Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

OT43: Roses Are Thread…

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

1. You might remember my nootropics survey from two years ago. I’m running an updated version this week with some new substances and a couple of other questions. If you use any nootropics – substances like modafinil, piracetam, and bacopa that are supposed to improve mood and cognition even outside the context of specific psychiatric illnesses – please take the survey. Results will be posted here eventually.

2. Some great discussion on the Superforecasting reviews. Just in case you missed it, we have at least two superforecasters here, Elissa and Dan M, who are happy to answer any questions you may have about their freaky otherworldly powers.

3. Comments of the week include Kyle on how specific knowledge about how GitHub works can help us better understand that study, and Jason Hoyt (the co-founder of the preprint site that hosted the study) on the risks and benefits of preprint review.

4. Also on the subject of the GitHub study: I was unusually impressed with the people who shared and debated it. Most people were suitably cautious, people avoided the “OKAY NOW THIS STUDY IS TOTALLY DISPROVEN AND 100% GARBAGE” failure mode, and a lot of the people I saw sharing and debating my analysis were women. This did more good than a bushel of studies in helping fight some of my bias and prejudice.

5. Some job listings in the community: the Center For Applied Rationality (CFAR) in Berkeley is looking for a full-time inside salesperson. And the effective altruist movement is accepting applications for the Pareto Fellowship (DEADLINE HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO 2/21)

6. LW/SSC/EA/OMG/BBQ meetups coming up in Ann Arbor on February 19th, London on February 21 and Sydney on February 21. I will probably be at the Ann Arbor one.

7. New rule for the subreddit – to keep it from getting bogged down in culture war related links, there will be one “Culture War Roundup” thread every week. If you have interesting culture war related links, please put them on that thread instead of starting a new one. I’ll trust you all to use your judgment about what is or isn’t culture war.

8. If I post something in an out-of-the-way, less-visible place like my Tumblr or deep in a comment section here, I’d prefer if people would ask permission before they repost it somewhere more visible. I know I have no right to make that request, and I’m asking it only as a favor. I am not angry with anybody and nothing has gone wrong, I just want to keep it that way.

9. Some people were very much abusing the Report Comment function, for example reporting every comment ever made by a particular person they didn’t like. Please be aware that if that happens it doesn’t mean the person gets banned, it just means I have to waste hours individually clearing each comment. The last time I logged into my comment reports panel I had almost a thousand different reports I had to go through; only about 20% could very generously be described as real problems. I will now be banning people for frivolous comment reporting. That doesn’t mean I’ll ban you if you report an ambiguously nasty comment that I finally decide doesn’t quite deserve banning, but it does mean that some people’s days of just reporting everything they see to annoy me are coming to a sharp and sudden end.

10. Thanks to Bakkot (I assume, but maybe someone else) for improving the comment highlighting function. It no longer resets every time you post a comment!

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1,432 Responses to OT43: Roses Are Thread…

  1. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #9
    This week we are discussing “Just Another Day in Utopia” by Stuart Armstrong.
    Next time we will discuss “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Sigsimund claims that most people experiment with adventures when they are young and then grow out of them. Based on what we see of Ishtar’s adventures, I can see why. Sensory experience aside, adventures seem like the equivalent of a badly written video game; mowing down random enemies, being placed in a death trap after being captured, and having to solve an arbitrary puzzle revolving around unrelated abilities in order to escape that deathtrap reminds me of the Resident Evil series more than anything else, except with robots instead of zombies. It’s fun for a while, but not the kind of thing you would want to base your life around.

      • Loquat says:

        I’m not normally a cultural conservative, but I came away with a distinct feeling that Ishtar desperately needed something of real meaning or consequence in her life, and the society she lived in was doing a very good job of providing amusing but unsatisfying alternatives.

        Adventures also seems really annoying for society in general – some jabroni wants to have fun playing Indiana Jones IRL, therefore all the deathtraps and enemy ambushes have to happen right in the middle of town and everyone else who happens to be in the area may suffer injury or property damage if they haven’t specifically requested Machine protection? Why wouldn’t the rest of society demand that adventures, or at least the dangerous parts, be restricted to certain areas so the people who don’t want to be bothered don’t have to deal with regular interruptions of action-movie stupidity?

        • Error says:

          Isn’t this exactly what the story was implying? That the people whose lives were being interrupted had explicitly requested X amount of disruption (or protection from the results of same) in the interest of entertainment?

          • Loquat says:

            It mentions things like that in passing, but if you have a town with a normal mix of people there are going to be some who hate that action-movie crap in any given public place, so how do you keep from bothering them while still providing excitement to the others? I suppose it’s possible that Ishtar’s town in particular is one where constant adventure is expected and if you don’t like that then there are plenty of quieter towns you could move to, but if that’s the case then the zero-safety artist is being particularly quixotic by insisting on growing his perfect landscape there rather than over in one of the low-adventure areas. His choice of location makes much more sense if other people’s adventures are everywhere and inescapable.

            Note also that since he’s chosen zero safety from accident, the Machines also treat that as consent to have the whole garden blown up at any time if someone on an adventure happens to wander through. There’s no way to opt out entirely – either you have to sign up for a protection level, an excitement level, and general Machine control of your life, or you live at constant risk of being collateral damage when Machine mooks show up to create excitement for others.

    • MugaSofer says:

      It’s always struck me as horrifying in this story that something of real value – the lost Stradivarius – is potentially destroyed because somebody wanted their game to have “real meaning”.

      • Deiseach says:

        I doubt that (for the reasons I list below). It’s like allowing someone to own the Mona Lisa as private property and burn it if they lose a bet.

        Maybe the Utopia of that world does so cherish and protect the rights of private property that (a) one person can own as personal property the last Stradivarius and (b) if they want to chop it up for firewood they can do so.

        But I think it’s much more likely it’s no more than a game item, and that in reality (if the Strad really does exist), it is as much at risk of being really destroyed as Ishtar is of really dying in her adventure.

      • Anon Anonimusovich Anonov says:

        Eh, value of Stradivarius is not that big, really. People can generate cultural artefacts of this scale on a monthly basis, with Machines help.

        Relevant page from my new favorite webcomic, see last panel:

        • Deiseach says:

          People can generate cultural artefacts of this scale on a monthly basis, with Machines help.

          Then that renders, as I said, Ishtar’s project (to unlock the secret of Strad production to restore this lost art to the world) meaningless and she’s only engaged in busy-work outside of her “adventures”.

          So something is false somewhere; either it’s not a real Strad, or it is a real Strad but the Machines don’t care if it’s destroyed because they can knock out perfect replicas of everything, or it is real and the Machines don’t care if it’s destroyed because do you really care if your dog chews through its squeaky toy, as long as it isn’t destroying something you care about/treat as valuable?

          • Muga Sofer says:

            I kind of got the impression that the Machines only try to satisfy people’s preference settings, and the Stradivarius isn’t covered under anyone else’s settings (because it’s hers.) So, your final option there.

            Our Hero is allowed to let it get destroyed because it’s hers, and she asked to risk something meaningful to her; just as Love Interest is allowed to let his painting-garden get destroyed, because he asked to live without assistance from the Machines.

            Yes, this is a bit dystopian, which is kind of my point.

    • Anonymous says:

      >“The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster.

      Skipped ahead and re-read this one having last read it as a child. It’s well worth a read. While it’s (like a lot of dystopian SF) a bit heavy-handed, and some of the exposition is a little awkward, it’s otherwise cleanly and powerful written and touches on a lot of concepts that are still relevant today. Hopefully I’ll remember some things to say next time.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Even the adventurer found her game so boring that she spent the whole time doing other things instead. She reminds me of myself when I have a few tabs of large articles open but keep searching for other things to read instead.

    • keranih says:

      Anyone else have issues with the writing quality of this one? I couldn’t make it through the first two paragraphs.

      This reads like marginal fanfic. I actually stopped and went back and forced myself through another couple of paragraphs and couldn’t keep going. If it had been in a magazine like Asimov’s or the like, I wouldn’t have gone back and tried again.

      (I’ve noped right out of stories before, but not one on this thread.)

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m not quite sure if Ishtar’s (and others) adventures take place in the Real World, or are only very, very convincing virtual reality adventures. She mentions the risk settings and how, in this plot (to give her a real loss) there is the potential destruction of one of the last (or the last?) Stradivarius.

      Would the Machines permit part of human cultural heritage to be irrevocably destroyed like that, merely for one player’s adventure? (Never mind questions about one person being permitted to own as personal private property the last item or sample of something like that).

      Either (a) the Machines can re-create the Stradivarius flawlessly, so it’s okay to destroy this one, in which case Ishtar’s project to unlock the secrets of how those violins were produced is meaningless or (b) it’s only part of the adventure and she really does not own any Stradivarius in reality, much less the last remaining one in the world, which also casts doubt on everything we’re told in the story. For example, going skiing on Mars – does that really happen, or is it only another re-created virtual reality experience?

      We could have a world run by the Machines where humanity is confined to its pods, all in their VR dream-worlds, and we never went to Mars and have no bases there, much less a tourist industry. That makes the Utopia a much more sinister place: instead of a post-scarcity paradise of infinite possibilities, we’re all confined to our own little boxes on Earth and there are no colonies on other worlds or anything at all apart from what dreams the Machines write for us.

      That apart, the basic plot is not an original one; I’m not claiming plagiarism, but it’s much the same as the 1997 Michael Douglas film “The Game” and, much earlier, one section of Chesterton’s anthology collection “The Club of Queer Trades”: The Adventure and Romance Agency which creates these types of exciting adventures to order for its clients (Major Brown gets caught up in one by mistake and thinks it’s the real thing until he finds out the truth):

      “The Adventure and Romance Agency has been started to meet a great modern desire. On every side, in conversation and in literature, we hear of the desire for a larger theatre of events for something to waylay us and lead us splendidly astray. Now the man who feels this desire for a varied life pays a yearly or a quarterly sum to the Adventure and Romance Agency; in return, the Adventure and Romance Agency undertakes to surround him with startling and weird events. As a man is leaving his front door, an excited sweep approaches him and assures him of a plot against his life; he gets into a cab, and is driven to an opium den; he receives a mysterious telegram or a dramatic visit, and is immediately in a vortex of incidents. A very picturesque and moving story is first written by one of the staff of distinguished novelists who are at present hard at work in the adjoining room. Yours, Major Brown (designed by our Mr Grigsby), I consider peculiarly forcible and pointed; it is almost a pity you did not see the end of it. I need scarcely explain further the monstrous mistake. Your predecessor in your present house, Mr Gurney-Brown, was a subscriber to our agency, and our foolish clerks, ignoring alike the dignity of the hyphen and the glory of military rank, positively imagined that Major Brown and Mr Gurney-Brown were the same person. Thus you were suddenly hurled into the middle of another man’s story.”

      • Murphy says:

        Another possibility, she may believe that she has the last Stradivarius but it’s really just a good copy. The machines might know but refuse to confirm or deny such things on the basis of maintaining quality of experience.

        There could even be a tiny number of real relics floating around along with a thousand times as many fakes with yearly attrition of cultural relics maintained far bellow our current rate of loss of artifacts. Expecting zero artifacts to ever be lost seems unreasonable since any worthwhile culture will generate new notable cultural artifacts at a reasonable rate.

        Eventually the real Stradivarius would be lost but that’s true of our world as well.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I’m not quite sure if Ishtar’s (and others) adventures take place in the Real World, or are only very, very convincing virtual reality adventures…

        We could have a world run by the Machines where humanity is confined to its pods, all in their VR dream-worlds, and we never went to Mars and have no bases there, much less a tourist industry. That makes the Utopia a much more sinister place: instead of a post-scarcity paradise of infinite possibilities, we’re all confined to our own little boxes on Earth and there are no colonies on other worlds or anything at all apart from what dreams the Machines write for us.

        Or they could be ems; sentient programs emulating human brains and bodies running around on simulated environments, either uploaded from real humans or created ex-nihilo at the prompting of two ems who want to reproduce. That would be much more efficient than putting a real body on a virtual reality system while achieving pretty much the same results, and have much better aesthetics too (surely a server on a rack looks less pathetic than this or this?).

      • Muga Sofer says:

        Whether or not the story is a simulation – I would lean towards no – she *believes* the Stradivarius is real, and it’s loss a real loss to mankind; we can see her believing it in her internal monolog.

        And that’s viscerally appalling to me.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh, if I thought it was real, I’d want to slap Ishtar’s silly face off her head. But I can’t believe it’s real – or if it is, then the Machines really do run everything and, like the Culture, Ishtar and her fellow humans are pets (since if the Machines don’t care if human cultural artefacts are destroyed in a dumb game, then humans are not the ones driving the bus anymore).

          The adventures are just elaborate hamster wheels to keep the pets exercised and entertained, and from time to time a Machine may indulgently look in and go “Aw, ain’t they cute?”, but the real business goes on elsewhere, and it’s the Machines who are the ones doing whatever they are doing out in the Real World (turning the Solar System into paperclips?)

          I imagine the idea of Utopia is “Suppose you really could play as a character in your favourite game from the inside, not just as mashing buttons or clicking the mouse from the outside?” but I’m not sure if the author intends us to seriously take the world as described as real and desirable and great fun for all in the post-scarcity future, or if we’re meant to slowly realise it’s not such a Utopia as the title suggests 🙂

      • “the Machines can re-create the Stradivarius flawlessly, so it’s okay to destroy this one, in which case Ishtar’s project to unlock the secrets of how those violins were produced is meaningless”

        Learning how Stradivarius violins were made isn’t meaningless if you want to make additional wonderful violins. Or apply his techniques to other instruments.

        • Wilj says:

          I thought the point was that she could just ask the machines for the secret, if they could do it any time themselves. But I didn’t read the story, just the comment thread, so maybe they would refuse to help or something.

        • Deiseach says:

          But if there is no real risk involved in having “the last Stradivarius” destroyed before Ishtar can find out the technique, that can only be because (a) it’s not real and/or not the last one (b) the Machines already know the technique and can churn out copies by the new time.

          If option (b), then Ishtar isn’t learning or doing anything valuable, because those techniques are already known (by the Machines). She’s re-inventing the wheel to give a facade of meaning and purpose to her life that even the adventures can’t provide (because she’s not really battling a world-dominating supervillain, it’s all a game). So that throws a light on why she has accepted such a (in-world) high level of risk: only more and more “danger” can make her feel that she’s doing anything, in a world where the Machines are in complete control and can do everything better than humans and know all that humans knew and more besides.

    • Error says:

      I somehow missed JADiU on my various LW archive binges. I like it…but I think I identify more with the unnamed painter than the ostensible protagonist. She’s found ways to relieve boredom, but he’s found something interesting to do with eternity.

  2. Sniffnoy says:

    So, uh, that meetup Friday — the organizer still has not clarified which “central campus library” they mean. Do we want to assume they mean Hatcher, or what?

    Also, Scott: I’ve asked you about this before, but since you bring it up, is it OK for me to continue linking to the Wayback Machine version of the 4th Meditation? (Not that I do that that often these days, I haven’t had much to say on that topic in a while.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, sure.

      Should we maybe have a fallback location in case the organizer doesn’t get their act together?

      • Anonymous says:

        And lo it is declared: If the organizer doesn’t get back on this subject, “Hatcher” is the place.

        Done, everybody can stop agonizing over it.

    • Error says:

      I’d be interested in that link. I’m not sure if I actually missed out on it or not.

      (I’m also curious why it was removed. My guesses are too flak-prone or Scott no longer stands by it for whatever reason)

  3. noge_sako says:

    1. I don’t think there have ever been clear long-term nootroptic besides simply adhering to a healthy diet, sleep, and exercise regimen. There have been short term stims and uppers, like caffeine and modafinil. But other then that, most analysis I have seen of these show them to be worthless.

    A question I have on open-thread is what are the plans to combat fake speeches by politicians and celebrities? Not the usual kind, but the CGI kind. I believe we have the tech today to make accurate voice mimickers along with environments indistinguishable from the real thing. And I believe we also have the tech to make it past the uncanney valley, though perhaps the skills to make it are not widespread yet.

    Are there any plans in the futurology community? Its a very obvious application of CGI. And its fast approaching the day where the tech and skills are widespread.

    • Nornagest says:

      what are the plans to combat fake speeches by politicians and celebrities? Not the usual kind, but the CGI kind

      What does fighting them buy us?

      • noge_sako says:

        Its simply an incredibly foreseeable issue that can be a problem, that isn’t talked about much. Fake ISIS videos can be produced that no person can tell the difference. Fake “recorded” politician videos can be “leaked”. All made with CGI.

        It could buy a fundamental trust in government. Or, less of a distrust.

        • MugaSofer says:

          a) I don’t think any video could buy “a fundamental trust in government”, yeah. ISIS is cartoonishly evil as it is, and that hasn’t produced trust in government. And on the other hand, I’m not sure what kind of internal government leak would produce serious results – some kind of classified averted disaster?

          b) In terms of blackmail and attempted framing, I take he Culture position on the issue – the first time something like this is discovered to be fake, people will lose all trust in such recordings.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Does this present a genuinely novel problem, compared to the ability to fake texts, for instance?

          • noge_sako says:

            Oh absolutely. Aspects of undercover journalism for the past 50 years could be rendered null.
            The first reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks was “This nation is under attack”
            The first reaction could then be “Is someone playing a prank on the network?”
            I think it will present a genuinely novel problem. An algorithm converting what you say and do into what someone else says and does *could* mean a return to old ways of communication, before the electronics age. Its a bit more emotionally pressing. “Someone is sending fake texts” is a little less resonant then “I have a fake video from X”

          • CatCube says:


            I don’t know how this is different than we have now. Special effects houses capable of faking 9/11 existed well before 9/11, and there are a few people who claim that the video of the planes hitting is a faked-up cover for missile strikes.

            The moon landing has had this conspiracy theory among a wider audience for decades. One element that some people hold was that Stanley Kubrick directed the fake moon landing.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            One of those people being Kubrick himself.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            If you assume that the tendency to believe what you see remains constant, then these CGI technologies will be disruptive. I was assumingthat it would decline, like the tendency to believe that anything written down is gospel did.

    • merzbot says:

      >There have been short term stims and uppers, like caffeine

      By short-term, do you mean that benefits wear off with long term use or that the effects of the drug itself only last a few hours after ingestion? Caffeine tolerance is a thing, of course, but I’ve successfully fought it and maintained its nootropic effects with small tolerance breaks. (Or, you know, more caffeine. But that might be more succumbing to it than fighting it.)

    • bbartlog says:

      Good voice synthesis, in the sense of ‘not easily distinguishable from a particular real person speaking naturally’, is still a work-in-progress. A more difficult problem than speech recognition, interestingly enough.

      • Creutzer says:

        I think that’s not surprising at all. For voice imitation you need to basically hit one point in a space precisely. For speech recognition, you just need to categorise something correctly, but it’s irrelevant where the thing is within the region of conceptual space that demarcates the category.

    • Deiseach says:

      Not the usual kind, but the CGI kind. I believe we have the tech today to make accurate voice mimickers along with environments indistinguishable from the real thing.

      Given the run-up to our own national general election, and the campaigns for the Presidency in your country, do you realise how depressing this is? In the near future, no flesh-and-blood debates or party political speeches; just a generated broadcast of the Leader of the Party delivering something cobbled together by focus groups and special advisors. All the real candidate has to do is turn up at the count centre on election day and graciously accept victory/defeat.

      It’d be perfect manipulation: no chance of your candidate going dangerously off-message, real-time instantaneous correction as the polls indicated audience response going up or down to points raised, no chance of an interviewer raising a sticky question and surprising a real answer out of the candidate.

      Ugh. I thought current party political broadcasts were horrible glurge, but this opens up a whole new abyss of political trickery.

      • Loquat says:

        On the other hand, you can have programming glitches that make the bot start babbling nonsense, or repeating itself like a broken record – saaaaay, maybe that’s why Rubio kept repeating his canned 25-second mini-speech in that one debate even after Christie started calling attention to it! He’s an early test model!

        • Deiseach says:

          But that’s the depressing thing – canned mini-speeches are what politicians are being told to learn off and keep repeating for media appearances. “Don’t let the interviewer distract you, don’t get pulled into trying to answer the question, just stick to the script and get the talking-point across” is what is dinned into them. We have one particular “school of communication” here in Ireland that has made a handy business for the past thirty years or so, in a “gamekeeper turned poacher” way as it’s run by former journalists, of coaching politicians on how to deal with the media – first print journalists, then radio and television interviews as these became more of a thing.

          Online appearances will doubtless in time become even more important than face-to-face appearances and will be even more amenable to manipulation. Why have your human politician stumbling through an obviously rehearsed canned speech when the latest CGI model can smile, say “I’m glad you asked me that, Bob” and churn out the canned content in a much more believable and ‘realistic’ fashion?

          • Loquat says:

            And then people get tired of that kind of fakery and vote for a real human loudmouth like Donald Trump. I’m not even joking, I think someone like that would be an extremely viable contender against a CGI pol no matter how good the canned mini-speeches are.

      • noge_sako says:

        As of now, its a funny topic to bring up. But I believe this is going to hit politics and international news in a way that can’t quite be grasped now.

        With 9/11, you had thousands of people confirming X happened.

        With this tech, you have an undercover “reporting” of worst political fears. Fake extremist groups. Now only one talented person has to make the video, with less then a handful of people to keep quiet. There used to be a hubbub about paid actors and sympathetic Hollywood special effects guys in moon landing videos. Now, cut out everyone besides one CGI specialist! It *does* lower the threshold to allow those things to occur.

        I’m genuinely surprised its not brought up more often. I suppose its similar to being tin-foil hatty. Worst case, it means a return to early 20th century style communication. I don’t think it will be quite that bad, but it *does* open up a great amount of political and marketing trickery.

        • James Picone says:

          We already went through this with photos, right?

          I’m not sure how not being able to trust video 100% will be much worse.

      • John Schilling says:

        US politicians, even at the Presidential level, are still expected to travel the country and face voters in the flesh, in local stump speeches, town-hall meetings, and the like. Enough American voters expect this that a candidate who doesn’t make the rounds won’t win a contested nomination or a close general election. And pretty much all Presidential elections going forward are going to be close ones, at least until they stop being Democrat vs. Republican.

        Virtual campaigning isn’t likely to be a winning strategy here in the near future. Can’t speak for Ireland; I’d expect being a smaller country would make the face-to-face aspect more important, but culture matters a lot and I’ve spent a grand total of four days in your country so I’ll defer to your expertise in the field.

        • Deiseach says:

          Sure, but those “town hall” meetings are carefully managed, and given the leeway for control of access that “security concerns” permits, letting John Q. Citizen get anywhere near Candidate Joe Soap with a real question is going to be more and more difficult.

          They do the same kind of campaign touring here in Ireland and I’ve seen it at first hand; the party leader etc. is whizzed around to press the flesh but at such a speed that distractions (like people wanting to ask awkward questions) are kept to a minimum and they are then whisked off by car (or helicopter) to their next appearance.

          I don’t expect any candidate to have an uncontrolled, unauthorised encounter with a real plain member of the public and if it does happen, it will be managed after the fact as a protestor, generally a “kook”, stirring up trouble and/or dirty tricks by the opposition.

          • I don’t know about plain members of the public, but candidates do meet and converse with members of the public they consider important, most obviously potential donors. Of course, those conversations are not likely to happen in public, with cameras and recorders running.

        • Devilbunny says:

          This is one of those things that varies enormously from place to place. I live in a very “safe” state for one party. While at home, I have literally never seen a paid ad for a Presidential general-election candidate, and few for the primaries (I have seen the ads on journalism inside-baseball shows like *Meet the Press*, but those aren’t paid).

          Only once in my life has a political candidate or one of their supporters knocked on my (or, when I was a minor, my parents’) door seeking support. I’m 41. I was going to vote for her anyway.

  4. God Damn John Jay says:

    This is an odd medical request, but does anyone here (Scott Alexander?) know about thirst and urinary retention as a result of anxiety?

    I have had bloodwork and a tube with a camera up my urethera and nothing was found wrong, plus I am young and my prostate is fine. I have tried benzos and muscle relaxants to little effect. Thinking I might try (reversible MAOIs).

    [Repost, but it is kind of making life difficult]

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I haven’t heard of this. There’s primary polydispia where people have a kind of psychotic compulsion to drink. And people who have conscious anxiety around urination sometimes retain as a result. But if you mean can free-floating anxiety unconsciously cause thirst and urinary retention, I haven’t heard of that happening.

    • noge_sako says:

      Don’t try MAOI’s. There are more then enough good reasons why those things have stopped being prescribed.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        Reversible, the kind that wont kill me.

        But duly noted.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Are you new here?

      • R Lee says:

        There’s those that commit suicide from treatment-resistant depression, and those that don’t who would be better off dead (by objective standards, not just as a piece of catastrophising thinking which will crumble after a couple of CBT sessions). Complaining about the side effects of ADs can be like having your house on fire and declining an offer to put it out because the fire engine is the wrong color. In your case , I suspect it isn’t even your own house.

        • noge_sako says:

          Are you aware of the giant study showing that modern SSRI’s more then double the suicide rate in teenagers, and strongly suggest that due to typical underreporting and biased studies by those with financial links to the industry, that it can easily be the case that even in adults it increases it?

          • CatCube says:

            I don’t keep up with psychiatric issues much, but I thought this was a known issues and SSRIs had a black box warning about giving them to teenagers?

          • R Lee says:

            Yes, though only in general terms. I was talking about treatment-resistant depression which in practice is never treated with ssris, because you don’t classify it as treatment-resistant until you have tried those. And I was careful to say “can be” rather than “is”; of course there are some side effects we should worry about.

        • Wilj says:

          +1 to this. I had long-term depression severe enough that I would have been willing to go far more dangerous than SSRIs or MAOIs to get some kind of life back; and I did, indeed, try the former (and tricyclics).

          Luckily, another drug, used off-label, happened to suddenly completely eliminate my problems and with very few side effects, so I never had to try ECT or MAOIs. But I think they would have been worth it without the aforementioned Lucky Wonder Drug.

    • Deiseach says:

      Thirst and urinary retention would be a sign of diabetes, but if your bloodwork is okay, that’s ruled out. Kidney trouble is the next thing, but again – if nothing is showing up either in bloods or with the tube up your urethra, I’m going to assume this has been ruled out.

      I would have thought anxiety would make you pee more, not less, but everyone is different.

    • Elissa says:

      All I know is if this is a USMLE question about anxiety, dry mucus membranes and urinary retention, the answer is anticholinergic drugs.

      Or maybe pheochromocytoma!

      (The USMLE likes to ask about particular weird rare things you’d have a much lower prior for in real life, so please don’t take this seriously. Although actually, I do kind of wonder if alpha blockers would help.)

    • Anonymous says:

      @Gad Damn John Jay, Have you been assessed for diabetes insipidus? It’s very often missed, even by doctors who check for diabetes mellitus. it’s treated with a nasal spray.

    • Marcel Müller says:

      In some people stress may result in excessive excretion of water (citation needed, though I have this problem) and as a result thirst. Don’t know anything about the urinary retention, though inability to relax the sphincter due to anxiety sounds somewhat plausible.

      Anecdotally potassium 2-4g/d and magnesium 1-2g/d may help and are low risk if you have an eye on your K+ level. Ever had K+ and Mg++ levels checked? Mine are often slightly lower than considered normal. If your problem is the same as mine you will feel better after a day or two. Don’t take that regimen over weeks without having your K+ level checked!
      Warning: To much potassium may kill you! Especially if you have renal problems (

      Disclaimer: Not a doctor, this is not medical advice use your own discretion.

  5. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Question for those of you that drew self-defense from the lottery of fascinations; what would be the closest real-world analogue, if any, to that principle which serves as the centerpiece of Professor Quirrell’s Battle Magic curriculum in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationlity (quoted below for the ones who haven’t read it)?

    “Good afternoon, my young apprentices,” said Professor Quirrell. His voice seemed to come from the desk screen and to be speaking directly to Harry. “Welcome to your first lesson in Battle Magic, as the founders of Hogwarts would have put it; or, as it happens to be called in the late twentieth century, Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

    There was a certain amount of frantic scrabbling as students, taken by surprise, reached for their parchment or notebooks.

    “No,” Professor Quirrell said. “Don’t bother writing down what this subject was once called. No such pointless question will count toward your marks in any of my lessons. That is a promise.”

    Many students sat straight up at that, looking rather shocked.

    Professor Quirrell was smiling thinly. “Those of you who have wasted time by reading your useless first-year Defence textbooks -”

    Someone made a choking sound. Harry wondered if it was Hermione.

    “- may have gotten the impression that although this subject is called Defence Against the Dark Arts, it is actually about how to defend against Nightmare Butterflies, which cause mildly bad dreams, or Acid Slugs, which can dissolve all the way through a two-inch wooden beam given most of a day.”

    Professor Quirrell stood up, shoving his chair back from the desk. The screen on Harry’s desk followed his every move. Professor Quirrell strode towards the front of the classroom, and bellowed:

    “The Hungarian Horntail is taller than a dozen men! It breathes fire so quickly and so accurately that it can melt a Snitch in midflight! One Killing Curse will bring it down!”

    There were gasps from the students.

    “The Mountain Troll is more dangerous than the Hungarian Horntail! It is strong enough to bite through steel! Its hide is resistant enough to withstand Stunning Hexes and Cutting Charms! Its sense of smell is so acute that it can tell from afar whether its prey is part of a pack, or alone and vulnerable! Most fearsome of all, the troll is unique among magical creatures in continuously maintaining a form of Transfiguration on itself – it is always transforming into its own body. If you somehow succeed in ripping off its arm it will grow another within seconds! Fire and acid will produce scar tissue which can temporarily confuse a troll’s regenerative powers – for an hour or two! They are smart enough to use clubs as tools! The mountain troll is the third most perfect killing machine in all Nature! One Killing Curse will bring it down.”

    The students were looking rather shocked.

    Professor Quirrell was smiling rather grimly. “Your sad excuse for a third-year Defence textbook will suggest to you that you expose the mountain troll to sunlight, which will freeze it in place. This, my young apprentices, is the sort of useless knowledge you will never find in my lessons. You do not encounter mountain trolls in open daylight! The idea that you should use sunlight to stop them is the result of foolish textbook authors trying to show off their mastery of minutia at the expense of practicality. Just because there is a ridiculously obscure way of dealing with mountain trolls does not mean you should actually try to use it! The Killing Curse is unblockable, unstoppable, and works every single time on anything with a brain. If, as an adult wizard, you find yourself incapable of using the Killing Curse, then you can simply Apparate away! Likewise if you are facing the second most perfect killing machine, a Dementor. You just Apparate away!”

    “Unless, of course,” Professor Quirrell said, his voice now lower and harder, “you are under the influence of an anti-Apparition jinx. No, there is exactly one monster which can threaten you once you are fully grown. The single most dangerous monster in all the world, so dangerous that nothing else comes close. The adult wizard. That is the only thing that will still be able to threaten you.”

    Professor Quirrell’s lips were set in a thin line. “I will reluctantly teach you enough trivia for a passing mark on the Ministry-mandated portions of your first-year finals. Since your exact mark on these sections will make no difference to your future life, anyone who wants more than a passing mark is welcome to waste their own time studying our pathetic excuse for a textbook. The title of this subject is not Defence Against Minor Pests. You are here to learn how to defend yourselves against the Dark Arts. Which means, let us be very clear on this, defending yourselves against Dark Wizards. People with wands who want to hurt you and who will likely succeed in doing so unless you hurt them first! There is no defence without offence! There is no defence without fighting! This reality is deemed too harsh for eleven-year-olds by the fat, overpaid, Auror-guarded politicians who mandated your curriculum. To the abyss with those fools! You are here for the subject that has been taught at Hogwarts for eight hundred years! Welcome to your first year of Battle Magic!”

    Note that Professor Quirrell intends this principle to apply to more than just magical creatures, since he uses it to advice Hermione to flee Hogwarts later in the story:

    “So you think I am the one responsible?” said Professor Quirrell. His voice sounded a little sad as he said it, and her own heart almost stopped from hearing it. “I suppose I cannot blame you. I am the Defense Professor of Hogwarts, after all. But Miss Granger, even assuming that I am your enemy, common sense should still tell you to get away from me very quickly. You cannot use the Killing Curse, so the correct tactic is to Apparate away. I do not mind being the villain of your imagination if it makes matters clearer. Leave Hogwarts, and leave me to those who can handle me. I will arrange for the transportation to be through some family of good repute, and Mr. Potter will know to blame me if you do not arrive safely.”

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Closest thing I can remember is Penn and Teller’s Bullshit where they announced that instead of learning martial arts to buy a gun, claiming that the legal and ethical consequences are the same. (This was undercut with footage of aspiring martial artists delivering blows sufficient to kill or maim to dummies lying on the ground (They noted that self defense should include self defense law). They also advised throwing wallets and running away.

      If I am not mistaken, Bruce Lee followed similar advice, carrying a revolver to dissuade stalkers and “challengers”.

      • Nornagest says:

        Penn and Teller, in this case, are wrong. The legal and ethical consequences are the same if you kill the guy, but while it’s not exactly hard to kill someone hand-to-hand if you’re a much better fighter, you generally need to be trying pretty specifically to kill them. Accidents do happen — every year or so I hear of some guy that fell badly or something after one punch and died as soon as he hit the ground — but they’re rare.

        The big advantage of martial arts in a self-defense context is that it’s much easier to control the amount of force you use, especially if you train in a style like jujitsu that has options other than strikes on tap. The big disadvantage is that it’s not always immediately obvious how far you can escalate, which might force you to actually escalate where a gun or a knife would scare an attacker off without violence.

        (On the other hand, the big disadvantage of a gun or a knife is that if they call your bluff, you need to use it or you’re in worse trouble than before. There is no scenario worse than carrying a weapon you’re not prepared to use.)

        Source: am pretty serious martial artist, and decent but not exceptional pistol marksman.

        • Leit says:

          A couple of thoughts.

          1) Martial artists tend to be fixated on the ideal of the duel. This is a failure of some gun enthusiasts as well, I admit. Anecdata: I’ve been robbed at gun- and knife-point more than once. The smallest number of miscreants was 3. The largest 6, but in exceptional circumstances. In the real world, you want a self-defense mechanism that’s going to allow you to disengage more easily from multiple attackers, and which will act as a deterrent against numbers. That’s a firearm.

          2) When carrying a firearm, escalation can also become a problem, but in a different way. Taking up a threatening stance isn’t likely to result in legal issues, but in some places, revealing that you’re carrying might just earn you an arrest for brandishing. Judgment is essential.

          3) Even assuming that the martial artist isn’t a member of a school that mostly teaches combat-themed fitness – as most are – controlling yourself in a violent interaction, with the wash of exotic chemistry running through your system, is not all that easy. Yes, contact sparring and similar training will help, that’s the point of them. It’s still conducted in safe circumstances, when you’re not trying to make decisions at the same time with safety and property on the line. You’re not going to have the fine control that you’re expecting, at least the first couple of times, and hopefully you don’t get into enough serious altercations that you do build up these calluses.

          4) It’s much easier to learn passable close-range pistol marksmanship than it is to become a competent martial artist. The gun is also an option for eg. the wheelchair-bound, the elderly, or anyone else with physical limitations. Martial arts may be great for young and middle-aged men, but anyone else is going to run headlong into the limitations of physics and anatomy.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, multiple attackers are common in serious self-defense scenarios — and for a number of reasons I’d actually recommend treating multiple attackers as a threat on the level of a weapon, in which case the whole escalation-of-force deal becomes much less salient. You’re starting at a huge disadvantage; you need to erase that as quickly as possible, or legal and ethical concerns will be the least of your worries.

            But, as I said elsewhere, serious self-defense scenarios aren’t usually what you’re going to be using your kung fu or whatever on.

            No objections re: ease of use, or the equalizer thing. I’d probably recommend buying a gun there too.

            I agree with the adrenaline thing too, but that’s at least as much an issue with guns as it is with empty hand. I took a pistol class once where they had us run hundred-yard sprints just to get our adrenaline up, then fire at targets. Hardly anyone could hit anything — and a lot of the people in the class were cops, active military, people who actually do this for a living.

          • Leit says:

            Fair enough. I did read your post and do agree that the dramatic scenarios are also the less likely. Don’t intend to sound like the expectation is life and death struggles around every corner.

          • John Schilling says:

            Martial artists tend to be fixated on the ideal of the duel. This is a failure of some gun enthusiasts as well, I admit.

            This. If whoever is teaching you to “fight”, doesn’t teach you the basics of how to fight A: men with fists, B: men with clubs, C: men with knives, and D: men with guns, they probably aren’t teaching you how to fight so much as how to win athletic competitions. If they teach you how to use a particular sort of weapon and most of the training involves an adversary with the same sort of weapon, then it is nearly certain they are teaching you a competition sport. Whether they know it or not.

          • From reading Her Wits About Her, a book of accounts of women defending themselves, it’s quite possible (not guaranteed) to avoid being overwhelmed when attacked if you’re willing to settle for escape rather than victory.

            I think all the accounts were of sole attackers, which might be a more common situation for women than men.

            As I recall, the book started with women talking their way out, and generally speaking, I think talking one’s way out should be taught.

          • Helldalgo says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            My dad has many years of martial arts under his belt, and he ran me through a lot of “talk yourself out” concepts when I was a young teenager. He encouraged me to think of things that would unnerve or distract an attacker, or to go along with a non-violent situation until I saw an opening to leave. Caveat on the second one: getting into a car with an attacker should be avoided at nearly all costs.

            One memorable conversation: I didn’t swear much in high school. We were talking about violence from acquaintances, and he said that my reputation for not swearing could come in handy. “If you’re in trouble with some guy, and he knows you don’t swear much, letting loose with a bunch of vulgar language could throw him off guard enough to get away.” It was an idea I hadn’t considered, leveraging the existing relationship as a self-defense technique.

          • Winfried says:


            I have some odd reactions to danger and anger that may or may not be a form of cataplexy (I’m narcoleptic).

            When I’ve been in adrenaline inducing danger, I tend to dissociate and handle things smoothly and almost robotically. Works great for unexpected car accidents right in front of you.

            When I’m angry, I get weak at the knees and can’t seem to hold onto things. This is a very rare state for me; I’m very even tempered. The last time this was triggered was when I found out my (now) ex-wife was cheating on me. I dropped my keys and phone and slumped against a wall for a few minutes.

            Getting really quiet and turning cold is disconcerting, according to my friends, and has done a decent job of defusing a few fights or keeping my involvement to a minimum.

            I’ve seen one or two people who either purposefully or naturally go from calm to “puffed up” to foul mouthed psycho right before violence breaks out (if it does). It has not been very effective with strangers but it might with acquaintances.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Nancy: Verbal self-defense is absolutely underrated, yes. Definitely one of the places you want to have meaningful strong language available. And, if necessary, scream like a girl – that’s why it was invented. Physical posturing is also relevant here.

            Self-defense for girls and women is probably going to be focused on the question of rape and sexual assault, for obvious reasons. And in that context, the class-based distinction I raised earlier gets transformed to “Are you more worried about date rape, or stranger rape”? Rape by strangers, simply breaking free and running may not be enough. “Date rape” is far more common, the police frown on you actually killing the perpetrators, but it’s also much easier to avoid the necessity altogether. But in some cultural contexts, that might mean avoiding most of the legitimate romantic opportunities you’d like to pursue and would find your life diminished if excluded from.

            My preference would be to focus first on strong verbal self-defense skills and second on rapist-killing skills, but it’s not my problem and it’s a different problem for different women.

          • The Nybbler says:


            I don’t think the “danger” reaction, at least, is that unusual; I have a similar reaction to danger, and I remember investigating it and finding out it’s not uncommon after the first time it happened (a car accident; car destroyed, but fortunately no bodily injuries). It’s certainly a _useful_ reaction, and doesn’t seem to hurt large-muscle control; I’ve avoided other car accidents in that state. I get the shakes afterwards.

        • From a usenet discussion of the usefulness of martial arts– about half the people who replied said that the most valuable thing for them was knowing how to fall safely. I suggest that even those who prefer guns should learn to fall safely.

          A fast search didn’t turn up any information about risks from falls for the non-elderly — I wanted the total risk in the hopes of comparing it to the risks from being attacked in such a way that a gun or martial arts might help.

          I will say that while gravity isn’t as dangerous as a human enemy, gravity is very persistent.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Agreed, being able to fall safely and “roll with a punch” (or any blow for that matter) are probably the two most underrated and generally useful skills that you can pick up from practicing martial arts or full contact sports.

          • Ransom says:

            I have loved this youtube series as a resource:

          • Jason K. says:

            Oooh, a chance to ramble and procrastinate. A twofer.

            Speaking as someone who used to teach,

            Yes, learning to fall correctly is what will benefit the average individual the most, as most individuals don’t get into one-on-one fights. I would note that while I can teach someone how to fall in a single class period, it takes lots and lots of practice for it to become ingrained enough that you don’t revert to instinct when it happens out of the dojo.

            Guns are a mixed bag. If you aren’t confident that you can keep physical control of the gun or the other person has already drawn and will see you draw yours, it is generally best to leave it holstered.

            Some people take issue with the fact that reputable instructors tell their students to go through significant effort to avoid fights, as it gives the appearance that we don’t have confidence in what we are teaching (not that I’ve seen that here, but I have seen it). The reason for this is that if someone attempts to engage you, the best case scenario is that you come out as well as you were before the fight. Fighting in self-defense is inherently a losing proposition for you. There is no ‘winning’, there is only ‘not losing’.

            Self-defense courses for women are way overrated. See the issues below and then add “large strength differential” and “lack of practice” to the list.

            Sparring isn’t very effective in preparing yourself for a fight. It can help with the muscle memory in learning how to dodge/block, however:

            1: People tend to pull their punches on both sides. Which means that the attacks are slower and you inadvertently train yourself not to hit correctly.

            2: People are still adhering to some level of rules. You can’t expect that in a real fight.

            3: You don’t get that fight/flight response, which will totally throw you for a ride. Fight/flight tends to kill muscle memory, which leads to all that training going right out the window.

            Most one-on-one fights end up on the ground and are over in 60 seconds. So any self-defense that doesn’t cover ground work is leaving a huge gap and you have to learn to pace yourself. Fight/flight will make you want to burn all your energy really really fast. Don’t do that if you can avoid it. If possible, you let the other person exhaust themselves then you escape/counter.

            Reading the situation is paramount. You want to know the fight is coming well before the first swing. If you think you have been targeted and escape isn’t a good option, then this is one of the few times it is a good idea to act really creepy around strangers. Creepy probably won’t work around people that know you. In that case, gather what advantages you can.

            If you are going to seek training, do your homework on the instructor first as there is a lot of B.S. floating around. Warning signs include:

            New age/quackery side businesses.

            Does not train anyone that competes.

            Unusual/exotic styles. If it isn’t something you have heard of, be wary.

            High testing fees and/or an excessive amount of ranks. Generally shouldn’t be more than 10 before an adult gets into the black belt ranks.

            Not registered with a reputable national organization. Most legitimate black belts have their rank registered with a national organization, which means they can be validated. Doesn’t prevent the org from selling the ranks though, so watch the reputation.

            Never spars with students. (health notwithstanding)

            Claims to have an unusually high rank. I would raise an eyebrow at anyone claiming to be higher than a 4th degree black belt, especially if they are under 40. I think the youngest person I have met that had the skills to back up a 4th degree was in their mid-30s.

          • Nornagest says:

            Re rank: in most systems, ranks above 4th or 5th degree say nothing about technique and a lot about teaching experience (not necessarily teaching skill) and the internal politics of the organization they belong to. Contra Jason K, I don’t think ranks in the 5-6 dan range are an automatic red flag — 3rd or 4th dan is the traditional rank to be starting an independent dojo at, and the best teachers will have been in the game for a while — but if someone claims to be 7th dan or above, it should be easy to find out who they are just by Googling their name, and if you can’t then it means they’re almost certainly bogus. 9th or 10th dan is a definite red flag unless you’ve heard of their system before and you know for a fact that they’re very important in it. I have only met two people at 10th dan or equivalent; both were special occasions, and one was overseas.

            Reputable systems include a time-in-rank requirement for dan levels, and do not give out black belts to minors. This essentially dictates minimum ages for the various black belt levels, and actual practitioners will generally not advance at the maximum rate unless they’re exceptionally dedicated. I know one guy who made it to 4th degree in the minimum of 9 years after his shodan promotion (he was, I think, 32 at the time), but that’s very rare.

          • eccdogg says:

            It is a shame that there are not schools that teach Wrestling to adults as I think it is fabulous basic traingng for self defense.

            The big thing is that it allows for real sparing at full speed and gives you a real taste of fight or flight type adrenaline.

            Additionally It teaches

            “learning how to fall”
            how not to be taken off your feet
            how to escape from someone’s grasp
            how to roll around on the ground to gain position or escape.
            How to fight through and apply pain.

            And beause of full speed sparring it gives fantastic conditioning.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It teaches really bad instincts for most self defense though.

            But if you really want it, judo is a martial art taught to adults, and that is even more applicable.

          • eccdogg says:


            What do you have in mind when thinking about bad instincts?

          • Anonymous says:

            Grappling with someone while their buddies polish their shoes on your head is not a good self-defense strategy.

          • Nornagest says:

            I distrust arts that’re organized as sports — wrestling, judo, TKD. That’s not to shit on the skills they teach you; you’ll get as good an education in grappling in a freestyle wrestling class as you’ll get in any other art, probably better. But they have the Goodhart’s Law problem: once you start judging by any simplified metric, you start drifting towards the metric and away from what you’re really after. So they tend to overspecialize, effectively giving you a hammer and inviting you to see every problem as a nail.

            If you’re lucky, it’s a claw hammer (freestyle wrestling, judo). But sometimes it’s a deadblow mallet, a splitting maul, or an upholstery hammer.

            (UFC was designed to avoid this problem, but only within limits — there are things it structurally can’t cover, like weapons and multiple attackers. Even if you ignore those, though, you can already see it starting to head in a more specialized direction.)

          • eccdogg says:


            But I am thinking about the ability not to be taken to the ground to begin with and the ability to get out and get away. And less about the ability to attack someone.

            Against a crowd pretty much nothing is going to work other than running or a gun. But the ability to keep someone from holding onto you or holding you on the ground is an important first step to running.

            But really more than anything, what I think is great about wrestilng and boxing too, and heck even football or rugby is that you get to experience getting knocked down, getting into something that very closely resembles a fight and you get lots of full speed practice at it.

            ETA: I am clearly biased here as a former hs wrestler, but I grew up in a fairly tough city and a fairly tough school where fights were not uncommon. The problem I observed with folks who had learned martial arts or self defense was they just had so little experience applying those skills in something that approached the conditions of a fight. The best fighters fought alot and wrestlers tended to be good fighters because they had lots of real fight or flight experiences. So while technique wise something like wrestling might not be optimal it more than made up for that in its ablilty to create lots of high level sparing conditions that taught a lot of core muscle memory skills.

          • Nornagest says:

            Self-defense classes are mostly useless, if you mean the seminar kind where you go to a dojo or a gym three hours a week for a month and get a certificate at the end. They’ll give you the right techniques — sometimes — but not the familiarity to apply them without thinking for half a second first, which is way too long. And they’ll do nothing for your conditioning, which is just as important if not more so.

            Many dojos also — understandably — tend to be reluctant to let high-school-aged kids spar with each other, and you need to spend time sparring (ideally at or close to full contact) or you’re doing glorified cardio.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            One issue is the group dynamic. Another issue is that grappling is just not very good if you are over matched (size or strength).

            Now, I wrestled in HS. In a fight a might still go to wrestling, but it would have to be a fight where I judged we were trying beat each other, not maim each other.

            Because, if I start winning a wrestling contest, the number of ways that I am exposed to serious harm from the other guy goes way up if stabbing, biting and eye gouging are on the docket.

            Of course, far better to over-match the other person, and being really good at anything can give that advantage. So, that is a point in your favor.

    • Arbitrary_greay says:

      Isn’t that just consequentialism as applied to self-survival/thriving? (“self” also able to apply to self-chosen groups)

    • Anonymous says:

      This all sounds like the philosophy of Krav Maga, as taught to civilians. Don’t seek fights, run away from fights if possible, incapacitate (kill) all threats ASAP if not.

      • Nornagest says:

        I suspect a lot of that is Krav Maga’s military background talking. It’s good advice if you’re regularly faced with people who’re trying to kill or badly hurt you, but you almost never are as a civilian; if you’re in a place where you use martial arts skills, it’s probably something along the lines of breaking up a fight between friends, or dealing with an belligerent drunk or an overly handsy character of some kind, or working as a bouncer or mental health worker. Even the classic mugging scenario (which is comparatively rare in most subcultures) probably won’t take lethal force to resolve unless you’re dealing with a weapon, and most of the value added by martial arts there comes from giving you the attitude you need not to look like a soft target.

    • Leit says:

      Hmm. I’d have gone the other way ’round.

      Option 1: Apparate away. (de-escalation, avoidance)
      Option 2: Assuming that you’re supporting others, defending/claiming an essential objective, constrained in ability to escape or will be followed/attacked later (can wizards follow an Apparate? I don’t know the setting well enough to know), don’t muck about with anything less than absolute guaranteed lethal force.

      • MugaSofer says:

        >(can wizards follow an Apparate? I don’t know the setting well enough to know)

        Not in canon. It’s possible that a way exists in HPMOR.

        On the other hand, Apparating in melee does canonically bring your attacker with you, which would make it ineffective against e.g. the common pixie. (There’s also the issue that many HP monsters have psychological or AOE attacks that may affect you before you’ve noticed them, or are supernaturally stealthy, or have humanlike intelligence and/or rudimentary magic of their own.)

        • J Mann says:

          “On the other hand, Apparating in melee does canonically bring your attacker with you, which would make it ineffective against e.g. the common pixie.”

          but fairly effective against a mountain troll . . .

    • John Schilling says:

      Depends – are we talking about a barroom brawl, or defending your wife against a rapist?

      Off the top of my head, six major justifications for violence, depending on cultural context.

      1. Waging just war

      2. Privately defending innocent parties (including yourself) against murder or other heinous crimes, i.e. most violent felonies

      3. Privately defending innocent parties against lesser crimes

      4. Enforcing social norms by hurting defectors and/or apprehending them for future punishment if they won’t submit peacefully

      5. Gaining and/or retaining status by demonstrating martial aptitude, courage, and will

      6. Practicing for any of the above.

      For cases 1 and 2, YudkowskyQuirrel has it about right. For the rest, no – there are culture-specific rules of engagement, which may or may not allow limited use of lethal force (e.g. duelling in case 5, shooting fleeing felons in case 4) but must be obeyed. Winning by violating the rules is worse than losing.

      In modern Western civilization, for Church’s “G” and “E” class hierarchies, case 5 is in most cases no longer part of the culture, and there is a strong presumption that cases 3 and 4 will be handled by the police whereas case 6 is for dedicated training grounds. It is still permissible as a private citizen to defend yourself against minor assaults or thefts or apprehend fleeing criminals, but it isn’t often necessary (some combination of the police and insurance companies should set things right in the end) and there is little tolerance for excessive force if you do. In this environment, the top priority is to learn to fight to win, dirty and lethal, preferably with firearms if they are available. And to then not fight for any reason other than class 1 or 2, even if it means letting people push you around. Probably you’ll never wind up fighting at all, and getting pushed around a little bit. That’s OK.

      In the Churchian ‘U’ and ‘L’ hierarchies, status-through-violence is still sometimes a thing, and police protection against minor crimes is less reliable. Not being able to hold your own in class 3-5 fights may result in your being pushed around a lot, to the extent of a significantly dimnished quality of life. Being imprisoned for killing someone in a barroom brawl, also diminished quality of life. So there it may be worth focusing on winning minor fights within your culture’s rules of engagement, trusting that the enhanced status will reduce the chance of anyone trying to kill you and your less-than-optimal fighting skills may still be sufficient if you do.

      Better still is to learn to fight both clean/safe and dirty/lethal, well enough that you won’t slip up and use the wrong skillset for the fight. But that requires much more training time than most people are willing to devote, unless as you note they “drew self-defense from the lottery of fascinations”. In which case, consider a career in the military or law enforcement.

    • keranih says:

      Reminds me of the old joke:

      “A karate black belt and a judo black belt walk into a bar. Twenty minutes later a fight breaks out. Of the two black belts, who wins?”

      A: It depends on which one is the better go player, but really, that’s a very short game…

      Context, after the puzzled look: Well, after the two black belts walked into the bar, they saw that the crowd was unruly and hostile, so they just borrowed the go board from the bartender and left. When people started throwing chairs, the master fighters were no where near the place.

      (I got told this so far back that a lot of schools were still keeping with the white/black belt division, without the colored ones between.)

      As John Schilling says, there are specific cases for legit use of violence. And there is a difference between the fight you went looking for and the one that was forced upon you.

      However, Apparate only works if you’re a wizard, just as running like a deer is not an option for my great uncle with a cane. The effect use of violence to oppose unlawful violence (like armed robbery, home invasion, etc) decreases the perceived utility of this unlawfulness on both those of us who can run away and those who can’t.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I’m not entirely sure what “real-world analogue” in this context really means but it should be noted that Quirrel is basically echoing/re-framing Miyamoto’s statements on clarity of intent from the Book of 5 Rings.

    • Deiseach says:

      Eh. If you don’t have a wand, knowing that mountain trolls are vulnerable to sunlight may save your life. And you don’t start out teaching eleven year olds Advanced Anything, you start them off on the basics and scale up. This is like saying “I won’t bother to teach you how to make scrambled eggs, I will expect you all to be able to cook like Escoffier even though this is the first time you’ve ever held a spatula.”

      Also, you may never be unfortunate enough to encounter a Dementor at close range, but you could suffer a plague of pixies. How many people in Muggle terms have had to deal with a mouse infestation in the house versus a rabid dog? Teach me the small stuff before you get onto the big stuff, professor, because posturing about how tough you are in the big, bad, out to kill you world to a bunch of eleven year olds does not impress me.

      • suntzuanime says:

        He did start them on the basics and scale up, it’s just that knowing ten fun facts about mountain trolls doesn’t scale up into anything useful.

        • Deiseach says:

          Starting off DADA with “In every situation USE THE KILLING CURSE” is like that man who burned down his house trying to kill a spider.

          All that excerpt does for me is make me think “Right, got it: we’re in grimdark territory here, obviously Rowling was a wuss and her universe needs to be toughened up and Our Hero is the guy to do it”. Which in turn makes me go the Eddie Izzard route: “I’m not going down there, it’s spooky down there”.

          • Nicholas says:

            Quirrel is still Voldemort, just like in cannon. It’s supposed to be your first hint that he’s a total psychopath.

      • Jiro says:

        You don’t start self-defense classes by saying “if it so happens a piano is falling, you can protect yourself against a mugger by tricking him into standing under it”.

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, example from my own personal experience (this happened to my granny – allegedly – and most Irish people of a certain age would know the answer).

          So you’re being led astray by the fairies and can’t find your way out of a field in broad daylight where you know there’s a gap in the ditch but you’re going round and round the field and can’t find your way out.

          What do you do to break the spell?

          Hint: You do not emulate Quirrell here and use the Killing Curse; it’s one of those small, ‘useless’, pieces of knowledge that he is sneering about in the ‘useless’ textbook and moaning about being expected to teach when he should be turning them all into the Terminator.

          Answer here.

          For general interest, my maternal grandfather – according to my mother, who told me this story once – was fairy struck by a black dog as a boy and had to be cured by the quack doctor, so I have family reasons for turning my nose up at Quirrell turning his nose up at “small” vexations and small charms to cure same 🙂

          • Jiro says:

            Why would the killing curse fail here? Presumably fairies have a self-preservation instinct. Tell the fairy “let me out or I kill you”.

          • Marc Whipple says:


            It does not appear necessary that the fairy make themselves known or even be physically present for this curse to be effective. (“Being led astray by the fairies” would seem to imply active participation, but if she’s referring to the curse the link describes, the fairy is leading you astray with magic, not by leading you on a will-o-the-wisp chase.) It’s all in your head. The only apparent application of the Killing Curse would solve the problem but in a non-optimal way.

          • Apparate out and Fiendfyre the whole furlong from atop a tactical broomstick.

            It’s the only way to be sure.

          • Dr Dealgood says:


            Real apparators only use the finest tacticool broomsticks.

            Memery aside, the reason I would say the Killing Curse isn’t as useful as it first appears is the risk of magically shooting yourself in the foot. Sure you might hit the Gnome or whatever minor hazard you’re aiming it, but you could just as easily blast someone else who happens to be in the line of effect if you miss. Or, like Voldy, you could end up on the wrong end of a magical “ricochet” effect and wind up with a face full of turban. That’s a reasonable risk when fighting a dragon or something but not so much with the relatively mundane threats that Wizards normally deal with.

          • John Schilling says:

            Memery aside, the reason I would say the Killing Curse isn’t as useful as it first appears is the risk of magically shooting yourself in the foot.

            Why would you want to do that?

            To unpack: I don’t think I can recall a curse ever missing its target in the books. Being blocked by e.g. a countercurse, yes, but not simply missing due to poor aim. And the implied accuracy is far too great to come from the geometric alignment of a handheld wand. There’s a reason people invented gunsights, and expert marksmen who eschew their use cannot achieve the accuracy apparently achieved by teenaged amateurs in the Potterverse. Also, there are wizards who study and adapt muggle artifacts, but the wizarding world isn’t ruled by the first Dark Lord to score a crate of machine guns for his henchmen. At a minimum, mounting a decent reflex sight on a wand would make one nigh-invincible in open battle.

            My working hypothesis is that curses are magically guided by the intent of the caster, limited by perhaps the ability to see the target but not by the precise alignment of the wand. An alternate hypothesis is that there is some undescribed supplemental magic incorporated in wands that enables precise alignment by the will of the caster. Either way, shooting yourself in the foot (literally or figuratively) is not a likely problem, and the Killing Curse deserves its reputation as an unparalleled danger. I suspect that Yudkowsky would rearrange all of that in a heartbeat if it served the point he was trying to make, and for that matter Rowling herself isn’t above tactical retcons, but is there anything in the original books on this point?

            Alternate alternate hypothesis, Rowling did such a hasty and inconsistent job of setting all this up that there’s no point in trying to make sense of any of it. But that’s no fun at all.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I vaguely recall curses hitting bystanders or otherwise flying off target, but it’s been so long since I read those books (finished each of the last four on the days they were released, never reread them) that I can’t say for certain.

            If spells cannot miss then obviously my point is invalid.


            Also the Magic v Guns thing seems like more of an across-the-pond culture dispute than anything else. If even your police are terrified of criminals wielding knives I don’t think “just shoot Voldemort, you moron” is something that will cross your mind. Had Rowling been American, Mad Eye Moody would self-load his own Caster Shells and be have a vocal opinion in the hex velocity / stopping power debate.

          • Vorkon says:

            I distinctly remember situations in HPMOR where curses were dodged or the caster missed, which wouldn’t be the case if they magically sought the intended target, so in the context of Quirrell’s specific speech above, aiming would definitely be a factor.

            You may very well be right about how curse-aiming works in the original, though. There MAY have been cases of casters missing or targets dodging in the books, but I can’t remember any off the top of my head.

            That said, I seem to recall that a major component in being able to cast the killing curse is that the caster needs to honestly wish for the target to die, so even if the beam hit the wrong target, I’m not sure it would have the same effect. A lesser hex could probably hit the wrong target, though.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            If the Killing Curse works the same way as the Cruciatus Curse in that regard, it wouldn’t miss, it would just fail to work. You can hit somebody with a Cruciatus Curse even if you don’t have the stomach to actually torture them. It just won’t do much (if anything.) It definitely won’t hit somebody else.

            Unless, perhaps, that somebody else was also in range and you really did want to torture them. This provides an intriguing potential explanation for at least some “misses” which hit the wrong target. Tweren’t a miss at all. This seems pretty possible, especially if wands can’t distinguish between conscious targeting and subconscious desires. It might even explain otherwise mystifying misfires – the person might have consciously wanted to hit someone with a spell, but subconsciously they did not, to the point where the spell failed.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Do you have to intend to kill that particular person or just have murderous intent?

            I read Harry being unable to use Cruciatus as more of him being too soft / kind to want to torture anyone, even someone who deserved it, rather than that he didn’t want to torture Bellatrix in particular. I can see your average Death Eater, for example, throwing around a Killing Curse without having a precise target in mind but just to kill somebody.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            @John Schilling, Dr. Dealgood & Vorkon: In the books it was a plot point that George Weasley’s lost ear came from a curse hitting the wrong target.

      • Tracy W says:

        The wizarding world is different, it’s noted that a lot of people were killed by Voldemort and before that by that G guy whose name I’m not going to try to spell. Dark Lords are a not that uncommon threat in that universe.

        My father’s generation, growing up in peaceful NZ in the 1950s and 60s were all enrolled in army cadets at high school and started learning to fight as an army as teenagers. Not to deal with mice infestations. That’s what two world wars (plus all the wars of the Victorian era) did to the curriculum.

        I think our culture is the unusual one, historically speaking.

    • Psmith says:

      Not sure I get what Quirrell’s point is supposed to be, but the first rule of intelligent self-defense has always been to avoid situations where you might need to defend yourself.

      • Nicholas says:

        The surface point is that Quirrel is a bitter veteran from a civil war that only ended about 10 years ago, and thinks Mad-Eye style ETERNAL VIGILANCE is the only way to protect magical Britain from the *next* dark lord who, according to historical schedule, is due in about 20 years.
        The deeper point is revealed above, under SPOILERS.

    • Maware says:

      Except that ideally, the average wizard should only be defending against butterflies and slugs, because there would be an actual, competent police force. Harry Potter grew increasingly stupid to me when it became apparent that the “good side” was utterly incompetent and required twelve year olds to engage in fairly brutal battle to fix the messes they created. Rather than have all the adult wizards quiver in fear over Voldemort or essentially turn a blind eye as the Death Eaters managed to infilitrate everything they held dear they should have done things. Dumbledore is one of the most moronic “heroes” in literature.

      In this case, although it may be intentional due to Quirrell, the advice is so laughably bad its tragic. You do not give 12 year olds training in or the ability to use lethal force, no matter how useful it may be, because as the novel showed, they were too happy to use magic to hurt and fight with each other. You go through all those years of boring training to weed out the people who would use it irresponsibly, because ideally any use of lethal force should and would be rare and left to a professional class. The training is to use force responsibly and morally-thinking preteens could even begin to do so its rather stupid.

      • Deiseach says:

        In a war situation (as the situation with Voldemort was, despite the desperate wishful thinking of everyone), it may be good sense to teach twelve year olds to fight.

        However, that does not give you a cadre of trained rationalists, all bright-eyed and eager to shine the light of SCIENTIFIC METHOD REASONING on the dark and gloomy superstitions of magical lore, it gives you Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army where you turn children into soldiers.

        • Maware says:

          It’s never good sense. It happens, but it’s never good sense. If the author of that passage isn’t having a Quirrell say that because he is corrupted and would see it in those terms, but really means it, he’s absurdly naive and reductionist.

        • Tracy W says:

          In the case of the Lord’s Resistance Army an awful lot of bad stuff was going on apart from teaching kids to fight, like killing said kids’ parents, and drugs and the like.

          As for bright-eyed rationalists, the only children like that in the story are Harry, who started off like that from the very first chapter, and Draco and Hermione, who Harry taught.

      • Tracy W says:

        Quirrell didn’t give them the ability to use lethal force, all his training was using sleeping hexes and the like.

        Plus the concept of the use of lethal force being restricted to a professional class is very new in human history. WWII is still within human history and that had widespread conscription, plus soldiers hunting down and killing civilians and widespread civilian revolts (eg the Warsaw Uprising). Conscription for young men lasted in most western countries into the 1960s or 70s, and several countries still have it even now.

        • Psmith says:

          Hell, never mind conscription, pretty much everyone in the farming branch of my family tree was a decent shot with a rifle by age 14 or so.

      • Daniel Kokotajlo says:


        Keep in mind, Quirrel at the end of the book says that the students of hogwarts are a valuable resource. He probably does NOT want to weed out the bullies; he needs them for his army.

      • As far as I can tell, the only conscientious institutions in the wizarding world are whoever is administering the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T.S, and Gringott’s bank.

        Part of the atmosphere of the books is that you can only trust small-group loyalty.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          The bank is run by goblins, so no help there.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            N Tevatbggf gryyre xvaqn fperjrq gurz bire va gur friragu obbx gubhtu.

          • Virbie says:

            @god damn John Jay

            Rot13 for spoilers is a good idea but it doesn’t make much sense without a (plaintext) spoiler tag in front of it. The set of people who are curious/idle enough to figure out your comment is not exclusive of people who don’t want spoilers for HP.

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s a tangent, but… has anyone noticed how libertarian soap operas are? Everyone either runs or works in a small local business. The police are depicted as clueless outsiders meddling in issues that they don’t understand and that are already under control. The characters all have extensive support networks and rely on one another, their agreements and their relationships and exchange and barter, to solve their problems, rather than on institutions. No problem in a soap opera is solved by a law being passed. Someone doesn’t have a job? No problem, some local business owner or other will offer them work in whatever business they run.

          EDIT: I’m basing this on British soaps. For all I know, soaps from other countries are different – are they?

          • Adam says:

            I feel very atypical here as someone who has never read Harry Potter and has no desire to (maybe just older than most but I suspect not?). I’d be very, very surprised to find I’m also atypical in never having watched a soap opera.

          • Tracy W says:

            Outside institution swoops in and solves problems doesn’t tend to make for a compelling story line.

            I think the soap opera thing fundamentally has the same answer as “Why are the adults useless in kids’ books?” Or “why do so many fantasy novels focus on a guy who turns out to be the only one who can save the world?”

            Yes there are compelling stories that can be told without resorting to those tropes. But soap operas have to come up with a lot of storylines. There’s going to be a tendency to pick ones that are easy to make compelling.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m not hugely informed about soap operas, but the impression I’ve gotten is that American soap operas tend to focus more on extended families, and have characters who are more likely to be independently wealthy, or professionals.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Tracy W

            Quite probably. I guess its implications are just more noticeable in a soap opera because they don’t focus on only a handful of characters, and they present a persistent and ongoing world in a way that novels, with their finite length, don’t and can’t.

            Lame signalling that I’m going to do anyway: I do not regularly watch soap operas. It was just on. I was, uh, watching it for a friend.

          • Adam says:

            Ha! To be fair, I have seen a few when I was a kid and watched with my mom in the summer, but I barely remember. I just don’t expect much overlap with the SSC crowd and the actual target demographic of daytime soaps.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Anonymous: my relationship with soap operas is a bit like a reformed alcoholic’s relationship with booze. I realised many years ago that I would get sucked in by longing to find out what happened next even though I didn’t actually enjoy the story line in its own right. I was turning down invites to things I actually enjoyed doing to find out What happens Next.

            Now I actually leave the room if one comes on, and people who know me have instructions that if they find me staring at a TV screen with a finger hoovering above the remote’s off button, to just switch the TV off.

      • Nicholas says:

        RE the crappy policing. According to author’s statement, there are about 3000 wizards in magical Britain and Ireland, which means there are probably only about 15-30 aurors, based on real world police forces. So the idea that Voldemort could skirt the forces of justice seems a lot less ridiculous when the entirety of two islands police force is only two-dozen guys. Voldemort has more Death Eaters than there are soldiers in the official military.
        Speaking of which: What I’d always taken away from the “Great Houses” talk around Malfoy and Black was that Voldemort was basically leading a civil war. He didn’t have the Malfoy’s and the Black’s “infiltrate” anything- they were already the legitimate heads of civilian government organizations, and they managed to escape being punished for defecting as their price for peace.

        • Nornagest says:

          Not to get all fanwanky, but Rowling’s comments on the size of the magical community make no sense given the kind of cultural institutions we see in it. It solves the Voldemort problem, but it introduces a lot of others.

          • Nicholas says:

            I like the idea personally that, outside the Laws of Secrecy, the whole Ministry is more of wizards aping muggles like with the clothes and basically the entire character of Arthur Weasly.
            Someone told the wizards about Ministers and some bright drip went “Oooh, Ministers, yeah yeah, gotta have a Minister.” It’s a play-pretend government for people who don’t really have an economy for anything but food, because you can make just about everything else out of rocks.
            Alternatively: The Statute of Secrecy is only 200 years old at the start of the book, and wizards live to be like 150 right? So maybe it’s just a hand down from the time before secrecy, a single aged generation that barely remembers the wizard social class as it fit into regular Britain forcing everyone else to ape the form.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’ve often thought that Harry Potter’s killing curse represents an incredibly British perspective on guns and self-defense. No need for lethal force because there is an implausibly convenient alternative – a disarming spell that works from a range, perfectly, and instantly. You don’t have to kill the bad guys, you can just disarm them, and then bring them to justice!

      It’s very much a wishful thinking Brit’s view of the world. I suspect that an American version of Harry Potter would have looked somewhat closer to Yudkowsky’s version, in terms of its stance on magical self-defense.

      • Deiseach says:

        It’s very much a wishful thinking Brit’s view of the world.

        And yet somehow over on this side of the Atlantic we are managing not to all be murdered in our beds, despite the fact we don’t routinely give guns to lollipop ladies.

        “Killing the bad guys” is a very seductive line of reasoning. How does Quirrell know the evil wizards are evil? Why, because they will reach first for the Killing Curse when dealing with anyone! How does he want to train his DADA class? Teach them to reach first for the Killing Curse when dealing with anyone!

        In the Wizarding World, people are as likely to encounter Mountain Trolls or Hungarian Horntails as they go about their everyday business as people in the Muggle World are likely to encounter rabid wolves or marauding bears – that is, not unless you either go looking for them or live in an area where wolves and bears are common. Or Australia, where everything is trying to kill you. Teaching peacetime DADA classes to be reaching for the Killing Curse every time something rustles in the shrubbery is like teaching someone living in (let me take at random) New York to be wary of bears rummaging through the dumpsters in the alleyway.

        When Harry goes to visit Ron’s family, they’re suffering from an infestation of gnomes in the back garden. A lesson in “Defence Against Minor Pests” would be a heck of a lot more useful there than “Well, I have no idea how to deal with gnomes, but I can cast a Killing Curse that will take out a Mountain Troll” – that would be like using a portable anti-tank rocket launcher to deal with an infestation of wasps. Yes, it’ll work, but you’ll cause more damage than you save by using it.

        Sneering about learning to deal with “Nightmare Butterflies, which cause mildly bad dreams” ignores that, for instance, if you’re having mildly bad dreams every single night that are disturbing your sleep and causing you to wake up repeatedly, over time this will mean lack of sleep and all the problems associated with that, and you might be very glad of a silly little charm you learned from your useless textbook to drive away the Nightmare Butterflies. In our world, people look for all kinds of remedies, if not a doctor’s prescription, to help them with sleeping troubles.

        A charm to get rid of bad dreams, even only mild ones, might be twenty times more useful than being able to take out a Mountain Troll in most situations. Most people use analgesics to deal with headaches and minor aches and pains, after all. The Killing Curse approach is like “Forget being able to buy a packet of paracetamol in the supermarket for that minor strained muscle pain, what you really need is the morphine patch for terminal cancer patients”.

        And quite frankly, I’m too old to be impressed by “Oh yeah, gonna talk about HOW TO KILL and the GRIM NECESSITY OF BEING PREPARED TO DO SO and YOU’RE NEVER TOO YOUNG TO LEARN THE HARSH REALITY OF LIFE” because I don’t think it makes the book or movie “adult” or “serious”, I think it makes it sound stunted – the perpetual “18 year old guy who thinks ‘more dakka’ is the coolest thing there is and that emanating an aura of toughness and ‘yeah I’ll fight you, I know how to take care of myself’ makes him sound like the biggest baddest dude on the block instead of a loser” – the Staines Massive effect, in short.

        • Anonymous says:

          I didn’t mean to imply that either the British or the American view on self defense and guns is correct, only that Rowling’s treatment of the issue in Harry Potter clearly reflects the typical British perspective, with the fictional rules structured in a way that totally vindicates that perspective.

        • Tracy W says:

          A big difference is that with pests you have the time to do research, like look them up in a book.
          With things trying to kill you, you can’t.

          I have for one reason and another done quite a few first aid courses, including one “Outdoor First Aid” which was focused on first aid that might be needed while tramping (hiking) and several days away from medical help. (Bad weather stops helicopters flying.) The normal first aid courses are focused on CPR, keeping breathing going, stopping arterial blood and calling for help. The outdoor one was much more wide-ranging because of the assumed inability to get immediate help.

        • Loquat says:

          I don’t expect teenagers to come home from boarding school having learned how to get rid of common household pests – I hire a professional exterminator for that, or go to the store and buy some traps and poison. I know the wizarding world is oddly lacking in many modern amenities, but surely they’d have one or both of those resources available?

          • Nicholas says:

            Mostly no. According to out of book commentary, the entire wizarding Britain is only the population of a small town in Massachusetts, spread out over both islands. Combined with magic, there’s basically no distribution of labor at all, which is why everyone with a job works for the government.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        Like Judge Dredd vs. The Punisher?

      • James Picone says:

        IIRC at the start of the seventh book Harry is trying to escape somewhere under cover of lots of decoys, and gives it away by using Expelliarmus in a situation where most wizards would normally have gone for something more directly dangerous. He gets told off by people who are all “Jesus dude, try actually stunning people trying to disarm them is dangerous and a bad idea”.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          Yeah, that was a plot element in book 7. Admittedly hitting someone in midflight with anything will likely kill them.

        • Yep, definitely happened. Though partly that’s because the Disarming Spell is seen as Harry’s “Signature” spell.

          This was when 7 people pretended to be Harry Potter, so disguising the TRUE Harry was a big deal.

          God I hated that series….

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, serious request: has anyone got an excerpt from HPMOR that they want to put up as an example of good writing? I don’t mean “Harry Stu lectures straw-stuffed mannikins making his points with all the subtlety of an anvil to the head” (if I want that, I’ll read Ayn Rand), but something – a piece of descriptive writing, a conversation, anything – that you want to point to as good prose style, or so funny that it made you laugh, or it’s beautiful, or anything of that nature. I’ll give you a sample of something that may illustrate what I mean, the description of the day breaking in the following extract:

      The clear moon that had lit up Chiswick had gone down by the time that they passed Battersea, and when they came under the enormous bulk of Westminster day had already begun to break. It broke like the splitting of great bars of lead, showing bars of silver; and these had brightened like white fire when the tug, changing its onward course, turned inward to a large landing stage rather beyond Charing Cross.

      Is there any passage in HPMOR that struck any of you as a startling, original, or striking metaphor, that gave you a sense of a visual image of beauty?

      Anything, in short, that would make me go “Yes, I quite liked Harry Potter, I’d be interested in reading this” and not (as all the excerpts to date I’ve seen) evoke instead a response of withering scorn. I don’t like emulating a spitting cobra and having my bile duct revving up to top gear when I’m critiquing the scraps I’ve read, but if this is the great work that is drawing in scores of new recruits to rationalism, I am beginning to worry about rationalists (or at least think you all have tin ears when it comes to fiction).

      • The Smoke says:

        Maybe you’re expecting the wrong thing. If it was just a traditionally very good piece of fiction it would be hardly worth the hype. It does several unusual things very nicely:
        1) Repeatedly incorporate pieces (standard) science and math in an epic way
        2)Apply reason to the magic in the standard HP universe, and testing the limits of everything
        3)have the characters outwitting each other
        All this in a reasonably readable style, so it flows well.

        You could try this chapter, which captures very efficiently what is great about HPMOR. If you don’t like it, I guess it’s just not for you.

        • multiheaded says:

          3) have the characters outwitting each other

          Yes, the hero’s long utter denial of any sane instinct, followed by a confrontation with the monologuing villain was just *lovely* /s

        • Deiseach says:

          See, if it’s presented as fiction, I tend to want some writing in with the preaching 🙂 I’ll read something straight-up presented as “Fifteen Reasons Why I’m Right And The Rest of You Are Clods”, even if it’s only in the hopes of a good row. But I have a very strong dislike of didactic fiction (unless, as I said, there’s a rattling good story and well-written prose sugaring the pill) and if it’s pages of Obvious Hero standing at the lecture podium then I will skip it.

        • Deiseach says:

          Read the first section of the recommended linked chapter (as far as the first section break).

          KILL ME NOW.

          Sorry, it probably was of breath-taking thrill-a-minute pulse-pounding excitement for the mathematically inclined, but since I neither know nor care what the hell P=NP means or signifies, I was left “Yes? So?”

          Apart from the cautionary message, which (if Brilliant McBrillance had reflected for five seconds instead of being dazzled with his own marvellousness) explains why everyone is not conspicuously running around with Time Turners – honestly, if you really could assure your desired outcome by messing about with time, do you think Voldemort or Grindlewald would not have been all over that?

          Still suffers from a flat prose style and the obvious want of a beta reader, apart from all that.

          All I can conclude is that it is not for me, and thank you for at least trying to enlighten the ignorant by supplying me with a recommendation 🙂

          • Vorkon says:

            Later on in the story, Voldemort and Dumbledore both use time-turners pretty extensively. Perhaps not as overtly as Harry, but they both use them, and since a big part of the point of the story is that Harry is young, careless, and (while smarter than most) not nearly as smart as he would like to think, it makes sense that they would be more careful with them than him.

            Admittedly, Harry’s over-reliance on time-turners got real old after a while, and cutting back on it a bit would probably have made for a better story, but the time-turners are probably the most glaring plot hole in Rowling’s original work, and overall I think Yudkowsy did a good job of portraying how they might actually effect the world in a realistic way, given how nonsensical they were in the original.

      • keranih says:

        This. I *know* fanfic is perfectly capable of being transformative/critiquing the text and being a delight to read, it’s done every week.

        This isn’t.

      • Alex says:

        [Very mild spoilers for both HP7 and HPMOR]

        Let me begin with asserting that J. K. Rowling knows exactly what she’s doing. Her success might be “chance” in that publishing in the 90s worked in ways that hadn’t she eventually found a publisher we would not have gotten to know HP at all, but otherwise I find the success to be very much deserved. More so if I compare it to the shallowness of other YA fiction. To the critical eye, which mine as a young reader certainly was not, the early Potters might have their flaws but I think by HP3 Rowling found her stride and pulled of the whole saga with flying colors.

        You might want to dicuss if Rowling performs “the craft” or “the art” but I assume nobody would disagree that she has created something of lasting influence.

        I’m steelmanning (correct use of term?) Rowling here because J. K. Rowling, modern genius, did not manage to make me care for Hermione whatsoever. It should have been easy to make the nerd care for the nerdy girl but it did not “click”. When reading the first six books as a teenager Hermione was a sexless purposeless second sidekick, that could have easily been merged into Ron or even Neville freakin’ Longbottom. Reading HP7 many years later, all I could think was, “wow, this guy is on an extended camping trip with Emma Watson, sex godess, and nothing happens”. That’s how faceless the character was to me. I confused the character for the actress despite never having seen a HP movie.

        And Yudkowsky managed what Rowling did not. My favourite part of HPMOR is when Hermione is on trial. And Yudkowsky made me care. Boy did I care. And not for Emma Watson, but for the character I feel Hermione deserves to be rather than the version Rowling gave us.

        Of course, if in Rowlings case we could dispute whether she has “craft” or “art”, Yudkowsky is very very clearly on the craft side of things if even that. And yes, I could not point out a single paragraph in his largely forgettable prose that would qualify as anything else. But his writing did move me in a way beyond “Harry Stu lectures straw-stuffed mannikins making his points with all the subtlety of an anvil to the head”, admittedly an accurate description of the bulk of the book. So for me, yes, there is something of beauty in HPMOR as a whole.

        • Nita says:

          That’s how faceless the character was to me.

          So, you perceived her just like people tend to perceive nerd girls? It seems that Rowling is a master (or mistress?) of her craft, indeed 😉

          I agree that Hermione is the one character Eliezer actually managed to improve (at least in the first chapters — I quit out of general frustration later on).

          Edit: I was going to link to the first Hermione chapter in HPMOR, but then I saw that its goodness is somewhat diminished by a visit from Harry Stu and his reality-distortion field.

          • Alex says:

            You have a point there. Then again, the few girls I’ve met that I would classify as nerd girls, I would prefer over the fantasy of Emma Watson (can’t say anything about real Emma Watson, naturally). But given the choice betwen Rowling’s Hermione and Watson, I’d prefer Watson, I think.

          • Nita says:

            I certainly wouldn’t want to be romantically involved with canon!Hermione — she’s a bit too ruthless and violent for my taste. But she’s similar to me in some ways, and it’s nice to be represented 🙂

          • Alex says:

            > But she’s similar to me in some ways,

            If anything, this makes me more fond of canon-Hermione 🙂

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          I always thought Hermione’s character development made her less interesting.

          I cannot believe you are fond of Ron though, he spends the entire series being a piece of shit. (Every time Ron comes up I get annoyed, after being useful in book 1, he basically spends the entire shitting on Harry / Hermione).

          • Alex says:

            >I always thought Hermione’s character development made her less interesting.

            Is this Yudkowsky-Hermione being less interesting then Rowling-Hermione from your point of view or something else?

            >I cannot believe you are fond of Ron though,

            I did not say that, but now that you point it out, it’s indeed true, I’m fond of him.

            Like I said, I read HP1-6 then a long pause and then HP7.

            HP1-6 is somewhat hard to remember because that was years ago. What I can say is that at least to younger me, the Harry / Ron dynamics was entirely believable. Harry was fond of Ron for reasons I could relate to and therefor I was fond of him because I rooted for Harry (who didn’t?). As far as I remember Harry did not care in the same way for Hermione and neither did I.

            Yudkowsky could get away with killing Ron because Yudkowsky-Harry has nothing in common with Rowling-Harry. Rowling-Harry sans Ron would be severely crippled and I wonder if Yudkowsky understood this.

            As an adult reading HP7, I mentally reframed the Harry / Ron conflict in terms of Ron fearing that rock star Harry eventually gets to fuck his (Ron’s) super hot girlfriend Emma Watson. Works well for me.

            I can’t for the hell of it remeber if I read HP7 before or after HPMOR. I assume that HPMOR made me go back to the series of my youth. What I decidedly do remember is that I hated Harry throughout HP7 for his stupidety – probably in contrast to Yudkowsky-Harry. Hating Harry does a lot for being fond of Ron I assume.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          No great fan of any of the HPs, but to criticize canon-presintation-of-canon-Hermione I’d start at the far end — Rowling’s alleged recent statement that Hermoine should not have got personally involved with Ron but with someone more her equal. From the first hint of romance between her and Ron, it rang quite false to me.

          A first class heroine in a second banana role.

          • Alex says:

            It rings false in that this is a universe of fiction and there are rules and one of the rules is that the sidekick does not simply get the girl in the end. The hero gets the girl, period.

            In reality, attraction works in stange ways and there is no reason why Hermione should not be attracted to Ron rather than the obvious choice(tm). Taking this for granted and then reading HP7 as if Ron himself were aware of that oddity (can’t remember, maybe Rowling actually hints that he is) did a lot for my enjoyment of the book, as described above.

            No idea why Rowling wants to ret-con this now.

          • Nicholas says:

            If I remember right, the source of the retcon:
            Rowling wanted to tie everyone off with a romantic happy ending. Hermione had only interacted romantically with Ron, Harry, and Krum. Krum wasn’t appearing in this film, and Harry had Ginny and there wasn’t going to be any magical polygamy in this series, so that left Ron. Rowling didn’t really think Hermione and Ron worked as a couple, but it was too late to cram in a new subplot and she wanted to end everything with a wedding and it wasn’t like she’d be writing a sequel (/s) so she just did it, knowing that if there ever was a sequel she’d probably have to write them as on the way to divorce. And now that she’s had time to sit, and consider the little fib there at the end of book 7, and think about a sequel, she wishes she hadn’t written herself into a corner.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nicholas

            I don’t rememember which number film it was that ended with a triumphal feast where H and H hugged full body carefree, and then she turned to Ron and they shook hands embarassedly. So R/H was being set up pretty young, even if that were added at filming time.

            The version I heard of Rowling’s remark (perhaps extrapolated) was that she had been too fixed on getting Harry and Hermoine married into the Weasley family.

            I’ve been applauding Leia dumping Han … in a Disney sequel. Now awaiting a Disney-level official sequel a few decades later where Hermoine has dumped Ron. It’s the choice of a new generation of producers!

          • Vorkon says:

            Unless I SERIOUSLY missed something in The Force Awakens, Leia didn’t dump Han. Han ran off on Leia and adopted his old lifestyle, because he couldn’t deal with his feelings of loss over (something that is probably pointless for me to filter as a spoiler, since this entire discussion is a spoiler, but I’m going to anyway because it strikes me as a bigger spoiler, and doesn’t directly relate to the topic at hand) and Leia was mad at him, but perfectly willing to take him back.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Vorkon
            Unless I SERIOUSLY missed something in The Force Awakens, Leia didn’t dump Han. Han ran off on Leia [….]

            Thanks, I stand corrected. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I assumed it was something less dramatic such as her recognizing incompatibility. (Typical Mind Fallacy, as I’ve never understood what she saw in him in the first place.)

          • Vorkon says:

            Oops! Sorry about the spoilers I did include, then!

          • Alex says:

            Ok, you are talking film. When I say Rowling-Hermione, I mean the book. Not because I’m a snob or something but because I simply managed to see not one HP-Film in its entirety.

      • Leit says:

        This thing suffers from the same issue as Shinji and Warhammer 40k – there’s nothing recognizably childlike, or for that matter human, about the character 99% of the time. Then the author suddenly remembers they’re writing a preteen, and goes off into irritating fits of pubescent frustration and crying for ten minutes, after which we’re back to the God-Emperor Ascendant.

        • Alex says:

          IMO this is what Rowling gets brilliantly right. She writes childeren. From seeing others fail at that I have to conclude that it is incredebly hard to do. Seems to get easier once the children reach Katniss Everdeen age, though.

          • Nicholas says:

            If you are not spending a great deal of time around children, and on top of that are not a particularly empathetic person, then the fact that children’s brains are not fully booted up and connected will not be something you really grok deep enough to include in your attribution models.

        • Cord Shirt says:

          That’s actually intentional–there’s a plot-based reason for it.

          This reminds me of another fanfic whose “surprise twist” only worked as a surprise because readers were used to badly-written fanfic, so they mistook clues for bad writing. (I shared it with a friend who wasn’t in the habit of reading fanfic, and she picked up the clues and wasn’t surprised at all.)

          HPMOR’s clues are more carefully done than that; IMO they would work in a published novel. But since HPMOR is fanfic, some people’s prior of “just bad writing” is high enough that when they notice this aspect, they assume it’s…just bad writing.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Can you provide some more evidence / context for this, my immediate thought was that the series was clever but unsubtle with a few legitimately great moments sprinkled in. But the tone and pacing led to me giving up.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            I mean, it’s not, like, Agatha Christie or something. It’s just that Harry’s not *supposed* to be childlike. (Hope I haven’t said too much and spoiled you now.)

            More generally, it’s like I said to Deiseach: IMO it’s best appreciated as an affectionate parody. If you don’t like the pacing, maybe it’s just not for you. OTOH, if you don’t like the tone, I think you might just be interrogating the text from the wrong perspective. 😉

            (By which I mean I’m kind of sorry for poor–was it Anne Rice?–because that “interrogating the text from the wrong perspective” line was painted as “total gibberish that she obviously only came up with because she let herself overreact to the point of insanity,” but actually that phrase does have a legit meaning. Basically means, “You’ve got the wrong idea of where the author’s coming from, so you’re reading in attitude that wasn’t intended.” IOW I actually do think if you dislike the tone you might be assuming arrogance or something on EY’s part that maybe isn’t really there. OTOH I also acknowledge that the whole incident *was* painted as “Anne Rice goes insane over criticism that she should have just let roll off her,” so, like, feel free to disagree about that tone. 😉 )

          • Jiro says:

            “There’s a plot-based reason why Harry is like this” would be a rebuttal to “It is unrealistic for Harry to be like this”, but it is not a rebuttal to “for Harry to be like this is bad storytelling”. Plot-based reasons can be added to explain away most of the tropes of bad fanfic.

            Furthermore, a related problem is not that Harry acts like that, but that Harry successfully acts like that. Lacking tact and acting arrogant in real life will not work, regardless of whether Voldemort’s mind is imprinted on you or not, because the other people around you won’t respond positively to that.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            @Jiro: Good point–I was focusing on Leit’s complaint that Harry was “unchildlike.”

            As for the other issue, I did find the situations plausible enough. But I’m like Eliezer in having a weak “arrogance-detector”. And since I was in the mindset that it was “affectionate parody,” I think I kinda expected it to sacrifice a bit of plausibility for the sake of the parody.

      • Dirdle says:

        The clear moon that had lit up Chiswick had gone down by the time that they passed Battersea, and when they came under the enormous bulk of Westminster day had already begun to break. It broke like the splitting of great bars of lead, showing bars of silver; and these had brightened like white fire when the tug, changing its onward course, turned inward to a large landing stage rather beyond Charing Cross.

        This is dreadful. You’re liking things wrong.

        Seriously, though, you’re not exactly going to like anything I point to as ‘good’ prose. You like rich prose with grandiloquent metaphor; I like fruitcake with strong crumbly cheese. You know? I’m not sure your quote illustrates anything except that your tastes aren’t compatible with Yudkowsky’s works. Oh well, better luck next time, etc. Uh, this really shouldn’t need saying but usually does: that’s okay! Not liking things is fine. Even if everyone else seems to and it doesn’t make any sense! They’re neither too dull to know better nor too smart for you to appreciate the subtleties. They just like other things. That’s how it should be.

        Though, while we’re discussing matters of pure taste: pizza. The world has mostly united on the side of good taste and decorum, against pineapple. The stragglers on the matter are at this point simply irredeemable. Therefore, we should move on to the next crusade: sweetcorn. A poor choice of vegetable even in the best of contexts, sweetcorn’s combination of weak flavour, starchy heaviness and crunchy texture make it unsuitable for continued use as a topping. It should be discontinued with all possible haste.

        • Deiseach says:

          Seriously, though, you’re not exactly going to like anything I point to as ‘good’ prose.

          ” ‘Each to his own taste’, as the old woman said when she kissed the cow” 🙂

          Well, take for example the sample chapter seventeen given to me as “if you don’t like this, then it’s definitely not for you.”

          What I took away from it was that Harry Stu (sorry, but he is) was tremendously excited about something apparently world-shaking in its import. Doubtless had I read all sixteen chapters leading up to this, I too would know what it was all about and why this was so exciting. Given that I hadn’t, I didn’t, and I didn’t care.

          This was very obviously a simplified and easy walk you through it step by step version, the Idiot’s Guide to – whatever it was – and yet it was still obscure. This was one of the few times when an “As you know, Bob” infodump would have been helpful and narratively necessary. A simple “‘What are you so excited about, Potter-Evans-Verres?” said Anthony Goldsmith as he handed over the parchment” and Harry explaining it would have helped me, the idiot reader (and this is where the absence of a beta reader is clear: their job is to point out things like that).

          Instead we got Harry with two pieces of paper, on one of which he wrote something, on the other of which something was written. Depending what was written on the second, he would then write something else on the first. If it was one thing, he would write this; if it was another thing, he would write that. Either way, this was going to be hugely significant for some reason or other.

          The eye-crossing tedium of this, and it only took up a couple of paragraphs, was excruciating for me and I, my dear ones, have read Departmental (as in Department of Education and Department of the Environment national government) circulars and Statutory Instruments for my day jobs, in which I get to revel in such gems of deathless prose as

          (ii) “house” includes any building or part of a building used or suitable for use as a dwelling and any outoffice, yard, garden or other land appurtenant thereto or usually enjoyed therewith,

          and I have the happy joyful task of working out what constitutes “moral overcrowding” when processing social housing applications where the applicant has three children of different genders and varying ages, one or more coming up to the cut-off age of ten.

          As Baby’s First Primer Of Rationality, it may be the bees’ knees. As anything approaching fanfiction, much less “the best-written thing I’ve ever read” – well, silence is best in this instance 🙂

          • Nicholas says:

            In the event you care, but didn’t look it up:
            It’s a time travel joke, about a somewhat famous philosopher’s essay. The slap to the head message of the letter at the end is that Harry almost destroyed all of the universes in the multiverse by self-destructing his time machine. For a laugh, based on a math thought-experiment.
            You’re supposed to laugh at him, not with him.
            ETA: When the work was originally posted, Elizer would include an author’s note that was basically an out of universe As You Know, explaining all of the puns and math references and physics jokes. To my knowledge all of them were deleted when he changed hosts. Reading the note first and the actual work second made several chapters more enjoyable to read.

        • roystgnr says:

          That passage didn’t even qualify as “grandiloquent metaphor”. Metaphors relate two things, but “lead bars which might have silver bars inside and I guess the silver catches on fire for some reason” doesn’t qualify as a “thing”. It could take the silver medal (or possibly a lead plated inflammable silver medal?) behind “colorless green ideas sleeping furiously” as an archetype of a grammatically legal but semantically nonsensical phrase.

          It’s as if someone heard how people rave about “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” but didn’t realize that the humor in such a comparison has to be *intentional*.

          • Nicholas says:

            As far as I can tell, the image is supposed to be that a bar of pure lead is kind of dull on the outside, but shiny on the inside, so if you broke one in half it’d be sort of silver colored. I can’t tell if the white fire is also a reference to metallurgy, or just an entire second metaphor in the same sentence.

          • I strongly suspect, on stylistic grounds, that the passage quoted is by Chesterton.

          • Agronomous says:

            @David Friedman:

            Generation gap: I just Googled it, and would have been surprised not to find out by that means where it originated. I wonder what’s on the other side of the generation gap between me and my teenage son….

            Good ear, though: it’s from The Man Who Was Thursday.

          • I didn’t Google it.

            That would be cheating.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        “I am beginning to worry about rationalists”

        Correctly so, by my lights. Liking something like HPMOR is a ton of evidence about the “type of person.”

      • Tracy W says:

        I think this is just one of those things where tastes differ. For me, I just don’t get along with Dickens’s writing. Great plotting, writing (to me) as dry as dust.

        • Vorkon says:

          Strangely, just the other day I had a whole discussion with a friend where I compared HPMOR to Dickens: Both have great individual bits, but are marred by the fact that the writer was writing in a serialized format, which screwed the pacing all up.

      • Vorkon says:

        Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to look up specific passages, but for what it’s worth, I found pretty much any part where the plot involved Dementors to involve some wonderfully evocative writing, which did a great job of capturing how terrifying they truly are. It wasn’t all just oppressive grimdarkness, though; the scene where Harry finally learns the Patronus charm, while still rather preachy in a very Yudkowsy-esque way, was preachy on a more emotional level than his usual intellectual lecturing. It dealt with WHY he believes the things he does, rather than just WHAT he believes, and I found the entire sequence extremely uplifting.

        Speaking of which, earlier somebody described Hermione’s trial as having a large impact on them. Part of the reason for this was the characterization of Hermione, of course, but I’d say another big part of it was also the fact that he’d previously done such a good job getting across how horrible a stay in Azkaban would be, so it made the fact that a character we know and love might just be faced with it all that much more impactful.

        Also, I found a lot of the jokes very funny. Honestly, I think this is the biggest factor in whether or not someone will enjoy HPMOR, and senses of humor are wildly variable, so I can totally understand why a person might not like it.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I thought Harry’s Patronus was the worst part of the whole thing. Oh boy, I get to read a story where the protagonist gets superpowers from agreeing with the author’s politics. *jerking off motion*

          • Vorkon says:

            Oh, it was certainly heavy-handed, no doubt about that. But if you’ve gotten that far into the story, you need to be the sort of person who can brush off some heavy-handedness, or else why on earth have you wasted so much time on it already?

            It was still a well-written and evocative scene, though, unlike much of the rest of the heavy-handed preaching Harry/Yudkowsky does throughout the story.

          • blacktrance says:

            That’s how didactic fiction works. If you don’t like it, it may not be for you.

        • Leit says:

          I’m finding the fic uproariously funny, but mostly because the main character is a blithering idiot who genuinely mistakes misanthropy for intelligence.

          Unfortunately, the scenes where his “genius” is played straight ruin the effect entirely.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        I like HPMOR, but it’s not the kind of writing that focuses on painting highly visual pictures or creating original metaphors. It’s affectionate parody.

        (I only discovered it *after* having read the sequences, so…for me it’s not “didactic fiction,” it’s, “What if somebody tried to apply these things, things that we already know and like, to the HP universe?” That aspect just adds to the affectionate parody for me.)

        BTW, you asked for things that made us laugh…from the chapter The Smoke linked, this right here from the beginning made me laugh:

        Harry had just had an idea for a truly brilliant experimental test.

        It would mean waiting an extra hour for breakfast, but that was why he had cereal bars.

        This made me laugh in affectionate recognition of that personality type.

        Same with this:

        There couldn’t possibly be anything he could master on the first try which would baffle Hermione, and if there was and it turned out to be broomstick riding instead of anything intellectual, Harry would just die.

        Ahaha. Listen, Harry, it’s the world’s tiniest violin. 🙂

        BTW2, I disagreed with your interpretation of EY’s original fic that people were discussing earlier, but I didn’t have time to write about it then…I’ll go off and post about it now…here.

      • J Mann says:

        I’m several chapters in, and I think it’s the best fan fic I’ve ever read, with all that statement implies. Harry is coming across as an insufferable mix of the most annoying qualities of grad student Richard Feynman, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, and Peter Wiggin, but every other character has been retuned in a fascinating way.

        And on that, to your original challenge – Draco: “like Father says, there may be four houses, but in the end everyone belongs to either Slytherin or Hufflepuff.”

        It’s not poetry, but I loved it all the same.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        The Madam Malkin’s scene in chapter 5 of Methods is usually considered to be the funniest part the work. For a serious passage, try the stargazing scene from chapter 20, best read with “Sphere of Stars” in the background:

        “Is there any sort of science you do approve of?” said Harry. “Medicine, maybe?”

        “Space travel,” said Professor Quirrell. “But the Muggles seem to be dragging their feet on the one project which might have let wizardkind escape this planet before they blow it up.”

        Harry nodded. “I’m a big fan of the space program too. At least we have that much in common.”

        Professor Quirrell looked at Harry. Something flickered in the professor’s eyes. “I will have your word, your promise and your oath never to speak of what follows.”

        “You have it,” Harry said immediately.

        “See to it that you keep your oath or you will not like the results,” said Professor Quirrell. “I will now cast a rare and powerful spell, not on you, but on the classroom around us. Stand still, so that you do not touch the boundaries of the spell once it has been cast. You must not interact with the magic which I am maintaining. Look only. Otherwise I will end the spell.” Professor Quirrell paused. “And try not to fall over.”

        Harry nodded, puzzled and anticipatory.

        Professor Quirrell raised his wand and said something that Harry’s ears and mind couldn’t grasp at all, words that bypassed awareness and vanished into oblivion.

        The marble in a short radius around Harry’s feet stayed constant. All the other marble of the floor vanished, the walls and ceilings vanished.

        Harry stood on a small circle of white marble in the midst of an endless field of stars, burning terribly bright and unwavering. There was no Earth, no Moon, no Sun that Harry recognized. Professor Quirrell stood in the same place as before, floating in the midst of the starfield. The Milky Way was already visible as a great wash of light and it grew brighter as Harry’s vision adjusted to the darkness.

        The sight wrenched at Harry’s heart like nothing he had ever seen.

        “Are we… in space…?”

        “No,” said Professor Quirrell. His voice was sad, and reverent. “But it is a true image.”

        Tears came into Harry’s eyes. He wiped them away frantically, he would not miss this for some stupid water blurring his vision.

        The stars were no longer tiny jewels set in a giant velvet dome, as they were in the night sky of Earth. Here there was no sky above, no surrounding sphere. Only points of perfect light against perfect blackness, an infinite and empty void with countless tiny holes through which shone the brilliance from some unimaginable realm beyond.

        In space, the stars looked terribly, terribly, terribly far away.

        Harry kept on wiping his eyes, over and over.

        “Sometimes,” Professor Quirrell said in a voice so quiet it almost wasn’t there, “when this flawed world seems unusually hateful, I wonder whether there might be some other place, far away, where I should have been. I cannot seem to imagine what that place might be, and if I can’t even imagine it then how can I believe it exists? And yet the universe is so very, very wide, and perhaps it might exist anyway? But the stars are so very, very far away. It would take a long, long time to get there, even if I knew the way. And I wonder what I would dream about, if I slept for a long, long time…”

        Though it felt like sacrilege, Harry managed a whisper. “Please let me stay here awhile.”

        Professor Quirrell nodded, where he stood unsupported against the stars.

        It was easy to forget the small circle of marble on which you stood, and your own body, and become a point of awareness which might have been still, or might have been moving. With all distances incalculable there was no way to tell.

        There was a time of no time.

        And then the stars vanished, and the classroom returned.

        “I’m sorry,” said Professor Quirrell, “but we’re about to have company.”

        “It’s fine,” Harry whispered. “It was enough.” He would never forget this day, and not because of the unimportant things that had happened earlier. He would learn how to cast that spell if it was the last thing he ever learned.

        And then there is also this scene from chapter 47:

        “You know,” Harry’s voice said quietly from beside him where his arms leaned on the railing next to Draco’s, “one of the things that Muggles get really wrong, is that they don’t turn all their lights out at night. Not even for one hour every month, not even for fifteen minutes once a year. The photons scatter in the atmosphere and wash out all but the brightest stars, and the night sky doesn’t look the same at all, not unless you go far away from any cities. Once you’ve looked up at the sky over Hogwarts, it’s hard to imagine living in a Muggle city, where you wouldn’t be able to see the stars. You certainly wouldn’t want to spend your whole life in Muggle cities, once you’d seen the night sky over Hogwarts.”

        Draco glanced at Harry, and found that Harry was craning his neck to stare up at where the Milky Way arched across the darkness.

        “Of course,” Harry went on, his voice still quiet, “you can’t ever see the stars properly from Earth, either, the air always gets in the way. You have to look from somewhere else, if you want to see the real thing, the stars burning hard and bright, like their true selves. Have you ever wished that you could just whisk yourself up into the night sky, Draco, and go look at what there is to see around other Suns than ours? If there were no limit to the power of your magic, is that one of the things you would do, if you could do anything?”

        There was a silence, and then Draco realized that he was expected to answer. “I didn’t think of it before,” Draco said. Without any conscious decision, his voice came out as soft and hushed as Harry’s. “Do you really think anyone would ever be able to do that?”

        “I don’t think it’ll be that easy,” said Harry. “But I know I don’t mean to spend my whole life on Earth.”

        It would have been something to laugh at, if Draco hadn’t known that some Muggles had already left, without even using magic.

        “To pass your test,” Harry said, “I’m going to have to say what it means to me, that thought, the whole thing, not the shorter version I tried to explain to you before. But you should be able to see it’s the same idea, only more general. So my version of the thought, Draco, is that when we go out into the stars, we might find other people there. And if so, they certainly won’t look like we do. There might be things out there that are grown from crystal, or big pulsating blobs… or they might be made of magic, now that I think about it. So with all that strangeness, how do you recognize a person? Not by the shape, not by how many arms or legs it has. Not by the sort of substance it’s made out of, whether that’s flesh or crystal or stuff I can’t imagine. You would have to recognize them as people from their minds. And even their minds wouldn’t work just like ours do. But anything that lives and thinks and knows itself and doesn’t want to die, it’s sad, Draco, it’s sad if that person has to die, because it doesn’t want to. Compared to what might be out there, every human being who ever lived, we’re all like brothers and sisters, you could hardly even tell us apart. The ones out there who met us, they wouldn’t see British or French, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, they’d just see a human being. Humans who can love, and hate, and laugh, and cry; and to them, the ones out there, that would make us all as alike as peas in the same pod. They would be different, though. Really different. But that wouldn’t stop us, and it wouldn’t stop them, if we both wanted to be friends together.”

        Harry raised his wand then, and Draco turned, and looked away, as he had promised; looked toward the stone floor and stone wall in which the door was set. For Draco had promised not to look, and not to tell anyone of what Harry had said, or anything at all of what happened here this night, though he didn’t know why it was to be so secret.

        “I have a dream,” said Harry’s voice, “that one day sentient beings will be judged by the patterns of their minds, and not their color or their shape or the stuff they’re made of, or who their parents were. Because if we can get along with crystal things someday, how silly would it be not to get along with Muggleborns, who are shaped like us, and think like us, as alike to us as peas in a pod? The crystal things wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. How impossible is it to imagine that the hatred poisoning Slytherin House would be worth taking with us to the stars? Every life is precious, everything that thinks and knows itself and doesn’t want to die. Lily Potter’s life was precious, and Narcissa Malfoy’s life was precious, even though it’s too late for them now, it was sad when they died. But there are other lives that are still alive to be fought for. Your life, and my life, and Hermione Granger’s life, all the lives of Earth, and all the lives beyond, to be defended and protected, EXPECTO PATRONUM!

        And there was light.

    • J Mann says:

      I think Quirrell is overselling the killing curse. As Harry showed, Expelliarmus is remarkably effective. (Yes, your opponent might have another wand or other weapons, but once you remove the first wand, he or she is pretty much at your mercy for binding or sleep charms).

    • Marcel Müller says:

      I think initiative might be a related concept. If you are faced with a single human attacker who does not maintain distance you can strike more quickly than he can react no matter the strenght differential or weapons involved due to human reaction time (if you know what you are doing, since it is extermely difficult not to show your intent). A single well executed strike to head, throat or solar plexus will most likely take everyone down if there is no reaction before the strike hits. This is crucial, since any reaction like flinching backwards and bracing yourself may take enough force out of the attack to prevent a one hit takedown.

      Note that this also works for the attacker. If someone walks up to you and strikes without telegraphing in advance (difficult) you do not stand a chance no matter your training, weapons, whatever.

      Source: I (1,95m, 100kg) have been on the receiving end of the latter case of this twice. Both times the attacker was much smaller and weaker than I am and both times were instant takedowns.

  6. Zippy says:

    Madoka Magica is a great anime. I highly recommend it. It’s only 12 half-hour episodes, so you can probably muster the time to watch it. I also noticed striking similarities between Madoka Kaname and Scott; they’re both the kindest person ever, they both regularly interact very personably with assholes because they believe every person has worth, and they’re both magical girls.

    Furthermore, compare the following quote by Madoka to The Lottery of Fascinations and The Parable Of The Talents:

    Well…there’s nothing special about me…I’ve never been good at school and I’ve never had any talents…I’m scared that this is the way my life’s gonna stay. Always asking for help and not being able to help when people need it…I can’t stand thinking about it […] I might not be good at anything, but if I could help out people like you, I could be proud of the way I live. That’s the best thing I could wish for.

    It’s uncanny.

    • anon says:

      Did you watch Madoka as it was airing? I did and I loved it, but having recommended it to several people I think a big part of the charm came from having a week to think about each episode and discuss it with others, and watching it after the fact (and in bulk) doesn’t work. I think Haruhi is another show of this type, except there I’m on the other side – I watched it way after it aired, and saw all episodes in the span of 2-3 days, and disliked it for it.

      • Zippy says:

        I did not, but I did watch it over the course of a couple of weeks, and I think that might have contributed to my appreciation of it; my friends who watched it all at once seemed too tired to really appreciate it by the end.

        (I find it mildly spooky that the final episodes were delayed by a natural disaster during the original airing.)

      • Nornagest says:

        I binge-watched it on Netflix, and I still hold it in high esteem.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Likewise. Madoika is extremely fantastic, and I don’t think binging it hurts the quality at all.

      • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

        I saw the first season of Haruhi all at once, but watched season 2 week by week with /a/ as it came out.

        Oh boy, was that a trip!

        • András Kovács says:

          Has there ever been a greater trolling event in the history of television? There might be some that I don’t know of.

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            I’m still convinced that there should be an art museum exhibit where they just play Endless Eight on loop.

      • Protagoras says:

        I binge watched Madoka, and as far as I can tell that didn’t ruin the experience for me. Though it certainly is one that it’s especially fun to discuss with others. I also binge-watched Haruhi, and I think you may have a point there, though the bits that seemed over-done or that dragged might still have annoyed me even if I were watching just one episode a week (though I also think Haruhi has enough good points to make up for the flaws).

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        Maybe I’m just too much of a contrarian, but watching it live while discussing it with people almost killed my enjoyment of it.

        • Nicholas says:

          I think the prescription is to watch, then talk, then watch, then talk, not to let people talk during the show.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ve been reading a Madoka fan-fic lately. It’s not my usual fare but pretty good.

      • anon says:

        It’s impossible to sort out the great fanfics from the decent ones without reading for an hour or a couple, so I really appreciate your recommendation.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          This. Rationalist-recommended fanfic has provided me with a great deal of enjoyment lately, and I have actually actively been looking for more in the last few weeks. Does anyone know of a list of recommended fic, incidentally?

          • You can check out my Favorites on FanFiction.Net – I recommend starting by searching through the list for a completed fanfiction of a work you have read/watched. The ~350 completed fics in that list may seem like a lot, but I do try to be selective – my less-liked stories are shunted to “Rory’s semifavorites”.

            Here are a few stories from that list you might like, if choosing one is too difficult: The Best Revenge for Harry Potter, Hogyoku ex Machina for Bleach, and In Flight which can be read without having seen Fate/stay night and Sekirei.

            A good rationalist Naruto fanfiction not published on FFN is The Waves Arisen by Wertifloke, mentioned upthread. I reread it yesterday and it was still quite interesting.

            If you are okay with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction, you can also check out my 9 Top Favorites on FIMFiction. In particular, Friendship is Optimal, a story exploring AI, doesn’t require knowledge of the show.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            haha, late replies are best!

            Read Waves Arisen a couple weeks back, when someone mentioned in here that they didn’t like it. I enjoyed it pretty okay, kinda wish it hadn’t stopped when it did. Friendship Is Optimal I devoured probably a year ago, and man if that wasn’t an amazing story.

            The rest are new to me, and thank you for them!

      • Zippy says:

        Neat. Does this imply that you’ve seen Madoka Magica proper? What did you think of it?

        I’m told the quintessential rationalist Madoka fanfic is To the Stars. I have not read it.

        • Anonymous says:

          To The Stars is long and ongoing, but does a great job of blending magical girls with classic space opera.

          (To answer anon’s speculation, I watched Madoka all at once and loved it.)

      • András Kovács says:

        I also really like Fargo. It’s a bit like Worm in the way that it’s also a not-quite-YA horror-action urban fantasy with hardass young female protagonists, but I found it leaner, meaner and generally funnier (mostly black humor with bits of the absurd). Interestingly, after all the large amount of scheming and strategizing I’ve lately encountered in fiction it’s refreshing that in Fargo the protagonist isn’t a tactical genius or even particularly smart.

    • BBA says:

      Probably better if you’re acquainted with the genre (“Sailor Moon” is the best-known example stateside) so you have a sense of what it is that’s going horribly wrong.

    • xyz says:

      Indeed it is! I appreciate it especially for pointing out the most awesome feature of being alive: The world is what you make it, and most of the time you are limited only by your imagination, because magic (err science) is real and humans are its stewards.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Madoka Magica is a great anime, but very much an anime fan’s anime, and not recommended for people newer to the genre.

      More casual fans might enjoy Death Note, which bears some relation to the politics this blog sometimes engages with.

      • Dirdle says:

        Odd – people said that about (e.g.) Evangelion & TTGL: that is, that you can’t really appreciate them without watching decahours of classic mecha shows. But actually, you totally can. Certainly not as much, but it’s not hard either – they’re good shows as well as deconstructions/reconstructions/parodies/love-letters. Or, it’s harder to understand what the heck’s going on in Kara no Kyoukai without familiarity with the wider Nasuverse canon, but I’d still recommend it as a starting-point because they’re really great movies on multiple levels and the understanding isn’t worth slogging through the Fate/* stuff for. It’s probably more fun to just hack together your own interpretation anyway.

        Take this with a grain of salt, though – I never watched Madoka and have ended up osmosing some (all?) of the major plot points instead. A foolish mistake, in retrospect.

        • suntzuanime says:

          The new Fate/* shows are really good though, and totally accessible to newcomers. (And the original VN is a modern classic of world literature, but you can hardly expect someone to play it.)

          And honestly, if you’re watching Eva or Guren Lagann without some basic familiarity with the genre they’re riffing on, you’re doing it wrong. You might still enjoy yourself, the same way a lot of people enjoyed Forrest Gump because it had a funny retard in it, but I can’t sanction that sort of thing.

          • Anonymous says:

            I was able to appreciate some (but not all) of the deconstructive aspects of Eva even without having seen any anime at all before – it just takes some inferential ability.

            (Partly because some of what Eva’s taking apart are universal tropes like the kid hero who wants to save the world and can do it too, partly because ‘oh they’re emphasizing some explanation that would normally be glossed over in an action sci-fi series’ or ‘they’re treating emotional reactions to things more realistically than a typical action story’ are easy enough for an observant viewer to notice).

          • Maware says:

            Some of the deconstruction elements are subtle though. If you weren’t watching robot anime before, the idea of bio-organic anime (the EVA has teeth!) was completely original and out of left field. EVA as far as I know was the trope codifier for that. The original design of the prog knife is a box cutter, a really insane touch that hits home you are having kids fight, cause that’s what they use. The reboot got rid of that.

        • Russell Hogg says:

          And you can’t really beat Stein’s Gate IMHO at least . . .

        • Maware says:

          It’s actually better if you don’t watch robot shows when watching TTGL, because it becomes a lot worse and less creative. It HEAVILY rips off of Getter Robo-Spiral Energy is literally a cut and paste of the Getter Beams, and GR had the whole idea of supermassive mecha (Getter Emporer) first. The drills owe a bit to King of Braves Gaogaigar, as well as the whole “courage powers everything.”

          Eva though is such an excellent deconstruction it escapes that.

          edit: Also, if you like TTGL, Martian Successor Nadeisco is a wonderful deconstruction in the same lines that predated it, and is also very hilarious. TTGL also ripped it off too, but that involves spoilers.

      • Anonymous says:

        I feel like people in the rational-sphere (ie people with high IQ and high Openness) are less likely to need to be “eased into” anime than Joe Random, who might be better starting out with Cowboy Bebop. And aside from the character designs, it’s not like MM is super heavy on anime tropes that outsiders might find awkward – ie it’s not like recommending Bakemonogatari to a newbie.

        (Personally my first anime was Evangelion and I loved it).

        • Maware says:

          Shaft isn’t really anime tropes, it’s Shaft tropes, and even many anime fans don’t like them. A lot of their style currently tends to be more due to cost reduction than anything. Compare Kagerou Daze or Nisekoi to Moon Phase Tsukuyomi. The latter has an actual budget, so you get far less of the scratchy storyboards, black screens filled with text, etc.

          (Sorry, i tend to have many opinions on anime out of love of the genre.)

        • Bugmaster says:

          I guess I must have an even lower IQ than I thought, because IMO Cowboy Bebop was great. It’s a totally different anime as compared to EVA or Lain, but “different” doesn’t mean “bad”. Cowboy Bebop handles story and character development in a way that these other animes simply cannot, due to the way they’re structured.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Don’t worry, we can have our own low-IQ, entry-level-loving anime club. We’ll discuss which version of FMA is better and whether Monster or LotGH is the best series ever.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I get the impression that LotGH is far above entry-level. Also, it shows you how much I know: I have never heard of Monster.

            My level is, like, Dragonball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, Inuyasha, Gundam Seed, and Death Note. I guess the latter two are (relatively) more cerebral. I watched the first three as a kid/teenager.

            I did like gwern‘s summation of Death Note: a show about how, even when given the perfect murder weapon, someone is still stupid enough to screw it up and get caught.

            I am currently watching Rose of Versailles, which I like so far.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            LotGH and Monster are weird cases, I’ll admit.

            The thing is that, while they’re not very well known to non-anime-fans, due to their subject matter, presentation, etc. they have a wider appeal than more specifically genre series.

          • suntzuanime says:

            There’s no need to be defensive. The point about “accessible” anime is that everyone can enjoy them, both clueless newbies and anime veteran supergods, so enjoying them doesn’t actually say much of anything about you. I liked Cowboy Bebop; for my money it’s better than Eva or Lain.

            Now the absolute best anime is unlikely to be the absolute most accessible anime, just because you can only maximize one variable. But there’s plenty of room to enjoy anime that’s not the absolute best.

          • Mark says:

            Berserk is the best anime ever.

            Put your glasses on.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Yes…no one I showed Madoka too even remotely enjoyed the show, though Madoka ranks as one of my favorite shows/movies/books/etc. of all time.

        My Wife absolutely loved Code Geass, which I did not expect. She’s normally a Disney-and-RomCom kind of girl.

      • blacktrance says:

        On one hand, it seems that way to me too, but on the other hand, my girlfriend really liked Madoka despite not having watched much anime previously. And there’s not much good magical girl anime to ease someone into Madoka. (Maybe Nanoha? But it’s not that great.)

        • Leonhart says:

          There’s Card Captor Sakura, which besides being brilliant in its own right (I still listen to the OSTs) is I think one of PMMM’s explicit models. Kyubey’s design echoes Keroberos’, the introduction of Madoka’s home and parent struck me as a deliberate reflection of Sakura’s; and Homura is nothing more or less than Grimdark Tomoyo.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Depending on how much you’re willing to stretch your definition, there’s also Magic Knight Rayearth and Princess Tutu (Princess Tutu is better than Madoka, IMO).

          • blacktrance says:

            CCS is rather long and IMO too slow-paced.

          • jeorgun says:

            Princess Tutu is one of my favorite *things* ever, but it’s also incredibly hard to recommend to people, since there aren’t any obvious draws like there are with Madoka.

            Speaking of weird, vaguely-within-the-magical-girl-genre, how about Revolutionary Girl Utena?

          • Nornagest says:

            Utena is hella good, but it’s not quite a magical-girl story. It’s also deconstructive in a lot of ways that you’ll miss if you’re not already familiar with shoujo anime.

            It’s probably worth watching even if you’re not, though.

            I liked Madoka better than Princess Tutu, but I did like Princess Tutu.

    • Maware says:

      Madoka is a bit overrated. Shadow Star Narutaru essentially did what it did far earlier, and without the needless Faustian abstractions. It’s also much more brutal about the realism of power corrupting, and probably harder to watch. Madoka is essentially cosmic horror, but Narutaru is real horror. What happens when you give the average teen an indestructible pokemon? In Pokemon it’s fine, but when teens bully or abuse each other, or you grow up with abuse from your parents, or you’re crazy drunk with power…

      Also, in manga, if you like Madoka, Alien Nine is a wonderfully insane take on the idea of pokemon. A tremendous deconstruction of “gotta catch em all,” as three young girls take part in an after school alien fighting club. They team up with their “mon,” a frog-like winged animal that they wear as helmets, as they capture aliens that wind up in their school to cause trouble. But the program has a purpose, and there’s a shattering cost to being an alien fighter.

      Alien Nine has an anime, but it’s brief and ends just as the series gets good. Even then though there’s nightmarish images aplenty. Very unnerving, especially with the subtext about how you change as you go through the teen years.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        >Madoka is a bit overrated.

        It’s impossible to not be overrated when you’re a lovechild of the holy trifecta of anime overratedness: Shinbo directing, Urobuchi writing and Kajiura soundtrack.

        I try not to hold it against the show.

        • Maware says:

          At least it’s legitimately good. It just seems to be lauded a bit too much. There’s some anime I can’t even fathom why it’s as popular as it is. Akame Ga Kill for american viewers, Terraformars for the JP.

      • Nornagest says:

        Honestly, the Faustian themes were my favorite part. But I like Faust.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I have not seen Madoka, but I’d like to chime in with my +1 for Narutaru (a.k.a. Shadow Star).

        The first episode of the show introduces us to the protagonist: a young high school girl who is visiting her grandparents, has a fun day at the beach, and meets a cute little star-shaped critter buddy. It’s all pretty fun and lighthearted. It is also absolutely the last lighthearted episode of the show. From that point on, there’s nothing but an exponential downhill slope into the configuration spaces of unimaginable power, unwinnable scenarios, personal sacrifice, death, madness, and the end of the world. Human minds — not even children’s minds — were not made to endure the pitiless, rational calculus that is required for survival in the new world of their own making. Some break early. Some are not as lucky…

    • Error says:

      My partner and I saw its U.S. premiere — at Otakon, I think. It was only the first few episodes.

      …you can guess where they stopped.

      Yeah, we picked it up and binged the rest of it as soon as the bluray was available. One of my favorite shows ever.

    • Ant says:

      On the good magical girl series, I recommend the webcomic Magical 12th Graders:

      The heroine tend to choose the easy/blunt way out for better or worse (see the short prologue for linked above for a good example).
      There is good tragedy in there
      It’s a good view of the worst aspect of the Korean education system.

    • Rowan says:

      “striking similarities between Madoka Kaname and Scott”

      I never realised how much I needed fanart of our host in a frilly pink dress.

  7. anon says:

    *reign of terror intensifies*

  8. Bakkot says:

    > Thanks to Bakkot (I assume, but maybe someone else) for improving the comment highlighting function. It no longer resets every time you post a comment!

    Yeah, that was me. It’s a bit hacky, but seems to do the job.

    Although one or two people have said it does not work or stopped working for them. I’m looking for more details on that from anyone having issues – in particular, is your internet just really slow? (It won’t work if the page takes more than 2 minutes to load.) Are you opening the page again in the meantime? (It’s just using the most recent threshold, so if you open the page again, e.g. in a background tab, this will reset the threshold and when you reply you will see that instead.) Are you posting several comments in a row? (I don’t think this will cause issues, but I’m not sure.)

    As always, suggestions for improvement are welcomed, though I’m pretty conservative with UI changes.

    • Bakkot says:

      Have you tried this since, say, mid-November? There used to be this awful script WordPress included which tended to hang low-power devices, but it’s been removed for months, and I haven’t had any problems loading SSC on my fairly old Android phone since then.

    • I’ve had the “don’t reset the new comment list” thing fail and work in the past day or so. Both happened on the same laptop. I don’t know whether it matters, but I use Chrome.

      Edited to add: It just worked three times in a row. Maybe it’s become stable for me.

    • MugaSofer says:

      I’ve noticed that it resets to the *original* time I had on first loading the page. If I’m going through the comments by advancing the “since” function, this is largely the same as resetting it to any other number.

      Still, it’s nice that it doesn’t immediately fail.

      • Bakkot says:

        Should now be fixed, hopefully. Out of curiosity, what do you mean by “going through the comments by advancing the “since” function”? Are you just advancing it hour-by-hour and seeing what’s new, or…?

    • It stopped working for me at some point this evening. After that, every time I posted a comment, the date/time reset. It didn’t reset to the current time, however. The number of comments it showed since the time went from four hundred some down to one hundred some.

      • But it didn’t reset after that comment. I had left SSC and come back before making it.

      • Bakkot says:

        The behavior you describe is consistent with you having opened the page in another window while also remaining on this one, since when you post a comment the new page uses your most recent threshold, which is not necessarily the one the page you posted from was using. Do you think you might have done that? If you’re certain you didn’t, then there’s some other bug.

        I’ve just changed it to use whatever threshold was on the page when you posted, which might fix your issue once it finishes propagating (if indeed it’s caused by opening the page somewhere in the background).

        • It’s doing it again this morning, now going to a very few comments since, so presumably resetting the time to almost the present.

          I don’t think I’ve opened the page in another window. I sometimes click on a link in someone’s comment, then use the back arrow to get back to SSC. I’ll try to watch to see if that’s connected–but once the problem exists, it persists.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Is there any way to include a list of clickable markup tags? Like the ones on reddit or Econlog.

      This is my number-one feature request. Even better if they are connected to keyboard shortcuts.

      • Bakkot says:

        Yeah, I think I can make this happen when I get a spare hour or two, although I’m not sure if I’ll make shortcuts (I assume you want C-i to insert the italic tag, etc?).

        I’m trying to decide how they’ll look UI-wise. Most obvious way would be something like this.

  9. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So, Kurt Godel believed there was a conspiracy to suppress the works of Leibniz. See:
    That’s a pretty extreme belief, but I wonder if philosophy has been in a cul-de-sac from Kant onward because he rejected the incomplete corpus of Leibnizian rationalism available as a “dogmatic slumber”.
    Could one of the best ways to advance human rationality actually be hidden in old manuscripts?

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Almost certainly not. Don’t let the name fool you, the “rationalism” found in these parts bears almost no resemblance to anything Descartes, Spinoza, or Leibniz ever said. What’s more, professional philosophy has lately seen a revival of aprioristic metaphysics ostensibly underwritten by some faculty of rational intuition, far closer to the views of the old-timey rationalists than is the watered-down positivism advocated by Yudkowsky and company. It is also false both that Kant trapped philosophy in any sort of cul-de-sac — he could not have, because his influence outside of ethics has waned to basically nil over the last century– and (more controversially) that philosophy is stuck in any sort of cul-de-sac at all.

      • Nornagest says:

        “Rationalism” is kind of an unfortunate name. The philosophy ’round these parts bears a lot more resemblance to the empiricist tradition.

      • Samedi says:

        I think there is a strong case to be made that philosophy’s usefulness is largely over. I think that the scientific method has fully replaced philosophy as the best means for acquiring knowledge. But then again I enjoy the works of Daniel Dennett so perhaps philosophy still has some role to play–just not its original one.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          This is absolute nonsense. It’s just a category error.

          They study different subject matter.

          It’s like saying “Yeah, I think recently physics has fully replaced mathematics.” No. That is not possible. They study different things, and moreover the practice of modern physics is extremely dependent on background mathematical knowledge. The only way for physics to “replace” mathematics would be if physicists decided to abandon mathematics altogether and ceased making quantitative predictions.

          Physics can give you equations to plug in and make predictions, but insofar as you start asking what the findings mean, you’re doing philosophy of science. And of course your interpretation of philosophy in general is going to influence how you apply it to the field of science.

          The influence e.g. of Spinozistic rationalism on Einstein’s interpretation of relativity, or of positivism on the Copenhagen interpretation of quantium mechanics, is enormous and undeniable.

          • Creutzer says:

            Quantum mechanics is the go-to example for people who want to say that philosophy is relevant for science. But name one more. Virtually all of the time, science gets on fine without philosophers studying a frequently non-existent subject matter (or semi-competently studying a subject matter that is, in fact, the object of a particular science – happens a lot with linguistics).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Creutzer:

            I did name another one in that very post: relativity theory.

            Going back further, Newton, Leibniz, and the dispute over absolute space.

            Ernst Mach and the dismissal of the atomic theory of matter as incompatible with positivism.

            In fact, you name an example of an area of physics that doesn’t imply any particular philosophic views, and I’ll tell you how it does.

            Virtually all of the time, science gets on fine without philosophers studying a frequently non-existent subject matter.

            It’s unclear what this even means. Do scientists claim to know things? Do they claim to be making statements about existence? Yes, they do.

            Well, philosophy includes epistemology, which studies how it’s possible to know things. And it includes metaphysics, which studies the basic nature of existence. If scientists don’t have an explicit theory of epistemology and metaphysics, they have an implicit one.

            At least it’s conceivable to see how physicists could reject mathematics. They’d have to redo almost everything, but there would still be something left. But what in the world would be left if they consciously avoided discussion of any topic on which philosophy had any bearing?

            I suppose: “numbers go in the equation, numbers come out; you can’t explain that.”

            Philosophy, as a subject, is not the same as “whatever they do in philosophy departments”. To say that it wouldn’t be too huge of a loss if philosophy departments were eliminated is not the same as saying philosophy is useless. It means you think the particular style of philosophy currently dominant is useless.

            Edit: it’s really weird how “philosophy” lined up five times in a row in that last paragraph.

          • Urstoff says:

            Questions about philosophy’s usefulness really seem to miss the point for me. I don’t really care if philosophy is useful in any sense. I think it’s interesting, and people who are concerned about claiming knowledge about the world probably should be interested in it.

            That being said, science will generally get along fine without it, doing crude philosophy when is needs to (like when attacking creationism), or just holding implicit philosophical theses everytime an experiment is performed.

            Addendum slogan: philosophy is unavoidable but non-essential

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Urstoff:

            Questions about philosophy’s usefulness really seem to miss the point for me. I don’t really care if philosophy is useful in any sense. I think it’s interesting, and people who are concerned about claiming knowledge about the world probably should be interested in it.

            Again, there is a difference between “philosophy” and “arcane technical questions in sub-domains of philosophy”. The former is interesting and absolutely essential. The latter is perhaps-interesting and perhaps-useless.

            That being said, science will generally get along fine without it, doing crude philosophy when is needs to (like when attacking creationism), or just holding implicit philosophical theses everytime an experiment is performed.

            In that case, they’re not “getting along without philosophy”. They’re just not calling it “philosophy”. It’s as if physics claimed to dispense with mathematics—but then said, “Ah, but of course we’ll retain quantitative calculations. That’s just a part of physics.”

            Addendum slogan: philosophy is unavoidable but non-essential

            This doesn’t make any sense at all to me. Some implicit theory of philosophy is a necessary prerequisite to making any substantive statement in any field of study whatsoever.

            Therefore, it’s unavoidable and completely essential.

            Now, if you mean “arcane useless terminological disputes in philosophy”, then yes, they are non-essential. But then they are also avoidable.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            What and who do you mean by “positivism”? I’m pretty sure I deny the influence of positivist philosophers on the Copenhagen interpretation.

            Other than Schopenhauer, has a philosopher who was not a scientist or mathematician ever had influence on science?

          • Creutzer says:

            Well, admittedly, I can’t judge examples from the history of physics because I know too little about them. I was therefore narrow-mindedly thinking of contemporary examples and seeing QM as the only one. I think from a contemporary perspective, Spinoza is quite spectacularly irrelevant to relativity as a scientific theory, no matter which heuristic endeavours may have been going on in Einstein’s mind.

            In fact, you name an example of an area of physics that doesn’t imply any particular philosophic views, and I’ll tell you how it does.

            There is a huge debate over what’s called scientific realism. Would you say this has, or should have, any impact on what the people at CERN are doing? (There’s also much more to science than just physics.)

            It’s unclear what this even means. Do scientists claim to know things? Do they claim to be making statements about existence? Yes, they do.

            Yes, most people do. They, too, get on just fine without philosophising about it. If using any concept that philosophers talk about counts as “doing philosophy”, then of course nobody doesn’t do philosophy. But that’s kind of a weird interpretation of “doing philosophy”.

            Aren’t we discussing the usefulness or uselessness of philosophy as a separate discipline? Mathematics has obviously fertilised science many times and is probably still doing so. I don’t know that the same is true of philosophy. (The situation is a bit confounded by physicists weirdly liking philosophy so that there may have been some inspiration going on at a personal level. I’m not convinced this would imply conceptual relevance, it could be, in a way, purely psychological.).

          • Urstoff says:


            The arcane technical questions are what happens when you take philosophy seriously as a form of inquiry, just as has occurred in every other form of serious inquiry. What gets published in Nature (much less a more specialized scientific journal) is just as arcane and technical as anything published in a philosophy journal. Deep inquiry and specialization is the mature endstate of inquiry.

            I agree with you that scientists do philosophy even though they don’t call it that (and a generally simple kind of philosophy at that). I’m claiming, however, that science will get along just fine (as a set of inquiries) even if all it does is simple, naive philosophy under some other name. It’s just probably a bit self-deceiving if it claims to be an inquiry that produces truths (rather than an inquiry that produces propositions that are “scientifically supported” according to whatever happens to be the standard of the day).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Douglas Knight:

            What and who do you mean by “positivism”? I’m pretty sure I deny the influence of positivist philosophers on the Copenhagen interpretation.

            It’s hard to give it an exact definition. It is a type of “radical empiricism” most commonly known for its complete rejection of (what it calls) “metaphysics” and its adherence to the “verficiationist” theory of meaning—in practice, known for arguing that a pretty wide range of statements generally taken to be meaningful are actually meaningless.

            I am not saying that positivist academic philosophers directly formulated theories of quantum physics. The influence is indirect: the philosophers created a positivist environment, which influenced the physicists to formulate their theories in a positivistic way. For instance, in the case of Niels Bohr, he was very much influenced by Ernst Mach’s skepticism of causality and identity, who in turn was influenced by 19th-century positivists like Auguste Comte.

            And we get very positivistic interpretations, like the idea that a particle doesn’t have any specific position until you “observe” it, at which point it does. Not that it has one but we don’t know what it is (that would be “unverifiable”), but that it simply doesn’t have one. Other interpretations are certainly possible (e.g. the De Broglie pilot-wave interpretation), but whether you view them as more plausible or less plausible is going to depend on your philosophic premises.

            Now, the general idea usually given out is that physicists wanted to embrace the traditional view of causality and identity, etc., but that scientific experiments proved them wrong. That is what David Harriman calls the “quantum physics fairy tale” (I don’t agree with everything he ever says, but his lectures on the philosophy of science are pretty good). And it is not true. First came the positivist influences and then came the interpretations. Moreover, if you understand the relationship between philosophy and physics, you would see how nothing in physics could possibly prove or disprove anything in philosophy: the hierarchy is the other way around.

            I don’t have the specific source on this one, but one apocryphal story is that Niels Bohr was presenting the “quantum physics fairy tale” to a colleague, arguing that recent new discoveries in physics had refuted old philosophical ideas. The colleague answered him: “But Niels, you were saying all this twenty years ago!”

            A similar story can be told of the reject of the concept of the luminiferous aether. The philosophic question is whether there can be space with nothing in it; i.e. whether nothing can exist. The Michelson–Morley experiment does nothing to answer this question one way or the other. The positivist interpretation is: we can’t observe the aether; therefore, it doesn’t exist (this is what they said about atoms, too). But if you go the other way on the philosophic arguments, you will have to say: obviously there must be something there, but we just don’t know what it is at this point.

            Other than Schopenhauer, has a philosopher who was not a scientist or mathematician ever had influence on science?

            Does Aristotle count? This is a weird question.

            The only way a philosopher could influence science is by either being a scientist himself or by influencing a scientist and thereby doing it indirectly.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I would call Mach a scientist and Comte not. Thus if he influenced Mach, that would count as a philosopher influencing science. It’s tough to adjudicate, though, because Comte claimed to be formalizing what scientists were already doing.

            Or Spinoza influencing Einstein. What are you talking about?

            Why wouldn’t you think that Aristotle was a scientist?

          • Protagoras says:

            @Douglas Knight, Have you never read any of Einstein’s writings about himself? He talks about how he was influenced by Spinoza (and other philosophers, like Hume and Mach, and the positivists generally, for that matter).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Douglas Knight:

            Or Spinoza influencing Einstein. What are you talking about?

            Einstein’s admiration for Spinoza is extremely well-known. For instance:

            The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.

            Spinoza not only influenced Einstein’s pantheism, but Einstein also shared his view that there is no such thing as “contingency” in the universe: everything flows from the nature of God as an inexorable logical necessity. No fact could be otherwise.

            This viewpoint also had a very large influence on the way he formulated the “four-dimensionalist” theory of the relativity of simultaneity. Einstein was here strongly influenced by philosophical “eternalism”, which says that there is no such thing as the objective present. From the eternalist theory, for one, it follows that all facts are necessary and couldn’t be otherwise.

            But more importantly, the whole idea that time is a static “dimension” and not a process of change is pure eternalism. Einstein didn’t have to formulate his theory the way he did; he could have chosen otherwise. He formulated it in an eternalist way because he was an eternalist.

            This is not to mention the whole idea that time and space are actual things that can be “distorted”. That is a philosophical interpretation of space and time, as opposed to the idea that space and time are merely relationships among entities.

            Now, it wasn’t all Spinoza that influenced Einstein. There were other philosophers, too. But he didn’t come up with all of these ideas himself.

            Why wouldn’t you think that Aristotle was a scientist?

            I absolutely would say he was a scientist. My thought was that some partisans of “we-don’t-need-philosophy” might argue that he wasn’t a “real scientist” because he didn’t use modern methods.

            Moreover, he was primarily a philosopher. And to argue that his philosophy did not influence his science seems absurd.

            Overall, I don’t understand what point your question was supposed to get across. If it’s supposed to show that philosophy hasn’t influenced science much, it doesn’t show that.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Protagoras, no, I have not read Einstein. Would you like to make a precise suggestion?

            I have not read Einstein, but I did make obvious google queries before posting. I did not find people claiming that the influence on relativity was “obvious” or “well-known,” or even existed (not that such claims are at all reliable). I did find lots of quotes like the one Vox posted, which do not seem relevant to me. Vox seems to concede as much. I cannot blame google for drowning me irrelevant quotations, but I can blame Vox.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Douglas Knight:

            I did find lots of quotes like the one Vox posted, which do not seem relevant to me. Vox seems to concede as much. I cannot blame google for drowning me irrelevant quotations, but I can blame Vox.

            Are you serious? What do you want?

            “Here’s how Spinoza influenced my thought: A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, etc.” Sorry, I don’t have that one.

            I thought the fact that he called him the greatest modern philosopher might be taken as relevant, especially in the context of how I specifically told you Spinozistic ideas influenced him.

          • Protagoras says:

            One of the volumes in the Library of Living Philosophers (so called because they were alive when their volumes were being put together; of course they’re almost all dead now) is “Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist.” Like all the volumes, it includes an intellectual autobiography by the subject; that’s the lengthiest discussion of Einstein by Einstein that I’m personally very familiar with, and it mentions some of his philosophical influences.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Library of Living Philosophers Volume 7, Paul Schilpp, ed ? (Google books confuses me by listing 2 volumes)

            Thanks for the recommendation. I will take a look at. However, the first 94 pages, the bilingual autobiographical notes, contain no mention of Spinoza, according to my OCRed copy.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’ll take your word for it; what I remember the autobiography containing is mentions of Hume, Mach, and positivism. Apparently he talked about Spinoza several times in his letters, but I haven’t read those extensively myself.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Oh, yeah, I should have said: just one mention of positivism, that it lead to the rejection of the atomic theory, even after Planck measured the size of the atom. (Einstein’s compatible second measurement won over the last hold-outs.) Two mentions of Hume. Quite a few of Mach.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Philosophy can be useful without being useful for science. How can science answer questions like: what s knowledge,what s truth, what is the good…?

          • Samedi says:

            I disagree. The statement that they study “different subject matter” is not consistent with the history of western philosophy and science. Philosophers from the ancient Greeks onward were trying to discover truths about the world. Aristotle is an obvious case in point. Around the time of Galileo philosophy began to split into two camps. The camp of “natural philosophy” (also known by other names) championed observation and experiment as the best means to gain truths about nature. This camp of philosophers became what we now call scientists. Their list of accomplishments speak for themselves.

            The other camp, which continues to this day and is what I meant by “philosophy”, is conceptual rather than experimental. The truths about nature that this camp has discovered is negligible (if in fact there are any). This is not to say that their writings are not interesting or meaningful; only that as means of learning about the world the “conceptual” camp has failed.

          • Samedi says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            In response to, “you would see how nothing in physics could possibly prove or disprove anything in philosophy”. I’m not so sure. Darwin destroyed Plato’s theory of forms and essentialism in general.

            I think your assumption that science needs a philosophical foundation is question-begging. I don’t at all think that science needs a metaphysical theory. The truth or falsity (or better, the probability) of a scientific hypothesis is determined by experimental results and not by theory.

            Of course, scientists make assumptions and have their own world view. If that is what you mean by “metaphysics” then OK. But again those assumptions are ultimately validated or invalidated by experiment.

          • Samedi says:


            “Philosophy can be useful without being useful for science. How can science answer questions like: what s knowledge,what s truth, what is the good…?”

            If those are real things then they can be studied by science. If they are merely conceptual entities then they cannot.

            Let me put this a different way, what is the accepted, consensus answer by philosophers to the question “what is the good”? I mean what answer would the overwhelming majority of philosophers accept in the same way scientists accept Einstein’s theory of relativity?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Philosophy could be useful for things other than science, e.g. if it could resolve any of the questions The Ancient Geek suggests it might be applied to. Ironically, application of the scientific method suggests that it is not useful for that, because it has failed to do so and there is no reason to expect that it will do so in future.

  10. gbear605 says:

    So I’m doing a stylometric analysis to determine who Wertifloke (wrote The Waves Arisen) really is. To do this, I require comparison documents, specifically rationalist fiction that is readily available as a .txt file.

    Resources I’m going to use:
    Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – Yudkowsky
    Luminosity – Alicorn
    The Metropolitan Man – Alexander Wales
    A Bluer Shade of White – Alexander Wales
    Branches on the Tree of Time – Alexander Wales
    Three Worlds Collide – Yudkowsky
    Shadows of the Limelight – Alexander Wales
    The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant – Nick Bostrom
    Mother of Learning – nobody103
    The Last Christmas – Alexander Wales
    Friendship Is Optimal – Iceman
    Animorphs: The Reckoning – WhatWouldEnderDo
    Pokemon: The Origin of Species – DaystarEld
    Worm – Wildbow
    Ra – qntm
    Harry Potter and the Natural 20 – Sir Poley
    The Fall of Doc Future – W. Dow Rieder
    Time Braid – ShaperV
    Trust in God, or, The Riddle of Kyon – Yudkowsky
    The Finale of the Ultimate Meta Mega Crossover – Yudkowsky
    Peggy Susie – Yudkowsky
    Mandragora – NothingPretentious
    To The Stars – Hieronym

    If anyone has any other suggestions, I’d be glad to take them to have a more complete corpus for comparison.

    Potential issues with the comparison:
    – Author hasn’t published any other (or very good) rationalist fanfiction. This seems unlikely given the quality of Waves Arisen, but it is possible.
    – Given low number of samples, we won’t be able to determine exactly who wrote it with a large degree of confidence.
    – Technically this isn’t a scientific study, given that I don’t have a hypothesis that I am testing.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’d throw in some other major, non-rationalist writers in whatever fandom you’re looking at, too.

    • Occam's Laser says:

      Would you at least consider not making your results public? If the author is in fact some better-known person, presumably they have some reason to want to remain anonymous. Silence is a virtue.

    • MugaSofer says:

      Huh. I hadn’t looked into The Waves Arisen since it’s outside my circle of fandom, but I’m impressed to see candidates like this are seriously being considered for the author.

      Another possible source of text for analysis would be the winners of those regular /r/rational competitions. Also, I’d suggest throwing in the major HPMOR fanfics, especially Significant Digits by AnarchyIsHyperbole and that Phoenix one (which seem to be the most technically well-regarded.)

      It would probably be a good idea to contact the author once you have your results, or even before, although (as you note) this couldn’t identify them with a high degree of confidence.

    • Anonymous says:

      Just based on the introductory paragraph I’d say it’s either Eliezer (also helps that he’s previously recommended Naruto fanfic) or someone who is very good at imitating his style. And the only reason I’m considering an imitator is because the writing screams “I am Eliezer Yudkowsky” so hard it’s almost protesting too much.

    • 27chaos says:

      I’m pretty confident it’s not Eliezer. It could be a collaborative work, of course.

    • Protagoras says:

      I would give considerably higher probability to “the author hasn’t published any other fanfiction.” Good writing generally takes a lot of practice, to be sure, but people who write fanfiction may well have gotten that practice doing other kinds of writing, or writing things that (for whatever reasons) they decided not to publish.

    • Anon says:

      I’m no expert in writing styles, but if it isn’t eliezer, it’s someone trying very hard to pretend to be him (on ch. 4 now). That said, seeing how influential HPMOR is in “ration-fic”, that’s not unlikely itself.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Why are you doing this? Because lots of people have suggested Yudkowsky? Well, then, yes, you do have a hypothesis.

      He has published fiction under more than one name, so he is a reasonable candidate, but for the rest of them, it seems pretty implausible that they would assume a pseudonym, especially a new pseudonym. The hypothesis that is someone well-known for non-fiction is more plausible. But that is a lot harder check because people have different styles in fiction and non-fiction.

    • gbear605 says:

      I’ve finished the study and published the results at

      The analysis appears to show that none of those surveyed is the writer of The Waves Arisen, and if they are, they went to a great deal of effort to hide their similarities.

      I plan to repeat it with a larger sample set of fiction, since it really could be any rational author. I’ll also add in some published books.

      If you want to keep up with the study, watch (or reproduce the results yourself. It was very simple and hopefully well documented)

      • Douglas Knight says:

        When you take up a new tool, it is important to test it on known data before applying it to new data. For example, does it cluster together known Yudkowsky works? Well, we can look at your trees and see that no, it does not. Your tool does not think that he has a distinctive style. Therefore it is incapable of distinguishing whether a particular work fits his style or does not fit his style. You can say nothing.

        There are two possibilities. One possibility is that EY does not have a distinctive style. Your tool clumps Alexander Wales tighter than EY. So maybe your tool is capable of ruling him out, even if it cannot address EY. But it clumps AW pretty loosely, too, so I think not. The other possibility is that your tool says little about styles. I think that is probably the correct answer.

        If I read it correctly, it clusters together stories from the same fandom. That is exactly the opposite of personal style.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I have not heard about The Waves Arisen until now. I’ve just finished reading it, and to me it reads like an early draft of HPMoR. I would be very surprised to find out that EY had not written it — either wholly by himself, or perhaps in collaboration (though this is less likely). The fanfic simply shares too many features with HPMoR for it to be a coincidence.

    • Link for convenience: The Waves Arisen by Wertifloke

      I enjoyed the story very much and recommend it to any fans of Naruto or of rationalist fiction.

  11. merzbot says:

    Successful autodidacts: how do you do it? I’m a CS major but I know there’s a lot of stuff I need to delve into on my own if I want to really excel. But I can’t usually muster up the willpower for it. In my free time, I’m either a) too beat from my actual schoolwork to dive into heavy technical reading I don’t actually have to do or b) tempted to take the path of least resistance and dick around on the internet instead of studying emulation or computer graphics or math or any of the other subjects I want to learn about. Should I just treat it as mandatory as I treat my schoolwork?

    • Anonymous says:

      Get a job. It is an excellent motivator, to lose your job if you can’t learn to do it.

      • Chalid says:

        Merely applying to a job can be very motivating. If you know that in two weeks some interviewer is going to ask you a bunch of questions about some particular subject, the fear of being exposed as humiliatingly ignorant can get you to study hard.

    • xyz says:

      Some kind of cool small project that has been behind my motivation almost the whole time. The very first programs I wrote on my TI-83+ calculator were little “screensavers” that supposedly made my classmates think I was smart. the homework timesavers I wrote were intended to buy me more videogame time. The visualizations I made in highschool were solely to impress people at an art school who didn’t believe computers were interesting. Later, the sound source locating software I wrote was again, a little project I thought would impress girls. Serious, it was part of a modern dance production and I was really trying to get on the choreographer’s good side because she was hot. 😛 The software would locate footfalls on the floor and draw various effects around the dancers with a projector.

      On a smaller timescale, the motivation that gets you to keep guessing at why your program isn’t working 50 times until you finally get it, is more of kind of competitive mindset. The compiler is taunting you, but it is nothing more than an elaborate puzzle, and you can be pulled in trying to show it who’s boss.

    • nope says:

      The Super-Easy-Super-Akrasia-Beater: amphetamine. (Or methylphenidate – some prefer it for this purpose.)

      I recommend amph/amph-related compounds enough to get accused of being a pharma rep, but I’ve got to counteract the current hippy drug mentality that’s demonizing productivity drugs. Plus, they really do work. If anything in the pharm world has a claim to doing exactly what it says on the tin, it’s these.

    • Emile says:

      How about looking for things you find rewarding that are also good opportunities to study something useful. For example,

      studying emulation or computer graphics

      … you could make a (simple) video game, and learn a lot about graphics on the way.

      Or you can create various forms of procedural art, which I find fun – for example, look at these images from this Castle Generation contest I participated in for fun.

      As a more general approach, maybe subscribe to a bunch of blogs / twitter feeds / whatever of people doing cool stuff in the domain you’re interested in. That should naturally make you think more along the lines of “I would make something cool like this and show it / share it on github”. I took the example of computer graphics, but you could do the same with data analysis, deep learning, web design, etc.

    • Helldalgo says:

      Promise to do things that you only have a vague idea of how to accomplish.

      Warning: can lead to despair.

    • Jacob says:

      My suggestion to you is that while you’re in school, focus on your schoolwork. The other stuff you want to learn will still be there when you graduate. You may find it easier to study something interesting and useful after a hard day of debugging than after a hard day of deriving the runtime complexity of some algorithm. And if you still need external motivation, there are plenty of online classes which are scheduled, and depending on where you live a local university might have an extension school or something.

    • Kevin Reid says:

      I suppose I am a successful CS autodidact, so:

      1. I always have some project for which the thing I am learning is useful. I never try to learn something by itself in the abstract. (Except when I was in school and that was highly hit-or-miss in retention.)

      2. This is the part that would be tricky to reproduce: my parents arranged for me to have a massive amount of free time (unschooling, and I entered college late, on my own initiative). Lots of this time was indeed spent “dicking around on the internet” (well, not the parts from before always-on consumer Internet access was a thing), but you do enough of that and you start wanting to improve the Internet — that is, it was closely associated with an interest in communication technology (the layers of software that bridge between bits-on-a-wire and people) which sparked many educational-as-a-side-effect programming projects.

      So, how about some followable advice, hmm—

      Never treat anything as mandatory unless it actually is. If you’re not feeling it, don’t do it; find a better motivation first.

      Don’t “dive into heavy technical reading”. Skim things (not necessarily textbooks, maybe Wikipedia) until you know where to look for information. Then when you reach a point in a project where you have a use for this information (allow yourself to be inspired to start a project by your skimming!), you know what you need to study to be able to attack the problem. This gives you motivation (you will be able to program the thing) and context (you know what it will be good for).

      Example of “dicking around” turning into a project, particularly while at school:

      When I was in college, I spent a lot of my free time playing Minecraft. Minecraft can be a problem-solving game if you play it like I do (building machines to make my survival-mode life comfortable, fitting them into buildings in an elegant way), but more to the point I got bothered by Minecraft’s update logic glitches (“BUDs”) and some other things, and set out to make my own voxel game structured so that the update logic is as rigorous as any cellular automaton. (The project is stalled at the moment because I noticed an inconsistency I don’t have a satisfactory fix for, but it’s one due to additional choices I made, not the core idea.)

      [Meta: I think this comment turned out less coherent than I hoped, but hopefully posting it is more useful than not posting it.]

    • Adam says:

      More than anything, you have to actually want to learn these things. If your desire to study graphics is motivated solely by the feeling you have to because you need more skills to list on your resume, it’s going to be hard. If it’s motivated by real things you want to do that require you to know graphics, you’ll do it because you want to do it.

    • Fall in love with someone who is an enthusiast for the subject.

      Failing that, interact with people who are enthusiasts. My daughter and I just got back from three days of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, and she was commenting on what a good way that was of learning stuff about gems and minerals.

  12. Hummingbird says:

    Hello. Long time lurker here. Recently graduated college, and having trouble finding scientific articles to do personal research on topics now that I don’t have access to the university’s databases and access through paywalls. For those of you who know, what sites/databases are typically useful? Also, with respect to the information gathering process(source quality, publisher quality, citations, etc.), how do you go about determining if the quantity and/or quality of articles found is sufficient to make an informed decision?

  13. Macrojams says:

    I’m curious…does anyone here actually work in inside sales? I do (though with my level of experience I would not be what CFAR has in mind) but my guess is that this is very non-representative of the rationalist community as a whole. Anyone have information on rationalist salespeople?

    • Andrew says:

      I started out in inside sales before moving into merchandising, and eventually into the more technical/analytical parts of ecommerce. Rationalism as commonly understood around here was pretty useful for sales- the mythos of salespeople is that it’s about winning, so they match up nicely. Plus, learning a great deal about cognitive biases helps you when trying to understand other people’s needs.

      The last month I did sales, I was #1 in our salesteam, and I was never one of the “dark arts” guys. I just tried hard to understand the customer, and then offer them exactly what they most needed/wanted. Both of us ended up happier!

      • Marc Whipple says:

        This was also my experience when I was in sales. I was often the top salesperson in any given month for the chain of stores I worked for when in college and law school, and one month I was the top salesperson at the computer store I worked in even though I wasn’t allowed to sell to business customers at all. My approach was exactly what you describe. It wasn’t that I was a gifted BS artist or a master manipulator, and it wasn’t that I’m pretty darn smart, unless it takes being pretty darn smart to arrive at what seems like a pretty obvious conclusion.

        • Andrew says:

          It must be less obvious than it seems, if both sets of our fellow salespeople weren’t realizing it, or if realizing it, weren’t executing it well. It might be one of those things that are obvious only in retrospect, like the way Scott describes the LW Sequences.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Here’s a brief analysis of the indefinite ban register.

    (Dunno what about it makes it autospam, but it does.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I question some of your judgments. Echo was banned for saying that somebody insulting my ex-girlfriend was “delightful”. Dublin’s immediate cause of ban was a nasty comment, but I also strongly suspect they were impersonating me under my real name in various places. Timothy and Ghan were banned for personal attacks on another commenter. You have all of them down as being banned just because they’re conservative.

      Also, a lot of the lese majeste really really REALLY doubles as idiocy.

      PS: It’s autospam because some of those people were banned by autospamming any post with their name in it. That usually just prevents them from posting, but I guess it also prevents other people from mentioning them.

      • Anonymous says:

        >Regulus Black was banned for saying that somebody insulting my ex-girlfriend was “delightful”.

        Right. That would make it “idiocy”, inasmuch you are not one-flesh anymore. 😉

        >Barty Crouch’s immediate cause of ban was a nasty comment, but I also strongly suspect they were impersonating me under my real name in various places.

        I know nothing about that. That would make it “idiocy” or “lese majeste”.

        >Igor Karkaroff and Beatrix Lestrange were banned for personal attacks on another commenter.

        Their comments were to the effect “we don’t want this person in our country, especially if he would use shady means to get in”. Your banpost was:

        Forget true. It clearly was neither kind nor necessary to kick somebody when they’re down. Mocking someone who has just been denied refugee status after trying to leave a regime that is trying to imprison you clearly qualifies. Wanting people to suffer because they have bad politics is pretty much the antithesis of what this blog stands for. Igor Karkaroff and Bellatrix Lestrange banned indefinitely

        This reads to me as “you’re being slightly impolite and I really hate your views, so you are banned”. You are welcome to see it differently.

        >Also, a lot of the lese majeste really really REALLY doubles as idiocy.

        Sure, lese majeste is a strict subset of idiocy.

        • Dahlen says:

          … Why are you using Harry Potter codenames for banned commenters?

          Also, it’s Bellatrix not Beatrix, please don’t muck up one of my favorite names

          • Anonymous says:

            Because spamfilter. If you mention them, your post gets spammed, but it’s not clear *which* names are banned.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        “I’ve been looking for an excuse to ban you for a while”

        …Scott, this is another example of “not rattling before you bite.”

        This really does have a chilling effect on discussion from commenters of *all* opinions. No one can be sure *their* opinion won’t be one you’ll turn out to be silently offended by, quietly seething and “looking for an excuse,” until eventually, without them even knowing they were ever on notice, you decide something they said was *enough* of “an excuse.”

        I stand by what I said before. I don’t like seeing you doing to others what was done to you. You’re better than that.

        • Anon says:

          Counterpoint: I would not be willing or able to continue to participate in this community if people were not banned for the kinds of things which people on that list were banned for. And I don’t think there’s ever been sufficient ambiguity about what’s ban-worthy to worry the vast majority* of commenters, who are never really getting anywhere that line. If the people who are toeing the line become a little more reluctant to do so, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

          *Remember, there have been 30 bans out of thousands of posts per thread.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I do. The line is where the most interesting stuff is, we want to toe it as hard as possible.

          • The Smoke says:

            This sounds irritatingly like what a foot-fetishist would say.

          • Jiro says:

            Remember, there have been 30 bans out of thousands of posts per thread.

            Bans apply to posters, not posts, so thousands of posts per thread is the wrong comparison.

          • Faradn says:

            “The line is where the most interesting stuff is, we want to toe it as hard as possible.”

            The most interesting stuff is the stuff that approaches meanness, falsehood, and frivolity?

          • suntzuanime says:

            The most interesting stuff is surprising. That makes it less likely to be adjudicated as “true” by our unfortunately fallible host. Surprising stuff is also often unkind. As Chesterton said, “reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of ‘touching’ a man’s heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.”

            You can toe the line of relevance without fear, I guess. Sometimes things are connected in surprising ways, but I have yet to see our host bring the hammer down on anybody on the grounds of relevance for stringing together a conspiracy theory in the comments.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Humans are pretty bad at distinguishing between “offensive” and “does not comport with my beliefs.”

          • Ant says:

            Meh, for me, the line is often where the people who confuse being edgy with being truthful are (i.e, someone whose discourse is something like this: “I will say for the 50th times that the difference of condition between black and white people is purely due to their genes, and I don’t need a proof because if you don’t think I am right, you are a sheep lolilol”).
            Truth has no obligation of being mean, surprising, interesting, or contrary to Scott’s bias (I would go as far as saying that if it’s interesting, it’s probably false).

        • Andrew says:

          It seems like the line is relatively clear, per the Anon posting at 12:54am above. For those that fear it’s position, or want to toe the line, it seems like they could simply ask Scott in a post-script of the comment “Hey, was this ok? I’m worried it wasn’t really meeting the blog’s standards”.

          My guess is that if he *would* have silently tallied that comment as fuel towards an eventual ban, he’d let you know since you asked nicely!

          • Jiro says:

            That runs the risk that you’re not going to be banned, except that now that you called attention to yourself, Scott’s going to look more closely at what you wrote and is more likely to find excuses to ban you.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            t’s not clear to me. Maybe it would be if I were a “regular regular” instead of a “sporadic regular,” I dunno. But…what’s tended to happen lately is
            * permanent ban
            * no warning
            * no explanation beyond “I have so many reasons to ban you” or “I’ve been looking for an excuse to ban you.”

            The register of bans says its purpose is to help people learn what behavior Scott considers banworthy. But when I see a comment associated with “I have so many reasons to ban you,” this does not teach me anything at all about the behavior required to avoid being banned. IOW, there is greater inferential distance here than you seem to be assuming.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          This really does have a chilling effect on discussion from commenters of *all* opinions. No one can be sure *their* opinion won’t be one you’ll turn out to be silently offended by, quietly seething and “looking for an excuse,” until eventually, without them even knowing they were ever on notice, you decide something they said was *enough* of “an excuse.”

          It’s not random.

          The “chilling effect” on the sort of people who get banned is intentional.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            What sort of people would that be?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Basically, it’s people who are excessively hostile, derail threads, troll (i.e. deliberately post something needlessly inflammatory to get a rise out of people) and especially people who do so while expressing highly sexist or racist opinions in an insensitive way. Especially if you do all of these things while constantly bringing up “culture war” topics.

            In other words, I don’t think you’re in trouble.

            Let me take the last five banned people, in reverse order:

            1. Persistent trolling.
            2. Extremely sexist, trolling comment.
            3. Sexist comment insulting Scott himself; also a persistent thread derailer, racist, and very uncharitable arguer.
            4. Trolling.
            5. Deeply personal insult against Scott himself. As above, also very uncharitable and a thread derailer in general.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            Let me remind you that you have in the past mistakenly believed I was trolling.

            I’m with Jiro. I’ve been hung out to dry by a mod before; I’m not likely to assume “it can’t happen to me.”

          • What do folks who worry about being banned think of Eric Raymond’s Armed and Dangerous? Eric is extremely reluctant to ban for content (I don’t think he’s ever done it), though I believe he bans for nastiness to other commenters.

    • Anon. says:

      What’s the difference between ‘infidel’ and ‘heretic’?

      • Leit says:

        Red and blue tribe, respectively.

      • Deiseach says:

        Theologically? An infidel is a non-believer in your particular belief (it could merely be that they are not of your religion, or they may not believe in any religion whatsoever). A heretic is someone who shares, or claims to share, your faith but has an incorrect (from your point of view; from their point of view they are correct) understanding of a particular doctrine or dogma (possibly up to the entire basis of that faith, not merely one part of it).

        If I’m not using the terms dreadfully incorrectly, an infidel is out-group and a heretic is in-group.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          Hence the expression, “For the infidel, there may be mercy. For the heretic, there is only the stake.”

    • Acedia says:

      Aw, The Dividualist got banned? That guy was fun.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Banned for saying mean things about Scott in the comments of a post full of mean things said about Scott, what a way to go.

        • Leit says:

          Wait, what?

          …going back and reading the whole mess, I’m not even seeing the insult.

          His views might not have gelled well with some others, but he at least gave the impression of conviction in his views rather than justification for them, which made his responses interesting to read.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Given that he literally said “I 100% agree with” one of the things Scott listed in his post full of mean things, it’s hard to understand not understanding that as a mean thing, even if we’re all definitely good progressives who wouldn’t see anything unkind about saying someone’s brain is incompletely masculinized.

          • Leit says:

            I’m not even close to progressive, and I still don’t see what’s unkind about that. Maybe it’s an American thing? Monster trucks and bikini sluts, yee-haw?

            Anyway, some of the post’s discussion revolved around criticisms coming from the speaker’s value system, which was what made a lot of them quite funny to read from outside. That gives ample reason to suspect how insulting Scott would have found them, and I didn’t see him clarify between the explanations being put forth.

            Of course, discussing this probably isn’t earning us any favour, given the Reign of Terror™ in process.

          • Anonymous says:

            I believe Scott has posted in other venues that he has a list of people he’d like to ban, and is only waiting on the slightest provocation.

          • Murphy says:


            keeping in mind that many of the replies were people saying things like “lots of them are completely true but are also why I love this blog” or otherwise implying that they view some as true but not-negative things.

            I’m honestly surprised since The Dividualist generally didn’t come across as a dick and even the comment he got banned for came across as mild joshing to me.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yes, in a tragic error, The Dividualist forgot to put an “and that’s exactly why I love you Scott” at the end of his post. And that’s exactly why I love you, Scott.

          • Anonymous says:


            Like I said, the process for regulars goes like “Scott wants someone banned” -> “someone posts something debatably against the rules” -> “someone is banned”. People whom Scott does not want banned don’t get banned, at least not indefinitely.

            For newbies, the nominal system of “don’t be a jerk or you’ll be banned” gets applied.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            To be completely fair, we’re all like that to some degree. I mean, the biggest victim of the Reign of Terror barely got discussed, mostly due to the fact that we all found him super annoying.

          • Anonymous says:

            I did not mean to imply that Scott is special in this behaviour.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            My post keeps getting spamfiltered for some reason—very annoying.

            Anyway, I’ll phrase it differently: I didn’t like him, and I’m glad he’s gone.

          • anon says:

            Maybe you hit that filter that prevents you from saying the names of the exiled ones?

          • Anonymous says:

            Damnatio memoriae!

          • Acedia says:

            Vox: It’s because your post included his name. I got past the filter by putting a space in the name.

        • roystgnr says:

          “Banned for saying mean things about Scott in the comments of a post full of mean things said about Scott, what a way to go.”

          Apparently we’ve moved past the Reign of Terror, and have reached the Hundred Flowers Campaign.

      • James says:

        Yeah, I think I’ll slightly miss that guy.

      • Nadja says:

        I agree. I haven’t been here long, but I’ve noticed the guy and liked him. I wish Scott would reconsider this one. Scott, please, would you reconsider?

        Edit: I interpreted his comment as affectionate mockery. AND that comment came after you signaled that you’re fine making fun of yourself by doing that whole post.

        Also, if what someone mentioned about you having a list of people you are waiting to ban is true, then that’s just passive aggressive. Why not talk to them and tell them they are bothering you? Especially that you’re the one in the position of power (that is, you can ban them from a social circle that might be important to them.)

        If talking to individual commenters that you perhaps perceive as hostile is not something you want to be doing, then maybe at least publish a list of people who annoy you? Then at least they can see it, think about what they might be doing wrong and reach out to you to apologize/start the dialog themselves.

      • Nita says:

        “C’est mon seul baryton!”

        Our only Central European ethno-nationalist monarchist ex-nerd testosterone fan, gone at the click of a button 🙁

        Well, at least we managed to have the Epic Nationalism vs Objectivism Showdown while he was still here.

        • Anonymous says:

          >Our only Central European ethno-nationalist monarchist ex-nerd testosterone fan

          I’m fair sure that intersection has more than one person in it in this comment section.

        • Paul Morel says:

          Nita: “Well, at least we managed to have the Epic Nationalism vs Objectivism Showdown while he was still here.”

          That was epic, thanks for the hat tip.

        • Leit says:

          …wait a minute, I don’t see a single one of Vox’s trademark walls of text in this comment section either.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I just want to say, I was fairly angry when I wrote those comments. I don’t really disagree with them, but if I wrote them again I would tone down the language.

          And the number of hyphenated phrases. 😉

          Also, someone who read them out of context could get the wrong idea about my opinion of non-Western cultures. That is the part where substantive revisions might be necessary. The essential point of the comparison was: if these races and everything they produce really are inferior, why do you want to be more like them?

          I did not mean to suggest that European culture actually is perfect, or that other cultures have produced nothing of value.

          • Adam says:

            I got what you were saying and think it’s one of the best series of comments I’ve ever seen on this blog.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Adam:

            Well, I appreciate that. In my opinion, I think I’ve had better exchanges. For instance, the ones on dualism vs. materialism, ethics, the orthogonality thesis, free will, religion, colors, and even one on feminism.

            In this one, I’m a lot heavier on invective and just laying out where I disagree (and how much), rather than making really detailed arguments.

            I might try to find links to some of those others if I get a chance.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            I think at least two of those were with me. You’re fun to argue with.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Watching Vox argue with others is a delight. I think the comments section has greatly improved since he showed up.

            (This reminds me, I would enjoy going back through the archives and noting who the most prominent commenters are on each post, and how that has evolved over the last three years. I feel like there’s been significant turnover, but it’s happened over such a long period of time that I’m not at all certain.)

      • anonymous says:

        Good riddance. The guy was impervious to evidence and counterargument and had serious problems with not knowing what he didn’t know.

      • blacktrance says:

        Personally, I won’t miss him. He was one of the less pleasant regulars here.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m mildly concerned that with him and Echo gone, the most right-wing person here is… John Schilling? David Friedman? Deiseach?

        It would be a shame if this place lost its ideological diversity.

        • Define “right wing.” I’m probably as extreme a libertarian as anyone here. In other senses of right wing I don’t qualify—I am, for instance, in favor of free immigration, and have been for something over forty years. Also drug legalization.

        • John Schilling says:

          What David said, for a more conventional definition of libertarian. Not sure if that makes me more or less right-wing. And there are more than the two of us.

          Dividualist, I found to be annoyingly tone-deaf and reluctant to engage in real dialogue, and usually right on the edge of kind, necessary, and/or true. At times I wished he would go away but never quite reached the level where I wanted him banned. But then, he never insulted me even a little bit, and that probably would have pushed me over the edge.

        • Chalid says:

          Having extreme ideological views seems to be correlated with aggressive posting styles, so banning aggressive posters reduces diversity.

          (Obligatory disclaimer that there are very many exceptions, David Friedman seems like a lovely person, etc)

        • Anonymous says:

          I’d also nominate Mai La Dreapta, Jaskologist and jaimeastorga2000 for most-rightest, from the pool of non-anonymous regulars. And there’s at least 1+ Unspeakable Ones among the anonymi.

          • Leit says:

            You’re missing Dr Dealgood, who seems to be sort of Dividualist Lite.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Nah, I’m not nearly europäisch enough to qualify as Dividualist’s successor. His shtick was basically being the anti-Multiheaded: boisterous style, overly confident proclamations about American culture from a hemisphere away, extremist yet very continental views.

            As for right wingers, most of the old Death Eaters are still here just quiet. Anissimov even made a comment recently. But it seems currently that the vocal SSC right is more mainstream Republican type conservatives and Sailorites anyway. We actually have a reasonable number of people who have farmed, own guns, go to church regularly etc. It has been great for my education: a conservative New Yorker is still in a deep Blue bubble, so my perspective gets warped in odd ways.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Yep. People talk about how there aren’t any mainstream conservative Republicans here, but you’ve got at least one in me. I’m socially conservative, my libertarian sympathies basically boil down to fiscal conservativism, and I’m not a disciple of Moldbug. The “right-wingers” mentioned up-thread are higher quality posters, though.

            What bothers me about Dividualist’s ban is that it seemed like it came out of nowhere. I feel like there should have been a warning, or at least short-term ban as a warning. As it is, I’m not sure if I’m on thin ice or not. I’ve certainly said conservative things in the past.

            But maybe there was a warning and I just missed it. Bakkot to implement an aggro meter, plz.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Now I have visions of a 5-man SSC dungeon where someone has to tank through scott’s “reign of terror” animation. If they get banned or lose agro the whole party wipes…

            It was funnier in my head.

          • Randy M says:

            You’ve always been a high quality poster to me, Jaskologist.

            PS-Is there a lot of space between “death-eater” and “Sailorite”? Other than perhaps focus.

          • Adam says:

            Can somebody tell me what the heck a ‘death eater’ is. This has been coming up and I tried to look it up and apparently it was something from Harry Potter and then Anonymous hacktivists that set out to uncover the identities of child molesters called themselves that. That can’t possibly be what this refers to.

          • Nornagest says:

            You know, The-Internet-Political-Faction-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. Likes Lovecraft and hierarchy and sometimes chivalric romance; dislikes democracy and entryism and the French Revolution. Weirdly obsessed with race and gender. Alt-rightists that follow the likes of Nick Land, Michael Anissimov, and that San Franciscan dude with the Cthulhu metaphor.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            It’s the a nickname for an alt-right group that has a lot of members in rationalist spaces. Their preferred denomination is spamfiltered here, so they’re referred to in other ways: “Death Eaters”, “Yarvin-Landists”, “Those That Belong To The Emperor”, etc.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Adam:

            Scott decided that he was going to put the term n-e-o-r-e-a-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-y on the spam filter because people were using it too broadly. He wanted to “taboo” it so that people would “replace the symbol with the substance”, i.e. what specific views are you praising or criticizing?

            This didn’t work at all. Since almost everyone here has read Harry Potter, and in that series people are afraid to say “Voldemort” and call him He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, people have applied analogous terms to that movement. “Death Eaters” are followers of Voldemort. The joke/irony is that people haven’t replaced the symbol with the substance: they’ve replaced the symbol with a different symbol.

            Other terms you might see are You-Know-Who (also a Harry Potter reference), Yarvin-Landism, or “novo-regressivism”.

          • The Anonymouse says:


            The euphemisms are far more amusing than the tabooed term. Myself, I like “novo-regressivism.”

          • Anon. says:

            Just want to note that alt-right and they-who-must-not-be-named is not the same thing. A couple of weeks ago Land called alt-right “a late-stage leftist aberration made peculiarly toxic by its comparative practicality”.

          • Nornagest says:

            Not all alt-rightists are Death Eaters, but all Death Eaters are alt-rightists, broadly defined. Even Land, whatever he says about them. Maybe especially Land.

          • Adam says:

            Okay, these new terms are more amusing. Good work, Scott. I guess this is what I get for not reading your blog for like what? A whole two months?

          • Jaskologist says:


            I’m picturing Leroy Jenkins, running around yelling about how blacks have lower average IQ and women love to submit.

          • HeelBearCub says:


          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:


            There are at least two of us! Your presence makes me not feel so lonely. (I have quietly lurked in every thread for the past two years but I basically never post).

            There used to be a fellow, Troy I believe, who was one of the more prominent theists around that also made me feel a bit less like an odd duck. I haven’t seen him in a while, though.

          • Vox Imperatus@February 16, 2016 at 2:43 pm

            This should be a lesson to us all about the limits of what can be accomplished with rules when you don’t have consent to your actual goal.

        • Alex says:

          > right-wing person here is… John Schilling? David Friedman? Deiseach?

          Again I have to conclude that SSC comment section is the only place I frequent, where “right-wing” is associated with high quality content. It still disturbs me.

          • Anon says:

            It disturbs you that it occurs here, or it disturbs you that it only occurs here? It’s hard to have a useful discussion when everyone already agrees. Intelligent disagreement is the only way you’re going to improve.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          Mary? Jiro?

          • Jiro says:

            I’m more right wing than a lot of people here, but I’m still closer to libertarian than Republican.

            And one reason I’m not convinced by “it can’t happen to you” is that it *did* happen to me; I was banned at Thing of Things.

          • Faradn says:

            ToT is not SSC. Ozy’s comment policy is explicitly don’t annoy Ozy.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Mary I think is a pretty conventional conservative. Her style is a bit abrasive at times (heavy reliance on drive-by snark), but maybe because she’s on “my side” I find her more amusing than annoying.

          • Jiro says:

            Unfortunately, Scott’s policy seems to be “don’t annoy Scott”. Scott has pretty much admitted that if he wants to ban someone he’ll look for an excuse to ban them and they’ll be banned for something which is technically against the rules but which lots of other people do without banning. That’s as good as not having rules and banning at a whim.

          • Protagoras says:

            One data point, for what it’s worth, Jiro; in general, when Scott has banned people, I’ve thought they deserved it. On the other hand, I do not think you deserve to be banned (here; no comment on ToT, which has different policies for reasons of being different). So if past patterns hold, you’re probably safe.

          • Nita says:

            @ Jiro

            Seconding Protagoras — I’ve never seen you say anything that might annoy Scott. In fact, my own score is probably higher than yours.

            On the whole, though, I agree with everyone who said that warnings, either individual or general (in open thread posts?) might be healthier for the community.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nita

            For a while Scott gave warnings, and even second warnings, and kept track of who had had how many. Now there are a lot more comments and commentors, and some people have been piling on ‘report comment’ till there are too many false reports to sort through. Even keeping track of whether a ban is ready to expire is probably becoming a chore.

            I worry Scott is worrying too much about looking for excuses to ban; if ban-hammer is all he has time for, just ban! He doesn’t have to spend his time rule-lawyering himself.

            His taste and instincts made ssc a special place where now a lot of people are coming … and criticizing him.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            So, Scott, from “Am I allowed to participate?” to “You get an indefinite ban on the spot for suggesting it”, how OK would you be with a SSC Commenter Dead Pool?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Whatever Happened to Anonymous: What, for actual money? Or just for bragging rights?

      • Morkys says:

        i understand why he was banned, but he came off as being mildly autistic, so SA came off as kind of rude for saying something mean to him

    • Theo Jones says:

      I think Scott is pretty fair in his use of the ban hammer. I’ve been going through some of the entries on that list and I’d say pretty much everyone on that list was a toxic poster.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        Yup, a lot of people banned were banned for pretty explicit shitposting and often after a long period of trying to pick fights.

        • Theo Jones says:

          I’d go as far to say that he is softer on people he disagrees with. Take James A. Donald for instance. Jim got many warnings for personal attacks on other posters and in the gay marriage thread where he got his first ban he was practically straight up trolling. But he got additional warnings, his first bans were temporary, and such.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            That was before the Reign of Terror. Which at this point I’m starting to find actually frightening. I like this community and don’t want to lose it. I wish he *would* go back to *always* giving limited-term bans as warnings first!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Cord Shirt:
            That’s asking Scott to do more work.

            As this community grows (which it seems to have, witness the increase in total comments per post), it’s reasonable to assume that the only way he can possibly keep up is do less work per “problem child”.

            Eventually he will have to trust a select few to administer temp bans, I’m guessing.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            “The mod(s) give(s) warnings prior to handing out any perma-bans” is a necessary condition for a healthy community. The fact that it’s more work does not make it any less necessary. IOW…

            “Eventually he will have to trust a select few to administer temp bans, I’m guessing.”

            …I think we’re there now.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            “As this community grows (which it seems to have, witness the increase in total comments per post), it’s reasonable to assume that the only way he can possibly keep up is do less work per “problem child”.”

            Time was a post with more than 500 comments meant that there was some sort of culture war shitstorm in the comments. Even Scott’s most controversial posts garnered maybe 1,000 comments, tops (Radicalizing the Romanceless, Untitled, I’m thinking of).

            Now even a mundane open thread has approximately 12,000 comments and since I don’t check this blog every day I’m finding myself dreadfully behind.

          • John Schilling says:

            Now even a mundane open thread has approximately 12,000 comments

            The previous five open threads gathered an average of 1,247 comments each and a maximum of 1,574. Those numbers will climb a bit as the last discussions trickle out, but “approximately 12,000” is an order of magnitude too high.

  15. Laurent Bossavit says:

    Add a third superforecaster to that roster. (That should actually be “former superforecaster” maybe, I retired from active duty after the third season owing to changes in the rules that made the game less interesting to me, as well as increased time demands from work. I wrote up my experiences on LW:

    • 27chaos says:

      Hey, it *was* Morendil earlier!

    • Wrong Species says:

      I have a question for you. I joined the Good Judgement Project and I’m unsure of what probability I should give to Trump winning. Status quo says he doesn’t have a chance but he’s been doing really well so far and I’m not sure what can stop him. My gut says he probably won’t win but I’m also pretty biased against him. My current estimates are 40% Rubio, 30% Trump and 30% between the rest. How does that sound?

      • hawkice says:

        Trump winning the nomination seems pretty likely at this point, I’d place it closer to 80% (maybe higher, because for him not to get the nomination, someone else has to win, and I have no idea who that would be), but I’d be pretty surprised if he won the general, considering how contentious he is even among conservatives.

        Two interesting questions: (1) % chance that Republicans nominate someone not using strict primary/caucus result-based delegate counts, due to >=50% unfavorables for Trump among conservatives and (2) % chance of a 3rd party campaign by Trump or Sanders if they lose their nomination. Jeb Bush seems to have the cash for a 3rd party bid but I suspect that won’t happen — same for Clinton.

      • John Schilling says:

        My current estimates are 40% Rubio, 30% Trump and 30% between the rest. How does that sound?

        If by “the rest”, you mean Ted Cruz, it sounds pretty good.

        Each new primary/caucus shakes out another Republican wannabe, and eyeballing the polls, the only one whose votes generally go to Trump are Carson’s. Trump is persistently stuck at 30-40% of the voters, Carson’s remaining 5% or so doesn’t give Trump a clear win, so winds up as a three-way race. Trump, almost certainly Cruz, probably Rubio.

        Whichever one drops out first probably gets to decide which of the others wins, unless possibly they wait too long to drop out. And “too long to be the kingmaker” is in most scenarios past the “cannot win” point, so someone will drop out(*).

        This gets into unguessable psychology territory, but I lean towards Rubio being the “if I can’t win, he’s the least objectionable alternative” choice for both Cruz and Trump.

        * Unless not-dropping-out is their kingmaking move, which works in some scenarios but doesn’t change anything

        • Wrong Species says:

          Actually, the I only gave 15% to Cruz. 15% is divided between Bush and Kasich. Cruz is setting himself up as the anti-Trump and that’s the only plausible path to victory for him. But Rubio is obviously better suited to the task because of his perceived electability, while still being acceptable to conservatives. Radical social conservatives simply don’t win republican nominations these days and I don’t expect him to be the first. Now maybe my estimates for Bush and Kasich are too high but if I lowered them, the remaining percentage would go to Rubio or Trump, not Cruz.

  16. Vamair says:

    I remember Scott once telling he was looking for a method of learning languages that doesn’t make the students learn grammar and lots of rules. I don’t know if he found it, but there is one of such methods: Ilya Frank’s reading method.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve never tried this with any degree of consistency, but Latin and other classical languages used to be taught largely by having their students translate big chunks of text (with a dictionary and other suitable tools available). From what I heard it worked pretty well.

      • Berna says:

        That’s how Latin & Greek were taught when I tried to learn them in school. I think it’s a lousy method. I passed the exam, but I never even got as far as actually being able to read Latin; best I could do was slowly decipher parts of it and guess at the rest. Greek was even worse.

    • xyz says:

      One can gradually absorb a new language a few words at the time, eventually rooting thousands of words in meaningful memories, but skipping the grammar is like skipping leg day at the gym. Don’t do it or you will sound like a moron. I’ve been speaking a lousy pidgin of Japanese for a long time and have begun to get used to the sound of my own speech, and my SO imitates me so I’ll probably never learn to sound like an adult until I put some serious study time into grammar and rules.

      • h says:

        Xyz speaks a close approximation of the truth. If you do not pay attention to grammar you will end up sounding like an idiot.

        That doesn’t mean you need to actually learn the rules. Lots of correct input works as well, as does correcting what you say that’s wrong. Shadowing is less boring than learning grammar and will improve basically all aspects of your language learning. Watch a video or listen to audio that is above your level and repeat what they’re saying as fast as possible, i.e. try to keep up. Or find the subtitles for something. Look up all the words you don’t know. Put every sentence into anki or other SRS surrounded by context. Learn.

        For all this and more go to

        • But learning grammar is the best part of learning a language.

          • Outis says:

            True. Everything else is boring memorization.

          • Creutzer says:

            Learning grammar is also the easiest part, most of the time. The hard part is acquiring vocabulary and collocations (i.e. memorisation) and getting the grammar into procedural memory, which requires practice, practice, and more practice. Since learning grammar explicitly is very cheap, at least for smart people, I think it’s sensible to do that because it probably helps with practicing when you know what you’re practicing and can spot your own mistakes some of the time.

      • Vamair says:

        You’re probably right. On the other hand my main goal when learning a language is to be able to understand texts. I guess this method may be quite useful for that while much less useful for talking.

    • From memory: Tim Ferriss recommends starting by learning the most useful short sentences.

    • Nadja says:

      There is an amazing book about how to learn foreign languages called Fluent Forever. I’ve always loved learning languages, and over the years I’ve picked up some ideas on how to do it effectively. It took me 6 years to become proficient in English (my first foreign language) but only 2 months to be able to learn enough Spanish to interview and get a job using it (Spanish was my 5th foreign language.) I’ve also noticed that many polyglots have picked up the same ideas independently. The more languages you study, the easier it is to learn them. Fluent Forever covers all of the methods successful polyglots use, and more. It’s unbelievably good. It’s the one book I wish I had written.

      Here’s a summary of the Fluent Forever method:

      * Start by learning the sound system properly. You know that factoid about how Japanese babies lose the ability to differentiate between r and l so they’re doomed to have an accent when they learn to speak English? Only partially true. Yes, they do lose the ability, but there is a reliable method called minimal pair testing for regaining it. If you train yourself to hear the sounds of your target foreign language at the start, any future time spent studying the language will be much more productive. You’ll learn vocabulary more easily because words won’t sound foreign. Listening to native speakers will reinforce your knowledge because you’ll be able to recognize sound patterns.
      * Also, learn to pronounce the sounds of the language properly. Use international phonetic alphabet. Working on it later, as you become more advanced, is inefficient because you will have already spent hundreds of hours reinforcing bad pronunciation habits.
      * Learn the most frequently used 625 words using spaced repetition and Google Image. There are vocabulary lists out there that combine words in a way to make them easy to remember. Hint: learning vocabulary thematically (i.e., all colors or all numbers at once) is one of the worst possible methods. Also, use Google Image to see what the word *actually* means in the target language (translations are approximate) and because images make the words easier to remember. Finally, use visual mnemonics for things like noun genders.
      * Sentence play. Learn grammar by memorizing sentences illustrating the most important grammar points.
      * Learn the top 1000 words. Switch to using a monolingual dictionary.
      * Start working with native material. Read a book while listening to an audiobook. Watch a TV show you’ve already seen dubbed in your target language.
      * Use websites that can pair you with a native speaker to practice speaking and to have native speakers correct your writing. At this point you should start producing short essays in your target language. Trying to get the language out that way and having someone correct your mistakes is one of the most effective way to learn.

    • anon says:

      Learning a language to the level where you can use it independently is ultimately about familiarizing yourself with many thousands of different sentences. In comparison, grammars have very few rules to learn (what are twenty rules compared to ten thousand sentences?). Of course you also have to learn auxiliary stuff like tense forms for verbs, but that’s again more about going through a lot of input frequently enough that you can recreate it on demand, not about memorizing lists of word transformations.

      By the time I’ve processed enough input to be able to conjure up all the words I need on demand, I’ve also gotten enough grasp on the spoken, if not on the formal, grammar as well, without going out of my way for it. For the few languages that I have learned in this way at least, it was more about going out and reading/listening/speaking than it was about sitting in front of a book and trying to make sense of rules.

  17. Anatoly says:

    >The last time I logged into my comment reports panel I had almost a thousand different reports I had to go through

    This is simultaneously very hilarious and kinda depressing.

    • Leit says:

      Yeah, had the impression that this place was pretty tolerant in general. I’ve reported one or two severe violations of order, but always felt guilty about it. It’s sad to think that’s not really the case.

      • James Picone says:

        Could still be pretty tolerant in general, just a handful of people responsible for reporting a lot of comments.

    • Anonymous says:

      This blog’s ban history etches a hilarious re-enactment of the evolution of law, much like bitcoin’s history makes a miniature re-enactment of historical financial swindles.

      • At what point was it a working feud system?

        Alternatively, how do you think legal systems start?

        • Anonymous says:

          What I meant was that the following sequence took place:
          1) No rules on new blog, the king’s (Scott’s) word is law (hypothetical – I wasn’t here around the time that the Comments page was instated in 2014).
          2) The king finds it necessary to instate written rules, due to some dispute or other, and formal bans follow according to them. (Also hypothetical.)
          3) Bans slowly accumulate, the king largely following the rules he himself wrote.
          4) Readership and commentariat grows, there emerge commenters who are at odds with the king’s purposes, who know the rules and follow them to the letter, avoiding bans.
          5) Reign of tyranny begins, the king declaring that all who displease him, following the written law or not, will be banned. De facto law is now back to the king’s word.
          6) Purges begin. (We are here).

          I’m not sure what the next step is.

          • John Schilling says:

            David’s point is that Kings powerful enough that their word is law is a fairly late development in most real legal traditions, and your sequence is starting after most of the interesting stuff is done with.

          • Dahlen says:

            Obviously, somewhere down the line we’re going to end up with an intricate law code that spans libraries and several bureaucratic institutions interacting in complicated ways under a fully-formed legal system. Comments policy is decided by a legislature. You’d need a lawyer to appeal a ban, and 743 out of 100 000 commenters will be on the ban registers.

  18. The successful applicant will be better than the previous Pareto Fellow in at least one way, and no worse in any other way.

  19. I have a question for the polyamorists here.

    There are a bunch of social benefits to monogamy, not for individuals but for societies as a whole, making monogamy one of the most widespread and successful of all human social technologies. These include achieving a more equitable mate distribution, thus reducing the number of sexually frustrated and disenfranchised young men who can cause trouble; reducing the amount of time spent pursuing mates, thus freeing up time and energy for other things; and increasing confidence in paternity, giving men a much stronger incentive to invest in their wife’s children and in the long-term health of society as a whole.

    I have never seen any discussion of polyamory which attempted to explain how it was supposed to replicate these benefits, nor much discussion that even acknowledged that there was a problem here to be solved. Most polyamory apologetics that I’ve seen have focused on the issue of sexual jealousy, as if managing sexual jealousy was the primary reason that monogamy dominates in all known civilizations. That said, I haven’t read much by way of smart, recent polyamory apologetics. Is there a decent body of argument here that discusses polyamory in the context of progeny and social structures that I’m not aware of?

    • MugaSofer says:

      Firstly, I’m not convinced that sexual jealousy *isn’t* the reason monogamy dominates in most known cultures. Humans are naturally monogamous.

      With that said, some ad-hoc answers from a hypothetical polyamourist:

      -achieving a more equitable mate distribution, thus reducing the number of sexually frustrated and disenfranchised young men who can cause trouble

      Granting this fungible market-driven model of sexuality: polyamory allows people to acquire some fraction of a traditional relationship – which is both “cheaper” (because smaller) and more numerous (because people are able to provide as much “relationship” as they can, rather than being cut-off at a limit of 1 relationship/person.)

      It seems unlikely that both increasing the supply and lowering the price would make people *less* likely to get their hands on something.

      -reducing the amount of time spent pursuing mates, thus freeing up time and energy for other things

      This benefit seems to come largely from stable, reliable relationships – which *is* something polyamorists devote a lot of effort to arguing they provide.

      Polyamory is also often associated with the idea that relationships should be frank and easily-created, which seems like it would help with this (although it’s not strictly a part of polyamory.)

      -increasing confidence in paternity, giving men a much stronger incentive to invest in their wife’s children and in the long-term health of society as a whole

      This isn’t how humans, societies, brains and bonding in general, or evolution work.

      • nope says:

        So why does sexual jealousy exist? Emotional responses evolved for a reason, and ubiquitous emotions have the strongest claim to being adaptive. Humans being monogamish (more like mildly polygamous) is a result of sexual jealousy the same way a person not putting their hand in a fire is the result of pain.

        I don’t always agree with evo psych just so explanations on everything, particularly in the case of mating, but the very strong hold monogamy (and sometimes polygyny) has had on human history shouldn’t be so easily brushed aside by polyamorists. A few of them, to their credit, are more in the vein of “this is varsity level relationship stuff and probably shouldn’t be attempted by a lot of people, but it can be nice if you work really really hard at it”, rather that the irritating “we’re enlightened and this is how everyone will be in the future”.

        >Granting this fungible market-driven model of sexuality: polyamory allows people to acquire some fraction of a traditional relationship – which is both “cheaper” (because smaller) and more numerous (because people are able to provide as much “relationship” as they can, rather than being cut-off at a limit of 1 relationship/person.)

        Unlikely to work in larger society in practice. Humans are only *mildly* polygynous because we’re explicitly monogamous. When you break down that barrier, high status men start accumulating all the women who were locked out by monogamy and low status men get left out, as has always happened in these sorts of arrangements.

        >This benefit seems to come largely from stable, reliable relationships – which *is* something polyamorists devote a lot of effort to arguing they provide.

        Most polyamorists I’ve read on the subject are pretty adamant that (ethical) polyamory is a lot of work and way more complicated than monogamy. This makes sense unless you’re a really staunch relationship anarchist. Romantic relationships are inherently more complicated and require more work than non-romantic friendships, and each new dyad adds another layer of complexity.

        >This isn’t how humans, societies, brains and bonding in general, or evolution work.

        This is exactly how most evolutionary psychologists think humans work. Contradiction without argument isn’t very convincing.

        • Yeah, I want to hear your (edit: I mean MugaSofer’s) response to the last point, because that’s actually the point I’m most confident about. In those societies where something like “responsible polyamory” has a long history (e.g.), men make very little investment in their own children, but invest rather in their sister’s children as part of a matrilineal family.

          This obviously can work (for certain values of “work”), but it doesn’t seem like a very commonly-encountered solution, which suggests that it has hidden downsides.

          • Nita says:

            Mosuo culture has “walking marriages” or “visiting relations,” in which partners do not live in the same household. [..] These visits are usually kept secret, with the man visiting the woman’s house after dark, spending the night, and returning to his own home in the morning.

            “Polyamory” is a huge umbrella, and this sort of thing also fits under it, but other sorts of relationships — “triads”, “vees”, “quads”, primary/secondary structures — are usually preferred for raising children.

        • Nita says:

          high status men start accumulating all the women who were locked out by monogamy and low status men get left out, as has always happened in these sorts of arrangements

          If the distribution of status and wealth between genders is severely unequal, this inequality will be reflected in relationship styles, even in nominally monogamous societies (see: the popular wife-and-mistress arrangement).

          On the other hand, when a woman can gain sufficient financial stability and social status by herself, the incentive to become some dude’s 10th concubine is much reduced.

          • nope says:

            The highest levels of status in most cases are still disproportionately occupied by men, and I think this is unlikely to change in the near future. So yes, if men and women were/were treated exactly the same, then reproductive outcomes would be more similar. But they aren’t.

          • Cadie says:

            It may be true that her incentive to become “some dude’s 10th concubine” is much reduced, but at least for some women, the incentive to become “some dude’s secondary partner” (or some other gal’s secondary partner, if bisexual or lesbian) increases, at least in some cases. Because she doesn’t NEED her partner to provide financial stability, and she has more freedom to pursue social relationships through work, hobbies, etc., it’s safe for her to accept an arrangement that is less likely to be permanent and isn’t exclusive. And she often has less time available to accept an arrangement that makes all the demands on her time and energy that being someone’s monogamous partner makes.

            Given the choice between “settling” for someone to be their only partner, or being the secondary partner of someone they’d much rather be with, there are some women for whom financial equality is more likely, not less likely, to make them opt for the second arrangement. So full equality isn’t going to eliminate polyamorous tendencies in women entirely, even if the population-wide effect is to reduce it somewhat.

          • Nita says:

            @ Cadie

            I certainly wasn’t trying to argue that equality would make women monogamous — only that polygyny and polyandry (and other relationships with an uneven gender split) would be more balanced in a more equal society, resulting in better prospects for men.

          • curtains says:

            I don’t think the distribution of status and wealth between genders matters so much as the distribution between individuals. Even if the number of millionaire men is the same as the number of millionaire women, in a society with legal plural marriage, there’s nothing to stop every millionaire man from marrying two non-millionaire models, leaving all the millionaire women and non-millionaire men in the cold.

            “On the other hand, when a woman can gain sufficient financial stability and social status by herself, the incentive to become some dude’s 10th concubine is much reduced.” Sure, but in a society where women can support themselves, they can just spend all their time hooking up with the hottest guys and not worry about finding someone to support them. So if you’re a guy but you’re not one of the hottest guys that women want to hook up with on a casual basis, you’re not getting any. So it’s not clear which way the effect goes.

            I think the hypothetical that results in the best marriages is a society where women need a man to support them, and all men are approximately equal in desirability and each capable of supporting about one women.

          • anonymous says:

            I think the hypothetical that results in the best marriages is a society where women need a man to support them, and all men are approximately equal in desirability and each capable of supporting about one women.

            The best marriages in what sense? That reads to me like motivated reasoning.

          • Nita says:

            @ curtains

            leaving all the millionaire women and non-millionaire men in the cold

            …because the only possible marriages are between a man and a model?

            Sure, but in a society where women can support themselves, they can just spend all their time hooking up with the hottest guys

            Well, in practice, some of them do spend some of their time doing that. But most of them still prefer to settle down and raise children with someone, not on their own.

          • Anon says:


            I’m not entirely sure that women (in general) do want to settle down with someone. Or rather, in my experience as a woman raised in a lower-class environment, the women I am familiar with seem to prefer being single mothers.

            Of course, some of them are doing it out of necessity because the father of the children refuses to participate in raising them (or he is in prison or something).

            But some of them do seem to choose it, at least insofar as you consider purposefully reproducing with a man who they know will not help out with the kids to be “choosing it”. I consider it to be basically the same as consciously making that choice (in a “revealed preferences” sense), but you may not.

            My mother made this choice, and she seemed quite pleased with it throughout my childhood. I never once heard her complain about my father not being involved with raising me. We were very poor (by American standards) and he never sent child support despite being legally required to do so, but she still didn’t seem bothered by it in the least.

            I think we ought to be careful about generalizing what women want, because women from lower class environments have (in my experience) very different desires for their sexual and reproductive relationships than middle class women. Namely, they don’t seem to expect or want nearly as much investment from the father of their children in said children as middle-class women do. They also don’t seem to experience as much sexual jealousy. I’ve known many lower-class women who voluntarily participated in open relationships (though these were not what we would usually call “polyamorous”, since they almost always adhered to the one-penis policy). They don’t seem to mind their men having other girlfriends to the same extent as middle-class women do. Note that I’m not saying they like it, I’m just saying they don’t dislike it as strongly as middle-class women seem to.

            I think a transition to a more polygynous society would benefit lower-class women and most of them would enjoy it on net, because it would give them sexual access to high-status men who they are currently unable to have sexual relations with due to those men already being in a monogamous marriage. They would not gain much paternal investment in their children since they’d be second or third mistresses, but they already don’t get much of that anyway and they seem fine with it as it is.

            But middle-class women would not benefit from this and would probably not enjoy it. They would lose the ability to keep their middle-class husbands from taking lower-class women as mistresses, causing sexual jealousy for them. They would also experience more intra-female sexual competition to be the “first wife,” something they do not have to worry about in a monogamous society. I also think that middle-class women genuinely want their husbands to participate in child-rearing, and when those husbands are no longer bound to one woman, the chance that they will participate in child-rearing to the extent that middle-class women expect and desire is low.

            I’m not sure how upper-class women would feel about this as I do not know any, but I imagine it would also be bad for them, and probably even worse than for middle-class women. Upper-class women generally marry upper-class men due to the increasing prevalence of assortive mating, and upper-class men are usually financially capable of supporting and attracting many mistresses. While middle-class men might only have 1-3 mistresses in addition to their wife, upper-class men could easily have 20 or more. That sounds like a very undesirable situation for upper-class women to be in.

            Ultimately, I think upper-class women and lower-class men would be the biggest losers in a transition to a polygynous society. (And I think that a polyamorous society would inevitably degrade into a de-facto polygynous society due to differing incentives and desires for men and women. Real polyamory is probably only possible among extremely intelligent people who score extremely low on the sexual jealousy scale. The vast majority of people in any society do not meet both or either of those qualifications.)

            (Please note that I am not advocating a transition to societal polygyny. I think we need to be very careful about large-scale societal transitions like that, and I also think that our current status quo of serial monogamy is probably better [or at least, I prefer it due to being high on the sexual jealousy scale]. If anything, I’d prefer we transition back to absolute monogamy, or at least get as close to it as possible, though I recognize that this too has its downsides.)

          • Nita says:

            @ Anon

            Thanks! That’s outside my realm of experience, for sure.

            My simplistic armchair theory is that, in the recent decades, a working-class husband could easily end up being a liability instead of an asset, and that changed the women’s strategies, which were transmitted to the next generation.

            On the other hand…

            I have a friend who was raised by a single mother, and she also expressed a cheerful willingness to raise children on her own. But now she’s happily married to the kid’s father — it seems that her plans were changed pretty easily. So, perhaps the guys expressing concerns in this thread have a good chance to change someone’s plans, too.

          • Anon says:

            @ Nita

            I think you’re right about working class men often not being an asset in the modern day economic environment. In the recent past, such men could bring in paychecks large enough to make a woman feel that it was worth sacrificing her autonomy (which working-class women very strongly value) to gain access to that paycheck.

            But with the destruction of the working-class’s ability to make decent wages, that incentive simply isn’t there. For many working-class women, it’s not possible for them to attract a man who makes a decent amount of money and is willing to spend it on her and their children. So their only choices are:

            -Men who are nice (not in the “nice guys” sense, but genuinely nice) but very poor and only sporadically employed. These men tend to have better economic prospects than the following two groups, but their paychecks are still usually very small. These men sadly have the worst prospects for getting girlfriends among the three groups I’m outlining, because lower-class women consider them to be “pussies.”

            -Men who have “alpha” personality traits, which lower-class women tend to love, but who are also usually very poor and sporadically employed. They aren’t temperamentally suited for modern-day work life, but they are better at it than the third group of men. These men tend to get the most girlfriends out of the three groups.

            -Men who are extremely violent and who will inevitably end up in jail very soon. These men are usually the poorest of all and almost always have no work record whatsoever because they are too violent to take orders from a boss. Their main source of income is usually something gang-related. They get the second-most number of girlfriends out of the three groups, and they often wind up in jail for abusing their girlfriends. Sometimes women mistake men like this for being members of the second group, which is part of the reason they get girlfriends.

            None of these three groups of men would really be beneficial for a working-class woman to marry. None of them will bring in much income, if any, and the second two groups won’t engage in any child-rearing. The third group of men won’t even be free on the streets for very long due to their criminal nature.

            I would marry a man from the first group if I had to choose (and in fact I may end up doing so someday), but I can understand why a lot of women in this situation would rather do it by themselves. The calculations probably did work out differently in the past when the first and second groups could bring in good incomes, but that day is past and I don’t think it’ll be coming back.

            (The existence of welfare also changes the calculations a lot. My mother probably would have latched on to any man she could who had any income whatsoever if she had not gotten welfare, and I expect many lower-class single mothers would do the same out of desperation. They’d be a lot less happy in this arrangement, though, because they do seem to enjoy being single moms, and for most of them it is only financially possible to do so with the additional income welfare brings in.)

          • Maware says:

            The irony is that in the past, the high status man had to support his concubines. The modern concubine supports herself.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Heck, the modern concubine can support herself and her concubinator.

          • Nonnamous says:


            I would marry a man from the first group if I had to choose (and in fact I may end up doing so someday)

            From the way you wrote it, it’s not clear to me whether you have a specific man in mind that you like and might decide to marry, or you think that because you consider yourself “working class” your options are limited to the three types described.

            If it’s the former, then best of luck to both of you.

            If the latter, then maybe it’s not so bad.

            First, a middle or upper class man would absolutely consider dating and marrying a woman with lower economic status if he considered her his equal in ways other than financial. Which in your case he very well might, since it’s evident from your writing that you are very smart and you communicate well.

            Second, I know nothing about you, and I’m sorry that what I’m about to write is kind of presumptive, but unless there are some extraordinary circumstances, you won’t stay poor your whole life. Smart people who communicate well are a hot commodity in the job market. It may not seem like that to you now but it’s true. For example, you can train to become a paralegal or a legal secretary. (College education is not necessary; I know a girl who went from working factory floor to pulling six figures at a law firm, had just a hight school diploma to her name.) This is just an example. There are other possibilities. For example, if you are one of the lucky people who can learn to code (and if you haven’t tried then you don’t know whether you are or not), that’s probably the best choice, degree also optional.

            Anyway, I hope you do well, you have written some very interesting stuff in this thread.

          • Anon says:


            Thank you very much for saying so many nice things about me!

            I don’t have a specific man in mind to marry. I know that men aren’t as concerned with women’s earning ability as women are with men’s, so it’s certainly possible that I could get a middle class man to marry me, but among the underclass, most of the women who were attractive enough to convince a middle class man to marry them have already done so, and their children (including their similarly beautiful daughters) get born into the middle class, leaving only the relatively unattractive women and their similarly unattractive daughters in the underclass. This is why most lower-class women don’t have good marriage prospects.

            I got kind of lucky in that my mom was not in the underclass because she was too unattractive to marry out; rather, she was stuck there because she has schizophrenia, which I managed to avoid inheriting. (Her disability checks were what allowed us to live solely off of welfare, which I have heard is neigh impossible to do if you’re not getting disability.) So her decent-looking genes got passed on to me. But both of my parents are fat now, and I am too, which lowers my attractiveness below what it would otherwise be. ):

            I’d like it if my good communication skills could land me a middle class husband, but I’ve always been under the impression that most men (though certainly not all) are primarily concerned with women’s looks, and I’m not sure my intelligence could outweigh my being fat in a middle class man’s internal calculations.

            I really hope your prediction of my future earning ability is true! So far, the most I was able to make at any job was $13/hour working part time with no benefits doing physical labor. ): And that’s not even my current job. I’m in college right now, and I’ll be graduating after next semester, so I’m hoping to have better prospects then.

            Being a paralegal or a legal secretary sounds like it would be right up my ally. My IQ is highly skewed toward the verbal end, so I tend to sound smarter when I’m writing than I would seem if I were doing math problems. I’ve considered going to law school, but I probably won’t, since I’ve heard the market is too flooded with lawyers right now. I’m also not conscientious enough to work 14-hour days like lawyers do.

            Coding might be a good option. I kind of wish I had majored in computer science (or maybe it’s IT? not sure which one is the one where you learn to code). I took a high school class in which we learned some basic coding, mostly HTML, and I enjoyed it and found it quite easy, but I’m not sure how well I’d do with harder computing languages.

            Once again, thanks for being so nice to me! 🙂

          • Marc Whipple says:


            1) You just think he was being nice to you. This is what it looks like when someone is really being nice to you:

            DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL.

            You’re welcome. 🙂

            2) If you found HTML coding easy and fun, it is quite likely that you could learn a more involved coding language without much difficulty. Give me someone with a half-decent memory and the ability to think logically, and I’ll teach them any coding language you care to name.

            3) There is fat, and there is morbidly obese. If you are just fat, while that certainly doesn’t help as you probably know it is by no means a dealbreaker for many men, especially if you have a pretty face. (I don’t make the news, I just report it.)

            On the other hand, people who are morbidly obese should be more worried about what that means for them than for what it means for potential romantic partners, in my opinion.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          >So why does sexual jealousy exist? Emotional responses evolved for a reason

          And that reason is not “to build a more perfect society”.

          >Unlikely to work in larger society in practice.

          While – as I’ve indicated – I believe that our naturally monogamoous instincts probably make implementing a large-scale polyamorous society unlikely, that doesn’t actually refute my point there.

          EDIT: of course, my hypothetical polyamorist would just return to the arguments that sexual jealousy ain’t all that which Mai was arguing against in the first place.

          Harems and the polyamory movement are not the same thing – they are, if anything, more exclusive than the current standard of monogamy. If the harem-doors were opened to others, the result would be an increase in total sexual activity, not a reduction.

          >Most polyamorists I’ve read on the subject are pretty adamant that (ethical) polyamory is a lot of work and way more complicated than monogamy.

          This doesn’t imply that they’re unusually unstable; rather, it implies that there are selection effects making them more stable.

          >This is exactly how most evolutionary psychologists think humans work.

          No, they don’t. Humans are not designed to determine whether a child has more or less genetic measure in common with them; rather, babies are cute, and people become attached to them.

          Yes, this leads to suboptimal evolutionary strategies, like adoption, but it’s also vastly easier to implement and rarely goes wrong (especially in relatively isolated hunter-gatherer tribes); whereas explicitly programming in knowledge of genetics would be a biological nightmare.

          In point of fact, there have been quite a few perfectly stable societies that didn’t understand genetics or parentage at all.

          EDIT: of course, if people *did* care about ensuring paternity – rather than sexual jealousy – they could simply take a paternity test, no?

          • Anonymous says:

            knowledge of genetics

            Erm, it doesn’t take knowledge of genetics to tell whether a child does or does not look like its father.

          • Anon says:

            If all people cared about was that babies are cute, why do hospitals work so hard to ensure that the right baby goes home with the right mother? If genes don’t matter to the mother emotionally, she should be fine with any random baby the hospital chooses to give to her, right?

            But we don’t do this, because people do care whether their children are related to them or not. Both mothers and fathers care, and they care very deeply. That’s why men think that being cuckholded is one of the worst things that could happen to them. That’s why women who are given the wrong baby to take home from the hospital are devastated when they find out.

            I would be absolutely furious and devastated and heartbroken and [insert all the other synonyms for mad and sad here] if I gave birth in a hospital and then found out that the baby they sent home with me was not mine. I would instantly want to trade that baby for my actual, genetically-related child. The fact that the kid they sent home with me is cute would not matter. Sure, I wouldn’t mistreat it or anything (I’m not some kind of psychopath), but I would never ever be able to love it as my own child once I knew that it was not.

            The stereotypes about evil stepmothers and stepfathers exist for a reason. It’s because people who aren’t related to a kid don’t care as much about that kid as its genetically related biological parents.

            See here for a study on this, which also references other studies on this topic that you (generic you) could look up if you were so inclined.

            (Throughout this post I’m using “it” simply as a gender-neutral pronoun for babies and kids. I’m not intending to imply that they are inanimate objects, I just didn’t want to use the singular “they” for this because it felt weird to.)

          • Muga Sofer says:

            Nevertheless, some societies have managed to thoroughly much up this simple deduction, for one reason or another.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            The bad part of cuckoldry is the deception. It is perfectly possible to care about children that aren’t biologically yours, hence why adoption exists.

          • Anon says:

            @ sweeneyrod

            Sure, it’s possible, and I’d say it’s probably a lot easier to love an unrelated child if no one tricked you into taking care of that child (like in a voluntary adoption). But there’s a reason adoption is unusual. There’s a reason it’s usually a back-up plan for when people find out they cannot have biological children. There’s a reason many cultures do not consider adopted children to be a part of their adoptive family in the same way as a biological child.

            For example, in Arab Muslim culture, adoptive children take their biological father’s surname, not their adoptive father’s. And they are not “adopted,” in the Western sense. When they are adopted it ends up being much more similar to Western foster care than true adoption. See here for more information.

            In Japan, most adoptions are of adult men, for business or financial purposes; adoption of children is rare. See here and here. There’s also this interesting study about Korea.

            The point of all of these links and cultural examples is that the West (particularly Northwestern Europeans and their descendants) are kind of unusual in accepting adopted children as full and equal members of the family, the same as a biological child. This isn’t the case all over the world, and I think there’s a biological, evolutionary reason why humans generally don’t adopt unrelated children (note that this is rare even among Northwestern Europeans and tends to only be done by infertile people).

            It’s because it results in your genes dying out.

            Even if you have some of your own biological children too, the resources you spend on an adopted child could have been going towards a child of your own, which means you will be outcompeted in the long run by people who spent all of their resources on their own kids.

            (I should probably note here that I don’t actually have anything against adoption. And I’m not saying it’s impossible to love an adopted child. If you (generic you) want to adopt, that’s wonderful. I’m glad that a child will get a good home. All I’m saying is that there’s real reasons adoption isn’t most people’s first choice and that parents really do care whether their kids are genetically related to them.)

          • Viliam says:

            of course, if people *did* care about ensuring paternity – rather than sexual jealousy – they could simply take a paternity test, no?

            Sigh. Humans are not automatically strategic, trivial inconveniences matter…

            “Men actually don’t mind being cucked (because they don’t take paternity tests)” is just as offensive, and pretty much the same logic, as “women actually don’t mind being raped (because they sometimes walk in a dark street)”. But it’s okay, because offending men is okay.

            (Or you could use the same logic against Anon@4:32, because most mothers also don’t take maternity tests to make double-sure that the doctors didn’t exchange their babies with someone else.)

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Humans are naturally monogamous.

        [Citation needed.]

        • волк says:

          I’m currently reading a book called Sex at Dawn which argues that humans are absolutely not “naturally monogamous.” As Wikipedia points out, the book’s scholarship is questionable, and I’m not sure I buy all of the arguments. But on the other hand, the prevalence of infidelity and divorce throughout the ages certainly draws into question the idea that all humans everywhere are “naturally monogamous.”

          • John Schilling says:

            I take “naturally monogamous” to mean “naturally desire monogamy from their mates more than they desire polyamory for themselves”. Given competing desires, strong competitors (or foolish ones) will consistently try to satisfy both.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            My belief is that hunter-gatherers engaged in serial monogamy, of maybe 3 years duration. Is this more or less monogamous than Sex at Dawn claims? I don’t remember how I reached that conclusion, but it seems pretty close to what Robin Hanson said the day after he endorsed the book. A couple years later, he seems to backpedal. I think his conclusion is formally monogamous with a lot of cheating.

    • Alex says:

      >There are a bunch of social benefits to monogamy, not for individuals but for societies as a whole, making monogamy one of the most widespread and successful of all human social technologies. These include achieving a more equitable mate distribution, thus reducing the number of sexually frustrated and disenfranchised young men who can cause trouble;

      You really should differentiate between classical “until dead parts us”-monogamy and today’s standard “serial”-monogamy. I grew up in a rather small village (by european standards) and the generation of now 40yo indeed seems to have simply solved in their teens the matching problem with whatever marriage material the village had produced and stuck with that solution. Up to this day there is a lot of envy going on because naturally some came out at the short end of that lottery and, I suspect, a lot of within-group adultery to mitigate such troubles. But in principle, I agree, the solution has the feature you name. Let’s say it kindof works although it is bewildering for me to look at it.

      For me, being younger and, for reasons unrelated, connected to the outside world, i. e. “the city”, the world worked very differently. Once you move into circles that are selected for criteria other than “the village youth”, the matching problem no longer has a satisfying solution for a number of reasons, the most basic of which are that groups are no longer practically guaranteed to have gender-parity and, in whatever group you are, people will have options outside the group. Personally I’ve never seen serial-monogamy to bear the blessing you name. More specifically, there never was a lack of sexually frustrated people and, unlike you say, they were of both genders.

      > reducing the amount of time spent pursuing mates, thus freeing up time and energy for other things;

      This is an advantage of stable relationships, no matter if monogamous or polyamorous. Moreover it is not a social benefit in the way the first point, if it were true, is. The first point in so far as I understand it, is about negative external effects of monopolizing more than one potential partner. This point is about an individual benefit for the so inclined — depending on personality it might as well never happen or not be seen as a benefit. The individual benefit might aggregate for the good of society but little more in the way of externalities.

      >and increasing confidence in paternity, giving men a much stronger incentive to invest in their wife’s children and in the long-term health of society as a whole.

      I believe this was way more important historically than your first two points combined. But with working cotraceptives and paternity tests (I recall having given the same argument in the other thread), it lost its importance. An so did classical monogamy for the better or worse.

      >nor much discussion that even acknowledged that there was a problem here to be solved.

      So what is the problem one should acknowledge? You compare polyamory to a form of monogamy that IMO has not been a real thing for the better part of at least 20 years, at least in social groups that are open to polyamory. Even if your historical fiction of monogamy comes out on top of that comparison that says nothing about the real advantages or disadvantages.

      You seem to envision monogamy as an ideal of faithfulness, which we all know it isn’t, and polyamory as some “hub”-players monopolizing more than one potential partner, which, if true, would be little different from serial-monogamy as it is.

      The way I see it, society, by means of upbringing, makes the big mistake to tie emotional security to sexual exclusivity for reasons that technically have become non issues.

      • You compare polyamory to a form of monogamy that IMO has not been a real thing for the better part of at least 20 years, at least in social groups that are open to polyamory.

        I think you’re right about this. “Monogamy” as practiced by Blue-tribe people under the age of about 50 is not really monogamy as I was thinking of it, and might not have any substantial advantages over polyamory. This probably explains a lot.

        (Of course I would probably describe this the other way around, ie. “serial monogamy is no better than a poly cuddle pile”, but the point stands.)

        • I wonder how true it is that traditional monogamy has not been an option for a long time. I’m on my second marriage–but it’s been going for thirty years or so and I expect it to continue until one of us dies. How uncommon is that sort of pattern?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Traditional monogamy has always and will always be an option: it’s a question of whether it’s a legally recognized and supported option. Not to mention whether it is a socially supported and sanctioned option.

          • Among young people, which is virtually 100% Blue-Tribe, marriage is desired. The vast majority of young men and women are trying to pair off, for life.

            Marriage is an Upper Middle Class aspirational good, and Blue-Tribe still lives in the UMC. I believe Charles Murray made the point that upper middle class people still act like boring Conservatives despite professing “progressive” values.

          • blacktrance says:

            Why do you think there’s a contradiction between professing progressive values and pairing off for marriage?

          • Anonymous says:


            Because marriage is associated with all kinds of icky old Red Tribe ideas. Wife submitting to husband. Til death do us part i.e. you can’t just leave when you want i.e. trapped in marriage. Expectation of monogamy i.e. an expectation to not have certain kinds of sex i.e. sexual repression. Man works, woman stays at home. Man and woman just like God intended. Taking his surname. Woman having babies and ending her career. Chain, pregnant, barefoot, stove.

            Obviously, most of these no longer literally apply, but it seems to me relatively uncontroversial that the concept of marriage is very much unprogressive, Red Tribe, conservative.

          • blacktrance says:

            In the minds of Blue Tribers, marriage has lost most of those associations. They expect the marriage to be a dissoluble partnership between equals. Given that, is it still weird that they’re pairing off? And they’re usually monogamous and think of non-monogamy as weird – I don’t know where this idea of Blues considering monogamy “boilerplate” or repressive comes from, as it’s very much a minority position.

            And while some Red Tribers may have different expectations of their own marriages, they would hardly describe an egalitarian liberal opposite-sex marriage as “not marriage”.

          • Adam says:

            Multiple high-income earners joining to make one even higher income is still the best way to ensure a more secure life when you’re not super rich. If anything, I think this is a more blue than red thing. The fact that the Army detailed me to armor branch when I first commissioned was a culturally illuminating experience. Tankers are almost universally good old country boys who married their high school sweetheart when she was 18 and had two kids on an E4 salary, which breaks him when they inevitably divorce after she finds out being married to a Soldier kind of sucks, but it probably made sense to her because what the fuck else are you going to do when you get pregnant at 18, live in the middle of Kansas, and probably aren’t going to college and have no idea what you would even try to do if you did?

            The point of each marriage is miles apart even if they’re both ‘marriage.’ I don’t see very much of what Anonymous said in my own marriage. My wife didn’t give up her career. Neither of us wants kids. We didn’t stop having weird sex. I mean, the expectation is certainly that we’re a team and we’ve committed to each other and neither will up and leave for no good reason. Is that anti-progressive? It just seems smart. We’re stronger together than we were apart. We can afford a nicer condo, save more for retirement, if one of us gets sick or becomes unemployed, the other can support and we don’t need to move back in with our parents. It’s a damn good deal.

            I think DBG is at least a little wrong with the ‘guys with access to hot sex won’t marry thing,’ not only for these other reasons that marriage is advantageous, but because that’s only true of a very small and select group of high-status men like pro athletes and movie stars who are constantly at parties surrounded by women, and even then usually only when they’re young. For the rest of us, even if we easily could find attractive sex partners, having to actually do that all the time gets tiresome when you have a really good sex partner that does all the things you like already living with you. The only downside is the potential for future alimony, but that doesn’t apply if she makes really good money, too.

          • James Picone says:

            I’m not strictly speaking Blue Tribe, what with not being American, but those are not the associations I have with marriage, and a number of my quite left-of-centre and social-justice-inclined friends have gotten married or are considering marriage without appearing to believe that that’s associated with women being submissive.

            Maybe the two different tribes have different views about what marriage is; I find the “We can’t /really/ get married any more” viewpoint somewhere between bizarre and incomprehensible, and I’ve seen plenty from red people about how ‘gay marriage’ is an oxymoron.

          • anon says:

            There’s a difference between pairing off and marrying. The first one is something most humans will do regardless of political affiliation. A culture of short-term pairing could maybe become popular, but that culture isn’t blue tribe (even for them the goal of the whole partner hopping ultimately has the purpose of finding a long-term partner).

            Marrying is a layer on top of simply moving in together for life, and while there’s been a move away from it, I don’t think it’s only done for tax reasons even among blues.

            Like, they want to have marriage, but they also try to strip it of all the things that make it marriage. Why do they bother in the first place as opposed to just..not marrying?

          • I think DBG is at least a little wrong with the ‘guys with access to hot sex won’t marry thing,’ not only for these other reasons that marriage is advantageous, but because that’s only true of a very small and select group of high-status men like pro athletes and movie stars who are constantly at parties surrounded by women, and even then usually only when they’re young

            This is referring to a different thread.
            Yes, certain high-powered men will still get married because marriage is an aspirational good. This is true even today. Slick Willie needs to get married to be President.

            Yes, the number of super-attractive guys is minimal. Most guys will struggle to increase N by 1.

            To the thread in general:

            Why do you think there’s a contradiction between professing progressive values and pairing off for marriage?

            There really isn’t one. Marriage is a class good, not a tribe good. Family is a class good, not a tribe good. Blue Tribe acts like Upper Class Red Tribe because Blue Tribe and Upper Class Red Tribe are both Upper Middle Class.

            That’s actually my point, monogamy and marriage are still on the table and still demanded by Blue Tribe youngsters. They always wanted to get married, they just wanted the marriage contract to be watered down.

            Again, this is my point re: polyamory. It is not that Blue Tribe youngsters want to not get married. That’s ridiculous. They want to still be “married” and sleep with other people.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @anon (6:11):

            It is not enough that they succeed: everyone else must fail.

      • Anonymous says:

        While that’s probably true to an extent, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as you claim. From how I see it, the problem is, if anything, worse with the Red Tribe. They, as Scott once put it, marry early and divorce early. They follow the old rules for marriage – pair up with someone in the village you kinda like, explicitly trade sex for resources – but don’t stick at it. Blue Tribe types on the other hand seem to have a number of flings, short-to-medium term relationships, and one-night stands throughout their twenties, before getting married and staying married in their late twenties or early thirties.

        The libertarian in me wants to say that the solution is obviously a liberalizing of the marriage contract. Let those Red Tribe folks who are serious and want to commit to an old-style marriage, but can’t because divorce is so easy to get now, marry on a contract under which divorce is not easy to get – or at least involves incurring some cost. Let the Blue Tribers who solve this problem by finding someone who is just right for them and bilaterally monopolizing one another keep their easy-come, easy-go marriage contract, because apparently they don’t need anything stronger.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Gonna need to see your numbers for that one. Most studies I’ve seen which aimed to support that point did bad things like designate states as “red” or “blue” and try to draw conclusions from that. Any real attempt will need to actually define “Red Tribe” and “Blue Tribe” and make sure to decide where/if to include black people in those groupings. And then make sure that most of the work in your divorce rate isn’t being done by that fact that it’s measured against the whole population, not against the married population.

          From what I’ve seen, education level, income, church attendance, and race are the major predictors of marital stability. Some of those are probably just proxies for the others. Political allegiance doesn’t seem to have a significant impact.

          • Anonymous says:

            Remember that tribe is not just political allegiance, it’s that plus a whole bunch of other things. Lots of the risk factors for divorce I’ve seen do correlate with Red Tribe traits. Age of woman at marriage (younger = higher divorce rates) is one. Joint income level (lower = higher divorce rates) is another. One interesting one that perhaps runs in the other direction is percentage of the joint income earned by the woman: higher = higher divorce rates.

            I can dig up the citations for these if you’d like. Regarding the post in general, it’s mostly based on my observations and conjectures rather than any enormously solid evidence. But I would be surprised if, having found some reasonable proxy for tribe and run the numbers, you didn’t find that Red Tribers marry younger and divorce more often.

          • Adam says:

            My own experience would be way too heavily influenced by my time in the military. Commissioned officers were the Blue Tribe, who met their wives in college, were financially stable and generally stayed married. Enlisted, the Red Tribe, married their high school sweethearts, had kids way before they had any money, their wives were clearly not ready for the demands of raising a kid with very little income while your husband is off fighting wars, and they almost always seemed to end in divorce, at least the first marriage.

            But if we’re going on politics alone, both these groups are Red Tribe. Which is part of the problem with these terms, because the way they’re used seems to constantly jump back and forth from social class to political alignment, which are not the same thing.

          • keranih says:

            Lots of the risk factors for divorce I’ve seen do correlate with Red Tribe traits. Age of woman at marriage (younger = higher divorce rates) is one. Joint income level (lower = higher divorce rates) is another.

            Yes. These are confounders, and in order to compare for two groups, you have to control for them. If you don’t control for them, you can end up finding a positive correlation that is actually negative.

            There are more divorces per capita in “red” states vs “blue” states – but there are also more marriages.

            The paper I saw – not finding at the mo – that controlled for education, age, and race found that religion and political conservatism had a higher marriage rate (vs single/living together) and a lower rate of divorce among those who were married than among atheists and political liberals.

            People who married young had lower divorce rates if they were red tribe than if they were blue – but had higher divorce rates than older people.

            People who were older when they married had lower divorce rates if they were red tribe than if they were blue, but had lower divorce rates than younger people.

    • Nita says:

      achieving a more equitable mate distribution, thus reducing the number of sexually frustrated and disenfranchised young men

      As you said, monogamy dominates — and yet “sexually frustrated and disenfranchised young men” still exist. Polyandrous relationships could help alleviate the problem — for instance, the “beta orbiters” redpillers love to sneer at could be getting at least some of their needs met.

      Of course, there’s a subset of these frustrated men that no woman wants even on a part-time basis, but you can’t solve that with monogamy alone — you’d have to institute some sort of mandatory mating scheme.

      reducing the amount of time spent pursuing mates, thus freeing up time and energy for other things

      A poly world would not be different from the current world in this regard — people who want to do something other than looking for more partners could still do that.

      increasing confidence in paternity, giving men a much stronger incentive to invest in their wife’s children

      Poly people generally don’t seem to be in favour of leaving their reproductive outcomes up to God. So, conceiving children would tend to be intentional, giving a higher confidence in paternity.

      Another approach is, e.g., a closed poly marriage — of course, men who are incapable of adopting another’s man’s children would not choose to share a marriage with another man, either.

      and in the long-term health of society as a whole

      I know eugenics/dysgenics is kind of a touchy topic, but do we really need more people who care about society only insofar it benefits their biological offspring?

      • suntzuanime says:

        You shouldn’t darkly hint at eugenics stuff, not because it’s a touchy topic or whatever, but because if you actually came out and said what you meant you might realize how stupid it sounds.

        • Nita says:

          I meant that “let’s make sure that the people who only care about their children, and don’t care about society, can find a mate and reproduce” doesn’t seem like an obviously good idea. Perhaps if failing to appease this group would certainly result in terrible consequences — but even that feels like “negotiating with terrorists”.

          • suntzuanime says:

            you’re missing a comma between “people” and “who” which might help the goodness of the idea become a little more obvious

            the nice thing about people knowing who their children are is that you can threaten to kill them if they get out of line, how’s that for negotiating with terrorists

          • Nita says:

            Eh, I think I’m going to keep considering Scott a person, and supporting the continued existence of a society where killing someone’s children “if they get out of line” is not a thing.

            Edit: Just for clarity, let’s replace “not a thing” with “not usually done or condoned by the average individual, despite being technically possible”.

          • suntzuanime says:

            No, the society we have now is the one where we can threaten to kill your children, you want the free love society where we can’t threaten people’s children because they don’t know who they are. At least keep track of what side you’re on, for goodness sake.

      • Alex says:

        > you’d have to institute some sort of mandatory mating scheme.

        You say this as rhetorics, I assume, but like I said, I know an example were this was a de facto standard as in every youth from the village has to marry someone and everybody knows that. I doubt that it is different in other closed groups. It is only that closed groups of that sort are on the retreat since invetion of railroad.

        > but do we really need more people who care about society only insofar it benefits their biological offspring?

        Perhaps we (as in the commenters, not as in society) should try to reach a consensus on the question whether that is “just how it works” or not.

        Provocatively: Are humans capable of caring about anything other than their biological offspring?

        • Nita says:

          I know an example were this was a de facto standard as in every youth from the village has to marry someone and everybody knows that.

          Of course. But moving the entire Western society into that state would require some drastic measures — comparable to what I suggested, I think.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Are humans capable of caring about anything other than their biological offspring?

          The real question is “is there a reason to care?”, and to me answer is obviously “no” unless you want to get into all the race and culture shit.

          @ Nita

          Like a reversion to early 20th century cultural norms where someone who wasn’t married by the age of 30 was some sort of deviant?

      • the “beta orbiters” redpillers love to sneer at could be getting at least some of their needs met.

        Of course, there’s a subset of these frustrated men that no woman wants even on a part-time basis, but you can’t solve that with monogamy alone — you’d have to institute some sort of mandatory mating scheme.

        The “beta orbiters” problem IS that no one wants them — or at least, the woman they’re pining for doesn’t want them. Giving that woman permission to have a little on the side doesn’t really help them out. At the margin I suppose there’s some number of men who are being kept out of their crush’s arms just by the fact that she’s faithfully monogamous, but I would be surprised if this were really the common case.

        you’d have to institute some sort of mandatory mating scheme.

        But monogamy functions… not quite like that, but close.

        • Nita says:

          I would be surprised if this were really the common case

          Well, considering that neither of us has data, and I have at least some anecdotal experience in this matter…

          But monogamy functions… not quite like that, but close.

          Umm… no? What used to work like that was not monogamy alone, but a combination of things, most of which we neither can nor should bring back.

          • Alex says:

            >Umm… no? What used to work like that was not monogamy alone, but a combination of things, most of which we neither can nor should bring back.

            Seconded. The takeaway from $blue tribe hasn’t been that much into monogamy lately anyways$ as discussed above, is that monogamy for everyone is not a self sustaining equilibrium.

      • Cadie says:

        “Of course, there’s a subset of these frustrated men that no woman wants even on a part-time basis, but you can’t solve that with monogamy alone — you’d have to institute some sort of mandatory mating scheme.”

        Not necessarily. That subset would be further shrunk by tolerance of paid sex work. Historically, sex workers were held in somewhat greater esteem than today – maybe low status and only very grudgingly tolerated, or high status and fully accepted, or somewhere in between depending on the culture, but most societies didn’t outright criminalize sex work or make as giant a stink about it as now until the last couple of centuries. Even if those “frustrated” men have great difficulty finding a partner, most of them are not so loathsome that they couldn’t find someone willing to be their partner for a fee. And all but the poorest can afford to pay a fee at least once in awhile. So the number of men who really couldn’t ever find a companion, not even for an hour or two a few times a year, is limited to those who are so poor they can’t scrape together a few hundred dollars (or equivalent) despite being entirely single, or who have serious personal objections to paying someone for sexual and/or companionship services, or are so thoroughly awful in every way that nobody will put up with them even for money. And if the issue is no money or that they’re too awful for professionals to do business with, they’ve got bigger and more immediate problems than not having a partner.

        I doubt that lack of supply would be much of an issue, given that it’s challenging to find a society that doesn’t have some adult women doing paid sex work in some form, even societies that make it illegal and severely punish it.

        And that’s at least somewhat polyamory-ish. Most workers have multiple partners/clients. The few who have only one are very similar to mistresses anyway. In any case, sex work is bound to be less objectionable to most people than mandatory mating setups, and would solve the problem nearly as well while not introducing downsides that we’re not already dealing with.

        • I’m adding “providing an outlet for sexually frustrated men” to my list of the advantages of legal sex work.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I would think that one would be near the top of the list. However, maybe not so good. I suspect a lot of undatable men would be unable to engage the services of a sex worker, for some of the same reasons.

      • Maware says:

        People don’t work that way. Part of the stabilizing force is love, not just sex. The pair-bonded love. Being some woman’s sidebro to be dumped when she needs new thrills, or to be ignored and used for your ability to provide for her isn’t a solution.

        • Nita says:

          Right, love and stability tend to be very important to human beings. Perhaps that’s why the behaviors you mention — dumping someone for new thrills, ignoring a partner’s needs — are looked down upon by poly people as well.

      • “Of course, there’s a subset of these frustrated men that no woman wants even on a part-time basis, but you can’t solve that with monogamy alone — you’d have to institute some sort of mandatory mating scheme.”

        In theory, you could have mandatory(?) training to make young men more attractive mates. This has its failure modes, but it’s at least good enough for science fiction.

        • anon says:

          State-sponsored PUA seminars?

          • State-sponsored “sensitivity” seminars.

            The last thing we need.

          • Viliam says:

            Could be a setting for a nice dystopian story.

            Each year, on Valentine’s day (which is renamed Valerie’s day, in memory of Valerie Solanas) each man must provide a written statement by their partner, proving that they are someone’s primary or secondary sexual partner. Those who fail to provide the statement, must attend the mandatory sensitivity training. Which will mostly consist of being yelled at for being a horrible sexist and racist; plus a written test.

            Uhm… the obvious loophole here is that single men could provide cover for each other by signing statements that they are gay lovers. How to fix this? A few quick ideas: (1) The society may be hypocritical; gays may be tolerated de jure, but discriminated against de facto. A straight guy pretending to be gay would face some inconvenient consequences; the statements would be publicly accessible in a public database, maybe even integrated with Facebook, which would be also mandatory. (2) It could a society with advanced SJW mindset that throws gays under the bus, because they are privileged males; gays could be officially discriminated against. (3) For gays, it would be necessary to provide a video of sex with the statement.

          • I was thinking in terms of learning couples dancing, getting treated for social anxiety, and possibly a modest amount of weight training. You know, stuff that’s a lot less intrusive than expecting women to marry and stay with men they aren’t enthusiastic about.

          • brad says:

            We had square dancing when I was in public middle school in the 80s in a NYC suburb. Don’t know if anyone still does that.

          • Psmith says:

            brad, last I heard they still do. It usually doesn’t take, so to speak, and I suppose that’s how any program of this sort would turn out.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          Long ago I read a story in a men’s magazine in which men were socialized from birth to find one of a limited number of female phenotypes attractive, and women were literally molded into one of those phenotypes when it was time for them to attract a mate. Which is pretty close. 🙂

        • The Smoke says:

          I would actually like that. Assuming it would be at least moderately efficient, it would a) lift the stigma of men actively trying to raise their attractiveness and b) I can’t bring myself to do most things that don’t pay off immediately unless they’re mandatory.

        • …Goddamnit.

          Now I’m thinking about Red Queen’s Race effects, where one group of men start becoming hyper-competitive and massively raising the bar in what is considered attractive…

          While another group declines to meaningfully participate, but since this government training is mandatory, you can’t just fail the no-hopers. So the institute does what institutes in this position has done since the dawn of time; cheat like mad.

          Thus would begin the Wingman Program, in which the top performers were given mandatory socialization and party time with the no-hopers, such that the school could declare “Look, the demographic of ugly people is now going to fancy parties with lots of girls. Problem solved!”

          Thus would begin the epic buddy comedy tour through Sex Appeal High School.

          Damn, I may have to write that now.

        • Viliam says:

          I like the idea in abstract, but I can’t imagine it being done correctly. At least assuming that some information that the young men need may be politically incorrect (which I believe is the case).

          • John Schilling says:

            The objective is not to provide undateable young men(*) with the information they need. The objective is to satisfy everyone else that Something Is Being Done. Everyone else (datable men, women) knows approximately what is required to successfully court women, and most of them have a poor model of the undateable male mind. Teach the undateables the sanitized, politically correct, utterly obvious stuff in the mandatory classes, poof, mission accomplished. Everybody else sees that Something Had Been Done, is assured by the experts that it is the Right Thing, and gets to feel smugly superior that the undateables didn’t even know the obvious stuff. The undateables go away frustrated by the entire process, being “taught” what they already knew and still not getting any dates, but they were frustrated from the start so no loss there.
            * Presumably there will be a parallel program for undateable women?

          • The Anonymouse says:

            Are there any undateable women?

            (Yes, I know my implied answer to this question says more about men than women.)

          • Anonymous says:


            If we’re talking about dating that is remotely reproductive in purpose, not a couple of senior citizens attending a widows and widowers meetup, I’d really struggle to imagine one. She would have to be a considerable combination of handicappedness, obesity and physical deformity. And even then, I would imagine that someone would think that “a pussy’s a pussy” and make a go for it anyway.

          • Alex says:

            Whats your estimate probability that women matching your description would be content to let men who think “pussy is pussy” “go for it anyway”?

          • Anonymous says:

            She would have to be very drunk.

          • Adam says:

            What exactly even makes an undateable man? Doesn’t Maury Povich still exist? There are plenty of examples of dregs of the earth unemployed trailer trash meth heads with the 50/50 prison/death by 25 thing going on with five kids by three mothers. They’re not exactly pulling cream of the crop, but if you’re willing to date down to the level of person willing to date you, it’s hard to believe anyone out there is honestly undateable.

            Maybe the problem is you’re undateable within your social circle, in which case it’s like the problem of ex-factory workers being unemployable when the factory shuts down. They’re not really. It’s just the types of job they can do aren’t available where they live. We need better programs to aid labor mobility for people like that. Maybe we need programs to transfer romantically frustrated young men into rural Iowa where the women aren’t so picky.

          • anonymous says:

            This is a ridiculous double standard. The guys considered undatable are in no way, shape, or form looking at the entire pool of woman. In context it means he can’t get a date from within a narrow band of local woman from his class/tribe/what-have-you. Then when you turn around and look at undatable woman it’s could she get anyone in the world to fuck her? Using the same definition as is used for men there are certainly undatable women, albeit the rate is probably lower.

          • Creutzer says:

            Presumably there will be a parallel program for undateable women?

            Of course not.

            1. On the relevant narrative, undateable men’s being undatable is their fault. Undateable women’s being undatable is men’s fault for not dating them.

            2. Under plausible assumptions about what people care about in a mate, a lot of male undatability is caused by behaviour (and people recognise this), while female undatability is more likely to be caused by unalterable physical characteristics.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are there any undateable women?

            Well, that blew up in a hurry. Yes. Yes there are undateable women, for any reasonable definition of the term, and quite a few of them for the definition of “undateable” that is probably being used for the guys.

          • Anonymous says:


          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Your Mo… ehm, I think you could probably find a few in the archives of some place like fatpeoplehate (if such a thing exists).

          • BBA says:

            Just to drop a gratuitous anime reference where it’s unneeded – when you say “undateable women” my mind instantly jumps to Tomoko Kuroki. Granted, I don’t know anyone like her, but that’s kind of the point.

          • Nornagest says:

            Who’s Tomoko Kuroki? I’d Google it, but I’m at work and that might not be such a good idea.

          • BBA says:

            The lead character in No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!, otherwise known by its Japanese abbreviation WataMote. The title pretty much sums it up.

          • John Schilling says:


            Katherine Minola.

          • Creutzer @ February 16, 2016 at 3:27 pm:

            I realize you’re being somewhat satirical, but Hot and Heavy may be of interest since some people in this thread have suggested that obesity is part of undatability for women.

            The book is a bunch of accounts by fat women, and they cover the whole range from can’t find anybody to finding true love fast, not to mention some who have a number of different partners. As far as I can tell, the only thing that’s unique to fat women is that they run into men who want sex with them but don’t want to be seen with them in public.

        • Nita says:

          Uh, actually, the group I had in mind were people so violently bad-tempered that even the bravest jerk-lover would stay away.

          But on the attractive presentation front — well, many men don’t even seem to realize that they should put flattering photos in their online dating profiles, so there might indeed be some low-hanging fruit.

          • Vaniver says:

            But on the attractive presentation front — well, many men don’t even seem to realize that they should put flattering photos in their online dating profiles, so there might indeed be some low-hanging fruit.

            In my experience, many men have no clue what would make a photo of them more or less flattering. For example, I had one photo of me that I liked before age ~22, and it was taken by a friend while I was focused on something else.

            (Turns out me focused on something looks way more impressive than me awkwardly smiling at a camera.)

          • Nita says:

            many men have no clue what would make a photo of them more or less flattering

            You don’t think women are born knowing that, do you? Experiment, search the web for advice, reason from general principles, get feedback! Argh!

            Sorry. It’s just — so — frustrating. Also, none of this is aimed at you personally, of course.

          • Alex says:

            > online dating … Sorry. It’s just — so — frustrating.

            I’ve heard many a story from women about what men apparently regarded promising strategies and while it was funny but harmless, I was always grateful for not having to put up with that kind of nonesense.

            However you surely do not select a partner for his ability to look good on “flattering” photographs. So how does the demonstration of this ability on an online dating site help you?

          • Anonymous says:


            I don’t quite know why this is, but according to an OKCupid analysis, men rate female looks with the mean in the center of the scale, while women rate male looks with the mean considerably towards the lower end of the scale.


            It seems like it’s a solid case for the theory that women know how to look pretty, and men don’t.

          • Nita,

            Can you elaborate on your frustrations with online dating? I am honestly curious to gather some more anecdata.

            My last female friend who dated online extensively went on a lot of first dates that simply had no chemistry. She used most platforms, but by the end almost exclusively used Tinder.

            It seems like it’s a solid case for the theory that women know how to look pretty, and men don’t.

            I disagree. The OKCupid staff also disagrees, in jest. They posted pictures of decent-looking men who were rated as atrocious by women.
            Here’s what OKCupid says:

            Females of OkCupid, we site founders say to you: ouch! Paradoxically, it seems it’s women, not men, who have unrealistic standards for the “average” member of the opposite sex.

          • Nita says:

            you surely do not select a partner for his ability to look good on “flattering” photographs

            I surely would — among many other criteria, of course.

            1. If their absolute best look is not good enough for you, it’s not going to work out.
            2. If it does work out, the best-angle, best-lighting version is close enough to how you’re going to see them in your mind.

            Sub-par photos interfere with both of those heuristics, and signal a lack of effort on top of that. It’s the graphic equivalent to submitting “i dunno lol” as your self-description.

          • Anonymous says:


            If females think that these photos look horrible, what exactly is the basis on saying that they’re not horrible? They explicitly fail to do their job, which is to show one’s good side to potentially interested females.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But doesn’t this sort of circle around the “performance” argument?

            Women are (for various reasons) expected to perform as “feminine”. Men are mostly expected to perform as “masculine”. The masculine performance does not include “primping” and is actively frowned on. One frequent complaint is that the expectation of primping has an intrinsically degrading element to it.

            Yes, yes. When the rubber meats the road, do what you have to get traction. But it seems odd to not understand why men don’t know how to primp effectively and women do.

          • Adam says:

            You don’t even need to know. The OKTrends blog used to publish stats on what kinds of photos got rated highest. Photos where you’re looking at something else not in the field of view did indeed tend to get rated highest. All you had to do was read reports on what empirically worked and didn’t work and go with that. They even told you the ideal message length, key words to avoid.

          • Alex says:


            >1. If their absolute best look is not good enough for you, it’s not going to work out.

            Not knowing anything about the candidate at this stage, why not place the cutoff at “his average looks are not good enough fo you”? Is there any specific reason to hunt within the $looks sub-par on an average photography but ok on a flattering one$-demographics?

            >2. If it does work out, the best-angle, best-lighting version is close enough to how you’re going to see them in your mind.


            > It’s the graphic equivalent to submitting “i dunno lol” as your self-description.

            How about the corner case: sub-par photograph but eloquent self-description?

          • Nita says:

            @ Anonymous and ADBG

            I haven’t seen the raw data myself, but I have heard that they counted “skip” as 0 — although it could also mean “can’t judge, not my type”, “incompatible, so my opinion doesn’t matter” or “can’t decide, next question please”. And since there are many more men than women, at least some women end up hitting “skip” a lot.

            Oh, and don’t users get notified if you rate them 4 or 5? That (again, due to the gender imbalance) gives women an incentive to use those very sparingly — basically, only if they’re sure they want to talk to the man ASAP.

            Also, as I said, many photos are terribad in a technical sense, and who’s going to spend more time on rating something than the author spent on creating it?

            It seems like it’s a solid case for the theory that women know how to look pretty, and men don’t.

            My point is that men can learn — it’s not rocket surgery. But some of them don’t seem to even bother, despite claiming to care a lot about the outcome.

            Luckily, my own frustrations are mostly abstract and second-hand: I think many potentially good partners remain unnoticed, and the people who could notice them also miss the chance for more happiness. That means I’m guilty of treating the personal lives of numerous strangers like “a game of fucking sim city”, I suppose 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            >Oh, and don’t users get notified if you rate them 4 or 5? That (again, due to the gender imbalance) gives women an incentive to use those very sparingly — basically, only if they’re sure they want to talk to the man ASAP.

            AFAIK, that results in a notification, but no positive ID of who rated you that. It’s like a suspect line-up, and you’ll get connected only if you also rate them back as 4-5.

            >My point is that men can learn — it’s not rocket surgery.

            Divining how the opposite sex thinks, and improving both photography and make-up skills actually does sound like something very difficult, especially given little useful feedback.

            >But some of them don’t seem to even bother, despite claiming to care a lot about the outcome.

            It takes a certain scientific mind, like one of those guys who wrote automated scripts to optimize his compatibility rating with clumps of female profiles. Everyone else might as well be a chimp poking at a black box that dispenses bananas completely at random. You might get a banana sometimes, but it makes no sense to you how (or if) your behaviour actually caused its dispensation.

          • Adam says:

            They’ve allowed you to pay for A-list and see who rates you highly without having to rate them back for a few years but god knows who actually does that. ‘Free’ is a pretty big part of the draw.

          • Alex says:

            >gender imbalance

            There are two obvious hypotheses to explain this.

            1) Women have no problems getting laid so why would they online date.

            2) Some men monopolize more than one woman thereby skewing the distribution.

            I always accepted this in the most non-rational shrugging dude-ish way without using my brain.

            But, please don’t laugh, on reflection I realize that I have very little data to support these hypotheses. On the contrary they conflict with the great monogamy theory(tm) as found elsewhere in the coments and the intuition that there should be no double standards when defining “undatable”. Also data gathered by speaking to actual women seems to counter 1). Data gathered from speaking to actual men seems to confirm 2) but certainly has to be taken with a grain of salt.

            So, what’s really going on here?

          • If females think that these photos look horrible, what exactly is the basis on saying that they’re not horrible? They explicitly fail to do their job, which is to show one’s good side to potentially interested females.

            Yes, and I would support the claim “Men are less able to take sexually attractive photographs of themselves than women.”
            Which is utterly unremarkable because they are appealing to different attraction functions.
            I can take a crappy little snapshot of lilies on my phone and it will look better to most people than a professionally staged photograph of cow manure.

            Men are taking utterly unremarkable pictures of themselves and are rated “disgusting” while women are taking utterly unremarkable pictures of themselves and are rated “average.” This supports a difference in sexes, not a difference in selfie-ability. Agree/Disagree?

            Everyone else might as well be a chimp poking at a black box that dispenses bananas completely at random. You might get a banana sometimes, but it makes no sense to you how (or if) your behaviour actually caused its dispensation.

            I agree with this, with the caveat “rejection is depressing” and therefore people place all sorts of buffers to prevent any negative feed-back.

            Which obviously does not help the discovery process.

          • Nita says:

            @ HBC

            I’m not talking about “primping”, I’m talking about the very basics of taking a photo — lighting, positioning, taking a bunch of different shots and choosing the best one. A 12-year-old boy can try poses and faces in front of a mirror. Don’t tell me a 20-year-old man can’t.

            @ Alex

            why not place the cutoff at “his average looks are not good enough for you”?

            Because many people will put up their very best photos? You only get to choose the cutoff, not the type of picture they upload.

            How about the corner case: sub-par photograph but eloquent self-description?

            Sure, I’d read it — but why handicap yourself? Some people would probably notice Scott’s blog even if hee typd lik dys — but should he?

            @ Adam

            Thanks — at least one person gets what I’m on about.

          • Adam says:


            I don’t believe the gender imbalance of who is a registered user of the site is that big. Most recent I could find from quantcast was 53/47. Where there is a huge imbalance is number of messages sent. Men flood women, whereas women hardly ever initiate with men.

            Which I always found interesting. It definitely matches intuition. Men are expected to be the aggressors in dating, but it’s interesting to me in particular because I was one of the site’s first ever users and kept a profile there for a really long time, even through many long-term monogamous relationships where I was neither dating nor trying to find dates, mostly because I was pretty active in the small blogging community there. Over a span of 12 years, I sent plenty of messages and had plenty of one-off, maybe three-off dates, but one four-year relationship that lasted through college as well as my current wife, and they both messaged me first.

            For the record, I pretty much never took a picture of myself and never looked at the camera. That wasn’t calculated, but lucky, I guess.

          • Nornagest says:

            AFAIK, that results in a notification, but no positive ID of who rated you that.

            They might have changed the interface since I last used it, which was a couple years ago. But at that time, it wasn’t hard to figure out. Half the time it was just a matter of matching who’d looked at your profile lately with the mugshots they sent you (the Hot or Not-esque feature didn’t count as a profile view, but a lot of people checked your full profile out anyway). The other half the time, you’d get a pretty good hit rate just by filtering out anyone that was obviously horribly incompatible with you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Spending time thinking about how you look, and actively trying to look better, is one of those things that (for whatever reason) men are expected not to do. And if you are trying to look better, it’s trying to present as a higher class.

            Look at popular depictions of men spending time on their appearance, especially low status/lower class men. That guy is almost universally portrayed as a jerk, or pathetic, etc.

            So, taking photos over and over, trying to find the best angle, best lighting, etc. should be expected to be foreign territory for a bunch of men.

          • Adam says:

            This is one of the things I loved about OkCupid. It was so easy just by virtue of being a minor contrast to so many who did it so horribly wrong. There used to be this guy who was huge on the forums there, Roger something or other, who posted these long detailed advice posts geared toward ignoring what women say they want, even ignoring what they honestly think they want, and just doing what the evidence suggests they actually respond to. And OkCupid gave you the evidence.

            Women want you to look good. Forget what you think past social pressure has told you. Past social pressure was wrong.

          • dndnrsn says:


            There is a generally accepted way for men to improve their appearance – it’s getting buffer. A man who diets and lifts weights to look better is going to be viewed more favourably than a man who gets his nails done and uses concealer.

            Even then, a man who spends too much time in the gym is viewed as having something wrong with him.

          • Leit says:

            re: gender imbalance or lack thereof.

            Recall that in the aftermath of the Ashley Madison hack, the ridiculous majority of the female profiles were found to be a) bots/otherwise fake, b) sex workers or c) profiles that has signed up and sent either very few or no messages at all.

            Dating sites have some incentive not to look too hard when what they’re selling is opportunity.

          • Nornagest says:

            OKCupid’s business model is different from Ashley Madison’s or even from those hookup sites that pop up occasionally on the sketchier parts of the Internet. I never got the impression that OKCupid had any bots to speak of, nor many sex workers looking for trade. There were a lot of inactive or minimally active accounts, though, and I’m not sure how they’re being counted in the stats.

            (Lots of inactive accounts for guys, too. The usual scenario is that some dude signs up, realizes that actually making a connection is a huge amount of work, and gives up.)

          • Nita says:

            @ HBC

            Men of all epochs and classes have cleaned up and dressed up when they wanted to make a good first impression — including when women were the ones to impress. Sure, their ideas of what constitutes “dressing up” can be quite divergent, but “real men pay literally zero attention to their appearance” is some sort of neo-caveman myth.

            People deride teenage girls and young women online and offline for spending so much time in front of the mirror, taking selfies, finding “Myspace angles” — but the girls keep doing it anyway, and they get better at it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I feel like if you were to read me charitably, you would understand where I am coming from, instead of trying to shoot it down.

            Yes, men get dressed up, shave, etc. when going on a date. I am not saying men pay zero attention to their appearance. But note how when men really dress to impress (suits and ties) how very uniform their appearance is. I don’t think this is an accident.

            If you were to ask a man what season he was, how many would know what that meant, and how many could correctly name their own?

            You are noting a set of empirical facts that seem ridiculous to you (the number of men who have hideous online profile pics) and I am offering a hypothesis for why this is so. What’s your hypothesis?

          • Nita says:

            @ HBC

            I apologize for being so snappy with you in this thread. To be honest, I really don’t understand what your hypothesis is.

            For instance — technically, I know what season I “am” (something something summer — thanks, mom!), but I don’t use this “fact” for anything in practice.

            To me, this looks like saying, “How can you expect girls to debug their own code? They don’t even know which side of the vi/emacs divide they’re on! And other girls might judge them for doing boy stuff!”

            Sure, there are factors at work on a broad, cultural level. But on an individual level, does anyone actually think “I want to write good code, but trying to do so is not feminine”, or “I want to look good, but trying to do so is not manly”? If you’re going to publish code/photos anyway, you might as well start caring about the quality.

            My own hypothesis is that they’re trying not to think about their own looks at all, and that’s a correctable bias — which is why I mentioned it in the first place.

            Good point about the uniformity, though — I’ve noticed that even r/MaleFashionAdvice, an reddit community focused on men’s style, is close to advocating the same “look” for all men. Any ideas why that might be?

          • HeelBearCub says:


            My guess on the uniform fashion advice would be because it’s a lowest common denominator. If you are going to fashion advice, I’m assuming it’s because you don’t know where to start. Perhaps it’s better to state it as the modal person receiving advice doesn’t know where to start.

            If you watch men’s sports, you will note that the black commentators (and many of the black players) will talk about “suit game” and will dress in colors other than black, grey or blue. This seems like a fair indication that something socially mediated is happening. Of course, mustard yellow on a pasty white guy isn’t likely to look very good either.

            So, yes, men certainly could stand to learn how to think about their looks. But it’s not part of the standard toolkit most men are given (in the U.S.). It’s far more expected for women, so much so that those who don’t think about it really stand out. Men who don’t think about it (very much) are more the norm.

            I suspect that, like with most skills/talents, there are those who take to it like a fish takes to water, and those who don’t. Given that, we shouldn’t be surprised that many men, when they think about whether this is the photo they should post, don’t begin to approach it correctly.

            Oh, and no apology necessary. I just knew we weren’t communicating well.

          • Dr Dealgood says:


            In the last few years I did more or less exactly what you recommend guys to do, and it definitely did work.

            But it wasn’t quite as simple as you seem to think either. Even if you know that you don’t look good that doesn’t necessarily mean that you know which parts of your appearance are the problem or what to do about that. The resources available for men’s fashion in particular are better now then they were just a few years ago but they’re still awful.

            Plus there is a lot of stigma. In the city you’ll never take crap for being fit and well dressed, but upstate it makes you look metrosexual. Which means that while you’re getting more attention from women, you’re also getting more unwanted attention from men and exposing yourself to a fair bit of ridicule. I can certainly see guys with more pride than me abandoning the idea in the face of that.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve noticed that even r/MaleFashionAdvice, an reddit community focused on men’s style, is close to advocating the same “look” for all men. Any ideas why that might be?

            MFA does that in its tutorial content because its core audience is young guys who just graduated college and want to look like a grownup but don’t know how, or even younger guys who want to step up from anime T-shirts and oversized cargo shorts. It recommends stuff that’s boring but safe, because difficult but interesting will go over the heads of most of its readers. More interesting stuff comes up in the “show your outfit” threads sometimes, but if you want a more fashion-oriented and less dadcore-oriented subreddit, you’re probably looking for the likes of /r/menswear or /r/malefashion.

            That said, women’s fashion does have a broader scope than even those. Maybe catwalk fashion approaches parity, but no one wears that.

          • Nita says:

            @ Nornagest

            Oh no, my impression is not that it’s boring or “dadcore” — that I could understand. What I’m seeing is an interesting, but very specific style, which seems unlikely to fit a very broad range of men:


            “Dadcore”, apparently, is this.
            “Generic adult man” might be something like this or this.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That looks like urban hipster to me. Well the first one might be more whatever that forest/bearded man look is called.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Nita — Ah! I misunderstood, sorry. When I hear this sort of thing about MFA, it’s usually people reading the tutorial threads and noticing that the same dozen or so pieces come up over and over. Dadcore is an exaggeration, but it’s not too far off; I’m talking about safe stuff on the casual end of business casual that can easily be dressed up or down and doesn’t show too much personality. Brown crepe-soled boots, dark jeans or flat-front khakis, Oxford button-downs in white or blue, and so forth. That’s not such a good match to your “dadcore” pic, but it is a good match to “generic adult man” (maybe minus the striped cardigan in the second photo).

            Instead, you seem to be looking at the personal style of the contributors — not the ones reading the tutorial threads, but the ones brave enough to stick their necks out and post photos. That does have a hivemind effect going on, but it’s a different kind of hivemind, less driven by safety and more by the social-proof effects that happen whenever you get a group of people together that vaguely care about social signaling.

            If those first three photos are anything to go by, I think you’re mainly picking up on the workwear thing that was trendy on MFA last year. It’s still popular (I like it myself), but seems to be losing ground to streetwear and a more rocker-type aesthetic.

          • I think the season thing (a theory of which colors look good on which people) has gone out of fashion, but is it unusual for men to have some idea of which colors look good or bad on them?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m not poly, but it seems like from what I’ve seen of them your concerns and theirs have little to no overlap. A lot of the benefits of monogamy that you point out would be classified as problems caused by monogamy according to their mindset.

      They don’t think of mates as something to be distributed and thus any system that distributes mates equitably would seem like institutionalized sex slavery. There’s some truth to that, inasmuch as women’s revealed preferences do show that half of a 10 is worth a lot more than a 5 to them.

      As for reducing the number of disgruntled men and the likelihood of cuckoldry, they firmly believe that a man shouldn’t be upset because of a lack of willing partners or that he was tricked into raising other men’s children. So they would place the fault on said men for their reactions, which in their view are freely chosen and morally indefensible, and laud the destruction of a system which enabled them.

      Personally, I agree with you here on the benefits of monogamy. If you want to have a stable healthy society you need something akin to marriage as practiced by the Amish or Haredi. Then again, we haven’t had that for more than a century at least and it’s explicitly the opposite of the kind of society that polyamorists want.

      • suntzuanime says:

        I feel like you’re equivocating on the word “distributed” here. Things will have a distribution whether or not you put someone in charge of distributing them.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Your comment basically reads as “who cares about the losers of society? If high status people can’t have everything they want then that’s slavery!”. I think I finally understand the appeal of socialism.

        • anonymous says:

          You shouldn’t expect a strawman to be persuasive. The entire purpose of Dealgood’s post was to inspire hatred and disgust for the people whose views he is making up.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Believe it or not, I’m not actually a Captain Planet villain.

            If your best explanation for why I wrote something depends on me sitting back and going “how best might I inspire hatred today?” then you should reevaluate your mental model of me. Such as by asking me why I wrote it.

          • anonymous says:

            Do share. Why did you feel the need to put words in other people’s mouths?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Because they’re words I’ve heard come out of their mouths. The bit about men reacting unreasonably is something that I heard several times from Veronica D on Ozy’s blog, for one example.

            If you think I’m ill informed I would appreciate any corrections you can offer.

        • Nita says:

          Hey, we have the “alternative right”, why not the alternative left?

          Potential slogans:

          “Nationalize the means of (re)production!”
          “Peace! Bread! Wives!”

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          To be fair, these aren’t my views (my first and last paragraphs explicitly state this) and thus I could be misrepresenting poly people.

          The slavery argument was always the one which seemed most convincing to me out of the poly arguments I heard but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly common.

          • Error says:

            As for reducing the number of disgruntled men and the likelihood of cuckoldry, they firmly believe that a man shouldn’t be upset because of a lack of willing partners or that he was tricked into raising other men’s children.

            This specific bit seems like misrepresentation, at least to the extent that I’m representative of polyamorists. My relationship has been open for as long as I can remember, which is not quite the same thing but close enough. I reject both of those positions and suspect most polyamorists would do the same. Loneliness is bad and cuckoldry is grossly dishonest. I just don’t think enforced monogamy is an acceptable solution to either.

            For lonely men, I think legalizing prostitution would go a long way; for cuckoldry I’m not so sure what to suggest. Invent better birth control options for men, perhaps. I want a male equivalent of the IUD.

          • Creutzer says:

            For lonely men, I think legalizing prostitution would go a long way

            You mean sex-starved men. Prostitution does not in any way or form solve the problem of loneliness.

          • anon says:

            Porn has already solved the sex starvation thing, despite being just images on a screen. In the same way, prostitution applies to loneliness, despite being paid human contact and not “real” human contact.

          • Jason K. says:

            “Porn has already solved the sex starvation thing, despite being just images on a screen.” No, it hasn’t. Reduced? Softened? Yes. Solved? Not by a long shot.

          • “for cuckoldry I’m not so sure what to suggest.”

            Perhaps someone could invent a paternity test?

          • Error says:

            That only helps after the fact.

          • anon says:

            @Jason K.
            Sure. Still, masturbation helps (a lot) with sex-starvation, and prostitution by association seems likely to help with loneliness.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            I think it is important to distinguish between prostitutes you can convince to move in with you if you sustain a sufficient money shower, and the kind you negotiate by the hour.

          • anon says:

            I was more thinking of stuff like this –

            I’m pretty sure I once read an interview with a real prostitute saying she sometimes get that kind of request (aka its not just a weird thing in one place in japan). I guess if you’re lonely enough even a couple hours help?

          • Marc Whipple says:


            There is a reason why prostitutes often denote one of the services they offer as being “the girlfriend experience.” 🙂 Some also offer, according to documentaries at least, “the porn star experience.” No word on whether there is a combo where your girlfriend is a porn star.

            Strippers often have “regular” customers who visit them on a periodic basis and get some of the benefits of a “real” girlfriend as well. Sometimes this turns stalkery (and, rarely, even murdery) but by and large these kinds of customers are viewed as highly desirable.

          • Anonymous for obvious reasons says:

            GFE these days only means BBJ. It’s somewhat more likely that DFK and DATY are available but by no means guaranteed.

            Things like cuddling and emotional companionship don’t have a standard term and isn’t generally advertised. It’s a case by care basis thing. You may be able to glean the likelihood from reviews.

          • Marc Whipple says:


            Well, then, I sit corrected. My mistake. Thank you for the clarification. 🙂

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Can you clarify those acronyms? I’m not familiar with this sort of lingo and guessing most of us here aren’t either.

            Oddly appropriately, I’m only able to reply so quickly today because Jack Frost decided to cancel my planned date. So feel free to edit your own comment rather than having to add to this huge chain.

          • Nornagest says:

            GFE these days only means BBJ. It’s somewhat more likely that DFK and DATY are available but by no means guaranteed.


            This must be people who aren’t good at tech feel like when someone starts talking about the network stack. You’re following it for half a sentence and then you’re in Acronym Hell and someone’s sticking you with a pitchfork.

          • another anonymous for a reason says:

            PSE = porn star experience. A marketing term, can mean anything or nothing, but usually intended to suggest a greater variety of sexual services.

            GFE = girlfriend experience. Another marketing term, can mean different things in different places, or when used by different people. Sometimes means more friendly, intimate atmosphere, but as a marketing term it can mean anything, and so sometimes also means a greater variety of sexual services, as AFOR says (usually not as great a variety as PSE)

            BBJ or BBBJ = bare-back blow job

            DFK = deep french kissing

            DATY = dining at the Y = cunnilingus

            And another common acronym on the sex worker review boards that hasn’t come up yet but is very relevant to many particular cases: YMMV, your mileage may vary. Services provided may vary greatly depending on what the sex worker thinks of the client (and perhaps how their day is going).

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            So bareback blowjob means bareback sex + blowjob, or does that mean that you normally have to wear a condom for oral sex?

            If the latter, wow is that a raw deal.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            does that mean that you normally have to wear a condom for oral sex?

            If the latter, wow is that a raw deal.

            Quite the opposite, surely?

          • another anonymous for a reason says:

            @Dr. Dealgood, The latter; BBBJ is pretty common, but there are definitely significant numbers of sex workers who insist on condoms for blow-jobs. Bare back sex does have an acronym (BBFS, bare back full service), but in the scenes I’m familiar with it is never advertised (except on rare occasions by scammers) and almost never available. There’s a reason research on sex worker STD rates usually finds them to be lower than the general population.

          • Leit says:

            Maggie McNeill is a fairly well-known advocate for decriminalization (note: not legalization, it’s a completely different thing) of prostitution. Her blog’s a good place to start when talking about sex work, since she does have first-hand experience.

            She also wrote up a couple of posts on terminology specific to the field, here and here, if you’re interested in being able to read escort ads.

          • Error says:

            @Leit: seconded, with the caveat that her older work is more useful than the newer stuff insofar as understanding the profession goes. At some point she went from writing about the sexual profession to writing about the politics of same, with the usual mindkilling results.

      • EyeballFrog says:

        “they firmly believe that a man shouldn’t be upset because … he was tricked into raising other men’s children.”

        Is this something people actually think?

        • Marc Whipple says:

          Yes. I have heard people say it in the context of discussions about child support. How many people actually believe it, I couldn’t say. But there are people who actually believe it.

        • Anonymous says:

          Absolutely. The claim that what makes someone a parent is their relationship with the child, not their shared genes, is one I’ve seen a lot.

          Actually, isn’t this claim even made in HPMOR?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            I am sympathetic to this point of view, while simultaneously believing that it is quite reasonable to be angry at the deception. It would be highly contextual as to which was more “important,” if that’s the right word.

          • Adam says:

            I know plenty of people who say this, mostly adoptive parents who still like to think of themselves as parents, but that’s rather unrelated to trickery.

          • Error says:

            Seconding Marc, I think. It’s the deception that’s bad, not having someone else’s children.

          • Anonymous says:

            What I find odd is seeing this view endorsed by biodeterminists. I’ve never got on hugely well with my parents, but the fact that they are each built from 50% of my genes (or the other way around, I suppose) makes quite a difference to how well I can empathize with them. I can’t imagine having adoptive parents would be quite the same, no matter what my relationship with them was like.

            To everyone else here: do you really feel you share nothing with your parents other than your relationship? The fact that you are so closely genetically related to them does nothing to aid your understanding of their experiences?

          • Anonymous says:

            do you really feel you share nothing with your parents other than your relationship?

            Yes and do. I mean, I definitely have one parent’s anxiety and the other parent’s sperginess, but idk how much this really affects my relationships with them.

          • Anonymous says:


            I don’t think it affects my relationship with them, but it means I have an easier time understanding them, their actions and their thought processes, than I do others.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Marc Whipple and everyone else,

            I’ve never really understood the idea that cheating / cuckoldry / [third bad thing] is only or primarily wrong because of the lie. Can you expand on that?

            I mean, if having sex outside of the marriage or being impregnated by other men isn’t in-and-of-itself a big deal then it seems weird to complain about not being consulted. Would you be upset if your wife didn’t ask you before she rearranged the furniture or lied about what brand of coffee she brews in the morning?

            From my side of things, I care much more about the actual act of infidelity and the resulting changeling. The dishonesty doesn’t help but it’s fairly far down the list of reasons to be furious.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Anonymous #1
            I don’t know how much of my relationship with my parents is due to genetics, but the fact that I feel very little connection with other family members who I share large amounts of my genes with suggests that it isn’t much. As far as I know, adopted children who later meet a birth parent don’t necessarily feel an instant strong bond. I expect that most of the effect of genetics on how close you are to your parents that genetics makes you look like them.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Dr. Dealgood:

            Would you be upset if your wife didn’t ask you before she rearranged the furniture or lied about what brand of coffee she brews in the morning?

            No, but I’d be somewhat peeved if she told my doctor to lie about my requiring castration because she suspected I wouldn’t be diligent about having regular testicular cancer screenings. Even if she was right.

          • Adam says:

            I’d be mad if my wife managed to somehow have my own kid in spite of the vasectomy (say, she froze some of my sperm and never told me), let alone someone else’s kid.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Marc Whipple

            But do you also hold that castration is really no big deal? If not then I don’t think the analogy quite fits.

          • Dr Dealgood says:


            That’s actually a great example, in fact it could have stood in for my [third bad thing]. It even starts with C.

            Castration is a big deal all on it’s own. It’s the sort of thing people refuse to do unless there is potentially lethal cancer involved.

            So was the lie really worse than the loss itself?

          • blacktrance says:

            No, beyond IQ I don’t have much in common with my parents.

            Dr Dealgood:
            If I really cared about what brand of coffee my wife drinks, and she’d lie to me about that, that would be bad even though it’d be a really weird preference. Being honest with one’s partner is vitally important, even if from the outside the subject matter seems unimportant. I actually would be temporarily displeased about furniture being rearranged without me being consulted. But an important difference between paternity and furniture arrangement is that the furniture can simply be put back, while presumably in the paternity scenario one’s partner is unwilling to end the pregnancy or has already given birth. If instead she says that another man got her pregnant but she’s willing to get an abortion, then there’s no problem.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Anonymous and Dr. Dealgood:

            I never said that it was no big deal: I explicitly said that it was highly contextual which part would be the bigger deal. If my wife and I lovingly raise a child to adulthood and then I find out by accident that I was not the biological father, I suspect that I would completely consider the child my own, and that I was its parent in a very reasonable and real sense, but I would still be very angry about having been deceived.

            Contrariwise, if I married my wife because I thought I had impregnated her, and two months after the child was born I found out it wasn’t mine and she had only married me so she’d have financial support, I suspect that I’d be quite a bit angrier, wouldn’t consider myself the parent of the child in any sense, and would highly resent being forced to bear the cost of raising it to adulthood. Take all of that and square it if upon my leaving the marriage, my wife hooked back up with the actual father while I was still required to make child support payments for the next twenty-two years. Which is a real thing that really happens and I have really heard people say that the not-really-the-father’s feelings are immaterial.

            (Also, please note that in my example nobody knows that I have testicular cancer. I may or may not actually have it. The extended analogy, if you need it more specific, is that it would be highly relevant as to whether a) she knew I had it, and b) if she thought I would refuse to be rational about it if I did.)

          • Anonymous says:

            @Marc Whipple

            You’ve lost me. Is ‘refusing to be rational’ about the testicular cancer meant to amount to not getting treatment and dying, which in your analogy is leaving your wife because you don’t want to bring up someone else’s child?

          • Marc Whipple says:


            Yes. If she knew I had it, and reasonably believed I wouldn’t be rational about treating it, assuming I could be rational at all I’d be a lot less upset about it than if she did it because she figured I was too irresponsible to even watch for the problem and it would be easier for her to address it proactively.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Marc Whipple

            That depends on the assumption that leaving a woman who has become pregnant with another man’s child, and intends to conceal this and have you raise it as your own, is irrational. I would contend that it is not.

          • On the question of the lie vs the infidelity.

            Suppose I had to go out of town for several months and my wife, in what was supposed to be a monogamous relation, told me when I got back that she was pregnant by another man. She didn’t lie to me, but she did betray me—violate a commitment that was important to me.

            In that case there are fairly immediate consequences, since I either stay married to her and rear someone else’s child or end the marriage—particularly a problem if we have children. But it would still be a problem even if she wasn’t pregnant, had been sleeping with someone else in my absence, had never denied it–but had done it in clear violation of the terms of our marriage.

            I’ve seen the claim that, in Athenian law, seduction was treated as a more serious crime than rape, although I gather some scholars disagree. In both cases it was viewed as a crime against the husband. Rape results in some small chance of the wife getting pregnant by another man. Seduction results in the husband knowing that he cannot trust his wife to be faithful.

          • Mark says:

            If I went to my friend’s house, ate a delicious meal, and then after the meal he told me that he’d spat in it, I don’t think the first thing that would come to *my* mind would be “well, it did taste nice, so that doesn’t matter.”

            The meal might have tasted nice, but I’m not going to look back on it with fond memories once the insult has been revealed.

        • anon says:

          People can convince themselves a lot of things with enough incentive. I was surprised reading it too, because the strong incentives for holding such views that I can think of aren’t/shouldn’t be a factor in poly.

        • Nita says:

          Tricking anyone into anything is not part of what polyamorous people defend, so I guess the useful answer is “no”. (Although the technically correct answer is that even the unlikeliest beliefs have at least one believer with nonzero probability.)

        • blacktrance says:

          While I second the “what makes someone a parent is their relationship with the child, not their shared genes” position, whether there’s deception makes a difference. If a woman tells a man that the child is definitely biologically his (or this is a default that is never contradicted) and this is something he cares about, that’s bad. But if instead the man knows that this is a possibility and the woman tells him that a child she bears might not be biologically his, then he has no room to complain.

        • hlynkacg says:

          @ EyeballFrog

          I can’t speak for how common it is, but it is a position that I have encountered both on the internet and IRL.

        • I’m going to go ahead and invoke Robert’s Law.

          For any group of non-trivial size:
          1: The answer to “Are there really member of this group which hold this wacky, shameful, and/or evil belief?” is yes.

          2: This is a singularly unfruitful question to ask to learn anything at all about said group.

          • Error says:

            I am adding this to my fortune file.

          • EyeballFrog says:

            All right, let me make my question more precise, since apparently we’re being super pedantic now. Is this a mainstream belief within a particular group of interest, or is it a fringe belief and can be discounted as noise?

        • Viliam says:

          “they firmly believe that a man shouldn’t be upset because … he was tricked into raising other men’s children.” Is this something people actually think?

          I have heard that opinion expressed, more than once. If I remember correctly, it was expressed by women.

          It feels stupid to write yet another “me too” comment, but I’m doing it anyway because of Robert Liguori’s comment, which seems to suggest that people expressing such opinion are very rare, and thus talking about them is dishonest. They cannot be that rare, if so many people have met them.

          • There is an entire AU worth of daylight between ‘rare’ and ‘representative’.

            It is entirely unreasonable for someone to scoff at the existence of one or even several polyamorists who believe, or profess to believe for ideological reasons, that men shouldn’t be upset about getting stuck with the costs, time, and responsibilities of raising someone else’s children.

            It is likewise entirely unreasonable to assume that the presence of such people tells you anything significant about polyamorists.

            I cheerfully decline to profess an opinion on which position is more dishonest in this case. Hell, I haven’t surveyed the polyamorist community myself; maybe this is an uncannily popular belief there.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Will be interesting to follow this thread.

      The impression I always get from polys is that they don’t even consider the family formation aspects. They seem overwhelmingly childless, and just haven’t run up against the real questions sex poses yet.

    • 27chaos says:

      I think monogamy is extremely likely to be a better default for society as a whole, but that doesn’t invalidate specific people’s choice to be polyamorous. As far as I have perceived, we are talking about changes at the margin, nothing extreme.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Where is the stable equilibrium between less monogamy and more though? The polyamorists aren’t just practicing a different lifestyle, many are advocating for change. And at the current rate, it definitely seems like society is moving in the direction polyamorists want.

        • Nita says:

          The idea is that most people would not want an openly polyamorous relationship anyway. So, acceptance of poly relationships would be similar to acceptance of same-sex relationships in terms of impact.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Homosexuality is not appealing to most heterosexuals. Multiple sexual partners is biologically tempting to most men.

          • Nita says:

            Would the primary partners of “most men” be willing to share them with others? Probably not. Therefore, their relationships would stay closed.

          • Alex says:

            >Would the primary partners of “most men” be willing to share them with others? Probably not. Therefore, their relationships would stay closed.

            To the extent that this is a conscious decision and expression of will, as opposed to the way God/Nature/… intended things to be, why is this so?

          • Nita says:

            @ Alex

            I’d like to answer your question, but you’ll have to explain what “this” is.

            That women experience sexual jealousy?

            That people consider their partner’s opinions before switching to open non-monogamy?

          • Alex says:

            Lack of willingness to share the partner in whatever sense you meant it.

          • Maware says:

            Wrong Species:

            The reality being that it’s more likely the woman has the multiple sexual partners, while the man struggles to find even one. Women tend to be the more enthusiastic boosters of polyamory, because it provides more benefit to them. A man who can pull multiple women tends not to commit in the first place.

          • Nita says:

            @ Alex

            I suppose it helps them feel sure that their partner really loves them and won’t abandon them? Judging by the typical escapist literature written and consumed by women, this is an extremely widespread sentiment.

          • Error says:

            “Polyamory for people who want polyamory. No polyamory for people who don’t want polyamory.”

            I would call that the appropriate place to aim for.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The reality being that it’s more likely the woman has the multiple sexual partners, while the man struggles to find even one. Women tend to be the more enthusiastic boosters of polyamory, because it provides more benefit to them. A man who can pull multiple women tends not to commit in the first place.

            Emphasis on this. The actual RedPill concern is not that men will be able to sleep with dozens of women and run soft harems: this has already happened. Any serious Red Pill commenter has already written this fight off. It’s a lost battle.

            The actual concern is that mainstream marriage will be redefined to eliminate sexual monogamy, and instead encourage “open relationships.” Which will not actually benefit husbands.

            The Red Pill View would be:
            The polyamory movement is a complete sideshow to this. Or, more correctly, the polyamory movement is a wedge used by FI to weaken the confines of traditional marriage. Most women are not interested in actual polyamory anymore than they are interested in becoming rocket scientists. However, the polyamorous, much like women in tech, are fantastic tools to encourage other things some women might want, like “equal” pay for equal work or still being allowed to have sex with hot men while being legally pair-bonded.

            Apologies for cynicism.

          • Anonymous says:

            The actual concern is that mainstream marriage will be redefined to eliminate sexual monogamy, and instead encourage “open relationships.” Which will not actually benefit husbands.

            How will it not-benefit them?

          • Marc Whipple says:


            Can’t speak for them, but I would assume the justification for that claim is that it is much more likely that women will get more extramarital action than men will, especially as compared to a situation in which both parties were expected to be monogamous. If the husbands were the sort who could/would have multiple relationships, it’s much less likely that they’d have ever gotten married at all. So, on the whole, husbands will get less attention from their wives than they would have otherwise, while being expected to provide the same level of resources. It’s that whole hypergamy thing.

          • If the husbands were the sort who could/would have multiple relationships, it’s much less likely that they’d have ever gotten married at all

            What this man said.
            Men who can regularly have hot sex with no commitment are not men who get married.
            I am sure someone will convince men that this amazing new paradigm will be awesome for them. Yep, you will have all that amazing hot sex you had while you were single!
            While simultaneously shaming men who wish to control their wives’ sexuality. “What you won’t let your wife have sex with other men” will simply become the new “what, you won’t let your wife have male friends.”

            Noooooooooooo one gives a crap about the small section of polyamorous folk. But your norms will infect our culture, which is a different story entirely.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Anonymous,

            What exactly do you think marriage is?

            I mean is wedding just a party where everyone dresses funny, acts awkward, and talks about how infatuated the couple (or more) are? Or is it there something more to it?

            Because If you actually take all that starting a family stuff even moderately seriously I would expect the answer to be painfully obvious.

          • Nita says:

            @ hlynkacg

            Marriage is different things to different people. Just a handful of examples:

            To me, it’s a relationship framework suitable for cooperative endeavors that require long-term commitment, such as buying or building a house, or raising children.

            To some people, it’s a way to show that their love is True Love.

            To others, it’s a way to fulfill St Paul’s commandment: “if you can’t be an awesome celibate person like me, the next best thing is to get married and sleep only with your spouse”.

            To others, it’s the way you enter the next stage of life, with a corresponding change in social status, no more optional than coming of age.

            To others, it’s a way to optimize their taxes.

          • NN says:

            Men who can regularly have hot sex with no commitment are not men who get married.

            Any man with a high paying job and no moral objections to prostitution can regularly have hot sex with no commitment. And everything that I’ve read indicates that, at least in the “high end” market, a large majority of Johns are married. So this statement appears to be empirically wrong.

            There is also no shortage of examples of married man cheating on their wives with “amateur” mistresses.

        • Anon says:

          I don’t think society is really moving in a polyamorous direction, except among tiny and atypical communities like the rationalist community. I think it’s moving in a polygynous direction. I’m not sure if polyamorous people would consider this to be better or worse than the status quo of serial monogomy. I’m guessing they’d consider it to be better insofar as some people (high-status men) are increasingly allowed to have more than one partner, but it’s also not gender equitable, which polyamorous people usually strongly want.

          Poly people, I’d be interested to hear your answer on this. Do you think a serially monogamous society or a polygynous society would be better, if you had to choose between those two? For the purpose of this thought experiment, assume that you are still free to live a polyamourous lifestyle, but that serial monogamy or polygyny will be the default status quo for society as a whole.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            >I think it’s moving in a polygynous direction.

            Huh. Why? Serial monogamy has been just as serial for women as men thus far.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Under this rubric, the really bad thing would be to advocate for polyamory, or practice it in a visible way.

        • Randy M says:

          The conservative would always prefer the hypocrite to the advocate.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            It depends on what you mean by “prefer”.

            I don’t think conservatives are different from the usual view, which is that consistent advocates of harmful ideas are more principled and respectable, but hypocrites are better in fact to have around.

            You know, the idea that consistency and integrity are two of those virtues that are only good when you’re right.

          • Randy M says:

            Conservative in this case meaning “one who wishes to maintain the status quo.” I should have clarified, but was shooting for pithy.

    • anon says:

      With the caveat that I don’t reach much polyamory philosophy, what I have read was mostly with the thread of thought that polyamory is good but only for a narrow set of people. As in, it won’t become as common as serial monogamy is now, and if it does it probably won’t be in the nice positive jealousy-free form it is claimed to have now (unless everyone somehow becomes a lot smarter, more open etcetc).

      So if we believe that polyamory for a few select people is great but widespread polyamory would be bad, then we agree that polyamory on a scale where it can be called is a “social structure” is bad.

    • anonymous says:

      Is there evidence for all of these wonderful benefits to monogamy for society or is it just post hoc ergo propter hoc?

      • Anon says:

        Well, societies that are currently and historically monogamous (or at least serially monogamous) tend to have higher GDPs per capita than societies that are currently and historically polygamous (usually polygynous). Compare Europe, Euro-descended countries, and East Asia to the Middle East and Africa. Now, there are of course many other reasons for the GDP per capita disparity and I’m absolutely not saying it’s all due to monogamy, but I do think monogamy has some economic benefit insofar as it incentivizes low-status men to try hard to get and keep a job so that they can marry.

        Obviously some exceptions exist (like Saudi Arabia), but in general the pattern holds.

        • Nornagest says:

          Polygyny was legal in China until the early 20th century. It was rare, but it’s rare in most of the Middle East too — I gather less so in some African regions but I don’t know as much about them.

    • Princess Stargirl says:

      In communities with extremely lopsided sex rations this benefit of monogamy does not work: “, thus reducing the number of sexually frustrated and disenfranchised young men.” In fact the opposite probably holds and polyamory serves this purpose better.

      You seem to be assuming that (some) men will have several partners where as most women will have one. This has been the historical norm but it does not seem to reflect the current rationalist community.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The rationalist community is weird. What happens when society adopts polyamory is probably going to be vastly different than it’s practiced now.

        • John Schilling says:

          Society has adopted polyamory. Everybody but rationalists calls it “fooling around”. Or sometimes “cheating”, but with a nod-and-wink towards the bailey of the ruleset. The rules are informal and somewhat hypocritical, which can be frustrating for the nerdy, but they seem to work reasonably well.

          • Alex says:

            Where I come from, i. e. not the rationalist community, the term polyamoury goes behind the rules you state in that it is shorthand for “I wish I could let my spouse, whom I love, partake in the deep emotional experiences and the satisfaction I get from fucking other people. Sharing such things is what couples are supposed to do, isn’t it?”

            In a broarder sense it can also mean “I wish there was a socially accepted way to brag with my adventures without coming across as a chauvinist”.

          • Wrong Species says:

            It’s called cheating because you aren’t supposed to do it. A polyamorous society would not only be ok with having sexual relationships besides your primary partner, it would be considered normal. Our society is definitely not even close to that right now.

          • It is decriminalized. There is a social norm against “cheating” but an actual pro-marriage culture would carry legal penalties for those that forsake their vows.

            This is why I am not legally married to my wife, no matter what the state says. I am in a legal partnership that the State calls “marriage” which has no resemblance to actual marriage as historically understood.

          • Anonymous says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            I have some sympathy with your views on this topic, as I understand them.

            But only some. What limitations do you think there should be on the possible terms for marriage contracts?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Won’t speak for him, but my first response is simple: people should be allowed to enter into marriage contracts which provide for either unilateral dissolution (what we now consider no-fault divorces) or unanimous dissolution.

            If you enter into the latter, you may still unilaterally ask to be released from the marriage, but what you get is a legal annulment: your children are the responsibility of the other party only if they are proven to be their biological issue or they accept such responsibility willingly. If either of those things is true, responsibility for costs and custody is split right down the middle absent mutual agreement to the contrary. You yourself have no right whatsoever to anything from the other party. All marital assets are divided according to the actual financial input of each party as described on their income tax forms. We’d probably want some kind of asset summary filed with the marriage license form to provide for pre-existing assets.

            I suspect that this form of marriage would be very unpopular. But I think people should have the right to enter into it and I think it should be enforced. Knowing it exists might do some very interesting things to the dynamics of marriage in our society.

          • @Anon
            At the moment I really don’t have any ambitious or concrete suggestions. I am single individual and not well-versed enough to confidently say “This will work.”

            And “will this work” is definitely a salient position in my mind.

            My current inclination is that our civil marriage system is entirely nonsense. My marriage comes from Papal Authority, not American authority, and no American court should have the right to dissolve it or regulate it.

            At the moment, my current concern is just rebuffing some of the more noxious Blue and Grey Tribe moralities undermining sexual and family relations. I do not feel this is at all inconsistent with Modern Life: I am a Yuppie with an organic garden, reel lawn-mower, and a Doctor for Wife.

            I even use a computer!

            But in this household, it’s still my way (and there is no highway).

            I should also add that I am not so arrogant as to believe my way is the right way for all couples. We have close friends who hyphenated their last-names.
            If it works for them, it works for them.
            I am, however, uninterested in a culture where “Happy Wife, Happy Life” is in the water supply.

          • nil says:

            re: Marc Whipple

            “I suspect that this form of marriage would be very unpopular. But I think people should have the right to enter into it and I think it should be enforced. Knowing it exists might do some very interesting things to the dynamics of marriage in our society.”

            This exists in an (somewhat watered down) form in Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana under the name “covenant marriage.” It is, indeed, not popular–the wiki page says at most 1% of the marriages in those states take that form.

            Psychologically, I imagine it faces the same barriers as pre-nups (“we don’t need that because our love is pure”)–except pre-nups are nonetheless encouraged by both self-interest and, in some cases, sound legal advice, and a covenant marriage lacks even that.

          • Definite Beta Guy, what do you mean by “But in this household, it’s still my way (and there is no highway).”?

    • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

      I object to the notion that ‘benefiting society’ should be the main concern when adopting social policy, or even that it shiuld be brought up in any situation short of “we are definitely all going to die if we do this”.