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How Bad Are Things?

One “advantage” of working in psychiatry is getting a window into an otherwise invisible world of really miserable people.

I work in a wealthy, mostly-white college town consistently ranked one of the best places to live in the country. If there’s anywhere that you might dare hope wasn’t filled to the brim with people living hopeless lives, it would be here. But that hope is not realized. Every day I get to listen to people describe problems that would seem overwrought if they were in a novel, and made-up if they were in a thinkpiece on The Fragmentation Of American Society.

A perfectly average patient will be a 70 year old woman who used to live somewhere else but who moved her a few years ago after her husband died in order to be closer to family. She has some medical condition or other that prevents her from driving or walking around much, and the family she wanted to be closer to have their own issues, so she has no friends within five hundred miles and never leaves her house except to go to doctors’ appointments. She has one son, who is in jail, and one daughter, who married a drug addict. She also has one grandchild, her only remaining joy in the world – but her drug-addict son-in-law uses access to him as a bargaining chip to make her give him money from her rapidly-dwindling retirement account so he can buy drugs. When she can’t cough up enough quickly enough, he bans her from visiting or talking to the grandchild, plus he tells the grandchild it’s her fault. Her retirement savings are rapidly running out and she has no idea what she will do when they’re gone. Probably end up on the street. Also, her dog just died.

If my patients were to read the above paragraph, there are a handful who would sue me for breach of confidentiality, assuming I had just written down their medical history and gotten a couple of details like the number of children wrong. I didn’t. This is a type.

Here’s another. 60 year old guy who was abused as a child, still has visible scars. Ran off at age 15, got a job in a factory, married let’s say a waitress. There was some kind of explosion in his factory, he got PTSD, now he freaks out every time he steps within a hundred meters of a place where manufacturing is going on. Gradually stopped going outside because there were too many scary loud noises, his wife started yelling at him and telling him he was useless, he started beating his wife, put in jail for a year or two for domestic violence, came out, by this point his wife has run off with another man and took everything he owned with her. Moved in with an abusive uncle who is 80 years old and hates his guts, but the uncle needed a caretaker and the guy needed a place to live and they were each other’s only affordable option. Currently lives off disability payments, but the government keeps trying to cut them off, and he keeps having to spend what little he has on a lawyer to prevent them from taking even that away, but half the time he doesn’t make it to his lawyer appointments because he’s too nervous about going outside. Also he has chronic pain. Also he only sleeps two hours a night because of the nightmares, and he’s tired all the time.

(“You have the pill that fixes all of this, right, Doctor? The one they advertised on TV?”)

A while ago I wrote about how strongly we filter for people who are like us intellectually and politically:

According to Gallup polls, about 46% of Americans are creationists. Not just in the sense of believing God helped guide evolution. I mean they think evolution is a vile atheist lie and God created humans exactly as they exist right now. That’s half the country.

And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle. It’s not because I’m deliberately avoiding them; I’m pretty live-and-let-live politically, I wouldn’t ostracize someone just for some weird beliefs. And yet, even though I probably know about a hundred fifty people, I am pretty confident that not one of them is creationist. Odds of this happening by chance? 1/2^150 = 1/10^45 = approximately the chance of picking a particular atom if you are randomly selecting among all the atoms on Earth.

About forty percent of Americans want to ban gay marriage. I think if I really stretch it, maybe ten of my top hundred fifty friends might fall into this group. This is less astronomically unlikely; the odds are a mere one to one hundred quintillion against.

People like to talk about social bubbles, but that doesn’t even begin to cover one hundred quintillion. The only metaphor that seems really appropriate is a bizarre dark matter parallel universe.

Since starting working in psychiatry, I have realized that we also filter for misery. I think a big part of this is sorting by social class. But it’s in a more subtle way than you might think. That first patient, the 70 year old, might on paper have more than the median income if her dead husband’s pension is high enough. I could even imagine the second patient getting a decent payout from his factory and being financially in the clear for a while. It’s more complicated than that – something to do with being the sort of person who ends up in these sorts of situations.

I have three non-mutually exclusive theories for this:

1. The people who come to a psychiatrist are disproportionately the unhappiest and most disturbed. This is obviously true to some degree. But I got the same sort of people when I worked in general medicine and primary care. Even the people who come to a primary care doctor are going to be a little biased towards the sorts of conditions that produce or result from sickness, but people were still much worse off than I thought.

2. My ordinary life shields me from these people. I don’t live in an especially bad neighborhood, so I won’t meet the unhappiest people there. Unhappy people are really depressing, so their lives won’t be covered as much by newspapers and TV. And insofar as they stay in their homes all the time and never come out or talk to anyone else, that in itself is going to prevent me from meeting them.

3. Or maybe many of the people I know are in fact this unhappy, but they never tell anyone except their psychiatrist all of the pieces necessary to put their life story together.

If it were mostly (1), that would be pretty encouraging and mean I’m just biased toward seeing very unlucky people. If it were mostly (2) or (3), that would be pretty bad, and mean everyone else is biased toward not realizing how unlucky everybody else is.

So I made a short script based on the following information:

– About 1% of people are in prison at any given time
– About 2% of people are on probation, which can actually be really limiting and unpleasant
– About 1% of people are in nursing homes or hospices
– About 2% of people have dementia
– About 20% of people have chronic pain, though this varies widely with the exact survey question, but we are not talking minor aches here. About two-thirds of people with chronic pain describe it as “constant”, and half of people describe it as “unbearable and excruciating”.
– About 7% of people have depression in any given year
– About 2% of people are cognitively disabled aka mentally retarded
– About 1% of people are schizophrenic
– About 20% of people are on food stamps
– About 1% of people are wheelchair-bound
– About 7% of people are alcoholic
– About 0.5% of people are chronic heroin users
– About 5% of people are unemployed as per the official definition which includes only those looking for jobs
– About 3% of people are former workers now receiving disability payments
– About 1% of people experience domestic violence each year
– About 10% of people were sexually abused as children, many of whom are still working through the trauma.
– Difficult to get statistics, but possibly about 20% of people were physically abused as children, likewise.
– About 9% of people (male and female) have been raped during their lifetime, likewise.

These numbers might be inflated, since I took them from groups working on these problems and those groups have every incentive to make them sound as bad as possible. There’s also a really big problem where a lot of these are conditional upon one another – that is, a person in prison is not also in a nursing home, but a person who is unemployed is far more likely to be on food stamps. This will likely underestimate both the percent of people who have no problems at all, and the percent of people who have multiple problems at once.

Nevertheless, I ran the script twenty times to simulate twenty different people, and here’s what I got (NP stands for “no problems”):

01. Chronic pain
02. Alcoholic
03. Chronic pain
04. NP
05. NP
06. Sexually molested as a child + suffering from domestic violence
07. Unemployed
08. Alcoholic
09. NP
10. NP
11. NP
12. Abused as a child
13. NP
14. Chronic pain
15. NP
16. Abused as a child + unemployed
17. NP
18. Alcoholic + on food stamps
19. NP
20. Clinically depressed

If the two problems mentioned above haven’t totally thrown off the calculations, this makes me think Psychiatrist-Me is getting a much better window into reality than Normal-Person-Me.

And remember, this doesn’t count all of the problems that don’t fall into easily quantified categories, like “everyone hates them because they’re really ugly and annoying”. It doesn’t count things that I couldn’t find good statistics on, like “had a child die recently”. It doesn’t count things that I would have gotten in trouble for including, like “autistic” or “single mother”. It doesn’t count a lot of things. Consider that the first patient I mentioned – the homebound seventy year old with no friends who’s being extorted by her drug addict son-in-law – would appear on this list as “NP”.

The world is almost certainly a much worse place than any of us want to admit. And that’s before you’ve even left America.

This is part of why I get enraged whenever somebody on Tumblr says “People in Group X need to realize they have it really good”, or “You’re a Group X member, so stop pretending like you have real problems.” The town where I practice psychiatry is mostly white and mostly wealthy. That doesn’t save it. And whenever some online thinkpiece writer laughs about how good people in Group X have it and how hilarious it is that they sometimes complain about their lives, it never fails that I have just gotten home from treating a member of Group X who attempted suicide.

This is also why I am wary whenever people start boasting about how much better we’re doing than back in the bad old days. That precise statement seems to in fact be true. But people have a bad tendency to follow it up with “And so now most people have it pretty good”. I don’t think we have any idea how many people do or don’t have it pretty good. Nobody who hasn’t read polls would intuitively guess that 40-something percent of Americans are young-Earth creationists. How should they know how many people have it pretty good or not?

I think about all of the miserable people in my psychiatric clinic. Then I multiply by ten psychiatrists in my clinic. Then I multiply by ten similarly-sized clinics in my city. Then I multiply by a thousand such cities in the United States. Then I multiply by hundreds of countries in the world, and by that time my brain has mercifully stopped being able to visualize what that signifies.

This wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas post, but it took me longer than I expected to write, so here we are.

And this wasn’t supposed to be advocating any particular response, but I was recently asked to plug Giving What We Can’s pledge drive, and maybe one of the good responses to realizing how awful things are is committing to donate a little bit of what you’ve got to making them better.

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1,023 Responses to How Bad Are Things?

  1. TodPunk says:

    I think it is relevant that both of the example patient types are old. I believe it may just be that in these kinds of cases, misery is the culmination of a generalized and very subtle attitude choices add up over the years (and confirmation bias would add to this). I’m curious what relevant research might dissuade me from this hypothesis.

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    • Jacobian says:

      On the other hand, subjective well being generally increases slightly with age. Also, you would think that people who spent their adulthood in prison / on heroin / drinking / being depressed would die younger than stable and optimistic people. Scott, does it really seem that older people accumulate more misery? My prior would be slightly against it.

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    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, so how many of you on here are:

      (a) only children/only have one sibling

      (b) you and your sibling(s) have moved away from home and only visit irregularly

      (c) are not going to have grandma and/or grandpa live with you because you will have life and problems of your own

      (d) are intending to marry (if you marry at all) later in life

      (e) are intending (if you intend to have kids at all) to only have one child or a maximum of two

      (f) find yourself relying more on friend group than family, and those friends are ones you made after moving away from where you grew up

      Those are the kinds of choices lots of people have made and are making, and that works fine – for as long as you’re young enough, healthy enough, can live decently on the money you make.

      But old age and the ailments accompanying it eventually come to everyone. And because we consider the good, normal life to be one of independence and striking out on our own, eventually we all will find ourselves with a diminished support circle. Our friends may have moved away (or we moved ourselves) and they will have problems of their own. Our adult children (if we have any) may be half the country away, or in a different country altogether, and can’t/won’t be available to look after us.

      We’ll rely more and more on professional services and strangers who are paid caretakers to help us. Eventually it’ll come to the discussion about “Maybe it’s time for Mom/Dad to go to the retirement home, they can’t take care of themselves anymore”.

      And that’s without problems like druggy kids, mental or physical incapacity, the pension scheme went insolvent and your retirement fund is lost, and the rest of it.

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      • anon says:

        If you have savings you are safe.

        For the sake of thriving in old age, saving money is cheaper and more useful than raising children.
        How can you save for retirement if you have three kids?

        Also, for some people being an only child means being an inheritance magnet. Which in turn makes it easier to save money for the old age.
        I love my sibling, and I know that she will protect me if I’m ever in need, just as I would protect her, but honesty I also know that without her, I would be a lot richer and therefore more secure.

        If you have only one child (or none), this makes your old age more secure because you can afford to put aside a big chunk of your income, and it might make your child’s life and eventual old age better too, if he is a sole inheritor.

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        • Getting all the help you need done by people you pay is *expensive*, and who’s going to be organizing the help if your mental abilities decline?

          As far as I can tell, good care in old age takes love and money.

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          • anon says:

            I completely agree that people need love. They need it, not just for when their mind falters. They need it for their emotional well being, they need it to find help during emergencies, and even to be protected against their own stupidity – everyone is wiser when he has the advice of others.
            However, it doesn’t have to be the love of offspring. There are so many other ways to have deep social connections. Siblings, cousins, romantic partners, and true friends.

            Children aren’t even guaranteed to help you out when you’re old. Sorry to be cynical but children neglect and abandon their parents all the time. If that happens, all the money and effort you invested in raising an ingrate, you won’t get it back.

            For a man, one way to secure comfort in his old age is to marry a younger woman. Note that this is incompatible with Deiseach’s advice to marry early. Unfortunately this applies to men only; women are likely to outlive their husbands.
            http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Today-Deborah-Wearing/dp/1845593952
            Who saved this man, Clive Wearing, when his mind stopped working properly? His younger wife.
            http://media.rd.com/rd/images/rdc/mag0606/forget-me-not-clive-and-deborah-wearing-02-af.jpg

            Fortunately, women have options as well. I know a wonderful “family” of three middle aged, mostly childless women, who have been living together for many decades. Two of them are completely straight. They love each other, and certainly will help each other as they grow older.

            What I believe really matters not to end up lonely and miserable is to cultivate social connections throughout your life, whether or not you choose to make a string of babies.
            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sue-fagalde-lick/being-childless-doesnt-have-to-mean-ending-up-alone_b_3240832.html

            Personally, I haven’t started a family and I don’t know if I ever will, but beside a habit to save money I have a best friend whom I trust deeply, a sibling whom I also trust deeply, a whole army of prolific cousins and their descendants, and many other friends and decades to grow and deepen these ties. I’m confident I won’t die alone.

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          • Anonymous says:

            Children aren’t even guaranteed to help you out when you’re old. Sorry to be cynical but children neglect and abandon their parents all the time. If that happens, all the money and effort you invested in raising an ingrate, you won’t get it back.

            That’s why you diversify your investment – have six or ten. It’s very unlikely that *all* of them will turn out ingrates.

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          • “I completely agree that people need love.”

            “Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
            Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
            Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
            And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
            Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
            Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
            Yet many a man is making friends with death
            Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
            It well may be that in a difficult hour,
            Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
            Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
            I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
            Or trade the memory of this night for food.
            It well may be. I do not think I would. ”

            (Millay)

            “making friends with death.”

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        • Tibor says:

          If you have enough money, you can pay for whatever medical care and other stuff, but you cannot pay anyone to actually care about you and you cannot buy someone you would care about yourself. When I visited Singapore, I noticed how the elderly are treated differently there. You would see so many old people accompanied by their younger family members in the streets. Now, this is just a subjective observation, I don’t have any hard data for that but genetics and cuisine aside, this could be a very important factor in the longevity of their population. When I was still living with my parents, we had this neighbour, she was over 90, 96 or 98 when she died I think. She never had kids and all of her close family members (included her nieces and nephews) were already dead. There was this rather distant family of hers, but they barely visited her once a year, usually not even that. I don’t know if she had any friends left, but I don’t think so. Genetically, she was obviously very lucky in terms of longevity, but it was obvious that towards the end of her life she simply found no reason to go on, there was nothing for her to live for. There’s no way you could buy that. Your friends might die out (but actually, there is no reason why you could not have friends who are a generation younger than you…I am good friends with a guy who could be my father, played in a band with him), but if you have kids and they have kids, you are unlikely to live longer than the rest of your family…you gotta make sure that you don’t grow apart from each other, which might be hard in some cases, particularly if you don’t see each other regularly (which I think is pretty bad already).

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            When I visited Singapore, I noticed how the elderly are treated differently there. You would see so many old people accompanied by their younger family members in the streets.

            Singapore might be a special case.
            It is only 720km^2. If family members want to stay in the same
            nation (anyone have statistics on this???), they can’t move beyond
            single-day travel distance.

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          • I *think* Singaporeans are legally required to provide for their elderly relatives.

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          • Tibor says:

            Jeffrey Soreff: Good point.

            EvolutionstX: Even if that is true, they are probably legally required to pay for their bills not to spend time with them.

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          • Lady Catherine says:

            The government of Singapore hugely incentivizes living in the same building as your parents. The government also makes it very easy for the professional class to hire guest workers to care for the elderly in the home.

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        • Deiseach says:

          Savings are safe? All the people who lost money in the property crash (invest in property! sure thing!) would disagree.

          If you know what you’re doing, have access to good professional advice, and can afford to make it worthwhile to save (a lot of bank accounts, for instance, pay derisory interest and returns only get anywhere good when you have a few hundred thousand to put away, which many people don’t).

          Savings will pay for professional caregivers and probably a nicer retirement home than if you’re poorer or reliant on state pension, but they won’t of themselves fix isolation and aging and attrition of friends and family.

          You might be theoretically richer from inheriting family money/property with no sibling, but on the other hand, if you’re flat on your back in a hospital bed non compos mentis, at least you have someone you can list as an emergency contact who is likely to turn up, tell them you’re allergic to penicillin so for God’s sake don’t give you that, and no they can’t refuse to resuscitate you.

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          • Alaskanred says:

            David Duke over at Sweet Talk Conversation has been exploring this idea recently. http://sweettalkconversation.com/2014/11/14/the-picture-of-an-old-lady/

            While striving for a life they thought was prudent and attainable, some may miss the things that make it joyful.

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          • I’m not in entire agreement with Sex and Destiny by Germaine Greer, but she makes the good point that the modern world sucks a lot of work out of families and into large institutions.

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          • anon says:

            Properly diversified investments are reasonably safe.
            Also, children are no safe investment either. While it’s possible to lose your money, it also happens all the time that children neglect their parents.

            If you lack siblings and children it doesn’t mean that you don’t have anybody in your life. I wrote about this in my reply to Nancy Lebovitz. Ties are created. If I and my sibling love each other, I credit this to us having cultivated our relationship.

            David Duke’s story actually exemplifies how having children doesn’t guarantee protection in old age.

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          • The problem, anon, is that parsing the relative truth value of “Diversified investments are safe.” and “Investing in property is safe.” does require expertise.

            One can hope that once you’ve reached the level of assets where your investment decisions are meaningful, you’re also ready to acquire that expertise, but I think it’s optimistic to assume that it naturally exists.

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          • Also, depending on your children, especially if you don’t have many of them, is risky even if they’re loyal to you. There’s some risk that the child will die before you.

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          • Anonymous says:

            Solution: Have as many as you possibly can.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            While your point is well taken, the modern failure of distinction between “saving” and “speculating” causes a lot of problems.

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        • Alice says:

          You don’t know the cost of health care. A dementia facility costs a *minimum* of $6k-$8k a month. Who has saved enough for that if you need it for 6, 10, or more years? And that’s at today’s prices. The price will rise. And that cost was for no health problems. If you need actual health care, too, it’s more.

          How many years can you afford care like that? And that’s if you can get in. Many places cost more like 10k a month.

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          • anon says:

            http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2536580/The-families-sending-relatives-nursing-homes-THAILAND-Care-cheaper-better-Asia-say.html

            Beside the chief claim of the article, which is that Thai nursing homes are high quality and cheap, it is also remarkable that nursing homes in the UK itself appear to cost a lot less than the number you gave for the US.

            Investing money makes it grow; by the time you’re old the hopefully sizable chunk of money you put aside every year will have multiplied. The income you get from that will probably suffice to pay for a Thai nursing home forever.

            All the more so if at that point you sell your no longer needed home.

            Look at it this way. How much does it cost to raise a kid in the US? Wikipedia gives hair raising figures, which however assume that a kid leaves at 18 and that you don’t have to pay for higher education, which in the US is expensive.
            Let’s say that you spend in total a quarter of a million on a child. That’s half a million for two children. If you don’t have kids and invest half a million instead, by the end of your life probably it will have doubled (let’s simplify inflation away). You now own a million and you can live in a Thai nursing home forever. Without even having to sell your home.

            That’s assuming you absolutely need a nursing home. But it’s likely that you will be able to spend most of your late years relying just on home care. That’s what I was thinking about, initially.

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        • Simon says:

          Financial savings have been sort of safe for the last 60 years in the US, but even in our world-historically unusual bubble of post-WW2 safety, many households lost most of their “saved” purchasing power through either bad risks, good risks with bad luck, or not taking enough risk.

          In more volatile times… good luck. Ask an Argentinian (or a Cuban!) if they’d rather have pesos or humans who have their back.

          And on an *aggregate* level, financial savings are just an accounting trick. Hopefully they are soooooort of reified by an accumulated stock of productive real assets… but… good luck.

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          • onyomi says:

            I don’t understand why people who live in countries with notoriously unreliable currencies don’t just start using silver coins or something. Like you hear about the wheelbarrows of cash and destruction of the whole mindset of saving in Weimar Germany, for example. At what point does it occur to people to maybe use something else?

            I realize the government can mandate you pay for some things in official currency, but one can always convert your silver or private promisory notes or whatever at the point of sale?

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          • Simon says:

            Well, I think you’re right that people under-rate the risk of holding local currency and could rationally do more to protect themselves in the wacky-currency countries.

            But… silver (to take your example) has lost 2/3 of its value in the last 5 years vs. the dollar. No perfect solutions…

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Wasn’t inflation in WWII Germany caused by actual shortage of goods? Silver won’t really help you then.

            But, I’m sure that loss of confidence in the ability of Germany to win the war must have taken hold at some point, but I imagine that is very much an inflection point. Buying silver before it becomes obvious you need it is a hedge, and it will most likely lose money. Trying to buy after you know you need it is too late.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            @onyomi: They do. And in “ordinary” inflationary times those people usually do a little better than most others.

            However, once things get so bad that it’s a silver pfenning for a wheelbarrow full of marks, or whatever, either there will be enough lawlessness that it won’t be safe to have a lot of silver pfennings, the government will just take your silver pfennings, and/or it won’t matter that you have a lot of silver pfennings because nobody will have much they are willing to trade for silver pfennings.

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      • onyomi says:

        I think this, along with the idea that raising children reasonably well doesn’t need to be as hard or expensive as we think it is, is the main part of Bryan Caplan’s “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.”

        Basically, having more kids makes your twenties and thirties less fun than they otherwise might be, but probably makes your old age better.

        It’s funny: we associate having a lot of kids at a young age with being irresponsible/having high time preference because contraception can be hard and having kids can seem like a quick fix for an unfulfilling life/struggling marriage, but it seems increasingly like maybe having more kids (at least, intentionally) is actually the low time preference thing to do in our current society: trading freedom in 20s and 30s for support (not just financial, but emotional) in old age.

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        • Ksdale says:

          This is almost exactly the reasoning my wife and I used when we decide to have kids early. An additional consideration was how much the freedom was worth at different times in our life. Freedom as a 20-something takes the form of parties and travel, but we partied a lot in college and we didn’t have the money to travel how we wanted what with student loans and such. Having kids early means that they’ll be out of the house when we’re in our late 40’s or early 50’s, and I think depending on your health in middle age, freedom at the age of 55 has an expected value that is way higher than freedom at 65 (having seen my parents age from 55 to 65… Anecdotal, but still) and not a whole lot lower than freedom at 25. I can think back on things I thought were really important when I was 20 that seem pointless now and I expect that when I’m middle aged I’ll know better how to enjoy myself, plus I’ll have adult kids who are hopefully fun to be around! The first few years of having kids have not proven us wrong either, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on experiences that my friends without kids have had (basically just a carefree road trip here and there) and we’re all progressing similarly in our careers.

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        • anon says:

          That raising children doesn’t have to be expensive is very difficult to believe.

          The way I see it, if children don’t make your expenses skyrocket, it means that before having them you had unnecessary expenses you could have trimmed, so by reproducing you are losing the possibility you had to put aside money.

          For example, children need space, so having them means that your housing expenses will greatly increase. If they don’t, it means that your house was unnecessarily big before. So it’s a significant cost, whether you realize it or not.

          Children take up a mother’s time and energy, and this will impair her ability to work and make money – another cost people may fail to take into account.
          If she relies a lot on day care, it’s another significant expense. Especially for a poor person.

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          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            It depends on a lot how you raise your children and on how many children you have.

            For example, you mention housing. If you think every child needs his own room, then yes, you definitely have a problem. On the other hand, if you are okay with one room for the boys and one room for the girls, then you can take advantage of economies of scale; your first boy is really expensive because he requires a whole extra room, but your second boy only requires an extra bed, and so does your third, so the marginal cost of having an extra boy drops dramatically after the first.

            Likewise, paying a lot of money to live in a good (i.e. expensive) public school district or having your wife stay at home so that she can homeschool and daycare are pretty big sacrifices to make if you only have one child to reap the benefits, but both scale really well if you end up having, say, eight children. On the other hand, private school is very expensive on a per-child basis no matter how many children you have, so you definitely want to avoid that.

            And then there are the little things, like the fact that outgrown clothes and toys can be handed down on a regular basis, or the fact that the older girls can help to raise their younger siblings.

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          • Cadie says:

            Once I reached junior high, my parents NEVER had to hire another babysitter outside school hours. I watched my younger siblings until I moved out, and by then my next sister was old enough to take over that task.

            The thing I’m not sure about is how acceptable it is nowadays to leave a middle schooler home watching two small children and a baby. It was pretty normal then but we’re talking almost 25 years ago.

            In any case, yeah, the first one would be the most expensive. After that, you already have a crib, highchair, baby clothes, etc. Boys and girls can wear some of the same clothes, so even if you have a boy first and then a girl she only needs a few new outfits, and can wear the same onesies and stuff at home. Six-month-olds don’t care about fashion trends.

            Food partially scales too because usually bigger packages cost less per unit than smaller ones. It costs more to feed six than it does to feed two, but not three times as much, because you save some money buying in bulk. I get screwed over on milk as a single person, because I can’t go through a gallon before it spoils, and the smaller containers cost way more per ounce. Sometimes the half-gallon was only fifty cents less than the gallon, or an even smaller difference. When I had a roommate we could share a gallon and spend less than if each of us bought by the quart or half-gallon.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            In any case, yeah, the first one would be the most expensive. After that, you already have …

            Such gets even easier when one is embedded in a culture that supports and valorizes childrearing, like the one I was raised in. Most of the “small capital goods” one requires for baby and young childcare are available used for free from one’s siblings, cousins, extended family, religious congregation, village….

            Heck, in the context I’m in right now, many of the Seattle area Burners are starting on their one-off or two-off late30s time-to-do-it raising-an-artistinal kid or two project. And there is now a mailing list and a mutually shared storage room full of such gear, to drop stuff off and pick stuff up from, gratis.

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          • Mary says:

            ” the fact that the older girls can help to raise their younger siblings.”

            Girls? Boys, too. Indeed, I was once reading a comment thread where someone solemnly said that large families force the older children into a parental role, and the parents of large families shot back, Force them? we can’t stop them!

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          • Lady Catherine says:

            Which is why society should be set up to adequately compensate parents.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            Definitely boys too. I am the oldest (three sisters, 2 years, 10 years, and 12 years younger) and to this day my younger sisters (now in their thirties) are better-behaved when I am around. It is definitely more of a substitute-parent relationship than a sibling relationship. :/

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      • Patricia says:

        Exactly. Boomers (like me) are living in the world they created, full of independence and endless possibilities. Now I hear each of my boomer friends, rich or poor, complain that they have no social life. Well, we threw away all those old connections! Maybe we can rebuild before it is too late.

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        • anon says:

          You don’t need children to have a wealth of social connections.

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          • magnetick says:

            This is true, but I’ve learned kind of a lot from watching how my parents are going into retirement. My family has a pretty cool tendency to take anyone in and treat them like family if they’re physically close (students, neighbors, etc.), and my parents hang out with a lot of their kids’ friends (when they have historically felt isolated in a pretty conservative part of the country).

            So I don’t think I’m really contradicting you, just saying that your kids can handle some of the legwork when it comes to making strong social connections.

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    • pneumatik says:

      If your life is the culmination of many thousands of decisions then even a small bias for positive or negative decisions can lead to a very positive or very negative old age. Habits also matter. The person who spends their life looking for the terrible things in the world will see a lot more things that make them unhappy in their old age than the person who spends their whole life seeing positive things.

      I suspect this is related in some way to resiliency and/or “grit” in that some people will rebound from bad experiences faster and better than others. I’m not trying to criticize Scott’s example person with PTSD, but some people who went through the same experience as him will have fewer PTSD-related problems that negatively impact the rest of their life. As a psychiatrist Scott sees the less resilient people and the people who have made a collection of choices that produce more negative results.

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      • magnetick says:

        Having had a ridiculously disruptive medical problem in my mid-20s, I have to wonder how much of “resiliency” and “grit” are a consequence of when in your life bad things happen. I’m thinking along the lines of how people who graduate into a recession have lower lifetime incomes than people who graduate into a better economy.

        My career fell apart in 2008 and hasn’t come close to recovering since, but I’ve decided that it’s hard to truly ruin a life, and as long as my combination of very good and very bad luck keeps leaning toward the good, I can figure this shit out. If this happened when I was 45, things could have gone really differently.

        If nothing else, maybe it matters when in your life something makes you sit up and pay attention to the fact that there’s a lot that’s not in our control. But maybe the people with grit already have that understanding pre-installed.

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  2. E. Harding says:

    “About 10% of people were sexually molested as children, many of whom are still working through the trauma.”

    -I don’t believe that for a second. That would mean there are about as many sexually molested people in the U.S. as Blacks. Again, don’t buy that for a second. Same reasons as Razib doesn’t buy the 10% cuckoldry claim:

    http://www.unz.com/gnxp/the-paternity-myth-the-rarity-of-cuckoldry/

    BTW, if this were true, homosexuality would be far more explicable by child abuse than I think.

    “Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;”

    -Aw, come on. An “incident”. That could be literally anything. Camera under the skirt one time in a public place could count as a “sexual abuse incident”.

    “Nobody who hasn’t read polls would intuitively guess that 40-something percent of Americans are young-Earth creationists.”

    -Depends on the meaning of “Young-Earth creationists”. Most Americans believe in a literal Adam and Eve, certainly, and over 40% believe dinosaurs existed at the same time as humans, but less than a fifth believe the Earth was definitely created less than 10K years ago.

    http://ncse.com/blog/2013/11/just-how-many-young-earth-creationists-are-there-us-0015164
    http://ncse.com/rncse/30/3/americans-scientific-knowledge-beliefs-human-evolution-year-

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    • Earthly Knight says:

      -I don’t believe that for a second. That would mean there are about as many sexually molested people in the U.S. as Blacks.

      Why should anyone, including you, trust your impressionistic guess rather than the statistics?

      According to this CDC study from 2005, 11% of female high school students and 4% of male high school students report having ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to (see summary on page 7; Table 10, page 44). Why would this be so surprising?

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      • E. Harding says:

        3. 7.5% is 25% lower than 10%, though I guess it’s close enough to “about” to count.

        2. “Sexually molested as children” generally does not have the connotation of the fact you’re referencing. Firstly, this phrase generally does not connote High School students.

        And I was thinking of the connotation of that phrase when I wrote my remarks.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          3. 7.5% is 25% lower than 10%, though I guess it’s close enough to “about” to count

          The question asks specifically if they were ever physically forced to have sexual intercourse– presumably at least some children are molested or plied with drugs without being forcibly raped, which will make up most of the difference.

          If you are concerned about the age range, the study also breaks it down by grade. 9% of freshwomen and 3.5% of freshmen report having ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse. That’s roughly 6% of children being forcibly raped by their first year of high school.

          In any event, if you are unsure about the data, you should go hunting for better data rather than resorting to intuition and wild guesses.

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          • E. Harding says:

            My intuition was the real number would be somewhere between .5 and 5%. Experience has led me to trust intuition more than disembodied statistics (though sometimes, it has led me to the opposite conclusion). And hunting for better data isn’t fun. There is a big trade-off involved between doing research and anything getting done in an argument, so I decided to minimize the first.

            Aw, well. 6% is somewhat higher than my original estimate, but now I’m more informed than I was before.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Have we learned nothing from Tversky and Kahneman? Experience is a notorious liar. In fact, your experience is still lying to you right now– you’ve hit on 6% as the correct figure, but the category of being molested is strictly broader than the category of being forced to have sexual intercourse, so the true number must be higher, perhaps substantially so. Even the choice to circumscribe childhood at 14 is arbitrary, and might be driven by a desire to minimize your own error as much as principle.

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          • garr says:

            E. Harding, you gave up too quickly. It’s so obviously false that 9% of 9th grade girls have been raped that any so called “data” purporting to support this conclusion testifies only to the incompetence or mendacity of the “researchers.” See Michael Chermside below. I doubt that 9% of 9th grade girls have even had sex.

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          • Lightman says:

            My intuition is that that’s a plausible number. Declaring one or another of our intuitions to be obviously right is pointless.

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          • Ragaxus says:

            Moar data good data:

            • CDC (http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/31_fig1.jpg) findings say that ~10% of high-school girls have been raped. That’s a little tough to square with the “~9% freshwomen” figure, but at least isn’t outright contradictory.

            • CDC also says (http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf) that 18.3% of women report having been raped at some point in their lives. Mercifully, the questions they used are present in Appendix C, and you can see what women were actually saying happened to them. No explicit use of the word “rape”, it seems, which if I recall correctly is a good way to prevent respondents from self-censoring.

            For real, though, what’s the deal with people rejecting data out of hand for not squaring with their intuition? My understanding was that we’re all pretty jazzed about empiricism here. If a survey spits out a number you take issue with, don’t you owe it to yourself to figure out if the survey was flawed or if you made a mistake? And, aren’t you supposed to default to the latter?

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          • Ant says:

            I tend to reject such numbers because I consider that when a large number do something, that thing is or will soon be socially acceptable, and is legal or illegal but never prosecuted. 10% of raped children means that around 5% of the population are rapist and a larger number are complicit, which means that raping children should be legal or at least not prosecuted in America*. That’s not the case, thus the study probably suffer from something (and it is a known fact that self reporting studies doesn’t means much).

            *just like it was quasi legal to rape women in the middle age: the woman was supposed to be asking for it, and thus end in a brothel.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            That’s a little tough to square with the “~9% freshwomen” figure, but at least isn’t outright contradictory.

            There’s no contradiction, in fact, the data point in your table for 2005 is just the study I linked to, which found that 9% of first-year female high school students and 11% of female high school students overall had experience forced unwanted sexual intercourse. If these numbers seem odd to you, it’s because of some combination of (1) the “all high school students” category is the aggregate of freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors (the number for seniors alone is slightly higher), (2) some women who are raped in high school are being revictimized, but they will still only be counted once in the statistics, and (3) rapes in high school are somewhat less common than you suspected, while rapes before high school are somewhat more common.

            18.3% of women report having been raped at some point in their lives.

            Note that this figure includes attempted rapes; the exact numbers are 12% for forced penetration, 5% for attempted penetration, and 8% for drug-facilitated penetration (the numbers do not sum because of repeated victimization).

            No explicit use of the word “rape”, it seems, which if I recall correctly is a good way to prevent respondents from self-censoring.

            Here is the precise wording of the question:

            “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever… [lists several different types of sexual assault]”

            This is good on the one hand because, as you say, it will catch some victims who have in fact been sexually assaulted or raped but do not conceptualize their experience as sexual assault or rape. But it is also seriously flawed, because the wording of the question is equivocal: it is unclear whether the “and unable to consent” qualifier applies only to “passed out” or to “drunk”, “high”, and “drugged” as well (I gather that the latter interpretation is the one intended by the researchers). It is also unclear what degree of intoxication is necessary to nullify consent. So this question might tend to overcount the incidence of drug-facilitated sexual assault.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            10% of raped children means that around 5% of the population are rapist and a larger number are complicit,

            This doesn’t follow– some studies suggest that the great majority of rapes are committed by serial offenders averaging 6 rapes apiece (the number of victims is not specified).

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          • “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever… [lists several different types of sexual assault]”

            I would read that with “unable to consent” modifying “passed out,” since it isn’t clear what it would mean for the other cases. Someone who is high can consent in the ordinary sense of the word, whether or not one can consent in a legally valid way.

            If so, the number Scott cites is much too high. I wouldn’t be astonished if 10% of high school girls had had sex when drunk. I gather it’s a pretty common pattern of behavior. I believe the median age for loss of virginity for women in the U.S. is 17, so more than half of the population would have had intercourse in high school (ignoring minor complications, such as people who didn’t go to high school). I would expect a sizable fraction to have had intercourse at least once when drunk.

            But that isn’t rape in either a legal or a common language sense, unless the woman is actually passed out.

            My suspicion at this point is that the question was put in that form in order to generate a high number. There are two reasons why researchers would do that. One is ideological–someone who is campaigning against rape may want large numbers to motivate the campaign. The other is professional advancement. If your study turns up a much higher number than everyone else’s for something important, it is likely to get cited a lot, both in professional work and in the media, and universities (probably also federal agencies, although I’m less sure of that) like to have their employees get that sort of attention.

            Some years ago I looked into a surprisingly high figure for college women rape rates. It turned out to be based on a single study, one which appeared designed to generate such a figure, since it included both acts that were not rape in the law of the state it was done in and acts not considered rape by the victims.

            I noticed that the author had shifted to a higher status university after the study was published.

            High numbers are more newsworthy, so it makes sense to discount them on the theory that the number you hear is more likely to be the highest anyone produced than the average.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I agree with you about the phrasing of the question, but you’re attacking the wrong target: that particular item comes from the NISVS survey of adult women which Ragaxus linked to, which in any case reported forcible and drug-facilitated rape numbers separately. The study I cited initially specifically asks about forcible rape. It was, moreover, conducted by the Bush-era CDC, where accusations of careerism and ideological bias have a lot less traction.

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          • “But that isn’t rape in either a legal or a common language sense, unless the woman is actually passed out.”

            There are degrees of drunkenness, and a person can be pretty foggy and not capable of being forceful about what they want, even though they aren’t passed out.

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          • Patrick says:

            The larger flaw in the study is that “unable to consent” is both 1) a legal conclusion the typical person isn’t necessarily equipped to recognize, and 2) a concept who’s public image has been largely shaped by a massive, generations long misinformation campaign.

            Hell, in some states it isn’t really even a thing. In some states, its “involuntary” intoxication, not “intoxication.”

            Remember, the whole “drunk people can’t consent” thing is kind of a legal fiction. As long as you’re not literally unconscious, your drunk self absolutely can decide to do things. Anyone who’s been around drunk people knows this.

            Presuming you’re not so drunk that you’re literally incapable of volitional action and/or communication, whether a volitional choice counts as lawful consent is a legal question, not an empirical question. And in a lot of places, if you want to get smashed and choose to do something you wouldn’t have done sober, that’s your (poor) life choice.

            See also the reasons we differentiate between voluntary and involuntary intoxication when it comes to drunk driving, etc. “I was too drunk to know what I was doing when I chose to drive” is not a defense to a drunk driving charge. But “I was rendered impaired against my will and was in that impaired state when I made the decision to get behind the wheel” just might be.

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          • eh says:

            As per Earthly Knight, what’s the chance that respondents will misread a question like “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever…” as “after you’d had a beer, how many people ever…”?

            Additionally, what’s the chance that people will misread a question like “have you ever had sex when you didn’t want to?” as “have you ever agreed to have sex to satisfy someone else, even when you didn’t feel any inclination yourself?”

            Lastly, what’s the chance that a rape victim will self-censor?

            When you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, 5% of the time haystalks responds that they’re a needle, and needles are 200% more likely to respond than hay, you can produce a seemingly huge number of needles. When needles claim that they’re haystalks 50%, everything gets even harder.

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          • Jay says:

            I haven’t looked at the particular study cited here, but I’ve read some studies on rape that use such broad definitions that I don’t see how they don’t get over 90%. Like, “Have you ever agreed to have sex to satisfy someone else, even when you didn’t feel any inclination yourself?” So if a woman’s husband says, “Hey baby, let’s do it”, and she isn’t in the mood but she loves her husband and wants to make him happy so she goes along … that’s rape? By that reasoning, if my friends say “hey let’s go to Bill’s party” and I don’t feel like it but go along to please my friends, I guess they’re guilty of kidnapping.

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          • TheNybbler says:

            @Jay: I think they don’t get to 90% because most people don’t take the question as written; that some people do inflates the statistic and makes it a bad question. Any question which can be easily read as implying “having sex with someone just because they begged for it is rape” is pretty clearly a bad question.

            Didn’t take much searching to find this page

            http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/

            which appears to (unintentionally) provide a catalog of bad definitions of coercion.

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          • @Jay:

            Your point about definitions of rape corresponded to the point that struck me about sexual assault. Taking the definition literally, if a teen couple are cuddling on a couch and he puts his hand on her breast when she doesn’t yet want him to go that far, that’s sexual assault. By that definition, I would think that almost the only women who had not been victims of sexual assault by the time they finished high school would be ones who didn’t date.

            But according to the NCVS figures, the number of victims of sexual assault (not including rape or attempted rape) is similar to the number of victims of completed rape. My conjecture is that the people answering the question were interpreting “sexual assault” in some form much stronger than its formal definition.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Comment made in error.

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      • First, *Thank You* for raising the level of the discussion by bringing in actual data.

        Secondly, I have some doubts about this value. The paper doesn’t give the exact wording of the question. (It looks like another paper may give this, but I didn’t follow up. Also it says some of the questions varied across the country, but this appears to have been part of the “core questions”).

        The best thing I have to go on is the wording of the title of the table. This wording says:

        Percentage of high school students who experienced dating violence* and who were ever physically forced to havesexual intercourse,†

        Following up on the footnotes:

        *Hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend during the 12 months preceding the survey
        †When they did not want to.

        This is badly worded. If you’ve been forced to have sex, but have not been physically hit, do you NOT satisfy the criteria because of the “and”? I am guessing that in practice this conjunction is a logical “or”.

        And if so, then this number includes people who have been slapped by a date, but never raped.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          The table combines dating violence, on the left-hand side, with forced sexual intercourse, on the right hand side. The first footnote, indicated by the asterisk, defines dating violence, while the second footnote, indicated by the cross, defines forced sexual intercourse. The first footnote holds no relevance to the forced sexual intercourse statistics, which includes all and only the children who answered “yes” to the question “have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you did not want to?”.

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      • sabril says:

        “Why should anyone, including you, trust your impressionistic guess rather than the statistics? ”

        For one thing, if the statistics are based on self-reporting, it’s unlikely that they are very reliable. For another thing, as was pointed out in the original post, a lot of these statistics come from institutions which have an incentive to make problems out to be worse than they really are.

        Besides, a lot of people are quite stupid and liable to misunderstand questions asked by a pollster. Probably also some people like to provide misinformation just for kicks.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          The study I linked to comes from the Bush-era CDC; it is possible that they had institutional incentives to inflate the numbers, but not plausible without independent evidence.

          The hypothesis that many students answered “yes” to the forcible rape question facetiously or in error is doubtful in light of the gender disparity. A priori it is extremely unlikely that female students would mark the wrong box or play a prank on the experimenters at a significantly higher rate than their male counterparts (if anything, I would expect the opposite), yet only 4% of male students reported having been raped. The incremental climb in reported rapes by year in high school also rings true.

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        • sabril says:

          @Earthly Knight

          “The study I linked to comes from the Bush-era CDC; it is possible that they had institutional incentives to inflate the numbers, but not plausible without independent evidence.”

          I would have to disagree with this. Anyone who is engaged to study a social problem has incentive to exaggerate the extent of the problem.

          “The hypothesis that many students answered “yes” to the forcible rape question facetiously or in error is doubtful in light of the gender disparity. A priori it is extremely unlikely that female students would mark the wrong box or play a prank on the experimenters at a significantly higher rate than their male counterparts”

          I disagree with this too. For example, suppose that equal percentages of male and female students misunderstood the question to include situations where they were emotionally pressured into having sexual intercourse. Then you would expect the female response rate of “yes” to be higher than the male rate, even though the information you are getting is bad. Similarly, if a small percentage of survey respondents, say 1 in 50 decided to lie, it would throw off the results even if they were all male or all female.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            What you are doing here is fabricating ad hoc auxiliary hypotheses to protect your beliefs from disconfirming evidence. Is it possible that (1) women are more likely to be emotionally pressured into unwanted intercourse than men, and (2) huge numbers of female high school students all misinterpreted the question in the same way? Yes. Is there any reason to think that (1) and (2) are true, independent of the fact that they free you from having to revise your beliefs? No. In science it is always possible to explain away recalcitrant data by introducing ad hoc hypotheses, but it counts heavily against your theory when you are compelled to do so.

            Similarly, if a small percentage of survey respondents, say 1 in 50 decided to lie, it would throw off the results even if they were all male or all female.

            Sure, but that’s beside the point. It’s still enormously improbable that all of the liars in a random sample should happen to be women.

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          • sabril says:

            @Earthly Knight

            “What you are doing here is fabricating ad hoc auxiliary hypotheses to protect your beliefs from disconfirming evidence.”

            No, I am explaining why I am reasonably skeptical of the statistics.

            “Is it possible that (1) women are more likely to be emotionally pressured into unwanted intercourse than men, ”

            It’s not only possible, it’s very probable. Do you seriously dispute it?

            “and (2) huge numbers of female high school students all misinterpreted the question in the same way?”

            It wouldn’t require huge numbers. Let me ask you this: In general, do you believe that self-reporting is a reliable way to get information about populations, particularly in regards to sexual history?

            “. It’s still enormously improbable that all of the liars in a random sample should happen to be women.”

            Let’s assume that it’s all men. Or that it’s half and half. It still would throw off the statistics. Agreed?

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            It wouldn’t require huge numbers. Let me ask you this: In general, do you believe that self-reporting is a reliable way to get information about populations, particularly in regards to sexual history?

            This depends on what’s being asked– at first blush I would expect rape victims to underreport in surveys because of the stigma. Now let me ask you this: do you have any actual evidence that high school students, when asked whether they have ever been forced to have sex, are liable to lie or misinterpret the question? Or are you just speculating wildly?

            Or that it’s half and half. It still would throw off the statistics. Agreed?

            No, actually. You would still need evidence that (1) a significant number– close to half– of male “yes” reports are phony or in error, and (2) zero “no” reports are phony or in error.

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          • sabril says:

            “This depends on what’s being asked– at first blush I would expect rape victims to underreport in surveys because of the stigma. Now let me ask you this: do you have any actual evidence that high school students, when asked whether they have ever been forced to have sex, are liable to lie or misinterpret the question? Or are you just speculating wildly?”

            I’m not sure what you mean by “actual evidence.” I know that as a general matter, self-reporting is an unreliable way to collect evidence about peoples’ histories. You do not seem to dispute this.

            I also know that a lot of people are stupid. In a random sample of 100 people, you can expect 5 to have IQs in the 75-80 range or lower. Someone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.

            I don’t have a study to cite for this, it’s my general impression from having a job which requires me to ask people questions both on the telephone and in person. It happens all the time that I get responses which do not seem believable to me and it becomes clear that the person did not understand the question and just said whatever popped into his head.

            “No, actually. You would still need evidence that (1) a significant number– close to half– of male “yes” reports are phony or in error, and (2) zero “no” reports are phony or in error.”

            No. If a solid majority of people have not been raped, and if some percentage of survey participants give the wrong answer, then the result will be an erroneous increase in rape reports. Do you not see why?

            Anyway, do you dispute that females of our species are more likely to be emotionally pressured into sex than males?

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Someone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.

            I found the exact wording of the question:

            “21. Have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you did not want to?
            A. Yes
            B. No ”

            This strikes me as the least ambiguous survey item on the planet.

            No. If a solid majority of people have not been raped, and if some percentage of survey participants give the wrong answer, then the result will be an erroneous increase in rape reports.

            This assumption would only be justified if the error is antecedently known to be random, when it’s quite plausible that rape victims systematically underreport out of shame.

            But let us suppose, on no basis whatsoever, that half of all male reports of forcible rape and a commensurate number of female reports were false, and that zero students who had been raped failed to report having been raped. That would bring the aggregate rate down from 7% to 5%. So even if we let you clutch all of the straws you would like to clutch, it’s not going to change things a whole lot.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Here is the same survey from 2013; it found that 7.3% of high school students had been forcibly raped.

            Here is the 2011 edition; it found that 8% of high school students had been forcibly raped.

            2009; 7.4%.

            2007; 7.8%.

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          • sabril says:

            “21. Have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you did not want to?
            A. Yes
            B. No ”

            For my job I question 30 or 40 people a week. Based on my experience I am pretty confident a good number of people would misunderstand this question to be asking if they have ever had sex when they did not want to.

            “This strikes me as the least ambiguous survey item on the planet.”

            “when it’s quite plausible that rape victims systematically underreport out of shame.”

            I take it then, that you have faith in your intuition?

            By the way do you dispute that females of our species are more likely to be emotionally pressured into sex than males?

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            The wording of the question is so straightforward that you’d have to be totally illiterate to not know that it’s asking about forcible rape. I also gave four additional sources which all report higher numbers than the first. I’m done indulging your what-ifs and mental gymnastics.

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          • sabril says:

            “The wording of the question is so straightforward that you’d have to be totally illiterate to not know that it’s asking about forcible rape.”

            A lot of people don’t read questions carefully when they are written down or listen to questions carefully when they are asked. I know this from years of experience asking people questions.

            A lot of people hear a few key words; take a guess what they are being asked; and then answer the question they guess they are being asked. And a lot of the time, that guess is wrong. Again, I know this from years of experience.

            “I’m done indulging your what-ifs and mental gymnastics.”

            Lol, you asked a question — you wanted to know why people might mistrust the statistics you quoted. I explained why I quite reasonably mistrust those statistics. You may not like the answer, but there it is.

            Of course there is the additional irony that you rely on your own intuition in deciding that the question is one which is extremely unlikely to be misunderstood. While at the same time deriding other people for relying on their own intuition. Mental gymnastics, indeed.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I explained why I quite reasonably mistrust those statistics

            First ad hoc hypothesis– feminist conspiracy at the Bush-era CDC to cook the data.

            Second ad hoc hypothesis– feminist conspiracy among female high-school students to cook the data.

            Third ad hoc hypothesis– massive random error in survey results caused by illiterate high school students.

            Evidence for these hypotheses? “I have years of experience.”

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          • sabril says:

            “First ad hoc hypothesis– feminist conspiracy at the Bush-era CDC to cook the data.”

            Lol, you want some extra straw to go with your strawman?

            “Second ad hoc hypothesis– feminist conspiracy among female high-school students to cook the data.

            Third ad hoc hypothesis– massive random error in survey results caused by illiterate high school students.”

            Apparently so.

            Anyway, since you apparently changed your mind against slinking away in shame, please answer my question:

            Do you, or do you not, trust your intuition that the survey question you quoted is extremely clear and extremely unlikely to be misunderstood by even stupid high school students?

            Report comment

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Let me be clear on your reasoning here: if the results of a survey conflict with your preconceptions, this is proof that the survey-takers were illiterate?

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          • sabril says:

            “if the results of a survey conflict with your preconceptions, this is proof that the survey-takers were illiterate?”

            Nope, now please answer my question:

            Do you, or do you not, trust your intuition that the survey question you quoted is extremely clear and extremely unlikely to be misunderstood by even stupid high school students?

            It’s a simple enough question. Is there something about it you don’t understand?

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          • I looked at one of the CDC studies linked to. What struck me was that it showed about half as many males as females having been physically forced to have intercourse.

            Given the mechanics of intercourse, I find that hard to believe. Force is possible for male on female PIV intercourse or for male on male anal intercourse, but the latter is much less common, especially for an age group almost none of whom are in prison. For female on male PIV intercourse I suppose one can imagine scenarios, but it isn’t easy.

            If people interpreted the question as “were you ever pressured to have intercourse,” the pattern makes a lot more sense.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Do you, or do you not, trust your intuition that the survey question you quoted is extremely clear and extremely unlikely to be misunderstood by even stupid high school students?

            Yes. Humans have an innate facility with language, which extends to judgments of sentence clarity (calling this an intuition is misleading, because our sense of grammar is just as reliable and well-honed as our sense of touch or sight). This is how we can all know that “Bob went to the store” is a clearer sentence than “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”. Not only that, we can also know that just about any high school student will be able to parse the first sentence, while far fewer will be able to understand the latter.

            Nope,

            Is it true of all surveys that we should assume that a certain proportion of respondents are illiterate? How large a proportion?

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Given the mechanics of intercourse, I find that hard to believe. Force is possible for male on female PIV intercourse or for male on male anal intercourse, but the latter is much less common, especially for an age group almost none of whom are in prison. For female on male PIV intercourse I suppose one can imagine scenarios, but it isn’t easy.

            It’s entirely possible that the some students interpret the question to include oral sex, as well. Should it be shocking that 3% of men have been forcibly anally or orally raped by the time they reach high school?

            If people interpreted the question as “were you ever pressured to have intercourse,” the pattern makes a lot more sense.

            It’s hard to see how anyone could interpret “physically forced” as “emotionally pressured.”

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          • sabril says:

            “If people interpreted the question as ‘were you ever pressured to have intercourse,’ the pattern makes a lot more sense.”

            Yes, and based on my experience, I think that happened for a lot of people. Is it that people don’t understand the phrase “physically forced”? A little, but the main problem with the question is that it combines a few different ideas at the same time.

            I’m pretty confident that a lot of people answering the question are going to hear “sexual intercourse”; “did not want to”; assume that the question is asking if the person was ever pressured into having sex; and then stop mentally processing the question.

            In my experience, mistakes like this happen all the time. Most people just don’t read or listen very carefully. A shocking percentage of the time, people try to interrupt me with their answer to my question even though I am only halfway through with the question and they could not possibly know what I am about to ask them.

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          • sabril says:

            “Yes. Humans have an innate facility with language, which extends to judgments of sentence clarity”

            I’m glad you admit that your conclusion hinges in large part on your intuition. Perhaps you should not be so critical of those who are skeptical based on their own intuition. Or if you don’t like using the word “intuition,” call it “common sense.”

            Anyway, I do take issue with your judgment of the question’s clarity. Adding the qualifier “did not want to” has the potential to distract from “physically forced.”

            “Is it true of all surveys that we should assume that a certain proportion of respondents are illiterate? How large a proportion?”

            I don’t know, but in general it’s a good idea to be skeptical of studies which are based on self-reporting. I find that about 5 to 10% of the native English speakers who call me have poor or very poor reading ability. The percentage is a lot higher for foreign-born people who call me.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Perhaps you should not be so critical of those who are skeptical based on their own intuition.

            Is it your opinion that impressionistic guesses about sexual assault rates are no less reliable than judgments of sentence clarity?

            I find that about 5 to 10% of the native English speakers who call me have poor or very poor reading ability.

            So should we assume, in any given survey, that at least 5% of respondents will have misunderstood any given question?

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          • Loquat says:

            RE: totally clear questions being misunderstood:

            I see this with some regularity at work, where I handle medicare supplement policies – one of the dumber questions we have to ask on the application is “Did you turn 65 within the last 6 months”. (Dumb because we’ve already asked their date of birth, required because people have special legal rights in their first 6 months.)

            It seems like such a simple question! “Did you turn 65 within the last 6 months?” How could anyone misinterpret that?

            And yet, a distinct percentage of people think they’re being asked if they’re over 65, full stop, and answer yes even though they’re 68, 70, 75, etc. These are not people with dementia, either, they’re fully legally competent to run their own affairs and many of them are successful and educated people.

            If they can miss or misinterpret “within the last 6 months”, I think it’s highly likely some of the high school freshmen could have missed or misinterpreted “physically forced”.

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @David Friedman

            I looked at one of the CDC studies linked to. What struck me was that it showed about half as many males as females having been physically forced to have intercourse.

            Given the mechanics of intercourse, I find that hard to believe. Force is possible for male on female PIV intercourse or for male on male anal intercourse, but the latter is much less common, especially for an age group almost none of whom are in prison. For female on male PIV intercourse I suppose one can imagine scenarios, but it isn’t easy.

            If people interpreted the question as “were you ever pressured to have intercourse,” the pattern makes a lot more sense.

            Yup, I am morbidly curious to know what the male respondents really meant. I was guessing that they
            were interpreting the question as written, and took the
            answers to mean forced anal or other non-PIV sex,
            but I am curious as to what the truth was.

            An intermediate possibility is that some of the respondents
            misconstrued “physically forced” to mean something more
            extreme than (the usual interpretation of) “pressured”, but
            still broader than “physically forced” – say, “either physically forced, or complied under a death threat”, for instance…

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Actually, I’ve already given sabril more than enough rope.

            Claim 1: 10 percent of students failed to read or understand any given question and answered randomly.

            We can model their responses to binary-choice questions as coin tosses. The sample size of the first study is 14,000, 10% of which is 1400, and 4% of which is 560. The probability of getting no more than 560 heads in 1400 coin tosses is so low that it did not generate a significant figure in the cumulative binomial calculator I was using. Consequently, there should be no binary-choice questions on the survey where either answer has a value as low as 4%. There are 6, by my count.

            Claim 2: 6 percent of students failed to read or understand any given question and answered randomly.

            We can model their responses to binary-choice questions as coin tosses. The sample size of the first study is 14,000, 6% of which is 840, and 2.5% of which is 350. The probability of getting no more than 350 heads in 840 coin tosses is so low that it did not generate a significant figure in the cumulative binomial calculator I was using. Consequently, there should be no binary-choice questions on the survey where either answer has a value as low as 2.5%. There are 3, by my count.

            (The same could be done for 5%, and even smaller error rates– only 1.1% of the 7,000 or so girls reported having ever used a needle drug)

            Conclusion: sabril’s “experience” is a crock of shit. The statistics recorded in the survey could not be subject to significant random error.

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          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Actually, I’ve already given sabril more than enough rope.”

            Because charity is for wimps?

            “10 percent of students failed to read or understand any given question and answered randomly.”

            Er…
            Sabril, previously
            —I’m pretty confident that a lot of people answering the question are going to hear “sexual intercourse”; “did not want to”; assume that the question is asking if the person was ever pressured into having sex; and then stop mentally processing the question.—

            That isn’t ‘randomly answer’.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            If you haven’t been keeping track, sabril has proposed about a half dozen flimsy excuses for why he can ignore studies that challenge his beliefs. Here is the random error hypothesis:

            “If a solid majority of people have not been raped, and if some percentage of survey participants give the wrong answer, then the result will be an erroneous increase in rape reports.”

            5 to 10% estimate:

            “I also know that a lot of people are stupid. In a random sample of 100 people, you can expect 5 to have IQs in the 75-80 range or lower. Someone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.”

            “I find that about 5 to 10% of the native English speakers who call me have poor or very poor reading ability.”

            That isn’t ‘randomly answer’.

            Systematic error is a more difficult case to make. It is ludicrous to begin with that anyone should interpret “physically forced” as “emotionally pressured,” but you also have to watch out for countervailing sources of systematic error. Here are several possibilities:

            1. Rape victims who clearly said “no” but did not fight back might not think of themselves as having been “physically forced.”
            2. Rape victims might lie out of shame or stigma.
            3. Some victims may have been raped while sleeping, unconscious from drugs, or too young to remember.

            You can come up with more, if you like. There is, like I said earlier, always some story you can tell yourself if you want to rationalize away recalcitrant data. Part of being an adult is learning not to do that, and to distinguish serious methodological critiques of studies from the braying of stubborn blockheads.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            (I should mention, looking through the survey questions, that several of the items which I thought were binary-choice actually had several answers that were collapsed into one category in the results. Mea culpa. Fortunately, the combined category was always the small one, so this only serves to further constrain the possibility of random error.)

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          • sabril says:

            “Is it your opinion that impressionistic guesses about sexual assault rates are no less reliable than [impressionistic guesses] of sentence clarity?”

            Pretty much. Depending on the context of course. To illustrate with an extreme example, if a survey came out claiming that 95% of high school boys had been physically forced to have vaginal intercourse with females, I would say that a common sense judgment that this is incorrect is more reliable than a common sense judgment that a particular compound question is one of the clearest questions ever asked on a survey.

            “So should we assume, in any given survey, that at least 5% of respondents will have misunderstood any given question?”

            Perhaps . . . there is certainly a basis to be skeptical of results based primarily on self-reporting.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            To illustrate with an extreme example, if a survey came out claiming that 95% of high school boys had been physically forced to have vaginal intercourse with females,

            Even if five or six large and well-conducted surveys all reached the same conclusion, and no contrary evidence could be found? In the blog post, Scott recorded his continuing surprise that over 40% of the people in this country believe that humans were created by God in their present form. Based on his personal experience, this is enormously improbable, yet it is true all the same. Do you think Scott should just dismiss the results of the polls because they conflict with his intuitions?

            (Incidentally, a world where studies record that 95% of high school boys have been forcibly raped by women is a world very different than ours, either because science is totally broken or because we are scarcely recognizable as human. Our intuitions about such outlandish scenarios are not going to be informative.)

            Perhaps . . . there is certainly a basis to be skeptical of results based primarily on self-reporting.

            Question: do you understand yet that your intuitions about error rates are utterly worthless? Would you like me to go through the proof again?

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            According to the CDC website, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey has a personal bias scale, which will weed out the obvious practical jokers. In any case, the claim that several percent of high school students will answer “yes” to any given question cannot be squared with the fact that three of the questions in the survey had “yes” rates of 2.5% or below, for the reasons given above. Only 1.1% of the 7,000 girls reported having used needle drugs– even in the unlikely event that none of them actually had, this sets a cap on uniform random error at around 2.5%.

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          • NN says:

            What I want to know is, why don’t these surveys just straightforwardly ask if the respondents have been raped?

            To make a comparison, kidnapping is legally defined as moving someone without their consent. When bank robbers take hostages, they will usually order them to “get on the ground” instead of something like “get against the wall,” because telling someone to move even a few feet while pointing a gun at them could open them up to kidnapping charges, which carry much more serious penalties than armed robbery charges.

            Yet despite the potential legal ambiguities, I think most people would be perfectly fine with a survey trying to determine how common victims of kidnapping are asking respondents, “have you ever been kidnapped?” instead of something like, “have you ever gone somewhere that you didn’t want to go to because you were physically forced, threatened, unconscious, incapacitated, or drunk and unable to consent?” Why should this be any different?

            Some people say that straightforwardly asking would miss real victims who are too ashamed to admit to being raped, but how many people who are unwilling to say that they have been raped would really be willing to say that they have been “physically forced to have sex that they didn’t want to,” assuming that the questions are indeed being interpreted correctly?

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          • Patrick says:

            They don’t ask “have you ever been raped” because the political ideology that usually motivates these studies teaches that sometimes people are raped but don’t think about what happened to them as rape.

            This concern focuses most heavily on impaired consent issues, which is why this question, in particular, is phrased the way that it is. Specifically, they’re worried that young women will get drunk, have sex while completely hammered, realize the next day that they never would have done that sober thereby counting as rape in the eyes of the survey takers, but think of what they did as a voluntary act taken while drunk and therefore not rape.

            Which is why the whole thing is completely ridiculous. If you believe that’s happening, and you believe that your survey questions are being answered accurately, then you should gain no clarity by swapping out the word “rape” for the legal phrase “unable to consent.” If someone’s considered opinion is that they weren’t raped, that entails that they were able to consent. So if they’re answering with careful consideration, the questions should yield the same outcome. And if they’re not providing considered opinions in such a way that I should not take seriously their negative response to the “have you been raped” question, I fail to see why I should take their response to the “unable to consent” question as gospel.

            I take the fact that people who promote these studies believe that “have you ever been raped” won’t be answered accurately as an admission that the numbers aren’t fully trustworthy. I fail to see any way that question could be unreliable while “unable to consent” would still be reliable.

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          • @Earthly Knight:

            “sabril has proposed about a half dozen flimsy excuses for why he can ignore studies that challenge his beliefs.”

            The NCVS figure for the rate of rape/sexual assault for 2014 is 1.1 per 1000 persons 12 and over. Do you think that is consistent with the results you are defending? If not, what is your excuse for ignoring studies that challenge your beliefs?

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Anonymous
            Eleven percent of Americans are at least open to the question of whether lizardmen are running the Earth, and four percentage points of those are certain that is the case. Compared that, a high single digit percent people thinking they have been raped seems plasuible.

            Your link is well worth following. Scott said the lizardmen question was put in the poll was to find trolls, and did. I like the subtle trolls who said they were open to the possibility; that must have been a good set of respondents.

            A more relevant figure for the rape question, would be people who believe they were abducted by aliens and anally probed. Of course the lizardmen could be doing both, but them running the Earth seems a more extreme claim.

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          • sabril says:

            “Even if five or six large and well-conducted surveys all reached the same conclusion, and no contrary evidence could be found?”

            It would depend on the likelihood of systematic error.

            “In the blog post, Scott recorded his continuing surprise that over 40% of the people in this country believe that humans were created by God in their present form. Based on his personal experience, this is enormously improbable”

            Enormously improbably assuming that his circle of acquaintances is a representative sample of the American population, agreed?

            ” Do you think Scott should just dismiss the results of the polls because they conflict with his intuitions?”

            Nope, but if there is no reasonable explanation to reconcile his intuition with the poll results, it’s reasonable for him to be skeptical. Agreed?

            “(Incidentally, a world where studies record that 95% of high school boys have been forcibly raped by women is a world very different than ours,”

            Assuming that’s true, it does not change my point — that your “impressionistic guess” does not necessarily carry more weight than someone else’s “impressionistic guess.”

            “Question: do you understand yet that your intuitions about error rates are utterly worthless?”

            Ummm, no I don’t beat my wife. But if you have a strong argument that something I have said is incorrect, feel free to post it and I will scrutinize it.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            But if you have a strong argument that something I have said is incorrect,

            I gave a knockdown argument, above, that your estimate that 5%-10% of high school students will fail to understand any given survey question must be off by a factor of at least 2-4. In other words, your intuitions are shit, and your reaction to the study– “What if the experimenters were biased? What if the students were lying? What if the students misunderstood the questions?” was childish nonsense.

            Work through the proof as many times as you need to understand it. Until you do, kindly STFU.

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          • sabril says:

            “I gave a knockdown argument, above,”

            Then please quote it. It should be easy enough.

            “that your estimate that 5%-10% of high school students will fail to understand any given survey question”

            I don’t recall making such a claim. Please quote me where I did so.

            “Work through the proof as many times as you need to understand it. ”

            First please quote your supposed proof and quote me where I estimated that “5%-10% of high school students will fail to understand any given survey question”

            In other words, put up or shut up. Although somehow I expect you will do neither.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            The post was at December 26, 2015 at 9:15 pm. You’ve already proven that you’re not bright enough to understand probabilities or social science research, but I’ll assume you’re not too stupid to find it from there.

            5% estimate:

            “In a random sample of 100 people, you can expect 5 to have IQs in the 75-80 range or lower. Someone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.”

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          • As best I can follow the exchange, EK claimed about Sabril:

            “that your estimate that 5%-10% of high school students will fail to understand any given survey question”

            And justified it with the following quote from Sabril:

            “In a random sample of 100 people, you can expect 5 to have IQs in the 75-80 range or lower. Someone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.”

            I don’t think that is sufficient to justify the claim. “cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response” is not equivalent to “will fail to understand.”

            Someone who misunderstands a question half the time, even a quarter of the time, cannot be trusted to understand it–but sometimes he does.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Additional quotations from Sabril:

            “A lot of people don’t read questions carefully when they are written down or listen to questions carefully when they are asked. ”

            “A lot of people hear a few key words; take a guess what they are being asked; and then answer the question they guess they are being asked. And a lot of the time, that guess is wrong.”

            “In my experience, mistakes like this happen all the time. Most people just don’t read or listen very carefully.”

            “I find that about 5 to 10% of the native English speakers who call me have poor or very poor reading ability.”

            A lot of people misunderstand questions; they misunderstand them all the time; most people don’t read very carefully, 5% cannot be trusted to understand questions, in fact, 5-10% have poor or very poor reading ability.

            It is impossible to square these assertions with the fact that the uniform random error rate in the survey could not have been greater than 2.5%. He is trying to backpedal, now that his claims have been shown conclusively to be false. Don’t let him.

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          • sabril says:

            “I don’t think that is sufficient to justify the claim.”

            I agree, but there are other ways in which Earthly Knight misrepresented my position. For one thing, I was talking about people in general. I don’t know if high school students are a representative sample of people in general. For another, I said 5 out of 100, not 5 to 10%.

            I’m not sure if these misrepresentations are important since I have not seen this elusive “knock down proof” of Earthly Knight’s.

            But I have a feeling that his misrepresentation of my position is not an innocent mistake — I think it was a (subconsciously) calculated lie in order to setup a straw man.

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          • sabril says:

            “You’ve already proven that you’re not bright enough to understand probabilities or social science research,”

            Lol, if that were the case, there would be no need to deliberately misrepresent my position.

            I invite you to consider my actual position — not what you wish or imagine it to be — and then present your argument that I am incorrect.

            In other words, put up or shut up. Although — again — I doubt you will do either.

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          • sabril, are you also dubious about surveys which support what you already believe? I wouldn’t expect you to be as dubious about those as about the surveys which contradict what you believe.

            Also, what’s your basis for believing that rape rates are fairly low?

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          • sabril says:

            “sabril, are you also dubious about surveys which support what you already believe?”

            “Yes” in the sense that it would not make me much more confident in that belief. “No” in the sense that I would not announce that I am skeptical of the results.

            So for example, I’m pretty confident that fat people eat significantly more food than thin people. That’s what I “already believe.” If a study came out — based on self-reporting — which found that fat people eat more food than thin people, I would not express skepticism about the results. But at the same time, it would not make me much more confident in my beliefs.

            Probably this thinking could be expressed more clearly in terms of “strong priors” or something like that, but anyway, I think you get the point.

            ” I wouldn’t expect you to be as dubious about those as about the surveys which contradict what you believe.”

            Right, in the sense that I would not express this kind of skepticism.

            “Also, what’s your basis for believing that rape rates are fairly low?”

            My general knowledge and experience from dealing with thousand and thousands of people in all different ways over the years makes me skeptical of the numbers posted. You can call that “intuition” or “common sense” if you like, but before you dismiss it you might ask yourself if you yourself would be skeptical of a self-reported survey result which was at odds with your own intuition or common sense.

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          • Brawndo says:

            sabril, check out my comments for a similar take on priors. It’s important to observe that feminists are correct that women sometimes under-report even in clearcut situations of rape, and incorporate this with common sense. But it’s really methodologically difficult to study the “true” rate of rape, given that people do not understand consent language the same way or agree about what the true definition of rape even is. Low-quality self-report studies by biased feminist academics, who cannot relate to most people’s sexual communication practices, and ignore mens rea while claiming to follow a legal definition, are sufficiently weak evidence that they should be heavily discounted and barely sway a common sense understanding.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’m not sure if these misrepresentations are important since I have not seen this elusive “knock down proof” of Earthly Knight’s.

            Sabril claimed:

            “A lot of people don’t read questions carefully when they are written down or listen to questions carefully when they are asked. ”

            “A lot of people hear a few key words; take a guess what they are being asked; and then answer the question they guess they are being asked. And a lot of the time, that guess is wrong.”

            “In a random sample of 100 people, you can expect 5 to have IQs in the 75-80 range or lower. Someone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.”

            “In my experience, mistakes like this happen all the time. Most people just don’t read or listen very carefully.”

            “I find that about 5 to 10% of the native English speakers who call me have poor or very poor reading ability.”

            These claims are false as they pertain to the YRBS survey we have been discussing. Proof:

            Hypothesis 1: 10 percent of students failed to read or understand any given question and answered randomly.

            We can model their responses to binary-choice questions as coin tosses. The sample size of the first study is 14,000, 10% of which is 1400, and 4% of which is 560. The probability of getting no more than 560 heads in 1400 coin tosses is so low that it did not generate a significant figure in the cumulative binomial calculator I was using. Consequently, there should be no binary-choice questions on the survey where either answer has a value as low as 4%. There are 6, by my count. So Hypothesis 1 is false; the random error on the survey could not have been anywhere near as high as 10 percent.

            Hypothesis 2: 6 percent of students failed to read or understand any given question and answered randomly.

            We can model their responses to binary-choice questions as coin tosses. The sample size of the first study is 14,000, 6% of which is 840, and 2.5% of which is 350. The probability of getting no more than 350 heads in 840 coin tosses is so low that it did not generate a significant figure in the cumulative binomial calculator I was using. Consequently, there should be no binary-choice questions on the survey where either answer has a value as low as 2.5%. There are 3, by my count. So Hypothesis 2 is false; the random error on the survey could not have been anywhere near as high as 6 percent.

            Because only 1.1% of the 7,000 or so girls reported having ever used a needle drug, we can actually set a pretty tight cap on random error: it could not have been as high as 2.5%, and in all likelihood was substantially lower.

            I first posted this argument three days ago. Unless I made a serious mistake somewhere, it shows more or less conclusively that sabril’s estimates of random error were off by, at minimum, a factor of 2-4. sabril has not in any way engaged with the argument in those three days, although he has made some feeble attempts to walk back the claims quoted above.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            But it’s really methodologically difficult to study the “true” rate of rape, given that people do not understand consent language the same way or agree about what the true definition of rape even is.

            The question asked in the study we are discussing is as follows:

            “21. Have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you did not want to?
            A. Yes
            B. No ”

            As you can see, it is not at all ambiguous.

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          • @EK:

            How do you get from Sabril’s claims, along the lines of “misunderstand the question,” “cannot be trusted to understand,” and the like, to “answer randomly,” which is what your argument seems to require?

            If you ask someone if she has ever used needle drugs and she misunderstands that as “ever used illegal drugs,” there is no reason to expect a .5 probability of an answer of “yes.” If you ask a woman whether she has ever been physically compelled to have sex when she didn’t want to and she treats “physically” as merely intensifying rhetoric (the way lots of people use “literally”), her answer won’t be a random coin flip, it will reflect whether she ever felt pressured to have sex when she didn’t want to.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Here is a newspaper report of a (Canadian) study which found that 18% of male college students and 21% of female college students had ever been emotionally pressured into having intercourse.* To take your example, this is actually lower than the rate of illegal drug use, so if they were equally likely to misinterpret each question along the lines you suggested, we should expect the error in the rape question to be lower yet.

            More importantly, it seems that high school students are, in general, competent enough readers that they seldom misinterpret straightforward questions on surveys. Unless a question is legitimately confusing or unclear, then, we should assume that their answers reflect their beliefs.

            *This means, incidentally, that sabril was also mistaken earlier when he suggested that women are substantially more likely to be pressured into sex than men.

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          • sabril says:

            “and answered randomly.”

            That’s the main fatal flaw in your argument. I never made such a claim, and you are attacking a straw man.

            Checking back, I see that this has been pointed out to you repeatedly. And yet you persist on attacking this strawman.

            There’s no nice way to say this: You are a liar.

            ______________

            By the way, do you agree that in a random sample of 100 people, you can expect 5 to have IQs in the 75-80 range or lower?

            Also, do you believe someone in that intelligence range can be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if he is trying to tell the truth?

            Report comment

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @sabril: Minor quibble: I wouldn’t use the word “trusted.” It implies (though I don’t believe you meant it this way) active effort not to cooperate. I’d use the phrase “relied on.” My daughter, who is autistic, can be trusted to answer questions to the best of her ability if she answers them at all. She cannot be relied upon to answer questions consistently with the question’s overall meaning, even if she understands all the individual words in the question. (If she doesn’t understand the question at all, she will simply answer “yes.” This can be problematic in a very different way.)

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          • sabril says:

            @Brawndo

            “sabril, check out my comments for a similar take on priors”

            Thanks, I basically agree with you. One advantage I have when interviewing people on the phone is that I ask follow up questions to satisfy myself that the person really understood what I was asking and is giving a response which is not nonsense.

            Which may be impractical for a lot of social science research but gives me a decent amount of insight into the pitfalls of research based on self-reporting. Of course I am not an expert, but I have cause based on personal experience to be somewhat skeptical.

            For example, if somebody says that they were promised some “X,” my next questions are (1) who made the promise to you?; and (2) what exactly did the person say which made you conclude that they’d promised you X? A decent percentage of the time, it turns out from the person’s answers to followup questions that they were never actually promised “X.”

            Moreover, the chances of getting bad information go up if the person is asked questions in a somewhat leading fashion as is done in a survey.

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          • Brawndo says:

            sabril,

            Your description sounds exactly the version of the human race I am familiar with. Evidently a lot of people here live in a bubble of strong verbal communicators.

            I will note that some feminist researchers have created other studies with followup questions, or used quantitative questions (e.g. “if you answered ‘yes’ to question #8, then blah blah blah”). My perception of these designs is that they are still weak, and try to dance around without using the word “rape.” As for the qualitative ones, there isn’t enough information to connect the quantitative data to the under-reporting phenomenon found in qualitative studies and know the exact rate of under-reporting.

            Additionally, I do not trust qualitative research run by feminist researchers, or any methodologies where they engage in subjective coding. To believe their conclusions from qualitative studies, I would need to read the anecdotes or transcripts myself, and usually whenever I do that, I start head-desking pretty quickly at the amount of feminist spin.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            My mother was a state benefits administrator for many years. When she was interviewing a person, the outcome of the interview determined whether they had food, shelter and medical care. In other words, they had an interest in paying attention and answering, if not honestly, at least consistently. A MUCH higher interest than your average bored survey-taker.

            She told me that the interviews still often went something like this:

            She said: “You have to fill out this form and submit it by the end of next month or your application will lapse and you won’t be enrolled. If we determine you qualify, you might get benefit X, Y, or Z, but you aren’t qualified for benefit A, B, or C. Benefits take some time to kick in, you won’t get them right away.”

            They heard: “You WAHWAHWAH enrolled WAHWAHWAH qualify WAHWAHWAH get benefit X, Y, Z WAHWAHWAH qualified for benefit A, B, C. Benefits WAHWAHWAH kick in WAHWAHWAH right away.”

            At appeals hearings, they would swear, under penalty of perjury, that they were qualified for and had been promised that all six benefits would kick in immediately, and that nobody had told them they had to submit a form at any particular time.

            Now, many of them were probably lying. But not all of them were. That’s how little attention some people pay and how selective their hearing is on a matter which might literally be LIFE AND DEATH to them. I’m kind of in sabril’s corner on most of this argument.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            sabril, this is what you said earlier:

            “quote me where I estimated that “5%-10% of high school students will fail to understand any given survey question”

            And now that your own words have been quoted back to you, this is the new tune you’re singing:

            “That’s the main fatal flaw in your argument. I never [claimed that the error would be random], and you are attacking a straw man.”

            So which of the following is true?

            A. You DID claim that we could expect >5% of respondents to fail to understand any given question, but never that we could expect the error to be random.

            B. You DID NOT claim that we could expect >5% of respondents to fail to understand any given question.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            That’s how little attention some people pay and how selective their hearing is on a matter which might literally be LIFE AND DEATH to them. I’m kind of in sabril’s corner on most of this argument.

            That’s great, but– math doesn’t lie. If a significant percentage of the high school students routinely misinterpreted questions, you could not get binary-choice questions where 1.1% of the students checked “yes.” It’s possible that the least literate high school students had either dropped out or were absent on the day the survey was circulated, but other than that, you don’t really have any choice but to drastically revise upward your estimate of how many high school students can successfully fill out questionnaires.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            @EK: Sure you could. The fact that any given question is likely to be misinterpreted by any given subset of high school students does not mean that therefore all questions are likely to be misinterpreted by that subset of high school students. IQ is normally distributed: the comprehensibility of survey questions isn’t.

            Or at least, we have no reason to believe it will be for any given set of survey questions, especially when they have been explicitly designed to avoid priming and undue influence. Assuming the design is competent* that means that for a typical survey-taker, the questions will not prime/unduly influence. But it also means the likelihood that survey-takers on the lower end of the intelligence range may actually be MORE likely to answer the questions wrong. (Or just the more literal ones. “If they meant rape, they’d say rape. They didn’t say rape, so they must mean something else.”)

            *Big if.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Here’s what I take it you’re saying: Yes, we know that virtually all high school students understood survey questions A, B, and C perfectly well, but this doesn’t guarantee that they understood survey question D too. And no, it doesn’t. But you now have a burden of proof to discharge: you need to show that question D is substantially less intelligible than survey questions A, B, and C.

            Remember that the question we’re discussing is “have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to?”, which seems clear as day. The two hypotheses for how this could be misinterpreted so far are: (1) for no reason, the students mentally substituted “emotionally pressured” for “physically forced”, and (2) the “when you didn’t want to” distracted them so badly they forgot the rest of the question. If this is all it takes– if high school students are prone to random word substitutions, or are confused by questions with more than fifteen words– they would have screwed up a lot of the other items, too, including the ones where the “yes” rates are so low as to preclude significant random error.

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          • sabril says:

            “this is the new tune you’re singing”

            It’s not new. I’ve simply pointed out your aggressive and dishonest strawmanning.

            “So which of the following is true?”

            First please answer my questions. They are simple enough:

            1. Do you agree that in a random sample of 100 people, you can expect 5 to have IQs in the 75-80 range or lower?

            2. Do you believe someone in that intelligence range can be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, assuming he is trying to tell the truth?

            Is there something about these two questions which is difficult for you to understand?

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Yes to the first question, I don’t know to the second. EDIT: Probably yes to the second, actually. Poking around the internet, it looks like 60 to 70% of people with Down Syndrome can be functionally literate as adults.

            So which of the following is true?

            A. You DID claim that we could expect >5% of respondents to fail to understand any given question, but never that we could expect the error to be random.

            B. You DID NOT claim that we could expect >5% of respondents to fail to understand any given question.

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @Earthly Knight

            Remember that the question we’re discussing is “have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to?”, which seems clear as day.

            I really appreciate all the pointers to the studies that you added to the discussion.

            I respectively disagree that the question that you’ve been citing as clear-cut is quite as unambiguous as you see it, even to a reasonably literate reader.

            “have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to?” has several components of ambiguity:

            “want to”, willingness, can range from enthusiastic participation, though ambivalent participation, through mildly reluctant participation, through consenting-but-through-gritted-teeth, through non-consenting-but-with-no-verbal-rejection, through non-consenting-with-explicit-verbal-rejection, through non-consenting with active physical resistance. (The various flavors of resistance are not necessarily in a specific order). The bare statement of the question doesn’t clearly distinguish which of the cases at or beyond ambivalence, is the intended meaning.

            “physically forced” likewise has many possible degrees. At the low end, in consensual intercourse, there is a modest amount of necessary pressure for penetration. At the high end, a rapist might be mechanically restraining all of the limbs of their struggling victim. Where in this range does “physically forced” start? There is also a question of ambiguous intent: A shift in position that one person might have intended to put either or both of them in a more comfortable position might be interpreted by the other as coercive. “forced” has its ambiguities too.

            I’ll take “sexual intercourse” to mean PIV sex – though even here, how “in” is “in”?

            I don’t think that these sorts of ambiguities are avoidable. At best, in an interactive setting, one can have a dialog that clarifies what the question was intended to ask and what scenarios fit under it. In the absence of dialog, at best one can get some central cases widely agreed on, with lots of murky edge cases possible.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Sure, no sentence can ever be absolutely precise. That’s just the nature of language, though. The only real source of ambiguity is whether intercourse includes oral or anal sex, which doesn’t matter here.

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @Earthly Knight
            Many Thanks!

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          • sabril says:

            “Yes to the first question, I don’t know to the second.”

            Ok, then how is it then that you are so confident that I was wrong when I asserted that “[s]omeone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.”

            Were you just lying again? Or is there some other reason?

            “Poking around the internet, it looks like 60 to 70% of people with Down Syndrome can be functionally literate as adults.”

            Is that your main basis for believing that “probably” people in the 75-80 IQ range can be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question?

            “So which of the following is true?”

            I did not claim that we could expect >5% of respondents to fail to understand any given question.

            Report comment

          • ” If a significant percentage of the high school students routinely misinterpreted questions, you could not get binary-choice questions where 1.1% of the students checked “yes.””

            Of course you could. They just have to misinterpret it as a question to which the answer is “no.”

            You keep assuming that “misinterpret the questions” or a similar description means “answers randomly.” It doesn’t.

            Do you agree that that is what you are doing? If not, how does your supposed knockdown argument work?

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          • Simon says:

            My priors support the @sabril position, but I found his side of this exchange very aggressive and painful to read, and want to commend @Earthly Knight for mostly keeping cool and mostly arguing in good faith.

            @Earthly Knight – I also tend to distrust studies on rates of sexual assault in favor of my intuition, and I thought it might be helpful to explain why. I and others with mid-1980’s birthdays were fed a constant stream of totally bogus information on the topic from obviously biased sources. How could we help hardening our views against new “statistics”?

            BUT… I do not see any good reason to distrust these CDC results and agree with you that various arguments here to dismiss them are weak. (I think @David Friedman’s item about NCVS data offers one possible stronger challenge.)

            So… personally I’ve updated a bit in your direction. My main question is whether the usual American Social Science culprit of “we have a heterogeneous population with a large and dysfunctional underclass and therefore averages and straight probabilities are less helpful” is at work here.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @Simon
            My priors support the @sabril position[….]

            Mine too.

            I see @sabril as a non-aggressive newcomer speaking casually in good faith, expecting common sense to be met with common sense, not with ad hominem based on nitpicking of his casual wording. When that* happened, for many more comments he responded mildly, with cool tolerance and accommodation.

            * “fabricating … indulging your what-ifs … given sabril more than enough rope … [and stronger personal insults I don’t want to quote]”

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          • Simon says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            I am 100% willing to believing that @sabril is also arguing in good faith, but I disagree that @Earthly Knight was unfairly nitpicking casual statements.

            The first statement I saw that made me think “whoah this isn’t fun anymore” was from @sabril (but I may have not read in perfect chronological order of posting):

            “Anyway, since you apparently changed your mind against slinking away in shame, please answer my question”

            Things have definitely gotten bad when you start seeing stuff like that, whoever is to blame.

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          • I wasn’t following the EK/Sabril exchange very carefully, so can’t say who was rude first. But the point at which I got involved it was in response to comments by EK that struck me as rude and arrogant. And unless I missed it (possible), he has not yet either conceded that he was taking the claim that people misinterpreted questions as implying that their answers were random, which makes no sense to me, or shown how his supposed rigorous proof works without that assumption.

            On the other hand, I think Sabril is at this point too willing to interpret what I see as intellectual error as deliberate dishonesty. “Never attribute to malice … .”

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            @David Friedman

            Here is the needle drug question:

            During your life, how many times have you used a needle to inject any illegal drug into your body?
            A. 0 times
            B. 1 time
            C. 2 or more times

            In the results, responses B and C are combined as “had injected illegal drugs”, so 1.1% of the ~7000 girls taking the survey answered either B or C. I am not sure what sort of misinterpretation this question invites, but for it to have been the case that 5% of the respondents failed to understand the question, the respondents who misinterpreted it would have had to have chosen answer A over B and C at a ratio of about 6:1:1. This is all on the assumption that none of the girls who marked B or C had actually used needle drugs, which seems implausible; if we suppose that half actually had, to get to a 5% misunderstanding rate, the ratio becomes about 14:1:1. In other words, we would have to believe that the girls who misinterpreted the question were 14 times as likely to select the correct answer as any other answer. Not only does this strain credulity, but if it were true, it becomes extremely unclear in what sense the girls are misunderstanding the question.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Ok, then how is it then that you are so confident that I was wrong when I asserted that “[s]omeone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.”

            I know that it is either false or, if true, holds no relevance to the survey results we are discussing for the reasons given repeatedly above.

            I did not claim that we could expect >5% of respondents to fail to understand any given question.

            Okay. So when you said that a lot of people misunderstand questions, that it happens all the time, that most people don’t read carefully, that 5% of people can’t be trusted to answer questions, that 5-10% of people have poor or very poor reading ability, what definite claim were you making that is relevant to the topic we are discussing? Because it really seemed like you were constructing the following argument:

            1. In your experience, >5% of people misunderstand any given question they read.
            2. >5% of people misunderstand any given question they read.
            3. The respondents to the survey we are discussing are people.
            4. >5% of the respondents to the survey we are discussing misunderstood any given question they read.

            You proceeded from your experience to a general rule about error by enumerative induction, and then deduced from this general rule a conclusion about the particular case. If you were not making this argument, I don’t understand how anything you said could have amounted to more than empty bluster.

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          • sabril says:

            “I know that it is either false or, if true, holds no relevance to the survey results we are discussing for the reasons given repeatedly above.”

            Ok, so do you now concede that I never asserted or estimated that “5%-10% of high school students will fail to understand any given survey question”?

            Also, please answer my question:

            “Poking around the internet, it looks like 60 to 70% of people with Down Syndrome can be functionally literate as adults.”

            Is that your main basis for believing that “probably” people in the 75-80 IQ range can be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question?

            “Okay. So when you said that a lot of people misunderstand questions, that it happens all the time, that most people don’t read carefully, that 5% of people can’t be trusted to answer questions, that 5-10% of people have poor or very poor reading ability, what definite claim were you making that is relevant to the topic we are discussing?”

            I’m not sure what you mean by “definite claim.” I was explaining why it is reasonable to be skeptical of the survey results. For the survey results to be accurate and meaningful, one needs to assume that a very large percentage of the survey takers correctly understood and accurately self-reported answers to the questions. I am skeptical of this assumption.

            “Because it really seemed like you were constructing the following argument”

            I said what I said, nothing more, and nothing less. I am not going to give a specific estimate of what percentage of people I think misunderstood any particular question. Nor am I going to estimate the likely results of such misunderstanding. Although I will say I doubt the result would be just random responses.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by “definite claim.” I was explaining why it is reasonable to be skeptical of the survey results. For the survey results to be accurate and meaningful, one needs to assume that a very large percentage of the survey takers correctly understood and accurately self-reported answers to the questions. I am skeptical of this assumption.

            So it is reasonable to think that it is not the case “that a very large percentage of the survey takers correctly understood and accurately self-reported answers to the questions”? But this is just the claim that you denied having ever made, isn’t it?

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          • sabril says:

            @simon

            “Things have definitely gotten bad when you start seeing stuff like that, whoever is to blame.”

            Agree. I admit that I get pretty aggressive when I perceive that I am being strawmanned.

            In this case, I said this:

            “In a random sample of 100 people, you can expect 5 to have IQs in the 75-80 range or lower. Someone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.”

            You may agree or disagree with this, but it’s a pretty mild statement.

            Earthly Knight seems to have interpreted it as a claim that 5-10% of all high school students will (1) misunderstand any given survey question; and (2) will then give a random answer to such survey question.

            First of all, his interpretation is completely and obviously wrong. Second, it’s hard to see how this could have been an honest mistake.

            Anyway, in terms of who was incivil first, it appears that the first rude comment in the exchange was Earthly Knight when he accused me of engaging in “mental gymnastics”; the first direct personal insult was when Earthly Knight accused me of being “not bright enough to understand probabilities or social science research.”

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          • sabril says:

            “But this is just the claim that you denied having ever made, isn’t it?”

            I’m not sure I understand your question, but no, I don’t think so.

            Anyway, please answer my questions. This is the last time I will ask:

            Do you now concede that I never asserted or estimated that “5%-10% of high school students will fail to understand any given survey question”?

            “Poking around the internet, it looks like 60 to 70% of people with Down Syndrome can be functionally literate as adults.”

            Is that your main basis for believing that “probably” people in the 75-80 IQ range can be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question?

            Report comment

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’m not sure I understand your question, but no,

            Here was the claim you denied having ever made:

            1. “5%-10% of high school survey respondents will fail to understand any given survey question”

            Here is what you are saying now:

            2. “[It is reasonable to deny that] a very large percentage of the survey takers correctly understood and accurately self-reported answers to the questions”

            The only difference between (1) and (2) is that the latter substitutes the weasel words “very large” for a more precise estimate. Otherwise they are logically equivalent. So you’re just contradicting yourself, at this point.

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          • sabril says:

            “. “[It is reasonable to deny that]”

            No, because there is a difference between being skeptical of something and outright denying it. You’ve strawmanned me yet again. In this case, you have exaggerated my position to make it seem less reasonable.

            And yes, I did not give a specific percentage. You can call that “weaseling,” but that’s the reality of the situation — I don’t feel comfortable give a specific estimate for what percentage of high school students will fail to understand a specific question.

            But even if I did, your “knock down argument” would still be wrong because I never asserted that someone who misunderstands a question will respond randomly

            Anyway, I have my own rules of debate which you can find here:

            https://brazil84.wordpress.com/my-rules-of-debate/

            The very first rule is that I don’t engage with people who misrepresent my position. I’ve given you numerous chances to either support your claim about my position or to retract and apologize but you have failed to do so.

            Instead, you continue to come up with new strawmen. I am interested in engaging with people who respond to my actual position. Not people who just invent unreasonable positions and then attribute them to me.

            So welcome to my shit list — I will no longer engage with you.

            Goodbye, liar.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I see. So you claim that I misrepresented your position– that “a lot of people” misunderstand questions, that it happens “all the time”, that “most people” don’t read very carefully, that 5% of people “can’t be trusted” to understand questions, that 5-10% of people “have poor or very poor reading ability”– by summarizing it as:

            “5%-10% of survey respondents will fail to understand any given question.”

            When what you actually meant was:

            “[It is reasonable to seriously entertain the hypothesis] that 5%-10% of survey respondents will fail to understand any given question.”

            But this makes absolutely no difference. It is not reasonable to entertain that hypothesis, for the reasons given repeatedly above.

            Your rules for debate are cute. Take special note of this one:

            Rule 2. No weaseling. While debating, you are not allowed to misrepresent your own claims or pretend to have said something different from what you actually said.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ sabril
            Anyway, I have my own rules of debate which you can find here:
            https://brazil84.wordpress.com/my-rules-of-debate/

            Are you brazil84?

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          • sabril says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            “Are you brazil84?”

            Yes, does my reputation precede me?

            Report comment

          • sabril says:

            @whipple

            “They heard: ‘You WAHWAHWAH enrolled WAHWAHWAH qualify WAHWAHWAH get benefit X, Y, Z WAHWAHWAH qualified for benefit A, B, C. Benefits WAHWAHWAH kick in WAHWAHWAH right away.'”

            It’s interesting you should describe it this way, because I think a lot of people take a “key word” approach to interpreting language. i.e. when they are asked a question, they pick out a few key words and then they make a guess about the question based on those key words. As opposed to parsing carefully.

            Often their guess is informed by their wishes, desires, biases, prejudices, preconceptions etc.

            Why would people do this? I think it’s because it’s computationally easier; a lot of the time it’s somewhat accurate; and/or it often serves the needs of the person doing the interpreting. I’m tempted to say “laziness,” but the reality is that we are all bombarded with information and shortcuts need to be taken do deal with it.

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          • Creutzer says:

            Why would people do this? I think it’s because it’s computationally easier

            I don’t want to sidetrack this thread, and please ignore me if you don’t want to discuss this, but I think there’s an interesting issue here: Is it?

            If you think about it, just parsing the whole question phonologically, syntactically and semantically doesn’t seem to be that hard. Taking a few words from the question and then inferring on the basis of various contextual factors which of the myriad of possible questions that contain those words could have been asked, on the other hand, seems very hard.

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          • Simon says:

            @sabril – with some regret that i ever brought it up, i will bow out of the whole “who was rude first” question. i can’t say i thought anyone showed particularly admirable interest in “de-escalating”, at any rate.

            anyway, here is the basic structure of the debate as i saw it:

            1.) EK – look at these CDC reported rates of sexual assault.
            2.) S – i think self-reported results are inherently iffy.
            3.) EK – but look at all these ways in which the results behave well, and any specific mechanism of corruption seems not to fit with the data we see.

            i thought EK came up with a lot of support for #3. in particular, i do think it’s fair to say that looking at responses on other “low average” questions like needle drugs does seem to imply that they did a decent job of filtering out clowns and the illiterate. also stability over time, consistency with other data, etc.

            i think we do have to wrestle with this kind of data, rather than dismissing it because of a lot of hypothetical issues it might have. and i saw EK’s frustration as stemming from the perception that you and others were unwilling to do so.

            of course, it’s possible that the CDC numbers are totally bogus, but if we can’t come up with a good specific theory for why these numbers are bogus, we should be prepared to at least think about the possibility they are real. for example, i think a very heterogeneous population might make it possible the numbers and our intuition/priors are both correct in some sense.

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          • sabril says:

            @creutzer

            “I don’t want to sidetrack this thread, and please ignore me if you don’t want to discuss this, but I think there’s an interesting issue here: Is it?

            If you think about it, just parsing the whole question phonologically, syntactically and semantically doesn’t seem to be that hard. Taking a few words from the question and then inferring on the basis of various contextual factors which of the myriad of possible questions that contain those words could have been asked, on the other hand, seems very hard.”

            Here’s my argument for why it’s easier to use the key word approach:

            That’s what chat-bots do as far as I know. And nobody has been able to program a chatbot to parse entire questions. Not only that, but chatbots respond very quickly without taking time to “think” about what is being asked.

            Therefore, the parsing approach is more difficult. Yes, I realize that there is a big gaping hole in my argument which is that I have not described how a parsing algorithm might actually work. But evidently it’s a pretty intense process. And it does seem to be an AI-complete problem.

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          • sabril says:

            @simon

            ” i can’t say i thought anyone showed particularly admirable interest in ‘de-escalating’, at any rate.”

            I would have to agree with that. I have very little patience for people whom I perceive are misstating my position.

            “i thought EK came up with a lot of support for #3. ”

            I pretty much disagree. He definitely showed that there was not a problem with people choosing answers randomly. But he did not do much more than that.

            Admittedly, my main focus was on his dishonest debating tactics.

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        • sabril says:

          @Friedman

          “On the other hand, I think Sabril is at this point too willing to interpret what I see as intellectual error as deliberate dishonesty. ‘Never attribute to malice … .'”

          His misstatement of my position has been pointed out repeatedly by me and others and he has refused to back down. So at this point, in my opinion, he has at a minimum drifted into deliberate dishonesty.

          I think it’s possible, perhaps likely, that his initial misinterpretation was not consciously intentional; that he just has a bad intellectual habit of creating strawmen to attack. And that pride will not let him admit to what he did.

          Which ironically supports my position in two ways:

          First, if he did not read my post carefully and did not understand it, it’s another data point which supports my observation that a lot of people do not read carefully or understand.

          Second, perhaps more importantly, his misinterpretation was not in a random direction. (Like pretty much everyone else who has misinterpreted a post of mine in internet discussions, the misinterpretation served to make my position seem unreasonable and and difficult to defend. )

          Anyway, the bottom line is that I ultimately don’t care if his dishonesty is unintentional and not deliberate. I am interested in engaging with people who respond to the actual claims I make. And not with people who make up unreasonable claims which are then attributed to me.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I understand that you are desperate to run away from your own words. Here they are, again:

            “A lot of people don’t read questions carefully when they are written down or listen to questions carefully when they are asked. ”

            “A lot of people hear a few key words; take a guess what they are being asked; and then answer the question they guess they are being asked. And a lot of the time, that guess is wrong.”

            “In a random sample of 100 people, you can expect 5 to have IQs in the 75-80 range or lower. Someone that low in intelligence cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth.”

            “In my experience, mistakes like this happen all the time. Most people just don’t read or listen very carefully.”

            “I find that about 5 to 10% of the native English speakers who call me have poor or very poor reading ability.”

            I summarized this as “>5% of people will fail to understand any given survey question correctly.” If you were making any claim at all, it was that one.

            You can call me a lying liar who lies all you like– it won’t change what you said. I’m sorry.

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          • Sabril seems to have abandoned the exchange, but I’m still waiting for a response from you to my question.

            Am I correct in believing that what you claimed was a clear proof he was wrong depended on interpreting “cannot be trusted to understand and give an accurate response to a lengthy question, even if they are trying to tell the truth” and similar descriptions of error as “choose an answer at random, giving a .5 probability of either answer if there are only two alternatives.”

            That’s the only sense I can make of what you wrote. It’s obviously wrong. If you made a confident argument that you now know was wrong and are unwilling to say so, I’m not inclined to pay much attention to further arguments from you.

            Do you have either a different explanation of your argument or a defense of the assumption I am attributing to you?

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I responded to this in the thread above at December 30, 2015 at 12:52 pm.

            In any event, I have other things I need to attend to, so this will probably be my last comment. Happy new year.

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          • Simon says:

            @David Friedman –

            I admire a lot of your writing, and I don’t feel like I particularly care about this exchange so I feel a little gross jumping in again. BUT WHATEVER:

            I really don’t see where you’re coming from, attributing a burden to EK to defend on pain of excommunication the choice of this model for Sabril’s claim.

            Like… one mechanism Sabril came up with for how the CDC data could be corrupted was that some subset of respondents couldn’t be trusted to answer the questions reasonably.

            EK responded:

            1.) Here is the specific wording of the question, which is quite simple.
            2.) But anyway, if we try to model your idea, we could suppose that 10% of respondents answer randomly to any given question. BUT we see a pattern of responses on other questions that falsifies this model.

            I don’t think EK’s model in #2 was perfect but I also think it was a pretty decent response, and somewhat convincing. How else would you try to look for evidence that the survey was corrupted in this way?

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          • “I really don’t see where you’re coming from, attributing a burden to EK to defend on pain of excommunication the choice of this model for Sabril’s claim.”

            EK didn’t just claim that he had an argument for why Sabril might be wrong. I don’t feel like hunting back up for an exact quote, but my memory is that he claimed to have a proof that Sabril had to be wrong which Sabril was ignoring. His proof depended on a particular model, and nothing Sabril had said, so far as I could see, implied that model.

            I wouldn’t be upset with EK if his response to having that pointed out was to concede that he had an argument, not a proof, and to raise the question of what plausible patterns of error could both lead to low rates on something like the needle drug question and to falsely high rates on the rape question. But instead, as far as I could tell, he just ignored the fact that his proof depended on attributing to Sabril a claim Sabril had never made.

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      • CatCube says:

        You always need to gut-check numbers. I’m a structural engineer. A few weeks ago, I was working on a design problem to size a metal plate spanning a 2 foot gap to bear the weight of a person. I made what I though were some reasonable assumptions about the size of a foot and got the 200-lb point load from ASCE 7. I found that a 200-lb man would permanently bend a 1/2″ plate spanning a 2′ gap. Should I:
        1) Say “That’s what the numbers say!” and put it on the drawings?
        or
        2) Look over the calculations again and check the assumptions made?

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        • PsychoRecycled says:

          Your intuition told you that *you had done the math wrong*, not that math was wrong.

          The analogous response in this instance would be ‘this feels too high, did I calculate the percentage wrong?’, not ‘this feels too high, so the data is wrong’.

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          • Luke Somers says:

            I think it’s more analogous than that.

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          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            Or, “this feels high, is someone else terrible at gathering and reporting data?”

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          • CatCube says:

            Actually my intuition told me that one of two things had happened:
            1) I made an arithmetic error (Or the wrong formula, as was the case here)
            2) I made a poor assumption in either the fixity or the loading conditions.

            I wasn’t designing a plate; I was designing a mathematical model of a plate. The choice of assumptions in developing that model is a big part of getting something close to reality.

            It’s probably easier to get bad assumptions leading to a bad outcome in the social sciences than structural engineering.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          1. The mechanical intuition of a trained engineer is worlds apart from the sociological (?) intuition of an internet commenter.

          2. There is much less opportunity for cognitive or ideological bias to enter into our beliefs about structural engineering than into our beliefs about sexual assault rates.

          3. I agree that it is important to recheck the math when a result fails a sanity test. But you didn’t decide to brazenly reject the result and go by your gut instead, did you? You kept trying until the calculations made sense.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            The mechanical intuition of a trained engineer is worlds apart from the sociological (?) intuition of an internet commenter.

            I’m not sure that’s a sound working assumption in this forum.

            For instance, both you and Sabril seem to think you have by far the better of the argument and that the other of you is an idiot. I don’t think either of you are idiots, and to be honest I don’t think either of you has the better of the argument. I think you are arguing about different things and, under the principle of charity, choose to believe that this is due to different assignments of levels of relative importance regarding what we “know” about the matter.

            This particular question is highly controversial and has led to some highly dubious “statistics,” such as the assertion that one in four women will be raped in college. Part of the problem with such discussions is that people who have seen such outlandish claims tend to start discounting even more reasonable statistical allegations. That’s not fair, and can certainly lead to error, but it’s entirely understandable. (I take no position on whether any particular commenter is doing that.)

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        • Jay says:

          “There is much less opportunity for cognitive or ideological bias to enter into our beliefs about structural engineering than into our beliefs about sexual assault rates.” Sure. But that works both ways. If someone says that he questions the accuracy of a study, maybe the doubter is allowing his biases to lead him to ignore accurate statistical evidence. Or maybe the people who did the study and those who accept its conclusions are allowing their biases to lead them to ignore flaws in the study. Your position seems to be, “This is an issue where people can be biased, therefore we must assume that your controversial position is wrong and my opposite controversial position is right.”

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          • @Jay:

            I agree with the basic point, that in controversies over issues such as rape rates both sides have biases that may distort their views. But I think the implication is that if different studies produce substantially different results, one should expect extreme studies in either direction to be wrong, since either bias will tend to push towards the extreme.

            One conclusion is that the highest claimed rates of rape are probably much too high. Another is that critics of studies of rape rates probably overestimate how bad they are, because they are focusing on the worst ones.

            I got interested in the issue some years ago, due to a campaign on my college that was citing the one in four or some similar statistic. I looked into the source of that number, concluded both that it was bogus and that producing it had substantially benefited the career of the woman responsible. One result has been to make me skeptical, possibly more skeptical than I should be, of the sort of numbers being cited in this discussion, coming from studies I have not looked carefully at.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Here are two sorts of criticism you might make of a survey, or other study:

            Type 1:
            –“Here is a flaw in the study’s methodology.”
            –“These researchers have a serious conflict of interest.”
            –“Here is a comparable study with contrary results.”

            Type 2:
            –“The study’s methodology might be flawed.”
            –“The researchers might be biased.”
            –“The respondents might have been confused or lying.”

            What is the difference between these two? The first brand of criticism adduces actual evidence of error. The second only raises the possibility of error. But the mere possibility of error is never sufficient reason to reject the results of a study. If it were, no scientific beliefs– including, say, belief in Darwinian evolution or general relativity– could ever be compulsory, because all scientific inquiry is by its nature fallible. So the results of any study conducted by professionals with a modicum of thoughtfulness and diligence must be treated as innocent until proven guilty, that is, they must be taken as presumptively true until evidence to the contrary can be found. As a consequence, if you find yourself inclined to reject a study for one of the reasons found in the second category, something has gone terribly wrong. You couldn’t possibly be raising a principled objection.

            I sympathize with your concerns, because many studies of rape are poorly-conducted, use dubious definitions, or are shot through with ideological bias. I do not think that is the case here, though– the study is large, has an impressive response rate, and asks a question which would be very difficult for anyone to misinterpret. It is possible, of course, that there is some flaw in the methodology that I am overlooking, and the discussion of the NCVS results below, which seem to give a somewhat lower rate, has been helpful. But all that criticisms of the second type really say is that you are bringing substantial biases of your own to the table, and and failing to consider the matter clearly.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            (The above is a response to Jay)

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      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        According to the NCVS: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv14.pdf the total rate of sexual assault and rape victimization is around 1 incident/1000 people per year, for the overall population. Thus your average chance of being raped in a 15 year period (freshmen in high school are 13-14) is less than 2%. And presumably small children are less likely to be raped than the general population. And if you look at table 4, there are half as many victims as incidents. I know violent crime statistics change over time, but the rape and sexual assault rates seem to be lower a decade ago. 10% of high school freshman girls being the victim of rape is absurd to anyone with common sense. For comparison, 25% of (all) women are the victims of rape in the Congo, where rape is routinely used as a weapon of war.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          And presumably small children are less likely to be raped than the general population.

          I don’t know why you would presume this. The great majority of forcible rapes are perpetrated against women ages 8-25. The incidence rate for the overall population is meaningless as a comparison class, because the elderly and men are seldom forcibly raped.

          http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/rape-sexual-violence/pages/victims-perpetrators.aspx

          Sexual violence may begin early in life. Researchers also found that among female rape victims surveyed, more than half (54 percent) were younger than age 18; 32.4 percent were ages 12–17; and 21.6 percent were younger than age 12 at time of victimization.

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            Many Thanks for the data!

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          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            When I said “small children” I was thinking “anyone under 12.” Based on your statistics, it seems more like “around average” but it’s hard to answer that question from that data.

            If people > 60 are raped negligibly often, then you’d expect something like 20% of rape victims to be <12 if all ages are equally likely (12/60=.2). But each population range has a different number of people. If there are lots of small children, the rate of sexual violence against them may still be less than average. certainly those in the age range 12-17 look like they're being raped more often than those under 12.

            Also, are those numbers for "age of first victimization"? That's what it looks like, since 21.6 + 32.4 = 54. In that case, that might understate the fraction of rape victims in the 12-17 category.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            It’s going to be a pain trying to get the numbers to agree, because the NCVS only reports crimes committed against people 12 or older. Be sure you are working from the right assumptions, though: something like 80% of all forcible rapes are perpetrated against women before they reach age 30, and high school freshmen in the US are ages 14-15.

            Also, are those numbers for “age of first victimization”?

            Yes. See this link I also gave below, particularly the pie chart on page 6.

            In that case, that might understate the fraction of rape victims in the 12-17 category.

            Maybe– it’s really hard to say, because vulnerability to repeated victimization seems like it must decline with age.

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          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            “Be sure you are working from the right assumptions, though: something like 80% of all forcible rapes are perpetrated against women before they reach age 30, and high school freshmen in the US are ages 14-15”

            Actually, freshmen are 13-14. I know all the rest, but I would expect victimization to increase significantly after entering high school (or that age range), as your statistics bear out (significantly more victims are first victimized between 12 and 17 than in the smaller age range of 0-12).

            Either way, the idea that 10-20% of young women are victims of rape is absurd, regardless of when it’s claimed to happen.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Actually, freshmen are 13-14

            I don’t know if you’re American, but if you are, maybe you grew up in a weird district?

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_school#United_States

            9th Grade – Freshman Year, starting at 14 to 15 years of age.

            (I had just turned 14 when I entered high school, and I was one of the youngest students in my class.)

            Either way, the idea that 10-20% of young women are victims of rape is absurd, regardless of when it’s claimed to happen.

            What is your basis for saying this? I’ve posted five different surveys from one government source and one survey from a second government source, all of which claim that between 8-12% of women are raped at least once by the time they finish high school. Balanced against that we have your attempt to extrapolate, without getting most of the details right, from a single year’s NCVS survey, which doesn’t even inquire about the victimization of preadolescents! It should be pretty clear what the preponderance of evidence indicates.

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          • Virbie says:

            > I don’t know why you would presume this. The great majority of forcible rapes are perpetrated against women ages 8-25. The incidence rate for the overall population is meaningless as a comparison class, because the elderly and men are seldom forcibly raped.

            For some reason we’re jumping back and forth in this thread between talking about being “raped” to talking about being “[physically] forcibly raped”. Since Scott was talking about sexual assault, not “physically forcible sexual assault”, I don’t really see the relevance of the latter. That’s not quite a complaint about your comment, just a remark on my confusion of how the conversation narrowed in such an arbitrary way (if a child is drugged and raped, how is that not a relevant data pt?). At any rate, the study isn’t making quite the claims you think it does due to typically bad design.

            The study makes the common (and disgustingly anachronistic) of blithely defining away the existence of female-on-male rape, or indeed female rapists in general. From page 13 of the actual study[1] (instead of the fact-sheet):

            “Rape was defined as an event that occurred without the victim’s consent, that involved the use of force to penetrate the victim’s vagina or anus by penis, tongue, fingers, or object, or the victim’s mouth by penis”.

            You should be careful about citing studies’ conclusions by just reading the factsheet. Often they’re using definitions that bear no resemblance to the definitions in use in the discussion you’re taking part in. This study is particularly bad because instead of burying the actual data in the study itself and lying about it on the factsheet, it didn’t even bother collecting it. Also note that even if we were talking solely about forcible rape, the fact that we’re discussing child rape in this subthread would attenuate the effect of the gender strength difference.

            [1] https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/172837.pdf

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I don’t really see the relevance of the latter. That’s not quite a complaint about your comment, just a remark on my confusion of how the conversation narrowed in such an arbitrary way (if a child is drugged and raped, how is that not a relevant data pt?).

            I agree with the sentiment. We’re talking about forcible rape because a) the boundaries of the category are much clearer, so we waste less time quibbling about definitions, and b) the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the CDC, which is our primary data source for youth victimization, asks specifically about forcible rape.

            The study makes the common (and disgustingly anachronistic) of blithely defining away the existence of female-on-male rape, or indeed female rapists in general. From page 13 of the actual study[1] (instead of the fact-sheet):

            Again, I agree with the sentiment. I am not sure what proportion of made-to-penetrate cases are forcible versus drug-facilitated, so it’s unclear how this would affect the statistics. More importantly, though, the YRBS does not make this mistake.

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          • My impression is that a lot of female vs. male rape is a result of the male freezing when assaulted rather than being drugged or overpowered. Anyone have stats on the details of what happens?

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          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            “I don’t know if you’re American, but if you are, maybe you grew up in a weird district?”

            I am American, and I can tell you people don’t usually start high school at 15. The only person I know who started Freshman year that old had been held back in an earlier grade.

            “What is your basis for saying this? I’ve posted five different surveys from one government source and one survey from a second government source, all of which claim that between 8-12% of women are raped at least once by the time they finish high school. Balanced against that we have your attempt to extrapolate, without getting most of the details right, from a single year’s NCVS survey, which doesn’t even inquire about the victimization of preadolescents! It should be pretty clear what the preponderance of evidence indicates.”

            Your NIJ and NCJRS links are closer to what I am saying for women (15-17% lifetime victimization rate) than the original claim (11% of high school students report having been victimized) (since violent crime rates were elevated for a few decades). It still seems high, since the NCVS number is for combined sexual assault and rape. UCR almost uniformly under reports compared to NCVS.

            That “one year’s” NCVS includes data from multiple years, and it is one of the largest, best-run crime surveys in the United States.

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            This isn’t exactly about freezing, but szopeno gave a link with some useful data: http://www.psmag.com/politics-and-law/women-sexually-assault-men-92099

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          • WK says:

            Men are raped at … about an equal or slightly higher rate than women if counting all rape in the USA, and certainly not “seldom”. You’re not including prison rape.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I am American, and I can tell you people don’t usually start high school at 15.

            Sure, but we weren’t discussing how old students are when they start high school, we were discussing how old freshman are in general. Freshman are 14-15 years old.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          Here’s the original source, from 1998. It reports that 15% of women had been victims of forcible rape in their lifetimes. Of these, one-fifth (3%) were raped before they were 12, and more than one-half (8%) by the time they were 17. This is slightly lower than the rate for female high-school students quoted above, but that may be a result of cohort effects: forcible rape was three times more common in 2005 than in 1965, and this survey will have reached many women born before the middle of the century.

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          • gongtao says:

            “forcible rape was three times more common in 2005 than in 1965”

            I have always heard that rape has declined over that period. A quick search found me this chart :

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rapes_per_1000_people_1973-2003.jpg

            that shows a rate of 2.5/1000 in 1973 but only 0.5 /1000 in 2003.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I was using the FBI UCR statistics (available here), which list 23,000 forcible rapes in 1965 out of a population of 195 million, for a rate of 0.012%, and 94,000 forcible rapes in 2005 out of a population of 295 million, for a rate of 0.032%.

            The Wikipedia graph appears to be using National Crime Victimization Survey data, which is probably more reliable but only goes back to 1973. In any event, violent crime began to skyrocket in the late 1960s, reaching its peak in the 80s and early 90s before subsequently falling.

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        • Jeffrey Soreff says:

          According to the NCVS: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv14.pdf the total rate of sexual assault and rape victimization is around 1 incident/1000 people per year, for the overall population. Thus your average chance of being raped in a 15 year period (freshmen in high school are 13-14) is less than 2%. And presumably small children are less likely to be raped than the general population. And if you look at table 4, there are half as many victims as incidents. I know violent crime statistics change over time, but the rape and sexual assault rates seem to be lower a decade ago. 10% of high school freshman girls being the victim of rape is absurd to anyone with common sense.

          The “1 incident/1000 people per year, for the overall population” could be consistent with quite a high victimization rate for a selected subgroup, if most of the victims are concentrated there (instead of the uniform risk assumption you made above).

          1/1000 per year adds up to an overall lifetime risk of about 8%.
          If roughly 3/4 of the victims are women, who are about half the population, then their lifetime risk is 13%, which isn’t wildly off from the 18% that has been quoted elsewhere in the thread.

          If half of these are before age 17 (from Earthly Knight’s data from the ncjrs study), then the odds there are roughly 6.5%, which isn’t wildly off from the 10%. So the 1/1000 per year over the population doesn’t make the 10% rate for high school girls absurd.

          I should note: I’m making the gross approximation that I can ignore historical changes in rape rates, which have been quoted as being as much as a factor of 3. Ideally we’d have the rate as a function of calendar year, as well as by age and gender and probably a host of other plausibly significant factors – but not all of this is available at all, and I don’t want to do quite that much digging…

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          • NN says:

            That analysis ignores the possibility of repeat victimization. Given how common it is, for example, for domestic abuse victims to end up in a string of abusive relationships with different people, it seems likely that there are factors which make certain people more likely than the average person to fall victim to other sorts of crimes. I don’t know how common this is with rape in particular, but I don’t think that it should be discounted off hand.

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          • @Jeffrey:

            Note that the NCVS figure isn’t for rape, it’s for rape/sexual assault. Sexual assault includes “A wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. It also includes verbal threats.”

            According to another of the NCVS documents, “Females ages 18 to 24 had higher rates of rape and sexual assault than females in other age groups.” So the high school age rapes should be well under half the lifetime figure.

            Looking elsewhere on the NCVS site, only about a third of “rape/sexual assault” cases are completed rape. About another third are attempted, the remainder other forms of sexual assault.

            (http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5176)

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            According to another of the NCVS documents, “Females ages 18 to 24 had higher rates of rape and sexual assault than females in other age groups.” So the high school age rapes should be well under half the lifetime figure.

            This doesn’t follow; the source that Jeffrey is using gives the following breakdown for age of first victimization:

            Younger than 12: 22%
            12-17 years: 32%
            18-24 years: 29%
            25 or older: 16%

            As you can see, if the 18-24 bracket had a slightly higher rate, it would at once be true that (a) a majority of women who are raped are raped at least once by their 18th birthday and (b) women who are ages 18-24 have the highest rate of first victimization.

            (Note that, as NN says, the comparison is further confounded because the NCVS data includes repeat victimizations)

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @NN , @David Friedman, @Earthly Knight
            Many Thanks!

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          • @Earthly Knight:

            It might be true that more first rapes occurred at the younger age. But if my quote is correct, total number of rapes in the younger age group has to be less than half total lifetime number, and the latter can be calculated from the NCVS rate figure, assuming that it was reasonably stable over time.

            Multiple victimizations mean that the percentage of women who have been raped is less than the ratio of number of rapes of women to number of women.

            So I don’t see how the percentage of women who have been raped by age 18 can be more than half the lifetime expected number of rapes, although it could be more than half the lifetime probability of having been raped at least once.

            Am I misunderstanding your point?

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I think you are misinterpreting something, but I’m not sure what. Suppose that the age groups are partitioned as follows:

            1. Younger than 12 (not measured by the NCVS): A
            2. 12-17: B
            3. 18-24: C
            4. Older than 24: D

            It can be true that “females ages 18 to 24 had higher rates of rape and sexual assault than females in other age groups”– that C has the highest value of A,B,C, and D– while also being true that (A+B)>(C+D).

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          • @EK:

            I agree with what you say, but it follows automatically from the fact that NCVS doesn’t include younger than 12 in its figures.

            Suppose we take your group B to correspond to high school age–which doesn’t quite work, but the NCVS divides at 18, so I can’t get closer than that. Further suppose that the NCVS figure of 1.1/thousand/year has applied forever. Finally, assume all people live to 72, giving them 60 years above 12. Start by using “rape” for rape/sexual assault to simplify things.

            The average person now has suffered 66/1000 rapes after age 12. So at most 66/1000 people have ever been raped after age 12. More of those rapes occurred in group C than in group B, so something fewer than 33/1000 people have been raped while in group B.

            Finally, since the figure we are discussing is (I think–it’s been a long discussion and I may have gotten confused) for forcible penetration, which is about a third of all rape/sexual assault cases, reduce our figure by a factor of 3 to give us 11/1000 people actually raped while in group B. Isn’t that wildly inconsistent with the figures we have been discussing? It’s a little low because I’m not including 18 year olds or young 19 year olds in group B, high because I am assuming group B is the same number of rapes as group C when it’s actually lower, and I’ve made various simplifying assumptions, but I don’t see how all of that could explain the conflict with the numbers we have been discussing.

            But maybe I’ve just lost track.

            Scott gives a figure of 9% ever raped. The NCVS figures imply about 2%, but that may mean that he is using “rape” for “rape/sexual assault.” It’s not a trivial difference–indeed, I’m surprised that the NCVS figure implies only a 3:1 ratio. If I understand the definition, a guy who puts his hand on a girl’s breast or kisses her when she doesn’t want him to has committed sexual assault. I would expect that sort of thing to be very common–which may mean that the people interviewed are using a narrower definition than the one given by the NCVS.

            Apologies if I’ve gotten different parts of the discussion confused–I’m currently recovering from surgery, which leads to spending lots of time online but perhaps not following things as carefully as I should, and I don’t feel sufficiently energetic to go back up the thread and check everything against my memory.

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        • grendelkhan says:

          The NCVS isn’t comparable to specific victimization surveys, and it isn’t comparable to police reports (e.g., the FBI’s UCR).

          There are three tiers of statistics at work here. The UCR asks police how many rapes were reported to them. The NCVS asks “have you been raped?”. Specific victimization surveys (Koss et al. and several follow-ups) ask “have you been [definition of raped]?”.

          If you try and compare the results of asking these questions to each other, you will be as confused as Eric Raymond is in the linked thread.

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          • “The NCVS asks “have you ever been raped?’.”

            I don’t think that can be correct, since the main number they report is not for rape but for “rape/sexual assault,” which includes a good deal more than actual rape.

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        • Dr Dealgood says:

          @Jeffery Soref,

          (Edit: I accidentally comment threading. Link to Jeffery Soref’s comment here.)

          That article actually made me more confused about the mechanics of female-on-male rape.

          The only friend of mine who I know was almost raped by a woman was barely conscious after binge drinking, which logically follows, but apparently that’s a minority with most rapes being classified as emotional manipulation / coercive tactics. It’s not really clear what that means, and their definition of physical force is also pretty ambiguous based on the descriptions in the article. Also the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims thought of the experience as positive raises a lot of questions about their classification scheme.

          Can you shed some light on this? I no longer have a clear idea what we’re talking about when we say rape in this context.

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          • CatCube says:

            I’ve had a subordinate tell me he woke up from being passed-out drunk with a woman who’d been hitting on him all night giving him a blowjob. Another said that he’d woken up with a woman with his penis in her vagina. I’d suspect that would be the majority of PIV woman-perpetrated rapes.

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          • Dr Dealgood says:

            See that’s what I thought too, but the article put it at something less than 30% of the total.

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    • sabril says:

      “That would mean there are about as many sexually molested people in the U.S. as Blacks”

      As a side note, I would point out that there are a lot fewer blacks in the United States than most people realize. Probably this has something to do with (1) the prominence of blacks in music and sports; and (2) the efforts by many American movie and television producers to have at least one prominent and sympathetic black character in their releases.

      But I do agree with your main point. I’m extremely skeptical of the claim that 10% of people were molested as children. At least in the United States.

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      • Eph says:

        I don’t think 10% of children had forced sex, but if you count everything that could be counted, 10% is not unrealistic. Just think how many cases of consensual petting one year below the age of consent there must be. And so on.

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        • sabril says:

          “I don’t think 10% of children had forced sex, but if you count everything that could be counted, 10% is not unrealistic”

          Yes good point. I remember once when I was in high school, a female teacher touched me slightly inappropriately on one occasion. I walked away and that was the end of it. If you are going to count this sort of thing, then yeah, I can accept 10%.

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    • Mark Atwood says:

      I don’t believe that for a second. That would mean there are about as many sexually molested people in the U.S. as Blacks. Again, don’t buy that for a second

      I completely believe it. I will not cite most reasons for my belief, mainly because I am not as good as Scott at doing privacy enhancing obscuration of privately shared narratives.

      I would, actually and somewhat horrifically, be easily convinced that the problem is less bad in the “wealthy West” than in the rest of the world, and the rest of the world keeps it undiscussed / unmentioned in ways that keep it out of media stream and noösphere of the West.

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      • E. Harding says:

        “I would, actually and somewhat horrifically, be easily convinced that the problem is less bad in the “wealthy West” than in the rest of the world, and the rest of the world keeps it undiscussed / unmentioned in ways that keep it out of media stream and noösphere of the West.”

        -Totally. I expect it to be worse in the darker-skinned countries (e.g., Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Nigeria).

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    • Some general points on this argument:

      1. A higher estimate of the rate of rape is likely to get more attention, both because it is more newsworthy and because it is more useful to people campaigning for policies to reduce the rate. So it makes sense to think of a figure such as the ones we are seeing as representing the highest of a range of figures produced by different approaches. If rape is uncommon, high rates will tend to be those produced by approaches that generate a lot of wrong answers. Some possibilities of how have been discussed by others.

      2. It’s worth comparing numbers from other approaches. The NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey) is generally regarded as a pretty reliable source of data and has been running for quite a long time, with parallel efforts in other countries. Their figure for the rate of rape/sexual assault, a broader category than rape, for 2014, is 1.1 per 1000 persons 12 or older. If that is correct, then the figures we are seeing are exaggerated.

      3. A number of people seem to take it for granted that the Bush era CDC would not have been biased towards producing high rates. The implicit assumption is that federal agencies share the ideological views of the current administration.

      As evidence against that assumption, note that Congress banned the CDC from doing gun control research back in 1996 in response to work by Rivara, funded by the CDC, published in 1993. Work published in 1993 has to have been funded before that, hence under the (first) Bush or Reagan. I haven’t looked into the history in more detail than that, but I’m pretty sure that the CDC’s support of gun control dates well back into Republican administrations.

      That suggests an agency ideology that has been maintained through Republican and Democratic administrations. To the extent that it’s blue tribe, it would predict a bias towards producing research that generated high, not low, estimates of rape rates.

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      • grendelkhan says:

        You’re making the same mistake Eric Raymond made, comparing two different methodologies. The NCVS will no more get the same results as a sex-specific victimization study than it’ll get the same results as the FBI’s UCR (a summary of local police reports) would.

        The same study has been carried out at least six times; if you ask women “were you [definition of rape]d?”, you get the same results. You can argue that the results are wrong (plenty of people do), but you can’t dismiss it as a single-study artifact. There’s something there that needs a real explanation, and it really does look like the explanation is ‘rape is endemic’, so far as I can see.

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        • Brawndo says:

          The same study has been carried out at least six times; if you ask women “were you [definition of rape]d?”, you get the same results. You can argue that the results are wrong (plenty of people do), but you can’t dismiss it as a single-study artifact. There’s something there that needs a real explanation, and it really does look like the explanation is ‘rape is endemic’, so far as I can see.

          Alternate explanation: participants do not always interpret the questions the same way the experimenters do. There was a good discussion upthread with someone who regularly asks people questions on the phone, who argues that many people misunderstand simple questions. To many of the high IQ crowd here, it might seem implausible that there could be misinterpretation of such simple questions; this is obvious typical-minding and holds way too much faith in humanity.

          As we know from the Koss study, only 27% of the women categorized as raped actually described their experience as “rape.” In other words, 73% of the supposed rape victims did not describe their experiences as rape. That’s a pretty big discrepancy. To keep believing the high 15-20% numbers for rape, you have to buy the feminist explanation that 100% of these women were incorrectly describing their experience and were actually rape victims! That’s a really strong claim.

          While it’s plausible that some of these women might be underreporting, feminists have not shown that all of them are. The fact that the women involved do not agree with the researchers assessment of them as rape victims makes these studies much weaker than feminists claim.

          So how do we explain the discrepancy where women say they had sex “when they didn’t want to”, but then do not claim to be raped? First, let’s clear something up right now: we don’t have to solve this mystery in order to doubt Koss-level rape rates. The discrepancy is sufficient for doubt; we won’t have to explain it. That being said, there are multiple possibilities, other than under-reporting. There could be an entire spectrum of messy situations that trip Koss’ rape questions, while not actually being rape.

          These studies assume that you can take a definition of rape that matches the current law, and capture with a single question whether a rape has occurred according to that law, without any other context. However, it’s characteristic of lots of laws that their definition isn’t sufficient to know whether a crime has a occurred (e.g. imagine if a survey asks “has anyone taken your property when you didn’t want them to?”… how many people answering “yes” have actually been robbed?). This is exactly why we have trials with testimony and fact-finding to get to the bottom of the complaint.

          Legal verdicts of rape require mens rea (knowing intent) on the part of the rapist. These studies have no way of measuring whether mens rea occurred. In fact, lack of mens rea is one hypothesis for why women said they weren’t raped. Let’s say there was a situation where a woman answered “yes” to one of Koss’ rape indicator questions, but she knew (either during or after) that he believed that she was consenting. Though such a situation might fit some feminist definitions of rape, it does not fit a “legal definition” of rape, because there was no mens rea. Most of these studies are claiming to be based on a legal definition of rape, but they are really not, because they are missing the mens rea part. (And I know that some feminists claim that some other weak social science studies show that misunderstandings don’t happen; this is more ideological hackery.)

          To feminist researchers, there is an analytic equation of “did not want to” = “against my will” = “nonconsensual” = “rape”. But there is zero evidence that other people understand those terms the same way the researchers do. Aren’t feminists always complaining that people don’t use consent language the same way they do? If true, then answering “yes” to the “did not want to” or “against my will”-style questions doesn’t necessarily indicate a rape scene. Maybe yes; maybe no. To a feminist, this suggestion is ridiculous, but they spend immense time discussing consent and rape and forming a linguistic consensus; other people do not.

          For the most concrete evidence that weird situations are happening, we can return again to Koss’ study: 16% of women categorized as raped actually described their experience as a “crime other than rape.” What exactly do these women have in mind as a “crime other than rape”? We don’t know. And feminist researchers haven’t bothered trying to find out; they are so sure that these women are rape victims with false consciousness.

          Maybe it’s a sign that there is a need for multiple categories of sexual wrongdoing, rather than trying to shoehorn everything into the concept of rape (see “noncentral fallacy”). It’s quite possible that people have negative experiences that cannot accurately be described with the concept of rape. Feminists even admit this sometimes; they used to throw around concepts like “gray rape”, or “continuum of consent,” which implies that people’s experiences are not so cut-and-dried. It’s quite possible that feminist researchers’ concept of rape doesn’t cleave reality at the joints, which could be why they have such a different idea of rape than study participants. Words can be wrong.

          If your friend told you that someone made them have sex when they did not want to, you would be justified in inferring rape, because you would have the context of their body language and perhaps other details of the situation; the researchers in the study lack this context. Criminal trials also have ways to attain additional context to get to the bottom of what happened.

          Typical rape studies do not get to the bottom of what happened. Maybe someone should design some more qualitative studies that try to do this. For now, all we can say is that crime surveys are the lower bound on rape rates, typical rape studies (that don’t use the word rape) are the upper bound, and the truth is somewhere in between.

          Koss-style studies are classic examples of people trying to stretch weak social science studies into sweeping conclusions. They untruthfully claim that their methodologies represent legal definitions of rape. While they are possibly accurate, they are much weaker evidence than their authors and other feminists claim, which is irresponsible on their part.

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          • grendelkhan says:

            This seems like an isolated demand for rigor, i.e., a fallback position for when you don’t like the data. Why do people misunderstand the questions from Koss et al. in a different way from misunderstanding the questions in the NCVS? Why did they misunderstand the questions in the exact same way when they were rephrased by Schwartz and Leggett? Why are the results consilient with Lisak and Miller, with McWhorter? (That is, asking men “have you [definition of rape]d anyone?”.)

            As we know from the Koss study, only 27% of the women categorized as raped actually described their experience as “rape.” […] you have to buy the feminist explanation that 100% of these women were incorrectly describing their experience and were actually rape victims! That’s a really strong claim.

            It is a really strong claim! I encourage you to read the survey instrument, the SES. The modal case here seems to be women saying “yes, he held me down and had sex with me when I didn’t want him to and kept telling him to stop, but he didn’t rape me”. This is analogous to asking people “have you missed work because of being hung over?” rather than “are you an alcoholic?”. There’s a book of anecdotes about this, if you’d like to get the flavor.

            And I know that some feminists claim that some other weak social science studies show that misunderstandings don’t happen; this is more ideological hackery.

            The “ideological hackery” is summed up here; people generally are reasonably good at understanding each other. The assumption that rape is just one big miscommunication is insupportable, especially since, as pointed out above, rapists will tell you what they did so long as you taboo the word “rape”.

            I just don’t see how you can look at the two consilient methodologies and still believe that there’s no there there, that this whole thing is just a statistical artifact or misunderstanding of survey questions.

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          • Brawndo says:

            How do you know that I’m making an isolated demand for rigor, when you don’t know the level of rigor I demand in other situations? My opinion on this subject used to be a lot closer to yours, but I came back to these studies years later with more knowledge of the lossiness of human communication and the increasingly low reputation of social science, and I recognized that this entire research program is flawed and the results are only weak evidence.

            I also find feminist academics to be totally untrustworthy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were also faking or fudging data.

            My critique is that there could be sufficient linguistic confusion about consent language that researchers and participants might not understand terms the same way; all of these designs that don’t use the word “rape” are vulnerable to this problem. Please re-read my comment, and the comments I linked to upthread, where the other poster makes it quite clear that in his professional experience asking questions, he thinks it quite possible that someone could misinterpret “did not want to” as talking about enthusiasm rather than consent. He is also quite clear that respondents sometimes latch onto a particular section of a question and ignore the rest. If correct, then getting straight answers on a self-report survey with complicated, long questions, is going to be hard… especially when the subject is an emotive one where people are known to be bad communicators.

            You can’t just taboo “rape”, and then decide from an answer to single questions (which are pretty long and convoluted), that rape has necessarily occurred. The whole practice of rationalist taboo was developed between high verbal IQ rationalists for conversations with actual back-and-forth; it can easily take. If you understand why rationalist taboo is necessary, and if you agree with the other basic rationalist precepts like how words can be wrong, then you should be able to why you can’t play a one-question game of rationalist taboo with average people. You can’t just analytically substitute emotionally-charged words about sexuality, without additional context or clarification, and expect to maintain the same meaning at a 100% reliable rate.

            Rephrasing the question in another study may not help as long as “rape” is still being tabooed (unfortunately, I can’t access the full text of Schwartz and Leggett, and I only see their rephrasing of one question). As for asking men “have you [definition of rape]d anyone?,” Lisak’s actual question was another of these long, convoluted ones with the same methodological problem of analytical substitution, lack of context for response, and assumption that respondents are understanding terms the same way.

            The “ideological hackery” is summed up here; people generally are reasonably good at understanding each other.

            That post reeks of unjustified, ideological certainty. As for the referenced Kitzinger & Frith study, it assumes that people’s norms for refusals in non-sexual situations can be extrapolated to sexual situations. This cannot slay the miscommunication thesis, which holds that sexual communication is uniquely bad in sexual situations. The conclusions are based on ideological leaps of logic.

            As for the O’Byrne study, it’s a qualitative study with 8 people. I do not agree with the authors’ interpretations or their extrapolations. All it shows is that young men are confused about sexual norms and women’s communication. Plus it shows that feminist academics are clueless about how other people conduct sexuality, and that they cannot understand men’s experiences because they keep trying to twist all the responses into their framework.

            It is a really strong claim! I encourage you to read the survey instrument, the SES. The modal case here seems to be women saying “yes, he held me down and had sex with me when I didn’t want him to and kept telling him to stop, but he didn’t rape me”. This is analogous to asking people “have you missed work because of being hung over?” rather than “are you an alcoholic?”. There’s a book of anecdotes about this, if you’d like to get the flavor.

            I have read the SES and I am quite familiar with feminist thinking on this subject. Under-reporting does happen, even in really egregious cases of rape. It is still unclear how prevalent such cases are for explaining the discrepancy between Koss’ results, and the lack of her participants claiming they were raped. Does it help Koss’ case? Yes, it does. Maybe false consciousness explains some of the (large) discrepancy. But does it explain the entire discrepancy? No, it doesn’t. Communication gap between researchers and participants is still possible.

            Just because one methodology leads to over-reports, that doesn’t mean we should be satisfied with a weak methodology and paint lipstick on a pig.

            Your hypothetical quote of a woman here is already much different phrasing from the SES. Phrasing matters when discussing sexuality.

            I just don’t see how you can look at the two consilient methodologies and still believe that there’s no there there, that this whole thing is just a statistical artifact or misunderstanding of survey questions.

            That’s not how I would put it. My previous comment granted that their conclusions were possible. It’s a thorny case of figuring out how to weight weak evidence, and I’ll grant that the weighting is debatable. Due to systematic design flaws and shared biases on the part of researchers, it’s actually quite reasonable to doubt the strength of the conclusions of these studies. They are just not very high quality, even for social science. Without the consilience, they should probably be totally dismissed.

            The main thing that bothers me is that the researchers are exaggerating the strength of these studies for obviously ideological reasons, and picking weaker methodologies that generate higher numbers that get used as a political bludgeoning tool, being used to justify social engineering, and totally defining the terms of the debate about rape. Doesn’t that bother you at all?

            A much better approach would be to try to establish the lower bound for rape by using really simple and unambiguous questions. This wouldn’t make for such good headlines, but we wouldn’t need to wrangle so much about the relative probability of our respective interpretations. With such a weak study, the true debate on this topic is probably about priors, and people approach this topic with really different priors.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Brawndo
            With such a weak study, the true debate on this topic is probably about priors, and people approach this topic with really different priors.

            +

            On this LW/Rationalist-inspired blog*, it’s nice to see even two people in this subthread using the term ‘priors’. There’s also a nice meta nod to map and territory in offering to outright say ‘priors’ instead of the modest but apparently confusing ‘common sense’.

            * a blog with a recurring theme of criticizing studies and, in general, not jumping to conclusions from them

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          • Careless says:

            I note that Lisak seems to have gotten caught making things up https://reason.com/archives/2015/07/28/campus-rape-statistics-lisak-problem

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          • Brawndo says:

            Wow, I thought Lisak was the relatively responsible rape researcher, and his theories were plausible to me.

            Let’s put this all together. According to the Reason articles, Lisak’s career has exploded due to his serial rapist theory. He is influencing the policies of tons of universities, government agencies, and the military. He is testifying on rapists as an expert witness. He is a big deal at conferences and often speaks at college campuses. But his main claim was based on research that wasn’t even his own, on subjects that weren’t all college students, not all of them were interviewed, and he didn’t do all the interviews. Then he represented this as his research, his interviews, and evidence of an epidemic of repeat rapists on college campuses. When asked to explain what happened, he hung up on the reporter.

            Maybe there is a misunderstanding between him and Reason. But I think at least some of their claims are going to stick. In the least, it’s looking awfully fishy.

            Lately he is accused of creating a misleading video re-enacting an interview with a rapist and presenting it as representative of campus rapists. It turns out to be a composite of several people from the 80’s, which he didn’t disclose. And this is the video he shows to the military, universities, and government agencies when they do his program, where he is undoubtedly making money. What the fuck.

            Why does he have to cut-and-paste decades-old interviews to create the perfect Franken-rapist to be played by an actor? Because he is trying to have the biggest emotional and political impact. This guy’s bread is buttered by making the problem seem as grave as possible. I’m not going to say that his theories are entirely implausible, but it’s obvious there is a lack of integrity here, and he is optimizing for maximum political impact and attention, rather than scientific responsibility. This is what happens when a field gets too politicized.

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          • Isn’t the use of composites standard practice, due to professional standards around privacy?

            Whenever Scott posts something about patients he’s come in contact with, for example, it’s usually a composite. I think he uses other forms of obfuscation occasionally, but composites seem to be the most common.

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          • Adam says:

            I’m pretty sure you have to do something to protect privacy, whether compositing, changing details, anonymizing dataset features, adding Laplacian noise to your measurements, whatever, though they generally don’t result in strong guarantees if someone is determined to figure out who you’re really talking about.

            It definitely complicates things because story vignettes and sometimes even the raw data is going to lie at least a little bit on purpose. To some extent, you have to trust the researchers are actually adding noise and not bias. If you don’t, you pretty much end up in the position of just never accepting any study results that require the use of anonymous subjects.

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          • Brawndo says:

            Agree with Adam.

            The difference is that Scott talks to people in the capacity of a psychiatrist, so doctor-patient confidentiality applies. That’s not the case for researchers. I’m not sure what the best practices are for researchers quoting anonymous interviews.

            There is nothing inherently wrong with making a compilation. The problem according to the Reason article is that:

            – Lisak and his marketing materials never disclose that “Frank” is a compilation.

            – He is very misleading about where “Frank” comes from. He is discussing Frank in the context of his flagship study on serial predators with a sample of 1,882, when Frank is actually from a qualitative study of 12 from the 80’s. He makes it sound like Frank’s attitudes are representative of the study with the larger sample size.

            – He edits together multiple interviews to create the most demonic depiction of rapists, following his theory that most rapes are by undetected serial predators who are callous, premeditating, and sociopathic. According to Reason, a lot of the subjects come off as impulsive rather than sociopathic.

            – His compilation is being performed by a voice actor. This is designed to create the maximum emotional impact on policymakers and the general public.

            Reason article:

            But the “undetected rapist” Lisak has chosen to highlight and on which he builds—the “typical” student committing sexual assault on college campuses—is actually an outlier in his subject group. Charles from nearly 30 years ago (who somehow becomes Frank in the curated interview) is disproportionately represented as embodying the motivations and techniques of the typical perpetrator of sexual assault on American college campuses today.

            This bears emphasis: The interview with an undetected rapist that is David Lisak’s dramatic centerpiece, presented as statements made by a single person and used to illustrate the typical mindset of a college rapist, is an edited compilation of interviews Lisak did with a handful of subjects in the 1980s. The material included in the video interview is not even typical of those subjects as a group. Instead—and at best—it has been edited so that it provides credibility to Lisak’s campus serial predator theory.

            Lisak’s is supposedly a scientist who is educating the public about rape prevention. But his rapist composite is not accurately representing rapists. How can policymakers be expected to identify and stop rapists without an accurate picture of their character and behavior? Why can’t Lisak accurately disclose that he is making a composite? Why is he hanging up the phone on reporters who are asking him to explain his work?

            The cynical explanation is that Lisak is bending the truth to fit his alarmist serial predator theory. Unlike the implausible feminist “rape culture” theory where are all men are potential rapists, Lisak’s serial predator theory is perfect for attracting the attention and consulting fees of administrators. Once his theory started getting national attention, there was a strong incentive for him to stretch his data more and more, and mix-and-match different studies and different interviews to support the strongest version of the theory. He got in over his head and he can’t back up.

            Of course, I’m doing a bit of speculation here. But it’s undeniable that the incentives are perverse. He has the perfect alarmist theory and he is doing DVD sales, consulting, workshops, training, and forensic testimony. He can’t moderate his theory without risking his income and national reputation.

            Lisak’s misrepresentations reflect badly on the rest of his research, on the rest of the rape research field, and on social science in general.

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        • Brawndo says:

          Exactly: let’s apply a level of skepticism to this research program that’s standard for this blog.

          Minor correction:

          Just because one methodology leads to over-reports, that doesn’t mean we should be satisfied with a weak methodology and paint lipstick on a pig.

          I meant under-reports. Just because asking a straightforward question about “rape” doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that asking a more convoluted version question is a good methodology.

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      • Earthly Knight says:

        I spent some time the other night trying to get the NCVS and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey figures to agree, but the methodologies are just too different. Here are some of the problems:

        Reasons the NCVS figure need to be adjusted upwards:
        1. It doesn’t record crimes committed against children younger than 12. Other sources report that around 20% of women who are raped are raped at least once by age 12, but the proportion of overall rapes (including revictimizations) perpetrated against preadolescents seems to be totally unknown.
        2. The NCVS is a phone survey. Presumably, people will be a lot more reluctant to report sexual assaults verbally to a stranger on the phone than in a questionnaire.

        Reasons the NCVS figure need to be adjusted downwards:
        3. It counts revictimizations, when the question we’re interested in is how many people have been raped at least once by the time they enter/graduate from high school.
        4. It combines completed rape with attempted rape and sexual assault. These need to be disaggregated to make the comparison properly.
        5. A few respondents may have reported drug-facilitated rapes, while the YRBS only inquires about forcible rapes.

        To the extent that it’s blue tribe, it would predict a bias towards producing research that generated high, not low, estimates of rape rates.

        Setting aside whether there is reason to suspect ideological bias, given that we know the question asked by the YRBS was fair (“has anyone ever physically forced you to have sexual intercourse when you did not want to”), and the researcher’s role thenceforth restricted to tabulating yes and no answers, it’s hard to see where bias could have crept into the results. Skewing the data requires both motive and researcher degrees of freedom, and the latter is lacking here.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          Ignoring points #2, #3, and #5, above, I also get an estimate based on the NCVS data that around 3% of women will be raped by age 18. Increasingly doubtful that the NCVS results and the YRBS results can be reconciled.

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  3. I know some people in pretty dire situations, but almost all of them are in good enough shape to be writing online, and with decent prose at that.

    One of my friends has (and maybe still is) a therapist who was working with people in such bad shape that they never have and unless there’s a huge improvement in therapy/technology never will be able to function anything like normally. I forget how many she thought there might be just in the major city where she works, but quite a lot more than a few of them.

    There’s some correlation between bad problems– the adverse childhood experience study found that there’s a connection between the amount of bad stuff that happens to children (assume that the list is incomplete) and bad problems later, some of them not obviously connected to bad early experiences.

    While we’re cheering each other up this Christmas Eve, consider complex PTSD— something which isn’t yet a mainstream diagnosis, but which is based on the premise that being trapped in a traumatic situation for an extended time has even worse effects than small numbers of serious traumas.

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    • Michael Vassar says:

      THANK YOU NANCY!
      I had been looking for information like those links!

      Scott, what do you think of this?
      A major part of my world-view is that the large majority of Western elites suffer from C-PTSD (just learned the term) due to their varied initiations into their guilds, classes, fraternities and professions (for instance medical residency). Does that make sense to you?

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    • sconn says:

      Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking of — there are correlations between child poverty and adult poverty, for instance, but also between abuse and later depression and so forth. I would not say that, out of a hundred friends, I have ten who each have one of the problems on the list. But I do have a couple friends who have several of the problems on the list.

      The result being that, while many of us are doing very well, and many are doing fine, some number are doing really, really badly, and often the same problems that make them struggle also keep them out of contact with the rest of us. That’s doubly unfortunate, because on the one hand, we might be able to help, and on the other, ignorance of what others suffer often causes misjudgment on policy issues. (E.g. people who don’t know anyone on food stamps often think that people who receive them don’t work and eat like kings, neither of which is true, and as a result assume that we could get rid of food stamps without harming anyone.)

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  4. I wonder, though. My anecdotal experience suggests that there are certain kinds of people who somehow wind up in these situations. That some people, not through anything that’s obviously their fault, nonetheless manage to attract misfortune and accidents and drug-addicted in-laws and abusive uncles into their lives at a rate far greater than that suggested by chance. I have no explanation for this. Bad luck? Demonic oppression? Family curse?

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    • blacktrance says:

      It seems like that to me too. While sometimes these problems happen to random people, it does seem like there’s a general type of person to whom these kinds of problems happen disproportionately often. Low IQ and personality contribute to it, but for the latter, it’s not always clear what aspect of it causes these situations, and I also know low-IQ people to whom it doesn’t happen, so it’s murky.

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      • DensityDuck says:

        If your culture says that you Stick With Family No Matter What, then you’re more likely to keep dumping your love and treasure into a shitty, exploitative family than you are to tell them to get fucked and change your phone number.

        And, well, there’s many other patterns of behavior that tend to cluster around that attitude. Short-term thinking, distrust of finance, undervaluing education.

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        • “Stick with Family No Matter What” probably pulls in both directions on these problems– you both have people who are drained by bad families, and families that help members enough so that problems don’t turn into disasters.

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        • Error says:

          You know, I just realized how many familial disasters I’ve seen boil down to a Prisoner’s Dilemma where the family plays something close to Always Defect (give me that, it’s mine!) and the fucked party plays something close to Always Cooperate (stick with family No Matter What).

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    • Echo says:

      Social connections? Most people like that I’ve encountered met their abusive spouse at their drug dealer’s party, for example.
      Even worse, there’s a lot of conditional probability in Making A String of Bad Decisions. You probably wouldn’t have considered marrying a drug dealer’s friend before the heroin made it seem like a great idea.

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    • vV_Vv says:

      As Scott notes, “normal” people tend to dissociate from misfortunate people.

      If you have a streak of bad luck, you will find yourself alienated from a large part of your social network, the best part of part of your social network. You will be pretty much stuck with people who are as miserable as you or worse, such as the drug-addicted in-law. Their misfortune will spill on you (e.g. your drug-addicted in-law will extort your retirement money) and yours on them, so over time you all become more and more miserable and more and more insulated from the circle of successful people.

      This assuming that you are actually competent at filtering out misfortunate and abusive people and only got stuck with them in the first place because of bad luck. But some people seem unable to do so or even attracted to them.

      We all heard stories of women who go from one abusive partner who beats and rapes them to another, or men who go from one abusive friendzone to another. The only constant in these relationships is the person who gets abused. It may be un-PC to say so (“victim blaming!”), but some people seem to bring their misfortunes upon themselves.

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      • Mary says:

        She knew perfectly well the consequences and the meaning of what she was doing, as her reaction to something that I said to her—and say to hundreds of women patients in a similar situation—proved: next time you are thinking of going out with a man, bring him to me for my inspection, and I’ll tell you if you can go out with him.

        This never fails to make the most wretched, the most “depressed” of women smile broadly or laugh heartily. They know exactly what I mean, and I need not spell it out further. They know that I mean that most of the men they have chosen have their evil written all over them, sometimes quite literally in the form of tattoos, saying “FUCK OFF” or “MAD DOG.” And they understand that if I can spot the evil instantly, because they know what I would look for, so can they—and therefore they are in large part responsible for their own downfall at the hands of evil men. — Theodore Dalrymple

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      • sabril says:

        That’s a common complaint among domestic violence advocates. They work hard to help some girl — get her a restraining order; a spot in a nice domestic violence shelter; etc., and then the girl just goes back to her abusive relationship.

        But anyway, I do agree that there are some people who seem to attract misfortune. Part of the problem is that your knowledge of the person’s misfortune is going to come in large part from their accounts. So they will have a tendency to put themselves in a more flattering light.

        Here’s an n=1 experiment to try: If you know someone like this, the next time they are having financial problems, offer to loan them 2 or 3 hundred dollars and then see if you get paid back. I bet with high probability you will not get paid back ever.

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        • Dina says:

          I don’t think I could’ve designed a better thought experiment to poison that particular well if I tried.

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          • sabril says:

            “I don’t think I could’ve designed a better thought experiment to poison that particular well if I tried.”

            Well what do you make of the fact that a subset of the population has a tendency not to honor their obligations? First of all, do you agree that generally speaking this is counterproductive behavior? Second, do you agree that this is a symptom of destructive time preferences? Last, do you agree that this is just the time of person that tends to attract misfortune?

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    • Error says:

      I don’t know about kinds of people, but I agree that life’s train wrecks seem to be clustered. Given ten people, eight of them will suffer dust specks and two of them will suffer torture. I don’t really see a pattern to which two. But I also don’t see anyone in between with a more-or-less-average level of suffering.

      I’m not sure to what extent this is territory as opposed to map. Perhaps it’s really an even or normal distribution and there’s just a threshold at which one’s personal disasters become salient to outsiders.

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    • onyomi says:

      It sounds like pop psychology, but it has also been very true in my own experience that people are attracted to/subconsciously try to recreate their own family in their choice of partners, and, probably to a lesser extent, social circle. Women who had an emotionally abusive father seem to be attracted to emotionally abusive men, etc.

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      • Pete says:

        My assumption is that it’s a type of ‘noticing patterns’ bias. There are probably Many people who have abusive parents who go on to have perfectly fulfilling adult relationships. There are plenty of people who have one abusive relationship and then never have another in their lives.

        It’s just that there are so many people and so many relationships (and high enough levels of abuse), that some of them will have a terrible run and we’ll notice those, and draw conclusions that perhaps aren’t valid.

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      • pneumatik says:

        I have noticed in my personal life very obvious patterns of unhealthy relationship styles being handed down from parent to child. If manipulative people have kids and are manipulative to them, those kids will very probably grow up learning the same manipulative relationship styles. People who can recognize unhealthy relationships will avoid these people when they grow up, leaving them with only other people who only know how to have unhealthy relationships.

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      • Earthly Knight says:

        Take heed of the glaring genetic confound here: any woman who was emotionally abused as a child will ipso facto have had a mother who was attracted to emotionally abusive men.

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        • Sayre says:

          That doesn’t follow at all. Paternally perpetrated emotional abuse is only one in a whole slew of possible permutations. Father, Mother, Grandparents, uncles, aunts, other adults caregivers, significantly older siblings, babysitters, and any combination thereof.

          Furthermore with the significantly more likely situation that the mother is the abusive party when considering childhood abuse it’s a very weak line of reasoning to generalise so decisively.

          Ergo, ipso nada.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          I was responding to onyomi’s post, which was explicitly concerned with abusive fathers, but I forgot to include the word in my reply. I apologize for the confusion.

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          • Sayre says:

            I saw your explanation to Nancy immediately after posting. My post still stands in its entirety but I get that your post was very context specific. Were the conversation verbal it would have been valid.

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        • onyomi says:

          I am agnostic about the degree to which this is genetic or environmental, though, as with most things, I think genetics can give you a predisposition, but only stimulus usually makes it manifest fully.

          But whether you’re attracted to abusive men because your mother was attracted to abusive men and you inherited the genes that made her that way, or because you got your early idea of what a man was supposed to be like from an individual who was abusive, (or, more likely, some combination thereof), there definitely seems to be a correlation.

          Re. Pete’s post, it’s conceivable, but again, I’m not saying everyone who likes abusers was abused or that everyone who was abused will like abusers; merely positing that being abused yourself seems to increase rather than decrease (as we might expect) or leave unchanged the probability that you yourself will be romantically attracted to abusers.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            merely positing that being abused yourself seems to increase rather than decrease (as we might expect) or leave unchanged the probability that you yourself will be romantically attracted to abusers.

            Argh! This way of putting it implies that there is a causal relationship between being abused and being attracted to abusers, which requires that you rule out the possibility that both are effects of a common genetic cause. The most you could hope to say is that you have observed a correlation between the two.

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          • onyomi says:

            “which requires that you rule out the possibility that both are effects of a common genetic cause.”

            I don’t see why it requires that.

            What I am saying is that I would predict the genetic child of someone attracted to abusers to be more attracted to abusers even if raised by someone else and never abused; however, I’d also expect that person to be less attracted to abusers than one who was both the genetic child of one attracted to abusers and also raised in a household with an abuser.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’d also expect that person to be less attracted to abusers than one who was both the genetic child of one attracted to abusers and also raised in a household with an abuser.

            Okay, but the point I’m making is that you can’t even get evidence for this conjecture from personal experience, while you can get (very limited, anecdotal) evidence for the claim that being abused and being attracted to abusers are correlated.

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      • “Take heed of the glaring genetic confound here: any woman who was emotionally abused as a child will ipso facto have had a mother who was attracted to emotionally abusive men.”

        Earthly Knight, that doesn’t follow. A woman might have been emotionally abused by her mother, though that’s just nitpicking– it makes the genetic link more plausible.

        However, there are people who were abused by those who don’t fit your model– for example, those who were abused by adoptive parents, by adopted siblings, or by hired care-givers.

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    • Yrro says:

      There’s a theory from criminal psychology that a lot of it is victim selection. Even among more vulnerable groups, the same few people are consistently re-victimized. A few studies have shown that criminals can pick out repeat victims just from the way they walk. They’ve developed a filter for the sort of people who are going to be “easy” targets- someone who will go along and not fight back.

      I imagine a similar sort of filter exists for more normal interactions.

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    • Brian says:

      This may not be what you are talking about, because you said “through no fault of their own,” but this “type of person” you are talking about correlates highly with drug use in my experience. When I look at my high school class, the ones who got into drugs were more likely to attract “trouble” into their lives, whether health, law, family, or financial trouble. The model in my head has causation running both ways–people who are mysteriously attracting trouble are more likely to use drugs; and drugs, via messing with your brain, make it more likely that you will consistently harbor an attitude which tolerates “misfortune.”

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    • Viliam says:

      One of the causes could be wrong models of the world. Wrong in the unfortunate way that attracts suffering.

      For example, I knew a woman who was unhappy that her ex-husband and all her boyfriends were alcoholics. But she also believed that all men are alcoholics — only some of them admit it openly, and some of them keep it secret; and the latter are the more problematic ones. So, on one hand she suffered because of the alcoholism of her partners, but on the other hand, she was actively selecting her partners among the alcoholics, while believing she was actually minimizing the risk. (I tried to explain her that she was wrong; she probably classified me as one of those silent drunks.)

      Generally, believing that “all people of the desired sex are X”, or “all people are X” when not talking about relationships, is a recipe for a disaster. It means that the person is turning off their filters against the undesirable trait X, because — logically — if literally everyone has the trait X, then trying to filter that out is a waste of time. And usually these people have surprisingly (for me) lot of interaction with people having the trait X. Which in turn seems to justify their beliefs!

      Similarly, if you believe a solution for your problem doesn’t exist, you are not even looking for the solution.

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      • onyomi says:

        I think this is a good point, and is a major reason I think a lot of generalizations made by PUAs, MGTOWs, et al. may be counterproductive for both genders.

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  5. me says:

    There’s also the bias that people who are gregarious with large social networks are less likely to be like this. Which means the people you know are less likely than average to be miserable. Someone who “has no friends within five hundred miles and never leaves her house” is just much less likely to be your friend.

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    • lumenis says:

      Ah, of course! I feel kind of silly now that it didn’t jump out at me. Thank you for stating the obvious-in-retrospect.

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    • zolstein says:

      I’m reminded of an article on a math paper (neither of which I have the patience to try hunting down) that discussed the properties of certain kinds of networks/graphs in an attempt to explain the social observation that “one’s friends seem to have more friends than does oneself.” The idea is that the more outgoing a person is, the more likely she is to have many friends and the more likely she is to be friends with any particular person. Thus, most people are friends with people more outgoing than them, and there are a small number of very outgoing people for whom the statement is utterly false, but ones odds of being one of those people is small. The generalized property of graphs that fit this pattern is something about the property of a node being measured being a function of or otherwise correlated with its number of edges.

      I don’t know if there’s a particularly profound insight here, but I thought I’d bring it up since I’ve been able to relate things to this model often enough that I’m glad to have heard about the general case.

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    • discursive2 says:

      Yeah that was my first reaction too… Might be an even more powerful bias than socioeconomic / neighborhood effects.

      There was a great visualization of this going around recently in the context of perceived popularity of political opinions but I can’t find it right now :-/. Basically, though, if you have 1 happy person and 99 unhappy people, and the happy person has 99 friends, and the unhappy people have 2 friends (including the happy person), the unhappy people will think 33% of the world is happy when it is really just 1%.

      I’ve read research on correlation between well-being and size of social network, and there’s probably causality in both directions / feedback effects.

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  6. This is part of why I get enraged whenever somebody on Tumblr says “People in Group X need to realize they have it really good”, or “You’re a Group X member, so stop pretending like you have real problems.”

    Regardless of the absolute magnitude of misery different people experience, I suspect that to some extent pain and suffering are relative to what one has experienced in the past. Is there any scientific research on this?

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  7. Alex Zavoluk says:

    If accurate, the numbers in this post would make me wonder how humans, let alone other life forms, survived this long. If wealthy, white, young towns in the United States (and not even in states like Mississippi) can have that many problems, then the average American should have had several of these problems just a few decades ago, not to even touch on centuries past. The entire population would have been crippled with medical, financial, or other issues!

    Although, if you believe and extrapolate from Coming Apart (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coming_Apart_(book)), the population most at risk for these problems (poor, less-educated people) may have actually gotten worse in these areas, such as increased unemployment and weaker community support.

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    • E. Harding says:

      Those who couldn’t handle Third World Problems way back in the day didn’t survive.

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    • Seth says:

      The entire population would have been crippled with medical, financial, or other issues!

      YES. If you want a quick indicator, look at children per childbearing-age woman. In the developed world, it’s around “2”. Centuries past, it needed to be several – because there was a good chance a large portion of the kids were going to DIE before reaching reproductive age (and each childbirth was another significant probability for the mother to die). Let’s see, off the top of my head – smallpox, cholera, measles, polio, all were major factors. Plus any inflections were potentially life-threatening (no antibiotics). That’s just part of the story. Having no Social Security, no national health care, no disability, no labor safety regulations (in short, Libertarian utopia), meant anyone who was old, sick, injured, etc was going to suffering much more than with even a begrudged minimal social safety net. There was no Good Old Days.

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      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        “That’s just part of the story. Having no Social Security, no national health care, no disability, no labor safety regulations (in short, Libertarian utopia), meant anyone who was old, sick, injured, etc was going to suffering much more than with even a begrudged minimal social safety net”

        I’m not sure older societies were wealthy enough (or had the technology) for most of those things. Throughout the Industrial Period, private charity provided quite a lot, and was eventually replaced by (arguably less effective) government programs.

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        • Gunther says:

          Is there any evidence private charity was particularly effective during the industrial revolution period?

          I mean, from my reading on the Effective Altruism movement, one of the major complaints they have about standard charities is how ineffective they are. You’re claiming that not only were industrial revolution period charities actually effective, they were better than the modern welfare state. That’s a pretty big claim.

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          • Anonymous says:

            You might have missed the first sentence the person you’re replying to wrote. A comparison between the modern welfare state, and charity a century and a half ago, is entirely unreasonable. The correct comparison is between a welfare state and no welfare state for a given level of societal wealth.

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          • Glen Raphael says:

            When the government decides to do X, one cost of doing so is that you lose all the social and economic infrastructure that used to solve the same problem some other way. Then after a generation or two goes by without that infrastructure it become hard to picture how it could have worked at all.

            There used to be “friendly societies”. If you belong to some ethnic group or immigrant group or religion or profession, there’d be one or more organizations people from your group(s) join for mutual support including old-age/disability/sickness support and insurance – much like what government does except that the association was voluntary.

            There were also organizations that cut across social groups – things like Rotary and the Lions Club. You know how when you enter a small town there’s a sign like this? That sign used to MATTER a lot more because those groups were how you plugged into the local helping-one-another industry.

            Nowadays there’s not much left of that kind of organization, at least not for the nonreligious. Alcoholics Anonymous sort of counts and Rotary is still around. Um, there’s a decent book The Tragedy of American Compassion whose thesis was that our modern caring-industrial complex is making things worse compared to earlier ways of solving the same problems.

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          • This is something which makes me crazy about the “refugee crisis”.

            It used to be that when poor people immigrated to the US, they did a lot of helping each other, and it worked out well.

            Now, we have the concept of refugees who are supposed to be passively dependent on governments and other organizations. People can be imprisoned for decades for no crime– just for being refugees.

            I don’t have the background in being nasty to adequately express what I think of policies which forbid refugees to work.

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          • bartlebyshop says:

            @ Nancy

            At least in Canada, which is trying to take 10,000 Syrian refugees by New Years (we’ll see if it happens!), refugees are sponsored for their first year in Canada. This can be done by the government or private organizations – Lifeline Syria – Cape Breton is an example. The sponsorship is about $20-30,000 and is meant to cover living expenses so the family/person can get on their feet. They get a loan from the government to cover transport costs which they must pay back (this is controversial as you can see from the link). The goal of the Canadian policy, I guess, is to get people settled and incentivize them to start work.

            In Lebanon, Syrian refugees can’t work, and UOttawa has started a new program to pay their living expenses and also teach classes to them. It seems to me like a lot of money they want to spend, and the program is about community mobilization, which seems good, but I wonder if they wouldn’t also like a program in nursing or something.

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          • Private equivalents of Rotary and Lions still exist, in addition to those. When we moved from Chicago to San Jose, we had help unloading our rented van from two SCA people, one of whom I knew from Chicago, one of whom I didn’t. When one of our SCA friends here was in a serious accident, various people cooked meals to go into her freezer. My daughter has been helping an elderly friend from her church move.

            Folk dancing, SF fandom, and no doubt lots of other things that don’t happen to be in my bubble, serve the same function.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman

            Speaking of Rotary and Lions, I see those signs too. But don’t you have to wear a suit and tie to attend?

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          • Glen Raphael says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            Speaking of Rotary and Lions, I see those signs too. But don’t you have to wear a suit and tie to attend?

            Yes. There’s a dress code and you are required to dress up and attend meetings every week wherever you are. To join Rotary you also need to be employed in a profession that is not already represented in your local group. So the group might have one doctor, one lawyer, one landscaper, one computer programmer…and part of the point of the group is business networking between them.

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          • nil says:

            A small-town Lion’s club will not necessarily have any kind of dress code, and my assumption would lean towards nothing of the sort (while also reserving a little judgment because I bet there’s a lot of individual variation). My father is active in one; they meet in a local bar and do things like meat raffles, pull-tabs, and ice-fishing tournaments to raise money for various local causes–it’s definitely not a suit-and-tie crowd. I’ve surprised if other animal-name groups (Eagles, Elks) were any different, although I’d NOT be surprised if Rotary was more professionally oriented.

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          • Glen Raphael says:

            @nil:
            I only have family knowledge of Rotary, can’t speak to other groups. Since 1905, Rotary has been something for upstanding local businesspeople, the sort of folks who traditionally don’t find wearing a suit to be an imposition.

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      • stargirl says:

        The “libertarian utopia” comment is annoying.

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        • Seth says:

          But is it accurate? Note it was a riposte to the mention of “Coming Apart” above. Referring to another thread a while back, if anyone wants a demonstration that SSC commenters lean right, take a look at one prominent aspect of this discussion – explaining misery in part by moral failing of the individual, annoyed at remarks that public programs have made people’s lives better in contrast to anti-government belief. I don’t want to spend all night doing that argument, it’s unlikely to change anyone’s mind. But it’s really not SJW territory to be on the political spectrum that one of the great advances of civilization has been to help alleviate (not solve, not eliminate, not even more than small fraction of what must eventually be done) the extremes of poverty and sickness via a government social safety net.

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          • Echo says:

            I like how you ignore that indifferent, callous, and dehumanizing government programs were specifically part of the problem in both of Scott’s examples?

            Ever filled out the paperwork to get food stamps? I have.
            Ever had them cancelled on you for reasons you can’t figure out? I haven’t, because I can read a 20 page document full of legalese. But the working single mother ex-drug-addict I was living with certainly couldn’t.
            Thank God she went down to the church after that. She started eating better than I did, and made friends who found her decent work and better accommodation.

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          • Hlynkacg says:

            Its about as accurate calling the Soviet Union a “progressive utopia” or the city of Detriot circa 2005 a Democratic one.

            You glossed over the question of whether those earlier societies had the surplusses and the technologies (social and otherwise) to provide the level of care you imagine.

            You also glossed over the fact that in both of the cited examples government “help” was actually adding to the problem.

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          • Anonymous says:

            It’s the way it’s made as a snarky throwaway comment – implying that libertarians want people to be poor, that libertarian policies obviously lead to those with disadvantages being left to die, that obviously government programs make things better not worse – which I find irritating.

            I’ve no problem at all with people who think a social safety net is a good idea, but I’m not a fan of this kind of uncharitable sideswipe, no matter which side is making it.

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          • Galle says:

            “Ever filled out the paperwork to get food stamps? I have.
            Ever had them cancelled on you for reasons you can’t figure out? I haven’t, because I can read a 20 page document full of legalese. But the working single mother ex-drug-addict I was living with certainly couldn’t.”

            This is an argument for more government support, not less.

            It’s a lot clearer in the second example Scott gave – the sixty-year-old PTSD sufferer’s problem isn’t that the government is giving him disability pay, it’s that the government is looking for an excuse to STOP. This is because most government welfare programs place a higher priority on detecting and evicting cheaters than they do on detecting and protecting legitimate welfare recipients. If we were willing to spend more money and tolerate welfare fraud, this situation wouldn’t happen.

            We would have other problems, of course, but the ones Scott’s patients face wouldn’t be among them.

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          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            The “libertarian utopia” comment is not in the least accurate. Yes, libertarians tend to oppose governmental welfare programmes, but that is just a small part of libertarianism. Your comment is about as accurate as calling National Socialism a conservative utopia because the Nazis were patriotic and supported traditional gender roles, or calling ISIS an orthodox Jewish utopia because ISIS are in favour of circumcising boys and banning pork.

            18th and and 19th century America may not have had much in the way of government welfare, but it also had many profoundly anti-libertarian features, such as slavery, institutional racism (and here I’m talking about things like “blacks are not allowed to live in this state,” not things like “blacks do 28 per cent worse on this statistical metric than whites, which may or may not be due to racism”), coverture, conscription, high tariffs, and frequent wars.

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          • vV_Vv says:

            Ever filled out the paperwork to get food stamps? I have.

            If you don’t want to deal with the paperwork then nobody forces you.

            You are free to set up your Patreon and GoFundMe accounts and try to convince strangers to pay your bills for doing nothing. Some people apparently manage to make a living out of this. Good luck at replicating their success. Or, more prosaically, you can just go and beg on the street. Enjoy the free market of charity.

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          • keranih says:

            I like how you ignore that indifferent, callous, and dehumanizing government programs were specifically part of the problem in both of Scott’s examples?

            In a just and equitable democracy, as we have constructed it, indifference is a feature, not a bug.

            The government forms are there to ensure that the recipient of society’s largess are granted those gifts without particular notice or evaluation. This is the better method – because we’ve tried individual particular judgement of who is worthy of help, and who is not, and found the results unsatisfying.

            Or does anyone really want their benefit check to depend on how well the social worker likes them, and wants them – rather than their neighbor – get ahead?

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          • anon says:

            For the government it would be very easy to provide food for everyone.

            Mail everyone every month a big box of dry precooked (grain/legume/potato) (flour/flakes/powder). The cost of this would be ridiculously small. People have no idea how cheap basic carbs and legumes can be.

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          • Eph says:

            anon, I like your idea! Though you would still have to find the homeless people. And it would be wasted on richer people who want to eat other things instead.

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          • Also, not everyone has cooking facilities.

            A leftwing friend told me that a lot of damage was done in the 60s/70s in the US when rooming houses were shut down. Rooming houses supplied a lot of logistical support for people with little money. And people could make a living running a rooming house without needing expensive credentials.

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          • Mary says:

            Of course it’s inaccurate. A paradise of sharing would still have most children die before adulthood because the resources weren’t there to share.

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          • Mary says:

            ” This is the better method – because we’ve tried individual particular judgement of who is worthy of help, and who is not, and found the results unsatisfying.”

            Nope. it’s a worse method. It produces worse results than the original method. It’s no good to say it was bad with considering whether it may still be the best.

            Not to mention “unsatisfying” is an insane criterion to judge such programs on.

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          • Jiro says:

            It’s a lot clearer in the second example Scott gave – the sixty-year-old PTSD sufferer’s problem isn’t that the government is giving him disability pay, it’s that the government is looking for an excuse to STOP. This is because most government welfare programs place a higher priority on detecting and evicting cheaters than they do on detecting and protecting legitimate welfare recipients.

            Looking for an excuse to stop is not the same thing as putting a high priority on finding cheaters, in the same way that deprioritizing the welfare of businesses is not looking for an excuse to destroy business (on the left), or opposing abortion is not hating women (on the right).

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          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            ” explaining misery in part by moral failing of the individual,”

            Misery is explained in part by the failings of individuals. If you make shitty decisions, there’s a good chance the consequences are going to make your life shitty.

            Now, if you mean to say that “primarily” or “totally” instead of “in part,” then I said nothing of the sort.

            “annoyed at remarks that public programs have made people’s lives better in contrast to anti-government belief.”

            I don’t think any such remarks were made. What are you referring to? I didn’t take Scott’s remarks to be in support of more government (and regardless of his position, others could interpret the facts differently). I’m certainly not “annoyed” because someone made a claim.

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          • @All, I think I should perhaps point out here that the various governments in the US, for whatever reason, seem to be unusually bad at this sort of thing, even as governments go. (YMMV.)

            [Edit: you know, this is very probably filter bubble bias, if that’s the right expression. Given my reading habits, I’m probably more likely to hear about problems in the US than about problems at home, and quite likely more likely to hear about problems in the US than about problems in Western Europe.]

            For example, in New Zealand if you can’t fill out the relevant form yourself (none of which, to the best of my knowledge, are anywhere near 20 pages long) you can make an appointment with Work and Income and someone will help you fill it out. Fill it out for you, if necessary, you’d just need to sign.

            I also wouldn’t hesitate to advise the hypothetical grandmother from the OP to call on Child, Youth and Family, if she were living in New Zealand.

            … and I’m not sure what conclusion, if any, to draw from that. But it seems important.

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          • Deiseach says:

            I also wouldn’t hesitate to advise the hypothetical grandmother from the OP to call on Child, Youth and Family, if she were living in New Zealand.

            New Zealand sounds different to Ireland, so (and the USA).

            For a start, it’s grandmother’s word versus daughter and son-in-law. Daughter is going to back up scumbag husband all the way (otherwise she’d have kicked his backside out the door or left herself) and they’ll both lie about extorting money out of grandma. IF Social Services believe what’s going on, they may take the kid out of there – or not (there are cases where drug-taking in front of your kid is not considered good enough reason to take the kid away, I’ve heard of them from work). IF they take the kid out of there, he’ll probably be put straight into care – there have been several American cases of grandparents suing for custody over parents and being refused; grandparents do not have legal rights or automatic right of access or custody – and may or may not be placed with the grandmother.

            So her only remaining family relationship with her daughter will be wrecked, the grandchild will probably end up in state care which in popular belief is a hellpit of neglect, abuse and bullying, she’ll be painted as the villain of the piece for breaking up a family and being a police informant, and she probably feels things will end up worse than if she just hands over the money and keeps quiet.

            I don’t agree, but then I have a cold stony heart and am not amenable to emotional blackmail (as you all know from my whining about EA arm-twisting re: saving lives via malaria nets; no, I don’t care about saving thirty-seven lives and you can’t make me!)

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          • kaninchen says:

            @Seth: Whether or not it is accurate is neither here nor there. It’s not really relevant to (what I take to be) the main point of your comment, and unnecessarily annoys people. By putting in snide comments like that, you either derail the conversation in a way that is likely to get heated, or you force the target to quietly accept being (in their view) lied about.

            Hopefully you’ve read Scott’s comments policy – that a comment should be “at least two out of kind, necessary, and true”. The rest of your comment is worthwhile, but the particular phrase “in short, libertarian utopia” is (I would venture to suggest) neither necessary nor kind. Please avoid unnecessarily insulting people in future.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ kaninchen
            By putting in snide comments like that, you either derail the conversation in a way that is likely to get heated, or you force the target to quietly accept being (in their view) lied about.

            Thank you for describing a common and important problem. Call it ‘sideswiping’?

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          • vV_Vv says:

            I think I should perhaps point out here that the various governments in the US, for whatever reason, seem to be unusually bad at this sort of thing, even as governments go.

            Compared to first world social democracies, sure, but these governments are unusually good at this sort of thing.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            not even more than small fraction of what must eventually be done

            Oh, and just *what* “eventually be done”?

            Learning what someone’s long term lets-transform-society hopes and goals and plans are is always … illuminating.

            Please, tell me, what eventually must be done, so we can all go to work together get it done.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mark Atwood:
            This is another example of the sort of sideswipe comment being discussed directly above it. There is quite a bit of irony there.

            You asked for a reasons why I said what I said in the last thread. Here is another reason.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            This is another example of the sort of sideswipe comment being discussed directly above it. There is quite a bit of irony there.

            In other words, asking someone what they believe or want is an “attack”.

            My very strong worldview is that when this is frame, that says something more insightful about the person being queried and the belief/want that is being implied without being stated, than it does about the “attacker”.

            Obviously, you disagree.

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          • In other words, asking someone what they believe or want is an “attack”.

            FWIW, it originally struck me personally as at least somewhat aggressive.

            If I may attempt to deconstruct my reasons for thinking that: firstly, the question appeared to be rhetorical, given that the meaning of the phrase you asked about seemed perfectly clear. Rhetorical questions do often indicate an aggressive posture. The tone of rest of the post seemed sarcastic, and the use of ellipses raised a red flag with me.

            There may of course be cultural differences at play.

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      • anon says:

        @Seth: also recurrent famines.
        And mere violence.

        On the other hand, communities were tighter and family ties stronger, so the old and sick had a greater chance to find help through those ties.

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      • Paul Crowley says:

        “(in short, Libertarian utopia)”

        Down with sideswipes. If you want to talk about the failings of a political philosophy, write or comment on a blog post specifically about that. But FFS don’t get in a delicious punch at a Hated Enemy as an irrelevant aside.

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        • Anonymous says:

          Unless the sideswipe is directed toward “the left,” in which case, it’s totally OK.

          (I’m not ascribing this view to @Paul Crowley, but merely pointing out an observation.)

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          • Anonymous says:

            Penalty: Libertarians.

            Bad Faith…Pearl Clutching…Psychological Projection…Crocodile Tears…Isolated Rigor.

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          • When you observe such sideswipes directed against the left, point them out and object.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman
            “When you observe such sideswipes directed against the left, point them out and object.”

            But objecting at that time may derail a sub-thread of new ideas into shallow, too-familiar territory. (Which, I uncharitably suspect, the sideswiper is ready to enjoy.)

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            When you see sideswipes against the left, why don’t you object?

            Far more effective when the criticism comes from the same side of the fence.

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          • “When you see sideswipes against the left, why don’t you object?”

            I occasionally challenge people online who are making incorrect arguments for my side. But part of the problem here is that what you see as a sideswipe against the left I may not.

            There was a very recent example. You accused Mark of a sideswipe against the left for quoting someone who referred to:

            “not even more than small fraction of what must eventually be done”

            And asking:

            “Oh, and just *what* “eventually be done”?

            It struck me as a perfectly legitimate question. The original quote took for granted the existence of some common definition of what must be done, which struck me as a highly dubious assumption, hence one worth questioning.

            Mark went on to write:

            “Learning what someone’s long term lets-transform-society hopes and goals and plans are is always … illuminating.

            Please, tell me, what eventually must be done, so we can all go to work together get it done.”

            which made it pretty obvious that he was skeptical of the implied approach, but also invited the original poster to justify his position.

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          • Whereas I thought the meaning was perfectly obvious in context; “poverty must eventually be eliminated”.

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          • “Whereas I thought the meaning was perfectly obvious in context; “poverty must eventually be eliminated”.”

            And I thought the meaning of that was far from obvious, since there is no objective definition I am aware of for poverty.

            Does it help make my point clearer if I mention that, according to the estimates of economic historians, the average real income of the developed world at present is twenty to thirty times what average real incomes were over most of history? If a society where very poor people are making five times the average income of the world through most of history doesn’t count as eliminating poverty, what would? Ten times? Twenty times?

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          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Does it help make my point clearer if I mention that, according to the estimates of economic historians, the average real income of the developed world at present is twenty to thirty times what average real incomes were over most of history? If a society where very poor people are making five times the average income of the world through most of history doesn’t count as eliminating poverty, what would? Ten times? Twenty times?

            Unless you deny that there are still poor people in the developed world, the obvious conclusion is that poverty cannot be eliminated simply by increasing real income.

            Why can poverty not be eliminated by simply increasing real income is a really, really, really good question, since you would naively assume that it totally could be. I’m sticking with the theory that zero-sum competitions and/or monopolies can eat arbitrary amounts of real income beyond what you need to survive.

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          • @David, sure, but then I’d have expected a response along the lines of ‘so just how are you defining poverty?’ rather than ‘and just what must “eventually be done”?’

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          • “Unless you deny that there are still poor people in the developed world, the obvious conclusion is that poverty cannot be eliminated simply by increasing real income.”

            Define “poverty.”

            I think, in practice, it comes down to something like “too poor to live the kind of life I think people ought to be able to live,” in which case it cannot be eliminated by increasing average real income because the richer the people defining poverty are, the richer the kind of life they think people ought to be able to live. I think a lot of confusion comes from imagining that it is a more objective standard than that.

            “I’m sticking with the theory that zero-sum competitions and/or monopolies can eat arbitrary amounts of real income beyond what you need to survive.”

            Monopolies reduce your income by raising the prices of what you consume, and those prices already go into the calculation of real income. So they can make real income lower, but they can’t reduce the amount that a given real income can buy.

            Does your “zero sum competitions” mean poor people who spend their money on keeping up with the Joneses instead of on being not poor? I don’t think that’s what most people mean by poverty.

            It might help if you could explain what you mean by the term.

            You do realize that my statement about real income roughly translates as “the average person today could buy twenty to thirty times as much stuff and services as the average person in most past societies”? It’s only roughly because different things are available now, but I think most economic historians think that results in understating, not overstating, the numbers, through not adequately allowing for quality improvements.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman
            And I thought the meaning of that was far from obvious, since there is no objective definition I am aware of for poverty.

            “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

            Contrary to how this quote is often used, I’m saying when you’re cold because you can’t pay your electric bill, it doesn’t help to say, “But old kings never had any electricity at all, nya nya!”

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            The tone of the comment is snide. This is clear to me as Mark has posted very similar comments multiple times. In fact, he was banned for one of those comments.

            He is not inviting a conversation, but rather ridiculing the views of the other commenter.

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          • The Anonymouse says:

            I’m saying when you’re cold because you can’t pay your electric bill, it doesn’t help to say, “But old kings never had any electricity at all, nya nya!”

            I think you’re overgeneralizing from your own experience. My experience over the years has shown me that I’ve derived great comfort from just such statements. When all I’ve got in the cupboard is a can of tuna and a packet of crackers, I have felt better by reminding myself that at least I’m not grubbing in the earth for my food; when they have shut off my electricity I have derived comfort from remembering that at least I had a roof to keep the rain off.

            If you don’t have gratitude for the things you have got, you’ll never be satisfied by anything you do get.

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          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @David: Much of the stuff you are asking me to clarify was covered in the six links on the comment I linked to, which I’ll reproduce here for your convenience. For example, this is Eliezer Yudkowsky’s explanation of what we mean by modern, developed-world poverty:

            Compared to hunter-gathering, agriculture can sustain 100 times as many people per unit area of land… and there were still poor people, indeed more of them. Then agricultural employment dropped from 95% to 2%, implying a rather large increase in productivity of each farmer… and there were still poor people. They were, in many ways, better off, but they still existed in an environment of constant fear, scarcity, desperation, living hand-to-mouth, sometimes going hungry. Yes, they do outright *die* a lot less often nowadays, I am not denying progress. But there’s still experienced poverty, even after one farmer became capable of producing 100 times as much food.

            I don’t usually say this… but “not having as many cable channels as your neighbor” also sounds to me like an incredibly sheltered definition of what makes inner-city life below the poverty level suck.

            How *much* better off modern poorfolk are will depend greatly on whether you try to measure an “absolute standard” of desperation, debt, pain, creditors hounding you, ragged clothes, bosses treating you as nonpeople, etc., or just assume that their “absolute standard” of welfare is linearly given by their apparent income as adjusted for purchasing power. We have improved on former metrics too, yes, but *much less* than on the latter metrics. The entire puzzle here is exactly how we can still have people with $15,000/year incomes instead of $500/year incomes who are, to all appearances, *poor*, living in small squalid homes, worried about how they can eat, with their horseless carriages falling apart, unable to pay for dental work, etc. Yes this is much better off than a poor person would have been in the 15th century, they aren’t *dead*. But you might naively think that if you could increase agricultural productivity by a factor of 100 then you shouldn’t have poor, desperate people at all – that everyone would feel at least as secure as the top 5% did in the 17th century. Why is the naive answer not correct? Claiming that poorfolk only feel deprived because their neighbors have more cable channels seems wildly wildly wrong. And saying, “Hey, they’ve got a horseless carriage” also seems very wrong because they’re mainly using it to get to awful jobs in more distant places.

            It is true that poor people in developed countries are substantially better off now than in the Middle Ages. I mean, most of them aren’t dead. They’re eating low-quality food that produces adipose tissue disorders with attendant nosedives in quality of life, further confusing various idiots who think they must be “getting enough to eat” since they show the outward signs of divine punishment for the sin of Gluttony; the only food they can afford is poisonous but that *is* better than literally starving to death. They have to scrape and smile and humiliate themselves before Ferguson police officers and McDonald’s managers, but the medieval lord of the manor was probably legitimately worse than that in a lot of cases. They’re in jail but they’re not being executed, usually. Their lives are horrible, there’s still a whole ‘poor’ sector of the economy, but things are significantly better than they were centuries earlier.

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            Re the quotes from EY: There is a quote from Robert Sapolsky

            I think that the punch line of the human-primate difference is that when humans invented poverty, they came up with a way of subjugating the low-ranking like nothing ever seen before in the primate world.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @jaimeastorga2000:
            That’s a good quote. Also, one I would not have expected to be quoted by you. Obviously an error on my part I will need to correct.

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          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @HeelBearCub: How come? Pointing out that there are still poor people in the developed world because growing real GDP per capita seems to have no effect on the affordability of certain crucial things is a hobbyhorse of mine. One such comment even won Comment of the Month for OT7.

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          • Mary says:

            They’re eating low-quality food that produces adipose tissue disorders with attendant nosedives in quality of life

            There’s no such thing as a fattening food, anymore than there is a substance that is simply poisonous. It is an old axiom of toxicology that it is the dose that makes the poison, and by the same rule, it’s not the low quality but the high quantity that’s the problem.

            the only food they can afford is poisonous but that *is* better than literally starving to death.

            They could afford better food, though the problem here is part cultural. Theodore Dalrymple regularly went shopping for produce in the poor region of London where he worked — and noticed that none of the poor whites shopped there, only the poor Indian immigrants. (http://www.city-journal.org/html/12_4_oh_to_be.html) Admittedly a lone poor person in a culture of people who don’t want to eat like that would be in trouble — but that’s not fixable except by somehow fixing the culture.

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          • Anonymous says:

            @jaimeastorga

            The problem with that argument is that there is no reason in principle why a poor person could not forego various modern conveniences in exchange for those things that Eliezer claims are far more important. You can spend your money on very nutritious food instead of cable. You can work for a lower wage in exchange for your boss promising not to unperson you. The goods he claims are so much more vital are no less tradeable than the ones he claims are not.

            One very obvious reason that strikes me as to why the poor don’t buy these goods is because, in very many ways, they are required to spend their money on other things, which they may well not want. A poor person could not choose to live in a house that would be squalid by early 20th century standards, saving their money for more important things, as it isn’t legal to build or sell or rent houses like that. A poor person cannot work for a wage lower than the minimum wage, or work under conditions that workplace safety regulations do not permit. And so on.

            If these regulations – in effect, requirements to buy this or that – do not align with what it is in poor people’s best interests to buy, perhaps that is why they don’t buy those things. Or perhaps they’re just irrational, mistakenly choosing to spend their money on unimportant things that they don’t really want. Or perhaps Eliezer is wrong about what is and isn’t most important for poor people to spend their money on. Any of these scenarios seems to me more plausible than “economic growth has allowed poor people to buy more of tradeable goods A, B and C but no more of not-obviously-more-costly tradeable goods X, Y and Z, and coincidentally the latter are enormously more important”.

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          • Creutzer says:

            You can work for a lower wage in exchange for your boss promising not to unperson you.

            No, you really can’t.

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          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            There’s no such thing as a fattening food, anymore than there is a substance that is simply poisonous. It is an old axiom of toxicology that it is the dose that makes the poison, and by the same rule, it’s not the low quality but the high quantity that’s the problem.

            I don’t believe in Calories In, Calories Out. I am pretty sure that, for example, a grain-based diet is more likely to raise your obesity set point and make you fatter than a paleo diet even if you hold calories constant, but the latter is more expensive.

            You can work for a lower wage in exchange for your boss promising not to unperson you.

            The jobs most likely to treat you in a low-status manner are minimum-wage jobs.

            One very obvious reason that strikes me as to why the poor don’t buy these goods is because, in very many ways, they are required to spend their money on other things, which they may well not want. A poor person could not choose to live in a house that would be squalid by early 20th century standards, saving their money for more important things, as it isn’t legal to build or sell or rent houses like that. A poor person cannot work for a wage lower than the minimum wage, or work under conditions that workplace safety regulations do not permit.

            Agreed that this is a problem.

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          • You can spend your money on very nutritious food instead of cable.

            Unless cable in the US is much, much more expensive than the roughly equivalent services here (say $1-$2 a day) I don’t think you can.

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          • Adam says:

            Part of the reason behind things like health and building codes isn’t just to force poor people to purchase an acceptably healthy level of goods, but to take into account that even if they were willing to personally risk it in exchange for other goods, it’s a social loss to let them put their kids equally at risk. Scott himself has made the argument that just taking the lead out of paint is a major contributor to an all-time historic drop in violent crime rates roughly everywhere in the developed world. That’s a huge win that might not have happened if we allowed poor people to exchange cheaper rent for exposing their kids to lead. Alternatively, we could just confiscate the kids of poor people and forcibly sterilize them if they stay poor too long, but that’s probably too expensive. Foster care tends to be even worse than poor parents.

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          • Anonymous says:

            @Adam

            This is probably true to some extent. Lead, as you mention, is the classic example of something that it’s almost definitely not worth subjecting your kids to unless they get some enormous gain in return. On the other hand, I don’t think this holds up for anything like all of the difference between poor people’s income 100 years ago and poor people’s income today. If the things that today’s poor are required to spend that difference on are barely worth it at all compared to some other alternatives, as Eliezer posits, I’m not sure why this wouldn’t be roughly as true for poor children as for poor adults.

            @jaimeastorga

            The jobs most likely to treat you in a low-status manner are minimum-wage jobs.

            I don’t think this is completely true. I have heard complaints about mean, patronizing bosses from people of all income levels. I’ve also worked a minimum wage job myself and observed colleagues treated differently depending on how good at their jobs they were. Those who were better were treated more nicely by the managers, who clearly appreciated it when they were in. I think how you’re treated depends largely on how good at your job you are relative to how much you’re getting paid. Someone who gets paid a lot but isn’t very good compared to their colleagues will get berated more than someone who gets paid little but is more competent than average for someone in their position.

            If minimum wage workers are treated worse than others, note that there is an obvious reason why – the minimum wage means a minimum level of value required for the worker to be worth employing. You cannot put a minimum wage worker on a lower wage while they start out, then raise it when they have shown their competence, like you can with higher paying jobs. All you can do is hire them at minimum wage straight away and hope they become worth that much sooner rather than later.

            @Creuzer

            No, you really can’t.

            Note I said ‘in principle’. It would be unusual enough to ask your boss for a pay cut in exchange for being treated extra nicely that to do so would make you look slightly mad. What you could do, however, is avoid asking for a pay rise when you plausibly could get one. Or go for a job you know you can do fairly easily rather than the more common approach of trying to convince an interviewer that you will be great at a position you know full well you are only just barely qualified for.

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          • Creutzer says:

            I’m not sure what in principle means when there isn’t really a way of doing it in practice… The mere conceptual possibility of such a contract is obvious and uninteresting.

            What you could do, however, is avoid asking for a pay rise when you plausibly could get one.

            I’m not convinced that works. I predict it’s going to get you regarded as a dumb wimp instead, because how would this lead to an implicit agreement that you’re forgoing payment in exchange for being treated nicely? We don’t have a culture of such agreements so your boss likely isn’t even going to understand your intention.

            Or go for a job you know you can do fairly easily rather than the more common approach of trying to convince an interviewer that you will be great at a position you know full well you are only just barely qualified for.

            That sounds more reasonable, if you have enough choices. It might run into the problem that you’re actually expected to apply for a job you’re just barely qualified for and are otherwise regarded as overqualified, which nobody wants, so it’s not entirely easy or reliable, either.

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        • Seth says:

          As I said above, it was a riposte (not a sideswipe). It was not an out-of-the-blue dig purely for a dig’s sake, but *in context* a part of my brief response to the moral theory mentioned in the parent comment. While that response might be criticized on its own terms, a large amount of criticism is based on something it was not, via failing to see that link. This makes me suspect that further argument on this point might be more heat than light, and I’ll attempt to leave things at that re-interated clarification.

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    • Deiseach says:

      The entire population would have been crippled with medical, financial, or other issues!

      Well – yes?

      My mother had a young brother who died in early childhood (she was too young to remember him clearly) and from the scanty details, it probably was something like leukemia, though it was certainly not diagnosed as anything like that.

      Two of her older sisters, who were married women with young families, died. I don’t know if this is correct, but the muddled memories I have of the explanation (which I got when I was very young, from my mother who was a child herself at the time) was that whooping cough was involved for one of them – apparently you can die from pertussis, though it’s mainly infants who do.

      So that’s how come my grandmother raised her dead daughter’s young children alongside her own younger children.

      I am probably one of the last generation to get the measles ‘naturally’, since there wasn’t a vaccine (or at least, not one made commonly and routinely available) in my day. As I may have mentioned before, I was fifteen before I encountered “running water from a tap, piped in from a town treatment plant”. (When I was seven, we got cold water piped in from an untreated group water scheme set up by the farmers in the area mainly for their cattle and to wash their milking parlours).

      Who else remembers moth balls in the clothes presses to keep your clothing from being eaten full of holes? Or even taking winter clothes out of the wardrobes where they’d been stored and having to clean the mildew off them?

      All this was perfectly normal for where I lived and the people in my town and rural area.

      And I was born in the 1960s, so we’re not talking about the Dark Ages here!

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      • Mark Atwood says:

        My mother was born in the late 1940s, in the extremely rural rather isolated mountain west.

        She rode a horse to school. It was a huge day and proof that her family was getting prosperous when she got her OWN horse to ride to school. On her way home from school, she and her sibs would sometimes be able to shoot game, which meant there would be some meat in the stew that night. That stew was cooked on a coal-fired stove. It wasn’t until her later teens that *her* mother was able to start “cooking with gas”. A few years later, that house got running water, and thus had a “water closet” tacked onto the side, and the outhouse got demolished and a pile of dirt heaped over it. It was not for years later that that house got electricity.
        (How interesting that the the old REA prioritized areas by how reliably they voted for one particular party, and even by how reliably the local caucuses of that party would align with the northeast political machines, and the machinations of the national level org of that party. How very interesting… The REA would get so heavy handed as to actually block the creation of electricity co-ops in regions that it had low-scheduled in violation of it’s own rules.)

        I met some of the people of the gen before her, and have read a lot of the family history interviews of the ones before. The friendly societies were important, and people identified with their friendly society with far more depth than they did with their country. Which was, quite literally, why FDR and the class of people he was the shining beacon of, had them destroyed. The destruction of the friendly societies in the US was not an “unfortunate side effect” or “unintended consequence” of the New Deal, it was one of the goals of it. Those friendly societies were the backbone of and the source of the people who were his ilk’s political opposition.

        One of the things that friendly societies did is they hired their own doctors, and provided a house, clinic, and tools for that doctor, for their members to use. The New England based medical schools *hated* that. The wanna-be-guilds of doctors (I refuse to call those still criminal conspiracies by their false high minded official names) *hated* that. They were trying to make doctoring a “profession” of “gentlemen”, not one of those low-brow “skilled trades”, like plumbers and carpenters, don’tcha know.

        The friendly societies also hired teachers and built schools for their members to send their kids to, in exactly the same pattern that the skilled tradesmen had already established, building trade schools in the tradehalls to accept young men and turn out tradesmen. Which the “new progressives” of the early 20C *hated*, because that gave the parents “too much” control and oversight of the teachers and too much control and oversight of the curriculum, once again reducing the teachers to just another “skilled trade”, and the curriculum was not “scientifically designed” for proper “new progressive” “citizens of tomorrow”, and the tradesmen did not receive a proper “scientifically designed” “liberal arts” education to indoctrinate them properly.

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        • I’m interested in any degree of detail you’d like to add about how the friendly societies were destroyed.

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        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t want to turn back the clock technologically, but boy is there a lot of legacy corruption that I’d like to see ripped up.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            Much of that “legacy corruption” is no longer seen as “corruption” but as “necessary consumer protective legislation”.

            It’s still all just corrupt guildsmiths deeply embedding themselves in their victim host, like a herpes virus writing itself into it’s victim host’s DNA. That same evil tendency is trying to corrupt the holders of my own technical skill set. I oppose such.

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      • I was born in the 1940’s. We lived in Chicago but spent our summers in New England. The earliest part of that I can remember, in a rented summer cottage in Vermont, had a real ice box–a refrigerator kept cold by a block of ice. Later we owned a summer house in New Hampshire, with two sources of water. One was a long (lead) pipe from a creek, one was a well. The pipe was taken up early–I melted some of it down to cast into lead soldiers–and thereafter we used the well.

        We used powdered milk, because, although there was a real refrigerator in the NH house, it wasn’t very big, and the nearest grocery store was probably ten or fifteen miles away.

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        • Mark Atwood says:

          I was born in 1969.

          It wasn’t until I was in my mid teens that most of the milk that my family drank wasn’t reconstituted powdered milk.

          The fully integrated coast to coast refrigerated transport and logistics network was not fully finished and functional until the early 1980s. (Who remembers what the cargo of the truck was in the 1978 movie “BJ and the Bear”?) Until then, cold safe fresh whole milk was rather expensive, relative the rest of the standard grocery basket.

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          • There might have been a lot of local variation on how relatively expensive whole milk was.

            My family was middle or slightly above middle class. In the 50s/60s we lived in a suburb of Wilmington, Delaware and milk was delivered by a milk man. I can easily believe the situation was different if you lived someplace more remote.

            Also, that was fairly agricultural country. I can’t remember whether there where cows being raised nearby. There definitely were corn fields. It’s since gotten more built up.

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      • Hlynkacg says:

        Heck, i was born in 1980 and i remember at least half the stuff you list.

        Merry Christmas by the way.

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    • Calico Eyes says:

      Just because life is horrible dosen’t mean someone can’t pop out a baby.

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    • moridinamael says:

      I function, make a high income and raise kids with soul-crushing chronic pain, if that helps. A lot of these problems just make life unpleasant without affecting your outward usefulness to society.

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  8. Jacobian says:

    A tiny bit positive spin on this is that a lot of the misery causing things on Scott’s list wouldn’t necessarily be worse in developing countries. People in Africa have to deal with shit like malaria and being hungry, but I don’t think that chronic pain, depression, incarceration, child abuse and most of all loneliness should be more prevalent there. Despite these American statistics, we in the US still have a general feeling that most people’s lives are OK. I’m guessing it means that other people’s lives will be at least as happy once they have some food and bed nets.

    How would you run an efficient charity targeting personal misery in the US? A CBT channel on TV?

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  9. Leo says:

    Had you show pictures of cute orphans trembling from malaria and young mothers huddling in houses without a metal roof, your conclusion would have been appropriate. Instead you describe problems that are really hard to solve even with infinite money to throw at them, and finish with calls to solve easier ones.

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  10. Screwtape says:

    …jeez Scott, if you’re sick of people saying “Merry Christmas” you really didn’t have to retaliate like *this.*

    (I’m joking. Or trying to make a joke anyway. Who was it who said that laughter is our best defense against an uncaring universe?)

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  11. Fuck Holidays says:

    This is part of why I get enraged whenever somebody on Tumblr says “People in Group X need to realize they have it really good”, or “You’re a Group X member, so stop pretending like you have real problems.” The town where I practice psychiatry is mostly white and mostly wealthy. That doesn’t save it. And whenever some online thinkpiece writer laughs about how good people in Group X have it and how hilarious it is that they sometimes complain about their lives, it never fails that I have just gotten home from treating a member of Group X who attempted suicide.

    I’m white, male, heterosexual, and upper-middle class. I also have crippling anxiety. PTSD from shitty things in my childhood. Fear of, and incompetence in, most normal social situations. Very few friends. I live 2000 miles away from any family. I cry myself to sleep about once every week or two on average. I started (but, thank god, never got close to finishing) four suicide notes in 2015.

    As a member of all those targetted demographics, every single day I get to read another person who talks about how I, both personally and collectively, am responsible for everything that’s wrong with society. I get to read about how good I have it. Many of the people I interact with, at work, in social situations, or just out in public, skew politically left, read these articles and blog posts, and excitedly share them on social media. Or just share them over the lunch table at work.

    At this point, the complete lack of anything approaching empathy from the people claiming the moral high ground is a significant factor in my regularly trying to give up on life. And really, it’s people like you, Scott, people who understand, people who care. Sometimes, knowing that people like you are out there is the only thing that helps me keep going.

    Happy holidays, Scott. Thank you for being one of the good guys

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    • Echo says:

      I was going to post a sarcastic “ho ho ho, Merry Christmas” at the bottom, but saw this on the way down. Thanks for teaching me the spirit of the holiday, man.

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    • caryatis says:

      Hey man, I’m sorry. Maybe you would be happier with more reasonable friends & websites?

      Report comment

    • *hugs* if you want them. Good luck.

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    • I am sorry to hear that. I hope you find what you need to get things turned around and find an “upward-trending” course in life.

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    • Anonymous says:

      From someone else who similarly has a bunch of hardish-to-categorize problems that aren’t specific and obvious enough to show up on the Tumblrites’ radar – I’m sorry to hear that. Hope things get better for you. Happy Christmas.

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    • Dragoncat says:

      @Fuck Holidays, I wish I knew you in person because we sound so similar!

      I also have shyness and social anxiety and I’ve lived in very liberal cities for the past decade and never made friends because people say the vilest things out loud about conservatives never expecting to actually be seated near one. It’s been literally years of this (so I will probably end up like Eleanor Rigby). Snark seems to be the only language they speak and empathy is out the window.

      Wishing you the best and a good 2016.

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  12. DensityDuck says:

    One of the things that occurs to me, about your stories, is that these people need minders. Not like a probation officer or a social worker, but like an actual 24-7 live-in “time to wash your socks, time to pay your bills, let’s write down a list of what we need at the store, time for the appointment with social services, I’ll drive the car downtown”.

    This is something that a lot of these modern miserable Americans seem to need, because society does a remarkably poor job of teaching people how to be functional self-directing adults–and dealing with the ones who can’t or don’t know how. Our local rag recently ran a sadpiece about an old woman kicked out of a trailer park that had sold out to a condo developer. My impression, the article’s presentation notwithstanding, was that she didn’t seem to have mental disorders so much as she was simply bewildered–like, having no idea at all that the reason her water got cut off was that she hadn’t paid the bills.

    Society was constructed on the assumption that anyone older than 18 is married, and one partner makes all the decisions.

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    • Alraune says:

      Society was constructed on the assumption that anyone older than 18 is married, and one partner makes all the decisions.

      Assortative mating disagrees. Though I would accept “society was constructed on the assumption that anyone older than 18 is married, and either one partner is a full-time household manager or they have servants.”

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    • Julie K says:

      It would be more accurate to say that society was constructed on the assumption that everyone was part of a household where someone made the decisions. If you couldn’t get married, you might have been “the maiden aunt” or “the poor relation.” If you didn’t have relatives who could take you in, you might have ended up in a convent/monastery. Obviously this meant less freedom, but it did take care of people who didn’t know how to be “functional self-directing adults.”

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    • Error says:

      I think this is correct in principle, but I’m also wondering if there are more people in the world who need minders than there are people who aren’t made miserable by having to *be* minders.

      (not entirely an academic question; I’m currently getting gradually dragged into minder-ship for Reasons and I do not like it)

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      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        I think this is correct in principle, but I’m also wondering if there are more people in the world who need minders than there are people who aren’t made miserable by having to *be* minders.

        (not entirely an academic question; I’m currently getting gradually dragged into minder-ship for Reasons and I do not like it)

        Yup, this is a problem – particularly if it indeed takes a 105 IQ to be a minder, and each minder can only mind one mindee…

        This being the 21st century, I wonder if some of the minder tasks can be automated. Yeah, I know – commonsense reasoning has been a weak point of AI for a long time – but by the same token, the success of Watson/DeepQA in a broad domain, and the success of Google’s self-driving cars were positive surprises in what tasks could be automated.

        Now, admittedly, above and beyond getting something to work on a useful subset of minder tasks, there is the additional hazard that the program might have what amount to embedded choices that are not in the interests of the mindee (like Mark Atwood’s to-my-mind-horrible

        Said “minder” would not care very much for your personal preference or outcome, they cared about the outcome of their, ah, “domain”. A wise one such would put you to work and would store up your surplus for your nieces and nephews to eat later.

        ). Maybe open-source could uncover such abuses?

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    • Sarah says:

      I once met the abusive, mentally ill mother of a friend of mine. From stories I’d been told, she was obviously a bad person. But seeing her in action, what I saw was someone who was just *very confused* by the practicalities of daily life, and would get frustrated and lose her temper. And … I could kind of see myself in that. Not the abuse, but the confusion about stuff that “people are supposed to know.” It only takes a little bit of cognitive difficulty or learning disability or something to have trouble with “normal” adult functioning.

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      • Mark Atwood says:

        It only takes a little bit of cognitive difficulty or learning disability or something to have trouble with “normal” adult functioning.

        That was one of the much-overlooked theses of “The Bell Curve”. Molech keeps redesigning society to need more and more intellectual and paperwork aptitude, with a hard cliff when someone doesn’t have it.

        What made me stop being a libertarian idealist was the realization that such a society works if everyone has an IQ>105 and a planning horizon that extended to their grandkids, and will not work otherwise.

        Or at a different level of organization, if most of everyone was utterly legally subservient to a “minder” who has an IQ>105 and a planning horizon that extended to the grandchildren, who more or less had the group of people under them’s interests at heart, and then those minders worked together in a government of peers, subservient to even older people with an even longer time horizon with a lot of experience in judgement and in cultural common law. The was a word for such minders, but that word is now the basis-word of the thing that feminists oppose.

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        • Eph says:

          You raise good points, but I disagree with the time horizon.

          Not everybody is better off with a longer time horizon, e.g. I don’t want kids and certainly no grandkids, and there’s a high likelihood that I’ll be dead in 20 years. If “minders” mistook my rational short time horizion for irrationality – by forcing me to save for my retirement or eating healthy food – I would be made worse off.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            If “minders” mistook my rational short time horizion for irrationality – by forcing me to save for my retirement or eating healthy food – I would be made worse off.

            Said “minder” would not care very much for your personal preference or outcome, they cared about the outcome of their, ah, “domain”. A wise one such would put you to work and would store up your surplus for your nieces and nephews to eat later.

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          • Eph says:

            Yes, Mark, you talk about ordinary slavery and parasitism. “Our” politicians do enough of that already.

            No philosophical reason to prefer this over the flaws of libertarianism or the Enlightenment experiment, as you call it.

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          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Eph: You don’t see a difference between a patriarch redistributing your surplus to your kinsmen and a politician selling your surplus to buy votes from whatever demographic is selling them cheapest?

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            Yes, Mark, you talk about ordinary slavery and parasitism.

            One could have just walked out of one’s patriarch’s household and renounced him, and then lived for one’s own ends.

            (And, to note, “living in a household or clan subject to a patriarch who you are related to” is not “slavery”. On the ground, in those places, at those times, they were rather different things. Even from our remove of today, looking back in space and in time, they were rather different things.)

            Of course, after said renunciation, finding a safe place to sleep and a consistent meal and a defender before the judges and someone who would avenge one’s murder and also the regular company of people who care that that one live or dies becomes a challenge.

            The traditional solution to that problem is to either join some military like organization or go into banditry (and often the two were difficult to distinguish). But just means you just substituted a genetic patriarch for either a sergeant and a commander or else a gang boss. If one has some rare beauty or rare useful skills, one could try to find a patron of some sort, but that’s just exchanging a patriarch that cares about their own genetic success for one that cares about their own social or wealth success…

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          • LCL says:

            The complicating factor is that people are very bad at predicting their future preferences, especially as far out as 20 years. Depending on your reasons for planning to be dead and childless in 20 years, there’s a fair chance that you’re simply wrong about your future self’s preferences.

            A reasonable minder would have a strong prior that your future preferences will end up being for things that we know people generally find meaningful: health, family, social relationships, satisfying work, financial security. Overcoming that prior would require evidence that your expectation of unusual future preferences is reasonable.

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        • johnnycoconut says:

          Cthulu swims toward mass bureaucracy. Or something

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      • alexp says:

        Sarah,

        I’m having some trouble what you mean by “confused by the practicalities of daily life”

        Are you capable of giving any concrete examples without identifying information, or at least made up scenarios similar to actual scenarios you encountered?

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        • Sarah says:

          Her car was dented and full to the brim with trash.
          She had no idea where important papers were located.
          The process of packing up a house was confusing to her and she was more hindrance than help.

          (I actually share some of these difficulties — can’t drive, am terrible at doing my own taxes, get confused by spatial/mechanical tasks like operating a coffeemaker. If I weren’t lucky enough to have a good education and skills highly valued by the market, my life could very easily have turned out to be ruled by my dysfunctions.)

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    • Mark Atwood says:

      One of the things that occurs to me, about your stories, is that these people need minders.

      One of the hopes/goals of the Enlightenment project was that “all men are born equal in dignity” and can be and thus should be trusted to manage their own affairs. One of the unspeakable things is that it just may be that that turns out that it is not the case, and not just for a small unfortunate cohort 2 std deviations to the left of the curve.

      And what Moloch has built to “take care” of people who “need minders” is generally worse then the pre-Enlightenment solutions.

      In my darker thougths, I suspect that one of the hopes of some of the sillier transhumanists is that hopefully such people can be “upgraded” into being able to take care of themselves, or that one of the hopes of the “Friendly AI” people is that said “friendly AI” can be the keeper and minder of people who need a keeper and minder.

      And yes, I’ve met a bunch of people who need keepers and minders, who are not actually diagnosable brain damaged, but their deficient levels of symbolic processing, short time horizon, inability to deal with paperwork, decision making situations where the negative consequence is severe but “far away” in the future, are such that they are constantly imposing costs far in excess to any of the external value they create in their life on their social support networks and on government-provided welfare support.

      And yes, people associatively sort away from them. I know I do, because I have seen them, when they encounter someone who they see can “help” them, they latch on like a leech, with a combination of pity-me, dont-be-cruel, not-my-fault, what-will-i-do, that never, ever ends.

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      • JDG1980 says:

        In my darker thougths, I suspect that one of the hopes of some of the sillier transhumanists is that hopefully such people can be “upgraded” into being able to take care of themselves

        You really think genetic engineering to improve IQ is a pie-in-the-sky concept? It’s beyond current technology, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it happen in the next half-century. It certainly is likely to happen a lot sooner than strong AI.

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ JDG1980
          “You really think genetic engineering to improve IQ is a pie-in-the-sky concept?”

          Alternatively … for the immediate object-level problem, the forms to fill out etc are more and more often online and lower-IQ-friendly: big touch-screen icons, etc. They have a ways to go, but this is a known technology with fewer unknown side effects.

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            Alternatively … for the immediate object-level problem, the forms to fill out etc are more and more often online and lower-IQ-friendly: big touch-screen icons, etc.

            Yes, that would work – if the objective were to ensure that those eligible for assistance got it. My suspicion, (writing from the USA), is that the intent of the paperwork is often to add roadblocks and underhandedly cut assistance.

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          • CatCube says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff

            …the intent of the paperwork is often to add roadblocks and underhandedly cut assistance.

            I doubt that’s the case. When you see a bureaucracy doing something stupid, you’re usually seeing the seams between two conflicting sets of rules.

            The paperwork probably keeps getting more onerous to prove that the bureaucrats aren’t siphoning off money–often, as you’ve observed, the paperwork and rules often end up wasting more money than they save. In our office we joke that the government spends $80 to save $8.

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @CatCube

            The paperwork probably keeps getting more onerous to prove that the bureaucrats aren’t siphoning off money–often, as you’ve observed, the paperwork and rules often end up wasting more money than they save. In our office we joke that the government spends $80 to save $8.

            Fair enough. Now that you mention it, the most grotesque examples I’ve read of have been from private health insurers. Presumably they do it in cases where they make a net profit from it, rather than losing money on it.

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          • CatCube says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff

            …they do it in cases where they make a net profit from it, rather than losing money on it.

            It’s probable. Don’t forget, though, that the reason it’s better to have private firms do everything we can isn’t that they aren’t dysfunctional, it’s that if they don’t fix their dysfunction they’ll eventually go out of business. GM did things a lot more fucked up than this for a long time, but would be a thing of the past if not for the USG bailing them out. They still hung on for decades with horrible infighting between units, though.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff:

            Almost. The objective is to make sure that the right people get assistance. As TLP is fond of saying, “If you have a driveway, this probably isn’t for you.”

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        • bbartlog says:

          It’s at the bleeding edge of current technology. We have identified a few alleles of small effect, that could be edited in vitro with CRISPR/esCAS or similar. It’s just that right now the achievable gains are small compared to the complications and risk of failure.

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        • IVF children have cognitive deficits through age 10 that don’t disappear. I’m not optimistic.

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      • Marc Whipple says:

        Fritz Leiber’s The Creature from the Cleveland Depths, sometimes called The Lone Wolf, is about an attempt to upgrade people with external brains/minders of the sort you describe, with much less technical ability than we as a society now possess. You might find it interesting.

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    • StephenMeansMe says:

      There’s a book called “Crache” by Mark Budz in which every baby gets a cortical stack with an embedded A.I. minder… they’re not fully general A.I., just something like a Siri/Google Now/Cortana with the computing power of 15-20 years in the future and also all data about you since the moment of your birth. I wonder how much the lives of the “people who need minders” would improve with such an innovation.

      It seems like an important cognitive deviation is “poor alignment of personal priorities with societal/environmental demands,” which could be very deeply ingrained (that is, hard to teach away even given infinite money in the school system) but easily backdoored by just such patriarchal measures as Mark Atwood hints at. That’s… annoying.

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      • Mark Atwood says:

        “poor alignment of personal priorities with societal/environmental demands,” which could be very deeply ingrained but easily backdoored by just such patriarchal measures as Mark Atwood hints at. That’s… annoying.

        Said measures are not the “backdoor”. Those measures are the very solution that evolution came up with! It was easier to hack it together out of existing animal cognitive and social infrastructure, that it would be to completely rebuild the cognative infrastructure of every hairless plains ape.

        We as the heirs and continuers of the Enlightenment experiment have told ourselves that we have thunk up a better solution, and have implemented it on ourselves, and keep pushing it harder and harder.

        I’m not entirely convinced that we were correct or wise in doing so.

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        • StephenMeansMe says:

          Hrm. I mean more of a backdoor around the hard task of training one’s brain. In other words, some people can learn “life skills,” while almost everyone would thrive with a “minder.”

          Certainly some people can learn “life skills,” since contemporary society is sufficiently different than any plausible ancestral environment. And certainly it can’t be minders all the way up, there has to be some sub-population with sufficient… whatever… to act independently.

          How does one determine that evolved behavior is *optimal*, though, rather than just satisficing? Or what evidence is there that “cognitive infrastructure” differs in that way (not just IQ, like the whole qualitative package of “performs at < -1sd for most social action") reliably? (Or do you not claim it's population-level, just that sometimes a person has some sort of genetic disposition preventing them from performing near or above the mean socially?)

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        • dust bunny says:

          It upsets me greatly that you present patriarchy as a serious and even preferable alternative to what we currently have, without addressing how most patriarchs throughout history have not been benevolent or competent, and they’ve generally not had enough attention to spare to the individual needs of those they are making decisions for. Nothing is currently keeping people from being as patriarchal as they wish; the benefits of that social model are still available to everyone who wants them. That most people don’t choose it, and that those who do (FLDS) are famous for the callousness, selfishness and abusiveness of their patriarchs, requires some sort of explanation if you’re trying to make the case that patriarchy is better for the wellbeing of the weakest than is individualism.

          (Note: it’s individualism rather than feminism that dismantled patriarchy in the sense you mean it, since patriarchy as institutionalized obligatory gender roles survived the transition to nuclear family structure and urban lifestyle very much unharmed. Gender equality is still theoretically compatible with authoritarian extended family structures, as long as the patriarch is equally often a matriarch. Feminists appear to me at least to be generally very pro-extended family and strong social support networks. “It takes a village to raise a child” etc.)

          I find myself wondering what you think a good outcome for those who need minding would be, or what the terminal value you want for them is, since obviously it is not for them to get to live the kind of lives they want to, or to have their interests looked out for. Try as I might to be fair and charitable, and I understand I am probably failing at it, the only thing I can come up with is that you don’t really consider their perspective at all, but are rather looking for a solution that moves their suffering out of your sight and makes it someone else’s responsibility. If there is order, and those people occupy their proper place in the scheme of things, living pre-approved lifestyles, it doesn’t matter to you how happy they are about it.

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          • Anonymous says:

            >most patriarchs throughout history have not been benevolent or competent

            Source?

            >Nothing is currently keeping people from being as patriarchal as they wish; the benefits of that social model are still available to everyone who wants them.

            If you live in the Middle East, or Japan, or even China, I could tentatively and charitably agree.

            If you live in the west, chances are the legal system is stacked against anyone who isn’t super rich being able to implement their own patriarchy. If children were property of the father, if a woman who divorced her husband were entitled to nothing at all, if there weren’t a state pension scheme, if marital rape weren’t a thing, if disciplining children and wives were legal, etc, etc, then you’d have a point. In the real world, you very much can’t be as patriarchal as you wish, because people in blue will show up to remove you from society for a time, perhaps indefinitely.

            Paging Dr. Friedman on how legally subversive one needs to be to run a patriarchy in a contemporary western state.

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          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think your argument along the lines “people can opt out if they want, the observation that they don’t is evidence that the state alternative is better” is very persuasive. You can opt out in the sense of not using government provisions that are offered to you, but you can’t opt out in the sense of not paying for them.

            It’s roughly the same reasoning that leads people to conclude that if the government didn’t provide, say, schooling, the outcome would be that only rich people would be able to educate their kids, based on the observation that private schools as they currently exist are expensive and cater exclusively to the rich. This is a mistake – the existence of state schools, i.e. budget price schools people have to pay for whether they want to or not, totally precludes the possibility of budget price private schools. Unless the education you expect your child to get from a private school will be so much better than they would get from a state school that it’s worth paying twice, you aren’t going to do so. So the only private schools that will exist will be high-quality, high-price ones, catering to the rich.

            Same applies to healthcare and possibly to husbands. But also to your example of private ‘patriarchal institutions’ versus state equivalents.

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          • DensityDuck says:

            I feel compelled to point out that I in no way intended my post to be interpreted as an expression of support for patriarchal despotism, either at the familial or the societal level.

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          • dust bunny says:

            @ anonymous
            I feel like you’re responding to my post as a standalone, removed from the context of the other posts made here. I’m not interested in opening a more general discussion on patriarchy. That would derail the discussion I am interested in. If your questions are sincere requests for clarification, I will address them. On first reading, though, they seem more like an invitation into a derailing debate.

            @ other anonymous
            “I don’t think your argument along the lines “people can opt out if they want, the observation that they don’t is evidence that the state alternative is better” is very persuasive.”

            I’m not making that argument. I’m saying it is something that needs somehow to be accounted for, if you’re going to make the case that patriarchy is better for the people it places under the guardianship of others than individualism and social democratic welfare states.

            @ duck
            I didn’t read your posts as such. Not really Mark Atwood’s either, although he does seem at least somewhat sympathetic to the idea.

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          • “So the only private schools that will exist will be high-quality, high-price ones, catering to the rich.”

            Not quite. There will also be ones offering a product enough different, as judged by parents, to be worth paying for. The obvious examples would be religious schools for parents who disapprove of what their children would be taught in the public schools. That would include parochial schools, Nation of Islam schools, … . But there would also be schools based on a substantially different educational theory, such as Sudbury Valley School (unschooling).

            What you would not expect to see would be private schools selling schooling that is a reasonably close substitute for what the public schools produce, even if it is a little better and costs a little less to produce.

            For anyone interested in the history of inexpensive schooling for the masses in a private system, I recommend E.G. West, Education and the Industrial Revolution. The modern equivalent exists (illegally) on a large scale in India at present.

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          • Anonymous says:

            @dust bunny

            I would genuinely like to see your source as to the competence and benevolence of patriarchs. My learnings indicate that, quite the opposite, they were on average quite competent and acted in the interest of their charges.

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          • Eph says:

            >If children were property of the father

            Just for the record, I’d sooner condone a system that sterilizes all humanity. Just because something has a historic precendent does not mean we have to condone it even slightly.

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          • Anonymous says:

            Just for the record, I’d sooner condone a system that sterilizes all humanity.

            For the record, I would condone… just about anything in preference of sterilizing all of humanity.

            Just because something has a historic precendent does not mean we have to condone it even slightly.

            I don’t condone it because it is historical precedent. I condone it because it is plausible that it serves to align incentives for our collective benefit. The historical precedent merely serves to illustrate that you can have that and not have your system collapse immediately, contrary to never-tried-before proposals.

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          • Eph says:

            >I condone it because it is plausible that it serves to align incentives for our collective benefit.

            Except for the slave children, of course, who will suffer severely. Also you probably underestimate the impact on “our collective benefit”, and I bet you have a pretty evil definition of “benefit”.

            I can’t say I’m surprised by the readiness to use violence and enslavement to maximize suffering, but I’m still dumbfounded how many sell it as moral.

            One more piece of evidence that human extinction might be a real improvement of this universe after all.

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          • Anonymous says:

            Except for the slave children, of course, who will suffer severely.

            What kind of evil father must you have had to believe this?

            Also you probably underestimate the impact on “our collective benefit”, and I bet you have a pretty evil definition of “benefit”.

            Among the benefits I see in that system:
            – parents properly repaid for the expense of bringing their children up,
            – sustainability in the incentive for said children to have their own children and reap the benefits themselves,
            – no quarrel between the government and parents regarding the ownership of the children, since the matter of settled.

            This kind of arrangement was in use in Imperial China for millennia, and in the Roman Empire for centuries. Whatever you can say about it, it is not demonstrably unstable.

            I can’t say I’m surprised by the readiness to use violence and enslavement to maximize suffering, but I’m still dumbfounded how many sell it as moral.

            No, you.

            One more piece of evidence that human extinction might be a real improvement of this universe after all.

            wat

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          • Eph says:

            Regarding the incentives to have more children, there is more than one solution and literal child slavery is probably the ethically most repugnant one. Especially without any kind of exit option for the child.

            If indeed we need such an extra incentive.

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          • Anonymous says:

            Regarding the incentives to have more children, there is more than one solution and literal child slavery is probably the ethically most repugnant one.

            Really? Of all the solutions one can come up with, this is what you would peg as “the ethically most repugnant one”? Can you really not imagine morally worse, but plausibly working, scenarios?

            If indeed we need such an extra incentive.

            If by “we” you mean “western people”, then yes, we damn well need one. Everything we have tried so far has failed. The problem may correct itself with the inheritors of our civilization being primarily descendants of those who were resistant against whatever effect that is causing the depressed fertility, but the price may be that those people may be unable to run our civilization anymore, due to dysgenic effects of our best and brightest not giving a damn about posterity. Or more fertile migrants might take over one day and start running their own idea of civilization, different from ours.

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          • Eph says:

            Anonymous, your chains of thought contain way too many assumptions that are not nearly as certain as you may think.

            Every authoritarian in history thought they had the greater good on their side, that their violence is the exact optimal and most moral solution. IMO the probability of that is near zero, and even if it were true, you would need a repugnant system of terminal values.

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          • dust bunny says:

            @ anonymous
            Fine.

            The post I was responding to was made by a person who agrees with me that a weak majority of people in general are barely competent to run their own lives. It is necessarily harder to competently run the lives of several people than just one, and to adequately understand the needs of others than one’s own. So, a randomly selected person put in a position of power over others is likely not competent to hold that power. Patriarchs are not selected randomly, but they are selected on the basis of attributes that only correlate with competence very weakly, if at all. A patriarch’s education teaches him to not listen to those on whose behalf they make decisions, or even to take them seriously. And there is absolutely nothing that would exempt patriarchs from the principal-agent-problem.

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        • Marc Whipple says:

          Everybody keeps taking the word that was originally being discussed as “patriarch.” I took it as “patron.”

          Historically, being a patron had rights as well as responsibilities, and obligations that went both ways. (Not that it wasn’t vastly preferable to be a patron as opposed to a ward.) If your ward did something antisocial, you were accountable. This encouraged, at more than one level, a less toxic relationship than the bad sort implied by referring to the FDLS. When people talk about why the Enlightenment may turn out to be a net social failure, this is a major factor. We are creating legions of what are, in a sense, feral children. Somebody set food out for them, so they didn’t starve, but they aren’t really socialized in that they don’t understand consequences.

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      • PhoenixRite says:

        I imagine it would be like Navi from the Zelda series. A voice constantly shouting “Hey! Listen!” and then you hit the snooze button rather than deal with a painful truth or stop procrastinating.

        Report comment

  13. eqdw says:

    > People in Group X need to realize they have it really good

    Man, the people in Group X really do have it good, though. I mean, they know a seek-er-et, and it is sooooooo good to hear it

    You want to know what it shwas? Alright, I’ll tell you what it shwas.

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  14. Dan Simon says:

    There’s another angle to your false-consensus argument: you’re assuming that all of the people enduring your list of immiserating conditions are in fact miserable, just because those conditions would make *you* miserable. In truth, just as there are millions of people with none of these problems who are still miserable, there are also millions who have one or more of them and yet wake up every day thankful to be alive. (For some of them, for example, the beliefs inspiring the young-earth creationism you decry may be one source of their joy and gratitude.) And I’d expect you to see disproportionately few such people in the course of your medical practice, further reinforcing your assumption that people with these problems are uniformly miserable.

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    • Sniffnoy says:

      He’s not claiming young-earth creationists tend to be miserable, he’s just using young-earth creationists as another example of a group that, like miserable people, tends to be filtered out from his social circles despite being on the whole common.

      Report comment

      • Ada says:

        The commenter above wasn’t saying YEC makes you miserable, he was snarking that Scott has a rather limited/biased perspective that discounts, say, the comfort of fervent religious beliefs a la YEC

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    • Svejk says:

      This is a good point. In some cases, it seems that misery, or its absence, is not the result of any particular combination of experiences or qualities, but a quality in itself. I’m not certain that depression alone captures this phenomenon.

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      • LCL says:

        This is important to get out there, and particularly for people prone to depression. The paradigm most people have of depression is that it’s a problem to be solved, often via a root cause to be addressed. You tell people you feel depressed (or even just sad) and the first question is going to be “why?”

        But in fact it can be liberating to realize that it’s just a thing that happens to you, and not some kind of failure-to-address-underlying-causes. You sometimes feel depressed, and now is one of those times, and later you’ll stop feeling that way.

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      • CatCube says:

        I’m rereading “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick, which is based on interviews with defectors from North Korea, centrally about the famine in the mid-’90s. However, there’s an interesting dichotomy between two of the subjects (note that this is my exegesis, not something the author pointed out).

        One woman was a True Believer, and was happy in North Korea; she even made an effort to not criticize the regime during the famine (despite her husband starving to death). Her daughter hated the government, and was unhappy and at loose ends.

        The daughter defected, then tricked her mother into going into China to help her out. The daughter wasn’t there, though; she was in South Korea and had paid one of the smugglers to giver her mother the best treatment possible for a few weeks (things like having white rice available every day, etc), until her mother decided that she wasn’t going back to North Korea and followed her daughter to the South.

        The epilogue was interesting. The mother, who was a communist true believer was happy and content in South Korea, as she had been mostly happy and content in North Korea. The daughter was disaffected and at loose ends–though she wasn’t starving and was grudgingly happier than she was in North Korea. Some people will blossom where they’re planted, and some really won’t every be happy.

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        • Dragoncat says:

          Perhaps the mother simply had a lower IQ. “Ignorance is bliss.”

          Report comment

          • Marc Whipple says:

            “You are so blissfully free of the ravages of intelligence.”

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          • CatCube says:

            From the description of the mother, it’s not likely that she was any stupider than her daughter, nor does any description in the book strike me as her being less than average intelligence; she’s probably more, as she seems to have landed on her feet in South Korea, where many North Korean defectors lose all of the defection money the South Korean government gives them in short order. This includes her daughter, though much of her defection money went to the coyotes she was paying to bring her mother across.

            I’m still partway through re-reading the book, and had forgotten quite a few details before my previous post. She had lost her mother-in-law and her son in addition to her husband. The husband stuck in my mind because the story of his last days was more memorable. Also, after her husband died, she basically gave up until her daughters found her wandering, delirious, and got some more food for her.

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    • moridinamael says:

      You an be both miserable and thankful to be alive. Helping with the misery is still good.

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      • Dan Simon says:

        I would rephrase your point (as I understand it) as, “being happy doesn’t in any way imply lack of material misfortune”. And yes, I’m all in favor of charitable giving (and quite comfortable with democratically enacted government policies) to help relieve others’ material misfortune, irrespective of their emotional state. My main point was to warn against portraying the materially unfortunate (somewhat condescendingly) as a huge, undifferentiated mass of hopeless, helpless misery.

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  15. Max says:

    Donating is not the answer. Treat root causes not the symptoms

    This is by the way the big problem of modern medicine – aside of emergency medicine is largely aimed at palliative, symptomatic care, drug pushing and supporting itself.

    Nutrition and sanitation did not come from medicine. Antibiotic and vaccinations were significant achievements, but the rest – not at all(more like waste of resources)

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    • Peter Scott says:

      This might be relevant to the discussion, and is in any case a good read:

      http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/09/22/beware-systemic-change/

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    • Vanzetti says:

      >Donating is not the answer. Treat root causes not the symptoms

      This sentiment is usually just an excuse for not donating.

      You don’t need an excuse. If you don’t want to donate, don’t.

      And now tell us, oh great sage, how to treat the root causes.

      Report comment

      • Befriend people. Especially lonely ones.

        Homeless people and old people need people to talk to, too.

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      • Max says:

        >This sentiment is usually just an excuse for not donating.

        And donating is just an excuse for not doing anything else.

        >And now tell us, oh great sage, how to treat the root causes.
        So you can dismiss it/attack me and feel nice about yourself?

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        • suntzuanime says:

          Donating and doing anything else are both just excuses to jockey for status like anything else. If you want a reason to think things are terrible on this Christmas Eve, that’s a pretty good one.

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          • Frog Do says:

            A better one is that giving is an attempt to gain virtue-as-determined-by-introspection, using other people as props, in a Ultilitarian Narcissist alignment check. Don’t even need other people to compete against, just your own creeping dread.

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          • Anonymous says:

            @Frog Do: I guess that means “you’re just being a good person because you don’t want to feel like you’re a bad person,” but that doesn’t sound too terrible?

            I think if you actually act as a good person would act, it’s fine if the ultimate motivation for that is vanity.

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    • Emile says:

      Donating is not the answer. Treat root causes not the symptoms

      Then donate to organizations that seem they’ll improve the root causes. Duh.

      Report comment

      • Eph says:

        Can you name one?

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        • pneumatik says:

          Paying social workers, maybe? Don’t they do some of what you’re talking about?

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            Paying social workers, maybe? Don’t they do some of what you’re talking about?

            Social workers work to make the world a better place, about as much as the “Earth Rotation Service” works to make the planet spin.

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          • pneumatik says:

            In my relatively limited experience with social workers they seem focused on connecting people with services that support them, and to the degree possible helping people understand what they need to do to deal with whatever problems are facing them. It’s not exactly hiring a friend, but it sounds similar to what’s being discussed in this sub-thread.

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          • DensityDuck says:

            So they’re much like the minders I described in my earlier post, albeit on a sharply limited scale.

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        • Emile says:

          Can you name one?

          I’m not the one going around telling people “Treat root causes not the symptoms”. Max seems to claim great insight about root causes, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to donate, on the contrary – that means he can identify *even more effective* charities.

          Though if I had to name one, I’d say the “Deworm the World Initiative” is about as close to attacking a root cause as you can get.

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          • Eph says:

            I don’t mean to be rude, but I doubt it. I asked you specifically because you sounded confident that there is an easy pick.

            I have never in my life heard of a charity that had a realistic chance of addressing the root causes of human misery.

            I could imagine deworming is helping some people at reasonable cost, but that’s more like treating a symptom of poverty. The root causes of poverty are bad governance and irresponsible reproductive behavior, but neither are fixable with existing evaluated charities, AFAIK.

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          • Linch says:

            At the risk of saying the obvious, there’s no one root cause of global poverty (and indeed, of most systematic problems). In addition, as Scott’s many medical posts will attest to, it is not always clear that the initial cause of a problem is always inimically linked with the solution.

            I know I’m stating the obvious here, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said.

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    • LRS says:

      Many who donate to treat symptoms do so because the evidence that their donations can effectively treat symptoms is strong, while the evidence that anything they do can effectively treat root causes is weak.

      Giving $3,000 to the Against Malaria Foundation will, on expectation, save one human life. Giving $3,000 to any root-cause-directed effort has a substantial likelihood of accomplishing nothing or even being counterproductive, since root causes tend to be hotly disputed. If the root cause is political, there are probably people contributing to the other side of it and canceling out your donation; if the root cause is basic research, it’s highly likely whatever basic research you’re supporting will lead to actual nothing, as most basic research does.

      Treating the symptoms is not ideal, but it may be the least bad of many bad options.

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      • DensityDuck says:

        Indeed, I’m pretty sure Mark Zuckerberg figured he was going after root causes. And sure, “well it wasn’t his fault”, “he didn’t manage the money”, “entrenched interests”, but the fact remains that he pissed away a hundred million dollars. If he’d simply picked a hundred random families and given each of them a million dollars it would have done more good for more people!

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  16. Hmm. I clicked on a few of these links (+1 for having them), and I think some of the statistics don’t check out.

    “About 7% of people are alcoholic”
    According to the definition of alcoholism on this website, anyone who has has drunk more than they were planning and had a subsequent hangover in the past year is an alcoholic (seriously). This organization is incentivized to inflate statistics for more money.

    “– About 10% of people were sexually molested as children, many of whom are still working through the trauma.”
    The 10% referred to (5% of boys and 20% of girls) was a) from self report studies, which often introduce large sample biases, and 2) they referred to ‘childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incidents’ which (I think?) is a superset of being sexually molested.

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    • Dahlen says:

      Off-topic, but I clicked your username link completely expecting it to lead me to a page on the 2016 Democratic primaries. Sorry if you’ve gotten many such comments recently. 😛

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    • Earthly Knight says:

      It’s unclear to me what qualifies as “child molestation”, in particular as concerns (1) the age of the perpetrator, (2) the age of the victim, (3) whether there must be a pattern of abuse, and (4) whether any degree of unwanted sexual contact is sufficient. I gave the figures from a CDC study in my first comment, above, which found that roughly 7% of high school students reported having been the victim of forcible unwanted sexual intercourse. The study’s sampling method seems above board, and they even had decent response rates– 78% of schools and 86% of students within participating schools. So 10% for all types of childhood sexual abuse is ballpark, maybe on the low side.

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      • Tibor says:

        I watched a japanese anime film “My neighbour Totoro” recently. It is actually a film for kids (what I found interesting about it was that there was absolutely zero conflict and the film still worked remarkably well, but I digress). There is a family, or more precisely a father with two daughters (the mother is in a hospital) who move into a new house. In one scene, they all (the father and the daughters) go to a bath together, everyone naked (it is quite a big bath but anyway). The girls are something like 10 and 5 years old. I found that scene interesting because if this would be completely unacceptable in a western film and is kinda weird from the westerner’s point of view (e.g. mine) but on the other hand there is really nothing bad about it, it is just that you would associate something like that with a possible sexual child abuse. But it could be that the western society, some countries more than others I guess, is hypersensitive to this nowadays. Hence I would be a bit suspicious of the reported child abuse. The problem with that term is that it is quite broadly and vaguely defined.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          1. The study I cited in an earlier comment, from which comes the 7% figure, asks specifically about forced sexual intercourse, which is nice because it takes all ambiguity out of the definition.

          2. My Neighbor Totoro is the work of Hayao Miyazaki, most of whose films are nominally children’s movies, but who is the world’s greatest animation director. I highly, highly recommend Princess Mononoke.

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          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            My Neighbor Totoro is the work of Hayao Miyazaki, most of whose films are nominally children’s movies, but who is the world’s greatest animation director.

            My nigga.

            I highly, highly recommend Princess Mononoke.

            I prefer Laputa: Castle in the Sky, myself, but most people do seem to like Princess Mononoke more.

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          • Tibor says:

            1. Ok, but first, high school means ages 15-18/19 in the US, right? Those are not children anymore, not even the 15year olds are…I dunno how it is in the US, but in most countries in Europe 15 is the age when you can legally have sex with anyone, also, only slightly related, 16 is the age when, in Germany, you can legally drink beer and wine. Also it is not clear by whom they were forced to have sex. I would believe that some 7% of high-schoolers might date complete jerks who do something like that, high-schoolers are not known for their good judgement. But I would be surprised if most of these abusers were not high-schoolers themselves. So, this is not terribly relevant to the number of people who were sexually abused as children.

            2.I really like the work of Shinichirō Watanabe (I don’t know if I like Cowboy Bebop more than Samurai Champloo or the other way around), but yeah, Miyazaki’s films are good, my favourite from him is Spirited Away actually (although I saw Princess Mononoke some 5 years ago so I don’t remember it all that well).

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            1. High school children in the US are between 14-19. The age of consent here varies by state; about half put it at 16, the rest are split between 17 and 18.

            2. Most of the rapes occurred by the time they were 14 years old– the study reports that 6% of freshman (9% F, 3.5% M) had been forced to have sex.

            3. It’s certainly the case that many of the rapes will have been committed by peers and slightly-older children rather than adults. I’m still inclined to label this childhood sexual abuse, though, and even if we go the other way on the nomenclature, what we’re really interested in is the long-term psychological effects, and it’s hard to believe that being raped by a peer causes significantly less trauma than being raped by an adult.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Tibor:

            In the US many/most states have age of consent at 18, but statutory rape laws frequently require a difference of 2 or even 4 years, I believe.

            But, here is I think the issue. America almost can’t talk about sex in a coherent fashion. I call it the Puritan mindset.

            People are interchanging references to “sex with a minor”, “rape (non-statutory) of a minor” and “sex with a pre-pubescent child”. These are very different things, but they tend to get lumped together (IMO).

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          • Tibor says:

            HeelBearCub: That was my impression from the, to me, completely insane verdict of that high-school teacher who slept with two boys from her class who were 16 or something. I think she was sentenced to something like 20 years of prison…I guess they should have sacked her, because a high-school teacher simply should not have affairs with students but that is a work-related incident whereas otherwise nothing really happened. In Europe, or at least continental Europe (I vaguely remember some weird things along the same lines in the UK, but I am not entirely sure) there would be no court at all (unless some of the students accused her of abuse or blackmail or something…which did not happen). Then again, it is just a single court case, so more or less an anecdote (although the possibility of such a verdict does tell you something about the legal system in the country).

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Tibor:
            I think there are real problems with older individuals dating/having relationships with teenagers, especially before those teens are living somewhat independently. For a variety of reasons, but number one is that young people are not fully mentally and emotionally developed. Manipulation and coercion seem like very real dangers with greatly divergent ages.

            Add on that the teacher is in a position of power and criminal charges, in the general case, seem justified to me.

            But, I can’t help thinking that if we took sex to be as serious, commonplace and necessary as driving, the US would be better for it. I despair of seeing that mindset anytime soon.

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          • Timothy Coish says:

            Princess Monokoke got turned off by me not even 1 hour in. Gave the movie every chance.

            Report comment

          • “but number one is that young people are not fully mentally and emotionally developed.”

            Old people too.

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          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            Even if older people having sex with teenagers has a dangerous potential for manipulation and abuse,
            1) manipulation and abuse is not the same thing as rape.
            2) even if most such relationships are manipulative, making them all illegal is basically a kind of pre-crime, which brings with it all these annoying selective enforcement issues.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Ariel Ben Yuda:
            Again, I think the problems are both exacerbated and, in some cases, caused by the Puritan mindset.

            But mostly what you are highlighting is Type 1 vs. Type 2 trade offs, which really does very little to show which side we should err on.

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          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            @HeelBearCab

            Most correlates of an abusive relationships are not crimes. Just doing something suspicious is not a crime. I don’t see why this specific case is special.

            Currently, abuse is criminally punished very lightly compared to crimes of similar consequence. This is for a good reason – cases of abuse have a tendency of being very ambiguous, with a high chance of punishing a non-abuser.

            We don’t want to make doing something that just looks-like-an-abusive-relationship make you a registered sex offender.

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          • Tibor says:

            @HeelBearCub: I actually think that the main reason a teacher should not have a relationship with a student is favouritism. If abuse or blackmail (have sex with me or you will fail this class) are an issue, the student can accuse the teacher of those and sue him/her, or notify the principal of the school about it. But if there are no problems in that relationship, nobody is going to complain and it is a conflict of interest when one partner is supposed to grade the other one. This is why I think the teacher should be sacked, but otherwise it is just a relationship between someone who is older and someone who is younger. Unless you think that any such relationship should be illegal and prosecuted (maybe to a certain age of the younger partner), you should not make an exception in this case either. Also, a manipulative relationship is something unfortunate but definitely not illegal and thank god for that. Not all bad things, let alone potentially bad things should be made illegal.

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          • @Tibor:

            The problems you mention shouldn’t exist for a relationship between a teacher and a past student who is not going to be a future student.

            The place where this is a more serious issue is in college, where the ages do not raise any legal issue and a serious long term relationship might make sense. Forbidding such relationships eliminates a potentially attractive opportunity for mate search, or at least restricts it to those willing to either break the rules or keep the relationship non-sexual until the student graduates.

            On the other hand, without such rules you have to worry about conflict of interest, as mentioned. Judging by a quick online search, Harvard has a blanket rule against faculty dating undergraduates, Northwestern has restrictions designed to deal with the conflict of interest problem. I don’t know about other schools.

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        • dust bunny says:

          “In one scene, they all (the father and the daughters) go to a bath together, everyone naked (it is quite a big bath but anyway). The girls are something like 10 and 5 years old. I found that scene interesting because if this would be completely unacceptable in a western film and is kinda weird from the westerner’s point of view (e.g. mine)”

          As a continental European, I resent the implication that western = anglo.

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          • Tibor says:

            Plus 1 point for the the film reference 🙂

            I am from continental Europe as well but I cannot imagine this not at least causing a lot of fuss in continental European films too. But maybe there could be some differences among countries that I am unaware of. I come from the Czech republic and I am currently doing my PhD in Germany. I would say that in both countries, the attitude towards this is probably more relaxed than in England, let alone the US, but still (at least judging by that film) not as relaxed as in Japan and that a scene where a father takes a bath naked with his daughters would cause some ruckus at least.

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    • “According to the definition of alcoholism on this website, anyone who has has drunk more than they were planning and had a subsequent hangover in the past year is an alcoholic (seriously)”

      Wow..I literally come form a nation of alcoholics!

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  17. Richard says:

    What we need to do is to figure out why I’m happy all the time.

    At some point or other during my life, I could have checked chronic pain (if you count 15 years as chronic, it’s fixed now), wheelchair, food stamps, unemployed, disability and possibly rape, depending on your definition of rape. Also; dead child, drug addict spouse (and severe schizophrenic spouse), not PTSD, but I’ve been shot at enough in various war zones that most doctors think I should have it.

    And yet, it all just rolls off and I have always thought of myself as living life on the easiest setting. If we could figure out why and then engineer everyone to be just as happy as me, Scott would be out of a job.

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    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      If the hedonic set point theory is correct, your happiness might be genetic.

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    • Vanzetti says:

      0_o

      Ever considered writing a book about your life? Something like “Pollyanna 2: Electric Boogaloo”.

      Report comment

      • Nasdm says:

        You have a choice. You either get anxious, worry and say life is miserable. Or you keep on limping on, look on the bright side and keep on living your life trying to accomplish your goals.

        Because why afflict yourself with these worries? You work with what you have.

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        • Soumynona says:

          I’m all for appreciating what you have and changing your attitude towards life for increased well-being, but it’s not easy, it’s not a matter of making a choice and “just doing it” and this sort of talk sounds kind of smug.

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          • pneumatik says:

            I think you and Nasdm are both committing some amount of typical mind fallacy here. For people like Richard, it is that easy. Which isn’t to say that people like Richard don’t have to do any work to deal with their problems, but it’s work that they’re willing and able to do, and after doing it they still feel good. For other people it’s virtually impossible to do that work, or to feel good while thinking about their problems. But for the people like Richard it’s hard to come up with better advice other than, “Just get up, do the work, and concentrate on the positive aspects of your life.”

            Apologies to Richard for using him as my canonical example. I don’t mean to speak for him.

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          • EveMatteo says:

            “I think you and Nasdm are both committing some amount of typical mind fallacy here. For people like Richard, it is that easy. ”

            When I was younger, I was told over and over again “just let it go”. I’d do something that I thought was just letting it go, but it would be shown a bit later that I hadn’t let it go at all. A couple years ago, I finally was able to “just let it go”. And there really is no other way to describe it. You don’t bury it. You don’t push it away. You just… let it go.

            So, I think “just do it” is a skill like any others. Some people are practically born knowing how to do it. Most people have to work a bit to learn how. Some people have to work really hard to learn how. And a small percentage will be unable to learn how.

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        • bbartlog says:

          Don’t be so sure that everyone has a choice in the matter. Or indeed anyone …

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          • The original Mr. X says:

            Oh, I think people generally have some choice in how they feel about things, even if it often takes a lot of persistence to do so. That sort of thing is basically what ancient Stoicism was all about, and a lot of them had lives that, looking in on the outside, ought to have been pretty awful (e.g., Epictetus was a slave and was crippled from his childhood).

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    • Mammon says:

      I’ve experienced something similar to this since I’ve started taking Wellbutrin. Every day that I take my medication, I come home at the end of the day pleasantly surprised by how well the day went.

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      • anon1 says:

        Likewise. (Well, my life is objectively super easy, but aside from that.) The best description I’ve come up with is that it’s like being slightly drunk all the time (minus the poor coordination). I hope to god I never have to be sober again.

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      • Cadie says:

        I’ve just gotten fairly stable on a medication cocktail and it’s almost perplexing to me, how smoothly things go relative to a few months ago. I mean, I still have some major problems (financial etc.) and my mornings feel pretty bad, but once I take my meds and lay down waiting for half an hour I’m functional and my mood improves to “okay.” Which is a gigantic improvement over “terrible.” I’ve never felt like this longer than a day or two since I was around 6-7 years old, so it’s exciting but I’m a little afraid to believe it’s going to last.

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    • Sastan says:

      You’re not alone! I wouldn’t call myself happy, but the term I’ve always used is “contented pessimist”. The world is a shitty place, and I’m ok with it.

      And I get, very much, that there is a sliding scale of ability to deal with various problems, and no, it’s not all genetic, but I think there’s probably something there. I have a brother who any life setback sends into a tailspin of depression, self-destructive behavior and withdrawal that can take years to get out of. We have the same basic genes, the same upbringing. If anything, I’ve had a bit more trauma than he has had.

      The best way I can describe it is that bad things that happen to me don’t usually stick around as traumatic memories. Some people can’t forget them, obsess about them. Maybe I just dissociate well.

      None of this has been without effort, but it has never seemed impossible. I read the Stoics when I was young, and it made an impression. Simplicity, contentedness, purpose.

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      • Marc Whipple says:

        I am generally speaking a contented pessimist. (I love that phrase.)

        However, I find that the one thing that will inevitably drive me to raving outrage and then bleak depression is dealing with people who are overly optimistic in the sense that they think that some significant social problem has a simple solution and who are willing, nay demanding, to completely reorganize society to implement it. If the rest of the world were contented pessimists who were satisfied to keep grinding away and just try to make tomorrow a little better than today, I’d be much more content (and considerably less pessimistic.)

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    • Ghatanathoah says:

      I know exactly what you mean. I always think about how happy I am and wonder how I got so lucky. It seems like I have an awesome life and nothing bad ever happens to me.

      Then if I think really hard I remember that one time I developed a chronic medical condition that required major surgery. And how while I was in the hospital I got a bunch of infections. And (temporary, luckily) pancreatitis. And how I was unemployed for a bunch of years, and underemployed for a bunch more. And my abusive drug-addict brother.

      It takes effort to remember all those bad things. I’d totally forgotten about the pancreatitis until I started writing the above paragraph. I feel bad when those bad things are in the process of happening to me, but then I get distracted and revert to my normal happy self. In the hospital I was unhappy while they were pumping a few cups of puss out of my butt, but as soon as they were done I wheeled my way back to my room and had a delightful time watching that stupid “Highlander” cartoon from the Nineties.

      I think the main thing that works for me is distraction. I’m really happy if I stop thinking about the sad things in my life, and I can usually distract myself fairly easily. The only time I’ve ever been continuously miserable was when my ability to distract myself shut down for a few weeks, and it took me a while to get it working again.

      Some people call this “escapism.” I call it “Using valuable cognitive resources efficiently by directing them to eudaemonia production instead of unproductive problem analysis.”

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    • Dragoncat says:

      Yes, I wish we could bottle what you have because at the moment, my life is very easy and yet I feel stressed, overwhelmed, and yes, like a miserable failure all the time. Is it genetic? Is it a lingering feeling from years of loneliness and rejection by family? Can I overcome this and just enjoy the good things that I obviously have? I’m not sure that I can.

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  18. Federico says:

    Scott, I appreciate your overall point, but unless I missed something, your simulations are critically flawed. Those afflictions you list are highly co-morbid. For example – the incidence of depression is probably much higher in patients that have chronic pain. Alcoholism is highly correlated with PTSD… and so on.

    In practice, given your numbers, I suspect that a few people have very shitty lives, but most people have OK lives. If you want to do this properly – there’s lots of ways to estimate covariance – the simplest is probably using Gaussian Copulas.

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    • Earthly Knight says:

      Scott acknowledged the potential for comorbidity– “there’s also a really big problem where a lot of these are conditional upon one another – that is, a person in prison is not also in a nursing home, but a person who is unemployed is far more likely to be on food stamps”– but I suspect you may be right that the rate of co-occurrence will be so high that the way Scott went about the exercise is just plain uninformative.

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    • Jeremy says:

      Strongly agree. Errors even on the order of ~1 would strongly change the qualitative nature of the simulation, so I definitely think the results should have a stronger disclaimer attached.

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    • Mammon says:

      +1. The simulation part felt mildly cringey to me. Maybe it’s just an excuse for Scott to humblebrag about knowing Python :o)

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      • Mark Atwood says:

        humblebrag about knowing Python

        If someone can correctly do the one singe question programming test given here: http://blog.codinghorror.com/separating-programming-sheep-from-non-programming-goats/
        then they can learn Python in a good weekend.

        It is my favorite programming language to teach, for that very reason.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            I still find the “can you grasp sequential assignment?” acid test from the original paper to be useful to help figure out who it’s worth my time to try to teach.

            I’ve tried twice to teach someone who failed that test. Both times were just frustrating wasted time for both of us. There may be ways to reach in past that inability to grok that question, but I can’t do it myself, and I’ve never seen anyone else succeed.

            And I’ve read the retraction, and I find it… unpersuasive. The retraction was published because the original statement was deemed unacceptable, not because it was demonstrated to be untrue.

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          • I’ve been aware of the retraction, but this is the first time I’ve read it. The retraction comes across as pure political BS. Most significantly, the linked article contains no dispute at all of the data, but only penitential language about how bad it is to suggest that some people can’t program. (However, all of the links that I can find to the more substantial retraction are dead.)

            Unless the substantial retraction contains some additional data which none of the secondary sources reproduced, then the substance of the retraction makes it significantly more likely that the original article was basically correct.

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          • Yes, that’s it. Reading the full thing is interesting but inconclusive.

            Report comment

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mai La Dreapta:
            The original paper is awful as well, full of unsupported statements.

            Report comment

          • Mark Atwood says:

            The original paper is awful as well, full of unsupported statements.

            The original “paper” was one step above a rant posted to a blog. It was as “official” or “authoritative” as a tumblr post or stackoverflow article. Complaining about the lack of “supports” for all the statements no more than an isolated demand for rigor.

            It was a rant written by a teacher who had spent time “working at the coalface”, who dared put into words the truth that everyone who has tried to teach programming have all already learned the hard way, a rant powered by decades of frustration and by impossible demands and goals being imposed on his syllabus and on the demands for success being put on him by armies of politicians, of bureaucrats, and of social reformers, who do not have the first understanding of what he does for a living and do not have the first understanding of the skills he has been trying to teach.

            And, then, also, @HeelBearCub: Have you, by chance, ever tried to teach someone to program?

            Not teach them a new programming language, or environment, or target, or pattern. But “how to program”? To someone who has never written a program before.

            If you have, I promise will I listen to what specifics you have to say about how the original article was incorrect, and how your experience is different, and why you succeed where others fail.

            If you have not, well, ….

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          • James Donald says:

            The paper’s conclusion is politically incorrect. It concludes people are inherently unequal. Of course it has been withdrawn.

            Report comment

          • Mark Atwood says:

            The paper’s conclusion is politically incorrect. It concludes people are inherently unequal. Of course it has been withdrawn.

            What is interesting is that while yes, people are unequal, the “programming sheep and goats” paper and test does not say that various races are unequal. I have seen nobody the this test-for-the-knack is linked to any particular favored races or ethnicities, or absent in any disadvantaged ones.

            My own experiences and observations is that it is not so linked. It’s not even linked to apparent intelligence, once over a certain minimum level.

            That first test, “can you grok sequential assignment” and/or “can you construct a coherent mental model of what the computer is doing and then run that model in your head in violation of your natural heuristics of how the ‘real world works'”… that attribute and also it’s absence appears to me to be evenly distributed across both genders and all races.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mark Atwood:
            Mai La Dreapta was engaged in a selective call for rigor by ignoring all of the unsupported, and sometimes frankly weird statements in the original “paper”.

            I was merely pointing that out. If you dismiss the retraction do to its absence of data, then you should dismiss the many parts of the original that do not rely on data.

            As to whether I have taught programming from scratch, no, not in a formal way. I was a Lab Assistant to an “Intro to Computers” course for four years (88-91) when most people coming into college had not touched one.

            As that class was not taken by any Comp Sci majors, being a Lab Assistant posed challenges. Patience and the willingness to keep working with the student until they arrived at knowledge seemed to me like the required qualities to do the job well, past simple understanding of the material.

            There was only some very rudimentary programming in the course, towards the end.

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        • EveMatteo says:

          As a Math Major having no programming classes yet, I would’ve looked at that problem and realized that it had to be one of the two answers where A and B were the same, but would have no idea which one it was. I likely would’ve been one to either check off multiple answers, or leave it blank, because when I don’t know the rules I don’t like to try.

          And yet, despite much of my homework going missing (I’d turn in the wrong disc, but correct printout, so get only half credit about 50% of the time) and being entirely incapable of remembering the jargon for the tests, I ended up with a C in the Intro to Programming class (which was basically Intro to Java). Every part of homework that I successfully turned in was flawless. On the tests I aced the bits that were about what code to put down. My instructor was frustrated that he couldn’t give me a better grade because he knew that I was the best in the class at the actual programming.

          Now, I recognize that the last line of code tells the program to give A the value of B, so they both have the value that B had at the beginning.

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    • sabril says:

      “In practice, given your numbers, I suspect that a few people have very shitty lives, but most people have OK lives.”

      For what it may be worth, I have a job which puts me into contact with people from all walks of life, and that’s my general impression. Most people seem to be muddling through lives which are basically okay; a small percentage are pretty miserable.

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    • Tibor says:

      This is my impression as well. While it’s true that all models are wrong and some are useful, I don’t think Scott’s model falls into the useful category here. It works under the assumption of all those things happening independently or being only slightly correlated but that is an extremely strong assumption and it is not treated in any way. Yes, Scott does note that his model does not work once the assumption is false but when I make an assumption which, if proven falls, breaks the whole thing, then I should at least have a heuristic for why one might hope that that assumption is true. in fact, his prior should be the opposite, not just because the assumption is strong but because his typical patient seems to be full of those things rather than having one weird problem like having an obsessive compulsive disorder about leaving a hairdryer on (like that other “based on a true story” patient of his from an older post) and having an otherwise (serious) problem-free life. In fact, what I found surprising is how troubled the typical psychiatric patients are in almost all areas of life.

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  19. JoyCS says:

    I am a listener on 7cups.com, a site where people can vent to others, called listeners, over text chat. Not sure if you are familiar with the concept. Some of us are better than others, and you can see listener’s reviews and ratings and pick those you like.

    I have been listening to people for a few months now, and before I started I could have never imagined the amount of misery that is around. Like you, I filter the people around me very strongly. But not on that site. There people find me from my profile, and I rarely turn them away.

    The amount of abused people is staggering. I don’t have any statistics, but I could have never imagined anything like that before I started listening. Outwardly normal and well-adjusted people come with the stories of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Incest. Some of it is truly horrifying. I completely believe your data, though it’s probably low, due to selection effects. I meet people who would never go to a psychiatrist or a therapist. All ages, too. From 18 to 70.

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    • Jiro says:

      Finding that “the amount of abused people is staggering” because you went to a website where they gather is a really low bar to meet. There could be a 0.1% or 0.0001% prevalence and there would still be so many that going to an Internet site there would seem like an endless supply of them.

      You are completely unjustified in believing Scott’s data based on a visit to such a site.

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      • Kaminiwa says:

        I mean, the site itself says “6 million people helped”. It doesn’t have any obvious links to other languages, so we’re limited to the 335 million people that speak English.

        That gives us a prevailence of 0.018%

        Of course, it’s unlikely that EVERY person who has these issues goes to this ONE website, or even any website at all. And on the other hand, that 6 million number is probably exaggerated since people can have multiple accounts or otherwise appear as multiple visitors. I strongly suspect that the real prevalence is vastly higher than 0.018%, but we’ve at least established that 0.0001% is rubbish.

        It’s not a full proof, but it is DEFINITELY Bayesian evidence that should update you in favor of Scott’s data.

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        • Jiro says:

          The exact number 0.001 is an example, not a statement that you can literally justify that exact number. Otherwise I wouldn’t have said 0.1% or 0.001%. (Also, I think you want 1.8%, but as you said, that number obviously includes the same people multiple times. I suspect they’re counting visits and you have to divide by at least 100 if not more, leading to 0.018% after all.)

          The point is that even tiny percentages can look staggering by the standard of “I see lots of them”. The Internet, by gathering together people out of a huge population, can make you see lots of pretty much any kind of person.

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      • Vitor says:

        I think JoyCS’s intention wasn’t making a statistical argument, but rather pointing out that the existence of “Outwardly normal and well-adjusted people” with “stories of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse” etc is something that is not intuitive for people lacking first or second-hand experience and hence easily discounted.

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    • Psmith says:

      Thanks for linking the site. I used to participate in something similar and found it very rewarding, but it got pretty terrible (mission creep, startup culture, IDK) and was disbanded.

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  20. houseboatonstyx says:

    I hope someone has published a list of what sort of least cost to provide charities can leverage someone out of an all-around bad situation. AA comes to mind, Goodwill, domestic violence services (aimed at getting the victim out of an abusive relationship, by legal help and/or by helping zim become self-supporting), etc.

    Is there a triage principle? Your two elderly examples seem beyond major life-changing help (except by anti-depressant medication strong enough to get them happily out of the house and developing new connections and interests).

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    • keranih says:

      (aimed at getting the victim out of an abusive relationship, by legal help and/or by helping zim become self-supporting)

      This is a nit, and to be clear, I would like to discuss/get opinions, rather than dictate a path.

      “Getting the victim out of the relationship” seems akin to…moving someone out of a bad neighborhood. Great for that person, (maybe) but…

      Many domestic violence victims spend a lot of time looking for someone who will treat them in a similar manner – loud emotional outbursts mean, at the least, that someone cares. There’s often an undercurrent of mutual abuse between ‘abuser’ and ‘victim’. And even if the abusee leaves, that’s just an empty space, like an empty house in a rough neighborhood. Someone else will move in.

      Meanwhile, the abusee isn’t self-supporting, and needs financial and emotion inputs from someone, generally the taxpayer. The abuser will find someone else, and will return to the life-wrecking cycle of before – running the risk of incarceration and all that which comes with it. (Is not the abuser a human who needs a better life as well?)

      I emphasize that I’m asking about this because I don’t have a best preferred solution – and I don’t want to encourage the status quo of screaming fights and beatings. Is a best/better solution possible? Would it require a higher level of close community involvement in everyone’s relationships and marriages? Would we-in-the-West tolerate that level of nosy-neighbor interference? Or is “getting the victim out of the relationship” the best we can expect from the blunt instrument of government?

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    • Deiseach says:

      aimed at getting the victim out of an abusive relationship, by legal help and/or by helping zim become self-supporting

      Lot tougher than you’d think. My head of department comes from a social work background, and I’ve discussed with her how I want as little direct contact with clients as possible.

      Because I’m a blunt instrument when it comes to tact and sympathy. I would be inclined to say to our clients (and some of them are like the daughter in Scott’s example): “Dump this guy. Leave him or kick him out. He’s a scumbag, he’s dragging you down, he’s dragging your kid down, and now he’s dragging your mother down with him as well.”

      That’s easy for me to say because I’m aromantic/asexual. I approach relationships from a logical/rational viewpoint (or try to, that’s not to say I don’t have emotional involvement in my own close family relationships and problems there). But because I’m like that, I don’t understand the need for love and affirmation that people have (my response to the “But I loooooove him” would be “So the fuck what? He’s bad news, cut him loose!”), especially romantic/sexual companionship and love and how much emphasis our society puts on being coupled/sexually and romantically active as a marker of worth. So although my advice would be objectively good (get rid of the damaging element), it would not do any real good to the person who couldn’t or wouldn’t take it.

      My head of department has the empathy, training and experience to work with people in difficulty. It’s a lot harder to disentangle yourself from a situation like that than it sounds to an outsider (and don’t get me started on the uselessness of the social services to do anything if they even recognise a problem exists in the first place).

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    • ThrustVectoring says:

      Oh dear god please don’t give money to Alcoholics Anonymous. That shit is worse than what it’s trying to cure.

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  21. caryatis says:

    Healthy people don’t see doctors.

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  22. suntzuanime says:

    How bad are bad things, though? On average? You may get an inflated view of how bad the things on your list are because people only come to you if their problems are ruining their life, which tends to select for problems being bad enough to ruin people’s lives. I’ve had a couple of the things on your list and had friends and relatives with more, and many of them did not seem enough for me not to describe them as basically all right. (At least in retrospect; my judgment on whether or not I was all right was probably not trustworthy while depressed.)

    Not all of them are bearable, and all of them can be unbearable, depending on the conditions. But sometimes the conditions are better than the worst conditions, sometimes a problem in your life isn’t that big a deal and you can cope. Sometimes you’re unemployed because you’re being picky about job quality because you have a safety net. Sometimes you’re going through a rocky patch and foodstamps mean you can feed your kids while you wait for it to smooth out. Sometimes if half of all sufferers of chronic pain are in unbearable pain, the other half can bear it. Sometimes people even get on with their lives after being molested or raped.

    Take heart, the world isn’t as bad as all that.

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    • sabril says:

      “You may get an inflated view of how bad the things on your list are because people only come to you if their problems are ruining their life”

      Well he said that he still met a lot of people like this while he was in general practice. But as I pointed out elsewhere, even being a general practitioner might give you a biased view.

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  23. The two types you mentioned both have very few friends, which is why you are unlikely to be friends with someone like them.

    And what they both need (among many other things,) is friendship. They are critically alone.

    Still, compared to your social life, mine appears to be filled with miserable people:

    At least 4 people I know have been arrested and gone to jail or faced jailtime.
    Multiple relatives have gone through nursing homes/hospice and died
    At least 2 people with chronic pain–one of the occasional severe flareups variety, and one of the constant pain at all times
    At least 2 battling serious depression and loneliness
    1 friend has a retarded child
    1 schizophrenic friend, formerly homeless
    Five people currently on Food stamps or the equivalent, plus numerous relatives who went hungry during the Depression
    3 wheelchair-bound
    1 alcoholic
    Numerous people struggling to get and stay employed.
    At least three domestic violence
    1 childhood sexual abuse, 1 physical abuse, 1 emotional abuse, 1 abandoned as a child
    At least a couple of rapes
    1 trans person with insecure housing/job/no family support
    Several people with the misfortune to be very ugly
    A couple of teen moms
    1 autism
    (oh, and, hahhah, I bet I know at least 5 Creationists.)

    Some of these are the same person, but a lot of them aren’t.
    I don’t *think* I seek out misery.
    But you know, what the vast majority of these people want is love, family, and friendship.

    How about the rest of you? How many do you know?

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    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Fwiw, many of the people in my neighborhood have one or more of the problems you list. They’re stressed by objective lacks, worried about getting through the week or day with cars that don’t run, days without work, roofs that leak. They’d be much happier with fewer practical worries, ie better income. But they’re not emotionally miserable, as Scott’s patients seem to be.
      ,
      My neighbors are, forgive the expression, challenged. At least, the ones I know well, are. They react to each day’s several crises with … adrenalin, ingenuity, triumph. Between crises they laugh, have potlucks, watch out for each other.

      Report comment

      • Maware says:

        The idea that they don’t show their misery to you because you are a neighbor and not a family member or confidant doesn’t seem to occur to you, though.

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Maware
          “The idea that they don’t show their misery to you because you are a neighbor and not a family member or confidant doesn’t seem to occur to you, though.”

          People at any income level may have misery that they show only to intimates. While I’d support a generous UBI for all my neighbors, still some examples in this thread remind me of Paint Your Wagon.

          Mud can make you pris’ner
          And the plains can make you dry
          Snow can burn your eyes
          But only people make you cry

          Well. that’s the way it is for me, anyway. I sportingly cope with winter and foul weather … unless something depends on someone else, which anchors it in soap opera world.

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      • None of these folks is miserable all of the time, but most of them have endured a serious bout of misery at some point in their lives (eg, the ones who were abused as children were pretty suicidal for a while,) or are only a good friendship or bit of good luck away from that state, (eg, disabled person with one really good, solid relationship.)

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    • sabril says:

      “And what they both need (among many other things,) is friendship. They are critically alone. ”

      Probably it would help a lot. But I think this type of person has difficulty maintaining relationships of any kind. I have a family member like this and one thing that’s salient about her personality is that she will never lift a finger to do something nice for another person. A person like that is going to have a pretty miserable life.

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      • Creutzer says:

        There are other ways of being unable to maintain relationships, too: Some people are, personality- and resource-wise – not in the position to contribute anything to anybody’s life. They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.

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        • sabril says:

          “They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.”

          Can you give me an example? It seems to me there is pretty much always an opportunity to do something nice for another person. Even if it’s just calling them on their birthday.

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          • Creutzer says:

            Calling someone on their birthday and wishing them a merry Christmas is entirely insufficient for maintaining anything that deserves to be called friendship. You can do that with distant acquaintances whom you see once a year.

            I’m not sure what you want to hear when you ask for an example, but maybe I can flesh out a bit what I have in mind. Some people are just not very entertaining, cannot give you access to new social connections, are not romantically attractive, have trouble coming across as sufficiently warm so that anybody would want to be close to them and rely on them for emotional support, and are therefore pretty much useless to everybody – quite independently from any kind inclination they might have, but just cannot act on.

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          • sabril says:

            @Creutzer

            “Calling someone on their birthday and wishing them a merry Christmas is entirely insufficient for maintaining anything that deserves to be called friendship. ”

            Ok, but do you agree that calling someone on their birthday counts as “something nice”? Because here’s what you said before:

            “They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.”

            “Some people are just not very entertaining, cannot give you access to new social connections, are not romantically attractive, have trouble coming across as sufficiently warm so that anybody would want to be close to them and rely on them for emotional support, and are therefore pretty much useless to everybody ”

            I think a lot of people have pretty low standards in terms of their minimum requirements for a relationship. It’s pretty easy to make friends just by walking into a bar and listening to people complain about whatever while you drink beer with them.

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          • Creutzer says:

            Because here’s what you said before:

            “They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.”

            In my mind, the “any” was implicitly restricted to “any that would be sufficient to maintain a relationship with any substance”.

            I think a lot of people have pretty low standards in terms of their minimum requirements for a relationship. It’s pretty easy to make friends just by walking into a bar and listening to people complain about whatever while you drink beer with them.

            I really don’t know what to say, except… no, it’s not. Not for all kinds of people in all kinds of places, anyway.

            All I’m saying is that there can be systematic reasons for lack of social support other than lack of kindness.

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          • sabril says:

            @Creutzer

            “I really don’t know what to say, except… no, it’s not. Not for all kinds of people in all kinds of places, anyway.”

            Can you give me an example of such a person and place then?

            Report comment

          • Creutzer says:

            Well, myself and at least half of my friends, central Europe. Talking to strangers in bars and that leading to anything like friendship is just… completely outside of our world. We wouldn’t even know how to start. I’m pretty sure we’d also be seen as plain weird and not friend-material by people who hang out in bars and are ready to talk to strangers.

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          • sabril says:

            “We wouldn’t even know how to start. ”

            That’s a different issue.

            “I’m pretty sure we’d also be seen as plain weird and not friend-material by people who hang out in bars and are ready to talk to strangers”

            Why? What specifically about you as a person would make you seem weird?

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          • I know a guy who is severely disabled. He cannot walk, and the average bar is not very disabled accessible. He can almost talk, if you listen really closely, but most of the time he has to use a machine to talk for him, and it takes a long time for him to type messages on the machine. He chokes when he eats and drools when he talks.

            He is not going to make any friends at the bar. Heck, he can’t get his own relatives to come spend Christmas with him (so I brought him cake and presents last night.)

            There’s still a person inside, a perfectly lucid person who manages to pay his bills on time (slowly, but on time.) A very lonely person who can do very few of the things that people want a “friend” to do.

            Another friend of mine was homeless for over a decade. Not a lot of people want to be friends with homeless people. It’s an extremely isolating experience. And needless to say, calling you on your birthday is beyond the average homeless person’s capabilities.

            There are plenty of people in this world who could do more or be a better friend. I stlll need to write my Christmas cards, for goodness’ sakes. But there are genuinely people who are already doing their very best, and remembering one more thing or making one more phone call or getting to a bar is truly more than they can do.

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          • Creutzer says:

            That’s a different issue.

            No, it’s not. Being unable to even make friends because you don’t know how to start is a reason for not having friends that is not kindness-related.

            As for the rest, I don’t feel like writing long paragraphs about how we belong to entirely different subcultures and have no common ground with people who sit in bars waiting to make friends by drinking beer with strangers. I also don’t really believe that you don’t know what I mean.

            I don’t know where you’re from, but believe me when I say that where I live, people are not as open as you seem to think they are to making new friends with random people who don’t have anything to offer. You’re sounding like one of those people who say that getting a girlfriend is really easy.

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          • sabril says:

            @Creutzer

            “Being unable to even make friends because you don’t know how to start is a reason for not having friends that is not kindness-related.”

            Umm, did you forget what you said before?

            “They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.”

            Please stop weaseling. If you change your position, please do it explicitly.

            “As for the rest, I don’t feel like writing long paragraphs ”

            No need for long paragraphs, it’s a simple enough question. Besides, the sky won’t fall if you just admit that your original position is not correct.

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          • sabril says:

            “I know a guy who is severely disabled. He cannot walk, and the average bar is not very disabled accessible. He can almost talk, if you listen really closely, but most of the time he has to use a machine to talk for him, and it takes a long time for him to type messages on the machine. He chokes when he eats and drools when he talks.

            He is not going to make any friends at the bar.”

            I agree with this. Do you disagree with anything I have said?

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          • Creutzer says:

            To reconstruct how I see this debate. To my mind, this involves no shift in the position that I’m defending. Please let me know if I misinterpreted the points you are trying to make.

            1. You implied anyone who doesn’t have friends is in that situation because they’re not trying to be kind to other people and add to their lives.

            2. I said that’s not true because some people have nothing of substance to add to anyone’s life. Where I live, a birthday card does not a friendship make, and I have plenty of acquaintances to whose life I have nothing more to add than things on the order of a birthday card.

            3. You seemed to say that everyone can add to other people’s lives by listening to random people at bars and thereby acquire friends.

            4. I dispute that idea because it strikes me as bizarre and I know plenty of people, among them myself, who don’t even have any idea what to do with random strangers at bars, who would come across as alien and awkward, and who would not make anybody, themselves included, happy by inserting themselves into such an environment where they do not belong. Some people are introverts who are incompetent in certain cultural contexts, and for whom things are genuinely impossible which are easily possible for culturally competent extraverts.

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          • EveMatteo says:

            Hi there!

            You asked for an example. I’m a living example of one.

            I’m an introvert. At any one time, I have the emotional ability to maintain a deep friendship with up to 4 people, and a mild acquaintanceship with up to 10 people. 1 deep friendship can be substituted for 3 mild acquaintances.

            I was adopted at 13. I have contact with my biological family, for a combined total of 4 parents, 5 siblings, and 3 sisters-in-law taking up my 10 acquaintance slots. Oops, two too many, take that number of available energy for friendships down to 3.

            I have a long-term partner.

            His family includes two parents, an aunt, 2 sisters, a niece and a nephew.

            Oops, we’re up 7 more acquaintances.

            Just adding one partner maxed out my relationship energy pool.

            I currently live paycheck-to-paycheck. I have a hard enough time finding the money to keep my car in good enough condition to not break down on me, let alone lend someone any money at all. I work for commission, which means my paycheck is largely determined by how much energy I can direct towards making it.

            Someone on the outside looking in would look at my life and say “she could easily find more time/energy to make enough money to help people.” Yet I’m already doing everything I possibly can to keep my head above water both emotionally and financially.

            I am 30. I want to have children sometime soon, because I know I only have about 5 years before my reproductive capabilities start to decline, and about 10 years before they disappear entirely. However, I have doubts that children will be possible within the time constraints.

            You asked for an example. As stated, I’m a living example of exactly what Creutzer was talking about. I would totally help people if I could. But I do not have the money, and giving any more of my time to other people will lead me to not have enough time to de-stress from a job that requires I pretend to be an extrovert.

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          • @Sabril
            I am trying to contribute, not contradict. You asked for an example of someone who would have trouble calling you up and wishing a happy birthday, and someone who’d have trouble listening to folks at the bar. So I provided both. Obviously some people–the severely disabled, the extremely poor, those mourning a recent death, etc., may in fact be unable to perform even minimal displays of friendship. (And we may be able to bypass some of this discussion by substituting “culturally appropriate friendship ritual” for “going to the bar” if that does not work everywhere.)

            Some people can learn better techniques for interacting with and befriending people. Some people are doing their best already. Ultimately, you make a personal judgment call which is which.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ EvolutionistX
            There’s still a person inside, a perfectly lucid person

            An example of the Efficient/Effective Altruism principle (aka Bang for Buck) applied locally, might be supplying whatever accessibility equipment he would need to socialize on the Internet. Ie, a cheap-to-provide service that could greatly change a person’s life experience.

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      • Yes, some people are terrible at friendship. Some people don’t really get how friendship works, and some people are just really nasty to the people around them. People who are critically lonely tend to be particularly bad at friendship, and some of them are just plain nasty people. Whether someone you know deserves a helping hand or an offer of friendship is an entirely personal judgment call.

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  24. Nasdm says:

    As for your filter bubble effect with not knowing a single creationist in your social circle, I think you need to modify your statistics for local modifiers. Like how many people in California are creationists? How many in the bay area? How many in your town? How many in medicine? How many of them are college educated or better? How many of them are non-religious? I think you would start encountering far more creationists if you moved to Houston.

    The pervasive atheism of the bay area & college educated people alone would be enough to filter out most creationists for example.

    Sorry if you addressed this already in your linked post.

    Also as a religious person in the bay area, I barely bring up religion, because I know that group of friends wont take it well. I go do religion things with my religion friends.

    People who support the liberal ideology but are ‘conservative’ in some parts are not going to bring it up if it will alienate them from some friends in a group, even if some other ones wouldn’t care.

    For example, I know women who are sick of the entire feminist victim “person of color” BS as a person of that same supposed ‘victim’ group, but they never bring it up because a bunch of people will react very badly around them. They just complain to their close friends about the latest bullshit in class.

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    • mark thompson says:

      This.
      Scott, I’m picking on your comment about not knowing any creationists, not because it is central to what you are saying, but because you probably are mistaken. I can vouch that they even work in the biological sciences – but know better than to mention it.
      Part of the construct of your apparent bubble is the “normal” people you know are well/strong/healthy enough to pass for the sort of people you know – even if they have many things they hide.

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      • I know one creationist. He is a member of the church my wife attends, West Indian, competent, intelligent, nice. But I only know that he is a creationist (more precisely, doesn’t believe in evolution) because the matter happened to come up once in casual conversation.

        So I think it quite likely that Scott knows one or more creationists, but doesn’t know that he knows … .

        At a slight tangent, I don’t assume that a creationist has to be stupid, fanatical, uneducated, any of that stuff. All of us get large parts of our picture of the world at second or third hand. One result is that most people, perhaps everyone, believe some things that are not true. If the people whose judgement you have good reason to trust on other subjects tell you that evolution is a theory pushed by people in order to argue against religion and there really are not good arguments for it, it’s reasonable enough to believe them unless you have, for some reason, put substantial effort into investigating and understanding the arguments.

        In my time on a FB climate group I see lots of people, left and right, who have beliefs that strike me as just as unreasonable as creationism.

        At a slight tangent …. . I had surgery three days ago. My wife told me that our West Indian friend said his prayer group had prayed for me. According to my surgeon, the surgery went unusually well–took two hours when it was expected to take four. Well enough so that I came home the day before Christmas instead of the day after.

        As a good Bayesian …

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    • Deiseach says:

      Again, how do you define “creationist”? Literal six days of twenty-four hours each, six thousand year old Earth? Man and dinosaurs co-existed? God created the universe but theistic evolution?

      I’m a creationist by the “God created the universe” measurement but not by the “Archbishop Ussher’s timeline” measurement, and some surveys are not very helpful as they break it down into “Biblical literalist vs science all the way” (and that’s not even getting into the “Genesis vs Darwin” choices).

      So depending how the question is phrased and which you think is more important can colour your responses (e.g. “No I’m not a six-day literalist but if my answer here is going to be taken as ‘do not believe in God’ then I’ll have to go with “yep Adam rode a dinosaur to work”).

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      • I suspect that the other questions that immediately proceed a question can also influence people’s choices. Like, if you just ask, “Do you believe that God created the world in 6 days, as per the Biblical account,” then I think you’ll get different numbers than if you ask, “Do you believe in God? Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word? Do you believe the Bible is literally true? Do you believe God created the world in 6 days?” Surveys tend to have a lot of questions on them, so they probably tend to be more like the latter. But the latter setup “traps” people by leading them to a specific conclusion, which may lead to over-reporting specific 6-day creationism in order to avoid looking inconsistent.

        Amusingly, my creationist friends like talking about human genetics. I don’t think they really find these things all that contradictory.

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        • I suspect that the other questions that immediately proceed a question can also influence people’s choices.

          Yes Prime Minister had a scene about that. 🙂

          Amusingly, my creationist friends like talking about human genetics. I don’t think they really find these things all that contradictory.

          To be fair, they’re not. God could have created humans a few thousand years ago, genetics and all. For that matter, fossil light from stars and galaxies that never actually existed could have been created already en-route to Earth. It doesn’t seem like a good bet, but it isn’t logically inconsistent.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            Last Thursdayism, while it is usually brought up as a bad example of some kind, is logically (and empirically) irrefutable. That is the whole point of Last Thursdayism. 🙂

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        • Patrick says:

          You don’t need to guess. The fact that the earlier questions in a survey can prime people to answer later questions in a particular way is a well established fact.

          The easy way to show it is to ask questions about abortion. Ask half your respondents if abortion is ok under conditions N, then O, then P, then Q. Ask the other half if abortion is ok under conditions Q, then P, then O, then N. You’ll get a different break point depending on which direction you’re going.

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    • KR says:

      Also remember that these surveys are for the most part being done by “blue tribe” types who are looking to validate their oikophobia. Of course the results are going to be spun towards “wow, look at those rubes who believe the Earth was created 6000 years ago”.

      When someone receives a poll question asking anything about creationism, the responder is going to (correctly) interpret the question as “really” asking something along the lines of “Do you really believe in all that God stuff and go to (ewwww) church?”

      For similar reasons there is basically no poll question related to global warming that is at all worthwhile. Some are going to interpret a global warming question as, roughly, “Should Al Gore be able to tell you what kind of lightbulbs you can have?” and others will interpret it as “You’re not a creationist, right?”

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      • The original Mr. X says:

        There’s a similar problem in the UK, where public opinion has somehow been convinced that the only two options for providing public health services are “The NHS exactly as it is now” and “Nothing whatsoever”. Hence surveys asking “Are you satisfied with the NHS?” are likely to pick up a lot of false positives from people who aren’t actually satisfied, but still think it’s better than leaving poor people to die on the streets of consumption.

        Also, when you mention “oikophobia”, do you mean they have a fear of oiks, or a fear of their own homes (οἶκοι)?

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        • johnnycoconut says:

          In right-wing circles, oikophobia is used to mean something like xenophobia against a group of people who are taken to be representative of your own nation, e.g. blue tribers being averse toward red tribers.

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      • HeelBearCub says:

        @KR:

        This is just you letting bias against blue tribe cloud your thinking.

        Some polling tasks are looking for a particular result. Things that might be utilized as “facts” in a political ad or marketing campaign. Sometimes the poll is really an argument for something.

        But when Gallup publishes data for everyone to see, they have a huge interest in that data being right. They make money because they provide useful data. Otherwise, Pew’s results would embarrass Gallup, instead of confirming their basic findings.

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    • Winter Shaker says:

      Doesn’t Scott live in Michigan? I don’t know much about the place, but I’d expect it to have more creationists than the Bay Area, simply because the Bay Area is about the place in the USA I’d least expect to find a high proportion of creationists.

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  25. Janet says:

    This is Christmas night, and here I sit reading your suffering, when we have this night, this magical night, a savior born to us, a child who will expiate our sins, our accumulated sins, our sorrows, our addictions, our wounds. My God Jesus Christ is born and the world rejoices. Bow down.

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    • Nick says:

      I’m not sure if you mean it this way, but you’re basically saying:

      “You are Suffering, I’m a Christian, Fuck You.”

      Empathy is something you might consider. “My God Jesus Christ” had more compassion than you display in your post.

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      • I think you may be misunderstanding Janet’s message. She may not have intended any “Fuck You” which you apparently read into her post, but may merely have been trying to share some good news which she finds helps comfort her when confronting issues like these. (I do not share a belief in this news, but II think I can understand where she is coming from. And I find that taking the more charitable interpretation of others’ intent is more useful.)

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        • Maware says:

          It’s tone deaf, if you seriously wrestle with suffering yourself or its place in the world. It seems caring, but all it says in reality is “You still have to suffer, but at least God won’t send you to hell when you die!”

          At best, Christianity can really only offer that suffering is a mystery, albeit one God himself suffered too. Triumphalist utterances like Janet’s really don’t help much.

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    • keranih says:

      @Janet –

      Consider refining your message a hair – in particular, the admonishment “Bow down!” often raises the hackles of secularists, as it carries the connotation of forced participation in a faith they don’t follow. An emphasis on blessings or an invitation to join in joyous celebration (rather than in humble wonder and self-abasement, no matter how much all of us could use the latter) seems to go over better.

      (Rejoice!)

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      • Winter Shaker says:

        “Bow down!” often raises the hackles of secularists

        There is certainly a creepy coercive undercurrent to some forms of mainstream Christianity 🙂
        “The world will bow / The knees will be broken for those who don’t know how”

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      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        in particular, the admonishment “Bow down!” often raises the hackles of secularists

        Typing as one of those secularists: Yup. The rest of Janet’s message I can just agree to disagree with. Writing from California, where we just had a faith-based mini-massacre http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-san-bernardino-shooting-live-updates-htmlstory.html this month, “Bow down!” doesn’t go down well.

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        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Typing as one of those secularists: Yup. The rest of Janet’s message I can just agree to disagree with. Writing from California, where we just had a faith-based mini-massacre http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-san-bernardino-shooting-live-updates-htmlstory.html this month, “Bow down!” doesn’t go down well.

          Wait, are you seriously attacking a Christian because of something a pair of Muslims did?

          Come on, don’t be a fedora.

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          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            I don’t regard them as fundamentally different. Both groups have been known to e.g. kill heretics. Now, it is a fact that both groups are large and heterogeneous. Some Christians are harmless, as are some Muslims. And it is also a fact that both have subgroups which have forced conversions at sword point. I view them as pepsi/coke – and I’m not fond of colas… And “Bow down” is bitter coming from either. It is a demand, rather than a (however mistaken) statement about history. And it is potentially a threat.

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        • Happy says:

          Does anyone else see the irony of hardcore secularists constantly blaming religion for hatred and violence and wars?

          Readers of this blog know that the true root of violence and war is tribalism. Religion is one way of drawing tribal boundaries, but it is not the source of the violence. Religion can be corrupted to paint your tribe as the one true “good” tribe and all others as worthy of contempt or even outright violence.

          But if religion doesn’t serve that purpose then something else will. One of the most popular methods of defining tribal boundaries within the hardcore secularist tribe is defining atheism as the one true “good” tribe and the bad religious tribe as being the source of all things evil and corrupt.

          Blaming the other tribe for the ill effects of tribalism while engaging in unthinking tribalism yourself. That is irony. And not the delicious kind.

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          • Anonymous says:

            That said, some religions are easier to use as casus belli than others. To justify an offensive war as a Christian (or a Buddhist, or any other pacifistic religion), you have to have a really, really, really solid reason or else bend your morality into a pretzel to fabricate that reason. As a Muslim (or an Aztec pagan), you don’t – the Islamic scriptures mandate religious warfare directly.

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          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Jainism is pacifistic. Christianity is mildly pacifistic (it still has the stuff from the old testament) and Buddhism is a bit neutral on the issue of politics.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Samuel Skinner
            “Jainism is pacifistic.”

            The Jainism I was taught said that it was okay to join the military and fight using violence in [presumed] defense of one’s country (ie India). The pacifiism was at levels below that.

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          • NN says:

            That said, some religions are easier to use as casus belli than others. To justify an offensive war as a Christian (or a Buddhist, or any other pacifistic religion), you have to have a really, really, really solid reason or else bend your morality into a pretzel to fabricate that reason. As a Muslim (or an Aztec pagan), you don’t – the Islamic scriptures mandate religious warfare directly.

            Maybe in theory. In practice, an ocean of blood has been spilled in the name of Christ since pretty much the day that Christians attained any sort of political power. Prominent examples include but are certainly not limited to the persecution of Pagans after Christians took power in the Roman Empire, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, the European conquest of the Americas (especially the Spanish conquests), the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army cult, and religiously justified persecution of LGBT people that continues to this day in places like Uganda and Russia.

            Buddhism’s history is hardly spotless either. Here is a small sampling of statements made by prominent Zen Buddhist monks in support of Japan’s 20th century imperialist wars that killed tens of millions of people:

            “[If ordered to] march: tramp, tramp, or shoot: bang, bang. This is the manifestation of the highest Wisdom [of Enlightenment]. The unity of Zen and war of which I speak extends to the farthest reaches of the holy war [now under way].” – Harada Daiun Sogaku

            “Showing the utmost loyalty to the emperor is identical with engaging in the religious practice of Mahayana Buddhism. This is because Mahayana Buddhism is identical with the law of the sovereign.” — Seki Seisetsu

            “I wished to inspire our valiant soldiers with the ennobling thoughts of the Buddha, so as to enable them to die on the battlefield with confidence that the task in which they are engaged is great and noble. I wish to convince them…. that this war is not a mere slaughter of their fellow-beings, but that they are combating an evil.” — Shaku Soen

            “In the present hostilities, into which Japan has entered with great reluctance, she pursues no egotistic purpose, but seeks the subjugation of evils hostile to civilization, peace and enlightenment.” — Shaku Soen

            “It is just to punish those who disturb the public order. Whether one kills or does not kill, the precept forbidding killing [is preserved]. It is the precept forbidding killing that wields the sword. It is the precept that throws the bomb.” — Sawaki Kodo

            For more recent examples, see the persecution of religious minorities by Buddhist majorities in places like Sri Lanka, where in 1959 a Buddhist monk assassinated the president for being too accommodating towards the mostly Hindu Tamil minority ethnic group, and Myanmar, where in the past 5 years there have been numerous massacres of Rohingya Muslims by the Buddhist majority with the support of Buddhist monks in the 969 movement.

            Nor, for that matter, are atheists off the hook, since any top 10 list of the worst mass murderers in history, no matter how the list is compiled, will include several outspoken atheists such as Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. Some have responded to this by claiming that those people’s crimes “were not done in the name of atheism,” but to me it seems absurd to claim that, to name a few examples, Stalin killing more than 100,000 Russian Orthodox clergy members, the Khmer Rouge massacring all but 3,000 of Cambodia’s ~65k-80k pre-war population of Buddhist monks, and the massive destruction of China’s religious heritage during the Cultural Revolution, had nothing to do with atheism.

            Though at this point it would probably be a good idea to take a step back and remember that historical surveys have found that only about 7% of recorded wars since the Punic Wars have had any sort of claimed religious motivation.

            You may be right that “you have to bend morality into a pretzel to fabricate a reason for an offensive war as a Christian or a Buddhist,” but I think it’s obvious that humans are extremely good at bending their moral precepts into pretzels to fabricate reasons for whatever they want to do anyway. Even a brief historical or psychological study will make it clear that you should never underestimate the power of human hypocrisy.

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          • “You may be right that “you have to bend morality into a pretzel to fabricate a reason for an offensive war as a Christian or a Buddhist,” but I think it’s obvious that humans are extremely good at bending their moral precepts into pretzels to fabricate reasons for whatever they want to do anyway. Even a brief historical or psychological study will make it clear that you should never underestimate the power of human hypocrisy.”

            I have just put this up on my web page as my quote of the month. Let me know if you don’t want me to and I’ll take it down.

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  26. Anonymous says:

    Strangely, this was probably the most uplifting piece I’ve read for a while. I have certain problems myself (my career is in a dead end and I don’t know what to do next, I’m mildly depressed and mildly addicted to video games, etc.), but this made me realize that even among people in my white, relatively wealthy neighborhood, I’m still better off than at least 50% of the people (not to even mention other, poorer parts of the world).

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  27. sabril says:

    Another issue is that a lot of people will wildly exaggerate or even flat out lie when describing their problems to other people. I suspect that a physician with the authority to prescribe powerful drugs; to write out excuse slips for work; or even to help people towards collecting disability is going to be very much subject to this kind of bias.

    I have a lot of interest in the subject of diet, exercise, and obesity and one thing I’ve come to believe is that any study based on self-reporting is basically worthless.

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    • People lie or underestimate in the other direction, too. Or at least, people get knocked into depression for a while (anecdotes from several people) after applying for disability– they hadn’t previously thought about how much their problems add up to limit what they can do.

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      • sabril says:

        “People lie or underestimate in the other direction, too.”

        Yes, I agree with this. Here is an article I found which says that 84% of Americans report being “very satisfied” with the way things are going in th