Boy Genius and how much on Team Boy Genius you are.

        • J says:

          Well said, Not Robin Hanson.

        • Oscar_Cunningham says:

          It is irrelevant whether the clock demonstrates that Ahmed is a boy genius because we have already decided that Ahmed is playing the role of Boy Genius in this drama.

          Are you sure you’re Not Robin Hanson rather than Not The Last Psychiatrist?

          • Not Robin Hanson says:

            Indeed, the great thing about not being someone is that you can be not two people at the same time.

    • Paul Goodman says:

      A couple points on this:

      1) I’m pretty sure that overall the harm done by overvigilance due to fear, harassment of innocent people, and dropping everything in wide areas to safely blow up harmless backpacks far outweighs the plausible gains in likelihood of stopping terrorist attacks.

      2) From what I understand they continued to treat him terribly after they were sure the device was not in fact a bomb. While they were arresting him the device was not treated with any of the precautions you would use with something you were worried might be a bomb.

      • DrBeat says:

        They did not believe it was a bomb, they believed it was a hoax bomb. As in, a device that was not a bomb, but looked like one, built for the purpose of scaring or threatening someone who believes it is a bomb.

        Like if you bring a replica gun to a school or other suppsedly-secure place, one of those ones that looks real but doesn’t shoot, you get in trouble even when they know the gun was not capable of harming people — you get punished for bringing a thing meant to scare and threaten people. The school who punished the white kid for biting a Pop-Tart into a gun shape did not believe it was an actual gun or that it would fire bullets, and did not treat it with the precautions you would treat a gun with.

        • Wouter says:

          > They did not believe it was a bomb, they believed it was a hoax bomb.

          I agree that this is a more reasonable interpretation. However, in that case, the burden of proof to show that the device was indeed intended to scare or threaten people, should lie with the accuser.

          Why did the following not happen:
          Police: “Mr. school administrator, you have called us to deal with this kid who has brought an entirely harmless clock to school. While we agree that some fools could mistake it for a bomb, that does not suffice. Harmless things are mistaken for bombs all the time, and malice is rarely involved. Please, present us with your evidence that this child did in fact intend to use this device as a hoax bomb. If you have no such evidence, we will arrest you, the school administrator, for frivolously wasting police time, a.k.a making hoax calls to an emergency number.”

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            Because the police aren’t a court, and that’s not the standard for making an arrest?

            Perhaps threatening to arrest everyone who reports something they mistakenly think might be a crime could have bad effects on the effectiveness of the police too?

          • Wouter says:

            Ptoliporthos says
            > Because the police aren’t a court, and that’s not the standard for making an arrest?

            And the mere accusation that someone is planning a bomb scare is sufficient standard for making arrest? They had more evidence for “the school administrator is wasting our time” than they had for “the child is planning a bomb scare”.

            (what evidence did they have for “the child is planning a bomb scare” ? None (the clock doesn’t count. Bomb scares can be done with simple backpacks.). What evidence did they have for “the school administrator is wasting our time”? The fact that the school administrator called them with wild allegations and no evidence to back them up.)

            > Perhaps threatening to arrest everyone who reports something they mistakenly think might be a crime could have bad effects on the effectiveness of the police too?

            It cannot be worse than arresting everyone who is merely accused of planning a bomb scare.

        • Agronomous says:

          Yes, but what made them so sure it was a hoax bomb? Did they bring in hoax-bomb-sniffing dogs to examine it?

          More seriously, I’m leaning towards the his-narcissistic-attention-seeking-obscurely-politically-motivated-father-dreamed-the-whole-thing-up-and-expected-it-to-play-out-just-like-it-has theory. Even when I was initially in the “Yay, baby Woz!” camp, the situation just felt too pat to be true: like actual professional con men,* it just pushed way too many feel-good/feel-superior buttons simultaneously.

          (* OK, the one** time I’ve actually ever met any.)

          (** Or was it? Crap. How could I tell?)

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        I think the facts in point 1) quite justify the actions in point 2).

    • Deiseach says:

      No, you’re not a bigot but it was how the school reacted. They didn’t evacuate and no bomb squad turned up so they were not treating it as a real possible suspect device. The explanation coming out is garbled but it’s something like “we wanted him to tell us where he planned to put the hoax bomb” so that’s why the cops and handcuffs and public parade to the station to be fingerprinted. THAT’S what makes it look racist.

      • Gbdub says:

        But there are a number of non-minority kids who’ve gotten similarly lousy treatment for things like chewing a toaster pastry into a vaguely gun-like shape and pointing a bubble shooter at another student (both of those kids were under 10).

        The evidence that a non-Muslim could would have been treated substantially differently is essentially nil. Hell, you yourself are associating Muslims with terrorism when you assert that the reaction must have been racist. So aren’t you a racist now too?

  15. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Do mail-order brides count as an example of Munchkinism for high-earning but romantically unsuccessful men?

    • Pku says:

      Pretty sure it does. Dammit, now I’m seriously tempted to get a mail-order bride if I’m not married by the time I’m forty (assuming I’m high-earning by then).

    • Zebram says:

      In this society, it appears to fit that word’s definition, as far as I understand it. But there is no intrinsic property of ‘munchkinism’ in the universe, as far as I can figure. It is a made up social construct created by a hypocritical culture.

    • rsaarelm says:

      Munchkinism is supposed to be using a system in an unexpected way to win. But mail-order brides aren’t really unexpected, since everybody already knows they are a thing, and it’s questionable how much you’re winning, since gaining social status is a reason to marry and mail-order marriage is generally considered low status.

      Also the only example of someone doing that I can think of is Hans Reiser and it didn’t exactly end up working out for him.

      • Svalbardcaretaker says:

        Also one of the other advantages of being “romantically successful” is, well, being romantically successful – usually one gets love/sex/attraction all intermingled and the economic reasons behind the attraction are usually only implicit (if there are any at all).

        Getting a mailorder bride does not guarantuee that the bride will stay with you after the immigration laws give her legal (not-tied-to you) residency, or indeed, does not guarantuee even regular sex!

        What I am trying to say: mailordering spouses has advantages, but also disadvantes over traditional spousal finding; be aware of them and make sure they align with your values.

      • US says:

        “it’s questionable how much you’re winning, since gaining social status is a reason to marry and mail-order marriage is generally considered low status.”

        Isn’t this sort of getting things the wrong way? This part – “gaining social status is a reason to marry” – in particular. I thought people looked for ways to increase their status because it increased their chances of getting married (to the sort of person they’d like to marry) – the idea of getting married in order to obtain higher status seems completely foreign to me.

        What’s so great about high status anyway – could not an argument be made that ‘people mostly care about social status because high social status equals mating privileges’? It seems to me that high status isn’t all that great on its own and that it’s (mainly? only?) great because of the (social) effects derived from the high status, the most important effect of which is that high status makes you attractive to people to whom you are attracted and gives you the ability to obtain access to higher-status partners.

        • “in particular. I thought people looked for ways to increase their status because it increased their chances of getting married”

          I’ve speculated in the past that the reason people care about relative rather than absolute results, such as income, a pattern that economists tend to see as irrational, is that the mating market is something close to a zero sum game, a context where my gain is your loss. And the mating market is what our hardwired software is largely designed for.

          It isn’t entirely true because of the sorting element. The woman I estimated to be about a one in a hundred thousand catch (and to whom I have been married for about thirty years) wasn’t being pursued by anyone else when I met her and would probably not have been particularly well suited as wife to most other people. But it’s close enough to explain the pattern.

          • US says:

            “the mating market is what our hardwired software is largely designed for.” Incidentally in his book The Mating Mind, Geoffrey Miller goes perhaps even further than that…

            As for your ‘the mating market is something close to a zero sum game’ observation, I think one should be careful about making judgments such as these, especially about the far past, even if in the specific case I’d probably tend to tentatively agree with your overall assessment (…and I’m reasonably sure I’ve argued along the same lines in the past myself). When I started out writing this comment I included quite a few observations related to that discussion/question, but in the end I decided to delete that stuff as I’d prefer to only give precise and reasonably comprehensive reviews of topics in exchanges like these, and this requires time I don’t have at the moment. I however thought I should mention that a very good book on related topics which I highly recommend is Sexual Selection in Primates, by Kappeler & van Schaik (editors).

            I’m not sure about income, but to me it makes sense that people are bad at figuring out just how to value (in status-terms/desirability-terms) stuff like wealth, as “accumulation of wealth was not possible in hunter-gatherer societies” (as Matt Ridley pointed out in his book The Red Queen).

          • Jaskologist says:

            Interesting. Just the other day I was speculating that leftist economics are a mis-application of our zero-sum mating game solvers, but under your theory, it’s actually being correctly applied. That seems pretty plausible.

            (It’s still societal poison. There’s a reason the Ten Commandments had to finish off with “Don’t covet your neighbor’s house. No, not his wife either. No, not his servants either. No, you can’t covet his ox either. Oh come on, the donkey is off-limits to coveting, too. You know what, just don’t covet any of his stuff.”)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You should look at the Reddit threads of the experience of people who have ordered mail-order brides. They seem split between “…and then we lived happily ever after” versus “…and after the minimum necessary time permitted by immigration laws, she divorced me and took half of my stuff” .

      I guess it depends how sure you can be you’re going to end up in the first branch, plus how much you care about an intellectual/personal connection with a partner. I can’t imagine you’d have much of that with someone you’d barely met who doesn’t speak your language and comes from another culture. But I could also see it working out well for someone who has an old-fashioned view and just wants a partnership where one person works outside the home and the other raises kids and they get along okay.

      • Adam says:

        Somebody at my wife’s work apparently just lost his security clearance and got fired for taking a mail order bride.

        • Murphy says:

          Was there a “and keeping it secret thus making him mildly blackmailable” bit or do they just have an item on the form “has mail order bride” which if ticked means no security clearance?

          • suntzuanime says:

            It makes sense to me. A foreigner who has perhaps not undergone rigorous vetting has intimate access to you.

          • Murphy says:

            So do you also lose your clearance if you marry a random girl you met in a bar while on holiday in the same country?

          • Adam says:

            He didn’t tell them immediately, which backfired, but suntzu is correct that foreign entanglements and family from overseas are major stumbling blocks either way, even if you’re completely upfront about it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Coincidentally, I’m just this week updating my SF86 to maintain my clearance. They specifically want to know about any “foreign national relatives or associates that you or your spouse are bound by affection, obligation, or close and continuing contact”. If your mail-order bride is from e.g. Russia, and she didn’t cut off all ties to the motherland, that’s a whole lot of Russian relatives to explain.

            Opportunities for blackmail or extortion should be obvious, and the possibility that the bride herself is on the FSB’s payroll is not to be discounted. And, as usual, it’s the cover-up that nails you. I know people with felony criminal records with Secret and I believe Top Secret clearances, because they were absolutely honest and cooperative in the investigation. When you say, “Oh, sure, my wife was born in Vladivostok, but she came to the United States before I met her and hasn’t been back since”, and the investigators find the records that say otherwise, no clearance for you.

          • Adam says:

            My wife goes on the public adjudication website sometimes to see who did and didn’t get a clearance. My favorite was the guy who was some kind of drug lord in early 80s Miami who got convicted of trafficking and murder, did 25 years, and now has a TS and works as a contractor.

            Which I guess is obvious. It’s not like the CIA is against selling drugs and killing people. Anything that a foreign agent might be able to use as leverage against you is the biggest thing – secrets you don’t want revealed, financial troubles, vulnerable people you care about.

          • sam says:

            wife here. so, you’re required to report 1. any changes in personal status and 2. any foreign associations. and he didn’t. so being low key married to a Colombian citizen that he may have brought here illegally was kind of a triple-whammy, but the real issue was not disclosing it. the DoD investigators have no tolerance for dishonesty.

            I *think* that in theory, marrying a foreign citizen *could* be mitigated, if you reported it all immediately. even then it probably depends on the circumstances.

    • Eli says:

      I don’t really see how, unless you’ve somehow fundamentally misunderstood the point of modern marriage (ie: love, partnership, all that jazz).

    • multiheaded says:


      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Jaime awarded himself a tally mark for Saturday, since he’d managed to make someone go into wow just wow mode before the day was over.

        • Pku says:

          Dammit, I’m on there! Now feminists are going to misinterpret something I said and get mad at me on the internet.

          • Pku says:

            Also, seems like this is exactly what Scott meant when he said rationalism is a safespace for this sort of discussion.

            *would’ve edited the above comment, but can’t anymore.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Going to echo Pku here; this feels to be in extremely bad taste. If you want to archive comments so that you can pull them up as proof later on go for it, but broadcasting them to score points is icky.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            But muh reblogs, man! I was about to crack 200 followers!

        • rsaarelm says:

          Now I’m wondering if I’m just there as backdrop or if I can also claim multiheaded hate points.

          • Murphy says:

            No, if you look at the reblogs your comment is the one they’re focusing on by half quoting your “low status” comment then making up a load of stuff about how you hate women since they’re sure it’s what you really meant.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Do you feel like this meets the true, kind or necessary requirement for comments on here? What’s the point of going on this website if your only comments are about how much better you are than us?

        • Nita says:

          In some ways, the “mail-order bride” business is just a type of international “personal ads” service. But in other ways…

          E.g., some quotes from the linked reddit threads:

          “How expensive were they? I’m asking for a friend”
          “I had a co-worker buy one of these.”
          “I’m not thinking about buying one (yah right).”
          “My great-uncle purchased a mail order bride.”
          “My uncle purchased a Thai woman at a bar a few years back.”
          “My dad bought one last year.”

          So yeah, there’s a reason why some people are appalled by mere mention of it, and it’s not because it helps unattractive guys get laid or whatever.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Binders full of women!

          • Nita says:

            “Binders full of women” is an awkward phrase that generates a funny mental image. “My uncle purchased a Thai woman at a bar” is something else.

            And these folks were writing comments in the comfort of their own homes, not fielding questions in a live high-stakes debate.

          • Ever An Anon says:


            This might be a misunderstanding on my part, but it sounds like you don’t have a problem with mail ordering brides per se only with how these guys were describing it. If they had elided the fact that they were literally purchasing foreign women out of a catalog would that have been better?

          • AJD says:

            I suspect what Nita is suggesting can be considered appalling is not per se the fact that people do describe mail-ordering brides as “purchasing a Thai woman at a bar”, but the fact that descriptions like that are close enough to accurate to be reasonable.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Are they, though?

          • DrBeat says:

            Yeah, the people describing it as “buying” are the people who are not doing it themselves and no not have actual experience in the topic. To use that as justification to find it appalling is… not very sound reasoning.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I don’t go on SSC to get my outrage meter up. There are people her who have views I consider appalling but I don’t go on long rants about how they are terrible people and how I’m the only decent person here. If we freak out every time someone says something outrageous then we turn in to reddit/tumblr/4chan/etc.

          • Nita says:

            @ Ever An Anon

            If they had elided the fact that they were literally purchasing foreign women

            If they had literally purchased someone, they should be in prison, not merrily chatting online.

            It is exactly this flippant conflation of arranged marriage (which can be done ethically) and chattel slavery (which cannot*) that I have a problem with.

            The fact that it is so common among people in favour of the practice indicates some serious underlying issues.

            E.g., international adoption is similarly controversial, but you won’t find “how much does a foreign baby cost? (asking for a friend)” on reddit.

            * IMO, of course — we are on SSC, after all, so I don’t want to presume too much consensus

            @ DrBeat

            the people describing it as “buying” are the people who are not doing it themselves

            Some of them were inquiring about the “price”, others were talking about close family members. That kid with the Thai aunt** “purchased in a bar” enthusiastically described how hard-working she is, and how his uncle takes all the money she earns (except some she manages to hide).

            Anyway, I’m not defending Multiheaded’s behaviour, but Jaime’s framing of “munchkining” — a clearly excellent opportunity obscured by silly social rules — conveniently sidesteps the central issues.

            ** I don’t know if he thinks of her as a family member, but let’s be charitable

    • Deiseach says:

      Depends. What are you looking for in a mail-order bride?

      (1) True love and romance? Yeah, good luck with that. You could argue that this is not much different from a conventional marriage bureau/dating agency, but when foreign nationals are promising they’ll marry you definitely no question about it, then it’s not because they’re looking for love.

      (2) A proper old-fashioned good obedient wife who knows her place and is feminine and womanly? Maybe. Equal chances you’ll end up with a Third World native who privately thinks you’re an absolute pig but “better an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave” and she’d have to play the same role for men of her own country anyways, so as long as you really are high-earning she’ll play the meek doting spouse.

      (3) Old-style match-making where all parties know it’s not about romance, it’s about agreeing to have kids and exchange home making duties for bread winning? Probably do a lot better with that attitude.

      (4) She is only waiting for the permanent residency/citizenship then she’ll dump your sorry ass and take you for every cent you’ve got? Alas, this too is a very likely possibility.

      Again, work place anecdote: heard a case of another client who married a mail-order bride who, once she got Irish citizenship, cleaned out hubby’s bank account and ran off with his best friend. Greeted with a chorus from us all of “To the surprise of absolutely nobody” 🙂

      We do see a few instances in the job of Irish men who married mail-order brides and I have to say, the guys are no prizes and tend to be overbearing/bullying to the women when both spouses come in to interview for housing needs assessment. That’s possibly one reason they couldn’t find a wife at home and had to go abroad, though this is by no means saying every man who pays for marriage is in the same boat.

    • Pku says:

      aaaand now this thread is being attacked by feminists. (here ). Do some people not understand the concept of discussing something without actually making plans to do it? I (and I assume pretty much everyone else in this discussion) were just here talking about weird ideas… this is like accusing someone who brings up the trolley experiment of trying to plan ways to justify murder.

      • suntzuanime says:

        What kind of person is inside there?

        • Wrong Species says:

          I like this comment: “Feminist dating advice is pretty useless for lonely dudes.”

          No doubt they go around the internet telling us how feminism is really good for men as well.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Several people involved in that conversation actually agree that a lot of Feminists treat mens’ concerns very poorly. I think they’d still argue that the things feminism sees as problems harm men as well as women, but they’re not entirely mindkilled.

      • Cauê says:

        And what’s with the misreadings of “is” as “ought”?

        And the assumptions about the type of person that would talk about this.

        And the accusation of “circlejerk” in the context of you and your friends pointing at and criticizing an ongoing conversation you didn’t bother to engage with?

      • Held in Escrow says:

        I think there’s some misreading of the principle of charity there. It doesn’t mean you have to engage with an idea, just that if you engage with an idea you treat the person espousing it with a minimal standard of respect. I for one, think that NRx is dumbshit and have no interest in debating it… so I skip past anyone talking about it.

      • multiheaded says:

        “Do some people not understand the concept of discussing something without actually making plans to do it?”

        It’s more about how you talk about it. You aren’t going “hire a sex worker”, you are going “find a desperate enough person you have leverage over and try getting the most out of them”.

        • Pku says:

          Again, completely missing the point (are you unaware of the concept of discussing ideas, or just with the concept of reading things without immediately trying to see how feminism can criticize them?) It’s not a conversation about plotting to hire hookers using polite euphemisms, it’s a hypothetical conversation about something (arguably) different.

          • Nita says:

            It’s not a conversation about plotting to hire hookers using polite euphemisms

            The problem is not euphemisms, but dysphemisms. You use language seemingly designed to deny basic respect to the other party in the transaction and pre-emptively dismiss any claim to human rights they might have (“order a bride”/”buy a hooker”), and when abuse happens, people go “well, no wonder — this person did sell themselves, after all!”

        • DrBeat says:

          If you read with that much anticharity, every conversation you ever encounter is worthy of mockery.

  16. Anonymous says:

    A couple of previous posts have discussed “political correctness” as a rather vague concept, and a pattern that may or may not be properly crystallized. I think I’ve figured out what political correctness is. It’s not simple and AFAICT it hasn’t been explained elsewhere but it does make sense. And it’s a trade-off that is neither all good nor all bad.

    I think I can explain it without using race or gender in my examples, but it’s treading close to the line. Would my model be appropriate to post here?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Well, I want to read it, if that counts for anything.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Sure, I’d like to read it.

    • Berna says:

      I’d like to read it.

    • Please post, we’d like to see.

    • Anonymous says:

      The phrase “political correctness” can refer to two things, not fundamentally related but pushed by approximately the same group of people.

      Political Correctness of Form

      This consists of being very careful about connotations and implicit messages in words. The simplest case is slurs, which are names for groups with “and that’s bad” tacked on as a connotation. The word “papist” basically means “catholic (and I hate catholics)”. Words can have subtler messages. Used unironically, “slut” means a person who has too much sex. Using the word endorses some deontological principle of chastity, because it doesn’t make sense without that. Referring to cis people as “real” members of their respective genders implies that trans people are somehow fake or deceptive. The word “heathen”, in addition to raw negative affect, contains an implication that all non-Christian religions are basically the same.

      The case for this sort of political correctness is that these messages are often harmful, and hard to argue about through normal channels. When someone makes a one sentence comment with harmful connotations, and you need three paragraphs of philosophy to respond, you’ve lost the argument even if the audience is sympathetic to you. Even worse, many people who can correctly notice there’s a problem cannot construct that argument (I’m not sure why, just empirically this seems to be hard).

      On the other hand, it’s not clear how much power these implicit messages have. They seem like the sort of thing that would lurk in intuitive thought and pounce at opportune moments, but I don’t know of any strong evidence for that. Also, this is highly subject to euphemism treadmilling, so in the end it may make speech sillier, and create a bunch of new insults, without achieving its end.

      The case against this is that it requires additional effort in speaking. In some cases, it can produce a chilling effect — especially when people haven’t been paying attention, so they don’t know what the problematic words are, only that the subject is a minefield.

      On the other hand, these downsides seem minor compared to the potential benefits (at least if the benefits are actually realized). And the chilling effect problem becomes very small if the enforcement is done with compassion.

      The extreme case against is when it gets turned into an isolated demand for rigor (or perhaps for civility). Then it’s no more than a bullying power grab. Anyone who writes an unironic article entitled “5 Words Barbaric, Terrorist-Sympathizing Ragheads Need to Stop Using to Refer to Jews” is a bad person who should feel bad.

      If applied evenhandedly, though, this sort of correctness is probably a net good thing.

      Political Correctness of Substance

      This is the silencing of ideas that could give plausible deniability to bad people.

      For example, consider a bigotted business owner who hires members of a group preferentially, but when challenged says “I hire the most qualified people and skill happens to be distributed unevenly along that axis.” Or consider a rapist who says “they said yes to [something a little ambiguous], I guess there could have been a miscommunication.” As the author of these hypotheticals, I can tell you that both people are guilty as sin, but good luck proving that in-universe.

      But, if you deny that ability to do a given job can ever be distributed unevenly along an axis of discrimination, or that communicating about sex is as difficult as communicating about anything else, then it’s easy to “prove” their guilt. Once you’ve done that, it’s a lot easier to punish them or force them to change their ways, which in these cases is a good thing.

      Note that plausible deniability requires that the ideas be both true and important. Had the rapist claimed that false memories of being raped are routinely inserted by Sirius XM’s mind-control satellites, this would not have offered plausible deniability. The Sirius XM Theory is not politically incorrect, because it clearly isn’t true. Had the bigot claimed that native Japanese speakers often have trouble with the phoneme “l” and therefore cannot “apply” for jobs, this would not have offered plausible deniability either. The Japanese Accent Theory is not politically incorrect because it isn’t important.

      Because these claims are both true and important, you can’t really argue against them. You can simply assert they are false, very loudly and repetitively. Or you can be mean to people who point them out. Or you can get them officially banned from relevant forums. So one downside of this sort of political correctness is that it harms discoursive norms.

      Also, by the nature of plausible deniability, punishing the innocent is pretty much inevitable. If someone does suffer a sexual miscommunication, but a court believes that’s impossible and sends them to jail, where they are raped repeatedly, then the cause of decreasing rape hasn’t really been served.

      Finally, ideas which are true and important have other consequences. Hiring processes that keep getting rewritten until they find the right mix of groups will find less capable people than processes that are optimized to find the most capable people, even if that tradeoff is never made explicitly. And when the problem is important, you need the most capable people working on it. Alternatively, missing information could lead you to misinterpret education systems and get into a horrible zero-sum competition that destroys your country’s middle class.

      As may be apparent, I think this is a bad thing on net, but let’s remember it is trying to do something good.

      • Interesting and balanced analysis.

      • I also liked this analysis. Sort of belongs on rationalist wiki page somewhere (do we have a SSC wiki yet? Or best comments collection?). Rational wiki seems to have an article, but its actually hard for me to tell if its parody or not. Thanks for posting.

        • Anonymous says:

          I am continually astonished to see people here talking about Rational Wiki as anything even approaching a credible or useful source. Have you read anything on there before? It’s a left-wing Conservapedia. Any time there is the smallest tension between presenting some information accurately and making a joke about how stupid right-wingers are, the latter is chosen, every single time.

          Is it because it has ‘rational’ in its name? They can call it that without actually being rational, you know. It feels as odd seeing it taken seriously among a bunch of smart, sensible people as it would if it were common to see people here post, “Huh, I wonder what the Daily Mail has to say about this?”.

          • BBA says:

            Back in the 2000s “rational” just meant “anti-Bush.” It made sense at the time.

          • Deiseach says:

            Hey, “The Daily Mail” is very useful if I want to see what are the current concerns of the unhinged barking at the moon To The Right Of Attila The Hun wing of the Tories! (Mainly property prices, immigrants, and the effect of immigrants on property prices, also how the EU wants to take over the nation, execute the Queen and rip up the Union Jack) 🙂

          • Actually I haven’t read much on there and I just assumed it was a rationalist thing not a left thing. So is there a rationalist wiki somewhere? LW, while very interesting/informative, isn’t ideal in my mind because of EY’s very narrow stance on what are acceptable views on a number of non-trivial topics.

          • AlexanderRM says:

            Mostly unrelated, but thank you for explaining Conservapedia to me. For some reason I’d never really understood what was going on with that (is it a parody, or conservatives?), and your statement clicked somehow. If I understand you, you’re saying they start out each article doing something like trying to present factual information, but keep interrupting themselves to make jokes about how terrible the left is, without actually coordinating the jokes to make cohesive parody articles.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “but let’s remember it is trying to do something good.”

        Why does that matter? Particularly since so many here at least claim to be some form of consequentialists, and consequentialist theories give no moral weight to intentions. Harm is harm, whether or not you’re trying to do good.

        • Arioch says:

          It doesn’t matter much when evaluating whether PC of substance is a bad thing. Depending on your moral philosophy, it might matter when it comes to your moral judgement of the people involved.

        • Ant says:

          If you want someone to stop doing something, knowing if they do this out of malice or not matters greatly. For instance, I expect that insisting a lot about the evilness of the action to change will not have much effect on someone who does it knowing it hurts.

      • Arioch says:

        I really like this analysis. One thing I think it’s missing is that “PC of Form” is sometimes used more as a shibboleth rather than to serve its stated purpose (i.e. to avoid mind-killing and hurt feelings). In these cases, a term (or set of terms) which is *not* loaded with negative affect is declared problematic without very strong justification, and all right-thinking people have to use the new term instead. The most obvious example of this type I can think of is “people of colour”.

        This is pretty clearly not a good thing, but it’s also not a good thing to assume (as I think some people do) that *all* PC of form is shibboleth-y signaling.

      • Error says:

        I want to nominate this for next OT’s comment of the week.

      • James says:

        Just echoing that, yes, this is good. The second part seems original (or at least new to me) correct, and useful.

  17. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Did something happen to the “Recent Comments” section? I can’ see it anymore.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      My host said it was using up too many resources. Usually these things break every couple of months and start devouring resources, we wait a little while, and then we try them again and they’re fine. Hopefully Recent Comments can come back soon.

      • onyomi says:

        I would also like to show my support for the recent comments function by pointing out a very useful aspect of it: it encourages people continuing to read and think about older posts, and to put comments in the comment sections of the posts where they belong.

        If, for example, I read a post which is 1 year old and think of something I’d really like to say about it, or see a discussion I’d really like to add to, assuming the old posters are still around, I can either wait for the next open thread and link the old post, or I can just comment on the post itself and hope it shows up in recent comments where someone will notice there is life on the old comment thread. Without the recent comments function, there is almost no chance of a comment on an older post getting noticed, which turns them into archives of conversations long past rather than dynamic nodes of continued discussion.

        Of course, it’s inevitable and maybe even desirable that a really old post will eventually get set in stone and that people wanting to revisit should probably start a new thread in an OT, rather than continually digging up ancient history, but it also seems desirable that posts go in the comment sections of the post they’re about whenever possible. From the perspective of future readers it will be easier to find them there than in OTs, any of which could be about anything.

        • It would be great to be able to discuss old posts too. I actually think a registration and inbox (comment replies) feature would be ideal for that purpose, though no doubt there are many options.

  18. Asterix says:

    Kohlberg postulates? observes? stages of moral development, from an infant’s lack of understanding to a mature understanding that goes beyond the rules. I think it’s supposed to be like Piaget’s observation of children learning more physical realities.

    So something that interests me is how this works out in ideologies. Presumably each ideology will congratulate itself on being further along than its out-group, or else will dispute the stages. What about Nietzsche? Would he say the whole thing’s a crock, or add a new stage of being (ahem) beyond good and evil? Would Hindus do the same, as Atman is beyond our understanding? Christians would recognize St. Paul’s giving up the letter of the law as going from stage 4 rules to something better, except that some, like young people still in stage 4, would have a hard time understanding what he’s on about. Daoists seem to pay attention to how hard it is to encode reality in stage-4 rules, so Daoism might also be hard to understand at a certain age. (Maybe at any age.)

    So is there a stage beyond Kohlberg’s sequence? Are there branches along the path? Or are we stuck here by the way our brains work?

    • HlynkaCG says:

      What if your ideology rejects the premise?

      It seems there are a fair number of assumptions in Kohlberg’s spectrum that I don’t buy. How would the distinctions between Consequentialist, Deontological, and Virtue ethics map to it, if at all?

      • Asterix says:

        What assumptions don’t you buy?

        The ideologies wouldn’t _have_ to map to stages of development. It seems to me consequentialism is about social contract (5), but I’m not sure. Maybe it can be viewed as a set of rules (4). A consequentialist might know.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          For starters, the idea that stages described are in fact hierarchical and flow naturally from previous to the next.

          As Earthly Knight says below, the progression Kohlberg makes normative for all human beings seems to have a lot more to do with Kohlberg’s own views on ethics than they do with observed behavior.

      • Paul Torek says:

        Consequentialism, deontology, and virtue theory don’t really map to Kohlberg. Some varieties of consequentialism might be pegged as K’s stage 5, but it’s a loose fit at best.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          That is essentialy my point. To someone who thinks about ethics in such terms Kohlerg’s hierarchy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      My impression is that Kohlberg’s stages were never well-supported by evidence, and that no one’s taken them very seriously in a long time. Rigid, sequential stages of development through which all human beings must pass are largely a bad hangover from Freud, a historical curiosity mentioned in passing in introductory psychology textbooks before being promptly dismissed.

      The stages are also deeply unfair to heterodox moral theories. Contractarians in ethics (i.e. those who think that our moral obligations are fixed by a hypothetical social contract) will rightly be peeved that their considered moral views are a stepping stone to the final stage of development. Particularists in ethics (i.e. those who hold that there are no universal, abstract moral principles) will rightly object to the fact that they can never become mature moral thinkers. One suspects that the progression Kohlberg makes normative for all human beings has a lot more to do with Kohlberg’s own views on ethics than any sort of law of human nature.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      I’m a conteactarian, and I think many contracts could be improved on, so I’m not peeved.

    • Hanfeizi says:

      Have you looked at Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, or Don Beck & Chris Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics? Both of these essentially expand on Kohlberg’s themes.

      I’ve noticed that developmental and staged models seem to be really out of favor these days, to the point that they’re hardly mentioned in even fringe dialogues like the ones on this site. Which is very odd to me, given that it seems to map naturally to anyone obsessed with development, “progress”, the future of civilization, the history of civilization, etc…

    • Not Robin Hanson says:

      Hypothesis: Kohlberg’s stages of moral development are merely the moral encoding of what the old Bedouin proverb says more plainly: “I, against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” Tribalism is recursive. You need more “advanced” moral reasoning in order to organize larger groups as well as secure your place within them.

  19. Is the decreased happiness of night owls as compared to larks caused by a mismatch in circadian rhythm compared to socially accepted work schedules, or is it somehow intrinsic? Or is lack of sunlight exposure maybe the underlying factor?

    Is the lowered happiness a cultural universal? Are night owls happier when it’s brighter later in the day?

    Related: if I want to be evaluated for Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, should I go to a psychiatrist or a sleep clinic? Are there any diagnostic criteria or tests other than “the patient claims to be an extreme night owl and scores highly on the Morningness/Eveningness Questionnaire?

    • Matthew says:

      I don’t know that I could disentangle these effects from my own experience, because I take 5000 D3 every day year round and use a gradual light/birdsong alarm clock, which would probably mitigate the light issue somewhat, but I’m definitely much less likely to be depressed when able to sleep later.

    • James Picone says:

      I talked to my GP and he referred me to a psychologist specialising in sleep (but not an actual sleep clinic). There might be someone similar in your area?

      For diagnosis, I spent several months recording when I went to bed, when I was asleep and when I was awake in bed, when I got up, any naps I took throughout the day, when I drank caffeine, when I drank alcohol, when I took medication, and when I stopped using a computer each day. I also recorded how much sleep I believed I’d gotten and how long I believed I had spent in bed. A caffeine curfew and a computer curfew were instituted, I struggled mightily to be in bed at midnight and to get up at a particular time (it varied over the course of recording). Psych tried a couple of scheduling things to make my sleep less fragmented / better in general (saying “You are only allowed 7 hours in bed each day” for example).

      After a few of months of that she conceded that caffeine, computer usage late at night, and willpower weren’t the problem and got my doctor to prescribe melatonin (it’s prescription-only over here). Continued recording sleep for a few weeks when I was on melatonin, noted the improvement, went “Alright, we’re all good then”.

      Your mileage may vary. I get the feeling maintaining a sleep diary like that is very much standard practice for people in the field, so it’s probably one of the standard techniques. The idea of a sleep clinic or some related stuff was floated, but wasn’t looked into in any real depth. I don’t actually have a diagnosis, as such, other than the psych saying “Well it seems like you have a very long rhythm and can’t entrain properly”, but if you don’t need that and do need a solution it might help. I wasn’t employed at the time, which helped a lot – there were weeks in there where I was a shambling zombie because of sleep deprivation. If you are in employment a sleep clinic might be better.

      I know people in psychological studies of sleep are often given an internal thermometer – you swallow it and it wirelessly communicates readings and/or is collected from the other end – and things can be inferred from body temperature over the length of a day. I’m not sure if that’s done for actual medical diagnosis or just for research – it came up in the context of research.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      If you have a modern smartphone and want more objective data than a questionnaire result, it’s pretty easy these days to run a do-it-yourself sleep study. Go to the apple or google store and download a “sleep tracker” app. Then leave your iPhone/whatever plugged in overnight running the app as it sits on the corner of your bed. The app uses the vibration sensor to figure out how awake you are based on how much you thrash around and how rhythmically you’re breathing through the night. Run it every night for a week or so and you’ll be able to bring the doctor a pretty chart showing exactly what your sleep cycle looks like and you’ll have a control run you can compare against when you experiment with changing anything related to food/drink/light exposure/bedtime/supplements/drugs/exercise.

  20. Alsadius says:

    Re pandemic prevention, I think I’m following action on this and not claims, and supporting MSF with any anti-pandemic dollars. They’re the only ones who seemed to give a shit about the big Ebola outbreak last year.

    • Aram says:

      I agree. Stopping the next pandemic will not look like doing what Singularity University is doing. Rather it’ll involve primary health care, surveillance and other health infrastructure in poor countries. MSF is probably the way to go here because they are already present in the places where the next pandemic is likely to come from. That’s why they treated probably more Ebola patients than any other group except perhaps the national governments there.

      Another answer comes from looking at how HIV got its enormous head start because we waited until it affected rich countries before really working on it. Or you might look at where XDR TB is emerging and which groups are working on it.

  21. Wait a minute says:

    A general question for everyone about linguistic intuitions.

    How successful is the concept “scientific racism”? Does it do the job it is intended to do, which is point out a certain miss use of science? Or does it do the opposite, that is make racism somehow seem less evil and more justified? People who see science as a reliable methodology might get this idea. It´s like saying “rational racism”, which would sound like a justification than condemnation. I know the intention behind the label is the opposite, namely to get people to intuit negatively towards “science” that is reaching pro-racist conclusions.

    • James says:

      It’s the sort of collocation that is pretty much defined by its use. It just makes me think of late 19th/early 20th century phrenologists, and so forth.

    • Asterix says:

      Words deceive by connotation. Sort of like we mustn’t “discriminate,” but it’s good to be “discriminating.” I think “racism” is so dark that even “scientific” can’t make it seem nice, at least in this decade. “Peer-reviewed” is stronger, but “peer-reviewed racism” is a head-scratcher (fortunately!).

    • Wrong Species says:

      Has anyone ever used scientific racism in a positive manner? It seems very effective at what it’s meant to do.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      Scientific Racism is a term along the lines of “Bourgeois Pseudoscience” or “Jewish Physics” (which means, as per Godwin, I’ve officially lost the debate). It lops off quite a bit of solid research, including nearly the entirety of physical anthropology and psychometrics, in an attempt to reconcile scientific findings with ideology. So far it has been very successful in doing so: for example, James above who characterizes pioneering forensic anthropologists as “phrenologists” when their findings are still being used today.

      As for making racism seem more or less evil, that depends on your definition. If racism is about unreasoning hatred then facts would presumably have little value either way. If it’s about structural oppression then accurate information about race would seem to be necessary for building less oppressive structures. If racism is just believing that race exists, then you’ve defined yourself into a corner where factual knowledge is itself evil.

      • James says:

        for example, James above who characterizes pioneering forensic anthropologists as “phrenologists” when their findings are still being used today.

        I should clarify that I was only reporting the associations it has for me, not endorsing them; i.e., I don’t necessarily actually believe that all work that could conceivably be described as ‘scientific racism’ is of the same calibre as phrenology.

      • Ever An Anon says:

        Yeah that came off a bit harsh on you. Originally I was going to talk about Gould’s role in spreading that misconception (still pissed about being taken in by The Mismeasure of Man) but your comment was right there.

        I still have a few minutes to edit it if you would prefer.

        • James says:

          No, no, I don’t mind. It just made me realise I ought to clarify.

          Originally I was going to talk about Gould’s role in spreading that misconception

          Sounds like it can be added to the ever-growing list of misconceptions in whose spreading Gould had a role.

        • Anonymous says:

          Would you care to discuss Gould’s book in more detail? I took it at face value when I read it and would not have noticed any errors or omissions.

          • Addict says:

            Gould has a history of behavior unbecoming of an academic. Particularly, getting things wrong, and plaigarism.


          • “Now it is not very hard to find out, if you spend a little while reading in evolution, that Gould is the John Kenneth Galbraith of his subject. That is, he is a wonderful writer who is bevolved by literary intellectuals and lionized by the media because he does not use algebra or difficult jargon. Unfortunately, it appears that he avoids these sins not because he has transcended his colleagues but because he does does not seem to understand what they have to say; and his own descriptions of what the field is about – not just the answers, but even the questions – are consistently misleading. His impressive literary and historical erudition makes his work seem profound to most readers, but informed readers eventually conclude that there’s no there there.”

            (Krugman on Gould)

          • Linch says:

            How reliable is Krugman as a source?

          • Linch asks how reliable Krugman is as a source.

            I happen to agree with Krugman about both Gould and Galbraith, if not about much else, so may not be the person to ask. Krugman is a very bright guy. He is at present a professional public intellectual, a sort of left wing Limbaugh (although he might not appreciate the comparison), which I think badly distorts his view on some subjects—compare what he says about minimum wage laws with what he wrote on the subject in a textbook some time back.

            But Gould was also on the left, so I don’t see that Krugman would feel any pressure to be hostile to him.

            Also, economists tend to like evolutionary biology, since the two sciences have very similar logical structures. I like it, and it’s clear that Krugman likes it. So it isn’t surprising that he got far enough into it to form the opinion he did about Gould.

          • suntzuanime says:

            To be fair, I think there’s a strong pressure to present the orthodox views of your field rather than your own personal heterodox views when you’re writing a textbook. Public Intellectual Krugman might have less distorted views relative to Actual Deep-Down Krugman than Textbook Author Krugman.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ Wait a minute
      Does it do the job it is intended to do, which is point out a certain miss use of science?

      Intended by whom? Words, like mail-order brides, often desert the person who introduced them.

      If you want to discredit something, it works better to put the negative word first , cf Creation science.

  22. Stefan Drinic says:

    I’m genuinely interested to hear what our resident libertarians think of the sale of antibiotics.

    I can see why you’d want to legalise weed or other drugs, as ‘this harms only the user and nobody else’ is technically not a wrong argument in such a case. Are there libertarians here who are for legalisation of most/many drugs but not antibiotics, or even those who think they should be legalised anyway?

    Note: I’m aware antibiotics can be easily bought in many places worldwide. My country keeps them prescription-based, and I think that’s for the best, too.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      I’m a libertarian, but don’t know enough about antibiotics to know whether the good effects of banning the sale of non-prescription antibiotics outweigh the bad. It may well be that this is one of the rare cases where government intervention leads to a better outcome than the free market.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        Bad side effects of freely available antibiotics: everyone and their mother can and often will use the things whenever they get so much as a sniffle, which leads to an increase in resistant bacteria and isn’t very good for the human anti-immune system in general.

        Positive side effects of freely available antibiotics: you can get your antibiotics to treat some infection a few hours earlier than you would on a prescription basis, I guess?

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          Some good effects of freely available antibiotics you didn’t consider: if you or someone you know and trust has the relevant medical knowledge to be pretty sure that your doctor would just prescribe you antibiotics, you can just buy them right away, cutting out the middleman and saving time and money. As with drug prohibition, there are costs associated with enforcement. And no matter how vigorous the enforcement, there always is a black market in whatever prohibited goods people wish to buy, with all the problems that entails.

          As I already said, I do not know if these benefits outweigh the harms, but the matter certainly isn’t as black and white as you suggest.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            I did not consider those things, it is true.

            On the other hand.. I haven’t the faintest clue about some kind of antibiotic black market existing where I live, not to mention in other places where they’re not so easy to get. There probably are ways to make sure you can get some without a doctor’s direct approval, but I’m fairly sure that even with minimal enforcement you could cut down on unnecessary antibiotic use enough for the sheer reason that most people aren’t the sort to illegally acquire antibiotics for whatever reason.

          • Saal says:

            The black market in antibiotics is online, not local. I’ve only used antibiotics once in the past 3 years or so, but when I did, I purchased them via Canadian pharmacies. you can also get high-quality medications from India.

          • Pku says:

            Is there a particular reason you didn’t just go to a doctor? it seems like it’s be simpler and probably cheaper, and I think doctors are pretty trigger-happy with antibiotics if you have a legitimate complaint (though I guess it’s possible they’re tougher about it wherever you live).
            (Unless you actually are canadian, in which case I misread that whole comment).

          • Saal says:

            I am uninsured. Just the cost of seeing a PA or nurse practitioner at a low-cost health clinic in my area is more expensive than ordering antibiotics online.

            Edit: Doctors are extremely trigger-happy with antibiotics everywhere I’ve ever lived. The antibiotic question was actually the first step on a road which led me to disavow orthodox libertarianism.

            Edit2: Another route that I’ve seen some uninsured people in my area take is purchasing veterinary broad-spectrum antibiotics (eg sulfa for cattle and other livestock) and just changing the dose, but I live in an area in Texas known for ranching, so it’s probably not all that common elsewhere.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Another route that I’ve seen some uninsured people in my area take is purchasing veterinary broad-spectrum antibiotics (eg sulfa for cattle and other livestock) and just changing the dose, but I live in an area in Texas known for ranching, so it’s probably not all that common elsewhere.

            The way I heard it is that you can just buy fish antibiotics over-the-counter for human use.

          • Lupis42 says:

            Edit: Doctors are extremely trigger-happy with antibiotics everywhere I’ve ever lived. The antibiotic question was actually the first step on a road which led me to disavow orthodox libertarianism.

            Oddly, I had the opposite reaction to this sort of question. Antibiotic resistance seems like the sort of co-ordination problem that might require a governmental or regulatory solution. Hey, we have a large regulatory apparatus around the creation and use of drugs. What are they doing? They’re ignoring the problem, while spending enormous resources punishing doctors for prescribing painkillers, suppressing research into the use of marijuana, because it might turn out to be too cheap, effective, and free of harmful side effects, and restricting access to pseudo-ephedrine.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Important point here: the biggest problem with antibiotic use is farmers (i.e. large agricultural corporations) using them indiscriminately on livestock in order to make a few extra bucks, and not with little Cindy Lou’s parents insisting that she be given amoxicillin for her head cold.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        Yeah, that’s true. I’d like seeing the mass feeding of antibiotics to livestock reduced, too. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, agriculture gets too much popular and governmental support in general, which ironically again is something a libertarian could get behind. I’m just curious whether or not many libertarians would support antibiotics being free for all, and the thought process behind such a position.

        • keranih says:

          PS I would love to see a way to convince a pathogen that it was only allowed to develop resistance to a drug if the drug was administered to a cow that belonged to a large agriculture corporation, whilst refraining from developing resistance when the same drug was given to a cow that was on a family farm.

          That would be a neat trick!

          • Linch says:

            Unless I completely misunderstand his prior comments on this issue, Earthly Knight isn’t exactly a fan of livestock-raising “family farms” (to put it mildly), so I don’t think your sarcasm is particularly relevant here.

          • keranih says:

            @ Linch –

            I will cop to sarcasm, which was not necessarily kind.

            I do, hold that it is relevant, particularly in the context discussed.

      • keranih says:

        Important point here: the biggest problem with antibiotic use is farmers (i.e. large agricultural corporations) using them indiscriminately on livestock in order to make a few extra bucks, and not with little Cindy Lou’s parents insisting that she be given amoxicillin for her head cold.

        This sort of statement should be supported with data. (It may be difficult to find this data, as the statement is not accurate.)

        A decent starting place for a summary of the state of the science, and of the current consensus of experts is 2014 Report to the President.

        Let me be clear – there is a common global microorganism pool, and any use of antibiotics – in people, cows, cats, whatever – increases the development of resistant pathogens, and brings the day closer when that drug is no longer effective against that pathogen. But if you look at the list of drugs of concern, and of pathogens of concern, you see that overwhelmingly, the diseases of concern are human-specific, and it is through the misuse of drugs in the human population that we are in the current fix.

        We have multi-drug resistant TB because treatment of TB in humans is not done optimally. We have multi-drug resistant gonorrhea because we have mismanaged that as well. MRSA is a human pathogen, with occasional and rare cross contamination into animals. C. diff is almost entirely a disease that comes from patient-specific antibiotic overuse. (I could go on and on, do read the report and do the research.) I support the shift to reduce use of antibiotics of concern in any animals, so that we preserve them for human use, but attempts to blame agriculture for this are counterproductive and mostly consist of tribal signalling.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          The degree to which antibiotic use in livestock has contributed to the current spread of multi-resistant diseases is not known, although likely to be substantial, as your link says repeatedly. Your inference from the fact that the diseases of concern are human-specific to the conclusion that the problem is caused primarily by antibiotic overuse in humans is erroneous, because the frequency of lateral gene transfer between livestock-specific pathogens and human-specific pathogens is also not known.

          It is relevant that the great majority of antibiotics used in this country are given to livestock, and that perhaps half of antibiotic use in humans is medically necessary.

          • keranih says:

            The degree to which antibiotic use in livestock has contributed to the current spread of multi-resistant diseases is not known

            Exactly, after a number of people have spent a great deal of time trying to determine just how badly “farmers” were harming all of us.

            And in direct contrast to your previous statement that agricultural antibiotic use was “the biggest problem”. It’s not.

            your conclusion that the fact that the diseases of concern are human-specific to the conclusion that the problem is caused primarily by antibiotic overuse in humans is erroneous, because the frequency of lateral gene transfer between livestock-specific pathogens and human-specific pathogens is also not known.

            Not so. Firstly, it is not an erroneous conclusion, because any review of the history of antibiotic resistance would show that issues in human populations occurred long before the use of antibiotics in animals. Secondly, half an instant’s consideration of the problem would show that “agricultural-related resistance” would show up first in food animal veterinarians and farmers – as does agriculture-related pathogens, such as bovine-origin tb, glanders, avian influenza, brucellosis, and half-a-hundred other zoonotic diseases. Instead, antibiotic resistance shows up in conditions of urban poverty and poor patient compliance (due to funds, instability in living conditions, poor housing, lack of education, whatever).

            The exact degree of influence of agriculture antibiotics on global resistance patterns is not known. But not for lack of people who really REALLY wanted to find a smoking gun to show that “large agriculture conglomerations” are teh evol.

            What is very well understood, though, is that human misuse of antibiotics directly leads to resistance patterns. In this context, trying to blame farmers – either “large corporate conglomerations” or not – for the on-going disease and death, and for degradation of our most potent tools against human and animal misery – is blame shifting which does next to nothing to fix the problem, and a great deal of harm in convincing the public that “farmers” are responsible for the mess we are in – and not the people lining up for abx for Cindy’s snotty nose.

            (I suggest Farmer’s works on TB in Haiti.)

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Firstly, it is not an erroneous conclusion, because any review of the history of antibiotic resistance would show that issues in human populations occurred long before the use of antibiotics in animals.

            The argument you are making here is that because A preceded B as a cause of C, B could not be a/the significant cause of C. This is a patently invalid argument.

            The premise is also false. Antibiotic use in livestock dates back to ~1950, not long after antibiotics began being widely prescribed to humans.

            The exact degree of influence of agriculture antibiotics on global resistance patterns is not known. But not for lack of people who really REALLY wanted to find a smoking gun to show that “large agriculture conglomerations” are teh evol.

            The scientific consensus is that antibiotic use in livestock undoubtedly contributes to antibiotic-resistance in humans but that the magnitude of the effect is not known, your clueless protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. The key difference between antibiotic use in humans and antibiotic use in animals is that the latter is around 4 times as common but almost none (or, arguably, absolutely none) of it is medically necessary. This is why I say it is a bigger problem.

    • brad says:

      I think our policies around narcotics and antibiotics are exactly backwards. The DEA should be raiding offices looking for doctors prescribing antibiotics for viral colds, not doctors writing Oxycontin scripts to drug addicts.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        Judging from all the replies I’m getting here, the consensus seems to be ‘no, freely available antibiotics shouldn’t be a thing,’ which is bad for my curiosity as far as the people who would support that are concerned, but a relief where it comes to libertarians present here thinking of the implications some of their policies might have.

        • anon85 says:

          If you’re looking to debate some less reasonable libertarians, you can try reddit’s /r/LibertarianDebates (I found it to be a pretty good place for finding ideological libertarians, but not a great place to have a productive debate).

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Hey, I was curious, not out for internet points. I was wondering whether or not there are many libertarians who think antibiotics should be freely available, and whether or not the arguments in favor of them are very good. I’d rather try finding out here than on reddit.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t know if I count as libertarian, but I think I support legalizing most currently-prescription-only drugs, and I wouldn’t support that with antibiotics.

      • onyomi says:

        Although being an unambiguous libertarian myself, I still have problems with denying the sale of antibiotics to adults of sound mind, I think this is a much more defensible stance than the banning of heroin, etc. One is not, after all, reducing the efficacy of aspirin for everybody else by abusing heroin.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      Antibiotic resistance seems like a clear case of government intervention being justified.

      The cost of using antibiotics carelessly falls almost entirely on other people. By the same token using them with care is costly in terms of knowledge (most college educated people could not tell you whether any given disease is bacterial or not) or in the case of farmers directly costly because indiscriminate use actually increases the size of their animals. And of course erring on the side of safety can mean having a nasty infection or losing animals.

      Given that restrictions on antibiotics are pretty reasonable, and arguably could be a lot tighter.

    • John Schilling says:

      A corollary to the libertarian-purist economic ideal where antibiotics can be freely purchased over the counter, is that in the libertarian-purist free market the manufacturer can simply say, “We have an antibiotic that can still cure all the extreme drug-resistant infections out there, so we’re going for the market niche of Pay Us $50,000 If You Get One Of Those Infections, Or Die”. Other manufacturers can go after the Pay Us $10 So You Can Make Believe You’ve Done Something About Your Kid’s Cold market. Hmm, for best results the $50K antibiotic is only available at licensed inpatient clinics or through cooperating hospitals; makes sure everyone sticks around for the full course of treatment, and camouflages the price by bundling it with the clinic fee.

      If the libertarian utopia doesn’t have patent laws for an enforced monopoly, it probably doesn’t have an FDA requiring you to disclose the formula for approval, so you can get the same result by trade secrecy.

      Or, if you’re willing to allow for deviations from libertarian ideological purity, you can have the FDA require prescriptions for at least some antibiotics. For anyone but an extreme ideological purist, that looks like a pretty good trade – especially if you don’t insist on a prescription for every sort of antibiotic.

      Pragmatically, though, I don’t think it matters. Enough doctors will hand out the prescriptions on demand to negate the effect. Manufacturers will succumb to the temptation to expand their short-term markets, cartels will fall to defection, and neither patents nor trade secrets will last long enough. What will keep some antibiotics effective is that some antibiotics simply can’t be given in pill form, some have dangerous or unpleasant side effects, and nobody is going to sign up for twice-daily injections under medical supervision for a cold or flu.

    • James says:

      There is a great humility in regards to Libertarianism. If, as a single member of Libertarianism, I knew the answer of the best way to handle anything (antibiotics), then that would necessarily disprove Libertarianism, as oligarchy or central planning would be sufficient in handling the issue (antibiotics).

      So, if you’d like to prohibit them, then have a community which disallows them. Personally, I’m not educated on the subject enough so I’d probably look at the communities in Ancapistan, and observe how they treat antibiotics, and choose accordingly.

      Perhaps your health insurance, or rights protection agency, or private police force could recommend that your life expectancy and that of your kids is longer in that community where antibiotics are required, thereby making them more money over the course of your lifetime.

      • Saal says:

        This may have been an ok solution in the alternate timeline where people WEREN’T globally interconnected with near-free travel between communities. I mean, for god’s sake, ancaps are for open borders! Sure, I can go join my takes-antibiotics-only-when-needed community, but the next community over takes a sub-clinical dose twice daily and I’m not allowed to wall the stupid bastards out.

        • James says:

          Why are you not allowed to build a wall to keep “the stupid bastards out”?

          Seems a rather silly solution. The invader would not be able to drive on your communities roads without the antibiotic approved driver’s license. He could not eat without the antibiotic approved grocery membership. He could not pay for anything without the antibiotic approved debit card for your community’s bank. He would be unable to live in your community. Your local insurance company, police force, or antibiotic center would quarantine, feed, and deport the individual.

          Of course, the invader could cough and kill your entire community. So maybe your wall is the best solution. We won’t know until we are free. Free to fail. Free to voluntary associate with one another. Free to discriminate.

          Forgive me: Statists seem so humorless and lacking imagination. I imagine Statists looking at a pair of shoes, the dating market, and even friendships, and fainting at the thought that these things exist without government, force, and violence.

          Without anarchy, there would be chaos.

          • Saal says:

            Look, man. Don’t be that guy that throws the word ‘statist’ around and thinks he’s scored points. I’ve read my Rothbard, Mises, Hayek, Friedman, etc. I considered myself a libertarian for several years. I’m pro-recreational drug legalization, support legalizing prostitution, have real issues with bureaucratic regulation due to capture and public choice issues. I am a decidedly non-central example of ‘statist’.

            My opposition to freely available antibiotics has to do with how biology works. Having pro- and anti- freely available antibiotics communities DOES NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Unless you are prepared to undertake a Berlin-wall style separation programme in all the communities around the dunces who are abusing their antibiotics (and probably not even then), you are not going to prevent those pathogens from getting out. If you’re close enough to check Mr. antibiotic-disapproved’s driver’s license (since when do ancaps do driver’s licences, btw?), you’ve already undergone significant risk of introducing the pathogen into your community, and if it’s something nasty, you may have doomed every medically vulnerable (young, old, autoimmune deficient, pregnant, etc.) person in your community to death. Scoffing at my statist control-freakness will not change that fact.

            As for “free to fail”, great. So now one little community’s fuckup means everyone else gets to undergo a massively harmful plague. But at least the morons with the amoxycillin were free, right?

          • Adam says:

            Give me liberty or give me unkillable drug-resistant super diseases.

          • James says:

            Your statement of not being able to build walls and your statement of driver’s licenses not being able to be voluntary and “ancap”, made me think of the statist close-mindedness.

            Apologies. I obviously don’t know enough about the subject. I can imagine experts on the subject can come up with voluntary solutions. Much like a road builder may come up with the voluntary exchange of currency for a license to drive on his roads. Perhaps that’s a bad idea. I don’t know. Let the experts have it out. I just can’t imagine the solution to antibiotics is not solved by force.

            I’m not particularly arguing that antibiotics be free.

          • Saal says:

            James, it’s not just that you “can’t build walls”, although I think it’s salient that open borders are kind of a big deal among ancaps. It’s that walls aren’t effective against microorganisms. Nor checkpoints, licensing, etc. And it’s the fact that if a superbug is made in one community, the chances are arbitrarily close to 0 that without a well-financed organization with a mandate to quarantine people, forcibly restrict travel, etc. (otherwise known as evil statism!!!!) you aren’t going to prevent that superbug from going wherever it damn well pleases. And you certainly aren’t going to prevent the superbug from coming into existence in the first place.

            The fact is, “we’ll just have communities for people who like superbugs and communities for people who don’t!” is the absolute weakest possible argument for libertarianizing(?) antibiotics. Some other libertarians in this thread have made stronger arguments, such as pointing out that the current system of “spend $150 and 3 hours getting antibiotics that the doctor is going to give you pretty much no matter what so everyone is wasting time, money, and STILL making superbugs” is not a particularly worthy one. There are changes that could be made to improve this (some of them even relatively libertarian in nature!); perhaps primary care doctors are so swamped with patients that they just hand out the scrips to empty their waiting rooms, and we need to make it easier for NP’s and PA’s to run their own practices so these less-credentialed people can handle some of the load, and ensure patients are getting properly diagnosed before writing scrips. I don’t know.

            What I do know is “We’ll just let each community decide if they wanna raise cute little pet superbugs and segregate ourselves from the ones that do!” is utterly detached from reality.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I remember having the same mindset when I was an ancap. The problem is that you say we aren’t being open minded but all statists make judgement calls on what the government should or shouldn’t be involved with(unless you think the Soviet Union is the way to go). So we’re all trying to figure this out and have learned it’s pretty difficult. The problem with ancap is that there is no room for being open minded. Every problem has to be answered with less government and you can’t budge on anything, because if the government is the right answer to anything, then that completely tears the down the case for ancap.

            There are many libertarian minded people here who would love for ancap to be the right choice for society and probably a decent percentage who were ancap at some point. Maybe we’re wrong and you’re right but you can’t just assume that we’re all brainwashed drones who mindlessly accepts the conventional narrative without question.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            A lot of ancaps probably do believe that “if the government is the right answer to anything, then that completely tears the down the case for ancap.” But it isn’t necessarily true: history offers pretty good reasons for doubting that the government, once you’ve set it up, will limit itself to those things for which it’s the right answer.

          • To expand on Paul’s point …

            One result of having a government at the moment is a set of policies that make producing drugs much more expensive and sharply reduce the number produced. There’s an old Peltzman article where he estimated that one change in the regulations (The Kefauver Amendments) cut the number of new drugs coming out in half with no observable effect on average quality.

            The easier it is to produce new drugs, the less serious the problem of disease organisms adapting to the existing drugs.

            Of course, the argument can be made in the other direction as well. An A-C legal system probably would not have intellectual property law (for reasons I explain in one of the new chapters in the third edition of _MoF_). That might reduce the rate of innovation in drugs.

            More generally, since we have not found any mechanisms for making a government do all and only the things that are in the interest of the people it rules, the relevant comparison is not between A-C and the ideal government policy but between A-C and the set of government policies you think will result from having a government.

          • AlexanderRM says:

            Seeing that all the comments below this are about the practicality of building walls (and on that subject: I’d also like to note that in the real world, building walls isn’t free. So even if you could do that, that’s imposing a cost on the don’t-want-superbugs communities)- am I the only one who thinks the above description of an Ancap community doesn’t exactly sound very libertarian or free? In fact it sounds like a classic SF dystopia where everything is monitored.

            I assume the (unstated) difference between that and a state is that people have free exit rights, archipelago-style, even if they don’t have entry rights… which seems to mean you’d need to outlaw any sort of private contract which impeded those, which requires statism.

            Also, besides the deontological moral arguments, that basically means abandoning many of the *practical* arguments in favor of libertarianism- if free trade is beneficial, then keeping people out of the community is harmful (and thus another cost imposed on the community by the superbug folks).

      • Deiseach says:

        Prescribing medicines is one of the areas where we need to leave it up to the experts. Certainly the public expectation of “a pill for every ill” and the original enthusiasm (and lack of experience of what would happen) about antibiotics as the magic cure for everything led to over-prescribing.

        Now we know (or should know) that antibiotics can’t cure everything and that you need to follow the regime completely, so restrictions on antibiotics (not being able to walk in and buy them over the counter) sounds reasonable.

        Of course, we’re still far off the ideal situation where doctors test first and then prescribe according to what germ you have (instead of handing out a broad-spectrum antibiotic first off) and where patients understand what medicine they’re taking and why, and stick to completing the course, not mixing them with other medications, giving them to family members who have a lurgy, or thinking “The funny rash has gone away, I can get back on the dating scene and needn’t mention my little problem to potential partners” 🙂

      • Deiseach says:

        Speaking (broadly) of drugs and Libertarianism and should or shouldn’t the government intervene to ban/legalise things, what opinions on this story?

        I don’t want to write it off as “Greedy vulture sees opportunity to make a killing” and there probably is a point in there about hiking up prices of very rarely used drugs to fund research, but on the other hand – the guy does seem a bit dodgy (at least how he’s presented here) and if the drug is over sixty years old, is this a case for patent-busting? Or the government funding generics? I mean, if GSK sold off the rights, obviously it thought there wasn’t profit to be made, so how can the price supposedly leap from $13.50 a pill to $750? I know drugs can really be that expensive (my brother has just come back from being part of a team training in the workers on a production line for GSK in one of their English factories where they were making cancer medication that did indeed cost hundreds of pounds per dose) but this seems quite the hike (if true).

        • John Schilling says:

          As usual, Derek Lowe has a pretty good take on this, and why the industry shouldn’t stand for it

          And yes, it’s pretty much a straight ripoff. Part of the reason they can get away with it despite the drugs being long off-patent is that it costs a small fortune to certify that your formulation and production process is safe and effective even though you are at least in theory exactly duplicating what was proven safe and effective by the other guys twenty years ago. The other part is that one of the tests you have to do before you can sell an off-patent generic is to test your formulation head-to-head against the original, and these guys are strictly controlling the distribution (factory direct to certified sick people only, not for resale, no you can’t just pick some up at the local pharmacy). So when someone says “I need five thousand doses for a clinical trial”, they just say “No”, and if someone says “We just completed a clinical trial anyway”, they say “And which of your people committed fraud and perjury in the process?”

          The absolutist libertarian solution should be obvious. On the other hand, the sensitivity of drugs to trace impurities and other things that shouldn’t matter because These Are Supposed To Be The Same Thing, Dammit!, has been remarked on here before and there is value in trying to make sure a proper clinical trial is done.

          Probably not $750/pill valuable.

          • Deiseach says:

            The “factory direct” proviso seems get-around-able; since the pills are so expensive, if a rival company sponsors a local hospital (or even quietly advertises for sick people who are likely to be prescribed this if they can afford it) and takes a sample dose from every patient, might they get enough to at least get a start on back-engineering the stuff?

            Or just do “knock-off version in Third World country where people are more likely to have these diseases anyway and the government sure isn’t going to prosecute us for making cheap drugs”.

            EDIT: Actually, GSK only sold the American rights. So if a generic manufacturer could source UK version of the drug (which after all is the same thing), would that be a loophole to exploit? Turing Pharmaceutical didn’t research and develop the drug itself, it’s only making it to a recipe from GSK.

          • John Schilling says:

            I believe that, when the hospital orders a course of the meds for a sick person at $750/pill, they have to sign a document saying the pills will be used for that purpose only under penalty of Being Sued For Lots Of Money. Makes it difficult to simultaneously prove to the FDA that you used the right stuff in your clinical trial, and defend all of your con-conspirators against the inevitable lawsuit from the only authorized makers of the right stuff.

            Yes, workarounds can be managed, but they will probably involve more cost and risk than are justified by the profits of selling $15, or even $50, pills to a relatively small number of people with rare diseases. Because that is part of Shkreli’s particular racket, picking the half-forgotten drugs for the half-forgotten diseases to buy the quasi-monopolistic manufacturing license and jack up the price.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            This is indeed a saddening report. But there are many things I don’t understand from the article or from Derek Lowe’s commentary.

            The free-marketeer in me says that in general when somebody tries to pull such a stunt, potential competitors come out of the woodwork, eager to cash in by selling the pills for $700, and then $650, and so on until we get down to something reasonable.

            So exactly why doesn’t that happen here? Does Turing or its hypothetical competitors have to go through the whole FDA approval process again? Derek Lowe says

            The FDA grants market exclusivity to companies that are willing to take “grandfathered” compounds into compliance with their current regulatory framework

            This suggests that it’s the FDA preventing competition. But why is it that they do this? I also see such drugs referred to as “orphaned”. Does that mean the original manufacturer has discontinued them? Why would they do that? (In other words, if Turing finds it profitable to market the drug at $750 per pill plus whatever it cost to buy the rights, why didn’t the original manufacturer find a price point that paid off?)

            Or maybe my question is: if these drugs are so rarely used that they fell into the cracks somehow, how is it that Turing finds them worth manufacturing?

            I’m not questioning the sleaziness of Martin Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals and the rest of the industry Lowe says has sprung up. I’m sure there are answers to my questions. But it seems to me that the answers must point to a flaw in the system (and the free marketeer in me suspects that the flaw is something imposed by the government, such that fixing that flaw would be far more useful than Lowe’s suggestions of jawboning respectable pharma companies in various ways).

          • suntzuanime says:

            In order to be allowed to sell your pills, you have to prove they work as well as the pills already being sold. In order to do that, you have to do a trial comparing your pills to the pills already being sold. In order to prevent you from doing that, they make anyone buying the pills promise not to use them in a trial comparing your pills to theirs. Somehow this is legal?

          • brad says:

            There’s a fair amount of legal gray area in the intersection of the FDA’s jurisdiction (i.e. drug regulation) and the FTC’s jurisdiction (i.e. antitrust law). Mostly because congress deliberately created some temporary monopolies for drugs, and it is unclear how much of the rest of antitrust law is supposed to apply.

            Another part of the problem is that the FDA’s founding mythos is all about how they saved America from thalidamide, which leads to a culture that is too risk adverse and distrustful of peer regulatory bodies in other countries.

            Ultimately, I have to agree that this is a failure of regulation. But given that by all accounts Shkreli is a serious asshole, it’s probably no bad thing that he is being cast in the role of the villain. You need a narrative to get legal changes though and thwarting a villain is a good narrative.

          • Doctor Mist says:


            Ultimately, I have to agree that this is a failure of regulation.

            Thanks. But I’d really like to understand what that failure is. What regulations could we change to preclude it, and what horrible scenarios would making that change enable?

            It’s odd to me that all the discussion seems to be about what a travesty it is and what a villain Shkreli is, without even the usual rhetoric about how he is exploiting a “loophole”.

          • John Schilling says:

            What regulations could we change to preclude it, and what horrible scenarios would making that change enable?

            My first cut would be to suggest the rules for marketing generics should be relaxed. If you can show that your version is physically and chemically identical to what’s described in the original patent / FDA approval, to a degree of precision that is reasonably achievable in a physical chemistry lab with just your version and the records of the original, you can sell it as a generic equivalent.

            It might turn out that, for some subtle reason, it only cures 80% of patients where the original cured 90%, or that it gives 5% of patients a severe headache or whatever. You’re not going to get Thalidomide 2.0, and the lesser stuff we can sort out on a case-by-case basis and watch the statistics come in.

            Even without Shrekli, some of the promise of generics is lost to the fact that only a handful of companies can afford the current process. A closed oligopoly is better than a straight-up monopoly, but an actual free market might work better.

          • anon1 says:

            Different crystal structures of the same molecule can have very different bioavailabilities and hence very different effectiveness, so the FDA’s requirement isn’t as stupid as it looks. Here’s a case of dramatic nonequivalence between chemically identical drugs:

            > It might turn out that, for some subtle reason, it only cures 80% of patients where the original cured 90%, or that it gives 5% of patients a severe headache or whatever.

            If you have HIV and – surprise! – you’re no longer getting enough of your protease inhibitor to be effective, I’d think that’s a big problem.

            This one’s also interesting because the transition was autocatalytic, so that contamination with small amounts of the less soluble/less effective polymorph could ruin an existing supply of the more effective polymorph.

            All that said (I’m no biologist, just (almost) a chemistry major), I’d be surprised if a full clinical trial weren’t huge overkill for screening out problems like this.

            Edit: I didn’t notice you specified physically identical as well as chemically. Oh well, at least I got to tell people about polymorphs.

    • Bendini says:

      The pro libertarian argument that seems to be absent from this discussion: everyone is comparing a hypothetical no regulation on the sale of antibiotics with what the government should theoretically do. It seems that by accident the pro government side of the issue has been framed as “what ideally should be done with government intervention” instead of “what can be done given weak public understanding and the prospect of little Cindy’s parents being told no, the government says you can’t have antibiotics for your little darling’s viral infection!”

      In the absence of a free market solution to the commons tragedy, the status quo is only marginally better (and maybe not so once admin costs for regulation are accounted for)

      • Saal says:

        Ok…I’m seriously not trying to be offensive/condescending here, but comments like yours are PRECISELY why antibiotics ought to be tightly controlled and regulated (more so than they already are today!)

        ANTIBIOTICS ARE NOT FOR VIRAL INFECTIONS. They are not for the cold, they are not for the flu (I’ve seen the last two in this thread as well). They are for SPECIFIC sets of BACTERIAL infections in vulnerable patients.

        I really don’t see people educating themselves to the extent necessary to:
        1. Determine that this illness is not viral/fungal/prion/friggin’ cancer/hypochondria
        2. if bacterial, determine if it is treatable by antibiotics, and if so, which antibiotics
        3. Determine if they PERSONALLY really need antibiotics (old, young, autoimmune deficiency, other poor health)

        They need to see a doctor first. And yes, doctors currently hand ’em out like friggin’ candy. Which is why they need to be MORE restricted. Understand that this is coming from someone who believes you should be able to buy heroin and prostitutes.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          I don’t think Bendini was making that mistake.

          • Saal says:

            Ah. In that case, color me embarrassed, and I apologize for going off on an improperly-parsed statement.

            The point still stands in the general case, however. The proportion of non-medical-professionals I’ve met over my lifetime who were aware antibiotics are not for viral infections is roughly equivalent to the proportion of people I’ve met who can calculate differential equations.

          • dndnrsn says:

            1. Are non-medical professionals who don’t know that antibiotics don’t kill viruses really that rare? It’s not like it’s a learned skill – it’s a bit of information. I probably read a magazine article once or something and saw that. Whereas I’m not even sure I know what a differential equation is off the top of my head.

            2. I see the idea “doctors throw drugs at everything/patients demand drugs for everything” a fair bit – but as a layperson I’ve never run into it. Is it maybe an American thing having to do with health care system differences?

            Any time I’ve gone to a doctor with something that be bacterial but maybe not, I’ve only been given antibiotics after they’ve run tests, and more than once told “we don’t need to do any tests, drink some liquids and take it easy”. And the one time I asked for drugs (did something to my back, was wondering if I could get something better than over the counter) the doctor said no (but did tell me something better over the counter to get).

            I get the feeling that if I asked a doctor for antibiotics right off the bat, having come in with something flu-like, they’d tell me to piss off.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Are non-medical professionals who don’t know that antibiotics don’t kill viruses really that rare?”

            I’m not sure what Saal means here, but based on my (layperson with medical professionals adjacent) experience, knowing that antibiotics don’t treat viruses isn’t really the issues, in a “that;s not even wrong” way.

            The real issue is understanding how to differentially diagnose a bacterial from a viral infection, and accepting that this is important enough to not treat things as if they are bacterial by default. A friend of ours would call us up on the regular to ask my wife if she could prescribe a Z-Pack for the cold he had “because that always fixes me right up.”

            She would patiently explain that he probably had a virus and that he would probably be better before the Z-Pack would be done anyway and might say that it was overkill anyway. All of which was true. And the next time he had a cold he would call right back.

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            Are non-medical professionals who don’t know that antibiotics don’t kill viruses really that rare?

            I am some sort of engineer. My co-workers are also engineers of various sorts, and as such are significantly more educated/scientific minded than average. This exact topic came up in conversation once, with one of my co-workers complaining that the doctor wouldn’t give him antibiotics for his cold, and other co-workers agreeing that they hate when doctors do that. One had a doctor that wouldn’t give him antibiotics when he had the flu so bad that he could barely stand!

            It turned out most of them did not know that antibiotics do not kill viruses, or perhaps they didn’t know that colds and the flu are viral rather than bacterial. I was stunned, because I had assumed this was all common knowledge, but it turns out it’s not.

        • Bendini says:

          I apologize if my writing is difficult to parse, but Earthly Knight is correct.

          My point is that the status quo is “doctors handing them out like friggin’ candy” while under government control, so until someone has a politically feasible idea to fix that we can’t have a fruitful discussion of the subject.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Worse, the status quo is “doctors handing them out like friggin’ candy” after charging $100 or so for a useless/counterproductive consultation. But wait, it’s worse than that. Actually it’s
            (a) make an appointment to see a doctor.
            (b) wait an hour in the waiting room.
            (c) see the doctor, who charges money and writes a prescription for a drug you don’t need
            (d) you take the script someplace else where there is a pharmacist who actually sells you the drug you don’t need. (Assuming he can read the doctor’s handwriting and there’s no miscommunication between them).

            Whereas a clearly freer-market alternative system (found in countries like Mexico) is that you go to the pharmacy and ask the pharmacist to recommend something for your problem and sell it to you.

            What makes this better than the status quo is:
            (1) no waiting to see a doctor
            (2) no paying to see a doctor
            (3) no traveling to two different locations
            (4) when the person who fills the order is the same as the person who recommended it, that’s one less opportunity for miscommunication to produce errors.

            What makes such a system worse than the status quo is…actually I can’t think of anything that makes it worse. Sure, in theory we could try to educate doctors to not recommend antibiotics when they shouldn’t. but we don’t successfully do that now, and it’s just as true that in theory we could similarly try to educate pharmacists to do the same thing. And in practice, we won’t, so the two cases are identical.

          • AJD says:

            Obvious potential drawback: the pharmacist has incentive to recommend whatever drug is the most profitable for them to sell, rather than whatever one is appropriate for your condition.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        How is a no regulation situation on the sale of antibiotics hypothetical? And how is their being restricted in places theoretical? We have examples of both policies just fine.

        • Bendini says:

          Because we have relatively open borders and abundant intercontinental travel, meaning that if a country implemented adequate restrictions on antibiotics it wouldn’t count for much unless the rest of the world joined in.

    • I heard a talk years ago by Sam Peltzman (U of C economist/statistician). By his calculations, the introduction of the requirement of prescriptions for drugs roughly doubled the total demand for physician time. That’s a rather large cost.

      If you have good reason to believe that the use of a particular antibiotic imposes costs via increased resistance, that’s an argument for taxing its use, not for requiring prescriptions.

      • Murphy says:

        Though keep in mind: the cost of controlling antibiotics through prescription is only a modest fraction of the total cost of all controlled substances.

        I suspect you’d need to tax it so heavily that you’d create a significant underworld to supply it and also hurt a lot of poor people a great deal to have much effect.

      • Deiseach says:

        But you still need someone qualified to judge “Do you need an antibiotic?” rather than deciding for yourself “I’m congested/little Billy is stuffed up, better pop down the chemist and buy a course of antibiotics” which may do damn-all for your viral or fungal infection, and if it is bacterial you’ll stop taking them as soon as you feel better instead of finishing the course.

        Taxing use may also hit people who really do need the antibiotic but can’t afford it, so we might get the (even) worse of both worlds than the current situation. I think the irony of the situation is the very success of medical progress, which means people have an unrealistic expectation of “Give me something to make me feel better right now!”

        Particularly as it’s harder to take time off sick; where previously you might have taken one or two days off to stay in bed and dose yourself with aspirin and plenty of orange juice, now you struggle in to work and you want something that will get you better in twelve hours or so because you can’t afford (either literally for the loss of pay or figuratively in the cost of letting work go undone and the knock-on effect on your career of perceived absenteeism) to be sick.

      • Murphy says:

        It just occurred to me that your solution of taxing it more heavily also has the side effect of very very very strongly incentivizing not finishing a course of antibiotics and only taking them until you feel better: a very perverse incentive indeed.

    • Asterix says:

      OK, I’ll be the token libertarian dissenter. I do not see a rational basis for rationing antibiotics.

      If antibiotic use is likely to create a superbug, it can do so easily without being prescribed to people with viral diseases. It can develop just as easily in people that have bacterial infections. More easily, in fact, since the patient with the bacterial infection has at least one strain of bacteria the viral patient doesn’t have — and one that causes enough of a problem that people seek treatment for.

      So I had a problem the urologist blasted with antibiotics. It turned out to be something else. Should he have to run it by a bureaucrat first?

      The superbug I’d be most concerned with would be something like super-TB. And that has become a reality, but not because people used antibiotics on viral infections, but because they used it on TB. I think.

      If free use of antibiotics were actually likely to create a superbug, then sure, I’d say that’s a public health issue that deserves intervention. But if you want to prevent superbugs, you should deny antibiotics to people with bacterial diseases (which has its own problems!). And, as has been pointed out, ban their use to make cows and chickens gain weight more quickly.

      • Deiseach says:

        If your urologist is dosing you up with antibiotics for a whole year (and every time you stop them the problem starts up again) and it turns out that a bacterial infection is secondary to the real problem and by blasting you with antibiotics the urologist is masking the real problem which is doing more damage, you bet he should run it by a bureaucrat first!

        Again, example of real thing that happened to family member of work colleague. You all have to take my word for this that I’m not just inventing convenient examples, but it’s really true, I swear on a stack of HPMOR print-outs! 🙂

      • keranih says:

        And, as has been pointed out, ban their use to make cows and chickens gain weight more quickly.

        To be more clear, it’s keep livestock healthier so they’re not sick and stunted, as many developing nations humans are. There are also good reasons for treating animals in their feed and water – rather than catching each one to give it a shot or force a pill down its throat – or for giving animals medication in the face of an outbreak where the animals are almost certainly incubating the disease but are not yet showing signs. This accounts for an overwhelming percentage of the use of drugs in food animals.

        A related thought – the most important drugs for humans are already restricted from being used in food animals in the USA (which has different restrictions than the EU.) However, one’s dog may be treated with the most sensitive drugs such as vancomycin, and go home to shed vancomycin-resistent pathogens all over ones home. The actual science that investigates the risks here is not well developed.

        Finally – restricting use of antibiotics needs to be done globally, because the bugs respect international borders even less than they respect species differences between a cat, a cow, and a human. Restricting access to any material good relies on the framework of law and order in that region. There are many parts of the world where even if the political will existed to restrict the distribution of antibiotics, the physical means of tracking and controlling the drugs is not present.

        (In many places, the market is taking care of much of the problem, by pricing the newest antibiotics out of general access. And then there are aid agencies, and nationalization of drug manufacture, and other schemes to improve ‘access to health care’…)

    • Brian Ritz says:

      It should be pointed out that, even under no regulation, drug companies will have at least some incentive to prevent antibiotic resistance because they lose revenue if the antibiotic becomes ineffective due to resistance. Would that incentive be enough to prevent resistance? I don’t really know, but I’m doubtful, especially if the drug company doesn’t have a monopoly on the drug as is the case with older antibiotics.

      • Saal says:

        Ah, but preventing resistance means not using the drugs. So in order to not lose revenue (by reducing resistance) they have to sacrifice revenue (by selling fewer antibiotics). This leads to an obvious question: is the revenue for an antibiotic doled out in small amounts to prevent resistance greater than the expense of researching, developing, and producing the drug? If the answer is no, is it worth it to produce LOTS of antibiotics and just phase in new ones as bacteria become resistant (note that this is purely an economic question; obviously this would be bad from a public health standpoint)?

        The answer to both of these questions appears to be no, from what little research I’ve done. Route one isn’t very profitable (certainly less so than producing blood pressure or chronic pain medications, which you can both sell as many of as you like w/out reducing their effectiveness and which don’t cure the patient, so they keep coming back for more). Route two is to some extent impeded by the FDA, but also if you research an antibiotic for an exorbitant fee and than bacteria become resistant very quickly because you’re passin’ em out like skittles, you might not even recoup your costs. So drug companies just don’t make very many new antibiotics, and the ones we have become useless because people take them for the sniffles and don’t use the whole bottle because they “got better” halfway through. -_-

    • keranih says:

      It’s difficult to find anything which humans do which just affects them – either positively or negatively – and so what we buy on the market, what we create, what we destroy, what we say and what we keep behind our teeth – all of that impacts other people. So it’s possible to argue that anything one does is a legit concern for the other humans on the planet.

      Where to draw the line between “upsides of public scrutiny/control” and “downsides of public scrutiny/control”, ah, there’s the rub.

      IMO, antibiotics are a fairly classic example of a common public good which can be built only through great combination of effort by many, but spoilt by the actions of a few.

      It’s also an example of something which can be fairly easily regulated, without a great deal of intrusion into private or public life. The downsides of a strong restrictive policy on antibiotic use are not insignificant, and we should be aware of the cost in terms of lives, livelihoods, and material comfort. However, I think (like many here) that no, abx should not be free (either in material cost or time), and yes they should be more restricted than they are now.

  23. James says:

    A book recommendation and an acknowledgement of a book recommendation:

    To whomever was talking in the last open thread about how much they love ‘black box’ fiction (FacelessCraven?): you should read Solaris. Actually, it’s such a central example of ‘that sort of thing’ that there’s a good chance you already have, but the fact that you didn’t mention it makes me think maybe you haven’t. It’s brilliant, one of my favourite novels, and centred around a deeply creepy central mystery which I think you would probably enjoy. (The two movies versions of it are both fairly good and each fairly unfaithful to it in their own way; neither is a good substitute for the novel itself.)

    To whomever has been recommending Ted Chiang around these parts (actually, this might describe more than one person): I’ve been reading what stories of his I can get my hands on online. The Merchant And The Alchemist’s Gate is wonderful. (I thought the playful thousand-and-one-nights stylisation and the tales-within-a-tale were very Borges). The other stories I’ve read of his are also good (though not quite as great).

    • Paul Torek says:

      Seconded on Solaris, but then, Lem is just a god.

      I’ll look for Ted Chiang.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Lem is really good.

      Strugatsky Bros. are really good, too.

    • James says:

      Replying to self to try and catch the other people who like Lem: can you who like Lem recommend anything else of his? I’m at a loss to find anything else of his that’s as good. I find the Cyberiad stories that I’ve read fun, so far as they go, but gratingly whimsical. I found his collection of reviews of made-up books (I forget the title) boring when I tried it (though admittedly I didn’t try very hard), even though I feel like in some respects it’s just the sort of thing I should theoretically like. Is there anything else?

      • Anatoly says:

        Novels that are like “Solaris” in that they deal with the vast difficulty, bordering on impossibility, to understand and communicate with truly alien minds: “Eden” and “His Master’s Voice”.

        “The Investigation” and “The Chain of Chance” are present-time scientifically-minded detective stories with deep and unsettling philosophical implications.

        “The Futurological Congress” is a very powerful exploration of virtual-reality escapism on a massive scale, written before virtual reality was a thing (so Lem based it on psychotropic drugs rather than on computer simulation).

        “Tales of Pirx the Pilot” and the follow-up collection are superb conventional-SF astronaut stories that are somehow sneakily memorable.

        I tried to select for you works that dated little if at all, and that aren’t whimsical. My personal favorite among all these is “Eden”.

      • youzicha says:

        My favorite Lem book is Fiasco: a spaceship from Earth sets out to make first contact with a different planet, which turns out to be a lot harder than you’d think. The style is kindof dry, basically continuous info-dumping, but it has a high density of cool ideas.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I’ve been reading my way through Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others. “Tower of Babylon” was amazing; definitely worthy of its Nebula award. “Seventy-Two Letters” was really good, too. “Understand” reads like a slower, less action-packed version of Vernor Vinge’s “True Names”. “Division by Zero” and “Story of Your Life” are examples of a format I’ve noticed in modern science fiction short stories in which you take a hard science fiction plot thread and a humanistic, character-focused plot thread and alternate scenes from them until you join them together at the climax. I’m not a huge fan of this format, because the human interest scenes tend to be boring as hell, and these stories are not the exception; I was much more interested in the aliens and the mathematical contradiction than the protagonists’ domestic difficulties. “The Evolution of Human Science” was okay, I guess, but not specially noteworthy. I haven’t yet read “Hell Is the Absence of God” or “Liking What You See: A Documentary”.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      I have never read Solaris, nor have I seen the movies; I don’t even think I saw trailers for the george clooney one. I’ll definately check it out!

      [EDIT] – Warren Ellis, of Transmetropolitan fame, has a new comic series in progress called Trees that seems at least Black-Box-Adjacent. The writing displays a healthy dose of Ellis’ faults and a heap of Social Justice messaging, but it looks pretty promising all the same.

    • Linch says:

      I think I was {one of/the one?} waxing poetic about Ted Chiang in these parts. Here are some of his stories that were not in the Stories of Your Life and Others anthology (which is also where I first heard of Chiang):

      A wonderfully philosophical tale about a scientist exploring the curious question of why all the clocks in the world seem to be running faster than usual. I’m deliberately being vague on the details because the slow reveal is a huge part of the story.

      The Lifecycle of Software Objects:

      A near-future novella about artificial intelligence, written in an incredibly personal way that’s unlike any other fictional treatment of AI that I have read before. I don’t like speaking in vagaries, but “human” is the best way I know of to describe it. No conventional Singularity or paperclipping or seed AI, just the experiences of raising, and learning from, a new intelligence through the booms and busts of a business cycle. Another commentator mentioned how he relatively disliked the “human interest” aspect of Chiang’s stories, so this may not be up his alley. For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed it.

      The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling:
      A story about how technology changes the way we remember. Two stories are woven together. The first is about how people in the future have “lifelogs” that store their entire past. This by itself doesn’t change how people act dramatically. However, this hip new technology called Remem lets you easily and perfectly search past “memories”-albeit uncorrupted by nostalgia. I just watched the Black Mirror episode “The Entire History of You,” which has a very similar motif, but extremely different conclusions (Also Chiang is subtler). The second is about the introduction of writing to a native tribe during the Scramble for Africa. Ted Chiang shows that here, too, the technology of writing alters not just the way we communicate, but also the nature of truth and memory.

      The Great Silence:

      Story (present tense) about the Hawaii telescope, the search for extraterrestrial life and sentientism. Too artsy for me and probably most of the other people on this blog, but it’s cool and made me think.

      What’s expected of us:

      A very short story about free will.

      • DrBeat says:

        This is interesting stuff! Thanks for linking it.

      • James says:

        I found The Lifecycle Of Software Objects too unfocused for me to really like it. It felt like an exploration of a bunch of only-partly-related ideas, in series (i.e. without very much structure). I might have liked it better if it were shorter, or contained fewer ideas, or if the ideas cohered together with more structure.

        I didn’t mind the human elements of Division By Zero, per se, but I didn’t love it as a story, either.

        Exhalation is good. I know I called The Merchant And The Alchemist Borges-y above, so I’m probably starting to sound like I’ve got Borges on the brain (which is admittedly true), but I’m quite sure its opening line is a deliberate reference to the opening line of Borges’ Library of Babel. I agree that the slow reveal is an important part of the story, and works very well. I can’t think of too many other short stories that work quite like this. (Perhaps The Library of Babel is a candidate.)

      • Kevin says:

        I hadn’t seen The Great Silence, thanks for the link!

        This reddit thread has a bunch of links to Chiang stories:

      • Deiseach says:

        I found “The Great Silence” too sentimental, but then again I have very little tolerance for the Magical Negro genre of lecturing where modern industrialised Western man is ticked off for not being One With Nature by a member of a mystically linked in to Mother Nature if more technologically ‘primitive’ culture. (I think modern etc. can well stand a bit of ticking-off for our faults but not by ‘if you only gave up everything and went back to living in mud huts you would be so much better off because of the primal mystical colours-of-the-wind wisdom’ type finger-wagging; I very much doubt Mr Chiang wants to go live like an Amazonian tribesman even if that would save the parrots).

        The Noble Savage myth did no favours to the people it was holding up as exemplars; “Avatar” made me cheer on the Evil General and the Evil Human Corporation Army smushing the blue puddy-tats when its intent was quite the other, and Chiang’s story makes me want to go pull feathers out of parrots’ tails 🙂

        • Linch says:

          *nods* Many of Ted Chiang’s other stories can be read as cautiously pro-technology and against inertia bias (His day job is a technical writer). The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling is an excellent example of this. Liking What You see:A Documentary, is another. (SPOILERS, albeit mild) One thing Chiang does really well is that if he has an interesting idea, he will have a (mostly) likable narrator be initially antagonistic to the idea, but slowly warm up to it as the story goes along. This is similar to the first novel in Iain M.Bank’s Culture series, although the “Culture” is less about the social changes that comes from a discrete technological advance and more about a large identity.

          I think “if you only gave up everything and went back to living in mud huts you would be so much better off because of the primal mystical colours-of-the-wind wisdom’ type finger-wagging” is exaggerating the case though. Even without my special knowledge about Chiang’s other stories, I don’t think that’s a plausible reading of The Great Silence. I think it’s a trivial point that destroying the rainforest is neither a necessary nor sufficient criterion for technological advancement. Whether or not preserving the rainforest is worth it is a separate question but “We should not care about the rainforest because the Internet” would be an odd argument too. Arguably we can/should do more to preserve the existence of other sentient beings on Earth w/o sacrificing significant technological advancement (I’m personally ambivalent about this for complicated reasons).

          Avatar annoyed me as well; I think most writers and directors have trouble depicting an intelligent alien race as, well, alien and not conforming to morphological or psychological (Western) human standards. District Nine was a little better, but it still didn’t go far enough. (Though I appreciated the movie quite a bit more after I learned how Blomkamp got some of his scenes! Arguably unethical, but very aesthetic).

          ““Avatar” made me cheer on the Evil General and the Evil Human Corporation Army smushing the blue puddy-tats when its intent was quite the other, and Chiang’s story makes me want to go pull feathers out of parrots’ tails ”
          …This is literally outside of my range of plausible reactions and I have no idea how to process or respond to it. I wonder if it’s similar to schadenfreude? (Another emotion I do not understand, but is apparently really common).

          • Deiseach says:

            I agree with the point about destroying the rain forest, I even agree that “if you can’t identify intelligence on your own world, how will you recognise alien intelligence?”

            I don’t think the rainforest lecture needed to be delivered by a super-intelligent parrot rather than a native human Amazonian, though. That’s a bit too cutesy-poo (that last line! Oh God, oh Montreal!) for my tastes. Then again, I am an avowed BLOODMOUTH CARNIST. Anybody got any good recipes for baked parrot? 🙂

            You be good. I love you.

            A sentiment fit to grace a Hallmark Commercially-Faked-Emotion Day greetings card, and one dripping bathos by the bushelful. If Polly is so smart, it had better occupy its beak only in gnawing on cuttlefish bones if it knows what is good for it.

            I have no objection to ordinary sentiment, but squawked out by a parrot oleaginous in its self-righteousness, such a little animal fable does indeed evoke in me the desire to pull out feathers. La Fontaine’s beasts at least had some 17th century gravitas (and were graced with 18th century wit and sparkle in later editions) to their moralising!

            As for “Avatar”, it was one particular moment where the intent was to show how Evil the Evil General was and how noble etc etc etc the blue puddy-tats were; it was in the aftermath of the attack on the sacred tree (or whatever the McGuffin was) and they were all emoting and acting pained and grieved (well, as much as CGI could act).

            Instead of feeling moved and sympathetic, my reaction to the “same pouting face as a four year old throwing a tantrum” expressions was “My God, these lot are hopeless ninnies. Wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume! Don’t just stand there with a face on you! At least the Evil General has some blood in his veins – go, Evil General! Smush the blue puddy-tats!”

            Apparently I like a man of action. Who knew? 🙂

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            I was disappointed in Avatar, but as a first vehicle for peak-of-darien class new artform…. Hey, they can’t all be Snow White or Star Wars.

        • rsaarelm says:

          “Avatar” made me cheer on the Evil General and the Evil Human Corporation Army smushing the blue puddy-tats

          And above your tomb, the stars will belong to us.

  24. John says:

    Steve Sailer, of all people, missed the race angle in Vietnam. The French speaking collaborators included many, many ethnic Chinese that are part of the cantonese speaking diaspora. These people tend to be businessmen and traders, moneylenders etc. Think about the Jews of se asia. They are a market dominent minority and in 1975 they were mostly ejected from Vietnam. Their property was seized.

    Something similar happened in Indonesia and East Timor in the 60s and 70s.

    China is resented in Vietnam, and they even fought a mini war in 1979. But the Japanese are hated.

  25. Can someone please explain the comb jelly joke to me?

    I’ve been thinking about it for way too long and at this point I don’t even know how to pronounce the answer. (Ten dollars four cents? Ten oh four?)

  26. Earthly Knight says:


    I have a puzzle for you. Call it Caie’s paradox of anti-expertise.

    Suppose that I am taking a shot in pool, but am encumbered by a strange form of stage fright. Specifically, if my confidence that I will make the shot is .5 or higher, I will tighten up and almost certainly miss, while if my confidence that I will make the shot is below .5, I will feel like the pressure’s off and almost certainly sink the ball.

    Now consider the following two propositions:

    (P): I will make the shot
    (~P): It is not the case that I will make the shot

    Here’s the puzzle: what pair of credences should I assign to the propositions (P) and (~P) in order to maximize the accuracy of my belief states?

    (Assume that the chance that I sink the ball is independent of my confidence in (~P)– my subconscious doesn’t understand negation.)

    • Kiya says:

      .4999, 0 or .5, 1 seem pretty good.
      By the setup of your problem you’re going to be wrong about P, so keep close to center on it. Because of the sharp cutoff at 0.5, you can predict ~P pretty exactly, so may as well.

      I think most people’s subconscious do understand negations though.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        .4999, 0 or .5, 1 seem pretty good.

        These are the right answers. Is either an answer a Bayesian can give?

    • Alejandro says:

      If I am fully aware of my stage fright and can reason through all its consequences for my beliefs, then it seems that the only stable probability assignment is 0.5 to both P and ~P. You did not specify what happens with my shot in that case but it is a reasonable assumption (continuity) that if my confidence is exactly 0.5 then my chances of making the shot successfully are also 0.5.

      You can sharpen the paradox (at the cost of making it even more more psychologically unrealistic) by ruling out continuity. Say, for confidence greater or equal to 0.5 I will fail the shot for sure, but when it is lower I will make it for sure. Then I am in a situation where my beliefs include:

      A) P(X) < 0.5 X

      (I have replaced your notation P by X, to reseve P to mean “probability assigned to”). This is paradoxical because if I assign any number smaller than 0.5, by (A) I should infer X and update to 1, whence again by invoking (A) I update again to 0, and so on.

      This paradox is discussed in the MIRI article “Definability of Truth in Probabilistic Logic” (pdf). The conclusion there, if I understand it correctly, is that the paradox is caused by assuming an agent can have fully precise knowledge about their own probability assignments. Relaxing only slightly this assumption (disallowing fully precise knowledge, but allowing knowledge with any given error no matter how small) solves the paradox and leads to a consistent probability assignment of 0.5. If I do in fact assign P(X) = 0.5 exactly, but can’t know that I did it exactly (I can only know that my probability is on a tiny interval s centered around 0.5), then I cannot infer ~X and fall into paradox. My subjective assignment of P(X) = 0.5 is consistent and the best guess I can do; by assumption I end up failing the shot, but I can’t know that in advance.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        You did not specify what happens with my shot in that case but it is a reasonable assumption (continuity) that if my confidence is exactly 0.5 then my chances of making the shot successfully are also 0.5.

        Yes, I did. If my confidence is .5 or higher, almost-certain failure. If my confidence is below .5, almost-certain success. A disjunction, no continuity.

        This paradox is discussed in the MIRI article “Definability of Truth in Probabilistic Logic” (pdf).

        The problem addressed there is a different one. I believe that the present paradox will hold even if we alter the formulation to “if my confidence that I will make the shot is [in an arbitrarily small interval around] .5 or higher, I will tighten up and almost certainly miss, while if my confidence that I will make the shot is below [an arbitrarily small interval around] .5, I will feel like the pressure’s off and almost certainly sink the ball.”

        Actually, I think the opacity-of-credal-states response will only work if we allow that my credal states can be maximally opaque, that is, if I have no idea where on the closed interval [0,1] they fall. But this defies credulity.

    • That’s an example of a problem that shows we don’t necessarily have a completely independent choice. Presumably you would “choose” .5 confidence. Might also see:

    • Adam says:

      I believe most athletic endeavors are such that your assessment at a subconscious level of whether you can hit a target is usually more reliable than trying to explicitly reason about it. The part of your brain devoted to maintaining muscle memory and not devoted to worry and explanation is a better Bayesian than the part that talks.

    • grort says:

      Why are you trying to maximize the accuracy of your belief states? As a rationalist, your goal is to win. Assign (0, 1) every time, and be happy to be wrong.

      (This is a weird result, but I suspect that’s because it’s a weird question. It’s very unusual for humans to have this sort of stage fright, and for those that do, it’s even more unusual for them to be able to arbitrarily assign numbers to their confidence of success. I think the closest real-life situation would be someone who tries very hard to convince themself that they’re going to fail, but only sometimes succeeds at that process.)

      • grort says:

        A better phrasing: Normally we think of confidence numbers as these sort of abstract values which exist only in mindspace, and which can only affect the world by improving our predictions. Under those circumstances, of course we want to have good confidence numbers.

        In this case, we’ve discovered a confidence number which affects the world directly, which is very weird, but let’s exploit the heck out of it as long as it makes us win.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      The last of the Ted Chiang stories linked by Linch a couple of threads above might be relevant…

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Alright! 36 hours have passed, so here are some answers. Kiya’s probability assignments above are, as I said, correct– the best you can do is to assign a credence of .5 to (P) and a credence of 1 to (~P). Why is this a paradox? Well, it’s a paradox because this is an incoherent set of probability assignments– it violates the Kolmogorov axioms.*

      This should be cause for alarm for Bayesians. The main selling point for Bayesianism was that probabilistic coherence was guaranteed to maximize accuracy– in other words, for every incoherent assignment of credences, there would always be some coherent set of credences which would be more accurate. This turns out not to be the case, as the present example demonstrates. And if Bayesianism sometimes gets in the way of having accurate beliefs, well, why would anyone care to be a Bayesian?

      If anyone’s interest is piqued, here’s an abridged version of Caie’s original paper. Be forewarned, if you thought my exposition was in any way unclear or too technical, you’re in for a rough ride.

      *The proof of this is simple:

      1. (P) and (~P) are mutually exclusive (by Non-Contradiction).
      2. Cr(P or ~P) must be the sum of Cr(P) and Cr(~P) (by 1, Additivity).
      3. Cr(P or ~P) is 1.5 (by 2, arithmetic).
      4. (P or ~P) is a tautology, and so must be assigned a credence of 1 (by Normalization).
      5. But 1=/=1.5

      • Adam says:

        Why is the Bayesian answer not take 10,000 shots and update your confidence based on how many you actually sink? I know that sounds inherently frequentist, but the point of Bayesianism isn’t to ignore evidence or never seek it. It’s just to not ignore priors while evaluating evidence.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          The short answer is that when you have prior knowledge of the objective chances you don’t need to concern yourself with frequencies. If you know that a die is fair, roll it 100 times and get 30 sixes, your credence that the die will come up a six next time should remain at .18. And here it is built into the scenario that I know the objective chance of my making a shot is approximately 1 when my credence is below .5 and approximately 0 when my credence is .5 or higher.

          The long answer is that, if I do as you suggest, I’m going to make almost exactly half the shots and wind up very near (.5,.5), which is still inaccurate. Given reasonable priors, each shot where I’m at .5 or above I will miss and update slightly downwards, while each shot where I start out below .5 I will sink the ball and bump my credence slightly upwards. In fact there is no observed frequency which will translate into the most accurate assignment (.5,1), because this would require me to miss 100% of the shots and sink a further 50%.

          • Montfort says:

            I can’t help but notice that in your long answer, the determined probability (0.5 +/- epsilon) becomes vanishingly close to the observed probability (0.5 +/- epsilon). I also notice that this answer sounds much more intuitively pleasing than “time to break the axioms of probability(!) in such a way that I can never observe results that agree with my assigned probability.”

            (quotes are, of course, a mildly comical paraphrase, not a literal quotation)

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If the concern is that I could never acquire observational evidence that I have the relevant type of anti-expertise, it is misplaced. Surely I can notice that my having a confident feeling when I shoot the ball is perfectly correlated with my missing.

            And there is nothing more “intuitively pleasing” than being right!

          • Adam says:

            Makes more sense that way. You got me with prior knowledge of the objective chances. That isn’t possible with actual pool shots, so isn’t the way any pool players form assessments of their own ability. I’m too wedded to reality for some of these paradoxes.

    • James Picone says:

      The gap between (P) and reality is essentially (1 – n) for n = 0.5 (because you will miss).

      So the best you can do is P=0.5, ~P=0.5, and the gap between P and reality is 0.5. Also, you won’t sink the ball. 0.49999[a finite number of additional 9s] would be almost as close and you’d actually sink the ball, so that might be preferable.

      That seems intuitively obvious to me, so I’ve almost certainly fucked something up massively and completely missed the point.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Thank you for giving the (incorrect) orthodox answer! This is really what I was fishing for. It would not even occur to a true Bayesian to have incoherent probability assignments, but you can in fact increase your accuracy in this unusual case by augmenting your credence in ~P to 1.

  27. Saal says:

    I sent this to your tumblr, Scott, but I’ll just go ahead and stick it here as well:

    If guy-who-is-making-this sees this, I’d be interested in seeing where you plan on going with it and potentially getting involved.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not sure how to interpret this. I see the description, but is there an existing program yet? If so, where do I find it?

      • Saal says:

        No, it’s basically empty at the moment. It looks like he’s planning on building it on the Ethereum blockchain though, which is an interesting little system that I recommend looking into if you’re not aware of it.

      • moridinamael says:

        Okay, so, I was reading about Ethereum at the same time I happened to be perusing your Raikoth materials and my brain did that “these things are somehow related” thing.

        I spent quite a bit of time playing with Ethereum and started coding some contracts which would be analagous to citizenship/”ownership” contracts, but at this point haven’t moved beyond that. Ethereum is really new and there’s a paucity of tools and frameworks for making things within it. I figured it would be a more efficient use of my time to wait for some tools to be created before moving forward with it. A lot of the tools I thought about leveraging such as Augur (an Ethereum-based prediction market that looks very promising, which I would be in a sense coupling with the Angel of Evidence) haven’t even launched yet and so I obviously can’t incorporate them.

        tldr: there’s a little code written but I don’t think the framework is ready to handle even a cartoon implementation quite yet.

    • moridinamael says:

      As I mention in my reply to Scott, it’s sort of stalled due to the fact that Augur isn’t launched yet and also I feel like I should just wait for a library of good contracts to be written that I can borrow from rather than trying to hack something this complex on a platform that I barely understand.

      If you want to get involved, I just made this Google Group, peek in there and maybe we can get a discussion going:!forum/raikoth-ethereum

  28. Wrong Species says:

    I just read The Game by Neil Strauss. I’m surprised more rationalists don’t talk about pick up. If you read the book, all the characters are similar to us in being nerdy white guys who try to break things down to their most basic level and use that to get girls. Has anyone here tried pick up?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This has been talked about to death in other places and is not a great topic to have here. I will allow this one thread, after which I would prefer no further object-level discussion of PUA.

      • Wrong Species says:

        First there was that huge argument over gun control, now this. I seem to be unintentionally good at finding topics that end up getting banned.

    • LTP says:

      The funny thing is The Game is apparently anti-PUA in many ways, but a lot of people don’t read it that way. Strauss talks about how messed up many of the guys in it are, and how PUA and getting laid doesn’t help them overcome their mental health issues and for some of them it even worsens their mental health issues.

      (Disclaimer: I haven’t read The Game, but I’ve talked to people who have)

      • Wrong Species says:

        The people in the book are dedicating their entire lives to being PUA and like you said, had some really bad mental problems. I bet the average guy who successfully learns the techniques is probably better off.

      • Emily says:

        I’ve read it. That was definitely the impression I got. Or rather, I wasn’t sure if Strauss intended it to be read that way, but they certainly seemed troubled, sad, and unappealing to me.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Suppose one person were to say yes, what would you want to know? I’m not very sure what purpose you’d have for making this post other than maybe curiosity.

    • Pku says:

      Only in the sense that I’ve tried actively forcing myself to approach random people (mainly girls) to get over social anxiety (and hopefully get better with girls). I’ve had some friends who were into it and got me to read some Neil Strauss, who (for the reasons LTP mentioned) seems pretty sympathetic and reasonable.
      I also know a couple of PUAs who are absolutely the stereotypical douchebags a hypothetical feminist would describe them as. The depressing part is, they seemed to get along great (and sleep with) a lot of the most extremely radical feminists I know. (My conclusion from this was less “they’re actually right about women!” and more “here’s another piece of evidence that radical feminists are hypocritical”.)
      (dammit, googling “radical feminists on skateboards” gives me nothing. They’re really underusing the “radical” label here.)

      • Emily says:

        Why would you describe that as “hypocritical”?
        I would say that feminists are particularly vulnerable to PUAs relative to women with a more traditional theory of gender roles. They’re more likely to feel like they’re supposed to be cool with casual sex. They’re less likely to even have a concept like “men using women for casual sex,” because they deny that men are any more interested in casual sex than women.

        • Pku says:

          Sorry, I wan’t quite clear up there. The hypocritical part wasn’t quite about the feminists who slept with PUAs; it was about the ones who really like hanging out with them as people and have no trouble looking the other way, or laughing along, when they do incredibly douchey/sexist things.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I also know a couple of PUAs who are absolutely the stereotypical douchebags a hypothetical feminist would describe them as

        At one point, my Wife, a friend and I were walking home from dinner, and my Wife remarked she could never date a douchebag frat boy, and my friend and I had to remind my Wife that I am universally regarded as a douchebag frat boy that probably has undiagnosed narcissism.

        Sort of like how I like politicians who are smart and so I like Jeb! but my hind-brain REALLY likes Trump, a LOT, because he pisses off a LOT of people I hate.

        • Pku says:

          I think you’re implying that being douchey can be an effective way to get (certain types of) of girls? If so, I agree (though I still think it’s a poor long-term strategy).
          If you’re putting yourself in the same group as the guys I’m describing, two of the three pieces of evidence I have about you seem to disagree – for one thing, they would never in a million years refer to themselves as “beta guys”, and for another, you mention you actually married the girl you tried that stuff on, while the douchey guys I know have a tendency to get pretty harshly dumped by every girl they date within two months.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            What people say they want is not always what they want. People generally like to be around the life of the party, and that can often be the douchey-frat guys.

            This isn’t unique to women. I am here commenting about PUA and Russian politics at 7:30 AM on a Sunday morning, when my Wife really just wants to go to Church and watch Girl Meets World. Back in high school, I cranked out 1,000 hours on Civ and she went to every Homecoming and Turnabout.

            There’s probably a few nerdy girls looking at me and what I said I wanted, and thinking “WTF? Stupid liar.”

          • Pku says:

            I agree that what people say they want isn’t necessarily what they want, and light-side PUA is probably a fairly good idea to get people interested (dark-side PUA might also work, but it still seems like a terrible idea).

            That aside though, douchey-frat guys spans a huge range of people; some of them are boring one-dimensional caricatures with no interesting properties, and I suspect those guys can get girls to go out with them but have a hard time maintaining a long-term relationship (this is backed by my admittedly small sample of two data points, and the evidence that scoring high on dark triad traits correlates with more sexual partners and less ability to maintain long-term relationships). I also know douchey-frat guys who are interesting people; all things considered you seem more like the second. (Either that or your wife is really bad at dealing with sunken cost fallacy).

            Also, regarding the life of the party: can be douchey frat guys, can be other types. Whoever it is, if they’re a boring or sucky person, they might be great at getting the party to happen, but it’s less likely to be enjoyable (the difference between addictive responses and enjoying things seems relevant here).
            (I’ll admit to biasing that last part on knowing a couple of frat boyish guys who threw a lot of parties and such, which were incredibly boring and led to a severe drought of interesting social events around me.)

        • stubydoo says:

          “my hind-brain REALLY likes Trump, a LOT, because he pisses off a LOT of people I hate”

          Sounds like Trump has found a way to hack your attractiveness function.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            That was his goal, I believe!

            Fortunately, my hind-brain still likes Jeb! and Rubio better. Background functions say Trump is great if SHTF and great to have on the team, but Rubio and Jeb! can probably move society in a better direction if they win.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            “Rubio and Jeb! can probably move society in a better direction if they win.”

            [Citation needed].When have “conservatives” moved society in a better direction — or, for that matter, produced any movement of society other than just slowing the leftward movement — since the Glorious Revolution?

          • Adam says:

            I strongly doubt any president at all has much steer in the direction of society. Maybe they can push a law or two against the prevailing grain, but larger shifts in norms are a lot bigger than the government, more reflected by it than created by it.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      If you read the book and your first instinct was to post here, you have the wrong mindset.

      If you want to test it out, test it out yourself in the field.

      I can say that Red Pill philosophy in general improved my life, but I used pick-up quite sparingly, due to a large number of mental blocks. Gotta have the right mindset to dabble in the Venusian Arts.

      I can also say that I had a bad time, decided “okay, let’s try this pickup stuff on the first girl I see,” which happened to be my current Wife. I can also say that any PUA would scream “one-it is” and probably call me an idiot.

    • zz says:

      An idea I’ve had kicking around in the back of my mind: light-side pickup is, in principle, aligned with feminism.

      I can’t find it, but Mark Manson (ex-PUA, endorsed by Ozy) has brought up what we might think of as the pickup paradox: shouldn’t women be in favor of a thing that makes men more attractive? (I guess lesbians might not like it, insofar as it might reduce their dating pool by causing bisexual women to tend to have more heterosexual sex/relationships, but the typical case should hold).

      For example, I’m given to understand that feminists have an issue with being constantly approached by men they’re not interested in. And then we have this guy who spends the better part of an hour-long presentation talking about how to only approach women who have signaled interest. A match made in heaven! It’s like how the right and left should be able to get together on criminal justice reform, since the left wants less prison time and the right wants to spend less on imprisoning people.

      And yet, most feminists don’t seem to be so much on board with pickup. Something’s up.

      First explanation that comes to mind is that most of pickup isn’t light side. I’m pretty sure the guy in the video linked above said a few sketchy things, and I recall him definitely saying some deeply sketchy things. And this compounds based on your background. If you’re me, raised in a society so liberal we don’t need feminism because equality of men and women is so well-accepted there’s no point to advocating for it, then you just kind of filter out the sexist crap for the obvious-in-retrospect insight you never learned as a kid because you hated everyone in your graduating class and thus never learned to pick up on a bunch of social cues that most people get so now you have to learn them explicitly. On the other hand, if you’re raised on the idea of rape culture, then you really notice the rapey stuff I ignore.

      Second explanation is that each woman has an attraction function, a fair bit of which is common to most women, and much of this overlap is super-hackable, but there’s something displeasing about this (I find myself unable to pinpoint what exactly), so a label of “manipulative” is put on any such hacking, because words have hidden inferences and calling something “manipulative” implies “if you do this, you are evil.”

      Related is what I assume red pill would say: women seek the highest-quality partners, hacking their attraction function causes them to prefer lower quality hackers to higher quality nonhackers, contrary to their goals, and thus, they oppose hacking.

      Explanations 4 through infinity are things I haven’t thought of yet.

      And, in case anyone was wondering, I’m not very confident in anything I wrote in this comment (please, do criticize) and I don’t pay attention to pickup itself anymore, because I don’t believe it provides me any insights I can’t get between Mark Manson and rationalist community with much better epistemic virtue and wheat:chaff ratio.

      • bartlebyshop says:

        “For example, I’m given to understand that feminists have an issue with being constantly approached by men they’re not interested in. And then we have this guy who spends the better part of an hour-long presentation talking about how to only approach women who have signaled interest. A match made in heaven!”

        Since this guy is selling seminars to men, it’s possible he tells them that the signals of interest are things men would like to believe are signals of interest, rather than things that actually are signals of interest.

        “Second explanation is that each woman has an attraction function, a fair bit of which is common to most women, and much of this overlap is super-hackable, but there’s something displeasing about this (I find myself unable to pinpoint what exactly), so a label of “manipulative” is put on any such hacking, because words have hidden inferences and calling something “manipulative” implies “if you do this, you are evil.””

        Undoubtedly by now you’ve heard the joke “I inserted friendship coins, why didn’t the sex come out” – people don’t like being treated like vending machines.

        There’s some population of women (feminist or not) who are attracted to men but find actually interacting with them romantically/sexually exhausting and not worth the effort. Maybe there are more of them who are feminists than in the general population of women?

      • Saal says:

        Is there pickup that doesn’t hold as an underlying assumption that the whole need for pickup is a result of feminism breaking the sexual/romantic market in severe and undesirable ways? I assume this is what you refer to as “light-side”. If not, then I suspect the feminist opposition to pickup is roughly similar to a given conservative religious community’s opposition to another conservative religion, even though they might have similar goals/ideas on what society should look like from a structural and moral standpoint. It’s hard to agree with the person saying “Well, I think you’re going to suffer eternal damnation/you broke everything and your ideology sucks, but we can still work productively toward goal X we have in common.”

        • Wrong Species says:

          That’s a common thought in the community(from what I can tell) but I don’t think it was originally meant that way by the guys who started it.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Is there pickup that doesn’t hold as an underlying assumption that the whole need for pickup is a result of feminism breaking the sexual/romantic market in severe and undesirable ways

          What’s wrong with this assumption? Phrase differently, it’s used all the time by practically everyone. “Women’s empowerment has changed the way the genders interact, and now men need to clean up their act and up their game to form good relationships with women. ”

          That’s so banal as to be non-trivial. I find this argument in economics articles discussing the decline of male wages, for instance. It’s The Truth.

          What’s the matter is when people take The Truth and spin it in ways that Our Society sucks. If I tell you that women’s empowerment, particularly in a world returning to Forager norms, involves more women going online and in bars than Churches, and that this is a comparative disadvantage for the normal guy, and will result in delayed marriage, fewer marriages, and less happy people….

          Well, damn, when did you become such a misogynist, ADBG? I feel the above is not a True statement, but neither is “printing more money causes more inflation” (if you assume there’s a 1:1 relationship over the short-run) or “raising the minimum wage helps the poor”.

        • LTP says:

          It depends on what you mean by pick-up.

          You have ex-PUAs like Mark Manson and Dr. Nerdlove, where the former is feminist-friendly and the latter is explicitly feminist (perhaps too much, at times, when he goes on social justice rants at times). There is some pretty good dating advice from both. However, both are mixed bags, though, for various reasons, though still totally superior to the anti-feminist PUA IMO.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I find Nerdlove distasteful. It was not hard to see why from his most recent blog post.

            EDIT: That posted too fast. Editing…

            Full Edit.
            This was the recent blog post:

            The only thing I would be careful about is how she treats your inexperience. You say that she teases you about being a “square”. As long as this is affectionate teasing, all is well; if she’s being mean about it or implying you’re a bad person for not being into the same things she’s into? That’s not cool and a pretty reliable sign that you should find someone who’s not an asshole about sex.

            I do find value in that this was mentioned, but this was after several paragraphs of “this is all in your head and you need to get out of your own way.”
            Which is also accurate, but my first instinct to someone teasing a partner’s sexual inexperience is “RED FLAG!”

            In most of his posts Nerdlove seems…ahhh…eager to signal loyalty to SJW in-group, and heap on plenty of criticism to relatively unfortunate folk. “Punch down,” I believe the lingo is.

            I don’t think his information is necessarily off-base, so I might need to correct hind-brain thinking here, but the young man’s story left an incredibly sour taste in my mouth and raised alarms in my mind. And my intuition tells me though should be immediately addressed.

          • LTP says:

            I don’t disagree with your general point nor with your point about the specific article. I can totally understand why some find him to be distasteful, as I myself have felt that way about him at times. I think Nerdlove is a lot harder on male letterwriters as opposed to female ones, and over the past few years he seems to be, as you say, getting increasingly concerned with signalling he’s in the SJ camp even to the detriment of his advice (it’s pretty obvious to me, as somebody who is a regular reader of his, that probably half his audience is feminist women who are there as much or more for the SJ stuff as the dating advice). He sometimes falls into giving vacuous “feel-good” (for feminists) advice that probably isn’t actually helpful or an accurate description of how dating works. I also think he’s sometimes overly and unnecessarily mean to the very kinds of inexperienced, fearful, low self-esteem, nerdy young men who are supposed to be his target audience. He’d probably say it’s something like “tough love”, but I think it goes beyond that to just making uncharitable assumptions.

            All that said, I still think his best stuff is some of the best dating advice for young men on the internet (not a high standard, but still). His recent book on online dating is a pretty good guide if you’re new to online dating and entirely eschews SJ stuff and the “tough love”. Also, a lot of his earlier articles (circa 2011-mid 2013) are pretty good.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          I have a translaton of a math textbook from the Soviet Union on my bookshelf. If you read it it spills a lot of ink talking about how and why only the materialist (i.e. Communist) interpretation of mathematics is correct, even to the point of snubbing Pythagoras. But the proofs are clear and instructive with helpful commentary so that even an innumerate biochemist can follow along.

          Pickup isn’t a science by any stretch, but I don’t think it’s inherently any more ideological than mathematics. Throwing away useful instructions on a procedure because of the ideology of its author doesn’t make sense. Why should a feminist ally throw away the advice in, say, Roosh V’s Bang because of his anti-feminism?

      • LTP says:

        I think a lot of people of both genders just find explicit discussions of social skills to be off-putting because it is something they view as “natural” and so talking about social skills explicitly, which doesn’t normally happen, can feel unsettling or even manipulative when it shouldn’t. This affect is probably doubly true for specifically dating advice because of the all the emotions and gender stuff built into it that isn’t in normal social skills advice.

        I also think your first reason has a lot of truth to it as well. A lot of PUAs advocate morally gray tactics at best, even if they’re mixed in with good stuff.

        • onyomi says:

          I think there is much to this. And somehow I think we can still usually detect when social skills and charisma are being “faked,” rather than coming naturally to a person (though I guess if someone faked it really well, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them and a “natural”).

          Maybe it upsets our evolutionary sensors in the same way plastic surgery sometimes can: a man in China actually sued his wife, I believe, because his wife had what he considered to be an ugly child; only after this did he realize she had had extensive plastic surgery before meeting him. Of course, her genes didn’t change with her face, so he felt cheated.

          I think many PUAs, by attempting to “game the system,” end up falling into a kind of “charisma uncanny valley,” we might find unsettling.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        A man hacking their social skills to appear attractive is the equivalent of a woman wearing cosmetics: discuss.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          There’s no parallel. They serve different functions. “Increase attractiveness” means different things to women and men. Women also have a different social utility function than men.

          If a man practices PUA it means he can’t get laid. Which is probably true, because the vast majority of men can generate ~0 organic interest in the vast majority of women and rely entirely on luck.

          If a woman wears make-up it means she is conforming to social expectations, and also means she is trying to land a really hawwwwwwtttt guy. She’s not wearing make-up for you and me, bro. She’s wearing make-up for Ryan Gosling and so she convince all the other women that’s she part of the in-group and not a defector and they should really respect her and not try to steal Ryan Gosling away.

          If you and I practice PUA it means you can’t get laid. What are you, a loser? Hahaha, let’s all laugh at the losers! Hahahahahaha!

          • James says:

            She’s wearing make-up […] so she convince all the other women that’s she part of the in-group and not a defector and they should really respect her and not try to steal Ryan Gosling away.

            Wait, what? Can you explain this part?