Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

OT32: When Hell Is Full The Thread Will Walk The Earth

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

1. Comment of the week is Linch’s response to my request to evaluate the DRACO funding bid. They say that it’s probably not a good use of money, and a couple other trustworthy people agreed. Unless I hear something very convincing, I’ve decided not to donate.

2. I often edit posts after they’re done, sometimes long after they’re done. In particular, I take out parts that I decide were ill-advised or wrong after reading the comments. That means a lot of comments look mysterious and seem to refer to problems in the post that no longer exist. If you see them, please be aware that it’s my fault and not that of the commenter.

3. I’ll be in Boston the week before Thanksgiving; if you want to arrange some kind of meetup, let me know. Also, I’ll be in the East Bay December 12 for the Bay Area Rationalist Solstice, and in Manhattan December 19 for the New York Rationalist Solstice. If you’re going to either, I’ll see you there. If you aren’t, there may be some room for an SSC meetup either before or afterwards, though I’ve got to figure out whether the event organizers have their own beforeparties and afterparties planned. If you’re interested in putting this on, contact me.

4. The way I know the subreddit has really come into its own: it’s spawned an hostile schismatic subreddit full of angry rants about it, its moderators, and me. Also, the (orthodox) subreddit is hosting a survey on gender to investigate ideas like being “cis by default”. If that’s the sort of thing you might be interested in, check it out.

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1,084 Responses to OT32: When Hell Is Full The Thread Will Walk The Earth

  1. Vox Imperatoris says:

    This is the first time I’ve heard of the “schismatic” subreddit.

    Also, the “orthodox” subreddit’s gender poll has generated some pretty acrimonious (and in my opinion, senseless) debate.

    • Jacob says:

      “Anti” subreddits happen pretty frequently. /r/ShitRedditSays is kindof anti-all reddit, /r/SRSSucks is anti ShitRedditSays.

      • Anonymous says:

        Amusingly, there is a sister subreddit to r/SRSSucks called r/AMRSucks dedicated to opposing r/AgainstMensRights, which is dedicated to opposing r/MensRights. Given that men’s rights is already a “meta-contrarian” movement, I think it’s fair to say Reddit is bizarrely obsessed with opposing rather than supporting things.

      • That has an interesting history. It seems SRS are the ur-SJWs as their stuff is basically older than this term, which is perhaps no more than 5 years old. And I have heard they came from the Something Awful forums so maybe this is what we may consider the birthplace of SJWery.

        No of course I understand the ideological roots of it are older. But it is more of a style thing anyway. Older times it was like “I find X misogynistic” and at some point it became “X is a steaming pile of pool and I don’t even OMG must be a parody”. This is how we understand SJWery today, and I think it started on SRS, older than on Tumblr, and perhaps on the original Something Awful forums.

        • Some Other Guy says:

          SRS is much worse than Tumblr(‘s SJ circles). The latter usually have a sort of naivette to them that make them easy to mock but hard to hate, the former are (or at least present themselves as) straight up anti-capitalist, hateful extreme leftists.

    • Deiseach says:

      The trouble with the “cis by default” proposition is that it still boils down to expecting people to have strong gender identification or strong gender identities, and if you don’t, then you’re agender or genderfluid or, with a bit of effort, could be trans!

      There’s not really a middle ground there for “Since my particular gender is associated with a metric shit-ton of social and gender roles and expectations, some of which I identify with and some of which I don’t identify with, I’m not really comfortable with the idea of “a real woman likes – ” or “a real man does – ” because that does not map to my experience, but neither do I feel that I could just as easily be another gender or none”.

      I may be mistaken, but it’s rather pushing “if you’re not 110% identified with your assigned gender, then you don’t have any real gender identification and so you should understand transness!” That question about would you feel distressed if you woke up gender-flipped in the morning, and if you wouldn’t well then you’re probably cis-by-default – I find that unhelpful.

      It’s possible to wonder about what it would be like to be a different gender, and to be willing to contemplate (as a thought-experiment) would you try it, without immediately freaking out “No, I’d hate it, I couldn’t do it”, and then deciding that sure, for a while you wouldn’t mind, but you’d want to switch back because you realise you’d have to make a lot of alterations to your expectations and behaviours if it were permanent and you don’t particularly want to do that.

      Any gender surveys should have an option for people who do identify with assigned gender, but don’t feel that all the stereotypes (e.g. not wanting to be either a Girly Girl or a Strong Female Character, depending on what side of the argument is arguing Women Should Be Like This) apply to them or they don’t identify with them, but nonetheless that does not affect their identification with assigned gender and does not mean cis-by-default.

      • Rauwyn says:

        Huh, that’s totally different from how I interpreted the whole “cis by default” thing. In particular I sort of thought it was the opposite of transness, since many (most? nearly all?) trans people have very strong gender identities that happen to not match their assigned gender. It does sound pretty weird to say that if you don’t identify 110% with your gender that means you’re trans – personally, I quite dislike a lot of the stereotypes of my gender, and even have a hard time interacting with other people of my gender, but after a lot of thinking I still identify with it.

        As for the gender-flip distress thing, it’s easy to take thought experiments too far or too shallow or whatever, but I think if you feel like you’d have to make a lot of alterations and don’t want to, that’s a (relatively mild, maybe) version of what is meant by “distress at finding out you’re the opposite gender”.

        Does anyone really feel that all the stereotypes apply to them?

        • Banananon says:

          Like you, I’ve implicitly imagined it as a spectrum with cis-by-default (or no gender identity) sitting in the middle and gradations from strongly identifies as male to strongly identifies as female.

          After further thinking, it might be helpful to combine it with something like the Kinsey scale; as a gradation from exclusively/entirely cis to exclusively/entirely trans.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Your idea that “cis-by-default” is the opposite of transgenderism is interesting.

          One of the things we really have to distinguish is stereotypical “gender roles” from some kind of deeper idea of gender which is difficult to explain.

          Consider the case of “butch/femme” lesbian relationships. “Femme” lesbians (who act according to stereotypically female gender roles) are attracted to “butch” lesbians who in every stereotypical way act like men. Often, they even look so much like men as to be easily confused for them. Why don’t “femmes” just date men, then? Especially back in previous generations when the cost of dating other women was so much greater than it is now?

          Clearly, there is some kind of “femininity” that “butch” lesbians have and men don’t. And I don’t think it’s purely physical, either. Moreover, to say it is just a commonality derived from the life experience of being a lesbian and facing the unique challenges thereof is fairly circular. (For if “butch” women had nothing men don’t, “femmes” would have no particular preference for them and would have avoided most of the social stigma of being lesbians.)

          In my own case (as a cisgendered male), I identify with virtually none of the stereotypical traits women are supposed to have. I identify with all of the male ones relating to thinking (facts over feelings, etc.) and fail to identify only with the ones that are associated with “brutish” men (like an obsession with strength, athleticism, sex, and some kind of lust for domination). So my “gender roles” are pretty much the same as the average male who is considered a “nerd” (not a term I like, but whatever).

          On the other hand, though, I checked “Yes” (and have always felt that) I would be happy to live as a woman if I woke up tomorrow as one. And it’s not than I have complete equanimity toward both options; I would prefer to wake up as a woman. In any video games (or RPGs) that provide an option to play the female character, I always do so.

          Despite this, on balance I would not like to go through all the troubles transgendered women go through—especially in order to obtain merely an imperfect imitation of the female form (even leaving the sexual anatomy aside). In economistic language, the cost currently outweighs the benefits, but if the cost were very much lower I might change my mind.

          Why would I prefer to be a woman, all else equal? Essentially, it seems to me that it is for the same reasons I am romantically attracted to women and not men. I feel that if I liked “masculinity” that much, I should prefer a male partner. (I pause to note that the Ancient Athenians certainly valued masculinity over femininity—and conducted their romantic lives accordingly.)

          I don’t feel a need for female companionship in the sense that a pen needs ink and paper, where unlike things come together form a greater whole in virtue of their complementarity. (I note that I struggled to come up with a metaphor that does not imply the superiority of one part over the other—and I’m not sure I succeeded.) Rather, I feel a sense of wanting a partner who is equal and alike, as a soldier wants an ally at his side. Or perhaps even in the sense of wanting someone who approaches closer to an ideal than oneself, as a common man wants a hero.

          In other words, I value femininity in women not as something that complements my own masculinity, but as something I like for its own sake. And something, indeed, that would like to have myself. Joss Whedon has apparently described this as being a “male lesbian”, and it’s something I have complete sympathy with.

          This does create its own problems for romantic relationships. It requires a certain sort of asymmetry. I find it hard to imagine being attracted to men—and therefore find it hard to identify with a woman’s desire for myself as a man. And any women who felt the same as myself would be attracted to other women. (It is not, I think, an insurmountable problem.)

          Anyway, this was a long digression with a lot of personal reflection, but I suppose what I mean to say is that I am, in some sense, “cis-by-default”—and yet I certainly don’t feel “the opposite of trans”. However, I guess that’s because I’m not “cis-through-indifference” but “cis-because-costs”.

          • tailcalled says:

            This is actually part of the reason I made the survey: how many people who say “cis-by-default” are “cis-because-costs”, rather than “cis-through-indifference”? I got the idea during a discussion in the subreddit where both participants talked about being “cis-because-costs”.

            (In retrospect I should probably have explicitly asked about the intention, both here and in other cases, but hindsight is 20/20. Maybe the data from this survey will suggest some good ways to make a better survey in the future…)

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ tailcalled:

            The problem I see with that line of thinking is that it strongly implies that people were essentially “talked into” being CIS or LBGTQ. I don’t buy it.

          • I think all this means that is that you are a normal male, but draw certain conclusions from it that not all males draw.

          • tailcalled says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            Is there some specific reason you don’t buy it? Because a lot of things seem to be pointing in the direction of a small-but-not-too-small minority of people being “talked into” being cis.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ tailcalled; Several actually.

            First is that it seems to me like both yourself and Ozzy are conflating sexuality with gender roles/stereotypes. While they may be related they are by no means equivalent.

            Second, it doesn’t really seem to match sexuality as most people seem to experience it which is is something more akin to a graph with the Kinsey scale as the X axis and “horniness” as the Y axis.

            Finally, As Mr. X said below, its sounds suspiciously like “No, you all *really* agree with me, you just don’t know it yet!”. In other words, Trans people are the normal ones and it’s the other 99.97% of the population that’s playing against type.

            …and that’s before we start getting into the logical moral/policy prescriptions.

          • Rauwyn says:


            I am so confused. What does “I don’t particularly care whether I’m in a male or female body” (or alternately “I don’t particularly care if I’m perceived as male or female”) have to do with sexuality? I guess switching genders would flip your position on the Kinsey scale, but is there something else I’m missing?

            As for people being “talked into” being cis or trans…maybe? I think there’s a useful distinction between your internal gender identity and how you present yourself to the world. It seems uncontroversial that how people present themselves has a lot to do with social pressures – not every trans person is out! But of course internal gender identity matters too, or there would hardly be any trans people at all.

            I think cis-by-default is just saying that for some people the contribution from internal gender identity is really small, so they tend to choose almost entirely based on what people around them expect. Some people might try to weaponize that – there was someone on Tumblr who argued something like “Gender is a choice, men are bad, so if you’re assigned male and don’t choose to be a trans women, you’re bad” – but that seems, uh, pretty wrong. And I don’t think the existence of that argument means “cis by default” is a bad or useless concept.

          • tailcalled says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            Could you explain your position on gender in further detail and show the statistics that made you form the hypothesis?

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, the whole point of “if you woke up gender-swapped in the morning, how would you feel?” is to make you think about the ay gender is structured in society (ugh, I hate expressing it that way but I can’t think of a better).

            Certainly, at the gross physical level, there are going to be differences in suddenly not having/having breasts, penis, having to shave (different areas) etc. Think of something as simple as going to the toilet (and no, I don’t mean deciding what bathroom); that’s a different experience right there!

            It’s easy to think “Oh, I’d just be the same person as I am right now” but would you? The body has an influence on the mind. And things like buying clothes and finding that apparently women don’t need pockets might be a small irritant 🙂

            There would be accommodations you would have to make, ones you might never think of – imagine being told that you have to wear makeup for your job, otherwise you won’t look professional. This has no bearing on your credentials, work experience, knowledge, ability to do the job, etc.

            So I do think most people would realise that being the opposite gender would be more complicated than “Hey, I’m still the same person inside”. I don’t think that translates out into “So if I feel like that, that means I do identify strongly with my gender-as-is”.

          • Deiseach says:

            how many people who say “cis-by-default” are “cis-because-costs”, rather than “cis-through-indifference”?

            This, though, is part of what I’m trying to say; if you’re at the point of arguing “cis-because-costs”, then you already have a strong opinion, possibly “Yeah, I’d love to change assigned gender/consider myself agender/gender-fluid/bigender but it would be too costly for these reasons”.

            I don’t think “cis-by-indifference” or “cis-by-default” is very helpful as the alternate to that; many people are not “Yes I am a Manly Man or Girly Girl and the very idea of being less sure in my identification brings me out in hives” but it’s not because “Eh, if I woke up and was a porcupine in the morning, I wouldn’t much care either way”.

            I realise that for people who do feel distress or discomfort about being stuck in an identity they cannot recognise as being theirs, then it is a matter of great concern for them, but I’m not sure that trying to rephrase the whole of society from “the majority of people aren’t trans or gender fluid etc.” to “the majority of people have a much weaker gender identity than they think and so there are a lot more of us than you think and so stop weighting things towards the majority” is the right approach.

            I very well could be getting the wrong end of the stick here, but I don’t think the idea of “cis-by-default” as “cis because you haven’t thought about it or don’t want to pay costs” is helpful when discussing the whole idea of gender identity and gender roles, or helpful to people who don’t feel they fit all the “men should be/feel/act like this way” and “women should be/feel/act that way”.

            Women who don’t feel particularly “nurturing, maternal, sensitive, emotional, connected to the Earth and spiritual” (when that’s the favoured idea of womanhood, even in early strands of feminist thought) may not feel particularly “Strong Female Character”(when that’s the opposite pole of favoured womanhood) either, and yet feel for all that they are just as much a woman as any example of both, and not feel as if they are simply “settling” for a convenient gender identity out of lack of a desire to rock the boat.

          • Rauwyn says:


            That makes sense, and it sounds a lot like what rcf was saying below about path-dependence. But weren’t we arguing about something? What happened to the argument?

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            @Rauwyn: It seems to me like you and Deisach are saying similar things. It might just be a wording issue.

            The term “cis by default” resonated with me personally when I first heard it, because even though I don’t identify strongly with a particular gender, I also feel disingenuous calling myself genderqueer or agender or something else, because I don’t experience much dysphoria.

            If we lived in a society where it was totally normal to be called by nongendered pronouns and present as gender-neutral, I’d probably opt for that, but I don’t feel strongly enough about it to insist on being called “zie” (hell, I can barely get my own brain to accept that as a real pronoun).

            But I also think being cis-by-default is different (in a subtle but important way) from just not identifying with societal ideas of gender. Someone can be disinterested in most “girly” stuff but still feel female; someone can love “girly” stuff but not feel particularly female.

            Gender identity is weird because there are a lot of different overlapping factors. There’s how comfortable you feel with your body and organs; there’s how closely you relate to the societal ideas about what it means to be male or female; and there’s that mysterious internal sense of being male/female/other, which can be related to or disconnected from either of those other things.

            I think cis-by-default might more accurately be termed “cis-identifying by default,” because it clarifies that the person is actually fairly close to agender, in terms of their internal sense of being, but identifies as male or female because to do otherwise would involve going on a personal crusade about something zie feels pretty neutral about.

            Though, of course, there are also agender or genderqueer people who feel passionately about being accepted as such by society and hate being mislabeled.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Rauwyn says: I am so confused. What does “I don’t particularly care whether I’m in a male or female body” (…) have to do with sexuality?

            Directly? Not much. Which is part of my objection to the theory as presented.

            tailcalled says: Could you explain your position on gender in further detail and show the statistics that made you form the hypothesis?


            Let us start by assuming that sexual reproduction is a thing that humans do.

            Secondly, let us assume that the theory of evolution/natural selection functions largely as advertised and applies to humans at least as much as it does to any other observed species.

            Let us also assume (for the sake of argument) that “females” are those members of the species capable of producing offspring and that “males” are those capable of fertilizing/impregnating said females.

            Finally, let it be noted that in humans and other primates, that the physical burden of producing offspring falls disproportionately on females. A female can only ever gestate one child (or set of twins) at a time. Where as a male has the option to impregnate multiple females, gestating multiple sets of offspring simultaneously.

            While I have no statistics to prove it, I think that it stands to reason that people who have lots of heterosexual sex will produce more offspring than those who do not. As such, evolution will select for this behavior.

            I would hope that all the above would fall into the category of accepted facts. So what does that tell us?

            First and foremost it tells us that males are disposable. A population that looses 50% of it’s breeding males will still be able to replace it’s losses within a generation or two where as a population that looses 50% of it’s breeding females wont. As such, it is in a society’s best interests to ensure that the most shitty and dangerous tasks get allocated to males.

            After 1000s of generations selecting for the above we a pattern start to emerge.

            Placing males in situations of greater personal risk than females makes physical makes hardiness a much stronger selection pressure for them. Hence the stereotype of big strong “manly-men”, and the observed sexual dimorphism.

            Likewise Domestic tasks are stereotypically “women’s work” because it was the females who stayed closer to home (where it was relatively safe) while the males were off making war or working in the salt mines.

            Point being that trying to paint gender roles as purely social constructs requires us to ignore the theory of natural selection as well as the actual “situation on the ground” as it exists in any time or place not already WEIRD. This in turn leads us to the issues already raised by Deiseach both up-thread and below.

            I don’t want to be uncharitable but the “cis-by-default” as framed by Ozzy sounds a lot like a Typical Mind fallacy to me. A variation on “I’m not odd, it the other 99% of the population who think they know what gender they are, or who aren’t as obsessed with gender as I am who are the odd ones.”

            Like Deiseach said, if you’re at the point of arguing “cis-by-default” or “cis-because-costs”, you already have a strong opinion.

          • Deiseach says:

            It seems uncontroversial that how people present themselves has a lot to do with social pressures – not every trans person is out!

            That’s the chicken-and-egg problem that I don’t think “cis-by-default” or “cis-through-costs” helps resolve. It’s not necessarily that if you only (say) wear makeup because of social pressure or it’s a requirement of your job, then you don’t have strong gender identification and therefore are cis-by-default/talked into being cis/possibly trans.

            I can see the political use to trans people of establishing a “cis-by-default” narrative; that if you don’t have strong identification with your assigned gender (such that you feel “I am a woman/man and could never imagine being any other way and would be very distressed if my gender was changed”), then you are a lot more fluid in your gender and may even be trans.

            And if the majority of people are cis-by-default, then suddenly transness or gender-fluidity becomes not a minority of a minority, but some unquantifiable but large proportion of the population. So political battles over bathrooms, puberty blockers, rights of children to decide for themselves their gender, medical gatekeeping over access to hormones/reassignment surgery etc. become not changes requested by “0.1% of the population” but “some amorphous anything from 5-10% of the population or more”, and then that turns it from “bunch of kooks* discommoding the normal majority” to “discriminated against minority** who must be accommodated”.

            I think discussion about gender and gender roles would be good, the same way that people should have knowledge of more options about sexuality other than “gay or straight and you have to want to be sexual or there’s something wrong with you”. But making it a tussle between “either 110% cis or else you fall on the gender-fluid side of the fence” is not great.

            And I don’t think that is what Ozy’s original post was trying to do, but as you can see from my maunderings, it’s certainly a possibility for how it will be taken.

            *Please note: opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the editor

            **I don’t think we have any hard-and-fast figures on this, any more than that’s there is agreement about what percentage of the population is LGBT+ and how thanks to PR the public perception of how many people identify as gay is over-estimated.

          • tailcalled says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            I don’t see how that contradicts the hypothesis that a good portion of people have a strong gender identity and a good portion of people have no/a weak gender identity.

            Also, how would you interpret the 2014 LessWrong survey which claims that ~half of all people are cis-by-default and ~half are strongly cis?

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @ tailcalled:

            That’s because you seem to be stuck in a weird mindset where sex does not lead to babies.

          • tailcalled says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            I don’t see how that’s relevant. Could you explain?

            Also, I think you forgot to mention how you interpret the 2014 LessWrong survey?

          • Hlynkacg says:

            It’s relevant because babies become the next generation’s adults.

            I’m not sure how I can state things any more plainly than I already have.

            LessWrong is weird even by WEIRD standards and is by no means representative of the population in general.

          • Dirdle says:

            @hlynkacg: Allow me to present an alternative hypothesis. This one doesn’t require group selectionism.

            Males have higher muscle mass due to evolutionary reasons pre-dating the emergence of hominids and related to competition among males for mates. Indeed we observe that males tend to be larger and more powerful than females, in many species far more so than for humans. Female preference for physically powerful (implying health and fitness) would also pre-date the emergence of modern humans.

            Human society then builds up around the preferences of humans: males in general prefer to compete with one another. Females in general prefer to mate with the winners of competitions. The advantage of societal roles you suggest would exist, but would operate at the societal rather than individual level. The pressure to intrinsically want to perform your societal role more would be very weak (as there is very little competitive difference between a society where people want to fulfill gender roles, and one where they merely tolerate them or are socialised to like them, and you have to factor in that this pressure operates between groups, not individuals*), and might not produce much of an incline towards identifying with your gender.

            And you end up with a bunch of people who self-report no particular attachment to their sex because they don’t have one, rather than because they are involved in some signalling game.

            * – It is plausible that males who enjoy their gender role would perform better at it, and attract more mates. But this doesn’t explain the existence of female gender roles. Do women have weaker attachment to their gender, on the whole, than men? I’m not convinced of it. The most manly men certainly seem more committed to masculinity than the most feminine women seem committed to femininity, but – speaking purely from my own observation – the average woman seems as or more committed to femininity than the average man to masculinity. This could be for any number of reasons, though, and I’d be interested in survey results showing otherwise.

          • Peter says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            Quite a lot of that sounds like something I might have written a decade or so ago. For complicated reasons that I won’t go into, I ended up experimenting with female presentations, and some of it stuck, other parts didn’t. See for example my male presentation here and indeed 95% of the time in general. I sort-of found I was actually quite attached to my maleness, so long as I wasn’t presenting as such literally all the frikkin’ time.

            (Of course, this may well not generalise.)

            One effect of all this was me getting terribly frustrated with the whole “identity” thing; I’m much happier talking about feelings, images, presentations etc., and trying to find a life that fits me, rather than thinking about what I “am”. Also, I’m afraid of the identity police.

          • Deiseach says:

            Let us also assume (for the sake of argument) that “females” are those members of the species capable of producing offspring and that “males” are those capable of fertilizing/impregnating said females.

            Then, hlynkacg, you are a horrible transphobe because that is biological essentialism and is completely wrong. Men can have wombs and become pregnant and they are still male; you don’t get to say they are not really male or that males can’t bear young or that females are womb-possessors* or any of that mean old gatekeeping prescriptivism.

            You are male if you feel you are male, ditto female, agender, bigender, gender-fluid, gender-queer, and the rest of it I can’t keep up with because frankly I don’t give a damn one way or the other.

            *Seriously, there is hair-pulling over the correct way to reference this. You should see the arguments that break out on Tumblr when someone posts something intended to be a resource to do with menstruation or the like and dares to start off with “This is for the women on here” or the like.

            Excuse you, not all womb-/oestrogen-dominant system possessors are women! How dare you deny the reality of trans men! Only a grovelling apology and editing your post to correct your offensive terminology will suffice!

          • DES3264 says:

            @hlynkacg The things you are saying are very close to how I convinced myself that the notion of tradespeople made sense: With the evolutionary pressures you describe, is it likely that the brain has some inbuilt encoding as to whether it is in a male or female body? (Yes.) Is it likely that this portion of the brain malfunctions (from an evolutionary perspective) and sends a gender signal which is inconsistent with genetics and hormones? (Almost every part of the brain sometimes breaks in odd ways.)

            Living in a society where we can synthetically manufacture hormones, where almost all children survive to adulthood, where we value individual freedom and place little value on expanding our population, what is the most sensible and compassionate way to deal with people whose brains work in this way? (Treat them as the gender they want to be treated, and allow them access to medical treatments which will make their bodies more similar to the ones they want to have.)

          • Hyzenthlay says:


            Men can have wombs and become pregnant and they are still male; you don’t get to say they are not really male or that males can’t bear young or that females are womb-possessors*

            I don’t know how common this is but I tend to see “male” and “female” as references to biological sex and “man” or “woman” as terms which reference gender.

            So if I’m talking about womb-possessors I say “female” (and I’m generally fine with being referred to as female) whereas if I’m talking about people who identify as women I say “women” (which I’m less comfortable with because that word has cultural baggage for me). Though if you accept this, then statements like “he’s female” aren’t contradictory, and while I’d be fine with that I think a lot of people would find that weird.

            The more I hear people talking about this the more it seems to me that the English language is the problem. We don’t have separate pronouns for any other trait. Why have them for sex/gender?

          • Cord Shirt says:


            I’m “cis by default.” I’m not cis-identifying by default. I’m not cis-identifying.

            I accept being referred to as [gender], but I don’t want anyone to have even a *chance* of getting the false impression that I *identify* as [gender].

            So no. “Cis-by-default.” NOT “cis-IDENTIFYING by default.”

            I don’t have strong feelings of gender identification. I do have strong feelings of identifying as just a person–“don’t push those stifling roles on me.” 😉

            I could add “just a human,” but it’s only reluctantly that I’ve accepted speciesism either. I used to be a vegetarian and only gave it up because health issues forced me to. Similarly, even as a preteen I used to get annoyed at the way Isaac Asimov kept on and *on* and ON with his unthinking assumption that even robots who passed the Turing Test were just tools–not people. (Yeah, he eventually did let his characters become “human.” I just thought he waited wayyyy too long. And kept saying “human” instead of “people”–which to me even as a preteen was just an obvious distinction and he *should* have been calling them “people,” I mean like *obviously* when you’re dealing with sentient/sapient nonhumans… ;))

            (From a HBD and/or a “cultural subgroups” perspective, perhaps this view could be seen as the endpoint of Anglo/NWE/Protestant universalism. “I’m not a [subgroup]! I’m just a member of Universal Personkind!” ;))


            “I don’t want to be uncharitable but the “cis-by-default” as framed by Ozzy sounds a lot like a Typical Mind fallacy to me. A variation on “I’m not odd, it the other 99% of the population who think they know what gender they are, or who aren’t as obsessed with gender as I am who are the odd ones.””

            You seem to be ignoring or unaware of the cultural context. Check out the comments on that post. For example:

            The previous instance of this post changed my life.

            To exaggerate and simplify slightly, it was the first time it occurred to me that anybody even remotely associated with trans activism might be willing to accept that the way I experienced gender was real, instead of just accusing me of being a liar or a troublemaker if I ever had the nerve to describe it out loud.

            Ozy and I are hardly carbon copies of one another, but we have a few things in common gender-wise. But for generational reasons, I got picked up by second-wave feminism, while Ozy got picked up by more recent trans activism.

            Second-wave feminism assumed that nobody had feelings of gender identification, that everyone found gender roles stifling, and that everyone would be better off if gender roles just ceased to exist. (I know, I’m oversimplifying there–I’m leaving out Mary Daly’s group of radicals. But this does apply to both the second wave mainstream and also to Andrea Dworkin’s group of radicals. So, y’know, two out of three. ;))

            More recent trans activism assumed that everyone had strong feelings of gender identification, which is why it assumed that “what if you woke up in ‘the other sex’s’ body?” was a slam-dunk argument; and that if you found your assigned gender role stifling it was because you identified as the opposite gender–or at least, were “some kind of trans.”

            Both of those groups were typical-minding.

            Ozy’s post, OTOH, is *not* saying, “everyone’s actually like me.” Ozy’s post is asserting the fact that the group who in an earlier generation became second-wave feminists (even some males like John Stoltenberg and, at the time, Warren Farrell)–the group who don’t have strong feelings of gender identification (or who even have strong feelings of *non*-gender)–*exists at all*. It’s doing so because Ozy happened to be in a cultural context that was typical-minding *that* group out of existence.

            If Ozy’d been a generation older…*second-wave feminism* is what it looks like when a cis-by-default or nonbinary typical-minds their own *lack* of strong feelings of gender identification. 😉

            (BTW…the fact that both groups got such large followings/widespread cultural support in their day suggests to me that the general population, at least in the US, really is about half “feelings of gender identity that you’re emotionally attached to” and about half “cis by default.”)

          • Rauwyn says:


            “if you don’t have strong identification with your assigned gender (such that you feel “I am a woman/man and could never imagine being any other way and would be very distressed if my gender was changed”), then you are a lot more fluid in your gender and may even be trans.”

            Would it be fair to rephrase that as “If you don’t have a strong internal sense of your gender, then you’re probably less attached to your gender than someone who does“? The fact that I could imagine switching doesn’t mean I’m not attached to my gender, but it also seems like there’s some sense where having a weaker internal sense of gender identity means you have a weaker internal sense of gender identity.

            Also I see cis-by-default as having to do with how you feel about identifying/being identified as a particular gender, and it sounds like you see it as about a particular archetype of that gender. I mentioned earlier that I don’t like most of the standard tropes for my gender, but still identify with it anyway. So I’d say that I’m not cis-by-default, although I also wouldn’t say I have an especially strong gender identity.

            I agree that people who say “If you don’t perform traditional gender roles then you must be cis-by-default or genderfluid or even trans” seem just wrong, but I also haven’t come across any of those people and it’s not how I interpret cis-by-default.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Dirdle,

            I think that, like tailcalled, you are mistaking Gender stereotypes for sexuality.

            Otherwise please explain why you think that people who were predisposed to have more sex didn’t outbred those who weren’t.

            My assertion is that they did, and that asexual and transsexual individuals are actually extreme outliers in comparison to the general population.

            @ Deiseach

            Why do you think I put “male” and “female” in quotes? 😉

            I also agree with you on the “political uses”.

            @ DES3264

            I strongly suspect that what you describe is what is actually happening.

            Unfortunately this theory is also highly problematic as it implies that trans people really a sub-type of intersex, or are otherwise suffering from a form of dysmorphia. and that 0.0x % percent of users suffering some sort of hardware-to-software interface fault is insufficient justification for systemic change.

            @ Cord Shirt:

            This requires us to ignore the biological/evolutionary component.

            Fact of the matter is that barring the invention of human cloning and “iron wombs” you’ll still need a male and a female to make a baby, and male lives will still be expendable.

            I also find the assertion that most people experience no particular attachment to their body to be highly dubious.

            It’s one thing to say that waking up one morning in a different body wouldn’t bother you. It’s another thing entirely to actually do so.

            @ Rauwyn

            That’s a good chunk of my problem, the theory as presented by Ozzy and expressed in the survey seems to be that “if you don’t identify with your gender’s stereotypes you’re probably genderfluid or a closeted trans” and that simply does not match anything I’ve actually seen.

          • Dirdle says:

            @Hlynkagc: I was under the impression we were discussing cis-by-default, not asexual-by-default which I have never seen suggested to be a thing (not that it would be that surprising if someone had, but that would indeed be obviously false). Indeed your entire previous post discusses gender roles and evolutionary-psychology origins thereof. My belief is that most CBD people are heterosexual. How did you come to think otherwise? Or, why do you think that having a strong internal attachment to your sex and/or gender role makes you want more heterosexual sex? Given just how much sex humans in general want, what then</em makes you think that wanting sex somewhat more would have any discernible effect? And if it would, why wouldn't humans have evolved to have the higher baseline desire without the complicated sex-and-gender-roles-as-intermediary-to-wanting-sex paradigm?

            I also find the assertion that most people experience no particular attachment to their body to be highly dubious.

            It’s one thing to say that waking up one morning in a different body wouldn’t bother you. It’s another thing entirely to actually do so.

            Now who’s engaged in a typical mind fallacy? We can’t run the experiment yet, so why not take people’s own assessment of their probable reactions instead of assuming you have greater insight into their nature than they do?

          • Cord Shirt says:


            You…seem to be arguing with someone else.

            This requires us to ignore the biological/evolutionary component.

            …I’ll…just…quote myself:

            “From a HBD and/or a “cultural subgroups” perspective, perhaps this view could be seen as the endpoint of Anglo/NWE/Protestant universalism. “I’m not a [subgroup]! I’m just a member of Universal Personkind!””

            I also find the assertion that most people experience no particular attachment to their body to be highly dubious.

            I didn’t say that either. It was “about half [of Americans, I should add]” and “gender identity,” not “most” and “body”; *giant* difference.

            (That said, *of course* I “experience no particular attachment to [my] body”! Why–why–one just–doesn’t! 😉 More seriously–look, Aquinas had to argue against mind-body dualism for a reason. A lot of people defended it.)

            the theory as presented by Ozzy and expressed in the survey seems to be that “if you don’t identify with your gender’s stereotypes you’re probably genderfluid or a closeted trans” and that simply does not match anything I’ve actually seen.

            That that is NOT AT ALL what Ozy was saying was my entire point.

            You’ve so thoroughly got the wrong end of the stick that at this point you’re basically “Jim Donald freaking out at Scott’s attempt at charity toward anti-gay political arguments.” (Remember that? :googles: Here.)

            I explained why in my previous comment. I doubt I could do any better if I tried again. If I couldn’t make myself understood with that then…on this one I guess you’ll just have to go on being Wrong On The Internet. 😉

            My assertion is that they did, and that asexual and transsexual individuals are actually extreme outliers in comparison to the general population.

            I’m sure they did. Second part of your assertion suggests you’re conflating gender and sexuality. Anti-gender and agender are not at all the same as asexual. (But yeah, transsexuality does obviously impede reproduction.)

            I doubt this’ll make it past the inferential distance here, but…

            Sense and Sensibility is an attempt in fiction to wrestle with the clash of this universalist impulse with other realities. It’s based, after all, on a real experience of Austen’s (Marianne is the character based on Austen). So let me point out that in certain circumstances, this universalism may lead to reproduction. It does for Willoughby (with Eliza); it nearly does for Marianne.

            (Wrestling with such human issues is the point of literature. Considering what literature has to say is useful, as is considering what philosophy has to say. It’s certainly not always right; it’s still useful.)

            In Sense and Sensibility, the two young universalists want to escape society’s oppressive constraints and just connect, one on one, as the two Members Of Universal Personkind they feel themselves to be. They assume that because they share the same universalism, tastes, and ah sensibilities, that therefore they *are* the same. That there is no possibility of misunderstanding or betrayal. It never occurs to them how much inferential distance is created by their different social roles, instincts, and incentives. They youthfully ignore the Gods of the Copybook Headings.

            Now, again, ignoring the Gods of the Copybook Headings can indeed lead to reproduction.

            Maybe not the happiest form of reproduction, though. And so the novel comes down in support of the author’s society’s rules around courtship, which, she implies, are there to protect the young universalists she assumes people tend to be (Anglos? WASPs? Copies of herself? Note that the novel is considered great literature, so there is certainly a group that can identify), and which help guide them into forming *happy* families (in Brandon, after all, Marianne basically gets a “sadder-but-wiser” version of Willoughby).

            So…you seem to be arguing that such extreme universalism shouldn’t exist or shouldn’t be as common as I think it is in the USA, because, you seem to think, it should’ve been selected out. Well…I disagree. :shrug:

          • Anonymous says:

            @hlynkacg, and others discussing evolutionary influences on gender roles

            I think one important factor that doesn’t seem to have been mentioned is health. As hlynkacg pointed out, wombs are the scarce resource in human reproduction. One implication of this is that the median fertile woman will be more attractive than the median fertile man. Another is that male attractiveness will be determined largely by competition, while female attractiveness will be determined in part by perceived ability to bear children. One aspect of this is health: a woman who is unable to successfully carry a baby for nine months and then give birth to it without incident is a poor choice of mate, so men will be likely to have evolved to view characteristics that are evidence of this as unattractive.

            Which gives a possible reason why female attractiveness seems to be so much more visual than male, and why (for example) men so commonly find long hair attractive on a woman.

          • John Schilling says:

            The scarce resource in human reproduction isn’t wombs, it’s primary caregivers and schoolteachers. If all you’ve got are wombs, what you’re producing will barely qualify as human, and after a generation or two you won’t even be producing that.

            Traditionally, of course, most anything with a womb can also be pressed into service as a primary caregiver and/or schoolteacher, and if you’re willing to do so on a nigh-universal basis you probably won’t be running short. But any proposal to recruit wombs by promising to reduce their caregiver/schoolteacher duties, any proposal to maintain or increase human reproductive capacity that starts and ends with “look, here are enough wombs!”, I want to see the math. All of it.

          • anon says:

            So many fascinating stories. Is there a place on the web where the best evolutionary fic is curated?

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Schilling

            I am talking about the environment humans evolved in, not making any policy prescriptions for today.

          • NN says:

            Prehistoric human children may not have needed schoolteachers as such (they certainly needed training and instruction in various skills, but that’s not quite the same thing), but they absolutely needed a primary caregiver for the first several years of life. Most mammals are much more developed at birth than humans are, but humans have to be born early, before their heads get too big for them to safely be born. Hence, humans are more dependent on their parents in their early years than other mammals.

            But the most important scarce resource for pre-modern hunter gatherers is food. Before the invention of modern medicine, human infant mortality rates were horrific under the best conditions, so an underfed infant would have a poor chance of surviving to adulthood. A woman in the mid to late stages of pregnancy can’t gather food, and a woman who has to constantly look after and frequently nurse a newborn child also has a hard time working. If there aren’t enough men and non-pregnant/non-nursing women around to pick up the slack, then more wombs will only get you more small human corpses.

            Now, I’m not an anthropologist, and it is possible that I got some details wrong in the previous 2 paragraphs. But the point I’m trying to make is that taking something that “everyone knows” about human nature and coming up with a just-so story about how such a trait might have evolved doesn’t prove anything.

            Also, one thing that rarely gets brought up in these sorts of discussions is that it is actually kind of hard for sex differences to evolve, because people inherit genes from their opposite sex parents. If a genetic trait enhances fitness for one sex but is neutral for the fitness of the opposite sex then there is no evolutionary cost to it being expressed in both sexes. So any evolutionary explanation for sex differences would presumably have to explain not just why a trait would be beneficial to a particular sex, but also why it would be detrimental to the opposite sex.

            Finally, I took 3 art history courses in college, and they left me with a deep instinctive skepticism of claims that this or that modern Western beauty standard is biologically hardwired because evolution. An obvious example: if men evolved to like women with long hair, then where did the bobbed hairstyles of 1920s “flapper girls” come from?

          • Anonymous says:


            You’re right – in species whose infants are dependent for a long time after birth, caregiving is important. Under such circumstances, it will be beneficial for males and females to both want the male to stick around and help care for the offspring. But this is a factor that exists on top of the underlying question of attractiveness. When it exists, one solution is monogamy: each male is tied to one specific female, she bears his children, he helps care and provide for them. This constrains the female’s ability to overtly choose the most attractive male available to mate with. But it does not prevent her from doing so covertly: by pretending to bear the child of a less attractive male so as to secure his assistance in bringing it up, while in reality bearing the child of a more attractive male, the female can get both good genes and childrearing support.

            So any evolutionary explanation for sex differences would presumably have to explain not just why a trait would be beneficial to a particular sex, but also why it would be detrimental to the opposite sex.

            It would be detrimental for females to heavily weight “perceived ability to successfully carry a child for nine months and then birth it without incident” when judging which male would be best to mate with, because this factor is not relevant for males, and treating it as relevant will lead to the female getting genetic material that will produce a less successful child than otherwise.

            I don’t find the phrase ‘just so story’ useful. In my experience it is a dismissal and nothing more. A hypothesis based on evolutionary factors can be evaluated just like any other – why hold it to the standard of having to prove anything to be valuable?

            I also don’t think the example you give, of women with hair of a length that would be considered long if worn by a man, is evidence of what you think it is.

          • NN says:

            It would be detrimental for females to heavily weight “perceived ability to successfully carry a child for nine months and then birth it without incident” when judging which male would be best to mate with, because this factor is not relevant for males, and treating it as relevant will lead to the female getting genetic material that will produce a less successful child than otherwise.

            Unless the child is female, in which case any traits that helps her ability to carry a child for nine months and then birth it without incident will be a good thing from an evolutionary fitness perspective no matter which parent she inherits the traits from.

            Besides, what visible traits, specifically, do you have in mind? You brought up health before, but it seems to me that looking for a healthy mate would be a good thing for both sexes.

            I also don’t think the example you give, of women with hair of a length that would be considered long if worn by a man, is evidence of what you think it is.

            Okay, then what about the countless historical cultures where men wore their hair as long as women did? Off of the top of my head, that includes too many Native American tribes to list, the Vikings, Ancient Celts, and, if the Kouros statues are anything to go on, Archaic Greece. Also, 1980s Hair Metal bands had no shortage of groupies.

          • Anonymous says:


            Unless the child is female, in which case any traits that helps her ability to carry a child for nine months and then birth it without incident will be a good thing from an evolutionary fitness perspective no matter which parent she inherits the traits from.

            Remember that this factor is to a large extent environmental. Also that, as you say, it is only relevant 50% of the time. It probably has some relevance in males, but not as much as it does in females.

            Besides, what visible traits, specifically, do you have in mind? You brought up health before, but it seems to me that looking for a healthy mate would be a good thing for both sexes.

            A male can make his genetic contribution in a few minutes. A female takes a minimum of nine months to make hers, more than that when you take into account childrearing time. If the female is selecting a male for the provision of childrearing help as well as genes, then his health will be relevant; if not then it won’t (beyond the genetic implications you mentioned). I also suspect that even in these cases the threshold will be lower for males. Gestating and birthing a child is, as you say, very difficult. I imagine health is more important for one who has to do that than it is for one who just has to help protect and raise the child. Perceived providing and fighting ability is probably more important there.

            Why visible traits? Because physical health is an absolute rather than relative factor, so can be determined by more fixed characteristics than can the competitive factors that determine much of male attractiveness.

            Okay, then what about the countless historical cultures where men wore their hair as long as women did? Off of the top of my head, that includes too many Native American tribes to list, the Vikings, Ancient Celts, and, if the Kouros statues are anything to go on, Archaic Greece. Also, 1980s Hair Metal bands had no shortage of groupies.

            My claim says nothing about hair length and attractiveness in men, only in women. Some cultures around the world have valued short hair on men, some have valued long. But the majority seem to have placed quite a lot of value in long hair on women.

          • Careless says:

            a graph with the Kinsey scale as the X axis and “horniness” as the Y axis.

            This entire discussion aside, I just want to mention that this amused me.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Dirdle:

            If that constitutes a Typical Mind fallacy, it is a particularly weak example comparable to my assumption that neither of us is a dog.

            @ Cord Shirt:

            Ironically your wall of text about Sense and Sensibility largely parallels my own objections. Namely that the OP took “so-and-so doesn’t identify with a particular western gender stereotype” and tried to turn it into a broad generalization regarding the nature of gender and human sexuality.

            I’m simply pointing out something that I thought would be obvious. Any attempt to treat gender and gender-roles as a strictly social construct needs to reckon with the fact that females get pregnant and males do not.

          • Cord Shirt says:


            “your wall of text about Sense and Sensibility largely parallels my own objections.”

            I know, that’s why I said it. 😉 (And if you seriously consider something as short as that to be a “wall of text”…I’m afraid I’m probably destined to forever bore you.)

            “I’m simply pointing out something that I thought would be obvious. Any attempt to treat gender and gender-roles as a strictly social construct needs to reckon with the fact that females get pregnant and males do not.”

            It *is* obvious. There are just additional considerations. Especially when we’re talking about *identification* rather than, say, habitual behaviors or w/e.

            Look, let me put it to you this way:

            What does a universalist think humans are like?

            If they meet a fellow human from a very different background to theirs, what will they expect this person to be like? On what template will they base their expectations about this person?

            Will they expect the other person to be very different from themselves?

            If they discover that the other person *is* very different from themselves, will this suddenly mean they actually had a really strong feeling of “being Anglo” (or whatever) all along?

        • RCF says:

          “As for the gender-flip distress thing, it’s easy to take thought experiments too far or too shallow or whatever, but I think if you feel like you’d have to make a lot of alterations and don’t want to, that’s a (relatively mild, maybe) version of what is meant by “distress at finding out you’re the opposite gender”.”

          I think that there’s a distinction to be made between a path-dependent preference, where you’ve gotten used to a particular state and would have to make adjustments to another, versus an inherent preference for a particular state. For instance, it would difficult for me to drive in a country where cars drive on the left side of the street, but that’s not because I have an inherent preference for driving on the right side of the street, but because my System One has been trained to drive on the right side of the street. If a man were to wake up as a woman, he would probably experience some distress; the question is how much would be of the “He’s gotten used to being a man and would have trouble adjusting” nature, and how much would be of the “He has an inherent preference for being a man” nature? With cis people, those two types of distress point in the same direction, and thus are hard to distinguish, but with trans people they go in opposite directions and are easier to distinguish.

        • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

          What this mess is about – was there some discussion of the cis-by-default other than Ozy’s blog post? The way I read it is that some people are men/women the same way I am an Israeli Jew – used to it culturally, but not as an integral part of their identity, while some others – including trans people – care about it much more.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s been sporadic talk about it here and on LW, but I’m not aware of any particular reason for this flare-up.

          • tailcalled says:

            @ Nornagest:

            I posted Scott’s Typical Mind and Gender Identity on the subrdddit two weeks ago, and the discussion made me want some more data.

        • science says:

          I don’t find the phrase ‘just so story’ useful. In my experience it is a dismissal and nothing more. A hypothesis based on evolutionary factors can be evaluated just like any other – why hold it to the standard of having to prove anything to be valuable?

          Hypotheses are evaluated on the basis of the evidence for them. Hypothesis pulled out of your ass with no evidence for them are completely worthless. That’s true whether it’s a physics hypothesis or an evolution hypothesis, the latter just seems to produce more ass pulling for whatever reason.

          If I say that thunder is Zues bowling in heaven, would you wonder why people are dismissing perfectly valid hypotheses out of hand?

          • Nornagest says:

            There is considerably more evidence for evolutionary influences on psychology than there is for Zeus. There’s often no good evidence for evolutionary influence on some particular behavior, but that’s not like invoking Zeus when you know him as a fictional character in that clunky translation of Works and Days you read in college, it’s like invoking Zeus when you saw him last week molesting one of your cows and schwacking a hubristic neighbor of yours with a thunderbolt.

            You might observe here that divine intervention is a plausible hypothesis for just about everything in such a world. You’d be right.

          • science says:

            I don’t think that’s a justifiable change of generality.

            There may well be considerably more evidence for some propositions that can generally be put in the category evolutionary influences on psychology than Zeusian influences on weather, but when we get a poster that makes up an ad hoc story about how men are attracted to women with long hair because wombs were the scarce resource in the evolutionary environment that ought not get a free pass just because it is phased in a scienc-y way. That’s not a penalty for evolutionary hypothesis, that’s the same metric that applies to everything.

            Saying something is a just so story is an entirely appropriate demand for at least a scintilla of evidence. The process the posters above are engaged in has more in common with primitives sitting around a campfire speculating about gods throwing rocks than it does with science.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not saying it deserves a free pass, I’m saying it deserves more serious consideration than “God did it”. We know, or at least have strong evidence for, a lot of stuff that goes under the general heading of evolutionary psychology — for example, finding kittens cute is highly conserved between cultures, and that’s probably partly because short limbs and big eyes and uncoordinated movements poke at some kind of evolutionarily programmed baby-detecting circuitry in our heads. It’s a field that’s prone to overinterpretation and armchair reasoning, but it’s not completely superstition and horseshit.

            Now, we don’t have particularly strong evidence that guys like long hair because wombs, but whether or not that’s actually what’s going on, the argument fits in a lot better with stuff we already know than Zeus does. Sure, there are gaps that need filling, and until they get filled it’s not inappropriate to call it a just-so story. But it’s not on the level of anthropomorphizing the weather.

          • Anonymous says:


            how men are attracted to women with long hair because wombs were the scarce resource in the evolutionary environment

            I don’t see how this is anything but an attempt to phrase the argument in a silly way to make it sound silly.

            I’m also not sure why you find the argument so absurd. Hair length and quality really is an indicator of health. Health really is an important factor in a woman’s ability to successfully bear children. Men really don’t have to bear children so this factor is not relevant for them.

            A similar example: men find wide hips attractive in women; wide hips make successful birthing of children more likely; men don’t have to give birth so this factor is unimportant for men; women don’t find wide hips attractive in men. Evidence that the hair thing is not an arbitrary social construct: the pervasiveness of men finding long hair attractive in women across many different societies.

            What evidence are you thinking of that runs strongly contrary to this hypothesis?

          • science says:

            Leaving aside the hip stuff, I see two claims: long hair correlates well with the ability to bring a child to term sucessfully and there’s a pervasive attraction to women with long hair across cultural.

            The first problem is that there is no evidence for these claims. That’s generally okay since this blog’s custom isn’t to footnote things (see isolated demands for rigor) but in this case when I went to go look for studies on the second question I found a low n study of American undergraduates where the cross cultural element was satisfied by recruiting study participates that had immigrated from abroad. I hope it goes without saying that that’s a shitty experiment to show that attraction to long haired women is a human universal.

            The much larger problem is that even if those two claims are accurate you are no where near demonstrating that your larger claims are accurate. It is entirely characteristic of pop evo psych to make very broad, powerful claims and then back them up (if at all) with narrow studies that upon reading contain quite modest and nuanced claims.

      • Cadie says:

        If I had a button I could press to be a man for a week, I’d do it (assuming time off from work and no other sneaky issues like ID mismatches etc.), because it sounds like it would be an interesting experience and I might learn something new and have fun trying something different from usual. But there’s no way I’d press the button if I didn’t have a guarantee that I’d switch back with no lasting difference other than the memory of the experience, because I am happy being a woman and would like to remain so for the long-term.

      • Ivo says:

        It seems unlikely to me that the “[..] cis people who feel the need to come up with absolutely ludicrous explanations for why trans people [..] are trans” are mostly people with weak, ‘default’, gender identities. If anything, you would expect people without (strong feelings about their) gender identities to, you know, not have strong feelings about gender identities and thus not act on such feelings.

        • RCF says:

          It would make sense, however, it think that they are people with weak internal, inherent gender identities; if a man has a strong gender identity, but this identity is entirely socially constructed, then it would make sense for him to feel threatened by the idea that gender is socially constructed.

          • Deiseach says:

            it would make sense for him to feel threatened by the idea that gender is socially constructed

            That does leave trans people needing to answer the question: if biology doesn’t determine gender, chromosomes don’t determine gender, if gender is a social construct, how then can you be so determined you are not this assigned gender but another?

            If gender is not binary and not an objective fact, then how can you feel you are something that does not exist? You (feel you) are a girl even though people treat you like a boy? So you’re a girl who wears boy’s clothes and has a boy’s name! So what? Being a girl or being a boy isn’t a physical biological thing, we’ve smashed all that idea even of oestrogen-dominant and testosterone-dominant systems: men can have wombs, women can have penises, you don’t need to feel dysphoria or transition, if you want to wear makeup and dresses or trousers and cut your hair short and not shave, you can do and this is not gender-assigned – so the unanswered question still is “Then what can there be there to make you feel ‘ no I am male/female’ and not the gender you are assigned” when gender does not exist save as a concatenation of social roles and expectations?

            And saying “Well the foetal brain was exposed to/lacked exposure to testosterone in utero at a crucial period of development” cannot have any bearing on this, since having a womb and ovaries and an oestrogen-dominant system and menstruating and being capable of becoming pregnant and carrying a child to term still does not mean you are a woman and not a man – so if hormones don’t make you male or female, why should hormonal effects on the brain be counted?

            What does it mean to say “Abbie has characteristics of the male brain and so should be recognised as Abe” when there is no such thing as objective biological “male” or “female” to say “this is a male and this is a female brain”? Because we can’t appeal to biology to determine gender, remember?

          • Rauwyn says:

            It’s not only trans people who have that problem.

            Cis or trans, some people have a strong internal feeling of being a particular gender, and I think that’s what we’re supposed to base gender on. Of course, how people feel inside their head almost certainly is tied up in gender roles in complicated and messy ways, and in the end everything comes down to chemicals. But I’d distinguish between “You have an oestrogen-dominated hormone system, therefore you’re female” and “Your particular hormone system makes you feel female, therefore you’re female.”

          • Hyzenthlay says:


            That’s the reason some factions of feminists are hostile to trans people; because they believe that gender is entirely a social construct and that therefore, validating the identities of trans people just propagates the myth that gender exists. As I understand it, that’s the conflict between transmedicalists and other parts of the trans community, as well. There’s a lot of contention about whether being transgender is a specific, verifiable biological condition or if gender is just what a person feels like. Though of course, if it’s whatever a person feels like then at some point you have to question what it actually means. If the definition of a woman is “someone who identifies as a woman,” then the word “woman” has ceased to communicate anything meaningful.

            My own gut-feel about it is that hormones and brain anatomy and whatnot probably have some overlap with whether a person feels male or female, but it’s not a completely reliable predictor, because gender, like everything about human identity, is complicated and messy and weird. Someone with a “male” brain and stereotypical male personality traits may, for whatever reason, be more comfortable and happy IDing as female and being called she. Whether or not that constitutes a “real” gender identity or not I guess depends on your perspective, but I tend to fall on the side of “just call people whatever pronouns make them happy because it’s kind of ridiculous that we have gendered pronouns in the first place.”

          • Cord Shirt says:


            “That’s the reason some factions of feminists are hostile to trans people”

            Many are not actually “hostile.” They just…

            “believe that gender is entirely a social construct and that therefore, validating the identities of trans people just propagates the myth that gender exists.”

            A belief that “agreeing with the claimed identity of Group A harms Group B of which I am a part, so I won’t/can’t do that” does not require any actual hostility.



            Identity is read onto your body. Notice that you/your body is the object not the subject in that sentence. Even if you never respond, if you pretend it’s not happening, it doesn’t matter. You are still being gendered. No matter what any person alive— at the very least in the western world— ever does, they will never not have a gender because gender under late capitalism is not an essentially internal structure it is an external one. The material effects of identity (which, politically, is all identity is) is not about what you feel you are, it’s about how you are legible to the world and the institutions that regulate your body….

            Gender is a regulatory mechanism. Your clothes or behaviour or even your feelings about your identity aren’t your gender. It’s how your clothes or behavior or feelings about yourself are processed through an outside gaze. If you are lucky, you are adept enough and/or physically capable of using your appearance and behavior to have that gaze recognize you how you want to be recognized, but millions of people aren’t. For those people, gender is terrifyingly out of their control.

            Radical feminists have literally been having this conversation for forty years…

          • Hyzenthlay says:


            Yes, it’s possible to reject the idea of trans identities without being actively hostile to trans people…just as it’s possible to believe that homosexuality is a sin without actually hating gays, or to believe that feminist theory is wrong and harmful without actually hating feminists, or to think religion is stupid and destructive without actually being hostile to religious people, etc. But in all those cases there’s going to be a significant overlap between “people who think idea X is wrong and harmful” and “people who are hostile toward those who hold idea X as a core component of their identity.” Because rejecting the idea while being tolerant and respectful toward those who embody that idea is a pretty delicate mental tightrope to walk. It can be done, but in my experience not a lot of people are good at that.

            And yes, gender is a social construct. But I don’t think that makes it less real. Human beings are made up of social constructs. The rejection of gender identities is itself part of a different construct. It’s pretty difficult (I’d say impossible) to have any kind of ideas or belief system or sense of oneself that isn’t somehow formed by a person’s interaction with society/other people. No one exists in a void.

            Ideally, people should have the freedom to explore and develop their own identities within the context of society, but if there are no preexisting conceptual frameworks to base those identities off of, people are just going to float around like jellyfish.

          • Cord Shirt says:


            “Because rejecting the idea while being tolerant and respectful toward those who embody that idea is a pretty delicate mental tightrope to walk.”

            No, it’s really, really, really, really not.

            (This is great to read, because it helps me understand those other groups you listed. I see my concern about intolerance on the doll collecting board (mentioned on the other open thread) was justified. 😉 )

            When what you’re saying is, “Agreeing to this assertion of yours harms my group, so I can’t/won’t do that”…

            It *really* has *nothing* to do with the person making the assertion.

            You’re not talking to an “embodiment of an idea.” You’re talking to a person–a person who’s asking you to agree with an assertion that, in your experience/opinion, *would harm you to agree with*. You’re not thinking “this person ’embodies this idea'”; you’re thinking about defending your own group from its own harm.

            That’s true even if the person making the assertion interprets or experiences your refusal as “harm” or “hostility.”

            (More on why we believe agreeing hurts us. Note, I’m not Sniffnoy–Sniffnoy, thank you for persisting against the zeitgeist!)

            I’ll defend this on the object level: I know this is true of us “evil TERFs.” It’s also true, BTW, of us atheists (but surely everyone here knows that).

            I’ll defend it on the meta level, too: I already knew it applied to Scott, and thought probably HughRistik (great name) et al. too…but updating in the direction that it’s not just him/them, but most others who believe feminism to be harmful as well. Also updating in the direction of it applying…*even* to the opponents of same-sex marriage. Wow. 😉

            I…guess traditional liberal “tolerance means putting up with feeling offended”…has “failed gracefully” for me here. I already opposed social punishment of SSM opponents, because tolerance. Now, I don’t even think they hate gay people.

            You’ve successfully defended “Fearful Symmetry,” I guess! 🙂

            (The doll collecting board is now on its third thread about the American Girl Magazine article featuring the girl with gay adoptive parents, and how the board members who oppose same-sex marriage “should just shut up.” I keep writing and then not posting comments defending free speech and tolerance. Problem is, political discussion is officially banned there. The rule obviously isn’t always enforced, but its existence means that if anyone makes a political argument the mods don’t like, it’s grounds for banning. So…I’m self-censoring. Woe is me. 😉 )

          • Hyzenthlay says:


            No, it’s really, really, really, really not.

            All of human history suggests otherwise. People are killed over ideas. Wars are fought over ideas (well, mostly resources, but also ideas). If it were nice and easy for humans to mentally separate the person from the idea, I don’t think everyone would do nearly so much fighting over them. Sure, it would be great if no one ever took things personally and everyone just calmly discussed concepts without ever getting pissed off, but that’s overwhelmingly not the case. Which suggests, to me, that it is a delicate balancing act for anyone to maintain a “love the sinner, hate the sin” stance, whatever their perspective on sin/harm happens to be.

            You’re not talking to an “embodiment of an idea.” You’re talking to a person–a person who’s asking you to agree with an assertion that, in your experience/opinion, *would harm you to agree with*. You’re not thinking “this person ’embodies this idea’”; you’re thinking about defending your own group from its own harm.

            I’d say the two are related. Psychologically, it’s a short leap from “this person holds an idea that is dangerous to me/my group” to “this person is dangerous to me/my group.” That’s why people form ingroups/outgroups; feelings of threat and a need to protect oneself.

            And this is by no means directed specifically at you and yours, it’s an across-the-board thing. People identify closely with their ideas. If you (the generic “you,” not you) attack someone’s religion/gender identity/fandom/whatever, you can expect them to get prickly about it. And protesting that it’s not personal probably isn’t going to work, because for them it is personal and feels like intolerance, just as it probably feels like intolerance to you when someone criticizes your group or belief system.

            It’s not impossible to break free of that type of thinking, but doing so takes continual effort for anyone.

          • Cord Shirt says:


            …so since my main reaction to this:

            All of human history suggests otherwise. People are killed over ideas. Wars are fought over ideas (well, mostly resources, but also ideas). If it were nice and easy for humans to mentally separate the person from the idea, I don’t think everyone would do nearly so much fighting over them.

            was, “SO BRAVE”…


            I realized we’re in an “all debates are bravery debates” situation. I’m pushing this point so hard because ISTM right now we’re in a cultural climate where accusations of hostility are being abused for political gain.

            Notice please that I’ve been applying this to *two* object-level issues: trans activism, where I’m on the side that was politically defeated by the other side’s accusations of hostility; and also same-sex marriage, where I’m on the side that’s silencing all opposition through accusations of hostility. I oppose this behavior in both cases.

            So that said…

            Psychologically, it’s a short leap from “this person holds an idea that is dangerous to me/my group” to “this person is dangerous to me/my group.”

            Oh, I’m not talking about “holds an idea that is dangerous to me/my group.” I’m talking about “is demanding that I act in a way that is dangerous to me/my group.” Just replying to that with, “No,” requires *no* hostility.

            Now if the person *keeps* demanding that you do it, because they don’t realize (or feel too offended to accept) that you actually have a *reason* for refusing, then that will generate hostility. I can think of *many* object-level examples of that one. 😉

            Ultimately my point is…well, think of Chesterton’s fence. If you demand this fence be removed because you see no reason for it to be here, then if someone replies, “There *is* a reason for it to be here, so no, I won’t help you pull it down,” that just…is not a sign they are *hostile* to you. They just…don’t need to feel hostile to you in order to say that.

            Now if you ignore what they said and keep demanding they help you pull down that fence, you might *generate* hostility. But initially? No.

            *Yeah*, I understand why it can feel like hostility! But it *isn’t*, though.

            And I don’t see why you’re putting so much emphasis on the first part. Everyone *knows* that! The *second* part is what people *need* to hear! 😉

            I really do think that right now, people do not need to hear, “When someone says, ‘It’s not personal,’ they’re probably lying and actually hate you.” Right now, people need to hear, “…they’re probably telling the truth, and even if they’re not, take a deep breath and pretend they are, because that way you can actually manage to have a discussion.”

            You know–niceness, community, and civilization. 😉

            I’d go on, but…right now I have “The Farmer and the Cowman” playing in my head:

            Farmer: I’d like to say a word for the farmer / He come out west and made a lot of changes / He come out west and built a lot of fences

            Cowman: And built ’em right acrost our cattle ranges!

            …which just goes to show that when it comes to fences Chesterton’s or otherwise, there can be genuine conflicts of interest. Be nice to get to dickering on those, rather than preemptively silencing all discussion with accusations of hostility.

            And protesting that it’s not personal probably isn’t going to work, because for them it is personal and feels like intolerance, just as it probably feels like intolerance to you when someone criticizes your group or belief system.

            SO BRAVE 😉

            But also, re your use of the word “intolerance”: Yikes. Look, no, that’s the *new* definition of “intolerance.” Like, feel free to hold it (I’ll disagree), but…damn, I thought I’d made *my* position on that term clear. I hold the *old* definition of “[in]tolerance”: Intolerance is demanding that other people censor themselves so as not to offend you. Tolerance is putting up with feeling offended so as to allow free expression and discussion and the benefits of diversity: exposure to very different ideas and cultures you haven’t already encountered.

            :sigh: We (the New Left) set out to change our culture’s ideas of what *was* offensive. We failed. What happened instead, it turned out, was just a change in how acceptable our culture said it was to offend others.

            Well hey. We set out to change our culture…and this *is* a change… :/

            OK, but your position is an example of why this old definition of tolerance was created. Here you are, just assuming that reacting this way is innate and unavoidable. Yet here I am, inclined to feel otherwise.

            …because I got the cultural training, that’s why. It works, when you get it.

            So you’re right that we need it. What’s important to me right now is that it works.

            A Brit’s long essay on this cultural shift.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Deiseach says: Any gender surveys should have an option for people who do identify with assigned gender, but don’t feel that all the stereotypes apply to them…

        I think that a large part of the problem is that a lot of people conflate sexuality with the larger discussion of roles, and the mores that have grown up around them.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I thought the “by default” semantic construction was simply a way of pointing out, and thereby attempting to change, everyday assumptions in communication (especially, but not exclusively, when those assumptions are not well grounded in probability).

        So “male by default” refers to the assumption in any communication that the person referred to is male unless otherwise specified. “White by default” refers to the assumption of whiteness unless otherwise specified. “Cis by default” refers to the assumption of cis unless otherwise specified.

        Am I wrong about how that is used in this context?

        • tailcalled says:

          You’re wrong; they were originally introduced in this blog post:

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You think the “by default” construction was originally introduced in that post?

            Or you are asserting that the post is the correct referent for this conversation?

          • Rauwyn says:

            I don’t know if either has changed since the open thread went up, but Ozy’s post was linked to right next to the survey, and is also linked from the survey description. So I’m pretty sure it’s the correct referent for this discussion.

            I also am more used to something like “cisnormative” when describing something that has a background assumption of cisness.

          • tailcalled says:

            HeadBearClub: Ozy’s post is the post where cis-by-default was first introduced.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          Assuming this is based on the previous conversation on the subreddit, and assuming i understood the theory correctly. “CIS by default” in this case is the idea that a good portion of the population is essentialy assexual/undecided but “defaults” to being straight/identifying with thier biological sex to avoid social aprobriation.

          Edit: Ninja’d

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If that’s so, it sounds a little dubious to me. Maybe it’s true, but it just sounds suspiciously like “No, you all *really* agree with me, you just don’t know it yet!”

          • hlynkacg says:


            It also implies that LBGTQ (or CIS depending on your pov) can be “cured” through social pressure.

            Somehow I don’t think that this is what the theory’s advocates have in mind

          • RCF says:

            @The original Mr. X

            How so?


            It seems to me it says the opposite: the people susceptible to social pressure have already been “cured”. When “normal” people think that they can “cure” people through social pressure, they are engaging in the Typical Mind Fallacy: they are going with what society expects them to do, so they expect that others will as well.

            And I find it a bit curious that you’re capitalizing “cis” but not “POV”.

          • tailcalled says:

            @ Mr. X: …how?

            @ hlynkacg: Also how? I mean, it’s not saying that *everybody* is cis-by-default. There would be some cis folk who literally wouldn’t function as the opposite sex, some cis-by-default folk who would function as either, and some trans folk who only functions as opposite sex (compared to natal sex, of course). The cis-by-default people could, theoretically, be “cured” if they ended up as trans or “made trans” by the right incentives, yes, but that’s the only group where you can do that.

          • Are you sure “to avoid social aprobriation” ? I thought it was more “because they don’t have any reason to do otherwise” ?

          • Deiseach says:

            It also implies that LBGTQ (or CIS depending on your pov) can be “cured” through social pressure.

            Somehow I don’t think that this is what the theory’s advocates have in mind

            I’ve seen it – jokingly, or not so jokingly at times – suggested that being straight can be/should be ‘cured’ – you can hack yourself to be more bisexual and find persons not of your preferred gender sexually attractive.

            Particularly in replies to “But if it’s transphobic to say ‘I don’t want to date trans men/trans women because I’m not attracted to people with/without penises’, what do I do?”

            “Well, try finding people with/without penises attractive. Sexuality is a spectrum and you can probably change your position along it. Just make an effort and then you’ll be functionally bisexual!”

            There are jokes about how everything would be better if everyone was bi, because we’d do away with so much jealousy and drama.

            That I don’t believe, anymore than I believe everyone being poly would finally usher in a sexual utopia. Humans always find a way of making things dramatic and complicated.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Deiseach — I think you’re reading this theory as more closely connected to the weird parts of Tumblr than it really is.

          • Derelict says:

            @Deiseach: I haven’t heard anyone say that myself (the “change yourself to like penises” line), but I wouldn’t put it past at least a few people in the trans advocacy community. That line of thinking is problematic, because it’s essentially “change your preferences to fit my circumstances, because your preferences are wrong!”

            No matter how much they justify it with “your preferences are actually rooted in a cis-normative patriarchy” and “we find pedophilia morally problematic and that’s a personal preference too, so preferences are no excuse for transphobia” (which I actually have heard people say), I can’t get in line with that mode of thinking.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @The original Mr. X

            How so?

            @ Mr. X: …how?

            It just seems like one of these linguistic sleights-of-hand wherein the person broadens the category beyond normal usage to try and make their group look as big as possible. “If you accepted your gender roles by default without really thinking about them, you’re actually trans” sounds a lot like “If you think women are people, you’re already a feminist” or “If you give money to charity, you’re already in favour of socialism.”

          • RCF says:

            Who’s saying “If you accepted your gender roles by default without really thinking about them, you’re actually trans”? I see cis-by-default as saying the opposite: there are three categories of people. There are people without a strong gender identity, there are people with a strong gender identity that matched their biological sex, and there are people with a strong gender identity that does not match their biological sex. CBD is saying that the second category is in many ways closer to the third category than to the first.

        • Derelict says:

          That’s what I thought too, until I read Ozy’s post to find out what ze meant by it.

      • Rachael says:

        I take it as the opposite. I have a strong gender identity and this is precisely how I feel able to empathise with trans people. If I were indifferent to gender (or cis-by-default), then I would think “meh, why are they making such a fuss about it?” But because I know that if I found myself in a male body I’d find that distressing, I can understand why a trans woman feels that way.

      • brad says:

        I have no idea how I would feel if I woke up in a different body tomorrow, and further I can’t quite understand how others can have strong confidence about how they would feel in such a circumstance.

        • Peter says:

          Part of the problem is that there are a whole bunch of other things mixed in – societal expectations, shock of sudden change[1], shock of “OMG I’m in a strange hypothetical situation, I need to keep an eye out for trollies”, etc.

          There’s also the issue that for some people self-discovery isn’t entirely straightforward (to say the least); a simple thought experiment won’t get the whole of it.

          I suppose there’s the question of people who spent large amounts of time disguised as a member of the opposite sex, and what they thought of it. Unfortunately we don’t have long introspective diaries from the likes of Mary Read. The closest I came across was Self-made man by Norah Vincent where some feminist tried passing as male for about a year or so as an experiment in sociology, and ended up checking herself into a mental hospital.

          [1] Apparently there’s an intersex condition – which has effects sort-of a bit like the hypothetical.

      • Mammon says:

        You’re making me realize that lots of people argue that gender is either a social construct or a biological construct, but not many people arguing that it’s a mix of the two.

        • Peter says:

          That would be a remarkably good way of putting yourself in a crossfire between two different groups of activist-minded people. Also, you’ve got a problem with terms being abstract and ill-defined.[1]

          [1] I have a neat little taxonomy which I’m going to promote to a top-level comment.

        • Trevor says:

          I think the obvious answer is that people’s gender identities are a biological and neurological process, but the actual gender roles of their society are socially constructed. Now the gender roles can’t just be anything, an obvious example that men are more aggressive in any society. The absolute level of aggression and the relative difference between men and women in that society can vary based on the specific gender roles in that society, as well as of course biology.

      • Nornagest says:

        Like Rauwyn, I don’t see cis-by-default as something akin to genderfluid or trans. I’ve met a number of people fitting all of those categories, talked to many of them at some point about gender and read the blogs of some of the rest, and they seem to have in common a positive experience of gender: an idea that their gender, however they feel about their bodies or cultural behavior in relation to it, is some localizable Thing in the landscape of their experience, independent of their bodies or their preferences about cultural roles.

        Now, I’m fairly happy with my body, and I have preferences about behavior that roughly match a cultural gender role — I’d make a pretty butch lady — but I don’t see those as being causally downstream from a gender concept as far as I’m aware. Does that make me cis-by-default? I don’t know; I might be, or I might not have a concept of gender in roughly the way that a clam doesn’t have a concept of water. There do seem to be cis people that have a strong positive concept of their gender in this way, but that might just make me clueless or unintrospective.

        Even agender folks have, or at least convincingly claim to have, a positive lack of gender. Which I grok even less well than I grok positive gender, but whatever, no skin off my back.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      SSC Reader Does Thing About Gender, Other SSC Readers Surpised When It Becomes Acrimonious. More At 11.

      • tailcalled says:

        I wonder if there’s some way to make people more tolerant of alternate viewpoints on gender…

        • Deiseach says:

          I wonder if there’s some way to make people more tolerant of alternate viewpoints on gender

          Probably not; humans tend to have opinions on everything, including milk in first or tea in first?

          I’m convinced someone could invent a thing, concept or state of being called “sibysbkl” and put up a five-sentence description of it on here (yes, even on here), and we’d not alone begin to have opinions on it one way or the other, but strong opinions, and we’d divide up into two, three, four or more sides and start arguing – and it wouldn’t take long for the anathemas to be pronounced.

          We all know who would burn forever in the caldera of the Volcano God for having the wrong understanding of sibysbkl

    • MawBTS says:

      This is the first time I’ve heard of the “schismatic” subreddit.

      Seems like there’s just this one guy keeping it alive.

      • Magicman says:

        Is that the one who is both a communist and an MRA.
        (A very unusual combination)

        • hlynkacg says:

          That definitely forced a double-take, I was sure it was a joke at first.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Theoretically, there is nothing contradictory about those ideologies.

          Empirically, on the other hand…

          • vV_Vv says:

            Empirically, on the other hand…

            *cough*North Korea*cough*

          • Anonymous says:

            The government, through bureaucratic process, pairs up everyone for breeding and disregards any complaints?

            The government nationalizes sex, and hands out sex ration cards?

          • Mammon says:

            Look up “That Incel Blogger”. He seriously argues that.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            The traditional way to redistribute sex is early, monogamous, life-long marriage, with heavy social and/or legal penalties for women who sleep around before or during the marriage. It worked pretty well. It’s ironic that the left is so obsessed with the redistribution of money, yet utterly set on destroying the institution which redistributes something men care about far more than money.

          • anon says:

            Barbara Goodwin gives the subject a brief treatment in Justice By Lottery. The thesis of the book is basically that desert can’t actually be a moral principle on which goods are distributed in society, and therefore everyone should be issued a basic income, and then randomly be assigned a job, a home and an income, to be reshuffled every few years. Towards the very end, she posits that if we treat sex as a good like any other, then it also must be unjust that some people are having more of it than others, and the state should engage in some kind of redistributive policy to make sure everyone gets their fair share.

            She quickly dismisses the idea as being unworkable due to the individualistic nature of American society or somesuch thing. The fact that everything else in the book is just as unworkable, but she only raised this objection for this specific point, leads me to believe it’s not her true rejection.

          • Punk rock girl says:

            Jaimeastorga2k says:
            “It’s ironic that the left is so obsessed with the redistribution of money, yet utterly set on destroying the institution which redistributes something men care about far more than money.”

            This was some kind of test, right? I hereby counter-challenge you, JA2K, to come up with ten legit counters to your own comment.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            This was some kind of test, right? I hereby counter-challenge you, JA2K, to come up with ten legit counters to your own comment.

            You stood up to me. Congratulations; that was the test.

          • szopeno says:

            Re Barbara Godwin: was she simply parodying a very old, short sci-fi story by Stanisław Lem (a story in which everyone was shifted through different works, houses, even GENDERS – so anyone become immortal) – or serious?

          • DrBeat says:

            I… don’t think you guys know what MRAs are actually about, like actually in real life in the world.

            In what dimension does it make sense to relate North Korea to the MHRM? Besides “I have a negative emotional affect towards them, so they must be the same”?

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s obvious, isn’t it? North Korea’s really patriarchal. Many people assume that MRAs must also be really patriarchal — often wrongly, but then again you have stuff like “Return of Kings” or whatever it’s calling itself these days.

          • NN says:

            Return of Kings has published multiple articles saying that MRAs are pathetic whiny Beta Cuckold Orbiters. Prominent MRA sites like AVfM have also published articles critical of Return of Kings. Calling RoK a “MRA site” is a pure example of Outgroup Homogeneity Bias.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m perfectly aware that the kind of sites DrBeat probably reads and the kind of sites exemplified by Return of Kings hate each other and consider themselves totally different things, but I don’t think the kind of people that’d link North Korea to MRAs are likely to care.

            Hell, bronies often go in the same bucket, and that fandom isn’t even activist.

          • DrBeat says:

            Pretty much what I was getting at, yeah.

            The whole concept of “the manosphere” is sickening. If you believe that men have needs, that in and of itself is enough to shunt you off into a safely-dismissed fringe group who all hold every belief you have a negative affect towards. It’s insane.

          • Simon says:

            There seems to be something weird going on about how the “Men’s Rights Movement” was apparently started by divorced fathers who found child custody laws to be unfairly biased in favour of mothers, but now seems to consist mostly of self-help types who draw most of their worldview from evolutionary psychology and for some reason often flirt with far-right politics.

            I’m kind of surprised how these two groups of people have come to be seen as the same movement, since they don’t have anything in common beyond the starting point of setting out to address social issues that disproportionately affect men.

            It does not exactly clear up my confusion that the only two self-identified MRAs I have communicated with in detail are both women: One is a social worker who has come to the same conclusion as the “fathers’ rights” types; the other is a disillusioned ex-feminist who sees that movement as staffed mostly by total hypocrites. (their positions, not mine)

          • anonymous says:

            I think what happened was:
            -The divorced fathers had/have a legitimate grievance with a broken family law system.
            -Many of them were/are in a lot of pain both because of the broken system and also just generally because their marriages broke down.
            -People in a lot of pain tend to lash out and say things that are unreasonable, but understandably so.
            -Romantically unsuccessful, and generally socially awkward, young men somehow found themselves in the internet spaces where the above group was blowing off steam
            -Rather than recognizing what was going on they took the divorced men were saying as completely on the level advice and knowledge
            -Since the latter group had more time and energy on their hands, they eventually came to dominate the groups and built an entire structure out of the seed of received wisdom
            -The partial overlap and partial animosity between this group and other “movements” is just something that happens on the internet and doesn’t really require an explanation

          • DrBeat says:

            Your confusion with MRAs seems to be based in the fundamental assumption that only fathers who were hurt by an unfair family court system have any legit complaints, and all other aspects of it must be non-legit.

            It would be like saying you’re confused how feminism started with women who wanted the vote, but now is mostly dominated by people talking about how this or that thing is harmful and threatening to women.

            When those two MRAs you know talk, do you actually listen to the things that they are saying? Do you know what their arguments are? Because I don’t see how this can confuse you if you did: the family court system is one expression of a society that devalues and harms men the instant they have any needs or emotions or vulnerabilities or failings.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I remember him commenting here a few weeks ago. (He apparently left voluntarily, in response to Scott banning a different commenter (search for Scott’s “reign of terror” remark).)

          He seemed pretty ideological, and no stranger to being banned from forums.

  2. Protagoras says:

    If there is some sort of meetup in Boston, I will make every effort to attend.

    • Pku says:

      Also, I heard some yale ee people say you were coming through here sometime – any details on that?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I’ll be at Yale the evening of November 19th. Talk to the Effective Altruist club there; they’re in charge of scheduling.

    • Rauwyn says:

      I also live in Boston! Seconded!

      Should someone maybe get in contact with Citadel folks?

    • charcoalhibiscus says:

      Thirded on Boston.

      Which days are “the week before Thanksgiving”, exactly?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I’ll probably arrive late 11/20, I have another committment evening of 11/23, and any time after 11/26 I’ll probably be too busy doing family stuff. If somebody wants to work around that schedule, I’m game. We mostly need a location (warning: SF and NYC meetups have been >50 people) and someone to take charge. I think Taymon knows the terrain, so I’ll delegate him for now, but if anyone else has a space or something let him know.

  3. Michael S says:

    So, from an X-risk perspective, perhaps a decent model for the expected value of donating all 100k to fund DRACOS is something on the lines of:
    where p(E) is the probability of eradicating virtually all viruses, Y is the number of years the donation would be expected to advance the research, p(X) is the probability of X-risk from such viruses in a given year, and p(S) is the probability the donation saves humanity from disease related extinction.

    Perhaps given the evidence presented last thread and the Global Catastrophic Risks Survey (, a decent fermi estimate might be 0.001*0.2*0.0003=0.00000006 or ~1/16.67M. Thoughts?

  4. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    The Anti-Democracy Activist, a neo–I mean, a Catholic monarchist blogger, has finished writing a review of Friendship is Optimal at my request. It’s not the kindest of reviews, but it is quite humorous, and I thought it might generate some interesting discussion if it was posted here.

    Table of Contets:
    Preview: Heart of Autism
    Sponsored Post: One Man’s Pony Is Another Man’s Matrix, Part I
    Sponsored Post: Poned (Part II)
    Sponsored Post: Poned (Part III)

    • jeorgun says:

      I’m not inclined set much stock in this guy’s opinions, based on the needless-insulting-autism and needless-bringing-up-then-insulting-Eliezer-Yudkowsky, plus I remember them writing some astonishingly stupid commentary on Revolutonary Girl Utena. That said, a lot of the points they bring up seem valid— I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to live in the equestretopia.

    • Vaniver says:

      I think this review is one of the “intended reactions.” Iceman intended the Optimalverse to be good enough that it’s not a Bad End, but bad enough that it’s not a Good End, and so when people who focus on different bits think it’s creepy or great they have an example to talk about that crosses (and thus exposes) those boundaries. It’s like Three Worlds Collide, in that one can make the case for the Super Happies and one can make the case for the Humans, and it exposes actual moral uncertainty / disagreement.

      So besides assuming Iceman is endorsing the Optimalverse, the review strikes me as fair, and I particularly like the end (the ‘take a hike’ advice); one of the things that’s particularly excellent about the world as it is now is that travel is cheap and many people you’d like to meet are accessible, if you try the right things in the right way.

      Two points I disagreed with strongly enough to mention:

      1. Iceman did cut pieces he liked tremendously from it. (I know because I was a prereader and recommended he cut a whole chapter.)

      2. Unicorn magic is basically programming, so Light Sparks is doing something considerably more complicated and rewarding than playing Candy Crush.

      To get back to the moral uncertainty point: like he says, if one wants to argue that the Matrix, even if it were a paradise, was worth rebelling against, they have to come up with a reason why. It’s not clear to me that he has a good reason for this–the main one appears to be “production in the real world validates life” but even if so it’s not obvious to me that this means silicon cognition is not validated.

      • Anonymous says:

        Does Iceman endorse Optimalverse?

        • Vaniver says:

          You’d have to ask him; my impression is that he sees it as described in the first paragraph, which I wouldn’t call an endorsement.

        • Iceman says:

          The Optimalverse is not good. The Optimalverse is a mehtopia. Yudkowsky put “The entire human species is transported to a virtual world based on a
          random fantasy novel, TV show, or video game.” on his Friendly AI Critical Failure Table for a reason. However, it is a decent enough outcome and better than what I expect to happen. I expect paperclips.

          Our society has a positivity bias. A story which ended “…and then everyone was turned into paperclips because we got the utility function hilariously wrong! Everyone is dead! It’s highly likely that every sentient being in the universe is going to die! The end!” would not have been shared and the underlying themes of AI safety would not have spread. FiO’s ending is good enough and interesting/creepy enough that people shared and talked about it and argued over it for years after release.

          The ponies could be replaced by any popular fandom. MLP was available at the time; it turned out to be a powerful memetic vector to get a base audience to begin with. And it has successfully spread pretty far and wide. I have seen discussion of FiO on internal mailing lists at work by non-bronies and with no prompting on my part, by people who don’t know that I wrote it. This outcome beats all my wildest hopes of memetic spread when I was writing it.

          • Thatwasademo says:

            Funny you should link to that and use “The entire human species is transported to a virtual world based on a random fantasy novel, TV show, or video game.” as your example rather than “The AI locks onto a bizarre subculture and expresses it across the whole of human space.”

      • vV_Vv says:

        2. Unicorn magic is basically programming, so Light Sparks is doing something considerably more complicated and rewarding than playing Candy Crush.

        Well, Candy Crush may not be Turing-complete, but…

        It’s not clear to me that he has a good reason for this–the main one appears to be “production in the real world validates life” but even if so it’s not obvious to me that this means silicon cognition is not validated.

        IIUC, his point is not so much about the distinction between silicon and carbon cognition, but about the fact that in the virtual world everything it being taken care of by the nanny-god-zookeeper-AI, from the “ponies” point of view, nothing is really at stake. They spend all their time living out juvenile fantasies in that Crapsaccharine World, but even with all the super-stimulation, some of them, like Lars, can’t enjoy it without the aid of some digital lobotomy.

        I suppose that the reviewer wouldn’t object to a Hansonian utopia of hard-working brain uploads (perhaps except some minor quibbling about souls, since he is a Catholic). He objects to wireheading.

    • Tim C says:

      This is terribly amusing; I havent seen anyone miss the point quite so completely in a long time! Going on about how Celestia’s idea of consent isnt really consent like that isnt the point of the story? Saying *Less Wrong* needs to think about the consequences of technology and not just blindly build devices? Biases really are overpowered (including my own of course).

      And on that, the comments lead me to check my assumptions. Did any appreciable number of people read Friendship is Optimal and take away “The author thinks Celestia and Equestria-verse are the best!”? I thought it was clearly a “dystopic utopia” story, meant to make you question happiness delivered at the barrel of a pony-gun, but maybe I am off base.

      • Iceman says:

        You would be surprised. While I don’t know of many cases where people assumed I thought that Equestria-verse was the perfect utopia, a non-trivial number of people commented on Chapter 4 about how they’d take the deal as presented without any further pressure.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          It seemed pretty obvious to me that Equestria was not the optimal outcome. It didn’t seem obvious to me that it wouldn’t be profoundly preferable to current human existence.

    • suntzuanime says:

      On the one hand, it’s nice that the point of the story got through. On the other hand, lol.

      I can’t really accuse him of missing the point, because he clearly got the point, at length, and with a certain degree of eloquence. He just doesn’t have the humility to consider the possibility that maybe the author got the point too.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        This reminds me of the person who commented on Larry Correia’s blog about writing a high school essay on Moby-Dick: Since he (the commenter) did some recreational sailing, he “knew” that many of the sailing terms Melville used were inaccurate, meaning that Melville “hadn’t even bothered to look up sailing in his local library.”

        (but…Melville WAS A PROFESSIONAL SAILOR)

    • Age of Utilitron says:

      The Anti-Democracy Activist, a neo–I mean, a Catholic monarchist blogger

      Oh boy. I’m still shocked there is such a thing in 2015. I don’t think I need his opinions on ponies.

      • Anonymous says:

        What’s so special about 2015?

        • Age of Utilitron says:

          Okay, I wouldn’t have expected a Catholic monarchist blogger in 1750 either.

          But I wouldn’t have been surprised that people still defended such an atavistic ideology in the media of their time.

          • Anonymous says:

            Okay. In that case, colour me shocked that there is such a thing as a Whig in 2015.

          • Adam Casey says:

            >Okay. In that case, colour me shocked that there is such a thing as a Whig in 2015.

            *waves* Hi there.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m still shocked there is such a thing in 2015.

            Is it the Catholicism, the monarchism, or the combination of both you find shocking? 🙂

            *feels sudden urge to start singing Jacobite songs coming on*

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Deiseach…

            They came in the blizzard, we offered them heat,
            A roof for their heads, dry shoes for their feet;
            We wined them and dined them, they ate of our meat,
            And they slept in the house of MacDonald…

        • Anonymous says:

          Come on — it’s 2015, people!

          • hlynkacg says:


          • Try to imagine yourself discussing politics with an intelligent and sophisticated individual from a few hundred years ago. Do you think you could convincingly demonstrate that Catholicism and monarchy were wrong? Or do you just take it for granted that the customs of your tribe must be right, those of his wrong?

          • Anonymous says:

            I think he was being jocular, guys.

          • Well, for a given value of wrong, sure. You just need to dig out empirical claims about things like spirit and the capacity of kings, then do neuroscience for the one and double-blind experiments with changeling royals for the other.

            Now, I do think that the “In 2015?” raised here was tribal signaling, but that doesn’t actually make there not be foundationally untrue things in Catholicism, or monarchy a good system of government when the means of production and power in society start being things you can’t will to your children easily.

          • Anonymous says:

            >foundationally untrue things in Catholicism

            Such as?

            >when the means of production and power in society start being things you can’t will to your children easily


          • Age of Utilitron says:

            I find it pretty obvious that theism is objectively false with overwhelming probability, that the associated worldviews stem from a prescientific era and that this causes predictable harm in politics. There is no rational apologetics. If there was, they’d rub it in our face every day.

            I also find it obvious that monarchy has many of the flaws of democracy, and then some. I’ll totally accept that we might all be better off with just the right kind of god emperor, but that’s like saying democracy would be really utopian if just the right kind of Machiavellian strategists won.

          • stillnotking says:

            Do you think you could convincingly demonstrate that Catholicism and monarchy were wrong?

            If I had the ability to demonstrate the outcomes of abandoning theocracy and monarchy, sure. If I had to argue purely from principle, I probably couldn’t convince them, because I am not as smart as Jefferson or Voltaire.

            It seems to me that this is analogous to asking whether I could convince them of atomic theory.

          • vV_Vv says:

            I guess that Catholicism and monarchy were not obviously wrong in the scientific, technological and economic environment of a few centuries ago.

            Monarchy, or some other form of aristocratic government, was probably “optimal”, or at least better than universal suffrage democracy: you can’t expect uneducated, uninformed, illiterate people to make meaningful political decisions in any community larger than their own village.

          • brad says:

            Doesn’t Catholic Monarchism in the modern day run into a problem on the Catholic side? Does anyone think Pope Francis would willingly crown a French or American king?

          • Anonymous says:

            uneducated, uninformed, illiterate people

            You described everyone on the left side of the bell curve, and a fair bit of people on the right side of it. Living now. In western democracies.

          • Anonymous says:

            Doesn’t Catholic Monarchism in the modern day run into a problem on the Catholic side? Does anyone think Pope Francis would willingly crown a French or American king?

            Don’t be silly. Papal coronation is for Emperors! 🙂

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Well, some ultra-traditionalist Catholics hold that the Pope is a heretic, which would make him not really the Pope—therefore, there is a vacancy in that office (“sedevacantism”).

            From the Catholic Encylopedia (a pre-Vatican II document):

            The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church.

            Actually, the whole article on heresy is pretty incredible. It basically says the Inquisition was totally justified and did nothing wrong. You could easily convince me that it’s from the Warhammer 40k canon.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You described everyone on the left side of the bell curve, and a fair bit of people on the right side of it. Living now. In western democracies.

            The Telegraph published a survey back in 2010 — back at the height of the financial crisis, in the middle of an election campaign dominated by what to do about the economy — finding that over three-quarters of respondents didn’t know what a deficit is.

            Just let that sink in for a moment.

          • Deiseach says:

            Chronological snobbery. If something is true (or false), changing the date on the calendar makes it no less true (or false).

            “To react to seeing a ghost with ‘But this is the Twentieth Century!’ is like seeing a murder and exclaiming ‘But this is the second Tuesday in August!'” 🙂

          • Jiro says:

            Reacting to a sighting of a ghost with “but this is the 20th Century!” (or 21st) means “ghosts don’t exist whether in the 20th century or before. However, the level of bias and bad reasoning necessary to conclude the existence of ghosts is much more atypical for the 20th century than for previous centuries.”

          • NN says:

            Reacting to a sighting of a ghost with “but this is the 20th Century!” (or 21st) means “ghosts don’t exist whether in the 20th century or before. However, the level of bias and bad reasoning necessary to conclude the existence of ghosts is much more atypical for the 20th century than for previous centuries.”

            It depends on which place and century that you comparing it to. In Medieval Europe, the establishment (that is, the Catholic Church) was if anything more opposed to the existence of ghosts than the modern scientific establishment is.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s not the strength of the opposition that matters, it’s the nature of the opposition. Most of the errors that you need to make in order to believe in ghosts are widespread in medieval Europe and not so widespread in the 20th century. That’s what the original statement means.

            It’s true that the church rejected ghosts but the church had no good reason and was only right by chance; disagreeing with the church is not an error.

          • Age of Utilitron says:

            Chronological snobbery.

            One may not believe in moral progress, but to deny scientific progress, i.e. the progress of world model accuracy, is quite absurd.

          • Anonymous says:

            What I find amusing about this phrase is that it seems to imply that the view in question might have been acceptable in previous years. But does the person saying, “it’s 2015!” ever actually believe that – that in 2014 and earlier, they would have been accepting of the idea, but only this year has it become wrong?

            Or, do people ever say things like, “when it’s 2020 then this will be a good idea, but at the moment it isn’t”?

          • Age of Utilitron says:

            But does the person saying, “it’s 2015!” ever actually believe that – that in 2014 and earlier, they would have been accepting of the idea, but only this year has it become wrong?

            I think you pretend to interpret it more literally than it really is intended. I don’t even think you’re particularly sincere with this interpretation. Of course Catholic Monarchism was just as absurd in 2014.

            The point is that there really is such a thing as an outdated model of reality, and pointing to the date is a idiomic expression of that.

            And yes, if it is used in a context where no knowledge growth has made a difference, is it a shallow response. If Catholic Monarchism had good contemporary or timeless arguments going for itself, that would matter, but it pretty obviously doesn’t.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Age of Utilitron:

            Indeed. “It’s 2015!” has to be understood as a sentence fragment, the implied second fragment of the form “not 1520.” The implied part simply points out that “there was a time when the opposite was considered true, but that time is not now”

          • Anonymous says:

            @AgeOfUtilitron, HeelBearCub

            That applies to some claims but not others. For example: is there any point in history when you think gay marriage should have been illegal?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That is never the form of the claim.

            This is a “march of science/march of progress” argument, and attempts to clothe itself in all of the attendant good therein. It’s is not a very persuasive argument, accept for the times when the march of progress really is this self-evident or the once hot topic has become moot.

          • Anonymous says:


            I suppose it depends on whether you believe that, as time goes on, peoples’ views on questions like what kinds of laws are optimal tend to improve. I don’t believe they do. I would certainly say that, as time goes on, more arguments are made, others are tested, more evidence builds up, and so it becomes more possible to have precisely the right beliefs. But since the cost of being misinformed on this kind of question is virtually zero, I see no reason to expect that peoples’ views will become more accurate on average.

            Perhaps you could get meta and say, “it’s 2015, how are you still holding the view that the cost of being wrong on something affects how much effort people are likely to put into finding out the truth?”, to which I would have no answer.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            I wrote and then deleted (as basically unnecessary) several lines from my original answer. Shows what I know.

            Basically, I think claims of this form are riding on the progress of scientific knowledge. So people who make claims about humors, leaches, bloodletting, spontaneous generation and the like have all been proven irrevocably wrong. Those views can rightly be put on the dustbin of history (1520, not 2015), whatever the nuggets of truth that may have rested within them which are discarded. (You know, we use leaches to treat disease now.)

            So, claims about the right or wrong of social views, when they take the same form, are attempting to trade on the obvious scientific progress, treating these as object level claims. Now, in some (many?) cases this is actually correct! Mental illness, for example, is far better understood as disease (and not morality) today. But the claim simple assumes the premise, rather than making the argument.

    • Dan T. says:

      This is actually the first I’ve happened to run into “Friendship Is Optimal” (that I recall, anyway)… yet another piece of Online Fiction that It Seems Like Everybody Has Heard Of, At Least in the Circles I Hang Around In, But I Never Managed To Run Into It Until Much Later… like HPMOR and Worm.

    • James Vonder Haar says:

      He accuses the author of autism, but he sure rolled a critical failure on understanding subtext in the fic description (or more likely, he views the author with such contempt that he believes him completely incapable of creating subtext). The line about things being [b]completely[/b] consensual is clearly meant… not exactly ironically, but but just about anyone can tell that that’s supposed to be disquieting – overemphasizing it in fact implies that things are not entirely above board.

    • anon says:

      Wait, there’s a Dark Enlightenment guy who will sincerely review fanfiction and anime and any other bullshit you put in front of him?

      Why did nobody tell me this sooner? Excuse me while I dust off some of the terrible smut I wrote with my old RP group

    • Dirdle says:

      What did Neo, Morpheus, and the gang find so wrong with it that they felt the need to fight that hard to escape or destroy it?

      The subsequent explanation seems to miss two important points and a critical one. Firstly, it’s a film. Whatever the contrived reason to fight the machines is, the real, ultimate reason is that there wouldn’t be a story if they didn’t. So Neo & co will have whatever character traits are necessary to make them fight, regardless of how plausible or implausible that is. Secondly, even in The Matrix, the rebels are a tiny minority who by dint of their being more powerful get to impose their weird preferences on everyone else (much like my least-favourite story ever). Critically, and relatedly, it fails to consider that Not Everyone Is Like That. Certainly the films were popular, but somehow I think it had more to do with the flashy cinematography and cool ‘out there’ philosophical pondering than aching sympathy for the rebels and their plight. Of what sympathy there is, I am willing to attribute at least some to “plucky rebels against an evil empire, right? I can get behind that” from the majority of people who will not have taken the time to ask whether the empire is in this particular case evil. Still pretty sure the fundamental problem here is insoluble. #shamelessselfpromotion

      All of the actual points about FiO are pretty much factually-correct, as discussed above, if rather obnoxiously presented and uncharitably assessed.

      • Jiro says:

        the rebels are a tiny minority who by dint of their being more powerful get to impose their weird preferences on everyone else

        Not really. In a story like this it’s assumed that, unless it is specifically stated, most people in the story’s world would have similar preferences to the audience. And most of the audience doesn’t want to be shut up in the Matrix. So we should conclude that in the context of the story, those preferences are not weird and most people wouldn’t want to be in the Matrix either.

        Furthermore, you could say the same thing about any dictatorship where the people are kept ignorant.

        (And the empire is evil not just for putting people in the Matrix, but hiding the information. It’s not as if people are voluntarily in the matrix because they think the dictatorship gave them a better deal than being out in the world; the dictatorship doesn’t allow them to have the information that would make that truly voluntary.)

        • Dirdle says:

          Then should we argue that, insofar as FiO is supposed to be appealing, the audience is expected to be sympathetic to its protagonists and their motivations? I mean, surely the writers are allowed to disagree about what people want? Or rather, to emphasise different parts of what people want? People want to be badass rebels in trenchcoats fighting The Power? Well, yeah. People want to live comfortable lives with kinder rules? Well, that too. Probably the same people, even.

          Anyway, there was a point to that. “People in the background would be mostly like the protagonist is a sword that cuts both ways for this review”? Yeah, something like that.

          (This parenthetical was to contain a derail, the wisdom of which has been reconsidered)

          • Jiro says:

            Most of the audience already don’t want to be in the Matrix. This is not borne of a need to sympathize with the protagonist for the sake of the story, this is because that’s the audience’s preexisting preference regardless of whether there is a protagonist or even a movie. If you had taken a poll before the movie came out, described the Matrix, and asked people if they thought it was a good thing, the majority would have said “no”.

            The heroes of the story aren’t “imposing their weird preferences” because their preferences aren’t weird. They may seem weird to you, but your mind is not typical.

            Then should we argue that, insofar as FiO is supposed to be appealing, the audience is expected to be sympathetic to its protagonists and their motivations?

            No, because assuming those preferences for the sake of the story is different from having such preferences already without needing to assume them.

          • Dirdle says:

            So writers aren’t allowed to disagree on what they think the majority of people want (or want most, or whatever)? Surely that’s not right, but I’m struggling to figure your position out, otherwise.

            The writers of The Matrix thought most people wouldn’t want to live in a simulation much more pleasant than the real world, with enough disagreement to allow for plot-important tension, betrayal etc; the writer of Friendship is Optimal thought at least some people (I mean, it wasn’t written to be a mainstream movie after all) would so prefer with enough disagreement etc.

            The heroes of the story aren’t “imposing their weird preferences” because their preferences aren’t weird.

            They are weird in the story, even if the audience agrees with them. There are, what, a few hundred rebels total? And it’s pretty strongly implied that the reason they’re so few is that everyone else is a sheep, trenchcoat 90s aesthetic, and so forth. They only offer the choice to join them to the rare few they think will accept it – people like Neo who are already ‘against The System’ even before they know what the system is. In the sequels this gets overridden by some cyclical history thing where they get wiped out whenever they get too numerous, but if we can agree on anything it’s that the Matrix sequels deserve to be forgotten.

            Oh, maybe I’m supposed to say “those other people in the films who wouldn’t want to find out that their not-so-awful life was a lie and then eat recycled gruel underground for the rest of their lives aren’t like the majority of the audience who sympathise with wanting the truth at any cost, so it’s okay to ‘free’ them (because they’re not really human?)”? If it turns out we’re the NPCs of a fictional universe (which seems at times alarmingly likely), am I supposed to be okay with getting screwed over so that an audience of beings that sympathise more with the protagonists can be more engaged?

            Uh, that reads more rhetorically than it’s meant. All honest questions, though. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen people defend similar positions regarding superior aliens whose preferences are to ours as ours are to ants.

          • Jiro says:

            The writers of The Matrix thought most people wouldn’t want to live in a simulation much more pleasant than the real world

            “Thought” is a much weaker description than necessary. Most people wouldn’t want want to live in the Matrix. The writers recognized that, they didn’t just think it.

            They are weird in the story

            I hate using a LW-ism, but… Coherent extrapolated volition. Whether the humans in the Matrix “want to be out of the Matrix” should be analyzed depending on what they would desire if they have sufficient information, not what they would desire in their current state of ignorance. If they knew about the Matrix, they would want to be out of it just like the main characters and audience want to be out of it. The main characters’ opinions are only weird because of this lack of knowledge, which doesn’t count.

            I’m pretty sure I’ve seen people defend similar positions regarding superior aliens whose preferences are to ours as ours are to ants.

            Getting rid of the matrix can be defended based on character preferences alone; the characters (including NPCs) prefer (in a CEV sense) to be out of the Matrix. The audience only becomes relevant because storytelling convention is that the characters have the same preferences as the audience unless there is a specific reason not to think so.

          • I agree with Jiro. Knowing you were living in the Matrix would be too creepy to tolerate. (Note that even what-is-name, the traitor, while he wanted back into the Matrix, insisted on having his memory modified so that he wouldn’t know about it.)

            OTOH, the major part of that IMO is that your real body is under the complete control of the enemy. If the machines were friendly it might feel completely different.

          • DrBeat says:

            Also, the Matrix was explicitly awful, and only more pleasant than the real world because nobody was able to FIX the real world because everyone was trapped in the Matrix, being miserable, and powering up the entities enforcing the suckiness of the real world.

  5. Nuclear war as extinction risk: in the discussion on Constra Simler on Prestige, John Schilling asserts that a nuclear war would not wipe out humanity. I’ve finally been able to convince myself [1] that my common-knowledge belief that it probably would wasn’t hopelessly idiotic or naive, and a search of SSC didn’t turn up anything obviously relevant, so references please?

    [1] Specifically, I found the reference (in the commentary in The Alternate Asimovs) to confirm that Isaac Asimov retconned the nuclear war out of Pebble in the Sky precisely because it became clear that such a nuclear war wouldn’t have left any survivors. So if I was being idiotic or naive, it was no more so than Asimov, and I can live with that. 🙂

    • brad says:

      I don’t remember which post it was in, but he’s made a detailed argument in that direction. I’ve heard similar from others before.

      Existential is a pretty high bar. What is the mechanism for nuclear war to wipe out everyone?

      Grant the destruction of all major cities. Grant a nuclear winter. Grant elevated radiation levels. Human existed before major cities, survived through ice ages. Only radiation is a plausible mechanism for extinction, and that runs into the “problem” that the planet is so damn big that getting significant PPM globally of anything takes absolutely enormous quantities.

      Existential being so tough is one reason I’m skeptical of the unfriendly AI scenarios. We hate rats and cockroaches, but there are doing better than before humans were in change of everything, not worse.

    • Montfort says:

      Interestingly enough, my “common-sense” belief was that of course it wouldn’t be an extinction-level event and that, worst-case, South America and Africa would just have to go on without us. I’d be more worried about large-scale civilization/technological change away from my/”western” values.

      I’ve found a few sources on the subject, but they’re all cold-war era. So half are reassuring people they’d be okay after a thermonuclear war, and the other half are scare-mongering, and none look reputable enough to cite.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      @Harry Johnston:

      It would never have occurred to me to guess that a global nuclear war would wipe out humanity, so the obvious question is why you thought it might.

      Googling would nuclear war kill everybody led me to a couple of sites that seem interesting after at least a cursory look:

      Critique of Nuclear Extinction by Brian Martin.

      Debate: A nuclear war is survivable.

      There is also a fascinating civil defense manual I had stumbled over some years ago, called “Nuclear War Survival Skills”. I recommend reading the wikipedia page about it first, which contains a pointer to the online version, because if you go straight to the online version you will recoil as you might from a site about UFOs.

      I don’t vouch for any of these; start a nuclear war at your own risk.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops.

        But yes, in general, it seems to me that the destructiveness of nuclear war was exaggerated by “liberals” in the Cold War in order to strengthen the rationale for a non-confrontational policy with the Soviet Union, nuclear disarmament, and a general anti-war attitude.

        It’s a straightforward case of “arguments are soldiers”. Suppose you are already somewhat sympathetic to communism (or at least critical of American “imperialism), have a general aversion to war, and think that even a 100% “successful” attack on the Soviet Union (destroying its government with no loss of American life) would be a moral disaster. So you are already completely opposed to nuclear war, including confrontational policies of “brinksmanship” with the Soviet Union that risk nuclear war.

        Which position is more helpful to your cause? That nuclear war would kill everyone in any event, meaning that the “brinksmen” are completely deluded? Or that nuclear war is survivable, perhaps even “winnable”—but morally we still shouldn’t do it? The former, obviously. It is far more categorical; the only possible response is “better dead than Red.”

        • This also ties into the nuclear winter publicity campaign. As best I can tell, it was scientifically irresponsible, since people were making scientific claims with great confidence at a point when the first round of articles were just being published hence there had been no opportunity for outside criticism. And when criticism did come, some of the work turned out to be pretty shaky.

          On the other hand, I can easily imagine an entirely reasonable person believing that scientific integrity was important but preventing nuclear war was more important, and acting accordingly.

        • ivvenalis says:

          “the destructiveness of nuclear war was exaggerated by ‘liberals’.”

          Nah, not just liberals. I was taught that one of the internal arguments against using nukes in Korea was that they might not actually do much damage: the terrain, enemy expertise in concealment, and lack of precision delivery meant that we might end up revealing that our ULTIMATE APOCALYPTIC WEAPON wasn’t actually that dangerous. In turn, that would have at least three negative effects:

          1. Decrease the deterrent value of nuclear weapons
          2. Normalize the use of nuclear munitions.
          3. Make our enemies look awesome.

          This isn’t my original source, but this guy talks about the issue a little more here, scroll to the end:

        • How much of an existential threat nukes are depends on how many you have. If you have an arms race, then you’ll eventually reach the existential threat level.

      • I think the most honest answer to your question is that in the 80s it was widely accepted that it would, as per the Asimov reference, and that was probably the last time I’d given it much thought. (It is beginning to sound like the idea dropped quietly out of existence at some later date, except in the memories of those of us who grew up at just the right time.)

        To the best of my recollection, the idea was that there’d be basically no sunlight for several years, so all the plants would die, so all the animals would die, so there’d be nothing for humans to eat. (Radiation and hostile weather would just fill in the cracks, so to speak.)

        The guy in your second link says this theory has been discredited, but his only reference is a single paper in what sounds like a biased publication. Of course that’s still one paper more than I’ve got. 🙂

    • John Schilling says:

      Well, Asimov could be naïve about some things, and I think this was one of them. But, yes, you’re in good company.

      But, what’s the mechanism by which nuclear war extinctifies humanity? A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that all of the nuclear weapons that were ever built would suffice to destroy by blast, fire, and prompt radiation, less than 2% of the Earth’s land surface. To a first order, most places the only difference you’d notice is that trucks full of stuff will stop coming from the cities, and while humans like having cities that produce neat stuff by the truckload we’re not entirely dependent on it.

      Here is a fair analysis of the prompt effects of a full-scale Russian (early post-Soviet) nuclear attack on the United States, indicating a probable 52 million dead, going up to ~100 million if the Russians say “screw military effectiveness and our own survival, we just want to kill as many Americans as possible”. The United States would presumably do about the same to Russia; the rest of the industrialized world might see similar levels of destruction, but that’s a few hundred million dead, not billions.

      It has been long suggested that global nuclear fallout would render the Earth’s surface uninhabitable for years. Even if true this would leave survivors, but it isn’t true. Fallout kills maybe a couple hundred million people, but that’s mostly prompt and local and folded into the prior estimate. Global fallout even from a maximum exchange would not be acutely dangerous, and elevated cancer rates would result in only a few tens of millions of deaths. SIPRI has published probably the best work on the subject, but you have to actually read it because the dust jacket and intro were edited for alarmist purposes and don’t reflect the quantitative content.

      More recently, Nuclear Winter is the thing that’s going to kill us all, but not long after those results were published even the authors pulled back from the “kill us all” part to the “hundreds of millions will die” level.

      And most of this extinction-level fear comes from the Cold War period. It was bogus even then, but in the years since we’ve eliminated almost all of the nuclear weapons. We also learned, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, that soot from burning millions of barrels of petrochemicals doesn’t reach as high or as far or last as long in the atmosphere as originally thought, and that (not dust) was most of the nuclear-winter issue.

      That still leaves an emotive, “I can’t imagine outliving civilization, I’d just give up and die” and the related “I can’t see how people would survive without trucks full of stuff from the cities, even farmers use stuff from the cities to run their farms”. And, OK, it’s impossible to conclusively disprove that civilized humanity would commit mass suicide-by-apathy-and-PTSD or experience a 100% collective failure to adapt to forced transient deindustrialization, but I’m exceedingly skeptical.

      And it’s still not an extinction-level threat, because there are still preindustrial humans and even isolated stone-age humans who aren’t going to give a damn and will basically just wonder why they don’t see contrails any more.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        A couple of additional observations.

        There is a surprising amount of the stuff that shows up in trucks that didn’t actually come from a city. Because it has a cool name, the obvious example is the German Mittelstand: small and medium sized manufactures predominately located in small and medium sized towns. But the same is pretty much true in any industrial country. There is an huge amount of manufacturing capacity (and experience) spread thinly across the country.

        Plus, the people that don’t live in cities (and have limited cross contact with academics writing about them) are surprisingly good at building stuff without a factory. It may not be as fancy as what shows up on a truck, but necessities rarely need to be fancy. And, in my experience, farmers are particularly weird about keep lots of pre/early-industrial equipment around in working order.

        Virtually all of the food is not located in cities. Even if nuclear winter was a thing, the food wouldn’t disappear instantly. And it can be intentionally stored. Scurvy becomes an issue when exclusively eating preserved food. But IIRC domesticated animals don’t get scurvy, so you could feed them the preserved food to keep `em alive until you need to some fresh meat.

        Blowing up all the cities would eliminate a large portion of the manufacturing capacity, but by no means all, and almost none of the food. But it would also eliminate a large portion of the consumers as well. So while the per person manufacturing capacity would almost certainly be reduced, I suspect it would be a lot less than might be naively assumed. But the per-person food capacity (plus or minus nuclear winter, which apparently isn’t really a thing) would be increased.

        Also, as an illustration, consider that the exclusion zone around Chernobyl is just teaming with a diverse ecosystem, including tonnes of sophisticated mammals. And the reactor is apparently covered in specially adapted radiation-phylic fungus. Yay for evolution. I suspect in a forced, transient de-industrialization period, a slightly elevated cancer risk in old age or a few extra birth defects per capita is not high on the list of concerns….

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          But the per-person food capacity (plus or minus nuclear winter, which apparently isn’t really a thing) would be increased.

          Reminds me of Stuart Slade’s Nuclear Warfare 102:

          Now we don’t just explode a bomb in the center of the city and say bye-bye. Believe it or not that won’t do any real good. Initiate a 1 megaton device over the center of London and 95 percent of the cities assets and 80 percent of the population will survive (this means that, proportionally speaking, Londoners will be better off after a nuclear attack than they were before it took place. This was the basis of at least one Get Rich Quick scheme proposed in The Business).

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Stuart Slade’s commentary deserves a +1.

            Nuclear weapons are not as destructive as conventionally assumed. Traditionally they are assumed to be instant-kill weapons for entire cities. This is not true. The nukes rely on overpressure effects, IIRC, and if the overpressure doesn’t reach the required threshold, you might as well have just squirted a building with a water pistol.

            8 PSI will be enough to knock down a post-war home like the one I live in. But you need to wipe out steel and concrete buildings, and train depots, etc.

            A 1 megaton Russian bomb landing on downtown Chicago will fry River North and the downtown transportation centers, but Chicagoland is freakin’ huge and the overpressure effects won’t even touch most of the city’s productive capacity. O’Hare is something like 15 miles away from the city center, I believe, would be mostly unaffected.

            A nuke that lands halfway between the two is just wasted money.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          But IIRC domesticated animals don’t get scurvy, so you could feed them the preserved food to keep `em alive until you need to some fresh meat

          This is correct, the only exception I know of being guinea pigs. It was only by luck that guinea pigs were found to be vulnerable to scurvy, which led to their use as an animal model for it and the discovery of Vitamin C.

          (There are other animals that can’t make vitamin C, but I don’t think any of them except maybe some birds are commonly domesticated).

        • Tom West says:

          I’d always thought the problem with nuclear war is that it’s like whacking a finely made watch with a hammer. Even relatively minor damage renders it entirely dysfunctional where a sundial might be less accurate after the hammer, but still somewhat functional.

          It’s part of the global movement to replace robustness with efficiency.

          Of course, theoretically we could go back a generation or three when we weren’t entirely dependent on a global supply chain, except that we’ve already exhausted all the resources that made local industrial economies possible.

          So, we become a bunch of hunter-gatherers with only biological resources to boost us further.

          At that point, man may survive, but it’s never going to be anything more than just another animal.

          • John Schilling says:

            Of course, theoretically we could go back a generation or three when we weren’t entirely dependent on a global supply chain, except that we’ve already exhausted all the resources that made local industrial economies possible

            If by “exhausted” you mean “relocated from distant mines to nearby junkyards”, yes. This shouldn’t be a problem.

          • Tom West says:

            Do most junkyards really hold the equivalent of, say a Roman lead or silver mine worth of extractable materials?

            My informal understanding is that a junkyard after 50-100 years would not really be a good place for long-term mine of the sort necessary to rebuild a semi-industrial or even pre-industrial economy.

            Am I incorrect?

          • It isn’t a finely made watch. Market systems are flexible, decentralized, with lots of internal feedback.

            More like whacking a horse with a hammer. Unlikely to do long term damage unless you do it just wrong.

          • Wavey Davey says:

            My gut feeling is that ‘civilization’ in the developed-world is locally robust and self-adjusting, until a sufficiently large shock occurs when it becomes very fragile. A nuclear war that takes out most of the major cities in the world (and there are enough nukes to do that) seems like it could plausibly cause such a collapse of governmental authority and the advanced technology that drives our economic system. The majority of people have ultra-specialized jobs acting as cogs in our existing economic engine, and so much of our tech is now extremely hard to recreate from first principles or even approximate/repair/reconstruct with less advanced technology.

            So while our system has resisted strong shocks in the past, I don’t assume we could weather all-out nuclear war with our civilization intact. As mentioned, it might not literally eradicate humanity, but it could set us back hundreds of years.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Wavey Davey

            I think it depends whether the authorities are eliminated in a manner that leaves lots of equal-rank pretenders to be the top dog. I think gwern posted on this one time. If the King/President/Dictator/CEO survives with a bunch of close advisers and some collection of subordinate branches, they organization is likely to survive. If the nukes managed to, say, knock out enough of the US federal government that there wasn’t a clear successor – meaning the POTUS, the VP, the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the entire cabinet are dead, possibly with enough of the Congress that they can’t credibly claim authority – then some of the States might just decide it’s time to look out for number one, if not use this as an opportunity to secede, or claim leadership of the Union on whatever grounds they find convenient.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: Watches/Horses

            My background is in dynamics/control, and this reminds me of something I’ve thought for a long time – modeling assumptions matter massively. I always refer to Jupiter’s red spot. If we’re modeling it locally, it’s a high-amplitude, chaotic, unstable process. If we model it globally, it’s one of the most stable processes in the universe.

            In a local sense, if we’re talking about ‘society as we know it’, it may be incredibly unstable. But in a global sense, it’s possible to imagine that civilization is an incredible robust enterprise – sure, big events can cause large transients, but they can be overcome in the long run.

            Of course, I’m not sure that either of those characterizations are actually true (this would be quite hard to show), but it’s at least possible that they’re both true simultaneously.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The Great Red Spot is shrinking, moreover at an increasing rate, now quite fast. It has 1/2 the diameter of 400 years ago. It is expected to be gone in 50 years, maybe 15.

            The timing is a perfect match for …

            (Actually, my claims are three weeks out of date. The recent observations say that the last few years of rapid decline have stopped and it’s back to the century-scale slow decline.)

          • Anonymous says:

            Interesting! I may have to come up with a different analogy. This still works in a weaker sense, but it’s not as stark. (When talking to content experts, I make reference to specific types of stability and stability measures, but that’s pretty lost on a general audience.)

      • Earthly Knight says:

        A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that all of the nuclear weapons that were ever built would suffice to destroy by blast, fire, and prompt radiation, less than 2% of the Earth’s land surface.

        For reference, the contiguous US comprises around 5% of the world’s land area, European Russia around 2.5%. So if you live in California or on the eastern seaboard, you are still extremely dead. If you live in Kansas, congratulations! You might luck out and get a few years of post-apocalyptic wasteland before dying of leukemia or being shot by the inevitable military dictatorship.

        • John Schilling says:

          So many, many things wrong with that micro-diatribe.

          First, all of the weapons that were ever built could never have been used in a nuclear war because half of them were not even built until the other half were retired (give or take a bit). Second, even if we dial it down to all the nuclear weapons that existed at the height of the cold war, most of them couldn’t have been used in a nuclear war because war is a hideously inefficient process in which nothing goes according to anyone’s plan. Third, a nuclear war would in no way be limited to CONUS and European Russia. Fourth, the weapons that are targeted on CONUS would not be concentrated on California and the Eastern Seaboard, because most of the high-priority targets were deliberately tucked away in relatively unpopulated flyover country – specifically including Kansas. Fifth, the “post-apocalyptic wasteland” would be mostly not-wasted. Sixth, as previously noted, the cancer risk from global fallout is small. And seventh, military dictatorships don’t generally shoot everybody, or even most people.

          Other than that, well, there was no other than that in your post.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Your initial post assumes that:

            1. Everyone will have forgotten that guns, tanks, and aircraft carriers exist.
            2. There will be no use of biological agents immediately preceding or in the aftermath of the nuclear exchange, when all hopes of containing the resulting epidemics have been reduced to irradiated cinders.
            3. There will be no draw-up to the war, including mass manufacture of vast quantities of new nuclear weapons.
            4. Civilization will not collapse, leaving the targeted countries indefinitely at failed-state levels of violence.

            All of these assumptions are false, so your death tolls are on the low side by– who knows?– an order of magnitude, maybe more. You can give, perhaps, a useful answer to the question of what would happen if the US and Russia had spontaneously decided to lob all of their missiles at each other in the mid-1990s and done absolutely nothing else, but this narrow idealization in no way licenses you to draw any of the consequences which you then proceed to draw.

            But you have not even faithfully represented the contents of your own links! The Helfand and McCally paper considers two scenarios: one where Russia launches its 2,000 high-alert warheads at strategic targets, another where it launches a mere 500 at major population centers. The first yields the estimate of 50 million casualties, the latter the estimate of 100 million casualties. For comparison, Russia is thought to have between 4,000-7,500 usable warheads in total at present. If it went for broke and just hit every city in the US with only the 2,000, the United States of America would become the United States of Nome and Helena. Which is to say– we would all be dead.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “1. Everyone will have forgotten that guns, tanks, and aircraft carriers exist.”

            I think Tom Leary summed it up well “when the war is over- an hour and a half from now!”. Tank battalions and aircraft carriers can simply be nuked like every other important enough military objective.

            ” 2. There will be no use of biological agents immediately preceding or in the aftermath of the nuclear exchange, when all hopes of containing the resulting epidemics have been reduced to irradiated cinders.”

            Exactly what would they target if the cities are nuked?

            “3. There will be no draw-up to the war, including mass manufacture of vast quantities of new nuclear weapons.”

            Why? Additional nukes are only useful to avoid being first striked.

            ” 4. Civilization will not collapse, leaving the targeted countries indefinitely at failed-state levels of violence.”

            I think that is a typo since “failed state” is essentially “civilization collapsed”.

            “If it went for broke and just hit every city in the US with only the 2,000, the United States of America would become the United States of Nome and Helena. ”

            -not all nuclear warhead detonate (estimates are a third to a half would dud; either missile or warhead failure; ask Stuart Slade for details)
            -the USSR would really like to hit certain military targets
            -several of those are hardened so lots of missiles have to target them
            -they have enemies aside from the US they also need to hit
            -accuracy for a lot of the missiles sucks

          • Anonymous says:

            “1. Everyone will have forgotten that guns, tanks, and aircraft carriers exist.”

            I think Tom Leary summed it up well “when the war is over- an hour and a half from now!”. Tank battalions and aircraft carriers can simply be nuked like every other important enough military objective.

            There are few enough aircraft carriers in the world that you could get them all. Tanks, not so much. Nevertheless, it’s highly likely that modern conventional forces would be greatly hindered by full-scale nuclear war. Major logistical targets will be hit. How much fuel do you have saved up in a safe location (and can you recruit enough people to help you move it with your tanks)?

            I’m pretty on-board with the idea that nuclear war isn’t going to directly cause extinction (sure, it could set the stage in a way that eventually results in extinction, but it would be a complicated chain of events). Then, I’m kind of curious what MAD-lite strategy actually looks like. If I’m a major power, I’m pretty confident that an exchange of nuclear weapons is going to massively diminish my capabilities. Really projecting power is probably out. Internal problems are the highest priority.

            Nevertheless, I think there’s an interesting choice here that I hadn’t thought about before today. Do you focus on the guy who is nuking you, or do you spread it around? I feel like taking the first option would be to say, “Other countries may be much less affected, perhaps untouched. We’re going to need a lot of aid, and maybe they’ll aid us.” The flipside is that maybe they’ll just take over since you’re so weak. An alternate strategy could be to say, “Look, if we can’t project power, no one can project power.” Take out as many major logistical hubs as possible across the world. Make sure everyone else is focused on their own internal problems. Sure, now they’re not helping you… but you might be left alone to try and clean up your own mess and return to form.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Tank battalions and aircraft carriers can simply be nuked like every other important enough military objective.

            This is really too chancy and contingent to speculate on without fleshing out the scenario we’re contemplating more concretely. If the Russians time an invasion of Eastern Europe to coincide with the opening salvoes, as seems plausible, we may not be able to nuke their forces without annihilating our allies in the process. We may also have more important targets than marauding enemy tank battalions. What’s important is that the deaths by conventional arms will be substantially greater than zero.

            Exactly what would they target if the cities are nuked?

            You seem to be confused about the dialectic, here: Schilling claimed that a nuclear strike focused on strategic targets could kill as few as 50 million people, and I pointed out that, with most of our medical (and sanitation) infrastructure obliterated or choked with the dead and dying, we will be left highly vulnerable to outbreaks caused by biological weapons. With only 50 million dead some of our cities must perforce still be standing.

            Why? Additional nukes are only useful to avoid being first striked.

            This is both false and a non-sequitur. I’ll do the non-sequitur, first: even if nukes were only useful to avoid being struck first, that might be sufficient reason to expand our arsenal. For instance, if the Russians have enough nukes to destroy or cripple our retaliatory capabilities in one go, we had better build more so they can’t do that. But if we then have enough nukes to destroy or cripple their retaliatory capabilities in one go, they had better build more so we can’t do that. And if they have enough nukes… and we’re off to the races.

            Since you put minimal effort into this response, I’ll just ask some questions and leave you to figure out why you’re wrong on your own: why do governments normally manufacture arms? Is it just to get an edge on their enemies? Being bellicose and nationalistic– has it ever won anyone an election? What’s the military-industrial complex?

            -not all nuclear warhead detonate (estimates are a third to a half would dud; either missile or warhead failure; ask Stuart Slade for details)

            Do actually read the Helfand and McCally paper if you plan on responding again. This is factored into their estimate.

    • I thought the retcon was because the Earth became warmer in Asimov’s universe instead of colder in accordance with nuclear-winter predictions.

      BTW, whatever happened to nuclear-winter predictions?

      • Not according to Asimov’s commentary. In any case, nuclear winter is a short-term phenomena, on the order of years or perhaps decades, but not centuries or millenia. The Empire books were set a long time in the future.

      • John Schilling says:

        The Mark I version of nuclear winter, in which the sun is blotted out for years and agriculture ceases and everybody who isn’t living in a Strangelovian mine shaft starves, was based on a state-of-the-art one-dimensional 1982 climate model. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the global warming debate can figure out how well that corresponded to reality.

        Within a few years, two-dimensional models were developed which, while quite ridiculous by modern standards, could at least acknowledge that the “land” on which we grow crops exists adjacent to “oceans” with substantially different thermal and hydrological properties. These models dialed back the median result from “blot out the sun, everybody dies” to “year without a summer, hundreds of millions die”. With bigger error bars and more controversy because now we had more, and more complex, models.

        All of these models were based on educated guesses as to the behavior of soot from large urban firestorms, or extrapolations from dissimilar sources like forest fires and volcanic eruptions – the few actual urban firestorms in history had occurred at a time when people were rather busy for abstract scientific inquiry.

        In 1991, Saddam Hussein told the world that if we invaded his nice country, even the particularly nice part that had been someone else’s country a few months before, he’d set a nice big sooty fire with a billion or so barrels of crude oil in one place, which by the standard predictions would trigger a junior-grade nuclear winter. He did, and it didn’t. This time, scientists weren’t too busy to pay attention and take measurements, and we recalibrated the models yet again.

        And as we’ve reduced the world’s nuclear arsenals by more than 80% from 1982, the forcing function gets recalibrated downward as well.

        Nuclear Autumn, anyone?

    • Tangentially related: is it ever a bad idea to halt an arms race?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Here is a slightly different formulation that applies an intuitive heuristic about x-risk and nuclear war. I’m not sure that it is completely accurate, but I think it might explain the reason people were comfortable of thinking of nuclear as “extermination” without it being literally true.

      Imagine that you, and everyone you know, stand a better than 50% chance of dying within 1 year of the event. And that mortality rises to, say 75% after 5 years. Furthermore, the quality of life of almost every one of the remaining 25% is essentially subsistence living, such that overall outcomes are reduced to the level of pre modern sanitation and medicine.

      Further posit that, because we have become dependent on and used to modern industrial society, that we are largely unable to fathom surviving in this new world. The vast majority of individuals contemplating this question understand that they do not know how to hunt, forage, till and plant a farm/garden, save seeds for next year, etc. Nor do they even know where they could actually accomplish such a thing.

      Given all of these things, what likelihood does such a person put on their great-great-grandchildren being born?

    • RCF says:

      It seems to me that a lot of it depends on what one means by “nuclear war” and “extinction”. WWII technically was a nuclear war, and it didn’t wipe out humanity. An exchange of tactical nukes would also technically be a nuclear war, but not what people usually mean. As for surviving, it seems feasible to me to build a self-sufficient bomb shelter capable of supporting a genetically viable population of humans. Even if the sun is blotted out, wouldn’t a nuclear reactor be able to power indoor farms?

  6. Deiseach says:

    So what do rationalists/Rationalists do for Hallowe’en? Can they enjoy dressing up and going to parties/eating themselves sick on chocolate and sweets, or are they too high-minded for a Christian/pagan/spirits and otherworld origin celebration?

    • Rauwyn says:

      I do enjoy dressing up! I wasn’t planning to eat myself sick, but neither I nor my roommates planned ahead enough to put out a jack-o’-lantern and the trick-or-treaters all skipped our apartment. Now we have three full bags of candy. It might happen.

      I might not count as a real rationalist though.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      We’re rationalists, not Straw Vulcans.

      • Seth says:

        (Spock voice) “Captain, giving large amounts of candy to children is illogical, and this ritual is training them for extortion by associating rewards with threatening others.”

      • Deiseach says:

        Captain, giving large amounts of candy to children is illogical, and this ritual is training them for extortion by associating rewards with threatening others

        I was thinking more along the lines of “Belief in fairies and ghosts is stupid and only pandering to popular superstition and encouraging children to believe convenient lies”.

        Remember, we’ve had anxious potential parents on here wondering if they should or shouldn’t go along with telling their kids about Santa Claus. Throw in modern Wicca and/or neo-paganism being all po-faced about this being Actual Spiritual Ritual Time, and I could see some rationalists being annoyed and even offended about it, the same as some po-faced Christians start getting their knickers in a twist about it being a pagan festival, and to my mind the just as bad earnestness about ‘reclaiming it as a Christian feast’ by getting your kids to dress up as saints.

        Now, I can see the appeal in dressing up as St Lucy holding her eyeballs on a plate, but for goodness’ sake, let kids dress up as witches and ghosts and don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s perfectly feasible to have both the chocolate-grabbing and the remembrance of the Holy Souls at the same period!

        • Seth says:

          I think the whole “dress up in costume” aspect strongly signals that this is all entertainment and fiction. Rationalists don’t generally oppose fiction with ghosts and witches. It’s lies that one is expected to believe and assert are true which are problematic (Santa Claus being one of these in some situations).

        • Technically Not Anonymous says:

          I think you’re confusing us with /r/atheism.

        • I’ve never seen Halloween as pandering to beliefs in ghosts and fairies. People celebrating Halloween don’t believe in that stuff, any more than Dr. Who fans believe that Time Lords actually exist(ed). And unlike the situation with Christmas and Santa Claus, Halloween traditions don’t include parents telling their kids that vampires, werewolves, ghosts, fairies, zombies, etc. actually exist.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It never fails that I’m on call Halloween and have to spend the whole night at the hospital. I’ve forgotten what Halloween outside the walls of a hospital even looks like at this point.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Is there a spike in ironic injuries during Halloween ?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Dunno, I’m just on call for the psychiatric part of the hospital. So far *knock on wood* no extra psychiatric admissions tonight.

          • Deiseach says:

            Given the rise in popularity of god-awful reality TV ghost-hunting shows, you don’t get an increase in anxious patients worried that the demons are really out to get them and can you please call a psychic?

        • Seth says:

          I don’t know if it’s “ironic”, but I suspect there’s a lot of “ordinary” injuries due to costume issues. I know as an adult, if you’re wearing an elaborate costume and are at a party, it’s easy to push or poke someone with a piece of it. Masks also aren’t great for your peripheral vision. It’s likely not as bad a hazard as firecrackers or drunk drivers. But some of the costumes people come with up have, let us say, nontrivial injury risk factors.

      • I took my wife in to the emergency room yesterday for what turned out to be gallstones, and lots of the medical staff there were in Halloween costumes of one sort or another, even though it was a day early.

        • Nathan says:

          Best wishes for Mrs Friedman. Gallstones suck.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Yeah, hope she’s feeling better.

          • She’s fine at the moment, aside from a lingering cough–the pain went away in about two hours, while she was in the emergency room.

            But I was back there yesterday, with blood in my urine, and am currently waiting for my doctor’s office to open to get an appointment with a urologist as fast as possible. It’s a symptom, not an illness, so I don’t yet know what the ultimate cause is. But combined with an enlarged prostate it’s giving me a very unpleasant time.

    • Personally (disclaimers: New Zealand does not traditionally celebrate Halloween, and I’m not a rationalist since it sounds far too much like hard work) the superstitious aspects don’t bother me, but the traditions of vandalism and extortion do.

      (If anyone has already analysed it in terms of rationalist ethical theories, especially ones that comes out pro-Halloween, I’d be fascinated to hear about it.)

      • Anon says:

        I live in Atlantic Canada. Our hallowed Halloween tradition *theoretically* includes the vandalism and extortion, but in practice the extortion bit never happens (nobody does anything to houses where people aren’t giving out candy, the ‘trick or treat’ is a purely ceremonial greeting) and the ‘vandalism’ is limited to teenagers smashing pumpkins on the road (which, while not exactly positive, is usually done well after younger children have departed and the pumpkins would be thrown out the next day anyways… so basically works out to ‘littering’ rather than than the gratuitous destruction of property that vandalism usually implies).

        I have seen a lot of media / movies which imply radically more exciting Halloweens where people erect vast toilet-paper things everywhere, egg houses, and otherwise harass people, but have seen zero evidence of it actually happening in real life. Is this regional to me?

        • Montfort says:

          In the mid-atlantic US, “trick or treat” is only a magic incantation children invoke to receive candy and praise for their costumes. There is no significant vandalism specifically associated with the day in my neighborhood, at least, though one or two houses have been TPed in other seasons.

          • Deiseach says:

            The interesting thing for me has been to observe how ‘original’ Hallowe’en has been replaced by the Americanised version over here.

            Decorating the houses, for example. Traditionally, you wouldn’t have decorated your house – this is an American import. And we’ve had for quite a few years now the kind of vandalism where eggs get smashed everywhere.

            “Trick or treat” as the magic incantation is definitely American. In my day (she said, settling down beside the turf fire with the dudeen in her gob), the idea was that you went from house to house and did some performance – sang, danced, recited a poem, whatever – for the sweets (well, really it was nuts and apples handed out not sweets). You did not just turn up at the door and say the phrase and get candy.

            It’s acculturation in a big way, and very confusing to see the Hallowe’en pumpkins and the Christmas sweets and biscuits going up on the shop shelves at the same time! 🙂

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Do all Irish people set off fireworks on Halloween, or just the annoying people who lived next to me?

          • Deiseach says:

            Ooh, the fireworks thing is interesting!

            Technically, fireworks are illegal (or were illegal, or kind of illegal, the law is not clear at all) in Ireland. This is why smuggling them down from Northern Ireland, where they are legal, because of Historical Reasons which will become clear later on*.

            The setting off fireworks (or rather, the really annoying stupid thing people did/probably still do, which is – in the absence of fireworks – distress flares which pisses off the Coast Guard and emergency services every year as they complain how are they to know what’s a genuine ‘lost at sea’ distress flare and what is some drunken idiot in his back garden?) actually comes from our neighbouring island.

            Guy Fawkes’ Night, 5th of November, Bonfire Night. Since the English did not celebrate Hallowe’en (which was more an Irish/Scottish and minorly Welsh thing), but they did celebrate the execution of Catholic plotters who wanted to blow up Parliament with bonfires, burning Guy Fawkes in effigy** (hence, penny for the guy) and fireworks, and since bonfires were traditionally part of Hallowe’en, the 5th of November is close enough to Hallowe’en/All Saints/All Souls (the 31st October, 1st and 2nd November) and fireworks are fun, fireworks became incorporated into Irish celebrations.

            *Since post-independence Ireland was not big into celebrating anti-Catholic, ‘burn the pope’, English traditional nights, fireworks were never a big thing in Ireland and their importation was illegal. This has been relaxed in recent years, as big pyrotechnics displays for various public celebrations etc. have taken off.

            **This is also why J.K. Rowling calling a phoenix “Fawkes” is a bit tongue-in-cheek 🙂

          • anon1 says:

            In parts of Iowa children are expected to tell a joke before they get candy.

          • I’ve been seeing a gradual spread of Halloween decorations in recent decades. American Christmas doesn’t just spread to other countries, it also takes over other holidays.

        • birdboy2000 says:

          Massachusetts here. Houses get TPed plenty, don’t think I’ve personally seen a house egged but I’ve heard of it.

          • California, Bay Area. “Trick or treat” seems to be a ritual request, not an actual threat. I have not seen any associated vandalism.

          • California, Bay Area. Never seen any serious vandalism, but I’m pretty sure we have lost pumpkins that were too near the road – and I don’t think it was after the trick-or-treaters were done coming either. So if that counts? It was inconvenient, since it made it less clear we were available for trick-or-treaters, but that was all. Otherwise agreed with above.

        • grendelkhan says:

          Data point from New England here–I got egged on Halloween when I was a kid. Not my house, me. I wasn’t a very likeable kid though, so take that for what it’s worth.

        • JDG1980 says:

          I have seen a lot of media / movies which imply radically more exciting Halloweens where people erect vast toilet-paper things everywhere, egg houses, and otherwise harass people, but have seen zero evidence of it actually happening in real life. Is this regional to me?

          This does happen in the US, though authorities generally take a much dimmer view of it today than they used to in the past. Also, a lot of this stuff happens on the night before Halloween, which is known as “Devil’s Night” or “Mischief Night” depending on the region.

          The forms of vandalism you mention also get trotted out for other occasions in parts of the US. I live in central Florida, and the other day one of my colleagues at work mentioned that several houses in his neighborhood had been subjected to egging and toilet-papering because of a sports-related rivalry at the local high school.

      • Magicman says:

        I spent some years in Australia as a child and I am here on holiday at the moment. There was no Halloween twenty or so years ago but yesterday I saw a lot of children trick or treating.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Eat dinner at Alicorn’s house and then give candy to children.

    • Cadie says:

      Since I don’t have any kids and all my close relatives are adults, and my limited social group isn’t much into holiday parties, I celebrate by treating myself to discounted candy on November 1.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      I tried to put together a serious rationalist Samhain based on a theme of growth and change, but didn’t have the cycles to make it happen. This might have also linked to the early mexican piñata traditions of smashing your temptations or weaknesses. (Is that tradition associated with Halloween? It has candy.)

      There has also been discussion of doing something honoring the dead, either our own ancestors or the founders of our tribe, and keeping their memes alive. AFAIK, no one ever turned this into a specific tradition.

      Another thought that occurred to me recently is that we could do something with risk calibration. Dress up as things we *should* be scared of, like mosquitos and cars. Or as biases that are likely to get us hurt, though the costuming could be really difficult there.

      One could do something involving x-risk, but it’s not that long after Petrov Day.

      Or you could just take part in the secular festivities for the sake of fun. Fun is totally a rationalist virtue.

    • John Schilling says:

      I had to work a 12-hour shift today so couldn’t really arrange a celebration. Insofar as “work” involved launching a satellite I considered finding a party to crash and truthfully claiming to be dressed up as a Steely-Eyed Missile Man, but ultimately too tired.

      There are classic trick-or-treaters in my Southern California suburb, and I’m not above indulging in mock-superstition for the sake of giving candy to appreciative children. I do not fear vandalism should I abstain; it’s possible some of the teenagers might break out eggs or toilet paper, but even that is unlikely and anything above minor nuisance level is unthinkable. I’m fairly certain that within a hundred-mile radius I could find communities where there is essentially no celebration other than indoor parties, and others where there is real vandalism with a small possibility of violence or arson. America contains multitudes and its name is Legion.

    • James Picone says:

      Australia has only relatively recently started to import halloween from the US.

      In my experience, it is celebrated thusly:
      – If you’re young and (extroverted or into costuming), you use it as an excuse to have a party/go to a party in which you can dress up, be silly, and get drunk.
      – If you’re a kid, your parents might walk you from house to house asking for sweets. This isn’t very common. This halloween, I have seen precisely zero children knock on our door. Last halloween, one group knocked on our door. That might be a selection effect – we didn’t decorate the yard or anything, because my housemates and I don’t really do anything for halloween. The ‘trick’ part of trick or treat is completely ignored, I haven’t ever suffered retribution for telling kids that we don’t do that.
      – Some adults dress up their yard a bit, to greater or lesser extent.

      That’s about it.

      Personally I don’t do anything for it, but that’s more because it wasn’t part of the culture I was raised with. I do do some christmassy things – presents, hanging out with people – because it’s an excuse to hang out with people and buy people presents that was present in the culture I was raised with. *shrug*.

      When I was a kid my parents either included Santa in the whole package or I got it from somewhere else and they never did anything to disabuse me of the idea. I honestly don’t remember how and when I realised that he doesn’t exist. But there was a period where I was still young enough to believe in Santa, and old enough to understand capturing him with devious traps for my own nefarious ends, so there was a year or two where my parents had to watch me very closely around Christmas Eve so they knew where the lame booby traps were.

    • Helldalgo says:

      I dressed up as a pirate and waited for trick-or-treaters, but we only got one.

      • I, as usual, greeted the trick or treaters in mail, with a two handed sword slung, ready to fight off the terrible monsters. My daughter, as usual, was on her balcony over the front door dressed as a ghost, uv light shining on her, playing mournful music on her harp.

        I didn’t keep track, but we had a fair number–I’m guessing a hundred or more in perhaps fifteen or twenty groups. All the lady apples Betty got went, as well as a good deal of candy.

        • James says:

          This is great.

        • Tibor says:

          I have to say I have a mild distaste for Halloween, being a US import and not a part of culture of any European country (except for Scotland perhaps). I also always found it kind of vain and annoying (people use the word “commercial” which I do not like, because it’s a label people like to simply put on things they don’t like and think that a lot of people do). But after reading about what you do then, it seems it does not have to be that way 🙂 Actually, in Europe, save for England maybe, Halloween is contained to college kids parties and the like and there is no trick or treating (kids do that on the Three Kings’ Day, without the scary masks, obviously).

          Still, there are some cool indigenous dressing-up-scary traditions in Europe as well:

          These guys also come with St. Nicolaus on the 6th of December (along with an Angel) in Austria, Bavaria, Bohemia, Slovakia and Italy. Nicolaus gives presents to the good kids and the Krampus (or Devil) scares the bad ones. But the Krampuslauf and the lovely wooden masks are almost exclusively Austrian and Bavarian (although getting popular in south Bohemia as well). They are also extremely expensive (as they are hand-carved), the head alone can cost about 500 Euro or even more. Of course, you could make your own, but it’s quite some craftsmanship. I am in northern Germany now where they have no tradition of this kind (they have Nicolaus, but his companion, Knecht Ruprecht, is kind of boring) and I have to say I miss it a bit. Maybe I could go to München to see the Krampuslauf this year 🙂

          • Tibor says:

            Ok, it is the 5th of December, I always mix it up, because on the 6th, it is the St. Nicolaus in the calendar.

      • Elephant says:

        That’s too bad. Our house got about half as many as usual (rain), but still about 30 kids. It’s a fun experience.

    • zz says:

      My housemate and her Vampire group dressed up as the vampires they play and played Vampire. They were joined by her co-worker and boyfriend, who played… “NPCs”… the Storyteller made for the night. In addition to candy, there was some really delicious Indian stew (courtesy of co-worker) and an apple tau*. I spent the first half of the game upstairs reading blogs and spectated the second half of the game when the Storyteller was being too loud for me to go to bed early.

      *2 apple pies.

  7. Jay Feldman says:

    I’m trying to figure out my opinion on the U.S.’s foreign policy post Vietnam. In particular, if invasions we have done were an overall positive, negative, or neutral in terms of the well-being of the people in the country attacked. I’ve tried to do some research, but the wiki articles aren’t always the most detailed, and I don’t know what other sources I can trust as neutral.

    Does anyone know a good book about this, or have opinions they want to share? (Obviously, there was the book Scott made a review of previously but my understanding was they didn’t do so great on the accurately representing what was going on.)

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t have a really good source on that, but you’d probably want to step back one level and ask how many of the USA’s post-Vietnam wars were intended to improve the well-being of the people in the nation attacked.

      Obviously, the propaganda will at least say that we did improve the well-being of the people in the nation attacked. But as for intent, e.g. Afghanstan was pretty clearly meant to make sure that Al Qaeda didn’t have a secure base and nobody else would ever think giving anyone like Al Qaeda a secure base was a good idea.

      • Sastan says:

        From the opposing side, my position from inside some of those wars says that they were entirely too concerned with the well-being of the target nation. We’ve become too civilized to wage a war that the rest of the world can recognize. Illiterate Pashtun tribesmen do not grok “well, you harbored some bad people, but we don’t want to declare war on you, so we’re going to ‘free’ you to live under a different set of warlords than the ones you have been”. They do grok “BLOOD FEUD”. They understand the rules of hospitality and revenge.

        Afghanistan should have been a purely punitive expedition. Roll in, overthrow the government, decimate the infrastructure, pull up every rail line, highway and electrical station. Go Full Sherman. And leave within four months. We’d have saved ourselves thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, and the Afghans wouldn’t have had a fifteen-year occupation to deal with. And everyone would have understood that this was a response to an attack, don’t let shady groups use your country as a safe hole. Instead, we let our soft-heartedness lead us into a conflict that was far worse in the end for everyone. Us, them, the whole world.

        Swift punishment. People will spend the next thousand years internalizing what Machiavelli taught us five hundred years back. If you must attack, be brutal and swift. Get it over with. Don’t let things drag out.

        War is a terrible thing, the worst thing humans do to each other. But if you’re going to do it, you should go whole hog and finish it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, Americans are so civilized, we like to convince ourselves we’re “helping” people by ruining their societies.

        • Saal says:

          My wife and I have been talking about this recently, actually, and have come to the opinion that ‘uncanny valleys’ (from Scott’s “Nutshell” post) are probably a thing and war is one of them: either go full-on libertarian and don’t do it at all, or be quick, brutal and unwavering.

        • dndnrsn says:

          What do you think about Iraq?

          Lately I’ve been toying with the idea that there was, not exactly “too much concern with the well-being of the target nation”, but too much concern with looking like there was concern, and concern of a specific kind.

          I’m no expert, but it seems as though a real priority was to avoid looking like an imperial power – that is, to try and hand over power to a democratic government as quickly as possible. The conditions were not there for functioning democracies in either country. The actions that would have been required to create and sustain order would probably not have looked like “bringing democracy”, at least for a period.

          In both countries, the invading nations’ governments had it in their interest to present the wars as being cheap and easy, which led to too little in the way of resources, troops, etc being used at the outset, which ironically made the wars significantly more costly (in all senses of the word, for everyone involved) and difficult.

          EDIT: Not that that’s uncommon. Every modern war I can think of that I know anything about has seen all or most of the governments of the countries involved either going in thinking the wars would be cheap and easy, or saying that to their publics. This isn’t a democracy-only thing either – see, for instance, the assumption by the Nazi German government and military leadership that the USSR could be defeated in a matter of months, without any need to go over to a total-war footing.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “This isn’t a democracy-only thing either – see, for instance, the assumption by the Nazi German government and military leadership that the USSR could be defeated in a matter of months, without any need to go over to a total-war footing.”

            Germany was already on total war footing (wages of destruction). Germany’s problem was the blockade caused shortages in critical resources (like the ones to produce fertilizer for food or steel for tanks) and an inefficient agricultural sector.

          • dndnrsn says:

            How are you defining “total war”? Germany didn’t mobilize the home front in the way that the Allies had until the last couple of years of the war. Beyond shortages and agriculture, the German war economy was kind of a shambles – the Nazi state involved a level of infighting and competition that did not take place in the US or Britain, let alone the USSR.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            The Nazis were spending about 30% of their GDP on the war effort… in 1936. They had insane levels of military spending before and during the war. Really recommend wages of destruction.

            ” the German war economy was kind of a shambles – the Nazi state involved a level of infighting and competition that did not take place in the US or Britain, let alone the USSR.”

            That didn’t stop the Nazi’s from mobilizing resources for the war effort. Speer’s miracle is a myth- the production boom they received was because Hitler was planning for war in 43-45 so that was when the factories they had been building up come online (that and the slave labor).

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’ve made a note to read Tooze’s book, thanks for the recommendation.

            I’m mostly getting my information from Kershaw’s biographies and “Hitler’s Beneficiaries” by Goetz Aly – the latter’s thesis, as I recall (it’s been a few years) is that the German war economy was based around plunder and slave labour, rather than mobilization of the home front and rationing in the same way done by the Allied nations – he brings up some testimony showing that materially speaking Germans didn’t start to feel the pinch until late ’43- early ’44.

            Speer obviously is a self-serving source. Gitta Sereny’s book on him is good.

            To go back to Aly, the general reason he gives for the German war economy being based on slavery and plunder rather than full mobilization of the home front (again, I’m a bit spotty on this, I read the book at least five or six years ago) was that the German leadership was not fully confident of their hold on the German public.

            In any case I think it’s fair to say that the planning and logistics for the invasion of the USSR were lacking because the military leadership knew that a prolonged campaign would be a failure (and so framed everything around the success of a quick campaign) and the political leadership did not want to pitch anything other than relatively cheap lightning victories to the public.

            That is to say, it’s not only democracies that present wars in the classic “over by Christmas” mold.

          • Ydirbut says:

            Here is something about the relative degree of rationing in Germany versus England (also a really great blog in general).

            Also, on the subject of Operation Barbarossa, I’ve heard that it was actually a lot less controversial at the time and that many people outside of Germany thought that the soviet army would basically collapse. I mean, their performance in the Winter War wasn’t exactly spectacular. I’ve looked and can’t find a source for this claim though.

        • Psmith says:

          Yup. George Macdonald Fraser said pretty much exactly this in the epilogue to “Flashman on the March”, incidentally.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Reminds me of a comment I make every so often:

          Americans in flyover country – often the rednecks everyone likes to stereotype as bloodthirsty warmongers – are actually pacifist on the whole. Some of the most pacifistic people you’ll ever meet. So pacifist that if you finally convince them against their gut that some war somewhere is worth fighting, they will want very much to fight it in such a way that they will never, ever have to go back there and fight it again.

          Making them half-ass it is a good way to get them very angry at you.

  8. random guy says:

    I’m not too impressed by that DavidByron2 guy myself, but why is almost everything in the hate sub downvoted to 0? Not quite the classy thing to do, Scott fans.

    • Jacob says:

      Posts start at 1. From the looks of that subreddit, all the posts are by that 1 user. All it would take is 1 person to go through and downvote every post to put them at 0. Or maybe 5 judging by some other posts. And given that the subreddit is so small the votes don’t really do much anyway.

      • jax says:

        The score will show 0 even if the real number is negative.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I do not think that this is the case. I have seen posts with scores < 0.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I’m fairly certain that the score displayed is only a fuzzy approximation of the actual score. It is meant to discourage brigading, up or down.

        • Jacob says:

          If you go the comments they give a point value and a % upvoted. I believe that point value is accurate. Depending on whether they count the initial point as an upvote or not, that means if a post is at 0 with 50% upvoted that means either 1 or 2 people downvoted it.

          Anyway, look at the subscriber/browser count. Somewhere between 1 and 5 people are doing the the downvoting that random guy is complaining about. That’s not very many. That’s all I was trying to say.

          Compare an alternate statement: “Somebody started a subreddit to hate on Scott Alexander. Not very classy, reddit”. reddit has millions of active users, the fact that at least 1 is a douche shouldn’t mean much. See this for the same argument:

  9. Wow. I just finished reading the new subdreddit and Star Slate Codex is… kind of pathetic. With how it looks right now, I’m a little concerned that if I go back to check it out in a year’s time I’ll see that Byron’s devolved into replying to his comments and responding to his replies, and that the whole thing will look a subreddit of lonely, angry madness.

    The color scheme is *not* helping to allay my suspicions.

    • Rauwyn says:

      Am I missing something about the color scheme? Both /r/slatestarcodex and /r/starslatecodex look identical, and also the same as a standard subreddit.

      • I didn’t notice any difference in the colour scheme either. However, the descent into ‘lonely, angry madness’ is becoming more evident.
        I checked out his latest post, and noticed that he takes exception to Scott’s description of his subreddit. Perhaps paradoxically, I found his comments on the one hand humourless, yet on the other hand unintentionally amusing.
        Personally, I refrain from down-voting in his personal subreddit, as I am not a subscriber and have no intention of contributing there, so I don’t see the point.

      • Whoops. You’re not missing anything. RES-Enhancement Suite changed to “night mode” without my realizing it (I was tired).

  10. Stefan Drinic says:

    Something I’ve been wondering about for a bit, in a partially serious partially academic manner, is social security for the elderly, and I’m wondering how people here think about it.

    Suppose political apathy among young voters in western countries were to suddenly vanish, and people in various parties were to decide that everyone above the age of fifty or so(I’m keeping this intentionally vague) is at least partially responsible for a lot of our recent economic issues. Then suppose that one proposal to do something about this is to flat-out cut all social-security spending for age-related reasons for the next twenty-five years, with the caveat that all money saved in such a manner is to be invested in national debt relief and other economic matters rather than battleships or something similar.

    I’ve wondered about this because there is a huge amount of rhetoric about baby-boomers/gen-Xers being responsible for all kinds of evils in my media intake lately, and while I’m alright with waving things off as clickbait and not paying it much heed, I’m still wondering where that leaves our social security system. Where I live, everyone above the age of 67 gets a government stipend on top of their own savings by default, and I can see why they chose to do so back in the fifties. Just as back then the argument could be made that the elderly had deserved it, you can now decide to roll back such a measure as some kind of sanction for certain generations of people being irresponsible in their handling of the nation’s future.

    The caveats here are whether or not you would want to hold an entire generation containing no doubt wonderful people responsible for things many individuals will only have had a small amount of influence over, what this will do where societal relations are concerned, and where this leaves people with things like accruing college debts in places like America.

    I’ve also realised earlier that this place is full of libertarians, and that libertarians in general may have a very different view on this than other people might. ‘Let’s abolish social security, but do so indefinitely’ certainly is a valid argument, but it isn’t the interesting one in a case such as this, as far as I’m concerned.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t see any evidence that the last generation dropped the ball any worse than any other generation, especially when you consider all the stuff like slavery and colonialism and stupid random wars that all the previous generations started and the last generation has mostly avoided.

      Also, yeah, holding everybody responsible for the problems a generation caused seems really sketchy. Especially since history is mostly directed by the rich, who are the people who need social security least. Even granting your assumptions, we might end up punishing everybody except the people who deserved it.

      Also, I am quite sure that our own children will notice that the world is not yet perfect, blame us, and take away our social security benefits too, and so on and so forth. So this becomes equivalent to stopping social security.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        I’d be okay with debating the merits of a policy that said ‘if your organisation ends up requiring X amount of government money to avoid tens of thousands of people ending up in severe poverty because of something you people did you get drawn and quartered,’ but this (somehow) is a much less controversial idea.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          “Drawn and quartered”? “Less controversial”?

          Also, what exactly do you mean by “your organization”? Like, are “you” the CEO, the doorman, or the IT guy?

          And are you making an oblique reference to something? Because I’m not sure what you mean by an organization requiring the government to spend money to fix people from being impoverished by its actions. Tobacco companies? Liquor distillers? Casinos?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Go ask people if they’d mind any random big name in banking during 2008 being executed for treason right now, and compare these results to asking the same group of people whether or not we should continue giving out social security benefits for the foreseeable future. I have no data whatsoever, but I feel that the first idea is going to garner much more positive attention than the second is.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Stefan Drinic:

            Okay, now I get it. I had no idea what you were talking about.

            It seems sensible to me that you would want to punish (though I don’t know about execute) bank executives who knowingly made decisions that caused the financial crisis when they could easily have averted it. (Furthermore, I don’t know that desire for punishment would outweigh the fact that we live in a country of laws, which these executives did not violate—an argument prominent Americans like Robert Taft made against the Nuremberg Trials.)

            I don’t think that this actually happened, mind you. I think that bank executives were aware that government policy makes our banking system subject to crises but considered that continuing to engage in banking was worthwhile on the whole. In the same way, a policeman might consider some of our laws unjust but still think his job is a net positive.

            But I suppose that’s not relevant to the moral point.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        I am one of the libertarians who wants to abolish Social Security entirely (although ideally, with enough of a phase-out time for people to adapt).

        But I am completely against the “collective guilt” rationale here. There is no such thing as collective guilt, and it is one of the most harmful ideas that anyone has ever come up with.

        Why would you punish everyone in the class of those over a certain age? Many of them, presumably, supported better policies than those which ended up being enacted. In fact, I think hardly anyone supported all of the bad policies which have, in combination, had deleterious effects. And if they did, they were probably ignorant; and neither are they blameworthy for their ignorance because it is impossible for every citizen know everything he would need to know to have an opinion on every policy of an enormous welfare state.

        Now, if you were proposing some kind of Nuremburg Trials for politicians to punish them for willfully and knowingly executing destructive policies for reasons of political expediency, you’d have a little more of a basis. But this would be a) impossible to prove and b) not, I think, worthy of an incredibly harsh punishment.

        The absurdity of this viewpoint can be shown by extending it to another case. It is clearly much easier to show that every Confederate soldier was guilty of treason than it is to show that every person over a certain age now is “guilty” of vaguely supporting bad policies. So, should every Confederate soldier have been hanged? Obviously not, I think.

        It’s not just that this policy would have been impractical to implement; it would have been immoral even if it could have been done. The average Confederate soldier did nothing that almost anyone else in the same situation wouldn’t have done.

        The case for hanging “ringleaders” like Jeff Davis is much stronger. And it really does raise questions of justice vs. political expediency. (The same can be said for Hirohito, who was the subject of a deliberate whitewashing campaign by MacArthur to hide his responsibility in order to save him from execution.)

        • onyomi says:

          You can’t blame the whole generation, but when people of the older generation say, “I paid in; it’s my money; I’m just getting it back,” or “keep government out of my medicare,” you can point out the factual inaccuracy: social security was sold as a government-run retirement savings plan, but is, in fact, an intergenerational transfer program. Retirees may “deserve” their social security in the sense that they’ve paid a lot to get it, but not in the sense that it’s “their” money–it isn’t their money; it’s the money of younger people working right now–a fact which anyone interested in actually researching what the government was doing all those years could easily find out.

          Thus, in terms of the ethics of social security, I think we must treat it as an intergenerational transfer program. Stealing from rich young people to support poor old people–especially poor old people who were deceived–is arguably just. Stealing from poor young people to give relatively rich old people money they feel is “owed” them is not.

          Ergo, means test it right away and phase it out gradually.

        • baconbacon says:

          Literally zero people under 18 have ever been allowed to support or not support these policies, yet they are the group that will be most heavily burdened. We can’t tell people’s exact guilt, but we can point to a group that is perfectly innocent.

          • discursive2 says:

            OTOH, literally zero people under 18 are responsible for the invention of writing, agriculture, roads, rule of law, etc…, and yet those greedy entitled jerks help themselves to the spoils!

            Point being — maybe guilt + innocence is the wrong lens to view intergenerational civilization-wide progress / problems…

    • brad says:

      I am very skeptical of the moral argument that “we were promised social security benefits”. Who was doing the promising and who is being held accountable for keeping that promise? What if this generation promises itself that we will all get yachts when we turn 70, will two generations from now be morally obligated to keep that promise?

      I don’t necessarily want to punish Baby Boomers (and certainly not Gen-X as I am one) but on the other hand I don’t especially see any need to hold them harmless from any changes that come down the pike.

      • As I understand it, it was implemented as a separate deduction from people’s paychecks. I’d be very dubious about the morality of withholding a benefit that people have been explicitly paying for over their entire working life. (That was money that could instead have gone into a private superannuation fund, after all.)

        • brad says:

          That’s the narrative they told themselves, but it was just an accounting fiction. Congress knows (and knew) how to create a vested property interest and did not do so.

          They paid taxes and they spent a bunch of money on a bunch things — mostly a gigantic military and lots of wars (and made up the difference with borrowing). There’s no vault that we can go to and find all the money that was paid in FICA. That money is long gone.

          • But is that the taxpayer’s fault?

          • brad says:

            Who else’s fault can it be? (At least if we read citizens for taxpayers.)

          • Let me put it another way: what, in practice, could the typical middle-income taxpayer have done about it? Realistically speaking? (Run for office?)

            Heck, seems to me that most of ’em probably didn’t even know there was a problem. The deductions system may not have fooled Congress, but it probably fooled a lot of other people.

            (Ah, well, whatever – none of my business, really.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ brad:

            Moloch’s fault?

            That is, it’s not the fault of any particular big bad villains, but rather of the incentives created by the system (which is called welfare-state democracy).

            Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter is illustrative here. First of all, it attacks the popular myth that it’s all the fault of evil Washington “insiders” who have deliberately designed the system to further their nefarious interests at the expense of the public (and therefore, if we throw these bastards out, it will fix things).

            The politicians support the policies they do because that’s what the citizens want. And the citizens want irrational things.

            But the citizens are not thereby evil people who are evading obvious facts on a massive scale. Questions of economics and political philosophy are irrelevant to most people’s lives, and the system gives them no reason to care. People have other interests, and it’s hardly a huge moral failing to pursue those at the expense of political knowledge.

            Moreover, if they did care and they did know the facts, they would have to vote and/or organize. But the system gives them no incentive to vote or organize. Voting is provably a waste of time, and most political campaigns are, too. And again, many people don’t like politics and would rather spend their time on other things that are more effective and useful. So it’s hardly a moral crime to refrain from voting and organizing.

            So we have a huge mess for which no one is particularly responsible and which no one is particularly able to fix.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            @ Vox:

            What if Moloch is responsible, and the policy in question is a good way of managing to reverse its trends?

          • brad says:

            @Harry Johnston

            No one needed to “do” anything about it really. It isn’t like they were cheated out of anything — they got government spending for all their taxes and then some. The system they choose had real benefits. A segregated account system with vested property interests would have meant much higher taxes and/or lower government spending for all those years.

            If they were snookered by the advertising language, well shame on the people who snookered them. But they are mostly dead. And those who are still alive are retirees, not working 30 somethings.

            And if they had realized it, all the should have “done” about it, is not totally rely on social security for their retirement. Which if you look at net worth by age it looks like they mostly didn’t (maybe by accident).

            Look, I’m certainly not in favor of anyone starving in the street, but that’s very different from saying we need to pay out social security exactly according the formula that is currently in place to everyone who is already retired or near retirement. If people in general want to go to something like means testing on a go forward basis, I see no reason to not include the baby boomers in that.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Stefan Drinic:

            Then you’re not making an argument about moral deserts, and it must be evaluated on different grounds.

            @ brad:

            I agree with you on the point that if we can’t pay out all the benefits promised, it’s completely justified to reduce them in a way that will cause people’s lives to be disrupted the least.

            If you’re a millionaire who has paid a lot into Social Security and expects to get some money back out, I sympathize, but I’m not going to tax a young person today to pay you.

            If your entire retirement is based around that income and you have no other means of support, the evil of taxing the young person is a lesser one than allowing the government’s duplicity and incompetence to run you out into the streets.

            I would like for everyone to be paid back all the money the government has taken from them and wasted, as well as all of the income they lost through slower economic growth caused by unnecessary restrictions. But that isn’t possible, and we must deal with things the best we can.

          • Tim C says:

            While of course there is no vault of money, because that would be foolish, that has still yet to be a year where the OASI fund declined in value, and it currently sits at $2.7 trillion. Some people tend to object that that money is mainly in US treasury bonds, but thats equally true of the assets of private banks and a whole ton of foreign national banks – treasuries are the safest asset that still has a positive return.

            I would say that you could reform social security, but confiscating that money would be quite morally dubious, since as much as anyone’s money in a bank is “theirs”, that money is the collective property of all SS tax payers.

          • baconbacon says:

            Tim C
            The value of the SS fund is zero by accounting standards that private companies follow. ATreasury bill is a liability of the Gov, listing them as only assets would get a Ceo thrown in jail if they were to issue their own bonds to themselves to increase the alum of their company.

          • BBA says:

            A parent company can owe money to its wholly-owned subsidiary and vice versa. This nets out at the parent level but sometimes you want to look at the subsidiary in isolation, in which case those intracompany debts become very real.

            The Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund is essentially a wholly-owned subsidiary of the federal government.

          • brad says:

            That just begs the question. Even if we except the subsidiary framing, why is this one of those situations where you want to look at the subsidiary in isolation?

            @Tim C
            If the social security trust fund is collectively owned by the people that paid into it and not the people as a whole, then what do we say about the national debt (and capitalized interest) incurred prior to 1980? Is it collectively owed by those alive when it was incurred and not the people as a whole?

          • Tim C says:


            In accounting the sheet must balance. The SS trust fund *had* ~2.7 trillion dollars in pure cash. They spent it, so thats -2.7 trillion in assets, which must be balanced by 2.7 trillion in some other asset. Today, right now, the SS trust fund could, if it wanted to, trade that 2.7 trillion for an equivalent in corporate stock, or hell gold deposits. Would they magically gain assets?

            A company, meanwhile, if it issued corporate bonds, doesnt create any wealth, thats a liability on the balance sheet. If they gave it to themselves, that would just be a net 0, +1 asset to the +1 liability.

            This really is legal conversation, do you consider the separatedness of the SS trust fund to valid or not? If you dont, if you think the US could simply pilfer it at any time for its own uses, then yeah, the trust fund has 0 assets because it *doesnt exist*, it only has net assets if the total federal government has net assets. But if you consider it a separate entity from the government, then it has its own assets. Its just a question of “how likely do you think passing a law abolishing SS trust fund is?”, but note that equally applies to *all* property, ownership is a collective fiction like that. So SS trust fund isnt special in that regard (though you may consider its odds worse).

            On the national debt, I would say actually sortof? People in 2015 benefit from some of those 1980 expenditures, so they may be owed, but actually yeah, this is the logic behind defaulting on debt. There are *some* valid instances where defaulting is the right decision for a country, and a situation where a previous generation ballooned up an utterly unaffordable debt level for no productive assets then asking the previous generation to pay it would be one of those situations.

            I dont think we are *in* that situation, btw; our debt levels are quite manageable, a good deal of the money wasnt spent on bullshit (much was of course), and most importantly the majority of that debt we owe to ourselves, which creates a very interesting moral dynamic. We are certainly not Greece.

          • baconbacon says:

            Tim C-

            “In accounting the sheet must balance. The SS trust fund *had* ~2.7 trillion dollars in pure cash. They spent it, so thats -2.7 trillion in assets, which must be balanced by 2.7 trillion in some other asset. Today, right now, the SS trust fund could, if it wanted to, trade that 2.7 trillion for an equivalent in corporate stock, or hell gold deposits. Would they magically gain assets?”

            I don’t believe the SS fund can swap its assets for corporate bonds or whatnot, their Treasuries are non marketable and can only be redeemed at the US Treasury (pretty sure on this, but am never nearly 100% when it come to bureaucratic rules).

            If I am correct, and all the bills can only be sold back to the US Treasury then all that matters is the Net asset position of the US Government. Which makes this paragraph moot

            “If you dont, if you think the US could simply pilfer it at any time for its own uses, then yeah, the trust fund has 0 assets because it *doesnt exist*, it only has net assets if the total federal government has net assets. But if you consider it a separate entity from the government, then it has its own assets. Its just a question of “how likely do you think passing a law abolishing SS trust fund is?”, but note that equally applies to *all* property, ownership is a collective fiction like that. So SS trust fund isnt special in that regard (though you may consider its odds worse).”

            The comparison to passing laws to confiscate property is inaccurate. My house as property (if I own outright) is not dependent on a stream of payments. The assets in the SS fund are dependent on redemption from the Treasury. Without those payments those assets have no value, so there is no reason to talk about the SS fund as a stand alone asset class.

          • Garrett says:

            The case of Flemming v. Nestor is more than adequate notice that they have no interest in their benefits.

            And, if I am to be subject to an impersonal system taking my my money through taxes, I have no objection to cutting off that system and letting people fend or freeze for themselves.

          • Gbdub says:

            “Mostly a gigantic military and lots of wars”. Can we as aspiring rationalists be better than that? Defense spending was ~18% of the federal budget last year. Social Security took up ~24%. Medicare, Medicaid, and other welfare/entitlement programs make up a big chunk of the rest. And that’s just Federal spending – state govs spend a ton on welfare programs and little on defense.

            Now it’s fine if you think the defense budget should be smaller, but the average person’s sense of how big the military budget is compared to entitlement spending is way off, and I’d rather that error not be perpetuated for cheap rhetorical points.

          • Nornagest says:

            Can we as aspiring rationalists be better than that?

            Are you kidding? This is the community that tells itself “we should be smart enough to discuss politics without getting into stupid ideological fights” and then gets into stupid ideological fights at the drop of a hat. We have the mindkiller meme, but it seems to be applied mainly in accusing other people of being mindkilled.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “We have the mindkiller meme, but it seems to be applied mainly in accusing other people of being mindkilled.”

            I think of us more as the physics students in that one Richard Feynman anecdote, who knew the textbook explanation of polarization of light and could recite it back to perfection, but were unable to recognize a real-world example when it was staring them in the face.

        • Mary says:

          I’d be VERY dubious about compelling third parties to pay for something they had NO choice about, since they weren’t born yet or (at least) were below voting age.

          Whatever ability the tax-payer of the day had to influence it, it had to be greater than that of those without vote. Morals indicates that those who had some say should bear the brunt, not those without.

          • People also get benefits they had no say in, for instance most people enter adulthood owing the state for an education. The free choice approach is undermined by human biology, specifically the fact that people don’t pop out of the womb as adults.

          • Alexander Stanislaw says:

            Proves way too much, unless you are an anarcho-libertarian.

          • Humans do pop out of the womb with parents, however, who are usually adults.

            If someone who went to a public school “owes the state for an education,” does it follow that the state owes a similar amount to those of us who went to, sent our children to, private schools but got taxed for that education?

            Alternatively, if the state compels going to school, does the state owe the public school graduate a debt for his time conscripted to the state’s purposes?

      • Anthony says:

        Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) is very fond of saying “Promises that can’t be kept, won’t be”. (Also of saying “If something can’t go on, it won’t.”)

        I’m pretty sure that this applies at some level to Social Security, though in typical political fashion, it will be a fudge. Social Security will not be abolished, but gimmickry with the cost-of-living adjustments, the benefit levels, or taxing it as income for the wealthier recipients will reduce the actual cost of making good on the promise to a politically tolerable level.

        • brad says:

          That’s fine, except every time I see one of these proposals it ends up applying the new rules only to people under age X and holding current retirees and near retirees harmless. Which is typical Baby Boomer slamming the door behind them bullshit.

          If I’m going to get chained CPI COLAs, they can get chained CPI COLAs too.

    • John Schilling says:

      Lots of people under 50 believe, not entirely without justification, that the Baby Boomers have done net harm to the United States of America or to western civilization in general.

      Most of these people have living parents and/or grandparents. Most of those are sufficiently fond of their parents or grandparents as to balk at any plan that involves their winding up dead in the gutters or the like.

      Approximately none of them want their parents or grandparents to move in with them

      Any proposal to cut off social security, etc, will be sufficiently riddled with “but my entirely worthy grandpa gets enough money that he can keep living in the family home and/or his retirement condo” loopholes and exemptions as to be mostly meaningless. There might be a modest net transfer of government spending from age-based entitlements to e.g. deficit reduction, but nothing revolutionary.

      Barring an actual revolution, and in that case a lot of grandparents will be moving back in with the kids and the same wealth transfer we now run through the government will be done at the family level.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        Given that ‘people above 50’ includes the most politically active people and people who make up a huge generation in the first place, this entire argument is pretty moot to begin with. I’m more interested in its moral qualities than its practical ones.

    • Mark says:

      Oh good grief… national debt relief?
      Why not just eliminate it entirely, buy the whole lot?
      About half the government debt is owned by the government… the fact that people are actually concerned about this… you just couldn’t make it up.
      Challenge: try writing a story about people who actually exist today and make the plot coherent. Can’t be done.

      • Mark says:

        Debt is the word we use,
        When we wish to say,
        Exactly how much money,
        We will pay ourselves today.

      • Nornagest says:

        About half the government debt is owned by the government… the fact that people are actually concerned about this… you just couldn’t make it up.

        I remembered hearing something similar, but I wasn’t sure how it hashed out in practice, so I Googled it. This is what the Wikipedia page I found said:

        Debt held by government accounts or intragovernmental debt, such as non-marketable Treasury securities held in accounts administered by the federal government that are owed to program beneficiaries, such as the Social Security Trust Fund.

        Looks like “intragovernmental debt” administratively means money the government owes to itself, but its eventual beneficiaries probably wouldn’t see it that way. If the Medicare Trust Fund evaporated tomorrow, there would be a lot of pissed-off people however the accounting works.

        (And it’s between a third and a quarter, not half.)

    • Deiseach says:

      There seems to be a minor movement in that direction, in that governments over here are raising the retirement age and the age at which you can claim a state pension and warning people to provide private pensions for themselves.

      The general trend certainly seems to be that people cannot expect to rely on state provision and since life expectancy has gone up, so too will ages at which you are eligible to claim a pension.

  11. Vox Imperatoris says:

    Noticing that this is the first time I’ve come to one of these Open Threads without there being 200 comments already present, I want to get some people’s opinions on modafinil.

    Scott’s post a while ago that mentioned the site Modafinilcat finally prompted me to try it after considering it for a long time. After using it for about a month, I am in general impressed with it, but it hardly lives up to the “hype” and/or hysteria about how this is a life-changing “smart drug” that may or may not need to be banned in order to prevent a “race to the bottom”.

    I find that it does exactly what it is supposed to do as prescribed, no more and no less: it makes me not feel sleepy. It does not give me “energy” or “focus” or “willpower”, or prevent me from feeling tired and worn-out if the situation would ordinarily call for it. I don’t feel that I am any more productive or intelligent or rational when using it, unless we are talking about a situation where I would otherwise barely be staying awake. I would like to know if my experiences are typical here, or if others feel completely differently.

    The main effect of modafinil, making you not feel sleepy, is useful. Lots of us don’t have time to get enough sleep, and modafinil can reduce the negative effects of this. So I have in fact used it a lot since purchasing a “sampler” of it.

    But I notice that the sleepiness mitigation is hardly complete. I tried the trick I’ve seen recommended of setting an alarm an hour or so before one’s usual wake-up time, taking a pill, and then going back to sleep in order to avoid feeling horribly tired in the morning (as is my usual state). This didn’t really work at all. However, I suppose I can try it again / with some variations in timing.

    On the other hand, it has given me the ability—for the first time in my life—to stay up for 24 hours straight without feeling utterly dazed, confused, and exhausted. I had done it maybe once or twice before (depending on how you count little naps), and it was awful. Now, I have gone so far as to stay up for nearly 48 hours, and it was not too bad.

    However, I still felt pretty darn tired after that. I did it in the middle of the week, felt pretty tired at work even with modafinil on the subsequent days, and had to have a lot of makeup sleep on the weekend. (This was just an experiment; I didn’t need it to cram for something.)

    I am, therefore, a little skeptical of the claims I hear from Gwern et al. that it can cut one’s need for sleep by 1/3. It seems to me more of a mechanism for shunting sleep from some days to other days. This is still quite useful, but hardly a “life extending” drug.

    Many of us already “cut” our need for sleep from around 8 or 9 to around 5 or 6 hours, at least on weekdays. I can see that modafinil could very well alleviate some of the sleepiness that comes with this. But can it allow us either to sleep a mere 3 or 4 hours every day or to pull an all-nighter every third day? I’m not sure. It seems like it would be unpleasant, and who knows how much it would degrade performance.

    On that note, a final question: how are most people who have modafinil using it? As a daily wakefulness enhancer like a morning cup of coffee, with no reduction in hours slept? As a way of functioning while sleeping less every day? As a way of skipping sleep entirely every third or fourth night? As an “emergency reserve” for special last-minute projects? I am especially curious about this.

    • Psycicle says:

      As a college student taking 21 credits of senior level engineering classes and projects, yeah, I don’t use it for skipping sleep, unless circumstances are dire, and I always make an effort to catch back up on the next day. I take it first thing in the morning, either once or twice a week to avoid tolerance.

      But modafinil has much more impressive effects on me than you, I guess. Besides the obvious sleep effects, I get three more.

      1: 8-10 hours of immediate flow state on whatever I choose to work on. It doesn’t affect focus for me, I’ve found. Working on a hard math problem or something is the same in the presence or absence of modafinil. However, it does greatly boost focus and ability to get into the flow state on the stuff I normally hate or have a hard time focusing on, like essays. It is pretty much an all-day flow state crystallized into pill form.

      2: When studying new material, or doing a task which requires a lot of “subtask switching”, there is a sort of brain fog, that typically sets in around 2 to 2.5 hours. On Modafinil, the brain fog arrives between hours 6-8.

      3: Easily the single most useful part of Modafinil is that it sets my procrastination dial (which is at typical values for a college student) very very very far into the negative numbers, through horrible boredom and impatience if I am not working on a thing, a strong will to do things really fast, and enjoying working on things. It makes me actively compelled to seek out things to do, and to do them fast. This was literally my first time on Modafinil. “Spend 6 hours working on a major project. Take a break for a walk, 3 minutes in, get bored, head back to do the project. Finish project. Goof off on internet for 5 minutes or so, get bored, start on a lab assignment. Finish lab assignment. Immediately pivot into biology homework. Oh yay! There are more things to do! Fun! Fire off a bunch of emails with no discernible effort, order stuff online, head home, clean room for fun, try to fall asleep, fail, start picking at a law research assignment to while away the night hours, get an hour and a half nap, wake up totally fine the next day”

      The strong will to do many things fast and utter inability to tolerate downtime is the indispensable part for me, personally.

      So the “life extension” claims through no sleep seem to be overblown, because you have to catch up some time, but “life extension” through annihilating your workload and having your first ever free day in four weeks that you don’t have to spend at the library is totally a thing. Because I really don’t count eternal schoolwork as life, in my book.

      To restate the answer to your last question, once or twice a week usage first thing in the morning for an extremely productive day.

      (Also, the -racetams have no effect whatsoever on me. Phenylpiracetam, Coluracetam, Aniracetam…. do nothing except give me minor headaches. On the bright side, the choline bitartrate I got to go along with them tastes exactly like the hyper-sour powder left at the bottom of a sour candy bag, and I sprinkle a little bit of it on things as a substitute for lemon juice.)

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Yeah, I haven’t found that it prevents procrastination or encourages productivity in any way.

        I have no problem taking it and then spending the next few hours on reddit or the SSC comment section. It doesn’t make me want to do things I don’t normally want to do. Maybe I should experiment with the dose?

        I don’t think I have become tolerant to it after only using it (not every day) for a month.

        • Psycicle says:

          I used 200 mg, as a reference, but I predict that fiddling with the dosage won’t have much of an effect for you.

      • Jason K. says:

        1 & 3 were what I noticed too. For me, it wasn’t that I became impatient, just that my desire for stimulation was sated. As a result, distractions didn’t have that draw. I could still enjoy them, but it was very easy to put them down. In addition, I became a bit more outgoing in the process, possibly because I could stay atop of the conversation better.

        I did have couple of negative side effects though. I tended to get headaches and gnash my teeth to the point that my jaw was sore. It probably would have been interesting to try combining this with a minor relaxant/anti-anxiety med.

        Like most stimulants, there tends to be a crash afterwards. For me, one dose was not enough to carry me through the day. During my brief experience. I found it difficult to modulate the dose to avoid crash periods. I think towards the end I had settled on 50mg 3x a day.

        • Psycicle says:

          Hm. I haven’t had headaches or gnashing teeth, but I do get quite a bit of muscle tension on it. It’s kind of like being cold and trying not to shiver. All your muscles seem to be trying to curl up into themselves. Not as unpleasant as it sounds, but I do still have to remind myself to relax my muscles. The crash is pretty odd, though. Due to the long halflife of 12-15 hours, it should just gradually tail off into nothing. Maybe you metabolize it fast?

    • stargirl says:

      I am chronically tired unless I take some sort of stimulant. So I use nicotine, caffine and modafinil. These manage to let me feel decent instead of terrible. Modafinil definitely does not help me focus at all.

      • anon says:

        In my experience, caffeine taken regularly eventually causes a baseline shift so you feel tired if you don’t take your caffeine, so it’s useless as a cure for tiredness and in fact counterproductive. I suspect it’s true of all stimulants.

        For me, the chief way to increase energy and prevent tiredness is to eat a lot and sleep a lot.

        • Cadie says:

          I have ADHD and have been sort of self-medicating with caffeine since my teens (maybe related, I drank small amounts of coffee with my grandmother when I was a little kid and it didn’t make me wired or wild). In this case, it really does seem to improve my daytime focus from godawful like it was prior to picking up the habit to merely poor, and the effect lasts throughout the day now that I’m used to two cups of coffee in the morning. Been doing that for about twenty years. The downside is that for the first half hour or so when I wake up, I’m entirely useless. It’s like the positive effects wear off overnight and I have only slightly more intelligence and attention than a goldfish. But once I have my coffee I’m okay again.

          Trying to get back on proper meds, but coffee has the advantage of being over-the-counter, cheaper, and much tastier, so it’s better than nothing in the meantime.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      How safe is it to buy a controlled substance off a clearnet site like that?

      • John Schilling says:

        The order is inherently deniable at reasonable-doubt level, and there are obvious things you can do to enhance that if you care. The delivery is relatively secure in that domestic snail-mail is one of the things that is grandfathered under the you-need-a-real-warrant version of the 4th amendment rather than the rubber-stamp FISA warrant version the NSA uses. Any plausible path for the police to detect or interdict the transaction, it will be easier for them to convict the seller than the buyer, and a drug-dealing arrest counts for more on a detective or prosecutor’s record than simple possession.

        So, probably safe for you and not so much for whoever’s running Modafinilcat; don’t bet too much on their being in business this time next year – but someone else will be.

        IIRC, Gwern’s look into the dark- and grey-net came to about the same conclusion. The cops bust the sellers, never the (retail) buyers.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          ModafinilCat ships from India, so there is very little danger to them. International shipping means that not only do the authorities not need a warrant, they will open the package. But MC only ships to countries where customs doesn’t care, or at least doesn’t recognize the drug. Specifically, they say that 4% of packages run into problems. In most countries, the result of customs objecting to the drug is to send a letter to asking the recipient to bring a prescription to pick up the package. It is quite safe to ignore such letters, though some people in certain countries report that it is bad to accumulate a record of many of them.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The purpose of the darknet is to protect the seller, not the buyer. The buyer’s principal risk is in providing a physical address, to which the darknet provides no protection. If you like, you can use Tor to connect to such sites on the open web, which provides most, but not all of the darknet protection. MC even provides the option of buying with bitcoin.

    • James says:

      I experimentally tried modafinil for a while but didn’t find it that useful. I didn’t find it to have any of the pro-focus, anti-procrastination, or anti-brain-fog effects on me which psycicle describes in this comment’s sibling and for which I’d hoped. I found that it primarily gave me arousal and a disinclination to sleep, and that these aren’t limiting factors in my getting shit done.

      I feel like arousal-vs.-productivity is a kind of U-shaped curve, whereby your productivity can be hampered by too little arousal, but also by too much—you can get into a nervy, fidgety state in which tasks get attacked with gusto but not much actually gets done. I feel like modafinil sometimes pushed me into this zone, though this might also have been partly due to placebo from taking a stimulant and imagining that it would have a big effect.

      I also didn’t like how it suppressed my appetite.

      My little brother is a maths student and also tried it for a while. I think he found it a bit more useful than I did but still eventually stopped taking it, I think for similar reasons to mine.

      I’m about to quit my job to work on some of my own projects at home, and I might try it a little bit then. It would be interesting to see whether it’s any more useful to me when working on something I care about and want to complete (as opposed to something that I don’t care about and that I get paid the same for working on regardless of how productive I am).

    • Does anyone have any idea of what the physical basis of sleepiness is? I’ve found that i frequently feel very sleepy before I have a hot flash regardless of whether I’m actually low on sleep, so I assume there’s something hormonal about sleepiness.

      While we’re on the subject, why would the half-assed shutdown of the reproductive system cause temperature dysregulation? I realize we’re made of spaghetti code, but this seems unusually ridiculous.

      • Deiseach says:

        Could be connected to the thyroid. Apparently we as women get the benefits of being more prone to auto-immune diseases and as you get older, something like hypothyroidism is more likely.

        So ask your doctor to check out your thyroid, just in case. Symptoms overlap and can be confused with those of perimenopause/menopause, so don’t let them brush you off with “It’s just the change of life”.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hot flashes: The short answer is that the part of the brain that senses both hormone levels and regulates temperature gets “confused” in that it mistakes low estrogen for low temperature.

        The best explanation for sleep that I’ve come across is that it allows accumulated gunk (technical term) to be swept out of brain cells.

    • Rachael says:

      I tried it and it didn’t seem to have much effect at all. I tried 200mg a day first thing in the morning for about 5 days.
      I need more sleep than average, and find this limiting, so was hoping it would reduce my need for sleep (even just to average) and/or give me more energy during the day.

    • Locrian says:

      I was prescribed it for fatigue associated with depression, and found it to have no effects whatsoever,including side effects. I feel exactly the same whether or not I’ve taken it. I tried different doses up to 400mg and took it when I woke up. Caffeine has more of an effect on me. Given all the hype I was very disappointed.

      However, I do apparently have the met/met (a/a) version of comt, so this could be why.

  12. Paul Kinsky says:

    The Bay Area Solstice link is giving me a “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now” message. Do I need to be a member of some facebook group to access it?

    • Anthony says:

      I think that means you have to be a member of some group or someone’s friends to see it. I’m getting the same error.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ve changed the Bay link to something that should be more accessible to everyone. Are people having the same problem with the NYC link?

  13. Jacob says:

    Todd Rider is doing on AMA on /r/science tomorrow, just FYI. Would be a good way to learn more/voice concerns about DRACOs

    • grendelkhan says:

      Can someone please ask about the problem of getting large molecules into cells, and the issue about whether or not significant quantities of dsRNA appear in healthy cells, and everything else that Linch pointed out? I’m going to be away from the internet when it’s posted (darn it), but I’m very, very curious.

  14. TrivialGravitas says:

    Are there any rationalist blogposts on the use/misuse of logical fallacies? It occurs to me there’s a 50-50 that somebody already wrote up exactly my position better than I could.

  15. Seth says:

    I’ve been thinking recently about this part of the recent Metafilter critique:

    “The rationalist movement holds “clarity” as an ultimate virtue. Whenever clarity doesn’t work, the reflex response of a rationalist is I need to be more clear! This only works on the sort of people who are inclined to rationalism anyway. For non-rationalists, the reaction is “You’re throwing even more words at me! Stop!”.”

    In specific, how can a rationalist hold both to rationalist principles AND be effective overall? The critique goes on to discuss “winning” by non-rationalist methods. But that strikes me as the old ends-justify-the-means argument. But I don’t have any good answer myself.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      “In specific, how can a rationalist hold both to rationalist principles AND be effective overall?”

      You can’t. If you want to accomplish some political goal like legalizing X or making Y socially acceptable, you can’t just make rational arguments for it and expect to win over the public. Look at what politicians do. They have smart people who know how to shape public opinion telling them what to do, and you know what they do? They lie their asses off and demonize and misrepresent their opponents. And it works, because that’s just how people are. Politics is the mindkiller. Most people are not and will never be rationalists. There’s nothing we can do about that. You can embrace that and win or deny it and lose.

      Of course, being rational and intellectually honest and etc. is great if you just want to make enjoyable reading material and have enlightening discussions. But if you want real social change, you need to be a bit of a dick about it.

      • I think you are mistaken.

        There are lots of different ways of trying to change the world. Some of the ones that work are dishonest, some are honest.

        I have a possibly biased, possibly informed, view of the matter because my father was someone who did change the world, I think for the better–among other things, he was one of the reasons the U.S. abolished the draft. I do not believe that in all my interactions with him I ever observed him to tell a lie or make a deliberately bad argument.

        • TrivialGravitas says:

          What you’re describing isn’t necessarily a contradiction. Politicians tell a lot of lies, most of these lies are things their supporters already believe to be true, spread by a less competent press. [example redacted because politics is the mindkiller] I’m pretty sure most of them are better educated about the issue than regular folks and know they’re full of shit, but if they treated the issue with nuance and accuracy they couldn’t make a 30 second soundbite, and risk getting crucified for contradicting the press. Your story falls flat for two reasons: You interacted with your father on a personal level, not a professional one, where he no need to lie. and B) You don’t necessarily have an accurate picture of the reality of draft policy, so would you necessarily know if he’s spreading soundbite lies?

        • PDV says:

          I think he made the world significantly worse. The draft should still exist, and should be harder to get out of; this would ensure that every family of voters has a stake in avoiding wars.

          • Age of Utilitron says:

            If you consider taxation and the cost of war, every family already has a stake in it.

            If you consider a draft, families without draftable individuals wouldn’t have a stake in it.

          • Trevor says:

            Or they just vote to abolish the draft like they did in the 1970s. Unless you plan on adding the draft to the constitution anytime people got upset at the draft the obvious solution is just to abolish it.

          • Jiro says:

            If you consider taxation and the cost of war, every family already has a stake in it.

            But you see, obviously everyone doesn’t have enough of a stake in it. After all, they’re still supporting wars! If we *really* made sure they had enough of a stake in it, they would have to oppose war–the fact that they don’t shows that their stake in it is not enough.

          • Nathan says:

            Libertarians make a lot out of the abolition of the draft, I personally don’t see it as *that* big an issue. On the other hand Milton Friedman’s intellectual contribution to monetary theory probably played a significant role in the US disinflation of the early 1980s and that in my opinion *is* a big deal.

            Sometimes the reason why things suck is not that there’s anyone out to get you. Sometimes it’s just that the world is complicated and it’s hard to find someone who has both the insight to recognise how to make it not suck and the ability to explain their solutions in a way that’s understandable and convincing to others. Milton Friedman was one of those rare people.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t know anything about Milton Friedmans’ role in ending it, but ending the draft *is* a very big deal. Ask anyone old enough to remember Vietnam.

          • onyomi says:

            Inspiring, telling, and maybe a bit depressing how well a good economic argument can work where ethical arguments seem to fail.

            I think the draft is a great evil, and I certainly think it was a great thing for your father to devote his time to fighting it, though I do wonder if there isn’t one drawback: do you think the volunteer army has the potential to weaken opposition to unnecessary military conflicts?

            I mean, we admittedly haven’t had a conflict so deadly to Americans since Vietnam, yet we also haven’t seen nearly so strong an anti-war movement either, presumably because it is easier for the average person to think of wars waged by the US army as “something that happens over there that those other people sign up to do.”

            We haven’t had any conflicts like Korea and Vietnam since the draft ended, and I don’t know whether the US would have been less likely to get involved in those conflicts if there hadn’t been a draft at the time (I don’t really see why they would have been), but the conflicts now do seem to be more numerous and unending, almost like just another government program which has to always be kept running at a low level.

            Not that I think reinstituting the draft would be remotely worth it as a means to increase anti-war sentiment amongst American youth, but a thought.

            I also think current attitudes about the draft might reflect on the question of “moral progress” discussed in a recent post: I feel like now that it’s been basically gone for a while, there is almost no way the government could now bring it back. When it is was the status quo people accepted it, much as they have accepted slavery and all kinds of other moral horrors, but like slavery, I feel like once it’s been abolished, it’s not really coming back, at least not in that form. I think this is a case of genuine moral progress.

            I think it also reveals something about how moral progress is made: I think the reason you couldn’t reinstitute a draft now is because the web of ex post facto moral justifications surrounding it (honor, duty, patriotism, not wanting a “mercenary army,” the dreaded “white feather” handed out by women…) have fallen revealing it to be obviously immoral. I think a similar thing happened with slavery: it was just the way things were for as long as people could remember, and people came up with ever more elaborate justifications for why it was natural and good. But once it had been abolished for a relatively short period, all those justifications just kind of evaporated, leaving only a memory of an institution which it is now hard for us to imagine many of our own not-too-distant ancestors supporting.

          • @onyomi: I’m not sure. I suspect the draft would still be acceptable to society at large if there were a clear and compelling need, i.e., an enemy directly threatening your homeland for which the volunteer army was clearly inadequate. Difficult to imagine that situation actually applying to the US in the foreseeable future (well, perhaps China?) but not so for smaller nations … and of course there’s Israel as a current example.

          • nimim. k.m. says:


            I don’t know about US, but some examples from Europe:

            Some Baltic countries re-instituted draft recently because of the Ukrainian situation, and I believe it’s at least a plausible talking point in Sweden (to my understanding there seems to be general consensus that the current armed forces are inadequate, but I don’t know seriously it is considered).

            The UK has two times introduced the conscription (during WW1 and prior to WW2). I wouldn’t be surprised if they or the US would do it again if a conflict of similar proportions looked imminent.

          • onyomi says:

            Have you met US college kids lately? I feel like they’re waay too wimpy for that (and probably much less susceptible to rhetoric about honor and patriotism to which previous generations of men have always been so vulnerable).

          • NN says:

            The UK has two times introduced the conscription (during WW1 and prior to WW2). I wouldn’t be surprised if they or the US would do it again if a conflict of similar proportions looked imminent.

            It is exceedingly unlikely that a conflict of similar proportions today would last long enough for a draft to be instated, because nuclear missiles. It is only slightly less unlikely that the US government would consider reinstating a draft for a lesser conflict, because Vietnam.*

            * Remember that Iraq and Afghanistan were sold to the US public as, “these will be Desert Storm style wars that will be really fast and really cheap and totally unlike Vietnam!” Bringing the draft back would effectively be an admission that no, actually this war will be another Vietnam.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is only slightly less unlikely that the US government would consider reinstating a draft for a lesser conflict, because Vietnam.*

            And also because of that asterisked Desert Storm example. And the Falklands. And to some extent the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars.

            There are things you can do with modern weapons that look a lot like World War II with better special effects. There are also things you can do with modern weapons that are qualitatively so far beyond World War II that, well, Desert Storm. Fourth largest army on the planet against a numerically inferior foe with fewer tanks, smaller guns, slower fighter planes, basically outclassed by every standard a general in 1939 would have recognized, defeated at the cost of ninety-five dead.

            Conscripts can refight World War II with better special effects. The other thing, the better way of fighting, that absolutely requires highly trained, experienced, and highly motivated soldiers that you can pretty much only get with volunteers. Or Israeli-style conscripts, maybe, where absolutely everybody serves, for 3-4 years even in peacetime, and nobody is put off by this. But if you can manage that, why do you need conscripts?

            The bit where you wait until your nation is threatened with total war and then implement mass conscription, that doesn’t work any more. It doesn’t prevent your nation from being conquered, and very likely results in being conquered quicker.

      • zz says:

        I’ve thought about this ever since the In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization post. “Andrew Cord”:

        if you *really* want to be the kind of person who wins you have to actually care about winning something, which means you have to have politics

        Which is where I disagree with him and to your hidden inference.

        I’m an EA, so I want to make the world as good a place as possible. My current belief is that, for me in particular and for pretty much everyone else, this involves not touching politics.

        At EA global, one of the presenters gave a framework for evaluating “what should I do?” Three key factors: tractability (how likely am I to succeed?), crowdedness (how many other people are doing this?), and value (what’s the expected value of a success?). The first is important, since if you’re unsuccessful, nothing else matters. The second is important because, even if you’re successful, if someone else had done it, you have made no difference on the margin. The third is important because you want your marginal contribution to be large in the positive direction. Geometrically, you can put these on three axes in three-space; you want to pursue the box with the largest volume.

        Politics fails on all three counts.

        Tractability. It’s really hard to change people’s minds. I, in particular, and rationalist types in general, probably have a comparative disadvantage at mind-changing.

        Crowdedness. From my fb feed, it sure as heck looks like everyone and their dog are trying to push political points. Of every method of trying to make the world better, I’m unable (off the top of my head) to come up with a more crowded one.

        Value. In general, political questions will have good arguments on either side. There’s exceptions (there are, for instance, no good birther arguments), but in the general case, anyone who’s not massively overconfident will realize policy A may have some amount of benefit, which is why people advocate for it, but also may have some amount of harm, which is why people advocate against it. We saw this last links post with affirmative action (the current research allows for it to be entirely plausible that it’s somewhat good or somewhat bad for minorities) and we’ve seen it historically with communism (we thought it would be really good, but it turned out to be really bad). I’m pretty sure Eliezer or Robin made the same point—that you can probably squeeze out a few extra utils by choosing the better policy, but it’s really really hard to figure that out, there’s a good chance you’re wrong, and it’s probably not nearly as many utils as you think because of the mitigating factors that made people oppose [thing], which is why it’s a political question in the first place—but I don’t remember enough of the post to find the citation. Sorry. Also, I’m going to reiterate that there’s exceptions, just so nobody replies saying “but policy X is an exception.”

        So, the first way that holding a rationalist perspective helps one be effective is by keeping them far, far from politics, which is inherently not effective. Or, to rephrase Andrew Cord, “if you *really* want to be the kind of person who wins you have to actually care about winning something, which means you have to stay away from politics”

        This is somewhat of a cop-out (how does rationalism make you effective? It prevents you from one particular, albeit common, way of being ineffective!), so I’m going to produce a particular way that rationalism helps one effectively achieve their values, and the method I’m going to produce is what I’m currently working on and is called “do a startup.”

        Tractability. Is low. No matter how many times Paul Graham says “if you start with a good team, make something people want, and spend as little as possible, then you will be successful”, the prior probability of success is low.

        Crowdedness. If you’ve read Zero to One, you’re not going to be making a startup in a crowded field; competition eats your profit margin (and torpedoes your chance of success).

        Value. This is where startups shine. If you’re me, you’re creating large amounts of value, capturing some of it, and donating something like 50% of that to some charity at least as effective as GiveWell’s top charities. Taking Paul Graham back of the envelope of a 36x productivity multiplier, if you have at least a 1/36 chance of success (and assuming startup doesn’t have significantly different externalities than programming job—although, if you’re running on “create value, capture some of it”, my guess is you actually have a better externality profile than generic company you program for), then the sheer amount of value you create upon success makes up for the shitty tractability.

        Without saying too much, do I think rationalists are more likely to pull off a successful startup than an otherwise equivalent group of nonrationalists? Without saying too much, yes. I found each of Eliezer’s fb posts on startups at least as illuminating as a good Paul Graham essay. LW’s list of best textbooks on every subject is the highest-quality source of textbook recommendations of which I am currently aware (my second source is to dig through MIT’s course catalog/OCW/old course wobsites, which turns up gold often enough to be worth it, but has nowhere near the LW’s list wheat:chaff ratio). LW is perhaps on-par with grad school for finding co-founders; my guess is IQs are similar, grad school has better preselection for subject interest and geographical closeness, but LW has more diversity and better filtering (in the sense it’s easier to browse through post/comments and only have conversations with people talking about what you’re interested in). Being practiced at changing your mind about a cherished belief because evidence is also good.

        • zz:

          Your point about the problem with improving the world through politics is a legitimate one. But one response is to see your role not as a politician achieving political outcome X but as an academic contributing to the controversy in ways that make the correct outcome more likely—by pointing out good arguments that are being missed, or problems with bad arguments that others are missing.

          I think that’s pretty much my role, as I see it, in the climate controversies. Everyone on one side was accepting and quoting a piece of work that was demonstrably dishonest, on internal evidence, and I think I may have been the first person to point it out. Now quite a lot of people are aware of it, which at least mildly tweaks the controversy towards truth.

          People on one side of the argument were focusing on what I believe to be the strong part of the other side’s position (the existence and causation of warming) and missing what seemed to me to be serious problems with another essential part (the consequences). I’ve been pointing that out for some time, and hopefully some people on both sides have picked up on that.

          I mentioned one example of my father playing a role in getting a particular political outcome. But he was also largely responsible for convincing economists that they had misinterpreted the Phillips Curve—that there was no long run tradeoff between inflation and unemployment—and that inflation was fundamentally a monetary phenomenon. Knowing those things changed what people did in a desirable way.

        • Seth says:

          The answer that rationalist-types can’t be effective at politics, so best stay away, is one I’ve pondered. Maybe it’s a quasi-paradox in that it’s highly emotionally unappealing, and one’s instinct is to find a flaw in the argument – but it is nonetheless true. It does mean one is basically at the mercy of which group of liars wins, and hoping they don’t go after you as part of the campaign of lies.

          I think the “do a startup” argument is subtly wrong, but that’s a complicated argument. Basically, it’s overly simplistic, in that it underestimates the negative caused by the process. It’s a bit like the revolutionaries who argue it’s OK for them to become dictator by a river of blood, because that’ll be offset by all the good they’ll do once they have absolute power to run the country properly. It’s actually real-life Utilitarianism of “If you make X’s people lives miserable by this amount, but Y people’s lives happier by that amount, and get a big pile of money which you then use for cause Z – is that all net negative or positive?”. But there’s a whole class of propagandists pumping out “No problem, positive all the time, don’t look at all that negative side, it’s not really negative after all, and think of how much good that big pile of money you get can do …”.

          Paul Graham’s essays, by the way, have been notably critiqued for saying what people want to believe, especially in terms of stroking egos that getting rich in tech is virtuous, a downright moral good. That there’s a big market for that genre is not the same as it being correct.

          Do remember, most start-ups fail miserably, often causing intense personal disutility in the process.

          • zz says:

            >Basically, it’s overly simplistic, in that it underestimates the negative caused by the process.

            I’m not seeing any special amount of negative caused by the process (except severe personal disutility upon failure, as you correctly point out). For now, I’ll see this as a shortcoming on my part and beg someone to point it out to me.

          • Seth says:

            zz, consider the following fallacious argument: “The best thing you can do is buy lottery tickets – the utility of winning a million dollars at a cost of one dollar is a fantastic multiplier. After all, what’s one dollar? Not even the price of a cup of coffee these days. But think of a million dollars, that can save a lot of lives in Africa”. That’s obviously a bad argument, because we can do the total-return calculation in a very straightforward way. But if I took the same basic argument, yet obscured the probabilities in various ways, it might not be so clear how it’s wrong. Much of the start-up promotion seems to me to be doing in part something like that fallacy, taking a process that is very lottery-like, looking only the very few big winner prizes, but discounting the enormous number of loser contributions which make up the total. Then there’s aspects which are not lottery, but have to do with pushing costs onto other people with little market-power, and capturing the alleged “value” of that cost-shift. That’s just a few.

            Basically, be very, very, skeptical of a rich person arguing that getting rich is a virtue and helps the world – most especially if that person is currently running a business devoted to proposition. They just might not be presenting a complete assessment of the costs and benefits.

          • zz says:


            I’m given to understand that startups have something like a 1/10 prior probability of success. Do you believe that number is off by more than a factor of 2?

            Pulling from the Yudkowsky example, I can see how things like Craigslist and Google create large amounts of value, but find myself unable to find people with little market power who Google or Craigslist are taking money from. Are they bad examples (i.e., are they noncentral, whereas something like Amazon, which makes large amounts of money and pays a lot of people (I’m thinking of employees in their shipping centers) working hard/shitty jobs very little might be more central); are Google/Craigslist exploiting people with little market power in ways that I am not aware?; or am I missing something else? Concrete examples (eg startup X made large amounts of money doing Y, which made Z worse off than otherwise) will help me understand things.

            Thanks so much!

          • Seth says:

            I think one would need to extremely careful how one uses “1/10 prior probability of success”. At what stage? What is the actual return? Is it 9/10 total failure, 0.0999… break-even, 0.00…1 chance of being very wealthy? There’s huge opportunities to get the details wrong – or to be actively misled by someone trying to make it sound like a better deal than it is (as the old joke goes, where are the *customers* yachts? In particular, where is Yudkowsky’s yacht? – meaning, sigh, is there any proof he’s any good at all in this specific domain?)

            I didn’t mean to imply each and every start-up relies on cost-shifting. But many infamous ones do. That’s essentially the basis of Uber, TaskRabbit, and similar ilk. There the so-called “value” is overwhelmingly composed of lowering wages, not paying benefits, not having injury or unemployment insurance, and so on. That’s a huge pot of money to redirect to the founders and investors. Again, Utilitarianism in practice by way of ruthless capitalism.


            Google is very complicated, because they are extremely secretive. It’s hard to figure out what accusations made against them regarding supposed shady practices are justified, versus what’s mud-slinging by opponents. For the purposes of a blog comment, let’s just say it’s not a simple story, but rather involves very deep analysis of the Internet advertising market. Someone could argue that Google is more moral because at the very worst they’re fundamentally shaking down advertisers who have the money to lose, instead of poor workers, which I suppose is a good trick (but not easy to replicate).

            I don’t know much about Craigslist in specific. It’s another case where I don’t know if the accusations against it are valid or unjustified. Maybe it was simply a “lottery-winner” when the classified advertising business went online.

          • discursive2 says:

            I’ve generally heard that “1 in 10 startups succeed” thing to apply to EXTERNALLY FUNDED startups. Most startups don’t reach that stage. There are not good statistics around the number of unfunded startups, because they are extremely hard to define, locate, and count, and tend to quickly pop in and out of existence (does a guy who tells his friends “Hey here’s my idea X! I’m working on it on weekends! Can someone introduce me to a developer!” count? What about the guy who writes the first line of code, then gives up after a week? etc). Even externally funded startups are hard to count, because whereas many startups put a lot of energy into getting on the radar and thus can be found on clearinghouses like Crunchbase and AngelList, many other startups put a lot of energy into being secretive and cannot be found like that. My guess is that the 1 / 10 dates from the era of VCs, and now that early rounds are increasingly being done by angels, the ratio is probably significantly smaller even for funded startups.

            The question of whether startups do good in the world is complicated. It can be both true that “company X does a ton of shady things and amasses a vast amount of wealth for its founders, much of which at the expense of other people in the ecosystem”, and “company X creates massive positive net utility for society”. These are not mutually exclusive statements. The general pattern is that the net utility is created for the average consumer, at the expense of a much smaller amount of producers, though that varies. Uber is a good example — I don’t like its ethics or business practices or the politics of its leadership, and they are clearly going to make millions or billions — and I don’t think I’d want to be a taxi driver in 10 years (though short-term AFAICT it is having a positive effect by increasing their utilization and therefore wages) — but living in a world with on-demand taxis is much better for consumers than living in a world with street hailing, so much so that I don’t know if I really care that Uber management are jerks or that taxi drivers are going to be put out of work by driverless cars. To me, Google is an absolute no-brainer… the entire management team could sacrifice small children to Satan nightly for 5 years and we’d still probably be better off in the world where Google was created vs the world where it wasn’t. (Sure, someone else might have created a search engine that good in that counter-factual world, but would they be any nicer / less prone to sacrificing small children?)

            Speaking of arbitrarily-derived powers-of-ten, the rule of thumb in startup-land is that a new product has to be 10X better along some consumer-relevant dimension to replace an incumbent product. So when you see a startup that’s succeeding, generally consumers are receiving a ton of value that they wouldn’t get otherwise. You can argue that sometimes what people want isn’t what they really need — and in some cases I’ll agree with you — but as a general rule, for a startup to succeed, it HAS to create value. I’d argue that the consumer value externality of a startup generally far outweighs the amount of wealth the founders get, whether or not they do good things for the world with that wealth or fritter it on buying cars with doors that open vertically rather than horizontally.

            Re: “I found each of Eliezer’s fb posts on startups at least as illuminating as a good Paul Graham essay” … I have no strong opinion on how Eliezer will do in startup land (I’m certainly curious to see the results of his desire to do some angel investing), but I don’t think illuminating-ness of ideas is a very good criterion to predict startup success. I think “ability to execute” is a much bigger filter than “ability to have a non-stupid business idea”. (In fact, I almost certainly underestimate ability to execute vs ability to have a good idea, because startups that execute well on a really stupid idea are much more visible than startups that fail to execute a decent idea, so when I think of successes and failures I’ve seen, my sample is biased…).

          • discursive2 says:

            My above comment focused on startups as individual companies, judged by their utility. It’s also fair to ask if the startup ecosystem as a whole benefits society — are startups a socially-beneficial mode of human organization? I think the main downside is that they tend to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals (because of the scalability of technology and monopolies driven by network effects and economies of scale). However, I don’t think the correct reaction to that is to say “startups are bad, let’s not let people do them”, I think the correct reaction is to say, “startups are good, especially when combined with aggressive wealth redistribution and anti-trust regulation”.

            The reason I think they are on-balance good is because a world without startups has even MORE entrenched power. In the tech industry, the dominant firms change once every 5 – 10 years; in other industries, the dominant firms change once every 50 – 100. And although startups disproportionately serve the needs of well-off urbanites, they’re fundamentally a bottom-up phenomenon (and becoming ever-more so as they get cheaper to start)… they can and do serve other constituencies, and make it cheaper and easier to organize and communicate.

          • living in a world with on-demand taxis is much better for consumers than living in a world with street hailing

            OK, I’m puzzled as to what this means. Is requesting a taxi via a web site really all that much better than phoning for one? Or are there parts of the world where you can’t phone for a taxi but instead have to wait for one to happen by at random? (And in either case, what stops a traditional taxi company – or coalitions thereof – from having a web site?)

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think the idea behind not letting Google sacrifice small children is not that we would rather protect small children than efficiently search the internet. Rather, if we actually prevent people from sacrificing small children, we will not get no Google, we will get a Google less tainted by demonic energies. Now, it’s not clear how much Google’s efficiency actually comes from a deal with the devil and how much is just devil-worshipers being in the right place at the right time, but that’s the argument.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Harry Johnston:

            Uber’s success has come not just because you can hail it from a smartphone app, but because they snuck in under the regulatory radar, bypassing the taxi cartels set up by almost every major city in the Western world.

            As a result, they offer cheaper service and lower rates by having as many drivers as the market demands (no limited “medallions”), letting drivers use their own regular cars instead of special taxi cars, and surge pricing to balance driver supply between peak and off-peak periods (instead of the fixed rates taxi companies have to use).

            The reason they didn’t just get banned everywhere is that they were smart enough to know how to appeal to the young urban professional class that has a lot of political influence. No one wants to ban something that they actually like using. Whereas cities have had zero problems in the past with banning “gypsy cabs” used by the poor and minorities.

            It’s the same thing with Airbnb: their business model is blatant violation of local zoning codes and restrictions on hotels, building up a large userbase before cities can react, and then relying on those users to fight for it politically.

            It’s the best way of fighting regulations I’ve seen in a long time.

          • @Vox, yes, I understand all that. What I don’t understand is what discursive2 meant by the sentence I quoted.

          • discursive2 says:

            Harry Johnston, re “Is requesting a taxi via a web site really all that much better than phoning for one?”

            If you’re in the suburbs, where there isn’t likely a taxi nearby and taxis are a rare, special-occasion thing, then yes, a phone call isn’t marginally different from an app.

            The value is more in dense urban environments, where there tend to be lots of taxis nearby and taking taxis for short rides is a regular form of transportation. In that environment, it does make a big difference whether you call a dispatcher who will put you in touch with his friend who’s 15 minutes away vs an algorithm that will put you in touch with a taxi two blocks away. Apps aren’t competing with phone calls, they’re competing with street hailing, and compared to street hailing they’re safer and more convenient for both rider + driver: you know exactly how long you have to wait for a free taxi, there’s electronic evidence of exactly who the driver and rider is and where you went, payment is handled through the app, and destinations are pre-programmed and monitored via GPS. They increase taxi access, especially in neighborhoods where drivers would otherwise be hesitant to pick up because of safety concerns ( So yes, I stand by my point there — I live in New York City + frequently travel to San Francisco, so from my perspective as a primarily urban creature, Uber + competitors are a huge step forward from the status quo.

            I also agree with Vox Imperatoris’s points that another big advantage Uber has over taxis comes from them cleverly evading regulations and thus lowering costs. Whether you like or dislike this comes down to a) how beneficial you think the current taxi regulatory regime is, and b) how much you care about fairness vs net utility. I come out as indifferent to negative on point a (since the current regulatory regime was invented pre-smart-phone-era, and is as much about protecting the taxi industry’s economic interests as it is about consumers), and in favor of net utility on b (since I was brought up to believe that life isn’t fair), but your mileage may vary.

          • discursive2 says:

            @suntzuanime: Yes, I’m all for stopping Google senior executives from sacrificing small children to Satan, and yes, I agree we could stop them from doing that and still have a world with Google in it. I was responding to Seth’s statement: “I think the “do a startup” argument is subtly wrong, but that’s a complicated argument. Basically, it’s overly simplistic, in that it underestimates the negative caused by the process.”

            Namely, I think that the “negative caused by the process” in the case of Google — for instance the potentially shady privacy practices and things like promoting their own services in search results — are a tiny, tiny, tiny drop in the bucket compared to the good they’ve done in the world when you look at the big picture. And that’s not because they’re all super-virtuous, praiseworthy paragons who we should worship and adore, it’s because to become Google — ie to succeed at that scale as a startup company without existing market power — you basically have to create something of value on the scale of “make all the information on the internet easily accessible to everyone in the world”.

          • @discursive2: it seems odd to me that such a big city wouldn’t have at least one competent taxi company, i.e., one capable of reliably sending you a nearby taxi rather than a distant one. But you live in one and I don’t.

            I do see one self-evident advantage of Uber-ish arrangements; you can use them world-wide, rather than having to choose a taxi company at random when traveling. Eventually, one might hope, they’ll be forced to comply with at least the more sensible of local regulations – employment law, if nothing else – and we’ll wind up with the best of both worlds.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      “In specific, how can a rationalist hold both to rationalist principles AND be effective overall?”

      I agree with this question. If you want to be truly rational, you have to take the world as it is, not as you wish it were.

      This does not mean that being rational is an inadequate tool for approaching life though. Rather, it simply means that, like all strategies, the most rational thing to do is be aware of how well your tactics are working.

      One of the things I realized as I journeyed from 18 to 38 is how little my inside-view matched reality, most especially as related to the social sphere.

    • pneumatik says:

      “In specific, how can a rationalist hold both to rationalist principles AND be effective overall?”

      I don’t know if I’m a capital-R Rationalist, but I don’t see a contradiction between the core rationalist principal of perceiving reality as honestly and accurately as possible and going into politics. Politics is anywhere people get together and make decisions, even unimportant ones. It certainly exists within the Rationalist community.

      Take MIRI as an example. I have no inside knowledge, but given that they’re a donation- and grant-funded non-profit there are some reasonable assumptions one can make about them. There are a lot of different approaches for how MIRI can interpret their objectives. They used to take a less academically rigorous approach. Now they’re take a more academically rigorous approach. They changed their approach because of (I believe) both internal and external criticism. That’s pretty much the definition of politics.

      Internal criticism drives MIRI because MIRI does what it does partly because it’s what the people running it want to do. That means that the work needs to be things that interests and satisfies leadership and also be the kind of work that recruits and retains the people leadership wants to have working for and with them. To do this leadership can either modify the work they want to do to better attract the people they want to attract, or they can convince the people they want to work for them that what leadership wants is actually best. Both of these things are politics.

      It’s the same for getting and retaining external support, except leadership is instead concerned with people who want to give them money. If those people want MIRI to do something different then MIRI might change in order to keep them happy, or they could convince the supporters to fund MIRI even if MIRI does what MIRI wants.

      I don’t meant to imply at all that any of this is bad. Honestly it’s what I think MIRI should be doing. But politics, in the sense of a congress or parliament, is full of people doing exactly what I just described MIRI doing. All those politicians who support positions that you think are terrible probably believe those positions are either the best ones, or are the best they can accomplish given reality. I don’t really see how being a rationalist makes a person bad at or incompatible with politics. I do think a Rationalist would find politics frustrating.

  16. Wes says:

    I’ll be at the NYC Solstice!

  17. Douglas Knight says:

    Scott, what about Linch’s friend’s comment changed your mind? It is just the run of the mill outside view that NIH makes good funding decisions. If you believed that, you wouldn’t be asking about this in the first place.

    The only serious complaint is that injecting proteins doesn’t usually work well. Taking that into account, my assessment is that DRACO is better than 99% of NIH funding. Much of that is because it is research.

  18. Hey Scott, I live at the Citadel. Will talk to my housemates and other community people about getting a meetup together. In the meantime you can send me an email with any relevant information.

  19. Emily says:

    If you look at the posts on r/slatestarcodex from a month ago, you can get the backstory on how the other subreddit came to be. I don’t necessarily recommend it, though.

  20. Izaak Weiss says:

    I really need a document on my computer that saves the things I want to talk about in the open threads, because I can never remember what I previously wanted to talk about when Scott posts one of these.

    That aside, here’s the one thing that I do remember wanting to ask people about: Does anyone have any strategies for reading more often? I used to read a lot, and I don’t read as much as I used to. Does anyone have advice on how to start reading more again?

    • Audiobooks have proved very helpful for me, if we can count them as reading. They allow you to “read” while driving, exercising, playing video games, etc.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        That last one threw me for a loop.

        How can you listen to audiobooks while playing video games? For me, these would have to be either some very laid-back games (maybe Euro Truck Simulator and the like?) or some very lightweight books.

        Are you really listening to stimulating/”deep” audiobooks (such as, perhaps, nonfiction) while playing games?

        • Yes, it would depend on the book and the game. If the game primarily consists of repetitive tasks with a low concentration requirement (e.g. MMOs), then it’s a good candidate.

          In any case, I’m probably not getting the same level of comprehension from an audiobook that I would from a regular book, but it’s better than not reading at all!

        • James Picone says:

          I often have some light TV running on my second monitor while playing some game on the main monitor – Adventure Time and Yes Minister have been the recent TV shows, Hearthstone, Binding of Isaac, The Zoombinis remake, Infinifactory and Europa Universalis are examples of the games. Some of those games have longish pauses where I can pay undivided attention to the TV show, but some really don’t.

          It definitely interferes with following the TV show, and it probably does slow me down in the thinkier games, but it gives me something to do during pauses, and there are surprisingly large amounts of guff in most TV shows you don’t really need to pay attention to to follow it. Blank out every second word in Yes Minister and you’d still get the vast majority of the jokes.

          Audiobooks are, I imagine, more information-dense, but I’d imagine I could listen to an audiobook and catch most of it while playing Hearthstone or Europa Universalis. Just need the right game.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Yeah, I could never find myself able to watch TV/movies while playing a game.

            If watch a TV show, I want my undivided attention on it. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem worth watching. That probably explains why I never had much interest in “fluff” background shows…

          • DavidS says:

            You probably could listen to an audiobook while playing Hearthstone or EUIV. Others have talked about wanting fiction in ‘light’ situations, but I find lighter non-fiction is ideal when your attention is divided. I regularly listen to episodes of ‘In Our Time’ about history while playing Hearthstone or Crusader Kings. You phase in and out a bit, but pick up some interesting stuff!

    • Partisan says:

      If you have a commute, a dog to walk, or do exercise that lets you listen to headphones – try audiobooks. I used to read all the time until I started working at a start-up. I decided to try audiobooks, and it’s been unambiguously great. I find my long-term comprehension to be better, and if you don’t mind waiting your library probably has downloadable books you can listen to for free.

      (I like to speed things up to 1.20x – 1.50x, as some things are read a little too slowly)

    • Vaniver says:

      I have a “go to bed” alarm that is actually a “log off the computer and read a book / a Kindle under red light” alarm. This bakes at least 30mins a day into my schedule, which as you might imagine is pretty effective.

    • rsaarelm says:

      For me, a job with a 30 minute bus commute means I will get an hour more of reading done each weekday. Been reading books of my cellphone like this for the last 10 years.

    • I haven’t tried this but I imagne internet / TV / etc availability discourages reading? Maybe alot some time where you don’t do any of that and just leave a pile of books on the table to fill the time?

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        There was a guy who piled a bunch of books on his table, and also made sure to stash all of his TV remote controls in another room in a drawer, so that when he came home, reading a book would take no effort while watching TV would require extra effort.

        He ended up reading more books and watching less TV.

        In general, if you want to do more of X and less of something else Y, lower the barriers of starting X and try to make it feel more “yummy”, while raising the barriers of starting Y and try to make it more feel “icky”.

    • US says:

      I’m a 100+ books/year kind of guy. Some ideas:

      i. A lot of waiting time that would otherwise be completely wasted can often be used for reading. Waiting in line at the supermarket? At the bus stop? Public transport to and from work? Those are good opportunities for grabbing an e-reader/a book.

      ii. Making sure you always have a book at hand makes it easier to get into the habit. Relatedly, make sure what you have at hand when you’re waiting for the bus (or whatever) is also something you’d actually like to read at that point. I’ve for example concluded that demanding stuff like fluid dynamics is hard for me to read when I’m waiting in the line at the super market – fiction is better. Different settings call for different books, and if you have ‘one for each occasion’ you’re more likely to be spending your time reading. E-readers are particularly useful in this context compared to physical books because there’s no extra weight or similar downsides associated with carrying around multiple books on different topics.

      iii. In my opinion time spent taking walks which is not time spent reading is time wasted. I have been made aware that there are other philosophies. Audiobooks is an alternative which may reduce the risk of walking into a signpost or similar; walking while reading is also in my opinion less risky (in terms of walking into stuff) during daylight hours than when it’s dark out, if that’s an option for you.

      iv. When you have finished a good book you should not waste any time finding the next great one you might want to read; arguably you should have the next one lined up before you finish the one you’re in the process of reading. Having a good book at hand whenever you find yourself in the mood to read is likely to lead to you reading more, and making the book procurement process less ‘chunky’ and more continuous may in that context be one way to avoid breaks.

      v. Involving other people in your reading activities may help incentivizing reading; so if you talk about the stuff you’ve read with the people with whom you socialize or if you get a goodreads account or a book blog and start using them actively, or use reddit (there seems to be a lot of different options), you may find that you start reading more.

      vi. If you want to start reading more, you should probably focus more on finding books you enjoy reading than you should focus on finding books you’d like to have read (Mark Twain: “Definition of a classic — something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”). This one may to some extent conflict with v.; if you include others a lot you may find yourself constrained in terms of what you’re (allowed to? expected to?) read and discuss, depending on the medium/social setting. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

      vii. Planning reading sessions in advance may be an idea if you have a hard time ‘finding the time to read’. ‘I want to reserve the time slot between 8 and 9 PM [or whatever] for reading.’ If you repeatedly find yourself unable to find the time for reading, one interpretation might be that you’re not prioritizing reading to a sufficient extent. Reading takes time; so you need to make time for it.

      viii. Specific goals may be helpful. For example I have for some time had a personal goal of reading ~100 book pages/day on average, and this is a goal I think often makes it a bit easier for me to ‘just finish that chapter’ before I stop for the day/take a break. Such goals, regardless of whether they’re page goals or e.g. time goals, need of course be somewhat flexible to be helpful/useful; I don’t read 100 pages *every day*, but I do read it *on average* over the year. You’re likely to try to game the goals regardless of what they are, so keep this in mind when making them and evaluating them (‘should fiction count (/the same)? What is the purpose of the goal?’).

    • Jaskologist says:

      A while back I set myself a goal to read 10 pages a day. I tracked my daily reading in a spreadsheet, which turned out to be sufficient motivation for me to hit ~20/day for years.

      A more recent thing I have done is ban cell phones/ipads/etc from the bedroom. The only thing to read are physical books, and those turn out to be much easier to put down, so I end up better rested as well.

    • Torpendous says:

      Be in a situation where you can’t use the internet for a few days. I find my attention span goes way up. Luckily attentional plasticity seems to be 2 way.

    • moridinamael says:

      On your smartphone, turn on your Accessibility features. On iPhones, this allows you to make your phone “read” whatever’s on the screen. You can cause it to read whole Kindle books to you in the Siri voice. I’ve listened to a dozen books this way while commuting etc.

  21. michael w says:

    On your comment about editing posts after the fact:
    If its been up long enough that people have been commenting on the parts youre changing, i feel you should include a note before/after the article noting that its content has been edited. Its disconcerting to think that the most successful critique one can make: the sort that persuades you otherwise, will shortly be made to look absurd when the content is retconned. Alternatively, responding to such a comment with a note for future readers that youve since edited the article in response to it also works.

    Also, to make a nearly opposite point, i’ve been reading through the archives, and you should stop interrupting your writing with fact corrections. I think you should convey the info /somehow/, so that readers aren’t being misinformed, but you should find a way that doesnt get in the way of the post as a piece of writing. I had the same issue with your whale cancer metaphor that you added a parenthetical to correct, but I still don’t want to see fact-checking disrupt the metaphor. (I’d suggest the end of the post for things like this, but it would probably ruin the denouement to end every post with fact corrections.)

    • Rauwyn says:

      Yes, this. Probably the first one since responding to every single comment would be nigh-impossible.

    • My memory of the original hypertext proposal (Xanadu) was that after you put a document up and then edited it, both the new and old version were available for people to look at. Presumably you could do something along those lines–have the edited version what people are pointed at, with a link at the top to the original version for those interested.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      On your comment about editing posts after the fact:
      If its been up long enough that people have been commenting on the parts youre changing, i feel you should include a note before/after the article noting that its content has been edited. Its disconcerting to think that the most successful critique one can make: the sort that persuades you otherwise, will shortly be made to look absurd when the content is retconned. Alternatively, responding to such a comment with a note for future readers that youve since edited the article in response to it also works.

      My own proposal is that changes to posts should be of the form “EDIT: Several people have pointed out that the previous paragraph / the following paragraph / paragraph 3 in section IV is incorrect for decision-theoretic reasons arising from meta-level concerns about Schelling points in acasual trade.” In other words, adding as opposed to changing or deleting text, and clearly marking the addition. I think that is what best preserves the historical context while still providing the updated information.

  22. Mark says:

    About ten years ago, I got really drunk and overslept, missing work. I spent the day reading Lovecraft stories online before going to a concert in the evening.

    That was a good day.

    I have never done anything for pay that mattered. Working is completely pointless. The reason why working is completely pointless is because we make social-blah-blah dependent upon work – so people pretend to do useful things and then everyone else must do the same. There is some small amount of work that needs to be done, and it would be done better if all the other people pretending to work got out of the way.

    If you have a basic income people will still want to cure cancer. They will still want to grow and pick tomatoes. All of the other social shit will fall by the wayside and people will have dinner parties instead.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This seems intutiively right, but it doesn’t make sense that companies would hire more people than they absolutely have to.

      • Mark says:

        I don’t know. I really don’t know.
        But the longer I live, “it doesn’t make sense” seems to be less and less convincing as an argument against society having done something.

        • On the other hand, “it doesn’t make sense to me” is weak evidence that it doesn’t make sense. The world is a complicated place, each of us understands only a small part of it, and there is a natural tendency to underestimate how much we don’t know.

          My rule as an economist is, after proving that something people are doing doesn’t make sense, to try to figure what mistake I am making.

          • Brian says:

            I do this as well. If something doesn’t make sense to me, it is an indicator that I should try to find the piece of information that I am missing. This is a much more useful perspective, because it leads to “a more accurate map” of the world than the “This just doesn’t make sense” perspective.

          • Mark says:

            I think that the danger for *most* people is that our theories of how society functions interfere with our ability to observe evidence that contradicts those theories.
            If you suffer from *that* problem, simply acknowledging that evidence that you don’t understand exists, is a step forward.

      • Jason K. says:

        ‘What’s best for the company’ and ‘what the manager wants and can get away with’ aren’t always aligned. Extra bodies might be around because (not an all inclusive list):

        Manager likes them.

        There is a hiring freeze, so they are ‘spares’.

        Manager either struggles with or is psychologically unable to fire people.

        Manager is protecting/growing a personal fiefdom. A rough indicator of importance is how many people are under you.

        Manager doesn’t want a headcount reduction next year. In some places, if you don’t use all of your budget in a period, your budget will be cut the next period.

        That said, I disagree with the assertion that most people work in unnecessary jobs, at least in the private sector. A small percentage of waste? Probably. But I doubt it is more than 10-15% on average. The public sector isn’t quite under the same selection pressure, so it might be worse there.

        • discursive2 says:

          This, though I’d revise “‘What’s best for the company’ and ‘what the manager wants and can get away with’ aren’t always aligned” to “almost never aligned”. If hiring managers’ salaries equaled (company net profits / their personal share), that would be aligned incentives… but I can think of precisely 0 large companies that work that way.

          I also think it’s less of a factor of people’s entire jobs being unnecessary (which I agree is likely the minority of people in the private sector), and more of a factor of what percentage of work a person does that’s actually creating value vs just making work for other people / dealing with work created by other people.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        Companies are not purely economic institutions. They have an enormous social dimension. In additional to the principle-agent problems courtesy of Jason K, like every other social activity, we have norms about work.

        The ability to work is not evenly distributed. Either among individuals, or in the same individual across time. It is impossible to hire only people that are capable of working 20 hours a day, every day, indefinitely. It is just impossible. For one, it is impossible to determine their actual work capacity before hiring them. Moreover, if a company tried, as soon as one of those employees has a death in the family or contracts pneumonia, then the company would be screwed. So companies themselves have an incentive to build in a buffer.

        The vast majority of people really can’t (/wont) work much at all, and the few that do work ever so slightly more get meritocracied into the handful of jobs that require it (and the even fewer who are downright superhuman become entrepreneurs, or venture capitalists, or whatever). But since “not working” is an unalloyed sin, and nobody is capably of being a saint all the time, we have elaborate rituals around working that keep everyone in line with the herd. Anyone who fail to do the rituals while not working becomes evil, and those who do all the right rituals may be anointed and allowed to work more.

        Companies (say, Amazon, its been in the news) that try to eliminate these rituals, and force all their employees into being saints all the time receive social blowback, and run into problems managing their employees. Critical reports in the NYT and the unusually public and acrimonious rebuttals and counter rebuttals, for example. The “corporate culture” gets described as “toxic.” This is because everyone is explicitly evil. Both according to their prior lifetime of acculturation (because they are not allowed to partake in the usual rituals to excuse their failings) and by the explicit emphasis the company puts on excising evil. If you’re not crying at your desk at 3am, you’re evil and we’re going to fire you–do not pass “Go,” do not bring in a note from the doctor about your chemotherapy, do not collect severance benefits.

    • Jaxon Jensen says:

      What makes you believe this in a world where SSDI hasn’t brought about the mincome utopia? I also don’t see a lot of trust fund people out working the fields, even with WWOOF. My eyes have yet to observe people doing what you’re talking about it in the absence of a real work economy.

      • Mark says:

        What makes me believe it is everything I have ever seen at work, and the fact that I don’t know what SSDI is.
        (Your eyes might not have shown you what hasn’t happened yet because it doesn’t exist, but my eyes have certainly shown me what does happen and what does exist.)

        • Jaxon Jensen says:

          SSDI is Social Security Disability. In casual parlance among average people it is sometimes referred to as the “crazy check”. It was originally for extreme physical disability but has mutated in the last twenty years into a practically speaking mincome for several million people of varying health statuses. The Last Psychiatrist has written a bit about this. There were no flowerings of creative impulse among people of normal physical and mental health who were able to navigate the hurdles to receive this income (having a child who doesn’t speak English means the child can potentially receive SSDI, for example).

          But more directly speaking, we have the test case of trust fund recipients, people who explicitly don’t have to work for a living. And if you can demonstrate that they are a majority or even a plurality of our cancer-researchers or whatever, then I would be way more open to the mincome argument. But my own observed experiences with people receiving mincomes don’t reflect your optimism.

          • I believe Larry Niven was a trust fund kid, and still wrote quite a lot of good books. But that may be the exception rather than the rule.

          • rsaarelm says:

            Trust fund kids could do the sort of impressive stuff one can do by oneself, and that they mostly don’t is some amount of evidence. But you can’t research cancer cures alone, and you won’t be very effective with it if you only have other trust fund kids to work with. To make things get really interesting, you need a situation where everybody in the fraction of a percent of the populace who have the aptitudes and skills for eg. cancer research can just drop their paid jobs on a whim and get together to found a cancer reseach nonprofit that essentially runs on zero budget (medical testing still needs actual money, but the researchers staying fed and housed while they do literature review, write articles and plan and compose grants for the medical trials live on UBI).

            And you’d want to see the second-order effects where people dropping out of their paid jobs to form random nonprofit organizations where they work with a very day-job-like intensity but don’t care about getting a paycheck are a visible and sizable part of the public culture, so a lot more people are going to be exposed to the idea that you can just go and do something like that. The present problem is that most of the day-job-like-work capable people have actual paid day jobs, so they aren’t around interacting daily with the trust fund kids and the disability check recipients coming up with interesting things to do.

          • JDG1980 says:

            There were no flowerings of creative impulse among people of normal physical and mental health who were able to navigate the hurdles to receive this income (having a child who doesn’t speak English means the child can potentially receive SSDI, for example).

            The problem with this argument is that people who make questionable SSDI claims are pretty obviously not a random cross-section of the American public. Rather, they are self-selected for lack of work ethic and/or civic-mindedness.

            But more directly speaking, we have the test case of trust fund recipients, people who explicitly don’t have to work for a living. And if you can demonstrate that they are a majority or even a plurality of our cancer-researchers or whatever, then I would be way more open to the mincome argument.

            That’s not how we should be looking at the statistics. Suppose for the sake of argument that trust fund recipients are 3% of the U.S. population, but 6% of cancer researchers are trust fund recipients. (Those numbers are completely made up.) This isn’t “a majority or even a plurality”, but if true, would indicate that trust fund recipients are twice as likely as other randomly selected individuals to become cancer researchers.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            SSDI isn’t relevant because its MINCOME, not basic income.

            Key to basic income is that everybody gets it no matter what. On SSDI if you start making music and make money you lose the SSDI check, your health insurance, and if the music falls through you’ll be with no income whatsoever for over a year. Additionally the amount of money is so small (less than a minimum wage job, albeit with government healthcare) that people getting SSDI are generally genuinely unable to work. A combination of non total disability and a lack of skills.

          • discursive2 says:

            Do we have empirical evidence at all around the trust fund thing, or is this just anecdotes? My anecdotal sense is that trust fund kids bifurcate along “party and live it up” and “try to make a contribution” lines. Interesting article about rich chinese kids and their life choices:

      • orangecat says:

        Does SSDI have the problem where it goes away if you start earning any measurable income, giving you an effective marginal tax rate of near 100%?

        • Protagoras says:

          Indeed it does.

        • I once calculated my effective marginal tax rate at roughly 200% – each extra dollar my employer gave me left me a dollar worse off. (Not disability, mind you; the main factor was child-care subsidies.)

          Without wanting to argue the rights and wrongs, it was a very demoralizing situation to be in.

    • I think this hinges on your definition of what work “needs” to be done, and I suspect yours is more narrow than most people’s.

      • Mark says:

        What do most people think needs to be done then?
        ( I don’t think most people think very much about anything.)

        • Well, for example, I’m a software developer. Nothing I do is really necessary in the sense you describe; I’m not growing food or curing diseases or anything like that. But the work I do probably supports other, more important industries, in the manner James D. Miller describes. Moreover, there’s a huge market for software, which seems to indicate that a lot of people do consider it necessary, or at least nice to have.

          • Mark says:

            I understand what you are saying, but I suspect that everybody is acquiescing to idiocy for intellectual [emotional/social] reasons (market etc. etc.) and ignoring the evidence of their own experience.
            I mean there are grotty one bedroom flats in London that sell for a million pounds… which indicates that there is a market for them… it doesn’t indicate that it is a sensible price.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mark:

            Why isn’t it a sensible price?

            I mean, it’s not a sensible price for anything outside London, but it’s in London. There’s a lot of things to do in London. A lot of jobs, and a lot of recreational opportunities.

            Logically, we ought to expect the price of an apartment in London to be that at which the average person is indifferent between having the apartment and not having it.

          • Mark says:

            Because it is silly. There isn’t really anything in central London that you can get that you can’t get by living a little further away and taking a taxi (or limo) in for.

            “Logically, we ought to expect the price of an apartment in London to be that at which the average person is indifferent between having the apartment and not having it.”
            That’s where the market mechanism falls down though, isn’t it? It is only efficient if you don’t believe it is efficient… People might buying at those prices because they think the price itself is sending information about everyone else is sending information about wanting to buy at those prices…
            (And if most people think it’s worth the money, I say they are silly)

          • Zorgon says:

            Property in the UK stopped having anything to do with marginal returns a while ago. Now they’re long-term investment vehicles contingent on the continued assurance that a Government filled completely with rentiers will maintain the current system of intentional supply restriction.

    • “If you have a basic income people will still want to cure cancer”

      Will people still want to clean the bathrooms at the bio labs, to mine the metal used to make the equipment used in the labs, or to wash the dishes the cancer researchers eat off of?

      • Mark says:

        What are these cancer scientists doing in their bathrooms? Does it take that long to clean them up? If they leave a skid mark on the toilet bowl is it so much to ask that they get the little brush out and rub it away?
        I mean… I’ve met cancer scientists… I don’t think they should be immune from taking 30 seconds to clean up their own shit… and I’m not convinced that that is a particularly powerful driving force for employment in the modern societies.

        • Jaxon Jensen says:

          Now that I’m reading your responses I see the problem. You should read up on Scandinavian nations and get back to us. Because they pretty much try to do what you’re talking about (surgeons scrubbing their own toilets and etc.) They are massively, massively, massively against mincome though. They are if anything even more aggressive than, say, Americans about everyone pulling their weight in the explicit-work economy. They do want everyone tasting scutwork though. Yet they don’t seem to think the path to getting that out of high-creative types is via mincome.

      • Deiseach says:

        Will people still want to clean the bathrooms at the bio labs, to mine the metal used to make the equipment used in the labs, or to wash the dishes the cancer researchers eat off of?

        Some people like cooking, so they’ll work in the staff canteens where the cancer scientists go to eat, even with a basic income. In fact, they might prefer it, because they’d get to cook creatively as they wished, instead of “this is an institutional job”.

        Some people really do like cleaning and are tidy, so they’d still do the vacuuming of offices and clean the toilets. In fact, we might get over looking down our noses at people who do the necessary jobs to keep the cogs moving, if it was a matter of “everyone is working voluntarily and everyone should be honoured for their choice to do so”, whether it’s curing cancer or scrubbing the bathroom.

        And really, cancer scientists can’t stick their dinner plates in the dishwasher after they’ve eaten? 🙂

        • There are a huge number of adults in the United States who don’t have jobs or child care responsibilities and are supported by the government. Do you think that my college would have much success getting any of these people to volunteer to cook and clean for its faculty who work on critical research?

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            Under the current system there are both disincentives to work, and disincentives to employ certain people.

            If you get a job cleaning the bathroom and lose your SSDI, not cleaning the bathroom is the optimum choice.

            If the people in question are unable or unwilling to work hard enough that their labor is worth the minimum wage not hiring them is the optimum choice.

            Under a proper UBI, there is no means testing so the marginal net income is always positive, and without a minimum wage an employer is able to compensate at a rate that reflects the marginal utility of the labor provided. And while we are on the subject, the UBI rate is set so that the marginal utility of additional income is still high.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Who wouldn’t want to be Anonymous: Dr. Miller is suggesting that his college get those people to cook and clean for free, out of their love for cooking and cleaning. Concerns about minimum wage and benefit loss do not apply.

          • Deiseach says:

            Does your college participate in Community Employment schemes? Does it ask for volunteers to cook/clean for the researchers? Will it be taking paying jobs away from people and replacing them with unpaid work?

            If the basic attitude is “cooking and cleaning is shit work which only shit people do”, then of course nobody is going to do it unless forced to do so. If you’re a loser because you can’t get a better job than cleaning, why would anyone want to publically label themselves a loser?

            I wish we could change social attitudes. Yes, being a cancer researcher is “better” work than being a cleaner. But – until we invent robots to do it for us – we need cleaners and the like who do the dirty but necessary jobs. It may have been possible to have respect in doing a low-level (or what is seen as one) blue-collar job one time, but if the attitude now is “I don’t see the people who wash my dishes and cook my meals and clean my office as real people on the same level of value as I am”, why should anyone want to lay themselves open to that social contempt?

            “They’re too dumb to get better jobs”? So what? Even dumb as they are, they are doing something and I bet if all the university researchers went on strike for a week and all the cleaners went on strike, most people would be more affected or notice it more by the lack of cleaners scrubbing the loos and replacing the toilet paper etc.

            We’ve talked on here about how do hereditary lower castes develop in other societies. Here you go: it is better to be unemployed than to work as a volunteer cleaner/cook, because everyone thinks that’s scut work for losers.

          • Zorgon says:

            Not for nothing is that informal caste referred to as “scrubs”.

        • Jason K. says:

          What if there is a shortage of people that want to do the work compared to the number of people needed to do the work?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Then wages go up until enough people are willing to do it—there’s never a true shortage in a free market.

            The problem is that, if the basic income discourages enough people from working, prices will go up and therefore real incomes will go down. Actually, the question isn’t whether this will happen; it’s to what degree.

          • John Schilling says:

            Or until someone decides the work doesn’t “need” to be done that badly. See e.g. the shiny clean toilets at your local gas station.

            And if the toilets at the local cancer-research facility start looking the same way, the cancer researchers start deciding that they literally aren’t being paid enough to deal with this shit, well, do we really “need” cancer cures? It’s all the patients’ fault for eating bacon anyway.

        • Dinner plates in the dishwasher, yes. Fix the air conditioning and keep the lifts and the fluorescent lighting running, probably not so much. 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Exactly. But people seem to be dismissing that as all falling under “scut work”; unskilled manual labour that any idiot could do.

            This makes me wonder: how many people on here come from a background where their parents did unskilled/semi-skilled manual labour or blue-collar/rural working class background?

            I’ll be the first to hold my hands up here: me! 🙂

      • Acedia says:

        I thought part of the BI plan was that those shitty menial jobs would have to start paying enough to make people who aren’t under threat of homelessness and starvation want to do them.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          That’s just another way of expressing that it will encourage people not to work.

          How is it that average wages normally rise? Well, there’s the Marxian theory that they don’t—they remain at subsistence until unions and the government force employers to raise them. I think many (most?) people believe this.

          The alternative theory is that they rise according to the average productivity of labor in the country. If better technology and capital make a worker twice as valuable at a factory, the owner will be willing to pay workers up to twice as much. Of course, he would rather pay them less, but he faces competition from other factory owners competing for a finite supply of workers. And once the wages of factory workers are bid up, restaurant owners observe that they must raise the wages of waiters in order to keep them from going off to the factories—this despite the fact that there has been no significant improvement in table-waiting productivity since the 1700s.

          When workers have higher wages, they value of the marginal product they can buy with their wages goes down. Previously, a worker had to work 80 hours a week merely to buy enough food for his family. But now, he makes enough in 80 hours that the marginal expense for him is better furniture for his house. He may decide to work 60 hours instead—even at a somewhat lower rate for each of those 60 hours—and enjoy more time at home before he decides to upgrade the furniture.

          So increased productivity raises real wages, and higher real wages encourage people to work less (again, as it lowers the value of the marginal product they can buy with their salary).

          A basic income scheme does not increase productivity, but it does effectively increase wages. That will encourage fewer people to work. But since we are not actually making any more products but just shifting money around, real incomes will also go down. The $30,000 you get for free will buy less than it did before.

          There will be price inflation not because more money is going around (as is usually the cause) but because there are fewer products (the reason why prices go up in a disaster zone).

          Eventually, it could get to the point where a company must pay a someone $100,000 to clean toilets—a job he takes because it is necessary to buy the bread which now costs $50 a loaf.

          Now, none of these bad effects happen if there is some kind of technology that radically increases productivity at the same time the basic income is implemented. But then the same increases in standard of living (and unwillingness of people to clean toilets for low wages) would have occurred without the basic income.

          • John Schilling says:

            A basic income scheme does not increase productivity, but it does effectively increase wages

            A basic income, the taxes to pay for it, and the elimination of redundant public-assistance programs, do not in combination effectively increase wages. Well, they would for some people, but after-tax pay averaged across society, not so much. And that’s what matters for the price-of-goods dynamics.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            You’re absolutely right that the basic income could not somehow raise real incomes for everyone. That would require that it increase productivity.

            But if the basic income taxes capital (and if we consider the basic income payment as a sort of wage), it could very well increase the ratio of wages to capital.

            Certainly, there will be a class of people who are not currently very economically productive and thus who currently do not make a lot of money. The basic income will cause their wages to rise just as if their average productivity had increased; and in the same way, this will cause them to work less.

            If, overall, fewer people are working and productivity is unchanged, fewer products will be produced, prices will increase, and real wages will go down.

          • Trevor says:

            Wages are based in part on the stock on capital available for workers to use, so if you tax capital wages will fall. Maybe the ratio is changed, but if you are taxing capital, likely both workers and the owners of capital are losing out.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Trevor:

            Absolutely! Taxing capital will decrease wages, too.

            But I suppose that it will not decrease wages by such an amount as to totally nullify the basic income (whose whole purpose, I take it, is to enable people not to work) by making the amount you can earn with a job plus basic income equal to what you can earn with a job now.

            If the amount people can earn with basic income plus a job is greater than what they can earn with a job now, their wages have gone up. So they will work less.

            As prices rise, real wages will go down—and that in turn will encourage people to work more again. But presumably, the equilibrium will be at a lower point than where we started (or else the basic income would have no net effect at all).

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            One of the most important things to keep track of is whether we are talking about a Guaranteed Basic Income, or some sort of Guaranteed Leisure Income.

            A lot of confusion on the subject arises from conflating the two.

            Partially because super intelligent AI and explosive improvements in productivity after the singularity are stare decisis in the rationalist community; consequently, discussion of GBI often seems implicitly in the post-scarcity context. But to the rest of the world, that is an incredibly esoteric context.

          • Deiseach says:

            If, overall, fewer people are working and productivity is unchanged, fewer products will be produced, prices will increase, and real wages will go down.

            What about jobs that would be mechanised/automated out of existence anyway?

            We don’t need thirty guys on the assembly line, only ten – or only five, to oversee the robots.

            We don’t need forty secretaries in a typing pool.

            We don’t need public street sweepers and binmen on the lorries: it’s all private contractors or automation now.

            We don’t need separate conductors and busdrivers on the buses, the driver can do both jobs.

            When there aren’t alternative manufacturing jobs to soak up excess labour force, what about basic income then?

            I think we’re still working on a model where displaced farm labourers went to the cities and worked in the cotton mills; and when the cotton mills closed down or were replaced by imports from abroad, they went to work on assembly lines for the new technology in cars, and every time one old technology was ousted, a new one replaced it.

            But now we’re moving to a service economy and there aren’t jobs in the box factory anymore (though maybe in the call centres).

            So what do you replace them with, if you can’t have Joe with his toolbox going off to work Mon-Fri and paid overtime for shift work on Sat in the factory?

            See how weekend working has gone, in recent times, from “extra work that asked double overtime because people were guaranteed time off” to “necessary part of your working week and paid at ordinary rates and we cut your hours down so working Sat and Sun is all part of the shift pattern so you don’t get paid extra”

            And yes, I do recognise that historically people were expected to work Saturdays and only had Sundays off because it was a religious day. The idea was that as society got more prosperous, we would be working fewer hours for the same or more money. That progressive dream of the 50/60s/70s has gone up in smoke – it was a staple of Golden Age SF that in the 21st Century Mr Smith would put in a whopping three hours a day at work for a five day week, and being contactable outside of work hours 24/7 at home to be called in to the office at 12 midnight or 3 a.m. would never happen as an intolerable intrusion – what other changes are around the corner we don’t recognise coming?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Deiseach:

            What will people do when automation (i.e. increases in productivity) makes some jobs redundant?

            First of all, they could work less. The early 20th century predictions of prosperity are not as overblown as you suggest. You might not be able to get a job with a ten-hour workweek in the current economy, but it is certainly possible to live a modest lifestyle and retire before 40 on a salary of $30,000 or so. People just choose not to do this. See the “Mr. Money Mustache” blog.

            Second, there is not really any imaginable shortage of jobs. I could easily find enough work for at least two full-time servants, if only I could afford them. I think this is true for pretty much everyone. Therefore, there can be no shortage of jobs.

            But what if robot butlers get so good that everyone has as much labor as he could possibly desire, then what will people do? Who cares? We’d be so rich at that point that a single philanthropist could give a nickel to solve poverty forever!

          • Age of Utilitron says:

            We’d be so rich at that point that a single philanthropist could give a nickel to solve poverty forever!

            Assuming it’s sustainable, no catastrophic risks materialize, and population stabilizes permanently. Not a probable conjunction…

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Age of Utilitron:

            A society in which robots were so productive as to make human labor completely superfluous might have its own problems, yes.

            But these problems would not include poverty caused by there somehow not being enough jobs to go around. If the population grows, it creates more need for work and thus eventually more “jobs”.

            “Catastrophic risk” is wholly orthogonal to this question.

            And lack of “sustainability”, if by that you mean some kind of Malthusian scenario, is not caused by labor being too abundant but by there not being enough labor to obtain all the resources we need.

          • Age of Utilitron says:

            And lack of “sustainability”, if by that you mean some kind of Malthusian scenario, is not caused by labor being too abundant but by there not being enough labor to obtain all the resources we need.

            That is assuming that resources can be substituted or “obtained” by labor. I’d expect physical limits on that. Admittedly they might be far out from our current perspective. Still, exponential population growth is exponential…

      • JDG1980 says:

        Will people still want to clean the bathrooms at the bio labs, to mine the metal used to make the equipment used in the labs, or to wash the dishes the cancer researchers eat off of?

        Hold on a minute. A Universal Basic Income is just that – basic. It doesn’t mean everyone gets everything they want without working. People would still clean the bathrooms, wash the dishes, and mine the metals in a society with a UBI. It’s just that instead of working so they don’t starve to death in the street, they would be working so that they can afford to move up from a studio apartment to a two-bedroom house, or drive a new F-150 instead of a ten-year-old Honda Civic, or whatever else.

        Consider that, before their role in the labor market was taken over by cheap immigrants, it was quite common for middle-class teenagers in the United States to do part-time work in menial service jobs. These teenagers had all their basic needs (and often more than that) taken care of by their parents, but many of them still wanted more, and were willing to work for it.

    • John Schilling says:

      If you have a basic income people will still want to cure cancer. They will still want to grow and pick tomatoes

      Nobody will want to fix the machine that made the keys on the keyboard you just used to type that, when it gets all gummed up with molten plastic.

      • Mark says:

        I’m sure that is very funny, but the fact that horrible but necessary jobs might exist doesn’t have much relevance to the question of whether unnecessary jobs are widespread. If anything, it suggests that it would be possible to get people to do these jobs with a basic income (by paying them) (unless the people who do these jobs have absolutely no choice, in which case, personally, I would support paying them more.)

        • John Schilling says:

          Then nothing you’ve said has much relevance to the question of whether unnecessary jobs are widespread.

          You’ve stated that you don’t consider your own job to be necessary, but presumably the person who pays you to do it finds it at least highly desirable. And you presumably find the money you get paid to be equally necessary.

          You’ve given medical research and farming as examples of necessary jobs, and noted that they are also jobs people would do by choice even if they weren’t paid for it. I took this to mean that anything that wasn’t as directly tied to actual human survival as food and medicine wasn’t “necessary” and that “necessary” jobs also have the quality that people who don’t need money will do them anyway.

          If that’s a misunderstanding on my part, then I’m outright missing the part where unnecessary jobs are at all widespread.

          • Mark says:

            I think sales often has more to do with transferring dis-information than information – demand creation.
            If you can create a demand for something does that mean that it is necessary?

      • Hari Seldon says:

        We have numerous examples of people in the US born into situations where they have all of their basic needs without having to labor. Almost without fail, they devote their lives to hedonism and social signalling. Paris Hilton didn’t decide to clean toilets at her family’s hotels because she is a tidy person.

        What did the old English aristocracy do with all their free time? Social signalling… almost exclusively. We got some decent literature and basic science out of a few, but those were outliers.

        While I am in favor of basic income, I think a lot of people are confused about what BI really would mean at today’s level of technology and wealth. It is not going to magically create Iain Banks’ “Culture”. We have enough enough wealth to put everybody in a bare walled studio apartment (not necessarily in the most desirable cities) and keep them from starving to death. Basically, it can’t accomplish much more than our current safety nets do. It just happens to be a much less authoritarian approach that respects individual preferences and eliminates much of the potential for government munchkining.

        • “Almost without fail, they devote their lives to hedonism and social signalling.”

          No. Lots of them go to elite colleges and get important, high paying jobs. Paris Hilton is a very successful entertainer.

          • John Schilling says:

            Is she, in the economic sense? She generates $10-20 million in personal gross income per year, mostly by selling her image rather than any talent beyond image maintenance, and she has to pay a great deal to maintain that image. Not clear that the result is a net profit.

            On the other hand, it’s a fun way to lose money and if you can recover enough of the losses to stretch the initial inheritance for a lifetime…

            Well, the civilization that bases itself around this principle is doomed to a steady decline and probably abrupt fall at the end. But if Western Civilization is basing its survival on the economic acumen of Paris Hilton, we kind of deserve what we get.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            You realize that her inheritance was only $5 million, and her net worth is estimated at $100 million, right? That doesn’t seem like a net negative to me.

          • People like watching PH shows, because, whoever you are, you can feel morally and intellectually superior to her..that is what she is selling. Her status and “entertainer” is posited on her uselessness.

          • Protagoras says:

            But the world is full of useless people. Why is she in particular able to make money from it? It may just be luck, I suppose (as that seems to often be a huge factor in who makes the big bucks), but it provides at least some weak evidence that she has something more going on, some talent for being particularly entertaining about her uselessness.

          • It’s the ratio between uselessness and opportunity to be useful.

        • JDG1980 says:

          We have numerous examples of people in the US born into situations where they have all of their basic needs without having to labor. Almost without fail, they devote their lives to hedonism and social signalling.

          Is this really true, or do we just tend to notice these people more? Are there actual statistics available which could answer this question?

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            Well, Bill Gates hasn’t needed a dime for decades, but kept working. When he retired he could have gone into hiding and rolled around in Scrooge McDuckian piles of money, but didn’t. He’s very active philanthropically. Warren Buffett hasn’t needed money for, like, twice as long as Bill Gates and still hasn’t retired. How about Larry Ellison, the Koch brothers, those guys at Google. I don’t know, Mayor Bloomberg. Half the Senate. Trump. Even freaking Paris Hilton keeps getting jobs. All of them have their basic needs met a thousand ties over and still keep working.

            Those are mostly business types, how about the arts? I’m pretty sure Tay Tay is set for life after this last record. She’ll make more. Dr. Dre was the highest paid musician last year (despite not even remotely needing the money), and he’s going to keep working. Paul McCartney has been at it a long ass freaking time. All those weird bands from the 80’s are still touring. “Uhg, Pop,” you say “where are the real musicians?” How about Andrew Lloyd Webber. He’s worth over a billion and still making great musicals. And working for charity. The only musician I know of that’s actually sort of retired early was Van Cliburn when his father died. Who’s that? The only classical musician to receive a ticker tape parade in NYC, and the first classical record to go platinum. And even then, he was still active in charity, and was periodically persuaded to play for heads of state (including every president since Truman). How about visual artists? Jeff Koons is worth, like, half a billion and he’s still making art.

            How about wealthy second generations? Trump is working. William Henry Vanderbilt inherited his fathers entire fortune (sucked to be his siblings, I bet) and managed to double it in just eight years before kicking it himself. The Kennedy brothers were set up for life and still got important jobs? The Forbes list is strewn with people that inherited fortunes and spent their lives working to expand it, but I don’t really feel like digging. FDR and Teddy were both wealthy as absolute fucking shit and did lots of stuff. Uh, yeah.

            And everyone that I either know personally or know of locally that has inherited money money lives frugally. They are either running small or medium size businesses; or living an utterly unremarkable lifestyle aside from the fact that their house is big (but not huge, even by local standards) and has been in the family since the Revolutionary War, and that they periodically make multimillion dollar donations to local charities when they need a tax break. I’ve never actually seen one of these hedonist signalers everyone is always talking about.

            I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

          • Anonymous says:

            Those are all elite, diligent, high profile types. How many millionaires are there actually out there about whom nobody has heard, just conservatively investing in some index funds and doing what they want?

            Also, what happens when random people win the lottery? Do they tend to keep and expand the fortune, or do they blow it pretty quickly?

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            I think 2 million people would be a good reference figure.

            In the US, the 99th percentile in net worth is between maybe $1.5m (as of 2004) and $8m (as of 2007), depending on what method you use to estimate it. With an adult population (the vast majority of people that actually have money) in the US of 200m, that means there are about 2m people with $1.5m (or $8m) or more in net cash-oline asset-oline.

            By way of reference, my rule of thumb says that a diversified portfolio of $8m should be capable of producing an income of $400k indefinitely. This isn’t necessarily the case for a variety of reason, but it gives you an idea of the scale we are looking at and it is pretty clearly in the “defiantly rich” territory.

            If, on the other hand, we look at our low estimate (a decade hence), you’re probably looking at being able to live a $100-150k lifestyle (depending on whether you want your kids to get anything) for the rest of your life. Assuming your assets are accessible, that seems like a pretty nice place to be. Not really rich, but a pretty damn nice place to be.

            As a sanity check, the 99th percentile income was $344k in 2009. I think this jives pretty well with the net worth estimation. For example, most of those assets are locked up in retirement accounts and suchlike and therefore not producing realizable income. But on the other hand, [I thought I saw that] the vast of 1%ers have day jobs. Also, houses. Also, there is apparently only a 50% overlap between the top 1% of income, and the top 1% of net worth.

          • Anonymous says:

            But on the other hand, the vast majority of [both] 1%ers have day jobs.


          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            I swear I just saw it when I looked up the numbers, but I’m not seeing it now. I edited it out unless I find it again.

            The two estimates are derived from the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances, and from the Statistics of Income Division at the IRS. Their data should be available if someone wants to dig into it and try to find out the employment rate among the 1%ers.

            I went and looked at the SOI data and according to table 1.4, it looks like about 85-90% of the top 1% (by income) are reporting salaries and wages. Said salary and wage income accounts for around 40-50% of the reported income. (The actual dividing line falls between the reported income levels, hence the ranges).

            This seems consistent with most 1%ers having a day job.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            Gah! Time expired to edit! Well, anyway.

            So, while only about 50% of wealth 1%ers are also income 1%ers, they are overwhelmingly income 5%ers. But the income sources for income 1 and 5%ers are virtually identical, so it seems reasonable to assume that wealth 1%ers have similar income patterns whether they fall in the 1% half or the 5% half.

            We could naively assume that of the income 1%ers, everyone not claiming salary income is a wealth 1%er. This would give us an upper bound of “30% of wealth 1%ers do not have a day job.”

            But that is based on a stupid assumption. For example, among income 1 and 5%ers, 15% are collecting social security, 15% are withdrawing from an IRA, 25% are receiving a pension or annuity. So the 15% not claiming salary income seems to include a lot of retirees with a good retirement income.

            Then things get even muddier because 20% of income 1&5%ers are claiming sole proprietor income. And 30-50% are claiming partnership and corporate income. These are obviously day jobs, but don’t necessarily pay salaried income. So some of those 15% are not claiming salary income because that’s just not how they get paid.

            Sooooo… it seems obvious that most wealth 1%ers also have a day job. In fact, I would hazard to guess that income and wealth 1%ers are largely indistinguishable. So my money is on “85-90% of wealth 1%ers don’t need to work, but do anyway. And the vast majority of the rest got old enough to collect social security and retired.”

          • Anonymous says:

            Any data on what kinds of jobs they have?

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            So, to bring things around full circle, I think we have very compelling evidence that virtually everyone of working age that has a reliable source of residual income (way, way above the level any reasonable person would consider for a Universal Income) they don’t need to work for, is able to work, and is not discourage from working from a perverse incentive… works.

            So I think this particular objection–nobody would work if they received a livable wage without working–to the Universal Income is dead in the water. In order to revive it, I think compelling evidence that this evidence is not generalizable is needed. I see no reason to expect that it isn’t. Because the diminishing marginal utility of money is a well established principle, it seems natural to expect that people would be more motivated to work for the greater marginal utility of “slightly above basic income” than they are to work for the significantly diminished utility of “slightly more wealthy” income.

          • Anonymous says:

            So I think this particular objection–nobody would work if they received a livable wage without working–to the Universal Income is dead in the water.

            This argument looks like a strawman to me (not accusing you, though). People obviously do work for free – there are plenty of volunteers, and people who have strenuous hobbies. People also obviously do high status/prestige work for inadequate pay to the workload.

            The more nuanced argument would be that absent economic pressure, people wouldn’t do jobs they dislike (like, say, McDonalds cashiers, sewage workers, etc.) that they don’t get adequately paid for in non-monetary benefits.

            In addition, there is a difference between the poor and the rich. According to Gregory Clark’s research, poverty and wealth are largely genetic (with large helping of environmental factors). I happen to know three people who, when given subsistence-level welfare simply stopped working for however long the welfare was given out (in all three cases – indefinitely).

            My prediction would be that the upper classes, the diligent, the ambitious, morally upright – will continue working. It would be chiefly the lower and middle classes who would stop.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            Any data on what kinds of jobs they have?

            I haven’t seen any actual data. The SOI does not seem to give it. I haven’t looked at the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Buuuut…. Upper middle, or upper class professionals that have spent a lifetime saving (and been lucky to not have any misfortune). And business owners.

            If you ask someone that helps them manage their money:

            The 99th to 99.5th percentiles largely include physicians, attorneys, upper middle management, and small business people who have done well.

            Membership in this elite group [the greater than 99.5 percentile] is likely to come from being involved in some aspect of the financial services or banking industry, real estate development involved with those industries, or government contracting.

            This is of course anecdotal. He’s apparently added an addendum since writing that article noting that a bunch of people have complained that his “bottom half” are perfectly capable of making it into his “top half.” And I think the critics are right and that he is trying to make an arbitrary distinction that doesn’t exist.

            The absolutely super-mega wealthy look like a different breed, but my intuition is that it is just a continuum. Looking at the Forbes list, for example, you will see a lot of those investment bankers and real estate developers and stuff. But there are also an enormous number of self made businessmen (something like 70% of the list). Working professionals have trouble climbing into the billionaire bracket just by being a good doctor and showing up at the hospital every day and saving their pennies. But professionals that turn those pennies into a business could (and probably do).

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            This argument looks like a strawman to me (not accusing you, though). People obviously do work for free – there are plenty of volunteers, and people who have strenuous hobbies. People also obviously do high status/prestige work for inadequate pay to the workload.

            I was being succinct because this deep into a discussion about UBI, I assumed familiarity with the various arguments around it. There are a couple of people making the objection in question in this thread so I didn’t think a full presentation was necessary. If I was going to write up an article (which I might eventually), I would provide a much better treatment.

            I’m actually not sure what working for free has to do anything. I can’t tell if I said something wrong that you are responding to, or if you have a misapprehension about UBI.

            With a UBI, everyone gets a basic income, but they are perfectly free to work on the labor market for additional income as well. Wages are set by market forces (almost) the same as they are now. (The reason I say “almost” is that the minimum wage becomes redundant, and can be eliminated. But the minimum wage is a market distortion, and without it the labor market would become even more efficient.) If someone needs work done, they offer a wage high enough to get someone to do it. Free work doesn’t really enter into it.

            In addition, there is a difference between the poor and the rich. According to Gregory Clark’s research, poverty and wealth are largely genetic (with large helping of environmental factors). I happen to know three people who, when given subsistence-level welfare simply stopped working for however long the welfare was given out (in all three cases – indefinitely).

            One very big distinction between your acquaintances, and those in the top 1% is that welfare encourages recipients not to work. If they work, they lose their benefits. This is not the case for the wealthy: if they work, nobody comes and takes their residual income away. They can have both. The purpose of a UBI is to remove these perverse incentives from the welfare system. We do not have any data about what poor people would do if they could have both, too.

            But there are is good reasons to believe they would take both: A subsistence income doesn’t buy Xboxes and designer jeans. Everyone always wants stuff. When you can buy the same amount of stuff whether you work or not, of course you’re not going to work. But if you can suddenly buy more stuff by getting a job, working starts looking compelling.

            The other reason people end up trapped on welfare is that they are unable (/unwilling) to provide the minimum wage worth of value to an employer. Nobody is going to hire them anyway, so their best bet is to get comfortable on a subsistence income from welfare. However, because the minimum wage is redundant with a UBI, employers are able to pay these people what their labor is actually worth. They can actually get hired. And this job would buy them stuff they want.

            This certainly wouldn’t pull everyone into the labor market. But it is a strong reason to think that even at the very poor/unskilled/disabled level, there are incentives to work.

            It is also worth noting that something like 40% of the Forbes list grew up poor. Moreover, even if we accept that the poor are different, I am not convinced that the poor are so different that basic economic theory utterly breaks down.

            My prediction would be that the upper classes, the diligent, the ambitious, morally upright – will continue working. It would be chiefly the lower and middle classes who would stop.

            There are incentives to work at every class level. The unskilled are only able to earn a small wage by working. But the marginal utility of that wage, being so far down on the diminishment curve, is high. The very skilled are able to earn a very high wage. Being farther up on the diminshment curve reduces the utility of that wage, but it is still high.

          • Anonymous says:

            Valid points, I guess.

            I would very much like to have UBI tested out in some country and see what breaks. It seems, from a theoretical standpoint, superior to current welfare models. And many people potentially stopping to work is not a huge deal, given that most people do nothing really productive anyway these days.

          • Zorgon says:

            Every simulation of UBI I’ve seen explodes into inflation because of the massively-reduced fencing of wealth in non-liquid forms. It drastically increases the spending power of the 95% and current markets can’t withstand that.

            I really love the concept of UBI on multiple levels, philosophically and politically. But the economics of it need development; either to prove that the simulations are wrong or to construct a model for a post BI economy which ameliorates this problem.

          • Mark says:

            I’m not sure if I understand what you mean by “reduced fencing of wealth in non-liquid forms” but wouldn’t a basic income guarantee mean that most people would have less need for liquid wealth?

          • brad says:

            I think the idea is that you’d have more money circulating as the net income redistribution would be from the wealthy (who tend to save) to the poor (who tend not to).

            The 95% part seems way off to me though. The devil would of course be in the details, but I’d expect the plurality to be about the same off as they were before (i.e. the basic income would be roughly equal to their increased tax burden / decreased benefits). I don’t think 5% of the population makes enough of the national income to pay for a UBI by itself.

          • Zorgon says:

            Part of the basic principle of UBI is that work pays more, since people are no longer threatened into doing scut-level work by threat of destitution. But that massively increases per capita demand across the segment of society that haven’t already saturated their potential demand – hence my 95% value.

            Current economic structures are predicated on controlled demand. Granting everyone a base level of purchase power will inevitably result in massive inflation. So BI needs to be accompanied by some structural shifts if it is to work.

          • Mark says:

            “Part of the basic principle of UBI is that work pays more, since people are no longer threatened into doing scut-level work by threat of destitution.”

            Is that true?(I thought that the principle was that people would be able to work for whatever amount they were worth and be assured that their overall income would increase.) And if it is, what proportion of the population are actually engaged in minimally paid “scut-work”?
            (Actually, some of the worst paying roles tend to be something with a degree of social cachet that people are not doing for the money)

      • Noumenon72 says:

        As someone who worked in plastic extrusion for ten years, I appreciate your choice of example. I regularly had to clear molten plastic out of a vent with a crowbar and it was as stretchy and tough to pull out as oobleck. And there’s always the struggle to get it pulled out fast before it cools and you have to use a blowtorch and breath burning plastic fumes while you get it out.

        I quit two years ago to live on savings, no longer have to work night shift, have been able to try kayaking, skiing, and ice skating for the first time, fixed all the posture twists that came from tearing my back muscle falling into a railcar. With basic income I’d never go back; even the need for money is barely enough to get me studying programming again instead of here typing comments.

        It’s just hard to imagine how much sweat people put into things we barely value, like the plastic in a credit card. It’s really not worth it, only the survival and moral instincts keep us doing the work at all.

    • onyomi says:

      I have the opposite impression: most places I’ve ever worked or known any friends to have worked have always erred on the side of being understaffed, which is, economically, what you’d expect of them. Complaints that so-and-so called in sick at the last minute and now we’re all screwed or that the boss fired one person and is now trying to make the remaining employees pick up the slack without hiring a new person are legion. Complaints that everyone is sitting around not doing much, or that so-and-so called in sick but we clearly don’t need him anyway I never hear. The only area where this applies is government agencies: check out the TSA (“Thousands Standing Around”) at most airports.

      It is true, of course, that of the time people spend supposedly working, the amount spent *actually* working is probably shockingly low as compared to the amount spent on Facebook, chatting at the watercooler, staring into space, etc., but this just seems to be part of the human condition. In order to get much of anything done there has to be a deadline or else there has to be a lot of small breaks.

      • Deiseach says:

        Government is not necessarily the popular image of loads of guys sitting at their desks doing nothing.

        The reason you have the TSA in America was public panic whipped up by demagogues about Mad Bombers going to destroy your civilisation. That mean Something Had To Be Done so the TSA. And since there are in fact not hordes of Mad Bombers at airports, they’re left standing around hassling ordinary citizens.

        But just in case one Mad Bomber does slip through, and the government of the day would be crucified for endangering the public, they have to be kept.

        We have a public sector embargo in place since late-2000s (the time of the economic crash here in Ireland). For one, it’s an easy sell to the public because of the very image you put in your comment: all those government guys in cushy jobs doing nothing.

        Saying you’ll get tough on the public finances and weed out the useless and unproductive who are soaking up public money is always a popular electioneering slogan (somehow, it never means the high level guys or the special advisors – unelected, of course – or the personal assistants who are the wife/cousin/in-law of the Minister or the consultants getting the chop).

        What that means is that, as people retire and otherwise move on through natural wastage, they’re not getting replaced. Which is why, if you’re just made your fifth phonecall in frustration as to why that vital form you sent in weeks ago has not been dealt with yet, your form hasn’t been processed.

        The workload increases (governments also love announcing shiny new schemes) but no extra workers. So if Jane goes out sick with pneumonia, all the files pile up on her desk until she comes back. You can’t hire a replacement because of the embargo and anyway, because of the specialised nature of schemes, Jane may be the only person who knows the ins-and-outs (no spare person to be trained in on the scheme, you see).

        When people hear on the news “Haddington Road Agreement cuts back on civil service perks”, they don’t connect that with “My application has been sitting on someone’s desk for six weeks because they’re out sick and there’s no-one spare to take over”, and they should.

        • That’s why it’s so much more important to reduce the scope of government rather than simply reducing the size of government. There are too many things that require government permission. Maybe that vital form you sent in weeks ago was for permission to cut down the dead tree on your front lawn. Solution: Let people cut down their own trees without permission.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ Mark
      If you have a basic income people …. will still want to grow and pick tomatoes

      Does growing tomatoes in one’s own back yard count, and eating them in one’s own kitchen? Thus saving one’s own transportation to a commercial produce farm, the transportation of the tomatoes to a warehouse, etc etc.

      The point being, not that all tomatoes could be grown at home, but that many/most non-paycheck-working people are using their free time productively by doing what they want to.

    • Nonnamous says:

      I’m guessing you are a software engineer, am I right?

      I think it’s very easy for software engineers to have the impression that all work is useless. I have heard opinions like yours from software engineers but never from say teachers or administrative assistants.

      I think this is because of variance. A lot of work SWEs are paid for is indeed useless. I don’t mean that they fail to meet some high bar like, being useful to society. I mean useless in the strict sense, will never make their employer any money (except perhaps, by helping the employer extract money from investors; but whoever ultimately writes the checks the salaries come from, will never see the returns they expect).

      Then there are some SWEs and teams which make up for the useless ones, and then some.

      I have worked in this industry for many years. I have seen both. Not everyone has. Among millions of software engineers some will have had lucky runs. There is maybe a kid somewhere who went straight out of school to work on Google Web Search, then quit and joined Apple to work on iOS, then quit and joined the team which worked on the software that powers Amazon Kindle. I suspect that you, Mark, were on an unlucky run.

      In fields with high variance, lucky and unlucky runs have the property that it’s impossible for a human experiencing them not to get fooled into thinking that what they’ve seen is the norm.

  23. Mark says:

    I would like to recommend the book Tough Trucks by Tony Mitton as a fantastic example of functional poetry.

    (“The driver starts the engine, and when the way is clear, accelerates along the road, and turns the wheel to steer.”)

    • How does “functional poetry” differ from other sorts of poetry?

      • Anonymous says:

        Instead of doing a few different motions and aiming for aesthetic-looking verses, they do verse-of-the-day and kipping (named after the renowned poet Kipling)

        • Still unclear. I’m a fan of Kipling. In what way is this work like/unlike his?

          • Mark says:

            I think that was a joke about “functional fitness”.

            Um… functional poetry? I don’t know, kind of like poetic prose maybe? It just struck me that Tough Trucks manages to get the information across in a really concise fashion, about an absolutely everyday topic, but with a poetic rhythm to it. It is a joyful thing – that rhythm, aesthetic qualities, do not interfere with the efficient transmission of purely factual information…

      • Tom Hunt says:

        Functional poetry has no side effects or external data dependencies.

        (Couldn’t resist.)

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      Another book recommendation: Carnivores by Adam Reynolds, which concisely analyses misapplications of the libertarian harm principle within ecological ethics. Three case studies.

  24. Anon. says:

    When are you going to write a book, Scott? Aphorisms, essays, short stories, something. The book audience is completely different from the blog audience.

  25. Xerxes says:

    Scott, your item number 5 gives too many details, and I fear for the sanity of your readers. My advice is to go put the book back where you found it, and forget all about it. Posting about this was a huge mistake.

  26. semiautorabbit says:

    Curtis Yarvin has a new essay up at Medium about his project, urbit. It’s an interesting meditation on internet history, revolutions, constitutions and the importance of design.

    The subheading “Filtering: community” reminds me a lot of Scott’s hypothetical archipelago.

    My favorite quote from the entire thing:

    One of the most praised texts in 20th-century political science is James Scott’s Seeing Like A State. Scott points out that successful governments encourage social structures which are structurally governable, like a forester planting rows of trees in straight lines. People today have names like “Carter” because medieval English barons made their peasants take surnames, just so their tax databases would have valid primary keys.

    A naive libertarian might call this a bad thing. Simplicity is not tyranny; simple government is good government, which is the opposite of tyranny. The simpler its task, the less energy the government must exert to achieve the same output. Anarchy and tyranny are cousins; so are liberty and order.


    • Seth says:

      Excuse for a moment while I rant, as it’s a topic dear to my heart.

      NO, NO, NO, this is like the distilled essence of wrong. It ranks right up there with all the similar stuff I’ve been seeing recently, which is causing me to think that rationalism/intellectualism/logic is most used for rationalization rather than learning. We just went through 20 years of Internet social development where the idea of society-via-TCP/IP failed as spectacularly as the worst of Communist ideologies or people trying to create communes based on simplistic behaviorism. And for exactly the same reason, it’s all based on toy theorizing that collapses the moment it hits real society. Yet we aren’t LEARNING from this, and the reaction is to try to do it all over again, but with only a better “TCP/IP” (Internet design). AARGGHH. It’s like hitting your head against a wall, and when that doesn’t work (and leaves you bruised and bloody), deciding the problem not with the relatively strength of the wall vs the weakness of your head, but rather that you need to hit the wall with a different part of your head!

      • Anon. says:

        What is Facebook if not society-via-TCP/IP?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Can you explain what you mean by “society via TCP-IP”?

        • Seth says:

          I mean the idea that if one creates a technical network protocol with certain idealized properties – “nonhierarchical”, any node can reach any other node, automatically resolve transmission conflicts – that will by magic (maybe a kind of sympathetic magic like voodoo) produce a human society where all individuals and organizations have these properties. That is, it (both network protocol and human society) will be self-organizing, without a central authority, amiably resolving conflicts for mutual benefit, etc.

          For the basic articulation of this, see

          Note (my emphasis):

          “Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. …”

          This idea has failed so thoroughly that almost all the adherents now at least need to acknowledge that in some fashion. Unfortunately, the way many are dealing with it is by saying they didn’t get the network design right the first time.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            This seems to touch an important area, but I’m boggled at precisely what you’re talking about.

            Like, to some degree the Internet seems to have succeeded quite well in letting people form their own weird little communities, with this place here being a decent example.

            Granted, these communities are hierarchical and run by moderators/webmasters. Was there previously some belief that the structure of networks themselves would make this unnecessary? How?

          • roystgnr says:

            I think “saying they didn’t get the network design right the first time” only sounds nonsensical if you don’t think the “network” design is important. If you don’t see any difference between interaction on Usenet vs Metafilter vs Reddit vs Twitter etc., then that may sound sensible, but if so then you’re in the same class as the “Democrats and Republicans are two halves of the same party!” ideologues – your inability to distinguish differences near the median is due solely to your incredible distance from it.

          • Seth says:

            It’s a bit difficult to convey the, err, “enthusiasm” of 1996 these days, and how much some net-evangelists seriously proposed that the Internet was going to make national government obsolete. They weren’t talking about “weird little communities” of chatters. Rather, direct quote again:

            “Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.”

            That’s not about chatting, to put it mildly.

            The idea was “Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications.” Which, translated, was that the network protocol has certain properties, people use the network protocol to communicate, therefore (making clear the equivocation fallacy) people’s communications would have the same *semantic* properties as the idealized network protocol *structural* properties.

          • Seth says:

            roystgnr – But it’s true – Democrats and Republicans are extremely close by the standards of e.g. European parliaments. And even more so from the perspective of e.g. China. It does indeed look like an intra-party factional squabble in a permanent one-party state, from the perspective of many other countries.

            Which is not to say there are no differences – but that’s true all the time in factional disputes. Along those lines, I love this series:


          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Seth:

            Thanks for the “If It Happened There” link. They’re pretty great!

            Also, I completely agree with you on the Democrats vs. Republicans thing. Of course the differences will seem huge to people immersed in the day-to-day flow of politics, but overall they’re not very big.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Scott Alexander:

            There is a persistent belief in the Utopian ideal. Many people offer various different methods which they purport will lead to the ideal, but all of the agree that the the ideal is possible. And not just possible, but “fairly easy” to reach!

            What if it is not possible to achieve Utopia?

            This strikes me as the essence of Seth’s rant.

          • semiautorabbit says:

            I think the lesson from “If it Happened There” is how easy it is to spin an incident without outright lying, double for when it happens in a foreign country.

            Kinda like the War Nerd’s point about how when foreign media is on the side of the guys *getting* bombed, they show footage from the ground. When they’re for the guys *dropping* the bombs, it’s aerial footage.

          • Deiseach says:

            Scott, there really was this idea floating around that the nature of the World Wide Web would fundamentally change society because there really would be No Roolz!

            You can’t control us or shut us down, we’re self-organising, we are forming a new culture that’s completely transparent and free of censorship which is now physically impossible due to the nature of the transmissions on the Web and there will be a globally-connected cyberspace community that will act in its own interests and topple all old modes of government control and attempts to impose that on its members.

            William Gibson and cyber-punk had a hell of an influence on thought about what would happen. This is partly why I tend to smile at the whole transhumanism thing because (like all the former panics about what was going to destroy the world and global warming now) I’ve seen it before: computers will make everything different! We’ll be living in virtual-reality communities! Moore’s Law!

            Da Future is now and now is us! 🙂

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Seth – ““Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.””

            Property – changed massively, with more change to come. I personally am looking forward to downloading cars. I already can download guns.

            Expression – I think this one looks like a pretty solid win.

            Identity – I’m Anonymous. How do you do?

            Movement – I suppose it depends on how you define it, but I’d say it’s a minor win with expected gains in the future. The internet has directly resulted in me living in another country for a couple years.

            Context – no clue what he means by that one, so can’t judge.

            “This idea has failed so thoroughly that almost all the adherents now at least need to acknowledge that in some fashion. Unfortunately, the way many are dealing with it is by saying they didn’t get the network design right the first time.”

            How has it failed, exactly?

          • BBA says:

            @FacelessCraven: That’s evolution, not revolution. 20 years ago the cyberutopians were predicting that the Internet would make all governments and corporations irrelevant. Didn’t happen – the governments are all still there. The Internet killed a few corporations but launched its own to replace them. The old social order is still largely intact.

            It still might happen but I’m not holding my breath.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Wow, that “If It Happened There” thing is remarkably abusive. I really can’t imagine Slate publishing articles that sneered at any other country in that fashion besides the United States.

          • darxan says:


            Here’s one of those wide-eyed dreamers

            So guys, that is the plan: We destroy the state through higher mathematics. We do this by replacing the current institutional mechanisms of corporations with cryptographic mechanisms. This will give more people the opportunity to evade and resist taxes.

            Man, James A. Donald sure done changed.

          • BBA says:

            That post talks about PGP, with its anarchic web-of-trust model, like its adoption is inevitable. As it turned out it was too difficult for mortal users to figure out – who should sign your key, which keys you should sign and so on. Instead the dominant paradigm in cryptography is SSL/TLS with its feudal structure – the server gets its certificate from a CA, the CA is given the right to issue certificates by a higher-level CA, etc.

            How this corresponds to Mr. Donald’s current views…no comment!

    • What I found amusing about _Seeing Like a State_ was that the author was making interesting points likely to appeal to libertarians, but going to a good deal of trouble to make it clear that he wasn’t one of those horrible libertarians.

  27. Daniel Speyer says:

    I’ve run into a lot of discussions of medicine lately in which patients seem to view their doctors less as “ally who helps me with medical issues” and more as “authority figure who has the power to deny me access to medicine I need”. I’m getting most of this second hand, but this seems like a really bad combination. It’s got to be hard to get anything medical done without honest communication, and authority is antithetical to that.

    Are other people seeing this pattern (from either direction)?

    Does anyone else thinking separating the ally and gatekeeper roles would be a good idea?

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Would you prefer a situation wherein a doctor were to go ‘awww shucks I -wish- I could give you these antibiotics but these darn pharmacists are at it again’? I can see why it’d be a benefit psychologically, but I’m unsure if the net effect would be positive.

      • Deiseach says:

        There’s a difference between “I won’t prescribe you antibiotics because they don’t work for viral infections” and “No, I won’t recommend you for a consultant’s appointment because I don’t believe the pain is as bad as you make out”.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I think this might be worse in Ireland than here. In Ireland doctors have to be stewards of the state’s scarce health care resources; here in a lot of cases we say “Eh, I don’t think it’ll help you, but it’s your money, do what you want.”

          (and then you get denied by your insurance company. See, we have separated out the ally and gatekeeper, we’ve just done it quietly.)

          • Jaxon Jensen says:

            Scott, I’ve had to order my own tests. I was able to do so because I am very aggressive and educated as a patient (so this meant that insurance clearing my choices was never a concern). But most patients aren’t me and as a medical professional, I am sure you can see the numerous issues resulting from educated, informed patients feeling like they have to literally play doctor with their own medical treatment.

          • Deiseach says:

            You make a good point, Scott, but we do still suffer dreadfully from “Doctor knows best” and there’s a genuine fear of being branded a troublemaker (and treated as such, which means being ignored when you make complaints or talk about symptoms) by doctors and hospitals if you ‘talk back’ – which means ‘sound educated as to what your complaint might or might not be’.

            I’ve mentioned it before on here, how I knew what the consultant was thinking was “Rule out cancer” and yet he still treated me as “typical middle-aged hysterical female, and sure women always exaggerate pain anyway, just keep her calm” when I asked him about it. First thing I did when I got home was hit the Internet and by luck hit on a diagnostic site training-in baby gynaecologists which told them: if patient is Fair, Fat, Forty and Fertile and presents with these symptoms, most likely cause is cancer so perform this procedure to check it out.

            I don’t know why he couldn’t have been honest with me and just said “Yes, the reason I’m ordering this surgical procedure is because we need to rule out cancer” rather than badgering me into having it done and refusing to explain why. Apart from “Doctor knows best, patients shut their cakeholes”.

          • Back when I was a post-doc, my father, having had a heart attack, suggested that I ought to get my blood cholesterol level checked. I went in to the Columbia University hospital, had the test, asked the doctor what the level was. He told me it was fine. I asked what the level was. He appeared reluctant to tell me.

            Eventually he did, I think after figuring out that I was a post-doc rather than an undergraduate. My conjecture was that he felt giving information rather than conclusions would encourage me to self-diagnose, which would be a bad thing.

            Interacting with physicians more recently, I didn’t get that impression. They seemed willing to discuss my medical condition with me, not just what they thought I should do.

            I’m not sure if that is a change over time or a result of the fact that I am now a professor and older than most of the doctors I interact with, both of which would tend to make them treat me as a higher status person than back then.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        Two benefits:

        * You could tell your doctor the symptoms that hint at a viral problem without risking your antibiotic access. The better-informed doctor can then help you pick the right antibiotic, or maybe decide on some other course of treatment.
        * If you try to argue with the gatekeeper, you would now have someone to help with that who knows the system pretty well. This is similar to how doctors today will help patients fight insurance companies.

    • Douglas Knight says:
    • James Picone says:

      I’ve seen that pattern once – when I decided that my sleep problems were becoming bad enough that I should seek medical attention. GP happily referred me to a sleep psychologist, after a while sleep psych suggests melatonin might be a good idea. I look it up, melatonin is prescription-only in Australia for some reason, and even in a special subclass of prescription-only that means you can’t legally import it without a prescription.

      I go to GP, mention melatonin, he says “Go to a health store”. I point out it’s prescription-only. We have a brief discussion in which he notes that it’s mostly used for old people and he isn’t very familiar with its use and also that the automated system has no easy way of prescribing it – it has to be a compounding script.

      I ended up having to get a letter from the sleep psych sent to the GP explaining why melatonin, how much melatonin, and including a photocopy of a study on the use of melatonin in delayed-sleep phase disorder for GP to prescribe it.

      Pretty low-key as far as doctor-as-gatekeeper, but immensely frustrating at the time. I’m kind of dreading what will happen when the script runs out and I have to get the GP to give me more. Seriously considering going on an overseas trip to somewhere where melatonin is over-the-counter and smuggling some back home.

      I’m not sure what a good alternative system would look like, though. An ‘ally’ is ideally someone who knows a lot about medicine and illness and can make good suggestions for treatment. A ‘gatekeeper’ is ideally someone who knows a lot about medicine and illness and can identify when a treatment is inappropriate. There’s a lot of overlap between those two.

  28. Simon says:

    I think it was through the comments here that I found a “I have no mouth, and I must scream”-type story about an outer space cat-goddess of pain that agonizingly digests evildoers forever.

    No amount of Googling seems to be able to find it for me – does anyone recognize it?

    • Psycicle says:

      “Yes, Jolonah, There is a Hell”

    • Unicyclone says:

      Sounds like the Queen of Pain from Orion’s Arm. The story is called “Yes Jolonah, There Is A Hell.”

      • Acedia says:

        That was horrible.

      • Outis says:

        I read that all and I want my time back. Read “I have no mouth, and I must scream” instead, and skip Jolonah.

        • Vorkon says:

          It wasn’t particularly good, but I don’t think it’s fair to call it “I want my time back” bad. I mean, obviously it’s no “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” but what is?

          I must admit, though, I absolutely cringed at that second “test.” That wasn’t a test for remorse or anything along those lines, that was a test for abject stupidity.

          (Also, a big part of what made “I Have No Mouth…” great, aside from AM’s diatribes and the word-usage therein, was the fact that all this body and psychological horror was happening TO people. It wasn’t just AM describing what he was going to do to them, and being all “oooh, you guys are gonna’ be really screwed once I start!” But still. “I want my time back,” is a pretty strong criticism, and I don’t think this story was terrible, or anything.)

          • Outis says:

            Just to clarify, I was not using hyperbole: I literally meant that reading it was not worth my time, and I would advise my past self not to waste time reading it.

        • Nornagest says:

          Hell, even Surface Detail did it better, and Surface Detail is no I Have No Mouth…

    • Simon says:

      Yes that is it! Many thanks

  29. Jeremy Jaffe says:

    content warning: Politics…read at your own risk of being mind killed (
    So question: what’s the meaning of “democracy”?
    I know some people don’t like semantic questions but I do –
    If only 200 people in the country can vote is that a “democracy”
    Or what if every state in the US was broken up such that all the republican voters were packed into a single district – so that there were only 50 republicans in congress – would the US be called a democracy?
    And by the way, this is not just a philosophical question – there are claims made in social science journals about “democracies are more likely to do x or y or whatever” – so classifying a country as a democracy or not will change what predictions you make about the country. And given the way congressional districts work in the USA, is it still a democracy?
    Do studies like this one matter in the classification: ?
    I think about this question more and more each time I listen to Larry Lessig

    • HeelBearCub says:

      “I know some people don’t like semantic questions but I do”

      Is it irony that you are posting this disclaimer in a rationalist space?

      Roughly speaking, you seem to complaining about two separate things, but I’m not actually sure about what one of them is.

      what if every state in the US was broken up such that all the republican voters were packed into a single district – so that there were only 50 republicans in congress

      Gerrymandering is the common blanket term for concerns of this type. Gerrymandering is definitely one kind of failure mode in democracies. There has been quite a lot of work on this issue, and I think California’s recent electoral reforms were an attempt to address this. Broadly speaking, the principle might be articulated as “everyone in a population should have a vote of equal weight”. You can dicker about how to approximate this in practice, and it is never completely achievable, but the principle is sound.

      If only 200 people in the country can vote is that a “democracy”

      I can’t tell if you are complaining about voter eligibility or representative democracy. Representative democracy is virtually a requirement for a functioning democratic government. Voter eligibility needs to be universal, as much as possible, for democracy to function well for all in society.

      It’s reasonable to disenfranchise for just cause (non-citizens, felons while incarcerated, or youth before the age of majority, for example). But if the body politic does not represent society as a whole it could be said to be “democracy for me, but not for thee”.

    • Anonymous says:

      A parliamentary/representative republic is not really a democracy.

      It’s a system where a large body of common people vote on candidates selected by means obscure, in a multiplayer game against everyone else to satisfy individual and common desires, without assurance that the elected individuals and parties will do what they promised to do, and without effective means of punishing them for defection. Furthermore, those elected are arranged in another game against each other, through even more obscure means vying to get their decisions passed, which is yet another game against the bureaucracy where the elected bodies try to pass legislation such that the black box of civil service will spit out a result that they like.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        That strikes me as just a definition game. There is very little direct democracy in the world.

        The desire to redefine “democracy” to mean only “direct democracy” and not “representative democracy” seems myopic at best. Something, something … trees falling in a forest … sound.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t quite see how you can put power in the hands of the people without running direct democracy – although I’m open to suggestions.

          My point is that the legitimacy of the supposedly democratic states is based on the supposed rulership of the people, where in fact there is very little actual rulership in the hands of the people. Is a definition of a word supposed to have no relevance to the word? I mean, call the USA a republic, that’s okay, it is one. Call the USA a democracy, and that’s not okay, because it isn’t one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Call the USA a democracy, and that’s not okay, because it isn’t one.”

            That is only true using your definition of democracy. The common definition is different.

            “Democracy, or democratic government, is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary.”

          • Anonymous says:

            Fine. I concede that the common definition differs from mine.

          • Comment Reader But Not Usually a Poster says:


            Yours and the official definiton are the same. Your issue seem to be more that people are bad/indifferent at democracy. A boss that only does periodic and half ased reviews is still the boss.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Comment Reader But Not Usually a Poster:

            I believe @anonymous is using the construction that is common in some libertarian circles that takes the form “The US is a Republic not a Democracy.” Although he seems to be using that form to argue that we should be a direct democracy, which is rare.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not. Direct democracy is unworkable and quickly collapses into “real” democracy. It’s sort of like the difference between theoretical communism and real communism.

          • Comment Reader But Not Usually a Poster says:


            The phrasing may be libertarian, but variations of the argument are used by all sides. I remember hearing it all the time, in Political Sciences classes, from very left wing students to explain why what they thought the people should care about did not match the governments they voted in.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “The US is a republic, not a democracy” is not a libertarian thing. It’s a Dick from the Internet thing.

          • Nornagest says:

            I associate the complaint with the kids that sat in the back row of my high school civics class.

          • RCF says:

            I don’t see how you can put power in the hands of voters with running a direct democracy. The California Initiative process isn’t very democratic. How you get an initiative passed is that first you spend several million dollars getting your initiative petition signed a sufficient number of times, then spend millions more on ads framing the initiative in such a way that people will vote for it.

    • Punk rock girl says:

      Gonna recommend Robert Dahl’s “How Democratic is the American Constitution?” as a way of introducing some of the basic poli-sci concepts your question touches on. Notice that he asks “how democratic,” not “is it a democracy?” That might be a helpful place to start.

  30. J says:

    I have several data points now in favor of what I mentally call the “man up Nancy” school of psychotherapy. I learned about it from two sources: the first was a continuing ed seminar for medical professionals on Anxiety by a guy from Kaiser. And the second is Sarno’s “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection”, which sets off pretty much all of my bullshit detectors: it’s all anecdote from a single doctor, and he basically passes it off as a cure-all for everything from bursitis to bulged discs to agoraphobia, with no blind studies or controls or any of the expected stuff.

    But I have three data points now that the concept works. It’s been super helpful for my panic attacks / anxiety, and two of my family members who have had Fibromyalgia for years, such that it was painful for them to walk more than a few meters at a time, hip pain, hand, shoulder pain, etc., have been able to dive into their old activities with none of the pain they would have expected.

    The concept is, broadly, that your natural impulse is to baby your pain or anxiety or whatever, causing your boundaries to shrink inward and reset your comfort zone. And your expectations of pain or anxiety or whatever cause a feedback loop that reinforce it.

    So Sarno’s thing, which seems like it’s begging for a malpractice suit, is to basically just ignore your back pain or bursitis or whatever and go do what you normally did, after convincing yourself that you’ll be fine because you understand the feedback loop now and won’t be subject to it.

    Totally hokey, sounds like a recipe for disaster (or at least aggravated injuries), but it’s been a day and night difference for my two family members with Fibro, and it (primarily the Kaiser talk) was instrumental in convincing me how important it is to go out and do things like running that create the same kinds of symptoms I’d get in a panic attack: increased heart rate, labored breathing, sweating, etc., all while thinking to myself “this is healthy and normal”.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      A lot of cognitive-behavioral therapy essentially consists of saying “Man up and deal with it” in a more structured and gradual way.

      Your last paragraph describes the conclusions of decades of psychological research on dealing with panic attacks and phobias: identify the symptoms, recognize them for what they are when they occur, and just deal with them because they’re really not that bad when you don’t blow them out of proportion.

    • PJ says:

      Kind of sounds like a similar phenomenon to Some pain researchers/therapists have been working on a therapy called graded motor imagery which is designed to address chronic pain problems, It still seems like early days, but there are some studies that have been done, though I can’t vouch for their quality.

    • Sastan says:

      With mental stuff, this is quite effective if structured properly.

      With physical things, there’s a lot of introspective work that goes into figuring out if this pain is signalling a real problem or just is something to be pushed through.

      I’ve been an Infantryman, so I have my master’s in pain management. Most of the time, I err on the side of “ehh, fuck it”, and drive on. But there are certain sorts of pain you learn to heed. Nerves are just nerves. If it’s just your nerve endings firing, harden up. If your kneecap is separating, you should probably slow down and immobilize that shit. But on the whole, the vast majority of people pay too much heed to their own aches and pains. In the words of Aladdin, you’d be amazed what you can live through.

      • Vitor says:

        Couldn’t agree more re: physical symptoms. I have chronic heart disease and once of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is to accurately read the warning signs coming from my body. I only started making real progress in this area when I accepted the fact that this is a skill that can be learned, even if it takes years to do so.

        At the same time, walking around in a very fragile body is a constant source of anxiety, and fearful thinking patterns constantly get mixed up with the actual physical signals I should be minding. There are times when the correct attitude really is to “man up and deal with it”, but this can lead to overshooting in the other direction (recklessness, wishful thinking etc), so even if “man up” is often correct advice, it’s quite dangerous and should be applied cautiously.

        • Sastan says:

          With things like heart disease, I concur completely. You have to think through the risks. But for most relatively healthy, relatively young people, the advantages to pushing through usually outweigh the risks.

          But you are also correct that it takes time to learn the difference between types of pain. That stab in the side when you run? Just nerves. It’s like hot sauce, just nerves firing. If you can feel bone grinding or separating, that’s a good indication to stop.

  31. houseboatonstyx says:

    Here’s some real observation on a topic from recent threads: the experience of wild animals. It’s been said that they are stressed all the time, predators by hunger and prey by constant fear of predators. Apparently not….

    • Jiro says:

      The arguments for the existence of massive wild animal suffering are particularly acute for small, short-lived creatures who may often die early and who have less lifespan to provide positive utility compared to the negative utility from dying. The big animals in the study you describe probably do have a net positive life, but there are a lot more insects, baby fish, etc.

  32. So I think I took the whole reason as memetic immunity and be yourself a bit too far and now I’m allergic to far too many things. I think I need to come back to normality a bit.

    It’s hard to relate to people when you don’t share any common memes. Society just has so much overhead and feels so weird and distant. It’s hard to hold political discussions when people hold silly views.

    This is probably somewhat related to depression as allergy.

    I suspect that mere exposure is a decent treatment. Ultimately, I wish there was a better way to relate to normal people.

    Edit: Relatedly, knowing social dark arts would be nice, but the whole thing turns into a mess of guilt, disappointment in the world, and ughness. Any ideas?

    • Anon says:

      Work on mindful self compassion or loving kindness, preferably in a group setting with a teacher. Reasonable evidence base IIRC, but I’m too lazy to look for studies. One major effect of these practices is becoming a more tolerant person.
      If that’s too much right now you could try keeping a gratitude journal for three weeks. There’s evidence of that working on mood, and in my experience it made me appreciate other people more. “Rationality” isn’t everything, or even the most important thing.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This is going to sound hokey, or BS or something, but I am going to throw it out there: If you are in a bigish city, find an open AA meeting, or perhaps an Al-Anon meeting. Then just listen.

      There is a metric shit-ton of pain in many, many, many lives. Realizing this is helpful.

  33. Siah Sargus says:

    Well, I’m going to apologize in advance, because this is but rambling and mostly complaining. But apparently the rules say I can post anything here, and I need to vent.

    Well, it’s 2am and I can’t stop shaking. I’ve been stuck at my parents house since my last “breakdown” towards the end of winter earlier this year. If current me could go back in time to me at my most depressed, in that appartment, I don’t think I could give him a sufficiently compelling reason to stay alive. The worst part is that the antidepressants seem to work, increasing the intensity of my good moods and diminishing the bad. But it’s two months till I’m twenty one, I’m several thousand dollars in debt, I’ve been jobless for over six months now, ditto for any college applications, I’m still a virgin, and I still have yet to put on more than a few pounds of muscle. There aren’t any good moods outside of brief distractions. Nothing has gotten better for my love life or my bank account in a very long time. I don’t see a future for myself.

    • When I am feeling down, it helps to do something that produces some positive effect, even if it doesn’t solve the problem I’m down about. Even cleaning off my desk or tidying up my (usually messy) room helps. In your case, that might mean exercising to put on a little muscle, or finding some way to earn a little money to reduce the debt.

      You don’t have to, cannot, solve everything today. But even a little progress helps.

    • Sastan says:

      Baby steps, kid! Do one thing useful every day.

      The hardest part of working out is getting your gym shoes on. Once you get started, it gets easier.

      My best advice on a larger scale is find something to do. Volunteer, get work, whatever. It doesn’t really matter. You’re probably going to hate it. But oddly enough, even hating work makes me feel better when I’m not working. Consider making some sort of medium-term commitment like a missions trip, Peace Corps, even the military if that’s your thing (if it isn’t, stay far away). Those sort of things can help get you jump started and focused outside yourself.

    • Fake Name says:

      What David said about making a little bit of progress helping really is true. Ditto for Sastan both on shitty jobs and on working out. Even pretty awful jobs give one a sense of purpose, routine and something resembling accomplishment. You may not like your job but you accomplished earning some money. If you hate your coworkers on the other hand, get out. On gaining muscle you must eat enough for it. I have found starting strength an excellent workout program. If you’re really underweight you can GOMAD, drink a gallon of milk a day. You are guaranteed to gain weight. If you work out while doing that a lot of it will be muscle and when you stop GOMAD the fat will fall away if you keep exercising.

      When I was 21 I had just dropped out of college saw little hope and could only get shit jobs. I had wasted thousands of dollars of my parents’ money and nothing that could reasonably be called savings. It took me a long time but I’m in my thirties, have a wonderful girlfriend, an ok job and some savings.

      On girls, all that PUA bullshit works. I haven’t read any soi-disant ethical pickuo artists like Mark Manson’s “Models” but Roosh V’s Game and Day Game both contain advice that works. Don’t buy his books, pirate them. He’s an awful human being. Alternatively acquire hobbies, talk to people and ask girls out. Easier said than done I know.

      Good luck.

    • wysinwyg says:

      Hopefully it’s not obnoxious for me to suggest a martial art. You’ll get:
      1) Exercise with reinforcement from other people (easier than going to the gym on your own for me)
      2) Community
      3) Social networking (might help you find a job, let’s you socialize with women in a space where your mind isn’t necessarily on romance or sex)
      4) A reason to get out of the house
      5) Hopefully, confidence

      For the love life stuff, I was in a similar spot at your age. I made it until 30 without having a serious long-term romantic relationship and only occasional bits of unsatisfying, somewhat embarrassing sex. So first of all, even if it doesn’t happen for you for a while, I can tell you that it’s survivable.

      I’d suggest not worrying about it so much and to try to focus on friendships instead. Friendly socializing with women without having any kind of agenda was helpful to me. Wh