"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

OT45: Opal Thread

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

1. I’m going to be running a psychiatry journal club at my clinic in a few weeks. Any suggestions for interesting or surprising recent (in the last year or two) psychiatry-related journal articles I might present?

2. Comments of the week are Anonymous on Ubers and taxis, and Zaxlebaxes and Telmid on sealioning. This was originally brought up in the subreddit as similar to my Against Interminable Arguments post, but I agree with both commenters that they’re very different. I am saying “people should be careful about saying controversial things in inflammatory ways”, but the sealioning essay seems more like “Given that I have said a controversial thing in an inflammatory way, people should not respond and set the record straight”. I feel the same way about the “randos in my Twitter mentions” complaint – too often it seems to take the form of A saying “Hey world, you should know that all Bulgarians are stupid and unemployed”, B coming in and saying “I’m a Bulgarian and find that offensive, here are statistics showing that Bulgarian test scores and employment rates are above average”, and A saying “Gross! Randos in my mentions!”

3. A few years ago I reviewed A Future For Socialism and mentioned that the book’s suggestion of redistributing corporate profits as a basic income wasn’t enough – it would only provide about $6000 per person. This was true of the book’s method, which only redistributed the profits of publicly-traded companies. But Tumblr user fadingphilosophymiracle points out that private companies have lots of profits too, and that redistributing those as well could produce a basic income of $12,000/person, which sounds a lot more impressive. I’ve edited the post to include the recalculation. (maybe not? see here)

4. I’m going to be in the Bay in mid-April. David Friedman usually offers to host a meetup at his house, and I’ll probably take advantage of that, but still looking for a good location in the East Bay/Berkeley area. A good location would be one that could fit 50+ people and have room for everybody to talk. Last time we tried an Indian restaurant and it was a little awkward. Any better ideas?

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1,555 Responses to OT45: Opal Thread

  1. Frog Do says:

    Just for fun, I kinda want to look at an aspect of the whole Sealioning thing. Is there a good use for Twitter specifically as a communication medium? I’ve taken my five minutes, not sure I can think of any.

    Edit: I am a moron, the obvious answer is humor.

    • Matthias says:

      And, perhaps, providing references to longer pieces?

    • Montfort says:

      It works pretty well for mostly-useless publicity announcements – think events at a public library, new book or album releases, etc. They’re forced to be brief (with a link to more info) and they don’t clog up your inbox/facebook feed or require you to check their sites.

      Of course, you still need a website and calendar for the people who are more invested, but it’s good for the spur-of-the-moment crowd.

    • reytes says:

      Humor and ego boosts/low-content emotional support, I think.

    • 27chaos says:

      I like the influence of the brevity constraint on Weird Sun.

    • suntzuanime says:

      It’s bad for arguing, because you have to compress your ideas down small and that means more charity than usual is necessary when unpacking them. But for you to compress an idea down small enough to fit and have it still be recoverable you have to really understand the key point, and this can help clarify your thinking. Also the mental work required to unpack the idea ensures that your reader really engages with it rather than just blowing by a cloud of words. And the small low-investment nature of tweets lets you engage in rapid prototyping.

      • Zaxlebaxes says:

        I agree on both points: that it is generally not optimal for arguing charitably, but that it is helpful in forcing one to be concise.

        I often fail at the latter, and had a tendency in my younger, stupider years to get into Facebook arguments where I posted essays in comments. I would self-flatteringly describe those comment-essays as inspired by Scott’s way of arguing–breaking down points into shorter paragraphs (see this comment), building the argument up by spelling assumptions out, providing examples of a meta-level concepts using less controversial or even humorous object-level examples (In the reddit comment Scott mentions, I used mixology as the first example because 1. I was in my kitchen looking at a bottle of whisky and 2. I figured it would be an uncontroversial topic in this particular community that probably includes a higher-than-average number of teetotalers, for example (though the higher-than-average interest in nootropics here might have made the LSD example controversial; I don’t know)). I liked the way Scott helps people get comfortable with the form of an argument, and I don’t find the length of his posts prohibitive, since they’re pleasant to read. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling sad when they’re over and even wishing they would go on for a little while longer, like a scenic and relaxing train ride.

        Anyway, it’s an understatement to say that format is not suitable for Facebook. What’s more, for a lot of my interlocutors, taking my time with a post just proved my point was invalid, since I was spending time arguing on the internet so obviously my time and therefore my life and beliefs were worthless. TL; DR was an affirmative argument; somehow it made my point less valid than if I hadn’t articulated it with evidence. Incidentally, this is why the concept of sealioning bothers me so much. I think it’s almost elementary to say that by creating a one-word bingo-card instant-shutdown term for asking for evidence, and by penalizing length, it dramatically shifts the discourse online toward a preference for inflammatory, unkind, and often untrue (or less well justified) at the expense of the charitable, nuanced, qualified, and better justified arguments.

        That said, a medium has better and worse uses. By limiting tweets to 140 characters, Twitter exacerbates the above problem, but it at the same time discourages verbose people like me from picking fights on it. And it forces us to cut down our responses to the sorts of messages that people on the medium generally prefer. Facebook allows blog-post-length responses, but no one is going to read them on there anyway, and it promotes a culture of stigmatizing long post-writers as kooks and losers. Twitter might prevent people like me from going overboard and looking kooky by telling me every 140 characters, “Hey, this is long and you’re giving people too much to digest, as evidenced… (1/2)” “(2/2) by the fact you have to throw another message at this person.” It also forces me to cut down on unnecessary words. In general, people probably don’t qualify enough, but I feel like sometimes people like me might have a little bit of a tendency to sort of overqualify a bit kind of at times in certain contexts maybe or not. People should be less unkind, but I know that in academic writing, people need to speak more plainly and directly. Perhaps people with a problem with excess verbosity, or those whose virtues in charitable discussion unfortunately face difficulty arousing others’ interest in their thoughts and maintaining their attention and comprehension, could be served by a light course, via Twitter, in the agressive, loud and disagreeable way neurotypical people communicate with each other. You know, rather than us bleep-bloop logic bots.

        • J Mann says:

          Yeah, IMHO part of the issue of sealioning is that it can be used to create a test where it’s your job to convince me that you are correct, and if you fail to meet this burden, then, well, you fail.

          (This used to come up on The American Scene’s comment board all the time, for some reason. Commenter A would announce that B had the “burden of proof” on some issue and that because A was not convinced, B had failed.)

          Presumably, the way around it is just to respond to your own satisfaction, and leave it at that.

          • ton says:

            This is a valid argument if the other side is claiming something to be obvious.

            “I disagree with X” is a counterpoint to “X is obvious”.

          • J Mann says:

            @ton – that’s a good point.

            If B’s proposition is at least implicitly “no reasonable person could disagree with X”, then “I am a reasonable person and disagree” is valid.

            But these weren’t those cases. 🙂

          • Anon. says:

            >create a test where it’s your job to convince me that you are correct, and if you fail to meet this burden, then, well, you fail.

            I don’t see what’s wrong with this.

          • J Mann says:

            > I don’t see what’s wrong with this.

            Well, changing someone’s mind on the internet is almost impossible. I’m personally curious to understand competing arguments or to hear some of the best arguments for something I don’t believe, but I don’t expect other people to convince me very often, even if they’re right and I’m wrong.

          • Error says:

            @ J Mann: I suspect that in most such arguments, the response would be “no, you’re a lamer who likes to pretend he’s reasonable; that you disagree with X is proof that you are not.”

    • FeepingCreature says:

      Tech advice that takes long to figure out but is easy to express, like Bash one-liners.

    • Adam says:

      The only reason I’m on Twitter is to follow a few data science/stat software developers and they tend to blast some useful links as well as updates on projects they work on that I follow. I would never use it to actually talk to people.

    • J Mann says:

      Twitter’s OK if you want a general sense of how people are responding to an event. It’s often a good companion for a sports game – basically like sitting in the stadium hearing people yell their opinions about the last play.

    • Jacob says:

      As a Feedly-type app it’s great. Follow some people with interesting internet tastes, and bam, you’ve got a curated link-feed.

    • Andre Infante says:

      It’s useful for casual discussion of technical topics. Almost all of the VR devs and engineers are on Twitter, and routinely compare notes and link to resources. Probably works a lot less well for actively controversial topics, though.

    • Adam Casey says:

      Journalists live-tweeting press conferences.

    • jsmith says:

      It’s kinda useful as a glorified RSS feed.

  2. There was a recent subthread which I would like to revive here so as to get more people commenting on it.

    What are differences between red tribe and blue tribe culture other than political ones?

    My initial list:

    What red parents do wrong is claim that you shouldn’t contradict your elders–that hierarchy trumps truth.

    What blue parents do wrong is to wrap their kids in cotton wool–be unreasonably protective, thus greatly limiting their kids’ opportunity to do things and learn things.

    What bad blue parents do is to impose no discipline on their kids, letting them run around other people’s houses endangering the furniture.

    What bad red parents due is to impose discipline with orders to be obeyed but no need for justification.

    If cooking a meal for a bunch of blues, you are expected to pay attention to a wide range of food constraints–not just avoiding lethal allergens but catering to vegetarians, and vegans, and people who have decided that maybe they should try a gluten free diet.

    If cooking for a bunch of reds, you avoid lethal allergens if you know about them but for anything else people are expected to eat those parts of what you provide that fit their requirements, not to make a fuss or expect to be catered to.

    Blue parents are proud of how few children they have, red parents of how many.

    Criticizing the behavior of someone else’s children is permissable in red culture, criticizing the existence of other people’s children, being in general anti-child, is permissable only in blue culture.

    Finally, consider a guaranteed minimum income not from the standpoint of whether it does or doesn’t work but whether the world it creates is attractive. From the red tribe point of view, there is something fundamentally wrong with someone living entirely on other people, doing nothing productive himself.

    Doing something productive doesn’t have to mean earning money–volunteering to teach Sunday school, making jam, bringing cookies to a PTA meeting count. But a life that consists simply of generating utility for yourself at the expense of others, even if those others can easily afford it, feels wrong.

    Not true, I think, for blue tribe.

    Can others confirm, disagree, or add?

    • onyomi says:

      Marrying and having children young is accepted and even encouraged by the Red Tribe, usually discouraged by the Blue Tribe.

    • daronson says:

      An interesting point of view/alternative explanation for why those red-tribers who’d benefit from basic income don’t want one. <>
      https://medium.com/@emmalindsay/trump-supporters-aren-t-stupid-3d38f70f2a2f#.42s33jeuh

      • Nathan says:

        Thanks for this, I found it really interesting and quite plausible.

      • It fits with the point I made a little higher up in the comment thread about red tribe people seeing a world where people produce nothing and live on the basic income as wrong. Ugly.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Not bad, but I think the author misses the critical fact that poor whites are already in “last place”. They get all the downsides of being poor without the excuses, or the ideological super weapon of “playing the race card” to fall back on. Pride is all that’s left and that’s what Trump is tapping into.

        Democrats tell poor whites that they are racist scum who don’t understand what it’s like to be poor.

        Trump offers them love.

        • Viliam says:

          Democrats tell poor whites that they are racist scum who don’t understand what it’s like to be poor.

          Exactly this. Keep kicking someone, and then act surprised that they don’t love you. (Also, keep kicking poor people and then congratulate yourself for how enlightened and left-wing you are.)

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            These comments need more angry rightists imo. Until every mention of terrorism or somesuch is accompanied with a comment along the lines of ‘Daesh just proves what we all know already, that rightism is completely evil’, shit like this is just going to feel like slinging insults at people who probably aren’t even there.

          • Do you mean “more angry leftists“? If you don’t, I find your comment impossible to extract meaning from.

          • Anonymous says:

            I am ambivalent on the question of having more Multiheadeds.

          • Zorgon says:

            “kicking poor people then congratulate yourself for how enlightened and left wing you are”

            You see that too, huh?

            I am pretty much on my last ounce of patience for middle-class lefties at this point.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Mai La Dreapta is right about my comment, but it’s too late to edit it now unfortunately. I’ve been a mess all day.

          • multiheaded says:

            I don’t feel like commenting much atm, but I will always remark how weird/amusing it feels to be locally notorious.

        • Cliff says:

          Are there any poor white people really? Poverty rate after government transfers is around 5%, right? Considering the disparity in income between whites and NAM the % must be super low right? I’m sure there are a few in Appalachia

          • Tommy says:

            I’d guess that there are more poor whites than poor NAMs (have never heard of this term before but I’ll roll with it). Remember that there are a lot of white people in this country.

          • roystgnr says:

            http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/#_ftnref3

            About 5 million white children under 18 in poverty in the USA. (likewise for blacks and hispanics – the disparities in poverty rate and the disparities in population size cancel out pretty closely)

            If anyone else can find post-taxes-and-transfers rates for children in poverty, I’d appreciate it. Quick searches suggest that T&T benefits reduce the total US poverty rate by only around a quarter, but they are typically aimed disproportionately at households with children so I’d expect to see a larger effect there.

          • Z says:

            I can tell you that I’m white, and I grew up in an area with almost exclusively white people where poverty was as complete and widespread as it’s possible to be.

            No one I knew had ever taken a vacation out of the immediate region. I’ve taken one vacation my entire life, just over the nearby border into the next state.

            A neighbor kid once came over and was amazed that we were able to have so much food in the house. This is the kind of thing that really impresses very poor people.

            We didn’t have running water for my entire childhood. I could count the number of showers I had taken in my life on one hand before I turned 18. We washed our clothes by hand and collected the rainwater for bathing and flushing toilets.

            I’m no longer as poor as I once was, but many still are. This is in spite of the fact that they work jobs.

            I remember a few years ago when there was a story about black people in the Detroit area having their water cut off for not paying their bills. The media cast this as a problem unique to black people and evidence of systemic national racism, or at least callousness. The white people I know (which is almost everyone I know) are constantly upset about being apparently invisible while poor minorities seem to be a top concern for the left.

            I don’t mean to sound defensive, but comments which question the existence of poor white people seem to question whether almost everyone I’ve ever known even exist.

          • jsmith says:

            >Are there any poor white people really?

            Let me ask the three homeless white guys that hang around my supermarket.

          • Nathan says:

            I think people are being too aggressive in response to Cliff. I grew up in essentially 3rd world conditions too (though in Australia rather than USA), and I definitely get that it’s easy to take that sort of ignorance personally. But maybe try not to anyway. He didn’t mean badly.

            Yes Cliff, poor white people exist, in large numbers. I’m (genuinely) happy for you that your life has been such that this is not immediately obvious to you.

          • Deiseach says:

            The white people I know (which is almost everyone I know) are constantly upset about being apparently invisible while poor minorities seem to be a top concern for the left.

            That’s exactly the point I was trying to make about those articles about “why do people vote Republican when it’s not in their economic interest? are they really that stupid?” and get the patronisingly well-meaning “they’re not dumb as such but they’re voting on pride and dignity”.

            No, you twerps, it’s because of these attitudes from a lot of the more left-ward or progressive side as if they have never personally met an actual poor person in their lives and regard them as an anthropological field observation. It’s because they perceive that, whatever about a Republican candidate, it definitely will not be in their interest as a poor white to vote for a Democratic candidate, as a minority cause (whether non-Asian or whatever) will always trump their needs. Poor Joe and poor Bob may be in the same economic class, but if poor Joe is white and poor Bob is black, Bob will be seen as “more in need” even if all else is equal.

            We didn’t have running water for my entire childhood. I could count the number of showers I had taken in my life on one hand before I turned 18. We washed our clothes by hand and collected the rainwater for bathing and flushing toilets.

            Bringing me back to my childhood, Z. We only got running water when the local farmers put in a group water scheme to get water for their cattle and we were lucky enough to live in the neighbourhood and be on the line 🙂

            As for toilets – toilets? In my early childhood we had chamber pots (and no, I’m not joking). Aged nine, I helped my father dig out the hole for the septic tank by hand with pickaxe and shovel when he converted an old shed into an outside lavatory. We collected rainwater in a barrel for flushing it, too. All this is why I like to say I had a perfectly ordinary 19th century upbringing 🙂

            “Do poor white people still exist” – duh! And in the cities and towns as well as Back Of The Mountains, too!

          • anyoneofyou says:

            Deiseach,

            You seem upset that the cliche of the sneering pince-nez sporting u.s. liberal isn’t exactly scoring points on the versimilitude scale with actual americans. Maybe ask yourself why youre getting so much emotional satisfaction from right-wing propaganda designed to shame anyone who yearns for a less selfish society. Yeah, you’re a real friend of the people.

            “The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?
            If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.” – cs lewis

      • Tseeteli says:

        I’d assumed that the “vote against their interest” was an inexpensive way to buy virtue points. It’s similar to why I think a hard-line freedom-of-speech stance is so emotionally appealing to me.

        People are disavowing a policy that would benefit them. The Republican voter would benefit from basic income. I’d be able to use hate speech laws to shut down bigots like the Westboro Baptist Church.

        This make the stance feel satisfyingly altruistic.

        At the same time, the Republican knows that min-income is a far off policy, unlikely to be impacted by their vote. And I don’t really believe that speech-restrictions would ever impede anyone with actual influence.

        So our support is cheap.

        And I think appealing to self-interest is exactly the wrong response. It just makes their (low-cost) vote seem that much more self-sacrificing.

        • Jiro says:

          Assuming that that is actually voting against their interest is begging the question, in the original sense of that phrase. It assumes that

          1) financial interests are the only kind of interests that exist
          2) the policy would help them financially if properly implemented
          3) the policy actually would be properly implemented
          4) the policy would not be accompanied by other policies with worse effects

          Most analyses that ask why reds “vote against their interests” don’t even attempt to prove more than 2, and many of them don’t even do that.

          • Protagoras says:

            Indeed, most analysis is too shallow. There are some issues on which I think the policies Republicans tend to advocate are probably more sensible than those the Democracts tend to advocate. But I expect Republicans to be extremely likely to do a bad job at implementing their policies, so those issues don’t actually do much to make me less of a partisan Democrat.

          • Tommy says:

            @Protagoras

            What’s your basis for that expectation? Seems to me that the safe assumption is that both parties are equally bad at implementing their policies.

          • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

            Most people who moan about right wingers voting against their own interest aren’t seeking truth. They are deploying a really really stupid line of attack and/or reassuring each other of their own superiority, depending on context.

            Of course the analysis springing from that will be bad.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Tommy, An unscientific general impression based on recent cases when the Republicans had power.

          • onyomi says:

            “the safe assumption is that both parties are equally bad at implementing their policies.”

            Some libertarians always want the government divided on the theory that a united legislative and executive always does more damage, regardless of which party. It’s psychologically difficult for me to accept this, since it means the best we can hope for is a very sclerotic government unable to keep pace with the pockets of free market innovation which naturally pop up, though it may be the most realistic.

          • Gbdub says:

            The funny thing is that I have exactly the same feeling as Protagoras, but in the opposite direction. The Dems seem doomed to have their policies derailed by the often competing special interests in the party – school reform gets neutered by the teachers unions. The stimulus package, a great chance to rebuild much needed infrastructure, gets attacked by women’s groups because “shovel ready jobs” are too masculine (they are also mostly the jobs that were lost, but never mind). Obamacare relied on a medical device tax and a “Cadillac tax” to be solvent, but those got nixed by women’s groups and trade unions, respectively.

            Heck, the Dems controlled both houses of congress and the White House from 2008 to 2010 and accomplished what? Essentially nothing but a convoluted health care law so bad that they had to bribe chunks of their own party just to ram it through, and amend the hell out of by executive fiat after the fact to make it palatable. Even then in cost them Congress in the 2010 elections.

            Then again the Republican leadership hasn’t been a paragon of competence either. The “gang of 8” stuff was a bad attempt to pander to Hispanics that lost them their base and gave us Trump. Romney was probably the most competent executive either party has had as a major candidate since at least Bill Clinton, but they packaged him as so milquetoast that he was doomed. And just recently they made a huge tactical error by promising not to hold hearings for Obama’s SC nominee, opening the door for Barack to make an “offer they can’t refuse” with a moderate-right candidate that will make them look petty and stupid (which there are now rumblings he might do).

          • Protagoras says:

            @Gbhub, I assumed that conservatives would be likely to have the mirror image of my view. And perhaps we’re both right; when it comes to the little fiddly details of implementation, people who are like me are more likely to do them the way I would want them done, and people who are unlike me are less likely to do so. So to some extent it is rational to support a candidate who seems to be more like me, even if their stated policy positions don’t exactly line up with my preferences (their stated policy positions are admittedly going to be a part, but only a part, of the evidence for how much like me they are).

          • gbdub says:

            when it comes to the little fiddly details of implementation, people who are like me are more likely to do them the way I would want them done, and people who are unlike me are less likely to do so

            That’s a good point. I think Americans tend to vastly overestimate the degree to which the President can be realistically expected to enact their agenda, how much control they really have over the economy, etc. What’s generally more important for a president is how well they react to the unexpected – and in that case you’re going to prefer/trust someone who thinks like you.

            Another side of it, and this is a downside of the shrill polarization we’ve been getting, is that we seem to overvalue ideological purity at the expense of effectiveness in our leaders. Bill Clinton was very effective, Obama not so much, because the former built a rapport with his opponents and compromised, and the latter didn’t. Some of that is the personality of the men involved, but I’m worried that Obama’s supporters wouldn’t let him pull Clinton style deals even if he wanted to.

            Hell, just yesterday I saw a bunch of Berners in my feed ripping on Hillary because there’s a picture of her hugging a smiling George W Bush at a frakking state funeral. Is that what we’re coming to? Treating political opponents as human beings is being weak and evil?

        • Anonymous says:

          Basic income can be likened to wireheading. You might opine that you don’t want it, because you can see how it leads to your doom*, but once you’re hooked up, you can’t imagine wanting to make it stop.

          * Give a typical working class person an indefinite stipend, and they cease doing anything (other than watching TV/playing games/drinking with friends). Part of this is because current-day stipends *require*, via justification, (the appearance of) incompetence – unemployment benefits require one to be unemployed, disability benefits require one to be disabled, social benefits to aid the ability of people to make ends meet require not being able to make ends meet. Not searching for jobs, not getting out of bed, not planning finances are all easy to do in order to keep the revenue flowing in.

          • Tseeteli says:

            The wire-heading comparison makes for an interesting thought experiment.

            An eccentric billionaire offers you a stipend worth $X / year. The pay is guaranteed. But the catch is that you’ve got to drop out of society. No job. No formal charity work. No published novels. Just consumption.

            How big of an $X would you need for that to be appealing?

            I agree that I have a price. But I don’t think I’d do it for anything like the ~$20k I see in min-income threads.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think I need more details about the deal.

            >The pay is guaranteed.

            If you break the agreement later, you’re required to give it back?

            >But the catch is that you’ve got to drop out of society.

            Does this mean not being allowed to raising a family, etc?

            >No job.

            Does a hobby count as a job?

            >No formal charity work.

            Not allowed to play the organ at the local church on Sundays?

            >No published novels.

            How about unpublished ones? What about commenting on blogs?

          • Tseeteli says:

            This was something that I had an econ professor pose to a class. It was over a decade ago, so I’m going from memory.

            >If you break the agreement later, you’re required to give it back?

            No, but we shoot you / are asking for a sincere agreement to do this for life.

            (Unsure if it matters, but in the original, you were getting guaranteed a bundle of goods worth interest-adjusted $X. So you’d just have had the use of a car or an apartment)

            > Does this mean not being allowed to raising a family, etc?

            You can have have kids but getting married was “bourgeoisie bullshit”. So were college degrees for some reason.

            > Not allowed to play the organ at the local church on Sundays?
            > How about unpublished ones? What about commenting on blogs?

            Organ yes, blogs yes. But status-granting titles like “Chair of the X Committee” or “Editor of Y”, no.


            I think the spirit of the question was to look at how we were pricing the status that comes along with formalized participation in society.

          • Anonymous says:

            If informal status is OK, then I’ll ask for double median salary for wherever I happen to live.

            (So long as there is some marriage option that isn’t just on the basis of the current say-so of the spouse. I like my contracts enforced.)

          • Anon says:

            @Tseeteli

            I would absolutely take that deal for $20,000 a year if I can also continue to receive virtually free health care (I currently qualify for Medicaid and as such only have to pay very tiny co-pays for my prescriptions and doctor’s visits; if I couldn’t keep getting this benefit and would have to purchase insurance on the open market, the minimum the billionaire would need to offer me would be higher).

            I am from the underclass, and like many people from the underclass, I despise working and only engage in paid employment because I absolutely have to. If I could receive enough money to live on and have some disposable income (and $20,000 would be enough for me to live on and have some disposable income) without having to work, I would be more than willing to accept it with the strings attached that you’ve mentioned.

            However, I think my position on this is affected by the fact that I prefer to live my life as close to your “drop out of society” stipulation as possible. I don’t want to work, or leave the house much, or do formal charity work, or anything of the sort. I like spending time alone doing things I enjoy doing, and things I enjoy doing are mostly personal consumption-related activities like reading books and blogs and things, watching TV, playing video games, laying around with my cats, etc. I don’t like socialization, or dating, or being around people in general, and I don’t seem to feel the innate need to be productive in some way that many people feel. It is possible that I would eventually regret taking this deal, but I don’t think I would. The deal seems obviously awesome to me, because it’s hard for me to viscerally understand why some people don’t despise working with every fiber of their being (though I do understand it on a detached, intellectual level).

            As long as I can still engage in my hobbies if I take the deal, I would take the deal for an amount of money smaller than what it would take for a lot of people to accept the deal.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Anon

            I feel, to a significant degree, the same way. I’m not built to enjoy work – in the meaning of doing things I have to in order to be able to survive and do things I like to do. I’ll do it because I have to, but whenever people ask me if I like my job, I can offer a blank stare and some platitudes about being paid well and the conditions being bearable.

            (Not underclass. Family’s mixed labour/gentry.)

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Tseeteli: If I’m allowed to marry and reproduce and keep commenting on SSC, probably something like $15,000-$20,000 or so. My plan would be something like marry a mail-order-bride, move to a cheap rural community, and raise a family while engaging in all my usual hobbies (except writing flash fiction, I guess). Online commenting and informal interaction with family and neighbors would satisfy my need for socialization and status without need for a formal title, I think.

          • Richard says:

            I’m not sure such a sum exists that I would stop working, either on startups or regular paid work. I suspect this is because:

            a) Money is only relevant when you don’t have enough and
            b) If your job is fun enough that you get up in the morning wanting to go to work, it ceases to be “work” and becomes people paying you for your hobbies.

            Getting up in the morning with nothing to do is so alien that I genuinely can’t wrap my head around the concept.

          • Anon says:

            @Richard

            That’s really interesting! The fact that the idea of not having something to do feels alien to you, I mean. I think we’re definitely hitting on some kind of fundamental psychological or neurological difference between individuals.

            For me, the idea of being okay with having to do something specific (like go to work) when you wake up each day is alien and it’s very hard for me to grasp it.

            Even if I was getting paid for something I love doing, the fact that I had to do it whether I wanted to or not would ruin my enjoyment of it, so I don’t think it’s possible for me personally to ever have a job where it’s like I’m getting paid for a hobby (because having to do it makes it not fun anymore).

          • multiheaded says:

            Drinking with friends is a fine activity endorsed by many thinkers and authors.

          • John Schilling says:

            Even if I was getting paid for something I love doing, the fact that I had to do it whether I wanted to or not would ruin my enjoyment of it,

            But that rules out a whole lot of enjoyable collaborative activities, on the grounds that not having your collaborators show up when they said they would also tends to ruin the enjoyment. If, as a wealthy dilettante or incorrigible bum (your pick) you decide to take a role in an amateur musical, you then “have to” show up for rehearsals and performances in the same way that you “have to” do your job – nobody will make you do it at gunpoint, but if you don’t reliably perform at the expected level you will be excluded from the activity, denied its rewards, and labeled as someone who shouldn’t be trusted to participate in such activities in the future.

            Are you actually unable to enjoy structured collaborative activities on that basis?

          • The “yes” answers to this thought experiment really surprise me. I guess that shows how much of a bubble I’m in. I wouldn’t take anything less than $200,000/year to drop out of society.

          • dndnrsn says:

            These “would you do x for why” sort of proposals seem to end up hinging on definitions.

            If “drop out of society” means no job, no formal volunteering, and no published novels? That would not be incredibly onerous to me: I’d just spend my time in the gym, hanging out with friends, and reading. If the money is guaranteed, and indexed to inflation, and so on, $20k US isn’t that bad. More would be nice, but that amount of money for doing nothing puts you ahead of the vast majority of people ever, past or present.

            But “drop out of society”, to me at least, suggests becoming some kind of antisocial recluse: if a book jacket “about the author” reads “After writing three bestselling novels, including this one, she dropped out of society”, I’d think she was living off the grid in some shack, shooting at anyone who came too close out of fear they were a literary agent.

          • Anon says:

            @John Schilling

            Are you actually unable to enjoy structured collaborative activities on that basis?

            For the most part, yes. I don’t try to participate in activities where I am expected to do something or be somewhere at a specific time very often, but on the few occasions where I have, the expectation has ruined my enjoyment of the activity and made me wish I had never gotten involved with it in the first place.

            (An example: I recently got kicked out of a guild in an MMO I play because I wasn’t participating with the guild as often as they were expecting. Prior to getting kicked out, I was aware that I “should” do more collaborative activities with them, but I just didn’t want to spend my video gaming time on it nearly as often as they were expecting, and the feeling that I “should” be spending my gaming time on forms of gaming I didn’t feel like doing at the moment was negatively impacting my overall enjoyment of playing the game in general. I don’t really mind that the guild kicked me out, but I do think it would have been better for me and them if I had never joined in the first place.)

            I find social obligations incredibly onerous, far more so than most people it seems. I don’t want to be engaged in any activity (whether its intended to be fun or not) where everyone else will be annoyed or inconvenienced if I don’t show up. I don’t want to disappoint people or be a bother to them, so I rarely sign up for voluntary activities where my participation affects other people’s enjoyment of the activity.

          • Richard says:

            @Anon

            I suspect the ting about fundamental psychological differences is correct.

            I have been thinking more on the matter and the idea of waking up tomorrow without far too much to do and way too little time fills me with a deep visceral dread.

            I don’t believe this is about status, because I’m quite happy to work low-status jobs and it’s definitely not about money because I could live quite comfortably if I retired tomorrow.

            The need to have the day packed sits on a more fundamental level than that, it feels more like the need to breathe really.

          • [I think something I did may be putting this in the wrong thread–hopefully the context is clear]

            More generally, the argument about people voting against their interests, like a lot of political arguments, takes it for granted that the person making it is right about what policies are good for the country.

            It’s like the cartoon that shows up in climate arguments from time to time: Wouldn’t it be terrible if AGW turned out to be wrong, and we had achieved all sorts of good things in trying to fight it. (paraphrase not quote).

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-revealing-cartoon.html

            The implicit assumption is that everyone else agrees with the author that the effects of those policies would be good.

          • @anon:

            In a way, I’m in the opposite of your position. As things now stand I could choose to do no work at all and still live a reasonably comfortable life.

            But I don’t like the taste of lotus. So I committed myself, some time back, to spend two hours a day seven days a week on my various writing projects–currently mostly a book on legal systems very different from ours. That’s a lot less than eight hours a day five days a week, but it’s enough so I feel as though I’m accomplishing something, not just doing the closest available option to wireheading.

            I do other things–I’m teaching two classes today at a high school in Honolulu as a guest lecturer, four classes tomorrow. But that doesn’t count for my two hours, which is why I got more than an hour ahead on my writing commitment in the plane between San Jose and Honolulu yesterday.

          • John Schilling says:

            How big of an $X would you need for that to be appealing?

            There is no such number. Beyond a certain price, mere consumption enters a realm of greatly diminishing returns and the value of money is in the power to change the world. Give me a billion dollars a year, and no way to spend it on anything that anyone else will care about, and what is there for me to care about? Will I be happier living in a mansion than a modest house, driving a fancier car and flying a faster airplane? Yes, but not to the point of compensating for what you are asking me to give up.

            Even if you allow me to spend the money in the company of my friends, I mostly make friends through my work and similar activities, and I think the quality of the friends so obtained is greater than I could expect through waving cash around at some tropic island resort.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            Give a typical working class person an indefinite stipend, and they cease doing anything (other than watching TV/playing games/drinking with friends).

            I disagree. Much of the adamant refusal to work on off-hours comes from spending the majority of our time spent on work. I can spend an entire weekend consuming on the internet, but that’s because I’m catching up on all of the hours I was not consuming on the internet while at work. Given a two-week vacation, depending on how busy I was in the weeks preceding that vacation, (i.e., was I able to consume with full focus in the evenings, unhindered by tiredness) I’ll max out on my ability to only consume in about a week.

            That is, if I don’t find a new fandom during that time.

            So a person given “nothing” to do (like, say, people who retire!) can live in a state of “only” consuming until they’re consuming faster than the rate of material production. (like running out of blog/episode archive to binge while waiting for new material to come out)
            How many retirees wirehead/only consume, if unhampered by health?

            As for the thought experiment, a bunch of the money people desire for their current incomes comes with huge buffers for taxes, retirement savings, emergency savings, and general “savings for X.” If I no longer need to worry about taxes or retirement, I could probably go for $30K or so, because I’d still like to have the option to try out the more expensive hobbies and travels. (Even something like the local community orchestra or sports league takes dues)

            There are so many non-formal projects/participation I could do. No titles necessary.
            My missing work would come from not encountering/receiving problems to solve if I wasn’t working in that industry anymore. There are certain experiences that require formal training/research/equipment/personnel, and that usually requires a job that wants you to do those things in the first place. So I’d miss that, getting to discover problems I never would have without being in the lab.

          • Anonymous says:

            @arbitrary_greay

            I don’t think you’re the kind of person I’m talking about in my statement. Now, my sample may be unrepresentative of all peoples everywhere, but I’ve met these sorts of people multiple times. I know like three from just one apartment building, whose job is apparently simulating being more sick than they are, sitting on their butts, watching TV, drinking and smoking, and complaining that their benefits aren’t quite high enough.

          • Wilj says:

            Are you aware that there is a lot of research on the percentage of people who never find a job and get off financial assistance (in both the US and elsewhere, including previous experimental basic income projects), and the number is invariably quite low (less than 20% at worst, usually much lower)?

            I know the kind of people you talk about, but be wary of anecdotal evidence.

          • BenS says:

            I’ve been very interested in these two different styles of thinking, as I’ve been trying to transform from the type of person who would take the 20,000 (which is definitely enticing) do-nothinger, to possibly a have-things-to-do type person. I despise responsibility, but ended up with goals where it seems like the only way to actually accomplish them is to have a Richard-do-things mindset. I try to build habits and make it so that I work towards things in a way that is more than “when I feel like it” but I often feel like I can get similar rewards to my goals by just quitting everything.

            It seems to be partially about control and responsibility. I hate it whenever I have any obligations set upon me from the outside. Even responsibilities set by me at another time. I feel crushed. I get to feel free and in control when there is nothing I have to do, only things I choose to do because I want to. My impression is that Richard accepts all or many responsibilities, and feels in control by arranging them (or possibly choosing which ones to accept?), but would like to know more. Like what happens if he doesn’t have things to do? Does it feel like there is going to be chaos (what I’ve heard other people say) Why? I don’t understand what situations lead people to have this belief. (I would like to understand!)

            My own apathy from my goals was formed sort of like this: I failed a some classes and was terrified of this happening. Then the day after, everything was pretty much fine. All of my friends still liked me, I still had food, my social status hadn’t really changed. I used to wish that failing to meet my goals had larger consequences, though I’ve gotten better at visualizing these on purpose.

            There is also this ‘accept responsibility’ maneuver. It seems really useful, because when I do do it, then it’s quite motivating and successful and getting me to work towards my goal. However, every time there is any sort of pain point, I think about how I can just drop the goal and not deal with it. In response to this I’ve worked at making working towards my goals as painless as possible, but I’ve wondered about if there are ways to keep responsibilities more active.

          • Nonnamous says:

            My theory: some people experienced the sweet sweet freedom when they were young (because their parents didn’t make them take the summer job at McDonalds and didn’t send them to a summer camp), and got hooked.

            Notice Richard says working is so very awesome, but admits that not working is something he never tried (and finds difficult to imagine!), whereas Anon et al. know very well what working is like (and they loathe it).

            It is a story you hear now and then in the Silicon Valley about some hard working overachiever who got a few $M from an IPO, kept on working like nothing happened, and then maybe three years later took a month of vacation (for the first time in a decade), said wow this is awesome, and never came back.

          • if there were 25 hours in a day i'd work 'em all says:

            I’m wired like Richard. Getting up with nothing at all to do is not at all alien to me, however (because I’m literally unemployable for completely unknowable reasons). It’s AWFUL GRINDING MENTAL TORTURE. I finally found an out in grueling 24/7 startup work and never looked back.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I share the opinion of the economist George Reisman, who said (paraphrasing):

            “I really enjoy my job educating young people about the principles of economics from a pro-capitalist perspective. I find it intrinsically rewarding and would do it for free. However, if I were doing it for free, rather than teaching five classes every semester, I would teach one class every other semester.”

            I haven’t quite had a “real job” (being still in the higher-education track), but I’ve had some long-term internships. I don’t hate working, not when it’s for something meaningful like advancing liberty. But if I didn’t have to in order to make money / have a good career, I would work like a quarter of the amount, or less. If I lived longer, too, maybe I’d work for a year and take ten years off.

            And if my job were something boring like stocking shelves, I wouldn’t work at all.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nonnamous
            My theory: some people experienced the sweet sweet freedom when they were young (because their parents didn’t make them take the summer job at McDonalds […] and got hooked.

            This suggests a very odd, and damaging, sort of parent. If the family doesn’t need the McDonalds income, why force the teenager into wasting his time that way?

            Left free, he can pursue art or sports or read odd books or travel or many things — all of which will be more productive for him than McDonalds. Even just goofing off is more productive for him than McDonalds.

          • Richard says:

            @BenS
            I’m not sure responsibility is much of a factor, but my thoughts here are rather woolly. The thing is that I enjoy doing things for the sake of the things themselves, not for any extrinsic reward or pressure. Also, new things are always fun, from getting a robotics startup running to a month of long-haul trucking. My threshold for enjoying work is low.

            @Nonnamous
            It is not that I have never been on vacation, but having nothing to do for 2 weeks is very different from having nothing to do forever and it’s the latter that is scary.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m with blue-avatar Anon here. I’ve had jobs I liked and even enjoyed, I’ve had jobs that literally made me sick and I had to force myself to go into work because I needed the money to live on.

            I’ve never had a job that I was so passionate about that I went “I’d do this even for nothing!”

            So I get a guaranteed income that’s enough to live on (pay my current bills and level of expenditure, plus medical care, plus if I needed to pay rent/mortgage) and the only catch is that I can’t –

            – what? Go to work? Well, I don’t have a job that makes me go “I’d want to do this for nothing, I love it so much!”

            – status? Such as formal charity work (whatever that means) – I already don’t do that. Member of this, Captain of that, Leader of the other? None of those ever in my life. So nothing lost there.

            – you can’t go out and socialise? I don’t do that either! There is no party life for me to give up!

            – no published novels? Ah shoot, I’ll just have to confine my writing to unpublished even on the Internet kept strictly private on my PC’s hard drive like I already do?

            – not married etc? I’m an asexual aromantic, guess how highly love and romance rank in my life or interests 🙂

            I don’t really like people. When I’m working, I can get on fine with my colleagues but I don’t socialise with them or interact with them outside of the workplace. Outside of work, I don’t mingle or go out or have any dealings other than unavoidable “talk to the shop assistant/doctor/pharmacist” kind of interactions.

            Drop out of society? I’m already dropped out. You’re offering to pay me for what I’m already doing for free? I’d snap your hand off, I’d take the offer so fast! 🙂

            What money would I want? Did a quick calculation of my “cover my current expenditure plus a bit over” and it came out to something like $23,000 per annum at current exchange rates. Any eccentric billionaires wanting to pay me $25,000 a year for the next twenty years, I will make my details available 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Can’t answer for them, but I’m currently living abroad due to work, and my life pretty much consists of eating, working, excercise, browsing the internet, sleeping and video games. The latter two could easily take up all the time covered by working. This arrangement wouldn’t be optimal, but it wouldn’t be terrible.

          • anonymous says:

            @ Mark Atwood:

            Some people spend a lot of time on the internet, but even if there was no internet, there would still be infinite things to do alone – reading books, cooking, playing musical instruments, solitary hiking, carpentry, painting, fishing, running, playing with your dog, doing puzzles, come on, the list would go on and on to infinity – there are as many solitary hobbies as you can think of – I don’t understand how anyone can fail to visualize them. I don’t think it’s even possible to get bored when you have free time and imagination. Possibilities are infinite.

            Anyhow, if “dropping out of society” does permit social activities too, with the only rule that you aren’t allowed to receive money or have job descriptions, then this, to me, sounds like too good a deal to be true.

            Since I know how to live cheaply, the amount of money I would accept for this is shockingly low.

          • Nonnamous says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            If the family doesn’t need the McDonalds income, why force the teenager into wasting his time that way?

            I agree with you 100%, but from what I understand it’s pretty common to nudge the kid to work, not necessarily at a fastfood restaurant but similar, to teach them work ethic or something. I’m talking about upper middle class families which probably spend more on a two week vacation than a McDonald’s employee makes in a year.

            And like I said, I do think it works, in the sense that after such treatment the kid will be more likely to grow up hard working therefore successful.

        • Deiseach says:

          The Republican voter would benefit from basic income.

          How about if the hypothetical Republican voter thinks it would come with strings attached? That if you want your UBI as raised from the taxes of the wealth-producing creative class (the Silicon Valley technocrats mentioned in another thread) and disbursed by the Democratic party in power, you had better vote “yes” or “no” (depending on what is the desired answer) when the next referendum on gay marriage or trans rights comes up, or else.

          You see, I’m fascinated by this notion that seems to be at work, when I read and hear Democrat Party supporters, that all the virtue is on their side. That not alone are the Other Party wrong on policies, they are actively wicked – motivated by racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc.

          Things like Bull Connor was a Democrat? (Something I only learned by reading a story) – oh that was different; that was Back Then, that was the South and the South is special, we’re all changed now.

          But I rather imagine if you showed Civil Rights Era photos of police batoning protesters in Alabama, the assumption by most young people would be that the authorities were Republicans and they’d use it as an example of those horrible racists this is why we have to vote them out. Tell them it was the party of Bernie Sanders (though he wasn’t in the party at the time) and I do think the cognitive dissonance would be real: we all know the Democrats are pro-minorities and were on the right side back then! We all know the Republicans are the racists!

          I’m not, as I keep saying, an American. Were I the Irish immigrant to the USA so many of my countrypeople were and are, I’d probably support and vote for the Democrats as so many of them did and do.

          But the idea that the ordinary voter for the other party is either stupid and manipulated or a bigot, and that all the party members in the official party from local officers up to the very top are all racist sexist etc bigots, and that rich people who support the Republicans do so because they are evil (rich people who support the Democrats, on the other hand, and do not want to overthrow capitalism or destroy the government are all selfless philanthropists doing it for the benefit of humanity and with no expectations of tangible business benefits for themselves) – this fascinates me.

          How are you going to live in this country so divided? Do you expect to get and keep power forever and impose your policies by fiat, and if they don’t like it they’ll just have to lump it? Do you expect to change everyone on the other side to your way of thinking simply by saying “We have the right and correct answer and attitude to everything” and those who don’t or won’t say “You know, you’re right!” are plain evil and can only be dealt with by dismissing them as “Who cares how Orcs vote?”

          I really think much of Trump’s success has been because terms like “fascist” and “racist” have become so watered-down by repeated use and inappropriate use, that they only function now as general insults with no real meaning (in the same way that calling someone a bastard does not mean you are alleging they were born out of wedlock), and they’ve lost any sting they may have had.

          “You called me a fascist and a racist and a sexist* when I voted for Romney, why should it be any different when I vote for Trump?” (Ah, remember the Good Old Days when all the progressive panic-mongering was about a Mormon Theocracy through voting for a particular Republican candidate, and not potential nuclear war? Good times, good times!)

          *Remember the mockery over the “binders full of women” remark, which I thought was clumsy but well-meaning? Suppose a Democrat candidate had said “I asked for a list of talented women to promote and I got not just a list, I got binders full of CVs! This proves there are women out there who should be in positions of authority who are being overlooked!” Would the same people have made jokes about “He thinks women come in binders, ho ho ho!”?

          • antimule says:

            @Deiseach

            I am first to admit that blue tribe has plenty of flaws, most important being inane virtue signaling, but what you wrote about Democrats is completely irrelevant today. There was a massive realignment in the 60’s, then Democrats are today’s Republicans and vice versa.

          • Adam says:

            Present poverty assistance programs don’t come with any caveats about social and cultural beliefs and voting patterns you have to follow (at least in the U.S. – I realize you’re not American). Why would a universal basic income? Especially considering the core feature of the program being that every single person is entitled to get it.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @ Adam
            I think the real question is why would you expect them not to?

          • Adam says:

            I just said why, because no current transfer payment comes with such a stipulation. I’d even guess as a strong prior subject to disconfirmation that old people and poor people, who currently receive most of the transfers, are two of the more socially regressive groups.

          • Deiseach says:

            You don’t any of you remember some of the more fevered remarks during the last couple of presidential campaigns by some about leaving the rubes in “Jesusland”?

            That the wealthy areas of the country are Democrat and the areas taking their unfair share of government money are Republican, and so the Blue (not tribe, political party colour) states should separate from the Reds and see how they did with sinking into poverty and backwardness with their religion and flags, while the smart, progressive, liberal Blue states forged ahead with tech innovation and financial success?

            There was certainly a lot of enthusiasm about seeing the areas that refused to think and do the right things failing and suffering.

            So you really don’t think there would be conditions attached? I don’t mean anything as overt as “Did you vote for the Democrat candidate in the last election at local level” but things like oh wow isn’t it really coincidental that places that are holdouts on trans rights/immigration quotas/progressive cause are the places that are the poorest and how there aren’t as many public programmes there somehow, now why would that be?

            If UBI replaces all government schemes, there will be conditions (there are already conditions for receiving payments, nobody gets free money on welfare) and if you don’t think political gerrymandering will take place when one side or another are in power to reward their supporters and do down their opponents, I think that is over-optimistic.

            I’ve seen this at work in my own area; the logical* new headquarters for an amalgamated local government service being rejected and instead the headquarters going to a backwater, purely because the backwater was in the constituency of a minister in the then-government.

            *It was the geographic centre of the area being serviced; it had staff and plant in place; it was a much larger centre of population and was accustomed to dealing with a high volume of applications and work; it was neutral ground and other reasons of convenience for the public, the staff and the board of directors. No, political string-pulling trumped all that.

          • Nornagest says:

            The whole point of UBI is that there are no conditions, or at least no conditions more complicated or onerous than “adult and warm”. The moment you start doing means-testing, you lose half of what’s supposed to make the proposal cost-competitive and all of what makes it attractive from an incentives point of view.

            Now, that may or may not be politically feasible, and if you think not, then sure, I respect that. (I’m leaning that way myself, but as you may have noticed I tend to be a bit cynical where politics is concerned.) But a program that gives out free money to a means-tested group with favorable demographics is not a UBI program, it’s a subsidy to that group.

          • BBA says:

            @antimule

            Well, no. The police were Democrats, but so were the protesters they were beating up. For about a century after the Civil War both major parties were loose non-ideological coalitions of various ethnic and regional groupings that didn’t always see eye to eye, and there were still a few outliers into the ’90s.

            For an even more dramatic example, there were fistfights on the floor of the 1924 Democratic National Convention between KKK supporters and Catholics, both major Democratic constituencies at the time. (We often forget, in remembering how viciously racist the Klan was, that they were almost as viciously anti-Catholic too.)

          • Adam says:

            Of course I remember cracks about Jesusland. I actually live in this country. I just happen to more heavily weight the fact that no existing assistance program institutes an ideological purity test and the biggest recipients are in fact not socially progressive people yet they keep getting the assistance more heavily than cracks about Jesusland in predicting what will happen if we institute a different form of assistance program in which the specific feature is supposed to be no means testing at all.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            @antimule

            That is a widely-held, but inaccurate belief about the realignment.

            The southern shift to the Republican Party began in the 50s, in the suburbs of industrializing Southern cities around the periphery (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Florida) which went for Eisenhower (who supported two civil rights bills and Federalized the National Guard to enforce the Brown vs. Board of Education decision) and Nixon (look at the Electoral College maps for 1960 and 1968). As the suburban middle class grew in the South, it became more Republican.

            I grant that 1964 election was strange. Barry Goldwater carried only his home state of Arizona and the “Deep South” (LA, MS, AL, GA, SC). Arguably the archest conservative of the Republican Party, Goldwater was a founding member of the AZ chapter of the NAACP, a proponent of desegregating the AZ national guard, and a supporter of both of Eisenhower’s civil rights bills. However, he had opposed Johnsons civil rights bill (which passed with overwhelming republican support) on constitutional grounds, and the anger of Southern Democrats was such that Johnson wasn’t even allowed to appear on the ballot in AL, and the KKK endorsed Goldwater (despite his being a half-Jewish, non-racist Republican who did not desire their endorsement).

            Strom Thurmond was the only signatory of the segregationist “Southern Manifesto” to switch parties, the rest remained Democrats (the one independent continued to caucus with the Democrats).

          • anyoneofyou says:

            Can anyone show that there is a substantial amount of anti-conservative moral entrepreneurism out there?

            I know my inverted picture of reality, where Republicans are far, far more aggressive than tepid Democrats will seem wondrous strange to anyone who whose never been to the U.S. and gets there impressions of conditions on the ground from this site, but you only have to step into any American Barnes and Noble and look at the contemporary non-fiction literature of our people to see that the truth isn’t even close to what’s being peddled here.

            Instead of the evidence-free political impressionism that reigns here…let’s resort to basic science and market analysis to figure out who’s extreme-ing who in America.

            Let’s start with simple counting. What does the evidence say?

            I’ll go first…

            Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin, Neal Boortz, Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn, Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Victor Davis Hanson, Thomas Sowell, Charles Krauthammer, Walter E. Williams, John Stossel, George Will, Ross Douhat, Cal Thomas, Michael Barone, Megan McCardle, Erik Erickson, Glenn Reynolds,
            Laura Ingrahm, Dinish D’Souza.

            Note: all of these people make a living bashing liberals. I left actors/musicians (Clint Eastwood, Ted Nugent) and politicians (Palin, Huckabee, Gingrich) off the list, figuring we should go with people who show true commitment to an internal enemy hating oeuvre.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @anyoneofyou
            I have to ask, what do you really expect to accomplish here? and if I gave you a matching list of 25 liberals who show true “commitment to an enemy-hating oeuvre.” would you accept it at face value or would you feel the need to argue that folk like Bill Maher, Piers Morgan, and Ta-Nehisi Coates are different because they’re “legitimate” writers / journalists?

          • lvlln says:

            I live in the United States, and as a far left Democrat, I definitely perceive Democrats as just as aggressive as Republicans. Definitely neither side could accurately be described as “tepid” with respect to how they approach and attack each other.

            Maybe about 5-10 years ago, I would have agreed that Republicans were more aggressive and Democrats more “tepid” relatively, back in the GWB years or when Tea Party was getting into the thick of things. But today, we Dems have our own Tea Party equivalent that’s just as aggressive, hateful, and influential. And I’d suspect that my perception that the Republicans were the more aggressive party 5-10 years ago less reflects the reality of the situation than my own desire to perceive my side as the virtuous underdogs. Today, the evidence is just too overwhelming to deny that my side behaves just as aggressively and with ill intent as the other side (which probably indicates that my side is probably actually the one behaving worse – but that’s not a rock-solid conclusion).

            There exist individuals on SSC who have what I perceive to be inaccurate perceptions about the state of politics in the US. But the perception that Democrats attack Republicans as not just being wrong but WICKED – and do so at least as much as the other way around – is not a perception that I see as inaccurate.

          • Anyoneofyou says:

            I wont disqualify anyone on your list. If they had even a single bestselling book devoted to bashing conservatives name it.
            Most of the folks on my list have multiple books.

            Its my contention that you can’t make a corresponing list. The market for anti-liberal propaganda is massive. No one would ever say the same about anti-conservatism.

          • Anonymous says:

            >Clint Eastwood

            Clint Eastwood is anti-war,pro gun control, pro choice and pro gay marriage… I’m not sure how he figures in this list.

          • Luke Somers says:

            > Democrat Party

            ‘Democrat’ is a noun, ‘Democratic’ is an adjective. So, Democrats are in the Democratic party.

            Meanwhile, ‘Republican’ is both the noun and adjective forms, so Republicans are in the Republican party.

            I find it interesting how the only people who make this mistake fall on one side of the political spectrum.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Luke Somers:

            I’ve seen Scott do the same thing, oddly.

            Or maybe this is evidence of his secret loyalties? 😉

          • Pku says:

            Some data on this debate: By the “would you let your child marry a member of the opposite party” measure, which seems like as good a proxy as any, both parties are pretty bad (and have suddenly gotten worse over the last decade), with republicans being slightly worse (though democrats today are worse than the republicans of five years ago).

            http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/09/really-would-you-let-your-daughter-marry-a-democrat/262959/

            “A pair of surveys asked Americans a more concrete question: in 1960, whether they would be “displeased” if their child married someone outside their political party, and, in 2010, would be “upset” if their child married someone of the other party. In 1960, about 5 percent of Americans expressed a negative reaction to party intermarriage; in 2010, about 40 percent did (Republicans about 50 percent, Democrats about 30 percent).”

          • anonymous says:

            “But the perception that Democrats attack Republicans as not just being wrong but WICKED – and do so at least as much as the other way around – is not a perception that I see as inaccurate.”

            Enough with the perceptions. Show me the market for literature about wicked republicans.

          • Show me the market for literature about wicked republicans.

            Well this was faster than I was expected.
            From, Daily Kos. Top 10 Reasons to Vote Republican
            http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/9/25/1020037/-

            1. You are a bigot

          • lvlln says:

            I mean, Salon, Slate, Gawker, Buzzfeed, and Vox are media outlets that exist and, for the most part, thrive by vilifying the right-wing. They’re not as mainstream as, say, NYTimes or MSNBC which are more moderate, but they’re around, they’re huge, and they notably tend to be generally well respected relative to their right-wing equivalents like Breitbart or The Daily Caller.

            Honestly, though, getting meaningful evidence beyond perception in this area is hard and likely out of reach for people who don’t have access to polling. It’s not like we can go out there and count anti-left-media-units and anti-right-media-units and compare how many we find in the wild. Counting the number of publications or authors would be of the most boneheaded ways of comparing, since it doesn’t take into account the influence of individual publications or authors, which is much more important than the count. A single Fox News has more impact than 10 Salons.

            If you perceive that there is more or more aggressive anti-left media sentiment than anti-right, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong. But I will tell you that this far-left Democrat’s perception is inconsistent with yours.

          • anyoneofyou says:

            ” Counting the number of publications or authors would be of the most boneheaded ways of comparing”

            So while you can’t deny their is a massive market for anti-liberal books, television and radio

            And while you can’t show any examples of the same on the liberal side…….you’re going to cling to the “both sides do it” narrative till you just can’t ignore the truth any longer.

            This query is like kryptonite for conservatives.

          • anodognosic says:

            @anyoneofyou I notice, tellingly, that you brought up books, TV and radio, where right-wing hackery thrives, but strategically left out the internet, where a vast network of liberal chauvinist publications has emerged, not to mention tons of user-created content on social networking sites.

            So yeah, “simple counting” of famous print writers is on the spectrum between boneheaded and disingenuous. Do better, anyoneofyou.

          • Jaskologist says:

            He actually tried to stick to books originally; bringing up TV was an own-goal, because there’s the issue of The Daily Show and Colbert Report to consider.

            But if you’re stuck on books, there’s always the one that helped propel Al Franken to the Senate.

          • lvlln says:

            Even a principled limiting to just books is utterly boneheaded. It wasn’t true 50 years ago, and it’s definitely not true today that books are the best or only means by which to measure the zeitgeist. And I’m not sure that even using such a stupid form of analysis would show anti-liberal attacks as being more common or aggressive in current US society. Ann Coulter is an author, but so are Michael Moore and Stephen Colbert.

            It’s amusing being called “conservative” while being to the left of the current US Overton window, just for daring not to claim to be under disproportionate attack based on flimsy evidence. Outgroup homogeneity bias is real.

          • Nornagest says:

            But if you’re stuck on books, there’s always the one that helped propel Al Franken to the Senate.

            Before that one, Al Franken wrote a book titled Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, which, I think, tells you just about everything you need to know.

            But straight partisan bashing really does seem to be rare in Blue formal media: there’s plenty of it floating around, but it’s mostly relegated to low-status forms like comedy, popular music, blogging, and social media. Michael Moore is an exception, but I get the impression that his schtick is seen as a little declassé. This probably says something about the norms surrounding politics in the two cultures.

          • anyoneofyou says:

            “So yeah, “simple counting” of famous print writers is on the spectrum between boneheaded and disingenuous. ”

            I can name 100 liberal-bashers and you can’t name ANY conservative bashers that arent bloggers or comedians?

            Do anything you can to shut down this line of argument because it conclusively exposes the local
            BIG LIE, “both sides do it”, for what it is.

          • BBA says:

            There certainly was a large hack gap back in the 1990s and 2000s, when Rush Limbaugh and Fox News were printing money and liberals struggled to match that success with the likes of Air America. The rise of Salon and Gawker has done a lot to narrow the gap, but note that lefty hacks are almost entirely online. In print/TV/radio the conservative outrage machine is still much bigger than the liberal one. The question becomes, how much has the internet really taken over our lives and how dead is the rest of the media?

            Also, polls in the ’90s showed a 40/40/20 split among self-identified conservatives/moderates/liberals, and that gap has also narrowed to close to a 3-way tie. This is just intuition, but I imagine if someone doesn’t call him/herself “liberal” he/she is less likely to be receptive to left-wing outrage garbage, and the same with conservatives.

          • Nornagest says:

            Aside from the stuff I went into above, I think really ideological leftists also tend to go for specific intellectual frameworks — feminism, anti-racism, socialism, environmentalism — and that those come with their own language for their boogeymen. Conservatism is only a bad thing to, say, a socialist insofar as it implies support for capitalist economics, which is what he really hates.

            Incidentally, if you asked me to name twenty authors bashing capitalism, I’d only need to go as far as the syllabus for my freshman political science class.

            Conservatives sometimes do this too, and more often in the past — libertarians have statism as their bugbear, for example, and old-school John Birchers had Communists — but mainstream post-Cold War conservatism finds itself less in opposition to a single cultural force than to a hundred disparate movements. The only thing those movements have in common, policy-wise, is that they’re in some sense progressive. Or liberal, in mainstream American parlance.

          • null says:

            Question: How much of this gap between media is explained by the age gap between liberals and conservatives?

        • anyoneofyou says:

          Doesnt EVERY libertarian make the same argument about poor democrats?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Does every libertarian argue that poor Democrats are voting against their interest in order to signal virtue?

            No?

            Many libertarians (who I disagree with) think that they vote for the Democrats in order to further their immediate self-interest at the expense of others. They’re lured in by greed for other people’s wealth, which the Democrats promise to deliver.

            Other libertarians (such as Bryan Caplan) believe that poor Democrats vote that way because they genuinely but irrationally think it’s for the good of everyone. And they (as well as poor Republicans, etc.) have no incentive to learn about what actually promotes economic growth for everyone because the individual’s vote is too small to matter.

      • Deiseach says:

        Something that was not mentioned in the article referenced in the linked article (that is, the Matt Breunig piece referenced by Emma Lindsay) is the “white supremacy being in the interests of poor whites” is not merely down to dignity and status, it genuinely is in economic interest.

        The commenters talking about “the elites” lying to poor whites and manipulating them politically seemed to have – if I am reading them correctly – the assumption that by voting against their economic interest (since poor whites and poor people of colour are all in the same economic class), they are voting for status and are being manipulated by rich Republicans.

        Because if they voted in their economic interest, they’d vote for the Democrats, right? The Democrats are the Nice Party! All for justice and equality and redistribution! But if they voted for the Democrats, and they are now in the same economic and social class as poor people of colour, they will lose out. Because not alone of “affirmative action” but the notion of white privilege. Oppressed minority groups automatically qualify for more aid because they need it more and it is reparative justice to help them up the rungs of the ladder.

        Which does nothing now for poor white Joe, if poor white Joe and poor black Bob are going for a job and Bob gets it on a quota system or Bob is eligible for supplementary welfare programmes for African-Americans Below The Poverty Line or any thing else the Democrat elites institute.

        Meanwhile, Joe is not eligible for the works of charity the Blue Tribe prefer (helping minorities in race, gender and sexual orientation – as Emily points out, Mark Zuckerberg’s rebuke re: Black Lives Matter costs him absolutely nothing and gets him a lot of kudos; now imagine if he tried setting something up for white people only, even with confining it strictly to low-status poor whites – unless it was for an LGBT group or the like favoured status, he’d be hammered as a racist) and he loses out on any trickle-down of white privilege that sticking with the Red Tribe gives him.

        So it may be cynical opportunism, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of status and dignity solely, it may well be (in a small way) to their economic interest to seemingly “vote against their interests” for the horrible rich manipulative elite on The Other Side.

        • multiheaded says:

          Cautiously endorsed, contingent on what the real state of things is like in America.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          This is a large part of what I was getting at when I said that the Author has failed to realize that poor whites are already in “last place”.

          Poor black Bob has options, but poor white Joe knows that he’s on his own.

          And if Joe manages to rise above his station by getting a scholarship, joining the army, making decent money as a coal miner, etc… He’ll still have to deal with people lecturing him about “the rape of mother earth” and how white people don’t understand “real hardship”.

          It’s enough to make even a patient man tempted to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and start slitting throats.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            And if Joe manages to rise above his station by getting a scholarship, joining the army, making decent money as a coal miner, etc… He’ll still have to deal with people lecturing him about “the rape of mother earth” and how white people don’t understand “real hardship”.

            Seriously, are we living in the same reality?

            I went to a nationally ranked, left-leaning university and never had anyone lecture me in such a manner. Unless you’re counting signs saying stuff like “be green, turn off the lights when you leave the room”? Hell, I even took a seminar on (something like) “political philosophy and the environment”, and it wasn’t delivered in “guilt-ridden lecture” format.

            I even wrote my final paper for that class criticizing “deep ecology” as anti-human. Got an A (highest possible grade). The professor wasn’t a conservative or libertarian.

            I’m pretty damn sure Mr. Blue-Collar Coal Miner isn’t getting those lectures. Unless you mean when he chooses to watch a left-wing political commentary show or a left-wing politician’s speech? (And even then…)

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Vox Imperatoris akss: Seriously, are we living in the same reality?

            I honestly don’t know.

            I live in decidedly “Red” enclave (NASCAR, BBQ, Country Music, etc…) of a decidedly “Blue” state (California). However work takes me to LA and San Diego on a regular basis.

            City folk complaining about those ignorant hicks in the valley is common enough that has become cliché, likewise valley folk referring to LA as “that wretched hive of scum and villainy”.

            I was going to UCSD on the GI bill when OWS was in full swing and yes I caught a fair bit of flak of the “Bush lied people died” and “why do you hate Muslims” variety from the humanities & ethnic studies contingent while I was there. Fortunately I was a math major and could safely avoid or ignore them most of the time.

            Of more immediate importance is that the local yuppies hate the Oil and Gas industry but it remains one of the largest employers of blue collar labor in the area. Protests and political clashes over jobs and water rights are bitterly fought, and Mr. Blue-Collar Roughneck and Power-station Tech are well aware of the low regard in which they are held.

            Is this representative of the nation as a whole? I don’t know, But there seem to be a lot of people in similar boats who are similarly fed up with the coastal urban gentry’s bullshit.

          • Adam says:

            That still sounds weird, like you’re abnormally sensitive or somehow seeking out or attracting hostile people. I originally went to CSULB on an ROTC scholarship, way before OWS, but after people started hating Bush, and still just universally got ‘thank you for your service’ from everyone that knew, which of course led to embarrassed explanations of how I was a cadet and hadn’t actually done anything yet. Heck, my ex and I even went to an actual Muslim student group meeting just to see what they were about and openly confronted them about how oppressive and backwards their traditions actually are and they weren’t even hostile in response, just kind of stammered and couldn’t come up with any coherent response. I grew up in the LA suburbs and of course made plenty of cracks about the 661 and the 909, but they’re made the way an Alabama fan makes fun of an Auburn fan, fully realizing we’re basically the same in the grand scheme of things.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            I don’t think I’m actively seeking out conflict but I do think it’s possible that “crossing the border” on a regular basis has made me more sensitive to the differences.

            It’s just a little bit jarring to go from a Saturday afternoon barbeque where the chief political divide is between Trump supporters and Cruz supporters to driving up the 8 on Monday morning and listening to the denizens of 94.9 FM’s morning zoo muse about how weird and scary the whole Trump thing is, and how nobody they know would ever seriously consider voting for him.

            It’s like the old Pauline Kiel quote…
            I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.

            …or Scott’s own bit about “dark matter people”.

            and once you’re aware of it you start noticing it all over.

            Edit:
            And as an aside I suspect that the ease of identifying GI bill students didn’t help much on the whole “avoid conflict” front sometimes you can’t help but have “fuck with me” tattooed on your forehead.

          • Sastan says:

            @ Vox

            I have people on my FB feed right now posting a form letter about how they’ve built a search engine to scour their friend list for people who have “liked” pro-Trump stuff so they can unfriend them.

            Back at uni, I had quite a few run-ins with faculty over various subjects, and on every single occasion, it was over some lefty doctrine or other. I had a psych professor just lose his shit and lecture the class on how Bush was a classic psychopath and sociopath (as if he hadn’t just taught us that one couldn’t be both) for six whole class periods over three weeks. I had two professors hand out party registration forms for the Democratic Party in class back in ’07. I’ve had a couple profs fail papers of mine because they disliked the ideological content. In both cases I had to take it to the dean of students to ask for a neutral grader.

            Now, all this isn’t to complain. It never concerned me in the least. I am energized by conflict and debate. But I know it made a lot of people who might have backed me sit quiet and let me take the heat.

            Oh, and one of the democratic candidates for president just told me I don’t know what it’s like to be poor.

            So yeah, I think we do live in different realities.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            @Vox

            Perhaps you had se unusually good fortune. My experience moving between Appalachia and the Megalopolis parallels Hlynkacg’s.

            In college, I had a scholarship to study Latin and Ancient Greek, and was taking graduate level language courses my freshman year. One of the reasons I ended up in biology instead of the humanities is how tedious it was to argue with mind-killed Kafka-trapping leftists all day, and occasionally get marked-down for my efforts.

            Biology was just more interesting, and arguments in the field could actually be settled by evidence rather than appeals to the current party line.

            Of course academics all tilt left and biology is no exception. When George W Bush was reelected I watched a professor devote a whole (biology) lecture to how stupid Bush and anyone who voted for him was. The basic gist was that all those slack-jawed racist/sexist/denialist/warmongers in flyover country couldn’t be smart enough to go to college, let alone sit in his lecture at $elite_university. And yet there they were sitting in front of me, the poor white students from flyover country some of whom transferred in from their state college, others were on ROTC scholarship. I didn’t know their political affiliation — but they were definitely outperforming most of their peers. Nobody was going to build them a safe space or worry about how stereotype threat would affect their performance, because a hostile learning environment can’t possibly hurt white people, or if it does hurt them, they deserve it.

            None of my colleagues get the Trump phenomenon. The best only way I’ve found to explain it to them is that he is America’s middle finger, and if you can’t understand why anyone would vote for him, that finger is pointed at you.

          • g says:

            @Ptoliporthos, I wonder whether you agree with me that it’s at least a bit disturbing that a sizeable fraction of the US electorate apparently wants to make “America’s middle finger” President of the United States.

            I can understand the appeal of a Big Swinging Middle Finger, just as I can understand the appeal of smashing someone’s windows if they say something that makes you angry. But smashing those windows is probably a bad idea, and so is electing the Middle Finger, no matter how it may stir you to see him insolently and magnificently upraised against your enemies.

            (That doesn’t necessarily mean that electing Trump is a terrible idea. He might have virtues other than those of the Middle Finger. Or, of course, faults other than those of the Middle Finger. But, taking what you say seriously, I think it’s reasonable to be alarmed at how many people apparently really want a Middle Finger for president.)

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ g
            I think it’s reasonable to be alarmed at how many people apparently really want a Middle Finger for president.

            (Democrat here, seeing Trump as a lesser evil GOP.)

            In our US checks and balances system, POTUS isn’t as powerful as Prime Minister etc is in other systems (though POTUS gets at least four years in office). A Middle Finger may get a lot of votes, but even if he becomes POTUS there is not much a POTUS can do without cooperation from Congress, the media, the courts, etc etc. And of course the more he’s offended those, the less cooperation he’ll get from them.

            * especially in the Primary, which may or may not get him the nomination

            ETA – A firebrand looks impressive during a campaign, but tends to fizzle out in the Oval Office.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Houseboat, you and I are perfectly I agreed on this. I’ve been trying to reassure my friends, who are universally terrified that Trump today means an American Reich tomorrow, that no, the President just does not have that power. Even in the modern era, there’s only so much you can accomplish via executive order. For the big stuff you’ll need Congress AND the Supreme Court at the very least to go along, leaving aside other institutions like the military (which can and would refuse to obey unlawful orders) and the media.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            @g

            Sure it’s disturbing. Trump is empirical evidence that both the political establishment and the media have completely squandered their credibility with a large fraction of the electorate.

            If one (and increasingly both) parties treat Trump voters as illegitimate, they shouldn’t be surprised when those voters return the favor.

            Are these people correct to trust Trump? Probably not, but I can see why they don’t trust anyone else either.

            The only silver lining I can see is that both parties might discover a newfound respect for the constitutional limits on executive power and roll back the powers that congress has unwisely delegated to the president during the 20th century. But that would require a supermajority of both houses to be high-minded and take the long view. if they were capable of that, Trump wouldn’t be winning.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The Constitution is not a guarantee against the implementation of fascism, it’s just words on paper. But it’s well enough respected among the elite, and Trump is not well enough respected among the elite, and Trump lacks the paramilitary organization to even keep from being thrown out of his own rally by Black Lives Matter, so I wouldn’t be too worried about him.

            I’d be more worried if there were a candidate that had Black Lives Matter on their side, since they seem to be the ones getting things done w.r.t. political violence, but it’s not clear that there is one.

          • g says:

            @Ptoliporthos, one other remark about the “America’s middle finger” thing. It looks to me as if a substantial fraction of the US electorate — shall we say 30% at least? — are more or less in the “can’t understand why anyone would vote for him” camp. If a middle finger is pointed at 30% of Americans, can it really be rightly said to be America’s middle finger?

            There is a complaint I’ve seen made from blueish Americans about reddish Americans, that the latter allegedly tend to portray themselves — or sometimes the communities they come from — as the only real Americans. There was a famous example from Sarah Palin back when Vice President Palin was what the blue tribe were terrified about — she said something about “real America” meaning small towns in rural areas or something like that. Anyway, calling Trump “America’s middle finger” if in fact what he really is is “(such-and-such a subset of America)’s middle finger” seems like the same sort of phenomenon. As if the treehugging handwringing booklarnin’ urbanized gentrified Blue Tribe aren’t actually part of America.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ g:

            Moreover, those 30% include not only a lot of Democrats but very many Republicans. And not just fringe libertarians or business fatcats, but your regular little-old-lady Republicans. They’re real Americans.

          • onyomi says:

            I think the phenomenon of the more rural, blue collar sorts thinking of themselves or even being though of by elites as more “authentic” examples of a culture, nation, or ethnicity exists all over the world to greater or lesser degrees (it’s not common in the US anymore today, perhaps due to political polarization, but it’s not historically uncommon in places like China, Japan, and France for people to idealize the “salt of the earth,” “authentic” lifestyle of their own cultures’ rural populations).

            And I don’t think this is just arbitrary; rather, city-dwellers and elites are relatively cosmopolitan and fashion-conscious (both in the sense of clothes and of new trends in thought and culture generally). Rural and labor-class populations tend to be more conservative in thought and consumption habits. They eat barbecue instead of pad thai, to use the same example above.

            Of course, it’s not that their ancestors have been eating bbq for thousands of years, but that their grandparents did and they are more like their grandparents who were, more often than is the case with city-dwellers, natives of the area themselves.

            Of course, one can turn it on its head and say culture comes from cities and American culture is fundamentally an immigrant culture, etc. etc. but that refers more to an ideal or historical structure as opposed to a particular instance.

            So, I’m not saying it’s nice or a particularly good argument for anything, but I do think that rural and labor class populations do have a better claim to being “authentic x people” than elites and city dwellers for the same reasons elites and city dwellers have a better claim to be cosmopolitan, fashionable, cutting-edge, etc.

          • John Schilling says:

            There is a complaint I’ve seen made from blueish Americans about reddish Americans, that the latter allegedly tend to portray themselves […] as the only real Americans.

            As our host has noted, both Red Tribe and Blue Tribe tend to think of Red Tribe as being the “real Americans” and Blue Tribe as being a bunch of WEIRD cosmopolitans who happen to live between Mexico and Canada and would find it troublesome to move.

            If Blue Tribe is complaining about that now, they ought to be facing at least a 50%-silvered mirror when they do.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            This sort of thing is kind of why I intellectually at least decided to feel better about my country: if you let people you disagree with monopolise patriotism, patriotism itself is going to end up being something reviled within the eyes of many.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            @g

            Oh I didn’t mean that reds are any more or less American than blues. For that matter, I don’t even believe Trump is red!

            By calling him America’s Middle Finger I meant that if you had to pick a single American to demonstrate giving the finger for visiting aliens, I bet most Americans would pick someone from New York City to do it. Vaunting, brash, vulgar, with that Queens accent — you’ve seen this character in dozens of Hollywood movies. It’s the role Trump was born to play.

            I agree that probably only 30% of Americans are wagging Trump at an equivalent number who are so estranged from the waggers that they can’t even understand that they’re being wagged at. That blissfully ignorant number includes Rubio, Romney, McCain, and the Bushes, FWIW.

            The most (only?) thoughtful media take on the whole Trump phenomenon I’ve seen was a lengthy interview with Pat Buchanan in the Washington Post. He might have been the last pro-labor nativist Republican of national significance, and that was more than 20 years ago. It’s not surprising that people have trouble remembering what that actually looks and sounds like. Trump is certainly more crass and politically successful, but at the same time, far less intimidating. I remember UAW workers smashing Japanese automobiles to bits with sledgehammers at Buchanan rallies.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling
            As our host has noted, both Red Tribe and Blue Tribe tend to think of Red Tribe as being the “real Americans” and Blue Tribe as being a bunch of WEIRD cosmopolitans who happen to live between Mexico and Canada and would find it troublesome to move.

            Raises hand. I grew up in Palin’s America (and voted for her in 2008) but have spent most of my adult life being Blue expat one place or another outside Real American Society. If we divided Cosmopolitan World Citizenry according to their country of origin, I have no idea what the Blue Real American segment would look like — other than insufficiently assimilated?

            Well, I have seen (perhaps in this thread, though I was thinking of late 2000) non-USians describing us as ‘believing Their Constitution can handle anything’. And some non-USians don’t seem to take Enlightenment Values as seriously as we do…. And the French still have ‘guilty till proved innocent’ over there!?!?!?

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            @suntzuanime

            “I’d be more worried if there were a candidate that had Black Lives Matter on their side, since they seem to be the ones getting things done w.r.t. political violence, but it’s not clear that there is one.”

            That’s a clever joke. I think you won the thread and the Internet today.

        • aureamediocrit says:

          I can give you a concrete example of this. I live in Tacoma, WA but my parents live in Louisville, KY so I see both worlds. One time I was visiting I read in the local newspaper that the county program to prevent poor families from loosing their heating in winter months was being accused of racial discrimination. This was based on the fact that more money was being spent per poor white individual then per poor black individual. What the article went on to explain was the inherent differences and costs in serving white poor, which are largely rural, and black poor which are largely urban.

          If you were a white person in this situation what is this signaling to you? To me it seems like what somebody is saying is that not only is it unfair to meet you needs, but that there is something inherently wrong about it because racism is a horrible thing, right? Why would that make me want to vote for the democrats
          when theirs is the party that harbors these thought processes in the first place?

      • anonymous says:

        I can understand preferring in the abstract welfare dressed up as not-welfare for pride reasons. But by the time you are demanding from your politicians welfare dressed up as not-welfare the gig is clearly up, no? Who exactly do you think you fooling at that point?

        Maybe the Marxist / Protestant labor theory of value is just so strongly implanted that it shuts off all other objections — if one is tired at the end of the day and hates his boss he must perforce have been involved in useful activity.

    • Pku says:

      I’d add “Blues are proud of taking public transit, Reds consider it a loss of status.”

      > What bad blue parents do is to impose no discipline on their kids, letting them run around other people’s houses endangering the furniture.

      I don’t think that’s the typical failure mode of blue parents – I’d say the typical failure mode is to overuse trendy parenting techniques, from pushing them into the latest obscure japanese way of learning music and mind developing to forcing specific diets to using time-outs.
      (I’d also argue that letting kids run around isn’t bad parenting, unless I guess you’re really fastidious about your furniture. But that’s a different issue).

      > Blue parents are proud of how few children they have
      I’ve never observed this. Being proud of having lots of children does seem restricted to reds though.

      > If cooking a meal for a bunch of blues, you are expected to pay attention to a wide range of food constraints–not just avoiding lethal allergens but catering to vegetarians, and vegans, and people who have decided that maybe they should try a gluten free diet.

      I don’t think you’d be expected to pay attention to it upfront, but it’s considered legitimate for guests to ask for that.

      (Also, a bunch of these apply only to specific subgroups of the tribes, but I’m assuming this wasn’t meant to be super-precise.)

      • Not super precise–and the tribes don’t have exact boundaries around them.

        Your kids running around your house may not be a problem, depending on the house. Running around someone else’s house which is not kid proofed is a problem.

        • Deiseach says:

          A bit of running around is one thing, kids are kids. The solution is to let them go run around outside 🙂

          If you can’t do that, or if they’re climbing up on things, getting things dirty, breaking things, etc. then you should stop them and not be all “Oh we never tell little Jessamine-Moonglow ‘no’, that stifles her finding her own boundaries and developing a sense of self-discipline!”

      • Maware says:

        Blues live in places where public transit is even doable, to be blunt. You ever try to take public transit in your average small town or rural area? It takes fifteen minutes to drive, and an hour to take the bus.

        Blues worship bicycles and ride them as status. Reds notice that the reality is that its mostly poor people who use them, and that bicycling really sucks to do unless you are a kid or a “pro” cyclist who cares about things like cadence and spends more on his bike than he does his PC.

        • onyomi says:

          “Blues live in places where public transit is even doable, to be blunt.”

          I think this actually gets at what I see as the core of the Red-Blue divide: the rural-urban divide. Though there are many Blues who live in the country and many Reds who live in the city, I think the Blue culture is fundamentally an urbanite culture with most of its values explicable by appeal to that: bigger govmt (seems more necessary when living in close proximity with lots of people), public transit, smaller families, higher need for tolerance of racial-cultural-social differences, more cosmopolitan, more able to make big money (but therefore correspondingly suspicious of it–I know of none so disdainful of the wealthy as my friends who were born into wealthy families), more focus on institutional education and credentials…

          Red culture is fundamentally rural culture: oriented to small, relatively homogeneous communities brought together by shared values and cultural assumptions, skeptical of the necessity of a big role for government in daily life (since govmt institutions generally aren’t that important for daily rural life), focus on non-governmental vectors of social cohesion (religion, especially), focus on self-reliance within that frame of community (including self-defense, i. e. guns), preferences for “native” culture products: BBQ, Country music, Nascar, as opposed to Pad Thai and ballet. Bigger families (more space and less focus on institutional education means each child is cheaper and pays off sooner).

          There even exist relatively “Red” cities and “Blue” small towns, but I think the “Red” cities tend to be located within vast expanses where rural cultures hold sway (eg Texas), whereas the “Blue” small towns tend to similarly be located on the rural peripheries of densely populated urban areas (eg New England).

          People are complaining about how these categories are not useful, and obviously there are big grey areas (yeah, intentional), but I still think this rural-urban divide and the kind of opposition it creates especially at the level of national politics is a huge, if weirdly overlooked (when was the last time you heard a commentator say, “well, you’ve got to understand that what Donald is saying may not make sense to a New Yorker, but let’s interview this guy from rural Pennsylvania”?*) factor in socio-political discourse.

          *I wonder if this isn’t the true source of the “liberal media bias” thing: being in media is itself a pretty urbanite thing to do, as is being in the class of academics and professional commentators of the sort who get invited on TV programs. It may be in the nature of major media outlets, which are, after all, almost always physically located in urban areas, to overrepresent the urban perspective relative to the rural.

          • Adam says:

            So maybe my whole issue with this classification boils down to how much of this specifically doesn’t apply to LA Metro, i.e. there is almost no public transit and nobody takes a bicycle anywhere because the place is huge and the distances are too great, plus it’s the only major U.S. city that is majority Hispanic and lot of the descriptions of Blue Tribe read like a parody of Stuff White People Like.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Stuff White People Like is a parody of Blue Tribe.

          • Maware says:

            Yeah, rural culture is something the blues don’t always get. And so much of what is in the news betrays this. Like rural people don’t care about Uber, because you have to own your car just to make the daily commute.

          • Adam says:

            It’s funny you mention Texas in particular, as Texas has to be the most bicycle-crazy place I’ve ever lived. It was huge at Fort Hood where I lived when I first moved here. Not as a means of commuting anywhere, but as a recreational activity and form of exercise. Triathlon, too, but I suppose at least some of that was the need for people in the Army to be fit with that fitness mostly consisting of generalized endurance more than strength or any specific athletic skill. Of course bicycling was a big deal in Austin, too, the bluest city in a red state, but it’s even big here in Dallas where I live now.

          • Shieldfoss says:

            Locally, by car I can get to (work)+(home again) in (15)+(20-25), depending on traffic.

            By bicycle, it is (15)+(15), making it the superior choice unless it rains.

            This is partially because of good bicycling infrastructure – e.g. my bicycle can use a path to cut through a small park that my car has to go around.

            This makes my ability to ride a bicycle to work an urban trait, not a blue-tribe trait. The two may correlate, but not anywhere near perfection – I know plenty of urban blue-tribers who take their car to work because they work further away, and one urban red-triber who rides a bicycle to work at her private clinic because it is faster for her than taking her massive expensive status-symbol car.

          • Nornagest says:

            whereas the “Blue” small towns tend to similarly be located on the rural peripheries of densely populated urban areas

            In my Left Coast experience, Blue towns are either college towns (Santa Cruz, Eugene), or tourist towns (Ashland, Mendocino), or, in a few cases, places where the first-generation hippies happened to congregate when San Francisco got too expensive for them (usually tiny little mountain towns you’ve never heard of). They’re rarely more than a day’s drive from an urban center, but not necessarily in its periphery, and anyway nowhere in the coast states is more than a day’s drive from a major urban center.

        • Tommy says:

          thank you for clearing us all up on “the reality” about bicycles.

          • Maware says:

            Where I live, bicycles are used by Chinese immigrants who can’t afford cars. You rarely if ever see any “pro” cyclists, because small towns can’t easily afford or make bike lanes and the roads are not designed to allow cyclists to have the same status as cars. You cannot be treated as a vehicle on a road where the average car goes 40 mph.

            There’s a huge difference between red and blue attitudes on this. Most of the reds i know let their kids have bicycles and drive to work, because a twenty mile commute both ways in inclement weather is not worth it. But blues tend to live in dense cities where car ownership is not practical and dedciated bicycling infrastructure exists. that’s where you see the pro cyclist. The bike shop here is ten minutes away from bankruptcy, and most people here if they own bikes get them from Wal-Mart or the local Benny’s

          • Tommy says:

            I agree with you on the difference. I was chiding you because in your comment:

            “Blues worship bicycles and ride them as status. Reds notice that the reality is that its mostly poor people who use them, and that bicycling really suck…”

            You are departing from the productive posture of “blues believe X, reds believe Y” and moving closer to “blues have a nonsensical status-obsession, whereas reds discern the true reality of things”

            ie if David Friedman had started the discussion with “reds are obsessed with having kids. blues notice the reality that mostly poor people have kids and that kids are really a pain in the ass…” this whole thread would probably be much less interesting.

          • Deiseach says:

            As someone in a small town in a country that has rainy weather, and with health promotion campaigns pushing cycling as good for you and good for the environment, and companies being encouraged to set up bike purchase schemes, I can tell you that enthusiasm for cycling to work lasts until the first heavy rain fall and winds blowing it right into you.

            If you’re living in a climate where you are either cycling only short distances between work and home in a compact urban area or where the weather is reliably not going to leave you drenched to the skin and dripping water until lunchtime all over the office if you bike to work, then such promotion works great.

            If you’re living somewhere where we’ve had five solid months of rain, the bike gets left in the garage while the car is back on the road.

          • Luke Somers says:

            It is possible to bicycle to work only on days with good weather. My mother did that for many years.

          • I expect that hills are also an issue.

          • anonymous says:

            Someone must explain to this European why it apparently never occurs to Americans to save money by riding motor scooters, which beside being very cheap, are often MORE practical than cars (they cut through traffic, you park them easily) (and yes you can ride them in the rain if you just cover yourself properly).

            I’m basing this on what I read everywhere on the Internet, including American frugality blogs. Correct me if I’m wrong but it appears that the only options Americans ever consider are car, bus, and bycicle. Are motor scooters illegal or what?

          • John Schilling says:

            I just rode my bike in to work, in the allegedly un-bikeable LA Metro area (El Segundo, to be precise). On account of this thread, I counted nine bicycles in the parking lot, and probably sixteen more in lockers, out of 728 people who have offices in this building.

            The bicyclists I know, skew weakly Blue in our generally Red and Grey workforce, but it’s really more about whether their particular situation favors bicycle commuting. Distance is the big variable, but traffic and as Nancy notes hills are also an issue. There are few good bike paths, but some streets are safe and some not so much. For me, weather permitting, it is faster, safer, healthier, and less stressful than the alternative.

            Weather sometimes not permitting, I do actually own an automobile.

            Edit for anonymous: Six motorcycles visible on the south side parking lot, probably as many more elsewhere. Motor scooters are legal on American city streets but not on freeways, and large American cities are set up with the assumption that you will be using the freeway if you are going across town.

            I tried to convince one of my coworkers to ride her horse to work, just once to prove it could be done. Preferably during the week of our annual commuter survey.

          • Adam says:

            Motorcycles and scooters are popular in some places. The main drawback is they’re dangerous compared to modern sedans and trucks, but people use them.

          • anonymous says:

            I understand that American cities are set up differently and that motor scooters have drawbacks such as being risky and unable to use the freeway. However, bycicles have the same disadvantages.

            What surprises me of the US is the popularity of bycicles relative to scooters, at least judging (very superficially, I admit) from the Internet. Bicycles have more drawbacks than scooters, and are only slightly cheaper in absolute terms (compared to what the expenses for a car would be). Yet it appears that they are very popular in the US, much more so than scooters, and not just among health enthusiasts, but even among people who are trying to figure out how to save money. On American frugality blogs, everyone talks about cars and bicycles, and nobody talks about scooters.

            You would expect a noticeable amount of people to seek a compromise solution, instead of going abruptly from cars to uncomfortable bicycles.

            So that’s what I find weird.

            Motorcycles are a different matter because they aren’t cheap.

          • Sam says:

            With a scooter, you can’t use bicycle lanes, bicycle paths, or cut through parks, like an above poster says he does. They’re a hell of a lot more expensive than bicycles. You need to get a license, register, and insure scooters, whereas you can just buy a bicycle and you’re good to go.

          • anonymous says:

            By the way, I hope I didn’t sound rude with the phrasing “apparently it never occurs to Americans…”. If I sounded rude I certainly didn’t mean it.

        • Julie K says:

          Also, relying on public transport or a bicycle is a lot easier without kids.

      • Zaxlebaxes says:

        >> Blue parents are proud of how few children they have
        >I’ve never observed this. Being proud of having lots of children does seem restricted to reds though.

        I think that’s just a pithy way for David to say it. I think he mentioned in one of the versions of his comment that being childfree–as a conscious and voluntary choice, an indefinite commitment, and an affirmative identity within the context of a long-term romantic and sexual relationship like a marriage or domestic partnership–only really fits within the Blue Tribe. A Red Triber could be incapable of having children by circumstance, or could be putting it off until they’re in a more conducive situation, or saving themselves for marriage, or whatever, but the reasons would generally not be the same as within the childfree community, whose members either dislike children in general (not meant as a sideswipe; my partner, and to a lesser extent I, belong to this group) or just don’t want their own, full stop. Many feel a strong identity with this, and many, like my Bluish partner who comes from a more Red-Tribe milieu, contrast this identity with their Red friends and acquaintances who, fitting the typology outlined above, married and had children early, or got pregnant unexpectedly and nevertheless embraced the role of motherhood. My partner is happy that she did not go down that path and that we have the lifestyle and disposable income of a young, childless couple. For me, this is just a preference. The error comes in, as in most conflicts between these tribes, when people think they ought to be universal.

        For the sake of symmetry with “Red Tribers are proud of how many kids they have,” this childfree identity could be phrased as being proud of how few children you have, just for a certain value of few: 0. It may admittedly be a stretch, since we could argue that not having children is semantically distinct from having very few children, but amounts of children tend to be natural numbers, and I really don’t want to think of non-integer amounts.

        And being proud of how few is not limited to 0. I’m an only child, and my generally Blue parents have expressed pride in that fact. It’s generally connected to their pride in me, of course, but they’re thankful that they were able to invest the time, energy, and resources into me as an only child. Now, Bryan Caplan would disagree with the assumptions underlying this idea, and I’m inclined to agree with him, since it looks like he has a lot of evidence on his side. My turning out well enough probably had more to do with the generally healthy atmosphere my married and together parents engendered, their combined middle-class income, and that other little factor that so bothers social psychologists. They probably ought to have had more children, and those children would probably have turned out well enough, too. But nevertheless, just as assuming the relative primacy of “nature” should shift parents toward more children less intensively raised, assuming the relative primacy of nurture in outcomes should cause parents to favor fewer children more intensively/carefully raised. My parents, who hold those assumptions, are proud that they followed them to those conclusions. They also, like my partner, tend to dislike typical child behavior and highly value their disposable income. Sometimes they express disdain for couples with a large amount of children.*

        There are definitely not enough gradations for this to be a margin on which Blues can directly compete with one another or seek status (again, negative amounts of children are nonsensical, and non-integer amounts are disturbing). However, I associate these attitudes–a preference for fewer or no children, and the cultural traits and identities that emerge from that preference–with the Blue cluster.

        *But at least in my parents’ and my partner’s case, they tend to dislike misbehaved children especially and prefer behaved children, even sometimes making exceptions to their general dislike for children. So I think this might be one area David’s typology breaks down. Many of the Blue Tribers I know would be especially incensed about kids running around their house and being poorly disciplined/controlled, and badly behaved children feed into their general dislike for children. So maintaining strict control of one’s children may not be so Red-coded as it once was. I could at least conceive of some Red Tribers (and definitely some Greys like Caplan) as maintaining a more laissez-faire attitude toward their children. It’s possible for super-strict discipline (and especially physical discipline) to be limited to very conservative (still Red) households, and for the set of Blues who already don’t like children a great deal to prefer the ones around them to be seen, not heard (though to heavily disapprove of physical discipline), while in the space between (median Red through median Blue), parents are happier to “let kids be kids,” more or less.

        • You may well be right that blues who are generally negative on children will also be particularly negative on other people’s children making a nuisance of themselves. Possibly we need further subdivision.

          So far as greys are concerned, our attitude, and I suspect Bryan’s, corresponds to the general laissez-faire/libertarian approach–people are free to run their own lives but not to impose costs on others. Our kids were unschooled, free to study or not study whatever they wanted (Bryan has a less laissez-faire approach on that subject, but I gather his kids agree with it). The rule for dinner was that if a kid didn’t like what we were having he was free to feed himself something else, provided that it was nutritionally adequate (so not complete laissez-faire) and required no effort from anyone else.

          Which in practice mostly meant fruit yogurt. Currently chicken pot pies.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Hey, stop slandering me! It was fruit yogurt when I was a kid, yes, but it is most definitely not chicken pot pies now – or anything frozen, for that matter.

            … actually it doesn’t come up, in my experience laissez-faire rules for dinner work pretty well since tastes expand naturally as one gets older (at least for me they did), especially if one chooses to push them a little, but that’s beside the point.

            More seriously, responding to the overall point, I would say I do think there’s a distinction? My experience does support the idea that blues who really don’t like children are more likely to really not like children who are less well-behaved, and may put up with ones who are well-behaved as tolerable exceptions. But I think blues who do like children and are not good parents are still more likely to let them run wild – Deiseach’s comment above pretty much exactly captured how. I freely admit all my evidence is anecdotal, though.

            And I expect Red parents who don’t really much like children exist – I suspect the tribal contribution is less in whether you like or don’t like children, as in how it is appropriate to express it. If just plain saying you don’t like children is forbidden but not liking children who are insufficiently well behaved is fine, you may just see most children as insufficiently well behaved.

      • Robi Rahman says:

        > > Blue parents are proud of how few children they have

        > I’ve never observed this. Being proud of having lots of children does seem restricted to reds though.

        Blue *couples* are often proud of how few children they have (usually when they have none). But blue couples who already have children, whether 1, 2, or 6, aren’t usually proud of having fewer children than they could if they chose to have another one.

    • Anon says:

      Your conclusion seems to be supported by Jonathan Haidt’s research. Check out the “just desserts” and “care” collumns in this study – http://www.vox.com/2016/2/5/10918164/donald-trump-morality

    • Frog Do says:

      “What red parents do wrong is claim that you shouldn’t contradict your elders–that hierarchy trumps truth.”
      My parents emphasized that you shouldn’t do it publically, because it was rude.

      “What bad red parents due is to impose discipline with orders to be obeyed but no need for justification.”
      Maybe a little personal, but I would focus on this not necessarily being deliberate. They assume you know the justification the first time you hear it, forgetting that people forget, and that training takes time, etc.

      “If cooking for a bunch of reds, you avoid lethal allergens if you know about them but for anything else people are expected to eat those parts of what you provide that fit their requirements, not to make a fuss or expect to be catered to.”
      Well, you’ll be shamed for being picky in pubic, and it reflects poorly on the parents.

      “Criticizing the behavior of someone else’s children is permissable in red culture”
      Only in the mildest possible terms, telling people to knock it off, etc. Going into any degree of detail publically is going to trigger justified Defend The Family reflexes in everyone else, and you’ll look real bad, real fast, and this will be spread to all the other parents.

      All of this may reflect the class status of my family, the emphasis on politeness and public behavior.

      As for guaranteed minimum income, it seems to be to strongly incentivize Being A Bad Person. It sounds very much like one of those social policies that will be perfectly fine for high-IQ types during their lifetimes, because every social policy is fine for high-IQ types during their lifetimes, but will leave the stupid out to dry, and possibly the next generation, too.

      Edit: Thinking about it, one of them might be “Red tribe parents can expect too much maturity from their children, Blue tribe can expect too little” might be a rephrasing?

    • Eli says:

      People in the Grey Tribe think that the Red Tribe and Blue Tribe are fully distinct groups with ironclad boundaries, when the guy who made up the terms only thought they were loose cluster-structures.

      So for instance, everyone here talks about the white working class as a locked-in Republican constituency, whereas I tend to firmly believe that which way they’ll vote depends on whom the Democrats nominate. If Hillary Clinton of the motherfucking liberal class gets the nom, they’ll act like “Red Tribers” and vote Republican. If Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, I predict they’ll vote for him, or at least I predict that I won’t be able to call the election better than a coinflip, whereas if it’s Hillary vs Trump I will vote for Jill Stein and place my betting money on Trump.

      Before yelling at me and offering steep odds at which you would lose money, consider that Bernie’s bases in the primaries have been (so far) low-to-mid-income non-black workers, education levels ranging from high-school completion to bachelors degree completion, registered Independents, non-Southern rural-to-suburban voters, and the young. I note this because except for the young, those are telling demographics of the “Red Tribe” white working class, not the archetypical Blue Tribe cluster.

      The archetypical Blue Tribe cluster (college-to-postgrad, high-mid to high income, urban professional) have all gone for Hillary, except in the tech sector where people worry about needing a basic income to deal with automation. This is why Hillary’s actually been winning: she’s got all of the Obama coalition minus the young (and maybe now minus LGBT issues), he’s only got labor-issues voters and the young. He has to at least peel off a couple of demographic groups just to fight respectably hard, and should probably be trying to make inroads with professionals making $50k-$80k a year to add to his labor coalition of wage-workers making up to $50k/year.

      For all his meager “victories”, he’s been campaigning with insufficient strategies.

      This is all the opposite of what the extent SSC theory of “Red-Tribe/Blue-Tribe” says ought to happen. Of course, that theory assumes that labor politics are dead and buried, a memo sent by the ’90s that Sanders has been managing to blithely ignore so far. If labor politics aren’t dead in favor of a purely tribalized politics, then it explains how the fuck not one but two candidates can run insurgencies in the primaries from almost completely outside the party structures.

      • reytes says:

        I agree with the point that Red and Blue tribes are much more loose, varied clusters of behaviors and structures than really specific, tight, iron-cloud things. I think that, if you are trying to limit either Red or Blue to loose stereotypes of people that you know, you’re probably not going to be getting all that much useful information about them out of it – not much above the level of “You might be a redneck if”. However I am…. extremely, extremely skeptical re: your claims about Sanders both in the context of the general election and the primary.

        In the context of the general election, I think it’s true that a platform that emphasizes economic issues much more strongly and that emphasizes elite liberalism less could very well appeal to a much broader base of the country including the white working class. But I’m extremely skeptical that, like, all you gotta do is show up to the party with Sanders and the votes are going to be there. I think that strongly understates (1) the continuing importance of social issues to all voters and (2) the importance of narrative as opposed to policy in peoples’ decision making processes. On the one hand, I think that even if you come with a more populist economic message, there are still going to be a lot of voters who also care a lot about things like abortion, evangelical issues, political correctness, affirmative action, and immigration where there’s variance between their views and the Democratic platform. And I think that would still be a huge stumbling block for voters. On the other hand, while I think that economic populism is a really useful angle of attack for approaching lower-middle and working class white voters, I don’t think you can make the change over night, because people make their decisions based in part on narratives and those shift much less easily. In other words, a Bernie Sanders advancing a policy of economic populism would still have to grapple with the narratives about the left that currently make it difficult.

        With regards to the primary battle, I would just… really, really want to see some polling data, at least, backing up that demographic breakdown of Bernie and Hillary, because it really does not line up with what I’ve seen and read and heard. My sense is that Bernie is largely relying on just the young and the progressive urban vote, while Hillary is largely relying on older voters, traditional Democrats, and in particular black and Hispanic voters. I would be very interested in hearing evidence to the contrary though.

        • 27chaos says:

          I don’t interpret their comment as claiming that Red and Blue categories are loose clusters. I interpret their comment as claiming that Red and Blue categories are only loose clusters under certain prerequisite conditions, and if we go outside those conditions we will need to draw lines around entirely different clusters to understand people’s behavior.

        • Eli says:

          With regards to the primary battle, I would just… really, really want to see some polling data, at least, backing up that demographic breakdown of Bernie and Hillary, because it really does not line up with what I’ve seen and read and heard. My sense is that Bernie is largely relying on just the young and the progressive urban vote, while Hillary is largely relying on older voters, traditional Democrats, and in particular black and Hispanic voters. I would be very interested in hearing evidence to the contrary though.

          Read the demographic breakdowns for Massachusetts and Michigan. What you’ve heard is a regional pattern in the South.

          • Read the demographic breakdowns for Massachusetts and Michigan.

            I would strongly caution anyone from drawing large conclusions about the whole country from the Michigan presidential primary.

    • While I find blue/red/grey tribe does map really nicely onto political culture, and while I find grey tribe as a useful shorthand for certain aspects of nerd culture, I think blue/red is far too simplistic to map onto people’s home lives and parenting styles. For example religion, nationality, class and occupation, while correlated with tribes somewhat, would be closer correlations with home life than political orientation. Blue and red tribes are distinct things in political culture because they feed off eachother, which I don’t think happens as much in home life. I don’t find the observations incorrect per se, I’m just not comfortable with using a unit of analysis that’s so broad in a highly specialized society.

    • Rachael says:

      This is a good analysis of why my mother and I disagree so much on how I should be parenting my own kids.

      Now I wonder if I can explain the Red/Blue thing in a way that helps her to understand that it’s a cultural variation and not just her being Right and me being Wrong.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        If your mother is red and you are blue, won’t your mother just accuse you of “relativism” or something like that? The red tribe is not very fond of “cultural variation” as a justification for perceived misbehavior.

      • Deiseach says:

        Part of it may be that when you do things differently, particularly when she’s said “Oh you should do X”, that your mother feels you are criticising her.

        The way she’s telling you to do it is, after all, the way she raised you. If you do something else, this feels like “My daughter hates how I raised her, she thinks I was a bad mother”.

        Maybe gently trying to explain that it’s not that you think she did a bad job or that you resent her parenting style, it’s just that things are different now and attitudes have changed?

        Or it may just be your mother is one of the “my way or the highway” moms (my own mother was like that) 🙂

      • Cultural Variation vs. Being Right is another Blue/Red thing.

        • Zaxlebaxes says:

          On some issues. In other issues, though, both clusters will readily agree with the statement, “The way we do things is Right and the way they do things is Wrong.” They just have a different “we” and a different “they.”

          On the other hand, it’s true you don’t often see the Red Tribe, as conceived in the Great Outgroup Post, arguing from a consciously relativistic perspective. Some in the Bizarre Local Sect and people with Burkean perspectives are much more suspicious of moral universalism and sympathetic toward particularism, but this is as good a moment as any to reinforce the difference between giant supergroups of political philosophies (delineated by relative directions) and historically contingent tribes sharing clusters of cultural affinities (delineated by color). And even then, traditionalist arguments tend to value cultural variations between societies and cultural homogeneity within them (cultures and societies should be mostly coterminous); while the Blue cluster is more associated with multiculturalism, which values cultural variations within societies, but can also be associated with a historically liberal belief in certain universal values, like human rights, and with globalism, which could be conceived as a desire to create a more connected global society with those shared values.

          I think I’m aggressively agreeing with you.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            As a parliamentarian of Irish Catholic descent, Burke had a lot to say about cultural homogeneity and imperialism. He said things like how, as an immigrant to England, he had a duty practice Anglican Christianity and assimilate, and how we Englishmen need to stop imposing our customs in Ireland and in India. He also supported Olaudah Equiano’s position* that blacks who escape slavery to Britain should marry whites and assimilate.

            *By subscribing to his book, which in economic context means “helping it get published at all”.

    • Wency says:

      I’m going to posit that the Blue Tribe is more homogenous in views than what we’re calling the Red Tribe. I think it has the advantage that it’s more influenced by the dominant culture, whereas the Red Tribe represents people who haven’t modified their views as rapidly as the dominant culture, for various reasons.

      For example, the dominant culture overwhelmingly embraces LGBT, so there’s no dissent within the Blue Tribe on questions in that vein. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I support Bernie/Hillary, but I have some reservations about their acceptance of gay marriage.”

      Among people who could be called solidly Red Tribe, however, I’ve heard a much wider range of views. This is tied largely to a combination of how religious and how old they are.

      The “Red Tribe” label seems to be stretching to include elements of both the white working class and the suburban upper middle class in the South and Midwest. The latter group includes a lot of Whole Foods shoppers who nonetheless vote Republican. This is certainly the case in my area, which is a “super zip” in terms of median income, but voted ~75% for Romney in 2012. Maybe the point is that this Republican-voting suburban upper middle class is some hybrid of Red Tribe and Blue Tribe?

      In any case, I’d correlate David’s food constraints point more closely to Whole Foods shoppers than political affiliation.

      • Nita says:

        There are lots of disagreements within the “Blue tribe”:

        “let’s get closer to Mother Nature” (e.g., anti-GMO) vs “yay, technology!” (pro-GMO)
        “prostitution is exploitation” vs “prostitution is an unfairly stigmatized line of work”
        “religion / spirituality is important” vs “religion is harmful” vs “live and let live”
        “we’re all in this together” vs “class struggle”
        “economic inequality is more important” vs “prejudice is more important”
        “speak softly and carry a big stick” vs pacifism
        “the status quo is HORRIBLE” vs “the status quo is mostly OK”
        “we can’t judge other cultures” vs “we must shame bad cultures” vs “we should let people harmed by other cultures speak for themselves”
        “regulated capitalism is working just fine” vs “big business has too much power”
        “I should get my children into a top university” vs “I should unschool my children”

        • Wency says:

          Point taken, though I think the range of opinion is exaggerated here.

          E.g., the Blue Tribe consensus on religion, as I understand it, would be be “It can be helpful to find spirituality if you personally find that it enriches your life, but branches of Christianity that teach old-fashioned social views are harmful and/or evil.” A significant minority would go so far as to say “All religion is bad always.”

          Is there really a pro-GMO Blue Tribe position? If so, I’d think it’s tiny. Much larger is the apathetic group, I.e., the non-Whole Foods portion of the Blue Tribe.

          In any event, while Blue/Red != Democrat/Republican, a lot of the issues that Scott has talked about do map to that. E.g., the politicization of Ebola or ISIS.

          But I think other issues that we’re calling Blue/Red map to upper middle class vs. white working class. E.g., Whole Foods, and generally having something, like gluten, that you’re passionate about avoiding at any given moment.

          And some issues are multidimensional — based on what I’ve seen, the Republican upper middle class is much more likely to own a firearm than the Democratic upper middle class, though less likely than the Republican working class.

          Romney isn’t a hunter, but he seems to be of a common view among the Republican upper middle class: “Using a shotgun to shoot varmints is occasionally kind of fun and/or useful, but hunting is never something I’ll do all that much.” This view may be tolerated among Blues, but I think the median Blue regards personal firearm ownership with revulsion.

          All this to say, I think if we’re interested in understanding the Republican upper middle class, we should call it out, since in some cases, its values are closer to the Democratic upper middle class, and in others, closer to the Republican working class, and in others, somewhere in between.

          This issue is becoming more salient in the current primary season, in which the Republican working class is pitted against the upper middle.

          • Adam says:

            Is there really a pro-GMO Blue Tribe position? If so, I’d think it’s tiny. Much larger is the apathetic group, I.e., the non-Whole Foods portion of the Blue Tribe.

            A majority of actual scientists and probably even just people with undergrad basic science degrees that ended up doing something else are both mostly Blue and pro-GMO, along with the general technocrat wing.

          • neonwattagelimit says:

            It’s interesting that you bring up GMOs and firearms. On both issues, there is a very vocal minority that has an extreme position on one side, and this skews perceptions. Like, while there are a lot of people who are vaguely pro-GMO, they don’t really make a fuss about it so you don’t hear from them. Firearms are similar. While there are probably more forceful gun control advocates than there are forceful GMO advocates, for Blues/Democrats gun control is maybe number five or six on the list of priorities. Whereas, for maybe 10-20% of the Red/Republican side, this is the NUMBER ONE issue, absolutely dwarfing all others.

            Likewise, I think there are large numbers of people who are vaguely anti-GMO, or vaguely pro-firearm, but not all that fanatical about it. But these people get drowned out by the fanatics, along with the people on the other side of the debate.

          • Is there really a pro-GMO Blue Tribe position?
            Yes. My Blue Tribe Architect friend is aggressively pro-GMO. He considers anti-GMO activists the moral and intellectual equivalent of anti-Vaxxers.
            His hatred of the anti-GMO crowd is only matched by his hatred of: -incompetent outsourced labor (common among anyone who regularly works heavily with the Indian Service Sector)
            -Tiny Houses
            -Donald Trump

            There’s definitely a pro-technology Blue Tribe element that hates the Mother Earth-y strain of Blue Tribe. Blue Tribe is NOT homogenous.

        • Zaxlebaxes says:

          This is true, to a degree, and maybe Wency’s comment is flavored by the mild and non-malicious form of outgroup homogeneity bias: they say they live in a more Red community, and they’re liable to see more of the variation within it than the variation within communities they spend less time in.

          That said, I’m also worried I might have a bias against the Blue Tribe, but I am surrounded by it. That should make me more likely to see the variation within it, but I think one of my main reasons for not identifying with Blues is the fact that when it comes down to it, like Wency, I really don’t think I see much variation. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough? But to take your examples:

          > “let’s get closer to Mother Nature” (e.g., anti-GMO) vs “yay, technology!” (pro-GMO)
          Here I associate enthusiasm toward technology with the Greys (even Reds in some cases), and ambivalence with the Blues. Some Blues are more hostile toward technology (or Greens, and Purples, too, but I don’t want to cheat and create too many categories.) Let’s just say I don’t really hear conscious cries of “yay, technology!” around here. It’s more like, everybody uses Uber because it’s useful, but not too enthusiastically, and if you ask, people are expected to signal some ambivalence toward it.

          > “prostitution is exploitation” vs “prostitution is an unfairly stigmatized line of work”
          Again, the latter sounds Grayer to me. I would expect the Blues to agree with both statements, and even to connect the two, but to attribute both issues to patriarchal forces. I only ever hear Grays emphatically disagreeing with the former statement, and while Blues might acknowledge when pressed that talking about how exploitative prostitution is can stigmatize it, I don’t think they’d disown the statement, just acknowledge that it’s problematic to say it without considering the effect it can have. I don’t associate a positive attitude toward prostitution with any major Blue Tribe faction.

          >“religion / spirituality is important” vs “religion is harmful” vs “live and let live”
          I’d more or less collapse one and three, because “religion is important” without “live and let live” is Red, and as I’ve seen “spirituality” used, it’s usually wide enough to encompass the concept of living and letting live itself. As for “religion is harmful,” it was popular for criticizing the majority religion in the U.S., as practiced by members of the majority race, and particularly in the forms practiced by the other tribe. The statement became general, but usually with that prototype in mind. As another world religion became more relevant for the U.S. conversation, associated with different people who were not the majority race here, “religion is harmful” seemed to cleave: it can still be acceptable in the Blue Tribe if the relevant religion is Christianity as believed by white people. But talking about how All Religions Are Bad, and Yes, Even That One, and maybe Especially That One is pretty Gray to me; criticizing That One can get you excluded from Blue circles and accused of racism and an irrational fear of it, since it seems to them more like attacking a minority than an oppressive structure. This may be the New Atheism/Atheism+ distinction.

          > “we’re all in this together” vs “class struggle”
          This one seems complicated to me and maybe I might tackle it some other time, but this comment is already too long and I feel like a blowhard already.

          >“economic inequality is more important” vs “prejudice is more important”
          I think this one is actually a very valid example, and one I see spirited argument about. Very true.

          “speak softly and carry a big stick” vs pacifism
          I don’t associate a conscious policy of strong defense with the Blue Tribe. Rather, when Blues are in charge of foreign policy as at present, they tend to fall into this, but I think that’s more practical than idealistic, and I think they try to signal the speaking softly part to their base more than the big stick part. The stick is for other countries. Reds, I think, like SS&CBS, but their political leaders tend to interpret that as “Carry a big stick and shake it around all the time and yell.” Maybe SS&CBS is the practical synthesis of Blue “speak softly” policy and Red “big stick” policy. Maybe I misinterpreted you.

          > “the status quo is HORRIBLE” vs “the status quo is mostly OK”
          Point taken; I don’t think any tribes cleave on optimist-pessimist lines.

          >“we can’t judge other cultures” vs “we must shame bad cultures” vs “we should let people harmed by other cultures speak for themselves”
          I thought out loud about this in a comment in an above subthread.

          >“regulated capitalism is working just fine” vs “big business has too much power”
          Don’t really hear the former. The only way it’s Blue is in the sense that regulated capitalism is preferable to unregulated capitalism, but I don’t associate “capitalism is regulated the right amount already” with Blue.

          >“I should get my children into a top university” vs “I should unschool my children”
          Unschooling sounds Grey. It’s close to homeschooling, and I think homeschooling is associated with Reds. Sure, we Blues would might instill the right values in our kids, but Blues probably wouldn’t feel comfortable with losing their institutional influence over educating the other tribe’s children.

          In many of these cases, I’m not sure the juxtaposed statements are actually in conflict with one another, while in others, I think we define tribal boundaries differently and that you might include what I consider the Grey Tribe as a faction of the Blue Tribe.

          The latter may just reflect a difference in the way we categorize, but I suspect they are actually useful conflicts for examining areas where Blue Tribe beliefs shift over time–I think certain beliefs eventually leave the space of acceptable Blue opinion and people who still hold them find themselves, often to their chagrin, on the other side of an invisible line. The space they occupy eventually turns Gray.

          The former cases–where there aren’t apparent conflicts right now–seem to be where the Blues I encounter hold complex sets of beliefs rather harmoniously. Sometimes people exaggerate the incompatibility of these beliefs–members of the hostile outgroup do so to foment conflict, and members of the ingroup or sympathetic people do so to counter the effects of homogeneity bias targeted against the group in question.

          But then sometimes, previously compatible beliefs do appear to come into conflict. Some horrible things happened on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, and became politicized before the gunpowder smoke dissipated in the night sky. To the naive observer, these events threw certain tribal values into conflict with one another. The outgroup tried to take advantage of this, to point to the conflicts, and to force the ingroup to confront the cracks within its intersectional coalition. But the ingroup resisted this, and its loudest mouthpieces rather quickly articulated a position. It may seem like there’s a screaming match going on right now, but if I look more carefully, I see more people who don’t identify as feminists saying, “As feminists, you should be less open to immigration from these patriarchal societies!” And people who do identify as feminists taking a stand against Islamophobia. Even if those positions turn out to be incompatible on a practical level (I don’t know), a group with strong shared beliefs, media to articulate them, and a structure to control group membership along ideological lines will, I think, behave predictably.

          The caveat is that these are my personal opinions, observations, and hunches. And I know the context of the discussion was Blue Tribe culture, and I veered into the politics of social justice, and these are not the exact same things (just correlated). My main point is just that these associated groups seem good at articulating shared beliefs, prioritizing between them in cases of conflict, and avoiding infighting by excluding dissenters from ingroup membership.

          • Anonymous says:

            If you don’t mind sharing, are you in the Bay Area?

          • Nita says:

            Thanks for the detailed reply. I’ll only touch on some of the points here.

            I

            I don’t associate a positive attitude toward prostitution with any major Blue Tribe faction.

            I take it you’ve never heard of “feminist sex wars”? Or read any rants about “SWERFs” on Tumblr?

            Here’s a short overview from The Prostitution Debate in Feminism: Current Trends, Policy and Clinical Issues Facing an Invisible Population:

            The debate, which began in the 1960s over pornography, has often been referred to as the “feminist sex wars” (Duggan & Hunter, 1995). The contemporary debate largely revolves around a polarized argument that constructs sex work as either exploitive or liberating (Raphael, 2004). [..] The group in favor of prostitute rights (the “pro” group) views prostitutes as active decision makers who choose to engage in prostitution. [..] In contrast, the feminists who are against prostitution (the “anti” group) view “prostituted women” as compelled by their social circumstances into prostitution, and therefore believe that the involvement of women in prostitution is always nonconsensual.

            And here’s how “SJWiki” sees the ‘anti’ side:

            Sex worker exclusionary radical feminism (also known as SWERF) is another tiny sliver of feminism that promotes socially conservative attitudes toward sex and sexuality. The term was coined to match that of TERF, as their memberships overlap. Their ideology also overlaps as both subgroups follow a prescriptive, normative, approach to feminism, i.e., telling women what to do — TERFs with their gender, and SWERFs with their private parts.

            II

            I’d more or less collapse one and three, because “religion is important” without “live and let live” is Red

            41% of “mostly liberal” and 24% of “consistently liberal” Americans would be “unhappy” if a close family member married an atheist. If Blues are supposed to be about half the country, all of those people can’t be Red.

            III

            I don’t associate a conscious policy of strong defense with the Blue Tribe. Rather, when Blues are in charge of foreign policy as at present, they tend to fall into this, but I think that’s more practical than idealistic

            Is Hillary Clinton Blue or Red? What about those who voted for her? Many people, including many “Blues”, are practical, not idealistic.

            IV

            you might include what I consider the Grey Tribe as a faction of the Blue Tribe

            Eh, that’s how Scott defined it, I think:

            There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe [..] – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time.

          • Wency says:

            Building a little on the theme of bubbles we live in:

            1. Best I’ve been able to tell, I don’t personally know any solidly Blue STEM types. I have 4-5 friends who went into engineering, all are self-described libertarians, except one who is diehard TradCon. I know one Ph.D. Chemist — he is thoroughly apolitical, and a Ph.D. Engineer — the only Blue/SJW in the lot. They are all male.

            2. The Blue/SJW types I know are mostly artistic types, except one who’s an accountant and the STEM guy. They are also mostly single women.

            3. From where I sit, politics seems to be extremely sex-segregated. In my metro area, while I was single, I can only recall having met perhaps two single, college-educated women who would self-describe as Republican.

            4. Funny story on the topic of “SWERF”. The Blue STEM guy that I know was a mild-mannered fellow who actively encouraged his bright, college student girlfriend to become a stripper as a form of empowerment. It sounded like a bad idea to me, but what do I know? She ended up leaving him for one of her customers. Another mild-mannered Ph.D. student, you ask? Nope, a biker who went by the name of “Ratsnake”.

            The STEM guy was devastated, more so because none of his friends could discuss the matter without bursting into laughter.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Ill-defined as “Blue” may be, it’s not equivalent to SJW.

          • Wency says:

            Jaskologist:

            Sure, but aren’t SJW’s a sub-tribe of Blues?

            In that vein, I would think that being an SJW moves one away from any gray area between Reds and Blues. If you agree with the statement, “Stripping is a form of empowerment to be encouraged because it turns the Patriarchy’s desire to control female bodies against it,” you are undeniably Blue. If you disagree with that statement, you could be anything, including Blue. So if I’m trying to identify the Blues among my acquaintances, the outspoken SJWs are the easiest ones to spot. Just as, say, the guy with an oversized pickup that sports a Confederate flag is an easily-identifiable Red. Even if neither is an archetypal Blue or Red (if we can imagine such a thing existing).

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            The next Pulitzer: Fifty Shades of Blue.

          • Nornagest says:

            Most SJWs are Blue, but Blue is a culture and SJ is a set of political goals and tactics. There are definitely culturally Gray SJWs, and also some that don’t fall into Scott’s taxonomy — though not as many as you’d think from their rhetoric about multiculturalism and whiteness.

            Similarly, talking about the patriarchy is strong but not conclusive evidence of a Blue background: it says that you’ve had a Women’s Studies course or talked to a lot of people that have. But Blues don’t have a monopoly on college education. They don’t even have a monopoly on the fluffy majors.

            The Confederate flag is a stronger signal of Redness (actually a subtribe of Red) because it’s almost always used, contrary to stereotype, as a cultural symbol rather than an ideological one.

      • Also, don’t forget that Blue != Democrat and Red != Republican.

        The old unionized working class was Red, but Democrat. Romney and his breed of “coastal conservatives” are Blue, but Republican. There are certainly plenty of high-income Red areas, but based on your description it seems just as likely that you’re talking about a Blue Republican enclave.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          ^ exactly.

        • Samedi says:

          I think this red/blue “tribe” vocabulary works against intelligent discussion. How is it useful to divide the entire population of the US into two sterotypes and then pretend it’s a useful predictor? It looks like to me like a straightforward example of the reductive fallacy.

          The reality of people’s actual views is vastly more rich, interesting, and contradictory. People differ in temperament, ethical preferences, regional culture, social class, and all sorts of ways. Why ignore this nuance in favor of glibness and cliché?

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            @Samedi

            Agreed. It’s more useful to highlight where the stereotypes break down, in order to show how nebulous and perceived this entire “conflict” is. The whole point of the original coining of the terms was to show how red/blue can outgroup each other only because they’re so similar, instead of outgrouping Daesh or something, and thus pointing out that the red/blue conflicts are over more trivial things.

            Besides which, most of the “I feel like that’s grey tribe” statements here smack of “grey tribe is the motte, baileys to the red/blue please.” How convenient.

      • Note, at a slight tangent, that the CEO of Whole Foods is a libertarian and got quite a lot of flack from blue tribe people over some libertarian statement he made that was from their standpoint heretical.

    • Julie K says:

      What’s this list based on- your own interaction with red and blue families?

      Here’s a related survey:
      http://reason.com/poll/2014/08/19/august-2014-reason-rupe-national-survey
      “Democrats and Republicans tend to agree the law should require 6-year-olds and 9-year-olds be supervised at public parks, but Republicans (48%) are slightly more likely than Democrats (41%) to also want the law to apply to 12 year-olds as well.

      “Americans who think government should promote traditional values are also more likely to say the law should require supervision of 9 year olds at public parks-74 to 62 percent of those who say government should not promote traditional values.

      “As income and education rise, Americans become more likely to say government should allow children to play at public parks unsupervised. For instance, only 21 percent of those with high school degrees or less think government ought to allow 9 year olds play at the park unsupervised, compared to 39 percent of those with college degrees. Income reflects a similar pattern. ”

      “Those who prefer a “larger government providing more services” tend to think children should be older before they are given greater autonomy and more responsibility, compared to those who prefer smaller government. For instance, those who prefer larger government think children should wait one more year before then are allowed to babysit younger children (15), have a part-time job (16), or play in the front yard unsupervised (11) compared to those who prefer smaller government.”

      • Anon says:

        “As income and education rise, Americans become more likely to say government should allow children to play at public parks unsupervised. For instance, only 21 percent of those with high school degrees or less think government ought to allow 9 year olds play at the park unsupervised, compared to 39 percent of those with college degrees. Income reflects a similar pattern. ”

        This is really interesting. I would have expected the exact opposite outcome. I’m from the underclass, and my mother (along with the parents of all of my underclass friends) allowed me to essentially go wherever I wanted alone starting roughly at age 7 or 8. And even before then, when I was about 6, I was allowed to walk to my friend’s house, which was two blocks away, unsupervised. It made my mom uncomfortable and she worried about me when I went out alone, but she didn’t seem to think it was right to actually prevent me from doing things alone.

        I always saw the “children must be supervised at all times” impulse as something wealthier parents would have, mostly because they seem to be more likely to helicopter-parent in general. I guess I was wrong, though, at least about their supervision preferences. Am I wrong about them helicopter-parenting more too? Do they actually helicopter-parent way less often than I thought? I don’t know a lot of middle or upper class parents, so I don’t have any a lot of first hand knowledge of this.

        Now I’m wondering why all the poor parents I knew when I was a kid were so unusual in this regard. It doesn’t seem to be a tribal-affiliation thing; some were culturally blue tribe, but others were a tribe that doesn’t seem to have a name (religious and culturally conservative, but very economically liberal).

        And it’s not due to the race of the parents I knew, since the article states that African Americans (who were the majority of my friends and friends’ parents even though my mom and I are white) are more likely to support laws preventing kids from being at the park unsupervised. Quote from the article:

        African Americans (82 percent) are more likely than white Americans (65 percent) and Hispanics (74 percent) to support such a law.

        So what was it that made the parents of my friends so unusual for their economic class? I have no clue what it could be, other than some strange local anomaly. I did grow up in a city that’s kind of weird in other ways too (Minneapolis, MN), so it might just be due to that general weirdness. Maybe the 21% of people without high school diplomas who think 9 year olds should be able to be at the park alone tend to clump together in certain geographic areas, and I just happened to live in one of those clumps.

        Another (less charitable) explanation would be that these parents I knew didn’t think other people’s 9 year olds should be able to go the park alone (because they didn’t want other people’s kids causing trouble), but still thought their own 9 year olds should be able to because it’s convenient to be able to send your kids to go play outside or at the park when you’re busy and don’t want to watch them. So they would have answered “no” to a question about it on a survey, but would still have sent their own kids outside alone.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          You didn’t mention fathers. Maybe single mothers just don’t have time for helicopter-surveillance-parenting but wish they did and they feel a little guilty because they can’t.

          Then they would be in favor of a law that increases the cost of not being a helicopter parent, so they can say to friends, coworkers and extended family members something like “I’d love to assist you with whatever you are asking, really, but leaving my child unsupervised is literally illegal. Thanks for understanding!”.

          • Anon says:

            Yeah, I think you’re right that single moms don’t have the time to helicopter parent. My mom actually did have the time, because she was unemployed my whole life and lived on disability payments for her schizophrenia, but the mothers of most of my friends worked, so they did not.

            I’m not sure if they felt guilty about it or not. I’m sure some do, but I don’t know how widespread the phenomenon is. Underclass single moms mostly associate with other mothers like themselves, who would be unlikely to shame them for letting their kids play outside unsupervised while they themselves clean the house or do something else essential. But the general cultural message that letting your kids be unsupervised is bad is powerful enough that I could conceive of them feeling guilty for having to do it anyway.

            But I guess I can’t really see how a law preventing them from leaving their kids unsupervised would help them much. It would give them a good excuse for why they can’t attend PTA meetings or chaperone a field trip, but it would also increase the number of them who get arrested for letting their kids go to the park while they’re doing something essential, because some of their obligations simply can’t be blown off the way PTA meetings can. I’m thinking of cases like this.

            I can’t think of any reason for a woman in a situation like the woman in the article was in to support criminalizing leaving kids unattended, and the mothers of my friends were highly likely to be in that situation at least occasionally.

            But a lot of women like them apparently told the survey questioner that they did want it criminalized. So I’m wrong about something, but I don’t know what or why.

        • Pku says:

          Seems like it’s a function of living in bad neighborhoods – poor people (and black people disproportionately so) are more likely to live in dangerous neighborhoods, and minneapolis (by reputation) is very safe relative to its poverty level.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m wondering how much of that is “kids should be seen and not heard” and how much of that is fear over child abuse and kidnapping etc.

        I am surprised about the results, though; I would have thought the lower income/education group would have given more responsibility re: lack of supervision, babysitting, part-time jobs etc.

        Things have definitely changed since my day! 🙂

      • Mary says:

        “As income and education rise, Americans become more likely to say government should allow children to play at public parks unsupervised. ”

        Perhaps what correlates here is how likely they are to regard their parks as safe.

        • One possibility is that the survey is wrong–that the questions were put in some form that made responses correlate with education for reasons unrelated to actual opinions on the questions being surveyed. No particular suggestion on how, but I’ve seen enough cases where supposedly scientific results didn’t really imply what they were reported as to make routinely a little skeptical.

    • Primadant says:

      There is a fun game where the goal is to apply political categories to non political distinctions.

      For example :
      Houses are conservative, appartments are liberal
      Firefox is liberal, IE is conservative
      Contact lenses are liberal, glasses are conservative
      Stairs are liberal, elevators are conservative
      Ties are liberal, bow ties are conservative
      Dogs are conservative, cats are liberal
      Even numbers are conservative, odd numbers are liberal

      • Primadant says:

        Some more :
        God is a conservative, the devil is a liberal
        Circles are conservative, squares are liberal
        Moutains are conservative, volcanoes are liberal
        Additions are liberal, subtractions are conservative
        Hands are liberal, feet are conservative
        P=NP is liberal, P≠NP is conservative
        Gold is conservative, silver is liberal

        • Paul Goodman says:

          >Circles are conservative, squares are liberal

          I’m with you on most of these but I would say the opposite for this one.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          God is a conservative, the devil is a liberal

          JOHNSON: The first Whig was the Devil.
          BOSWELL: He certainly was, sir. The Devil was impatient of subordination; he was the first who resisted power. “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heavn.”

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        I wonder what an implicit association test that primes people on conservative/liberal ideas (instead of white/black people) show.

      • Maware says:

        Espresso is liberal, coffee is conservative

        Film musicals are liberal, horror films are conservative. (they actually are tremendously so, once you get past the violence. Horror is very much about what happens when you transgress moral, religious, and cultural norms)

        Tofu is liberal, hamburger is conservative

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I remember watching Deathwish 2 with a friend who described it as the most r*******ary movie he’d ever seen.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          Are there actually that many horror movies where people get killed for having sex, or is this one of those things where there is a 10:1 ratio James Bond Parody to James Bond Movie.

          • John Schilling says:

            You tell me. But since “Scream”, it’s much less common to play that one straight. Which isn’t to say that the sexually active are now safe, but their risk isn’t as high as it used to be and their gruesome deaths are now likely to be also ironic or self-consciously retro.

          • Maware says:

            Most slasher films pre-Scream played the trope straight, but it’s not just sex. A lot of them are about revenge for murder, adultery, etc. Or transgressing local holy/unholy places. Horror films are often modern morality plays. Someone breaks the moral law, and everyone suffers for it. Maybe it’s made right, maybe it isn’t.

      • Anonymous says:

        Mac is liberal, PC is conservative
        Coke is conservative, Pepsi is liberal
        Open is liberal, closed is conservative
        The sky is liberal, the ground is conservative
        Coming is conservative, going is liberal
        The Sun is conservative, the Moon is liberal

        • I think Mac is grey tribe.

          • Nornagest says:

            Apple’s corporate culture is technocratic, paternalistic, homogeneous, young, self-consciously image-focused — close to what got called “Silicon Valley Democrat” a couple threads ago, although that doesn’t quite capture it.

            Apple’s consumers are generally Blue: creatives, the gentry, and the hip. That doesn’t necessarily mean liberal, but it’s a lot more likely to be liberal than it is conservative.

          • blacktrance says:

            Mac is definitely Blue – see the Hipster In Coffee Shop stereotype, who definitely uses a Mac. But “PC” is too generic, so:

            Mac is Blue, Linux is Grey, Still Using Windows XP is Red, and Windows 10 is neutral.

          • Dahlen says:

            Still Using Windows XP is Red

            Well gee. TIL.

            Also, this little exercise makes me feel like taking a break from the internet for a few weeks to get away from all the liberal/conservative nonsense.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Nah. Grey tribe is Linux.

            Edit: Crap, blacktrance beat me to it.

          • brad says:

            What tribe is netBSD? z/OS?

          • Sam says:

            z/OS is (Big) Blue Tribe. NetBSD is an uncontacted tribe. FreeBSD is Russian and outside the scope of this analysis (once you patch KDE2, anyway).

          • BBA says:

            OpenBSD is, of course, the Go Fuck Yourself Tribe.

    • Chalid says:

      Blue parents are proud of how few children they have, red parents of how many.

      Criticizing the behavior of someone else’s children is permissable in red culture, criticizing the existence of other people’s children, being in general anti-child, is permissable only in blue culture.

      The Blue parts of this ring very false to me. There’s the belief that one should wait to have kids until one is older and has an established career, and that kids should be very high-investment. In practice these beliefs may lead to fewer kids, but that is, I think, seen as a tradeoff not a desired outcome.

      Finally, consider a guaranteed minimum income not from the standpoint of whether it does or doesn’t work but whether the world it creates is attractive. From the red tribe point of view, there is something fundamentally wrong with someone living entirely on other people, doing nothing productive himself.

      Doing something productive doesn’t have to mean earning money–volunteering to teach Sunday school, making jam, bringing cookies to a PTA meeting count. But a life that consists simply of generating utility for yourself at the expense of others, even if those others can easily afford it, feels wrong.

      It seems like the thing to look for would be statistics showing red tribe retirement looks different from blue tribe retirement.

      • Rachael says:

        I’ve definitely come across the view that having lots of kids is selfish and indulgent and a drain on the environment, and decent people should restrict themselves to one or two. (I don’t hold that view myself.)

      • Zaxlebaxes says:

        There is a community of people who identify as childfree. There’s a subreddit for it, though I’ve never been. My partner enjoys reading the stories, though. I asked her where she would situate the position you mentioned–the belief that one should wait to have children until one is more established and that one should invest more energy into fewer children–within three contexts.

        In American society in general, the above position is skewed Blue.

        Within the Blue cluster, the above position is about standard. I can’t imagine a Blue for whom “you should wait until you’re established” is not a given, if one is planning to have children at all.

        Within the childfree subcommunity (and you can get an idea of its small but non-negligible size from the subreddit probably), that position is pretty much outside, because it keeps the possibility of kids pretty open, whereas childfree people are identified by their conscious and committed choice not to have children. The variation within the community is basically between a live-and-let-live, you can have kids but I won’t deal, and varying degrees of active distaste, dislike, even hatred for children. Not so much in terms of members favoring legal restrictions on having children, but maybe once a month their are heavily upvoted posts in favor of people needing to pass intelligence tests to be allowed to have children. There is strong support for the creation of more private spaces–restaurants, etc.–closed to children, but we haven’t seen support for restricting children from public spaces. Nevertheless, much of it concerns their dislike for parents and the children they bring to public spaces and public accommodations. They sometimes call parents “breeders” and children “crotch fruit.”

        This is obviously not representative of either major tribe, but falls within the Blue and Grey (that is, such beliefs would not draw much disapproval from those groups in general) and is pretty much entirely outside the Red (they would highly disapprove of these beliefs). And that attitude exists, which I think is the original contention.

      • Sophie Grouchy says:

        IIRC for wealthy Manhattanites (who I would consider Blue tribe whichever way they voted), having more children is an elite status signal. It shows that you can afford them, including paying Manhattan prices for their rooms, nannies, top day cares, etc.

    • Alex says:

      “Blue parents are proud of how few children they have, red parents of how many.

      Criticizing the behavior of someone else’s children is permissable in red culture, criticizing the existence of other people’s children, being in general anti-child, is permissable only in blue culture.”

      Interesting, because I think it is different “over here”.

      Red tribe just _has_ childeren but feels little need to talk about or take pride in the fact for various reasons. It is also common knowledge that blue tribe has less childeren and, since it is kommon knowledge already, little need to talk or feel pride about that either.

      The battle of status happens not with respect to own childeren but to the state of affairs as a whole.
      Blue tribe views it as the “wrong people” having too many childeren. That argument is often made from class, but I think it is more fair to attribute it to tribalism, if we understand “red tribe” as not being a social class. From this reasoning, blue tribers that, contra the trend, do choose to have childeren, are envisioning themselves as doing a service to humanity (offsetting red tribes “insane” fertility advantage).

      From this arises a fraction that is certainly blue tribe but thinks that parenthood is instand virtue that should never be criticised in any way.

    • merzbot says:

      No objections here. Seems at least vaguely accurate to me!

    • Dahlen says:

      Methinks we are approaching a point where SSCers need to ask themselves whether it’s wise for them to continue to reify these clusters and stereotypes. The General Theory of Red vs. Blue isn’t even a useful enough conceptual tool to warrant the sort of attention it gets here, the borders of these clusters are even fuzzier than is the usual case for stereotypes. The proper use of this concept of “tribes” entails awareness that you’re doing away with nuance and that these things don’t exist in reality as they do in the toy model, manifested in careful and qualified statements and a general feeling that you’re taking these distinctions with a grain of salt. All these attempts to even further ramify the theory, to find new things to attribute to the Blue/Red model, to treat these categories as more of “a thing” than they actually are, and even to go as far as to self-identify with them, “oh, I’m Red Tribe”, “my social circle is Blue”, “Blue-leaning Grey”, this is not proper use. This is you people dreaming up expansions of the model for the sake of expanding the model, it’s an exercise in creativity, it’s blatant stereotyping, it’s convincing yourselves that this blatant stereotyping amounts to something in the real world if you squint and filter and cherry-pick hard enough. I worry that, if Red and Blue Tribes as imagined here weren’t so clear and cut, they will be brought into existence by all the theorizing. Let’s go back to a more nuanced understanding of reality. Please.

      • Alex says:

        Fair criticism, but I think the core realisation in the red-tribe vs. blue-tribe post is “there is a significant part of the populace to which I have no connection whatsoever; hell we barely speak the same language”. And while the exact bondary, what part that might be, varies individually (speaking of nuance), it does seem fair to say that some clustering is observable.

        Can’t say much about the US, but in priciple the same thing happens in many european countries. And two tribes within the same territory does seem to be a recipe for desaster, no?

      • Nita says:

        The proper use of this concept of “tribes” entails awareness that you’re doing away with nuance and that these things don’t exist in reality as they do in the toy model, manifested in careful and qualified statements and a general feeling that you’re taking these distinctions with a grain of salt.

        Let’s go back to a more nuanced understanding of reality.

        Yeah, that would be nice. But I don’t think it’s likely.

        Nuance takes effort, and simple theories are so satisfying to contemplate — hell, I’m even starting to think that our brains might be biased in favour of overly simple heuristics!

        • ChetC3 says:

          It’s a kind of wireheading. It feels like achieving a better understanding of the world and doesn’t require any real effort or risk.

    • Adam says:

      This place confuses me more and more everyday on what exactly Red Tribe and Blue Tribe are supposed to be. I suspect your experiences are colored by the fact you’re the son of a celebrity and probably spent your entire life being educated at or teaching at elite schools and being surrounded by other elites.

      I consider myself Blue Tribe. I was born and raised in a coastal big city full of multicultural idealism, as far as I know the top entry point for immigrants to the US during the 90s. I never even heard a country song until I was in my 20s. I never saw a megachurch, either, unless you count the ridiculous TBN headquarters, but my hometown is home to the largest Buddhist temple in the western hemisphere. On the other hand, my parents had four kids and they didn’t wait. They married and began as soon as my mom turned 18. Neither of them went to college. One set of next door neighbors was a Lebanese family and the other Mormons. They both had big families, were very religious, and fairly conservative people. My hometown is also Nixon’s hometown. My mom and her entire family loved Reagan. I’m not religious, but all of my sisters are and my mom and dad have both volunteered at churches their entire lives. My mom and sisters are also vegans (my dad and I are not).

      Much of what you posted seems ridiculously abstract. For instance, I think my parents tried to impose quite a bit of discipline on me. Justification was usually just ‘it’s my house, so there.’ On the other hand, I think they largely failed, not because of culture, but because they were teenage parents and had no idea what they were doing, plus my dad suffered a lot of baggage from being hit so much as a kid and refusing to do the same to me. I was extremely strong-willed and ran roughshod over them a lot of the time, but maybe they let it go because I was such a smart kid and an outlier for my family so they figured I’d be fine regardless, which turned out to be true.

      But being anti-child? I’m not going to say I’ve never seen the sentiment expressed, probably because my two best friends from high school were both gay so I’ve spent a lot of time in gay culture where there is sometimes an air of disdain expressed toward ‘breeders,’ but that seems to be much different from what you’re talking about. I don’t have children and never will but I’m not anti-child. I have plenty of nieces now and they’re all awesome. I do wish my oldest sister had waited because she put off all the responsibility of actually paying for a kid onto my parents, but you know what? I guess they managed and family is family, even if a generation removed.

      This thing about basic minimum income is even more abstract. I have absolutely no idea what almost anyone in my family or in the peer groups I grew up in feel about this. I’ve discussed economic policy plans with my family exactly zero times in my life. This isn’t something we thought about at all. My mom mostly voted how the church said to vote and my dad mostly voted how the union said to vote and I don’t think either of them thought much of it. That usually meant they voted for different people, which sowed basically no discord because who cares? Voting is a pretty small and mostly insignificant part of life.

      Something fundamentally wrong about living entirely on other people, doing nothing productive? I’m not completely sure how to parse this statement. I’m glad you clarified, because my mom has never had a paying job, but has raised seven kids if you count the fact she basically raised my cousin and two of my sisters’ kids. My dad keeps nearing retirement and then putting it off because I don’t think he knows what else he’d do with his life if he didn’t need to work any more. On the other hand, there is no question there are people in the family who have just fundamentally leached off us for huge periods of time, but they’re family. We’d prefer they not, but we’re a unit, a team. We’re not going to let one fail while we still have the capacity to help. Arguably, that’s a weakness, enabling people to be losers, but we still do it or at least my parents definitely do it.

      But again, no country music, I think we’re universally horrified by the idea of a confederate flag, we don’t hunt, the people who own pickup trucks are all tradesmen who need it for work and otherwise eco-friendly sedans. We don’t use public transit, but there isn’t any in the LA suburbs so of course we don’t. Some of us are religious, but it’s Catholicism, which tends to place a lot of focus on caring for the poor and is popular in third-world countries full of brown people. We’re a mixed-ethnicity family. Both of my nieces are the daughters of immigrants, one of them even an illegal immigrant. However, since we actually know illegal immigrants (his mother brought him here when he was 2 and it’s not like he had a say in it), and they even look like us, and don’t just represent some far-off menace in border towns seven states away, we don’t fear them.

      This whole Blue/Red thing is looking more and more everyday like some vestige of the Yankee/Rebel divide that never resonated with people from a state that didn’t participate in the Civil War, whose family didn’t even live in this country when it happened, who are neither Anglican nor Black.

      • John Schilling says:

        From this description I would guess that your family is Hispanic, which is its own tribe.

        I think viewing American society through coarse “tribal” labels can be a useful approximation in some contexts. But at a minimum, there are Red and Blue and Grey and Brown and Black tribes. Probably others that I’m not thinking of right now. So the simple game where everyone who isn’t one of us nerdy rationalists gets quickly sorted into “Blue” or “Red” isn’t really going to work. And the one where everybody who votes for Democrats is “Blue” and everybody who votes for Republicans is “Red” but we use special terms rather than the party labels to show how clever we are, that doesn’t work either.

        And if we stop playing those games, how much use are we really getting out of the tribal labels any more? Maybe enough to justify trying to pin down the definitions the way David wants, but if we’re trying to fine-tune the definitions without even identifying all the tribes I think the effort is likely to devolve into stereotyping.

        • Adam says:

          Yep. I might be overestimating our own importance because I’ve either lived in California or Texas for most of my life, but damn people, there are a lot of us.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It seems like the stereotypes of “red” and “blue” that people go to are how the stereotypical (middle- or upper-middle class, college educated, white collar, urban) white Democrat supporter supposedly views the stereotypical (lower to lower-middle class, not college educated, blue-collar, suburban/small-town/rural) white Republican supporter, and vice versa. It’s how the stereotype views another stereotype.

          I say “how the stereotype views another stereotype” because I don’t know off the top of my head if, for instance, the median white Democrat supporter is actually college-educated, or not – but the stereotype is.

          Part of the problem is that, among winner-takes-all electoral systems, the US’s system is especially bad at supporting multiple parties. When you’ve got two big-tent parties with a lot of odd-bedfellows stuff going on, it’s hard to come up with an accurate view of what the “average party supporter” is like. Maybe even impossible.

        • NN says:

          Yeah, Blue Tribe and Red Tribe are largely labels for white Americans, though some members of ethnic minorities have been inducted into both of them (Bobby Jindal is clearly Red, Obama is obviously Blue, and I would guess that most middle-to-upper-class blacks are Blue as well), and some white populations are distinct tribes (including cajuns and probably some of the people in Appalachia).

          To be more specific, they’re generally labels for white and either Jewish, Christian, or non-religious (with some converts to Westernized versions of Buddhism and other “exotic” religions among the Blue Tribe) Americans. Most American Muslims, for example, don’t map to the Red/Blue tribe distinctions at all. In terms of religiosity and positions on social issues, they are much closer to the Red Tribe than the Blue Tribe, but since 2004 they’ve overwhelmingly supported the Democrats due largely to foreign policy and security issues and more recently due to stuff like Peter King’s “radicalization hearings” and Trump’s proposed Muslim immigration ban. American Muslims also tend to be pretty left-wing on economic issues. One could also argue that Mormons are their own distinct tribe. Their political positions match the stereotypical positions of the Red Tribe pretty much across the board, but they have a lot of distinct cultural traits that clearly differentiate them from, for example, my Facebook friends who live in rural Louisiana.

    • J Mann says:

      “Finally, consider a guaranteed minimum income not from the standpoint of whether it does or doesn’t work but whether the world it creates is attractive. From the red tribe point of view, there is something fundamentally wrong with someone living entirely on other people, doing nothing productive himself.”

      David, my experience with red tribe thoughts on this is that they think that not working (again, which can include unpaid work) is harmful to the individual in almost all cases, and that it’s also morally suspect. So it’s not unlike, say smoking.

      IMHO, blue tribe members are a little bit more likely to assume excusing circumstances – that if someone’s not working, they presumably have a good reason.

      • My impression, largely from discussion here, is that many people are comfortable with the idea of a sizable fraction of the population living on a basic income without themselves producing anything. The “excusing circumstance” is that if those people try to get a job it won’t pay very much.

        To what extent the people comfortable with that fit the blue tribe picture in other ways I don’t know.

        • Shieldfoss says:

          I have two lines of approach towards UBI.

          The first is that I do not in fact believe that “a sizable fraction” would become pure lotuseaters worth nothing. Freed from the necessities of desperately scrabbling to survive, I would expect some to engage in ridiculous games of status, tearing each other down as they mark each other “heretic” for being unable – or unwilling – to learn and use the latest cultural shibboleths. Others would engage in poetry, in carpentry, in writing, in theater. Some would dedicate their time to becoming the best parents they could, rather than the best parents their remaining evening hours allow.

          The second is that even if a sizable fraction become lotus eaters, pure consumers whose existence has no external value, I would consider this an acceptable outcome given the alternative options. That is, I would not be “comfortable” with this state of affairs, but I would be more comfortable than I am with the current state of affairs where people desperately scrabble to survive and yet still suffer – and far more comfortable than with the future state of affairs where they starve to death from lack of economic value, automation having driven their value below that which is needed to trade for enough food.

          I still haven’t made it through all of Machinery of Freedom so maybe you address it later ( You may remember I wrote to you recently re: the price disparaty between the ebook and the physical version ) but that is my final objection to anarcho-capitalism and right-libertarianism: I do not believe those systems would work adequately (through charity and improved efficiency of trade ) to feed the poor.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Shieldfoss
            The first is that I do not in fact believe that “a sizable fraction” would become pure lotuseaters worth nothing.

            Are there no studies we could look at, of people who already don’t have to work for a living (or not many hours). Retirees on adequate pensions. Semi-retired business owners or people living on their investments. Even trust fund babies.

        • J Mann says:

          David, I thought we were talking about blue and red tribe, not grey tribe. 😉

          The red tribers I know honestly believe that even low paying work is good for people, and the blue tribers think that low status work is sufficiently demeaning that it doesn’t do anyone any good.

          For a grey tribe view, I recall one of the libertarianish economists (Cowen or maybe somebody on Econlog?) arguing that a UBI isn’t much of a problem economically because most of the people who would drop out don’t produce very much that the economy values.

    • John Schilling says:

      For Blue Tribe, sex is for having fun with your friends. For Red Tribe, sex is for creating and maintaining families.

      • J Mann says:

        It’s true, it’s true! We’re so lame!!

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I have sex for fun.

      • The Nybbler says:

        That may be the official position of the tribal elders, but having gone to high school in a Red Tribe area, I know it does not hold in practice. Not among the teenagers, and not among the adults.

        • Anonymous says:

          Any of of you “greys” pretending to give a damn about “poor whites” know what the CMA country song of the year was?

          “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town?

          You people act like Seinfeld and Thai Food hadn’t made it down here.

          As if Willie and Merle and David Allan Coe concerts weren’t packed with young progressives…

          • J Mann says:

            Be fair, Anon – the greys are more curious than “pretending to give a damn.” Clueless Red tribe anthropology is IMHO OK, because it indicates an actual desire to understand and is capable of improvement.

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            “Girl Crush” isn’t actually about homosexuality. It’s about feeling envy over the girl your man is going after instead of you. Just an EVEN MORE INSECURE version of TSwift’s “You Belong to Me. ”

            I mean, obviously they learned enough about the general acceptance of homosexuality to leverage queerbaiting for their own purposes, but it’s still not even at “I Kissed a Girl” or “Poker Face” levels of homoeroticism. They really “no homo”d their use of the girl crush phrase as hard as they could. It’s basically akin to “going to go shopping with my girlfriends.”

          • Anyoneofyou says:

            I didn’t have to prove Girl Crush was a lesbian separatist song to demonstrate what a joke the SSC’s red/blue schema is.

          • ChetC3 says:

            It can’t be a joke if enough rationalists take it seriously.

          • NN says:

            “Girl Crush” isn’t actually about homosexuality. It’s about feeling envy over the girl your man is going after instead of you. Just an EVEN MORE INSECURE version of TSwift’s “You Belong to Me. ”

            I mean, obviously they learned enough about the general acceptance of homosexuality to leverage queerbaiting for their own purposes, but it’s still not even at “I Kissed a Girl” or “Poker Face” levels of homoeroticism. They really “no homo”d their use of the girl crush phrase as hard as they could. It’s basically akin to “going to go shopping with my girlfriends.”

            Even if it isn’t really about the first thing that comes to mind upon reading the title and hearing the lyrics, the fact that the singer was comfortable using those words and imagery without worrying about a backlash does say something. Remember than less than 20 years ago, Jerry Falwell accused Teletubbies of spreading gay propaganda.

            Incidentally, through my Facebook friendships with people who live in rural Louisiana, I have witnessed a noticeable increase in the tolerance of same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general among those demographics, or at least among young people in those demographics, over the past few years. When gay marriage was legalized last year, I saw no objections and a few celebratory posts from that crowd. The furor over the Indiana pizza parlor, on the other hand…

            Whoever came up with the idea of advocating gay rights through a campaign that constantly sent the message of, “don’t be afraid of us Middle America, all we want to do is get married, move to the suburbs, and raise 2.5 kids just like you!” was a genius.

    • SWPL stuff white people like – whole book full of ‘blue tribe’ mores and mannerisms

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I wonder how the gray tribe fits into this, as far as child-rearing tendencies and views on productivity.

      I tend to lean more grayish as far as cultural attitudes, even though my politics are pretty blue. I have no plans to have kids so I can’t speak to the former, but as far as a GMI, to me, the questions “does it work?” and “does it create a more attractive world?” are the same to me. It can only be said to be “working” if it creates a better world.

      For both the blue and red tribes, it seems like the question is more about moral attitudes, regardless of how effective it is. The red tribe asks, “is it moral for people to be receiving something they haven’t earned?” and the blue tribe asks, “do people have a fundamental right to be provided for?” and the answers to those questions guide their attitude on the question (and questions in general, it seems to me) regardless of the overall utilitarian benefit.

      My attitude toward productivity is that it’s a virtue insofar as it’s necessary and beneficial (which, currently, it is). If we lived in a society where machines did all the work for us and we had infinite leisure time, productivity wouldn’t be a value, which would make the red tribe’s value system rather antiquated…though they’d probably see such a world as inherently problematic even if the overall quality of life was good, because to them work is the source of dignity.

      Whereas the blue tribe, at the more extreme end, seems to find work not inherently dignifying but inherently demeaning and associates it with being exploited by capitalist fat cats…or at least, they tend to be scornful toward the concept of meritocracy. To them there’s actually more dignity in receiving a check from the government than working a crappy low-level job, because to them it’s not “charity” but claiming something they’re owed, a concept which the red tribe finds alien and repellent.

      I read a study once that said children tend to transition from an egalitarian view (everyone gets an equal number of cookies because that’s fair) to a meritocratic view (people who’ve done more work get more cookies) when they learn how to count. So I’m tempted to be a smart-ass and say that the blue tribe’s values come from being bad at math.

      Then again, the meritocratic view only makes sense in a world where you’re trying to motivate people to be as productive as possible. And it’s arguable that it doesn’t apply to modern capitalism because the system is incredibly complicated and the ones who get the most cookies are the ones who learn how to work the system as opposed to providing the most units of productive labor. And in a system like that, you could argue that the attitude of “doing hard work=being exploited by those in power” is not all that illogical.

      Though, taken to its end-point and combined with the concept that people are owed a living, it results in a society of people who have no emotional or financial incentive to work, which creates some obvious issues.

      • Pku says:

        The counting thing seems like it could easily be a coincidence – kids learn to count about the same age that adults start having expectations of them, which could lead to them becoming meritocratic because they’re learning “do stuff to win approval/rewards”.
        (Aside from that I agree with you).
        (Also, that username is either a fairly obscure if underappreciated rabbit or a massive coincidence. I’m hoping it’s the former).

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          Yeah, I’d agree…I found the study interesting but I’d be kind of surprised if tribal divisions actually had any connection to math ability.

          And yep, it’s the former. 🙂

    • Furslid says:

      I was thinking on a test for tribal membership, and it hits other tribes as well as red, blue and grey. I think it shows some differences between tribes as well.

      Rank the following 10 people in western culture from most to least admirable based on what they are famous for. Use the archetype of what they are famous for, not your personal preferences. For instance, John Lennon is on the list. Even if you don’t like the Beatles, but view being a musician as super admirable rank him highly. Similarly, rank Sean Connery on being an actor not his views on women.

      -John Lennon
      -George Patton
      -Mark Twain
      -Thomas Edison
      -Steve Jobs
      -Al Capone
      -Sean Connery
      -Steven Hawking
      -Neil Armstrong
      -Brett Favre

      I’m interested in how the ranking matches tribal membership, and I know that my ranking makes me obviously Gray.

      This could also make a very interesting non-political political survey. For instance, do people who admire Sean Connery more than Neil Armstrong overwhelmingly support gun control? And what about the tribe that ranks Al Capone highly.

      • null says:

        Armstrong, Patton, Twain, Hawking, Connery, Edison, Favre, Lennon, Jobs, Capone.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I’d bump Jobs to left a bit but that’s pretty much my order as well.

          • null says:

            I believe there is someone who we would rank significantly differently, but I’m not sure who.

          • Anonymous says:

            @null: You were supposed to rank both Patton and Favre lower. Unless the latter is at your “indifferent” level, with the last three at varying levels of dislike.

          • null says:

            Favre is ‘indifferent’, as you surmised.

      • science2 says:

        Hawking, Edison, Jobs
        Twain, Lennon, Armstrong, Connery, Farve
        Patton, Capone

        The only one that was tough was Armstrong because I’m not sure what archetype he was supposed to represent. I tend to think human spaceflight was and is mostly dumb posturing.

        • null says:

          I’m not sure this test is intended to rank archetypes rather than people. At least for me, I considered Patton rather than ‘general’, and Lennon rather than ‘popular musician’. If I had considered archetypes my answers would probably have been a little different.

          • science2 says:

            I think the original post was edited at some point, because I remember seeing GRRM instead of Twain. So maybe when you read it, it didn’t have this part:

            Use the archetype of what they are famous for, not your personal preferences. For instance, John Lennon is on the list. Even if you don’t like the Beatles, but view being a musician as super admirable rank him highly.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          I had the same problem with Jobs. Is he there representing tech CEOs, CEOs in general, or glib, messianic hucksters in general?

          • science2 says:

            Just to be perfectly clear, this is my ranking with archetype names:
            Scientists, Inventors, Entrepreneurs (creators)
            Authors, Musicians, Explorers?, Actors, Athletes (entertainers)
            Generals, Organized Crime Bosses (destroyers)

          • Richard says:

            Science2s categories are fine except I am ambivalent about placing authors and musicians among creators or entertainers. Maybe the difference is lasting value? e.g. Mozart > Katrina and the waves?

            I would at least occasionally place destroyers above entertainers for net value to society because sometimes you really need destruction.

            The two examples given:
            No Patton -> World wide nazism
            No Al Capone -> prohibition succeeds -> everything else some moralist don’t like gets banned -> totalitarian regime. Come to think of it, not much different than the result of no Patton.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Armstrong
        Edison
        Twain
        Hawking
        Patton
        Lennon
        Connery
        Jobs
        Favre
        Capone

        Armstrong because Moon, yay!
        Edison for the myriad practical inventions he is directly or indirectly responsible for
        Twain because his writing should stand for all time
        Hawking because his valuable contributions to physics can’t be denied
        I think Patton is overrated somewhat, but still probably the best American or British ground commander of that war.
        Lennon for being a content creator, although not one as great as Twain
        Then Connery
        I never got the Steve Jobs worship
        Favre just kind of seems like BRUTE STRENGTH to me, although I admire him as an athlete.
        Capone seems pretty brilliant but also is, y’know, evil.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        George Patton, Steven Hawking, Edison & Jobs, Neil Armstrong, Mark Twain, Sean Connery, Brett Favre, Al Capone & John Lennon.
        (Yeah, I don’t like Maoists. Would have been different if you’d used Paul or George,)

      • Nornagest says:

        Armstrong, Edison, Patton, Hawking, Twain, Lennon, Jobs, Connery, Favre, Capone.

        Twain is close to Hawking — but I would have rated Turing or Gauss or Newton higher. Favre and Jobs and Connery are all close to each other, but you could talk me into rating Connery on par with Lennon if he represents film rather than actors, or Jobs higher if he’s supposed to represent businessmen or entrepreneurs rather than marketeers or celebrity designers.

        This list would look very different if I was ranking people rather than archetypes, though.

      • Steven says:

        Edison, Jobs, Hawking, Twain, Patton, Armstrong, Connery, Favre, Lennon, Capone
        Greyish Red

      • Shion Arita says:

        1: Steven Hawking
        2: Neil Armstrong
        3: Thomas Edison
        4: John Lennon
        5: Mark Twain
        6: Steve Jobs
        7: Sean Connery
        8: George Patton
        9: Brett Favre
        10: Al Capone

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      You could have a version of BI that’s dependent on doing something constructive.

    • Anonymous says:

      But a life that consists simply of generating utility for yourself at the expense of others, even if those others can easily afford it, feels wrong.

      Not true, I think, for blue tribe.

      Disagree. I think it feels wrong to nearly anybody. (The difference will be in how people model others: Feels wrong to others = Blue, Feels right to others = Red.)

    • Anonymous Coward says:

      Regarding generating utility for yourself: maybe there are some people who like to do nothing but do that, but I think the picture is more complicated.

      For example, typical anti-productive is playing video games or watching TV. But I don’t think all people who do that are doing it are doing it for the self-indulgence. I feel many are escaping real-world problems with that (which they are unwilling to talk about).

      It’s so much about habits. I have been in my life very productive and very unproductive (different times). When you build habit of being productive, being productive is not hard actually BUT it’s easy to lose the habit if something bad happens (break-up, unemployment, family responsibilities etc). Also a lot about environment, relationships etc.

      I think having strong social circle which protects you is the key here. It’s the people who go outside social circles or become isolated for other reasons (plenty in modern world) who are in danger.

  3. Skef says:

    There’s what I take is a fairly familiar argument that the game of Go as played by people is more interesting and subtle than the game of Chess, which is made partly on the basis of the relative sizes of the game trees and the differences in difficulty of designing computer programs to play the games well against humans. But that difference alone is only particularly interesting if people are really (to put it crudely) competing across the whole space of those trees. If, instead, the contemporary human Go game is only in a small subset of the potential space of competition, then it makes total sense that the AlphaGo approach would work: just design a big neural network to recognize and participate in that tiny part of the space humans are competing in and attach that to a Monte Carlo tree search.

    If so, the total game space of Go would be a red herring. The problem of computers playing the game would not be the overall size of the space (because perhaps nothing tractable would be competitive there) but simply characterizing the particular relevant subset to play in.

    From the coverage of the current match, there does seem to be some evidence that that is the case. There have apparently been drastic changes in overall playing style when new ideas have suddenly succeeded against the then-existing ones. And the common openings have also apparently changed over the past few decades.

    When the AlphaGo successor is trained without the human game database (which the company has said is an upcoming step), the result could provide more evidence that the human Go game is like this. One possibility is that it evolves its own style that’s largely incommensurable with the contemporary human style, and games where a person plays the computer just don’t make much sense for a while (above the sub-board level, where lots of properties and effects are well understood).

    I think that also means that there’s a specific sense in which Chess might be a better game for people: the game tree is such that absolute space is of a size and nature that humans can approach playing the absolute game specified by the pieces and rules, as opposed to a point in a subset of the space reached by a process of social evolution. So there’s an identified game properly called Chess, and some people can really play it, or approach playing it. On the other, hand, there’s no reason anyone should necessarily care about that.

    • tanuki says:

      I really do think the size of the game tree—specifically, the breadth of the tree—is fundamental to what people call the “subtlety” of go.

      In chess, it’s common to have positions where there’s only a small number (maybe two to five) of playable moves; anything not on the shortlist will lose the game in a clear and immediate way. With the help of some clever tree-pruning heuristics, this means that precise calculation is a large part of chess skill.

      In go, it’s common to have positions where ten or more different moves are, at first glance, equally playable. This means that chess-style calculation is often futile. Instead, people (and now computers!) have come up with heuristics that work for a large fraction of the search space. Calculation is replaced by informed guesswork.

      Restricting your play to a small fraction of the tree just doesn’t work. It’s always possible for the opponent to play a “random” move that takes you out of the space that you’ve studied. Their move might be suboptimal, but if you don’t know how to handle the resulting position then you can stlil lose.

      Having said this, I agree that there’s potential for a future “unsupervised” AlphaGo to emerge with a different style. I hope we get to see such a thing!

    • Nomghost says:

      This is very interesting. If I understand your point correctly, it could be boiled down to ‘human go is probably highly idiomatic’. It would be fascinating to see an alien play go, or indeed, train Alphago’s neural networks from nothing, rather than using human databases.

      That said, I think that the close fighting part of the game, the ‘tactical’ part, would remain largely the same. The basic moves of the game like ‘hane’, ‘nobi’, ‘keima’, ‘kakari’, etc. etc. exist in human go because they work, and have been shown over thousands of years and millions of games to be effective. It’s less ‘socialisation’ and more a process of selection, in this case. Aliens playing go would still grapple for ‘sente’ (tempo, initiative), they’d still play in the corners first (probably!), they’d still enclose corners and extend from enclosures. I’m prepared to make this argument because human go players – particularly beginners – constantly play bad moves (even moves completely outside of the ‘human part’ of the game-tree), and part of getting stronger is learning to refute those moves. Certain tactical moves have survived not because of socialisation or convention, but because players who played them won their matches, won amateur tournaments as kids, won professional certifications as go players, won their professional matches, got their games studied and memorised by younger players.

      This said, as far as the opening of the game goes, it would probably be totally different. These openings (the first 4-10 moves or so) vary so much according to fashion, nationality, the mood of the player. When you ask even top-level pros whether a particular move is better in the opening, they just shrug and say ‘A, B and C are all good moves’. It seems to be way beyond human abilities to make accurate statements about the strength of moves in the opening – we often resort to statistical analysis of pro-game databases.

      I’m trying to say that go is a lot like a really practical martial art. A martial art where you don’t protect yourself against sharp strikes to the neck and the sides of your head won’t be around for long. With the exception of say, Aikido, but go is not like Aikido – bad moves of any kind are ruthlessly punished, causing the loss of the game and, if repeated enough, the termination of any futures where that player’s style could influence others. Certain basic tactics exist for a reason, and I expect aliens playing go would converge on the same tactics. That said, overall opening strategy could differ significantly from human convention – we see great variability even in human go in the last few hundred years.

      The really exciting thing is that we have basically created an alien go machine, and I’m extremely curious to see how it plays if they train it without the human database of patterns.

      • Skef says:

        “I think that the close fighting part of the game, the ‘tactical’ part, would remain largely the same.”

        Yes, this is definitely the case. That’s what I was trying to get at with the caveat about the “sub-board level”.

    • Pku says:

      I’ll add in here that I was surprised by how large the inter-pro variance is. I would’ve expected the gap from computer that can occasionally beat some pro to computer that can always beat every pro would be fairly small, but after months of additional training, alphago still did *worse* against Lee Sedol than against Fan Hui.

    • Shieldfoss says:

      As an occasional Go player, there is one particular development that I would expect a “perfect Go algorithm” that “solves” Go to do very differently than humans:

      Play move 1 on Tengen.

      For those unfamiliar with Go, the board is symmetric and mirrored – that is, every move has a mirror move on the other side of the board. EXCEPT Tengen. Tengen is the center point [10,10] with points 1-9 on one side of it and 11-19 on the other.

      This makes it likely that Tengen is either the best or the worst starting position, and it is definitely not the worst (e.g. [6,6] and its three equivalents are worse) so it is likely the best – but nobody who plays competitive Go put their starting stone there, because in practice, doing so leads to losing the game if playing an equal-skill opponent.

      I suspect that this is because humans cannot comprehend simultaneously all the things necessary to take advantage of the benefits of owning Tengen. A go algorithm running on sufficient memory and having “solved” Go would. (If I am right about the value of Tengen. I could be wrong, obviously)

      • David says:

        Maybe! I bet you have other reasons for suspecting tengen, but I think that the uniqueness of tengen alone is not *that* a good argument for it being best (or worst).

        A priori, it’s just as plausible that any other move (after modding out by symmetry) is best. Such as that the 5-5 point is better than than tengen, and in such a case there wouldn’t be a *unique* best move obviously, but logically there’s still no problem with there being 4 best moves.

        In fact, I think it’s reasonably likely that there are *many* best moves. Excluding all moves on the first and second lines, there are 36 unique first moves after modding out by symmetry. And I think it’s a pretty good conjecture that nearly all non-first-line-non-second-line opening moves are within say 4-5 points of another in how good they are (komi suggests an opening move is worth ~15 points and it would be quite surprising if a typical opening move somewhere random in the center loses more than 1/3 of the value of a stone compared to some other point). Packing 36 moves into a range of size 4-5 means that you have to have lots of moves with equal values, which makes a decent chance that the optimal value is also achieved by multiple moves even after modding out by symmetry (although obviously very far from guaranteed).

        • Peter says:

          I think that how many “best” moves there are depends on whose playing. If we’re imagining a hypothetical bigger-than-the-universe computer that plays via exhaustive minimax search right to the end of the game vs another such computer, then there’s a fairly coarse granularity of points – the winning margin can only be an-integer-and-a-half moku and probably a low integer at that, so it wouldn’t be surprising if more than one opening move (correcting for symmetry) worked out the best.

          Against real players who are subject to things that are random or which can only be modelled with some randomness[1], I think it’s entirely possible for one move to be better than another move by a very fine margin, if you’re calculating by expected number of points or probability of winning. So the possible values can be modelled as reals, and it would seem like a freakish co-incidence for two opening moves to have exactly the same value.

          [1] I mean, I play better Go than someone playing legal moves at random, but there are going to be cases where two moves are finely balanced and any old process going on in my brain could tip the balance. Or even cases where there’s a good move and whether I spot it or not will depend on chance influences on the way my eyes and thoughts move.

      • baconbacon says:

        I think you are making a mistake in classifying “best” and “worst”. In games it is usually more helpful to classify a move has having an impact or not. The best move has an impact as it increases your chances of winning, the worst move has an impact because it increases your chances of losing. Tengen, by your description, sounds functionally neutral. It doesn’t confer an advantage or disadvantage in itself, but by the loss of a move it confers a disadvantage.

        • Shieldfoss says:

          Tengen confers an enormous advantage through the entire game by providing influence in every single fight on the board.

          It’s just not influence enough compared to the points advantage of starting Hoshi or Komoku.

          At least, so it is for human players.

          • baconbacon says:

            I only know the basics of Go, but it doesn’t sound like you are disagreeing (to my ears).

            On a gradient of opening moves where does Tengen lie? 2nd best? In the middle?

  4. onyomi says:

    Can we envision a future in which AI satisfactorily answers fundamental philosophical questions in a way that is satisfying to most humans? On the one hand, if it’s much smarter than us, it might be able to convince us even of incorrect things, which is scary… but, even given that possibility, might an AI produce say, a philosophical proof or disproof of the existence of god or of a certain type of morality that we would find both intelligible and more satisfying than any yet produced by a human mind? Is it also not possible that answers to such questions do exist but are not explicable to human brains? (We are much smarter than ants, for example, but that doesn’t mean we can explain to them how a steam engine works). That said, the problem of how to explain things to things which are much stupider than you is itself a problem which a sufficiently smart AI might be able to solve?

    • Eli says:

      Can we envision a future in which AI satisfactorily answers fundamental philosophical questions in a way that is satisfying to most humans?

      At least for humans who are willing to listen to some lessons about cognitive psychology and how their philosophical questions got formed, thus giving shape to how they might be satisfactorily answered, then yes, I can imagine such a thing very clearly (in fact, it’s more or less what I kinda want to write as the “Future Work” section for a paper someday when I go back to grad school).

      The big problem here is that to a great degree, people treat, “I will not accept answers to Philosophical Question X of kind Y” as a polite way to phrase, “I want reality to work in way Z and will not accept being told otherwise.”

      My point being, large schools of current-day philosophy are elaborate attempts to construct some rickety, shaking justification for the belief that naturalism cannot possibly work.

      On the one hand, if it’s much smarter than us, it might be able to convince us even of incorrect things, which is scary…

      For purposes of this useful thought experiment, let’s assume the AIs are reliably human-friendly and answer all problems put to them truthfully and without nasty side-effects.

      Is it also not possible that answers to such questions do exist but are not explicable to human brains?

      No. Given sufficient resources (time, paper) our brains are probabilistic-Turing complete. We’re capable of comprehending any idea that can be formed, even though it might take a long time. Certainly I expect half-decent AI designed to answer philosophical questions to understand enough about humans to make the answers easily digestible.

      That said, the problem of how to explain things to things which are much stupider than you is itself a problem which a sufficiently smart AI might be able to solve?

      Many uses of the term “smart” and “stupid” within humanity are attribution errors: attributing good inferences to “that guy has Smart Juice in his brain” rather than “that guy has lots of accurate information on which to base inferences.”

      • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

        “My point being, large schools of current-day philosophy are elaborate attempts to construct some rickety, shaking justification for the belief that naturalism cannot possibly work.”

        And other large schools of current-day philosophy are elaborate attempts to construct some rickety, shaking justification for the belief that naturalism can possibly work.

        I say this as a philosophy PhD student who has been a naturalist for most of my adult life but recently, through reading the arguments in the literature and through trying to defend naturalism, became convinced that it has at least as many problems as the alternatives. They are different problems, but problems nonetheless.

        • Eli says:

          Please name one observable phenomenon not explicable via naturalism.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The obvious response would be that the concept that human life / consciousness is somehow valuable has no basis in a naturalistic frame.

            As such any naturalist who isn’t also a nihilist lacks the courage to follow their convictions to their natural end. That we are all just meat.

          • Viliam says:

            The obvious response would be that the concept that human life / consciousness is somehow valuable has no basis in a naturalistic frame.

            I guess it’s only valuable for humans, more precisely for those who are not psychopaths, and we also have mechanisms for turning that feeling off if those humans belong to a different tribe.

            But why exactly is admitting this a problem? Are philosophers trying to justify their values to a hypothetical mind made of perfect emptiness? (What do we expect to receive from that hypothetical mind in return for our rhetorical efforts?)

          • Eli says:

            The value of human life to humans is an observable, naturalistic fact. Read your Peter Railton, people!

            As such any naturalist who isn’t also a nihilist lacks the courage to follow their convictions to their natural end. That we are all just meat.

            Translation: “Boo naturalism! I don’t wanna read ethics and meta-ethics texts by naturalists! I wanna ignore that they exist!”

            At least in rigorous philosophy, things are required to be true to be accepted, not emotionally satisfying.

            Besides which, I find it much more emotionally satisfying to be meat than Warp-stuff. Meat is an integral part of a causal universe rich with possibilities. Meat has compatibilist free will, the only kind that really works. If you find yourself made of spooky soul-stuff, you might try to claim that makes you Objectively Valuable in a way that being a child of God or being made of meat wouldn’t, but usually it just means that dark gods of the abyss want to eat you. Besides which, “valuable” requires a valuer.

          • Maware says:

            If human life were valued, we wouldn’t have martyrdom, suicide, war, or self-harm. Naturalistic people do a LOT of question begging and just-so stories when pressed.

          • suntzuanime says:

            If money were valued we wouldn’t spend it.

          • Maware says:

            Human lives aren’t things to be spent. Money itself is valueless, what it represents is time or power. Bad analogy.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Viliam asks: But why exactly is admitting this a problem?

            It isn’t per se. The problem arises when one tries to make moral or ethical pronouncements on naturalistic grounds. In short, they end up as appeals to what “feels right” rather than what is rigorous/true.

            Eli says: At least in rigorous philosophy, things are required to be true to be accepted, not emotionally satisfying.

            Exactly! and that is why I think that the vast majority of naturalist ethics texts are bullshit. They reject the logical, but emotionally abhorrent, conclusion suggested by their philosophy in favor of just-so stories.

            Edit:
            @ Maware, I agree on all counts.

          • Eli says:

            @Hlynkacg, logically, you can’t agree with Maware. I was asking for an observable phenomenon not explicable via naturalism. If you agree with Maware that the value or valuing of human lives is not observed, then you’ve certainly left the naturalist with no puzzles.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Sure I can.

            The challenge was to identify a phenomenon that naturalists treat as is real and observable but that is not explicable via naturalism.

            I did that.

            The fact that the phenomenon in question does not hold up under naturalistic examination is the whole point.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            If human life were valued, we wouldn’t have martyrdom, suicide, war, or self-harm.

            Those things are generally frowned on, specifically because human life is valued. With the possible exception of martyrdom, but the reason that’s considered noble (by some people anyway) is that the individual is giving up something highly valuable (their life) in order to serve a cause. If human life were considered of no value, no one would have any cause to honor martyrs.

            War happens for various reasons but often because people usually value their own lives, the lives of loved ones, and the lives of people in their culture more than they value the lives of strangers in another culture, and they see war (rightly or wrongly) as a way of protecting themselves from hostile enemies. That doesn’t mean human life is worthless to them, just that they consider some lives to be more valuable than others. Which you could say is pretty fucked up, but still, there’s a difference between “some people are willing to kill a stranger in order to save a friend” and “no one considers human life to be valuable in any regard.”

          • Furslid says:

            hlynkacg, you are voicing an incomplete thought. Things are not valuable in vacuum.

            “X is valuable” is not a complete thought. The complete thought is “X is valuable to Y”

            So are humans valuable? They are to me and other humans. Almost every person can potentially help me achieve some end of mine.

            What agent is doing the valuing in your criticism?

          • All phenomena themselves.

      • Nice post. Putting aside cognitive enhancement for now, given that humans have limited short term working memory that can hold only a finite (<10 ?) "things" for contemplation at a time, could it be possible that certain philosophical concepts require a greater number of components and thus are impossible to really comprehend? Or, perhaps if you feel we can do this by lengthy analysis in longer term memory or external memory, could it be possible that processing in this form could require a period longer than the human lifespan? I have no position on this but, despite being quite into science, my intuition tells me to question the assumption the idea humans can understand everything given enough time.

    • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

      I’m pretty confident that a superintelligent AI would be able to provide satisfying answers to most philosophical questions. However, it would also be able to provide satisfying incorrect answers to most philosophical questions; it could convince us to believe pretty much whatever it wants, precisely because philosophy is so confusing and difficult to empirically test. This is very scary, for obvious reasons.

      But also for a not-so-obvious reason: I think that even a *benevolent* superintelligent AI may make mistakes about fundamental philosophical questions and come to have incorrect and even irrational views about them. So even if we solve the Control Problem, we still have to worry about this. You might think that philosophical errors won’t matter much, and you’re mostly right, but (a) it would be bad if we’re all permanently deceived about philosophical truths due to a glitch in the initial AI program, and (b) sometimes philosophical errors can lead to drastic consequences, like misjudging which systems are conscious and which aren’t.

      • Eli says:

        Honestly, if you don’t have a scientifically-grounded theory of how consciousness works, and have to resort to fucking Chalmers and Mary’s Room, why the hell do you think it’s a good idea to go around knocking people unconscious?

        This is the question I pose to hypothetical future robots who don’t check before tampering with other people’s minds.

        • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

          We can’t have a scientifically-grounded theory of consciousness until we have a good philosophically-grounded theory of consciousness. (Probably the two will develop in tandem of course) My worry is that robots might be mistaken on the level of philosophy, and thus *think* that they have a good scientifically grounded theory of consciousness, and be wrong.

          A helpful analogy: You might think that we can have a scientifically-grounded theory of ethics without having to worry about doing philosophy or metaethics. Someone who thinks this will likely end up essentially assuming whatever theory of metaethics finds its way into their head first. For concreteness, let’s suppose they decide that ethics is really just happiness-maximization, and that happiness is a simple reward-circuit type of brain state. So they do some science to figure out what happiness is exactly, and lo! It turns out to be the sort of thing that can be achieved with drugs, and that consequently the way to maximize total happiness is to tile the universe with orgasmium. They then go do that, confident that they have Science on their side.

          Obviously one worries about an AI doing this. They call this the “Value Alignment Problem” perhaps, or maybe it’s just a part of the Control Problem. I worry about something similar happening with epistemology.

          • Eli says:

            We can’t have a scientifically-grounded theory of consciousness until we have a good philosophically-grounded theory of consciousness.

            Why? Where is it Established that:

            1) Philosophy illuminates more than it confuses,
            2) Science cannot be done or done well without the illumination of Philosophy?

          • LTP says:

            @Eli

            Because all scientific investigation has philosophical assumptions behind it. You can pretend they’re not there, not explicitly state them, and thus smuggle a bunch of assumptions in with you, but they are there.

          • Dirdle says:

            Because all scientific investigation has philosophical assumptions behind it. You can pretend they’re not there, not explicitly state them, and thus smuggle a bunch of assumptions in with you, but they are there.

            There are at least three things going on here.

            First, and mercifully not relevant here except as a contribution to the microwave background hostility, most of the times people have encountered “you can’t have any science if you don’t eat your philosophy” it’s been as part of a “… so stop talking about/worrying about/working on these AIs/quantum computers/theories of the origin of the universe, they’re logically impossible” structure of argument. Yes, we’re all too smart for that, but the scientismists can definitely be forgiven for jumpy defensiveness.

            Second, there are assumptions behind science, yes, but what does saying we need to “ground” the science in a solid philosophical basis actually do? What does it mean? It seems like the course is supposed to run:
            Sienso: We intend to test out theory of consciousness using this computer model to …
            Phillipia: But you have not grounded your theory. You need to air out your basic assumptions or the whole thing is meaningless.
            Sienso: Well, we’re using the standard modern-science assumptions of naturalism, Popperian falsification, that kind of thing. You know, the same assumptions geologists and astronomers and organic chemists use, that you never seem to question when they’re using them.
            Phillipia: Oh, you poor sad fool! Those are all highly questionable philosophical positions – why, just recently several new flaws in naturalism were revealed, no one takes falsificationism seriously any more, and if you’re not careful I’ll accuse you of logical positivism to boot.
            You can see why Sienso is not so keen to run down this path. Phillipia might feel better knowing that Sienso has at least done a little research into their field from the philosophical angle, but Sienso thinks they’re being asked to add a bunch of pointless caveats to their results.

            Essentially, the question “what if the assumptions underlying the scientific approach to these philosophical questions turn out to be flawed” seems like it can be answered “what if they’re not?” If so, we might actually learn something about the philosophical issue, but there’s no way to find out if we get caught up in speculating about the relative merits of the assumptions. That is: the best way to test the assumptions is to just make them and see if it goes anywhere. For this to happen, Phillipia needs to either duck out of the conversation if they can’t keep up with the technical aspects, or contribute questions that make it easier rather than harder to move forward. This is what we would like from science and philosophy working on the questions together, but I can’t think of any good examples of how philosophy could directly, definitely contribute to advancement in any of the contested areas. Is such collaboration really possible, or is insisting that we need it just a way to say the same “stop trying to do something that we think only we can do” as the first thing while being a bit more polite about it?

            So, even if Phillipia is arguing entirely in good faith, the natural course of the discussion is away from what Sienso is interested in and towards an interminable argument. Which are the third thing – since when has ‘achieving a grounded philosophical view of [field of inquiry]’ ever happened? As far as I know, philosophy has settled exactly nothing over millenia of effort. Some ideas have been struck down – a subset of those by philosophy itself rather than by science – but the majority of philosophical questions have gotten wordier without getting any closer to being resolved. How long should we expect to be waiting for a philosophical grounding for scientific work in consciousness? Is there any reason to expect the scientific investigation to not at least make interesting progress in its own way, even if you’re sure there are watertight reasons to believe that nothing they can possibly find is really, truly, cosmically consciousness?

            And if they then come over the fence and start telling you that actually the thing they’ve found is the real deal and no other kind of consciousness need apply, when it’s obvious that it’s just some minor result – well, then it’s their turn to be told off for overstepping. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

          • Eli says:

            Indeed! And in this particular case, Phillipia seems to be saying, “Don’t bother with that ‘claustrum’ thing in the brain or with the wake-sleep cycle, let alone the free-energy minimization theory of how the brain models the world. What you really need to bother with is p-zombies. Yes, I know you have a chain of interesting reductions from cognitive science to neuroscience and statistical thermodynamics to cellular and molecular biology to organic chemistry to atomic physics to subatomic physics. But listen to my billiard-ball metaphors for particles: billiard balls can’t be conscious, so p-zombies are a thing. Yes, seriously.”

          • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

            Eli: You keep asking me to defend irrelevant straw-man positions which I never advocated, and your tone is demeaning to boot, so I’m going to bow out of this conversation.

            Dirdle: Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Here is my response:

            “…most of the times people have encountered “you can’t have any science if you don’t eat your philosophy” it’s been as part of a “… so stop talking about/worrying about/working on these AIs/quantum computers/theories of the origin of the universe, they’re logically impossible” structure of argument. Yes, we’re all too smart for that, but the scientismists can definitely be forgiven for jumpy defensiveness.”

            It’s true that various crazies have used philosophy to bash on science, and so perhaps some people can be forgiven for reacting so strongly against philosophy. But I’m not trying to cast blame, just to educate.

            “Second, there are assumptions behind science, yes, but what does saying we need to “ground” the science in a solid philosophical basis actually do? What does it mean?”

            Good question. This is an issue on which Eli straw-manned me. I’m not trying to say *we can’t do science until we do philosophy.* What I’m saying is that if we don’t do philosophy, we’re opening ourselves up to the possibility of being permanently and dramatically mistaken in our science. For example: If we think that Laws of Nature are literally Laws set down by God, as the original people who came up with the concept seem to have thought, and we don’t ever do any philosophy to question that, then the existence of God will be an unexamined assumption of science, and worse yet, people will eventually get confused and think science has actually proven it. My worry is that something similar might happen with consciousness.

            “Sienso: Well, we’re using the standard modern-science assumptions of naturalism, Popperian falsification, that kind of thing. You know, the same assumptions geologists and astronomers and organic chemists use, that you never seem to question when they’re using them.”

            You think philosophers only question these assumptions in some contexts but not others? When you question an assumption you are questioning it for everyone.

            “Phillipia might feel better knowing that Sienso has at least done a little research into their field from the philosophical angle, but Sienso thinks they’re being asked to add a bunch of pointless caveats to their results.”

            Sienso isn’t being asked to do anything different here! All I’m doing is trying to defend the importance of philosophy. Again, I’m not saying that we need to do philosophy *before* we do science (sorry for being unclear about this earlier) I’m just saying that we need to keep track of our philosophical assumptions so we can question them in case they turn out to be wrong. Scientists can continue doing what they are doing; they just have to leave the philosophizing to the philosophers. (unless they are trained in philosophy themselves, which would be awesome I would love to see that)

            “Essentially, the question “what if the assumptions underlying the scientific approach to these philosophical questions turn out to be flawed” seems like it can be answered “what if they’re not?” If so, we might actually learn something about the philosophical issue, but there’s no way to find out if we get caught up in speculating about the relative merits of the assumptions.”

            See above.

            “That is: the best way to test the assumptions is to just make them and see if it goes anywhere.”

            Whoa, whoa, hell no. Philosophical questions can’t be tested so easily. Sometimes they are testable, but certainly not by someone who doesn’t understand them. One needs at least a basic level of philosophical background to decide whether or not “it goes anywhere.”

            “For this to happen, Phillipia needs to either duck out of the conversation if they can’t keep up with the technical aspects, or contribute questions that make it easier rather than harder to move forward. This is what we would like from science and philosophy working on the questions together, but I can’t think of any good examples of how philosophy could directly, definitely contribute to advancement in any of the contested areas. Is such collaboration really possible, or is insisting that we need it just a way to say the same “stop trying to do something that we think only we can do” as the first thing while being a bit more polite about it?”

            See above. (I’m trying to keep my word count down here, but I’d be happy to say more if you ask.)

            “Since when has ‘achieving a grounded philosophical view of [field of inquiry]’ ever happened? As far as I know, philosophy has settled exactly nothing over millenia of effort. Some ideas have been struck down – a subset of those by philosophy itself rather than by science – but the majority of philosophical questions have gotten wordier without getting any closer to being resolved. How long should we expect to be waiting for a philosophical grounding for scientific work in consciousness?”

            Philosophy gets stuck with a higher standard than other disciplines. When our current best theories of physics make wrong predictions, we say (sensibly) “well, we don’t have the truth yet, but we are getting closer.” I say we ought to say the same thing about philosophy. (That being said, I do agree that philosophy has a pretty uninspiring track record in some ways. I just don’t think it’s enough to make us dismiss the whole discipline. We have to do philosophy better, not stop doing it entirely.)

            “Is there any reason to expect the scientific investigation to not at least make interesting progress in its own way, even if you’re sure there are watertight reasons to believe that nothing they can possibly find is really, truly, cosmically consciousness?”

            No, of course not. Again, I’m not trying to slow or stop scientific research, I’m just trying to keep room for philosophy. I am objecting to the idea that if we just do enough science, we won’t have to do any philosophy.

            “And if they then come over the fence and start telling you that actually the thing they’ve found is the real deal and no other kind of consciousness need apply, when it’s obvious that it’s just some minor result – well, then it’s their turn to be told off for overstepping. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

            If I understand you correctly, I think the bridge you speak of is being crossed all the time. Otherwise intelligent people who know next to nothing about philosophical positions like naturalism nevertheless say that science has established their truth *all the time.*

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I wish I could respond to these points in more depth, but:

            I don’t see the “philosophy police” going around and stopping people from doing work in neuroscience or AI. What I see is resistance to people taking findings in these fields and presenting them as if they were answers to questions in philosophy of mind!

            Analogy: maybe you think “can we really know anything, and if so, how do we do it?” is a stupid question to talk about. But handing me some workbook on how to learn Russian is not an answer to it. I don’t mind if you just want to teach people Russian and are fine just assuming that this is knowledge of the real world. Just don’t go waving around your little workbooks saying, “Hah, these dumbasses in philosophy can’t figure out whether knowledge is possible, but here we are learning 50 words a day!”

            When people talk about being “philosophically grounded”, they don’t mean that you have to go out and convert all of academic philosophy to your viewpoint before you’re entitled to pick up your empirical clipboard. They mean that if you want to make claims about the philosophic meaning of results in neuroscience or whatever, you should have some idea of what you’re talking about in philosophy.

            What people like Eli either don’t get or are deliberately evading is that people like Chalmers don’t deny any of the empirical findings in neuroscience. They disagree on how those findings ought to be interpreted in the philosophic context. Now, I think the “p-zombies” concept leads to a lot of confusion and needless arguments because of its stipulation that the “p-zombie” is exactly the same physically as the regular person (and not just very similar).

            But the essential point that dualists make (though I’m not a property dualist like Chalmers but rather an interactionist dualist) is: okay, you’ve got a wonderful theory of X. Great theory of X, really appreciate your theory of X.

            But what you don’t have is a theory of Y. You’re acting like you do, but you don’t. You’re not even talking about Y, just about X. And therefore you shouldn’t keep claiming that your theory of X solves the problem of Y.

            And if the reductivists want to contest that, want to say they’ve really got a theory of Y after all, they’ve got to fight that battle on the grounds of philosophy. They can’t just keep saying more fascinating and cool things about X.

            If they don’t care about whether they’ve got a theory of X or a theory of Y, fine. Then they should shut the hell up about the philosophical issue and leave the interpretations to other people.

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            confusion and needless arguments because of its stipulation that the “p-zombie” is exactly the same physically as the regular person

            Perhaps philosophers need to do some empirical homework as well?

            When I first heard of the Twin Earth thought experiment (“their ‘water’ acts just like our water, but has a complicated chemical formula”), I was a bit shocked. Although the choice of example is not essential to the point, it betrays an ignorance of high-school level chemistry.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            On the “philosophy has never proven anything” idea:

            The problem here is that philosophy is the most general and fundamental science.

            The practice of physics depends on answers to such questions as: is there an objective reality, is it possible to learn about it, and is it worth studying? The community of people studying physics consists necessarily of those who answer in the affirmative.

            If philosophy hasn’t proven these answers, then neither have the physicists proven that any part of their system is valid.

            Now, if instead of philosophy as a whole you look at particular schools of philosophy, you will find widespread agreement about what has been proven and disproven. But to complain that you don’t have agreement between, say, Aristotelians and postmodernists is like complaining that you don’t have agreement between mainstream medicine and “alternative medicine”, or between physicists and witch doctors.

            But mainstream medicine has been a lot more productive and successful, you say? Well, so have some schools of philosophy been much more successful.

            The idea that the universe is lawful, intelligible, and worthy of being studied by empirical methods didn’t come out of nowhere. That is the influence of certain viewpoints in philosophy. As opposed to: it’s all chaos, reason is impotent, and that your main focus should be escape from physical existence. If you view yourself as trapped in a prison, you don’t study the acoustics of the bars.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            Perhaps philosophers need to do some empirical homework as well?

            When I first heard of the Twin Earth thought experiment (“their ‘water’ acts just like our water, but has a complicated chemical formula”), I was a bit shocked. Although the choice of example is not essential to the point, it betrays an ignorance of high-school level chemistry.

            No, it doesn’t. That’s just the kind of confusion I’m talking about.

            Putnam damn well knew that if you change the chemical formula for water, you’re going to get different behavior. It’s the most absurd uncharitability to act like he didn’t know that.

            The point is, whether it’s chemically possible in reality or not, you can imagine a substance that behaves superficially like water but is chemically very different. They do a similar thing all the time with artificial sweeteners like sucralose: it tastes just like sugar, but it isn’t sugar. Of course it differs from sugar in some ways, most importantly caloric content. But if you give it to someone, mixed with the appropriate amount of filler for volume, he’s not likely to be able to tell the difference.

            And as you say, he chose water because it’s relatively simple to talk about, rather than talking about some other, more plausible, hypothetical substances that are superficially identical.

            ***

            Anyway, I agree with you on the point that philosophers shouldn’t try to be armchair physicists or biologists. But they do this far more rarely than they are incorrectly accused of doing.

          • Dirdle says:

            @Daniel, Vox: Ah, it seems that we don’t actually disagree on very much of substance beyond who we feel is more frequetly stepping on who’s toes. There is some stuff, but it’ll take more time and space to explore, so I’m also stepping out here. Thank-you for your thoughts, regardless.

          • stillnotking says:

            These arguments always boil down to the legitimacy of methodological naturalism, and the ultimate conclusion is always the same: since empiricism is impossible without MN, you can either like it or lump it.

            Philosophers can yell all they want about injurious assumptions, but scientists have to assume *something* that lets them actually do science, and no one’s come up with any better ideas.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ stillnotking:

            The problem is that “methodological naturalism” is really vague.

            I mean, I consider myself 100% “naturalistic”, but I often have no idea what a particular person means by calling himself that. Or they’ll include things under “naturalism” that have nothing, as such, to do with it, like materialism.

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            you can imagine a substance that behaves superficially like water but is chemically very different

            No, I can’t. If ‘water’ had a different chemical composition, life as we know it could not exist.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            No, I can’t. If ‘water’ had a different chemical composition, life as we know it could not exist.

            Conceivably (but not likely, that’s not the point) life could exist superficially as we know it but with a very different chemical structure. So “water” made of some complex chemicals, and “proteins” made largely of those same components, etc.

            Or think about a full virtual-reality simulation of water, that appears just like water to all the senses. It’s superficially just like water but not made of the same stuff at all.

            Anyway, it’s a pointless debate because, as you recognize, the plausibility or Twin Earth is not relevant to the example.

          • Adam says:

            Water is a poor example because several key properties that are found in almost nothing else rely upon the specific molecular structure (notably, being less dense as a solid). The point is the form of the argument, though, not the example. Versions of the same argument have been made using qualitative spectrum inversion as the example.

          • Eli says:

            What people like Eli either don’t get or are deliberately evading is that people like Chalmers don’t deny any of the empirical findings in neuroscience.

            @VoxImperatoris

            I’m evading nothing. What’s going on is that I deny there’s a separate domain of uniquely philosophical enquiry, disjoint from science and yet as real as science.

            This is standard metaphilosophical naturalism, but again, everyone who’s not a naturalist finds it a bitter pill to swallow and tries to evade the charge that they cannot produce for me one non-natural thing.

            These arguments always boil down to the legitimacy of methodological naturalism, and the ultimate conclusion is always the same: since empiricism is impossible without MN, you can either like it or lump it.

            Oh, we can make stronger statements than that! If we use hierarchical statistical modeling to do our empiricism, then each observation consistent with methodological naturalism strengthens our belief in methodological naturalism.

          • FrogOfWar says:

            @Nita

            When you made that comment, were you aware that the inventor of twin earth died yesterday?

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/martha-c-nussbaum/hilary-putnam-1926-2016_b_9457774.html

            This made me more put off than I would normally be by the claim that a man who solved a fucking Hilbert problem couldn’t understand high school chemistry.

          • Nita says:

            @ FrogOfWar

            No, I was not.

            You’re reacting as if I called Putnam stupid. Obviously, he was a very intelligent, hard-working and helpful person. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the chemical structure of a substance and its properties are connected (unless, like in Vox’s simulation proposal, the ‘substance’ is imaginary — in other words, not really a substance at all).

            And this kind of thing is not unique to Putnam, but almost ubiquitous in philosophy. E.g., Searle’s Chinese room argument against “strong AI” assumes that the key question is whether we would say that the computer (that is, the hardware and the OS) understands Chinese the way a person does. But that’s not the right question. No part of my brain understands English in that sense — and yet here I am, typing.

          • FrogOfWar says:

            Like I said, I’m a bit on edge on this subject. I understand that it is unfair to imply you think Putnam is stupid. But he wasn’t even temporarily acting stupid in the construction of twin earth.

            And I don’t think that because I think physical constraints are never relevant to thought experiments. The Chinese room is bad partially because what would have to be going on for the claims of the thought experiment to be true differs sharply and distortingly from the picture people have in their heads when they evaluate it.

            But our picture of the chemical structure of twater is irrelevant. All that matters for the point about language is that given the stipulation that the watery stuff on twin earth is XYZ their word ‘water’ refers to all and only XYZ. The question of whether that stipulation is physically possible is neither here nor there, since we can answer the hypothetical prior to knowing anything about such matters.

          • Nita says:

            @ FrogOfWar

            [warning: long rant]

            If I said, “imagine that, on another planet in our universe, there are people just like us, only they usually carry their shadows draped over one shoulder instead of attached to their feet,” would you not think this was an extremely weird and distracting way to set up a thought experiment?

            OK, let’s assume that chemistry-related facts don’t matter. Let’s take a look at language-related facts now. Those should be relevant to the study of meaning, right?

            Empirical facts: If you are a modern biologist studying feline phylogeny, the definition of “tiger” you use on the job must involve genes. If you are an Indian farmer trying to protect livestock from predators, “superficial” properties like big claws and striped fur matter much more than genes.

            Conclusions: Language is an ad-hoc, pragmatic tool. Questions like “are perfectly tiger-like animals with reptile genes really tigers or not?” are fundamentally confused. There is no “true definition” of “tiger”.

            Example: Are birds really reptiles or not?

            The fact that Putnam (or Vox Imp) can imagine something, while Kripke (or I) can’t, says more about our personal histories than about the true meaning of “water”.

            And all of this is so frustrating because many philosophers are so smart.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            “imagine that, on another planet in our universe, there are people just like us, only they usually carry their shadows draped over one shoulder instead of attached to their feet,”

            Is this a reference to something, because it sounds too compelling for something that was just made up for a forum post.

          • Nita says:

            @ God Damn John Jay

            Thank you very much 🙂 I guess I was influenced by various imaginative treatments of shadows in fiction and visual media.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            @Eli

            “I’m evading nothing. What’s going on is that I deny there’s a separate domain of uniquely philosophical enquiry, disjoint from science and yet as real as science.

            This is standard metaphilosophical naturalism,”

            If there is something that qualifies as the domain of uniquely philosophical enquiry, it is reflexive enquiry into the nature of concepts we usually just employ….thinking about thinking.

            How could you conclude that that is excluded by naturalism?

            Presumably, you are taking ‘domain’ to literally mean a realm….and because science studies the only real realm, philosophy must study a fictitious one?

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            @Nita

            “Conclusions: Language is an ad-hoc, pragmatic tool”

            He were you proposing to get from that to the conclusion that philosophy is somehow globally wrong?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Eli:

            I’m evading nothing. What’s going on is that I deny there’s a separate domain of uniquely philosophical enquiry, disjoint from science and yet as real as science.

            This is standard metaphilosophical naturalism, but again, everyone who’s not a naturalist finds it a bitter pill to swallow and tries to evade the charge that they cannot produce for me one non-natural thing.

            I am a naturalist! I don’t believe in any non-natural things. So any particular dispute we’re having can’t be over the validity of methodological naturalism.

            Anyway, I don’t think that philosophy is “disjoint from science.” Philosophy is a type of science. It is the most general science; all the other types are subordinate to it. It studies the broadest and most fundamental questions of concern to human beings, such as: what is the nature of the universe as a whole (metaphysics); what is the nature of knowledge, and how it is possible (epistemology); how should one live (ethics); and how should society be organized (politics).

            The distinction is between philosophy, which studies these broad questions in the context of the background knowledge available to everyone, versus the special sciences, which study particular topics on the basis of expert knowledge of the subdomain, often empirical in nature. (Of course, there is expert knowledge in philosophy, but it’s not knowledge of data but of what other people have said in the past, so that you don’t duplicate their efforts or their mistakes.)

            Whether “methodological naturalism” is appropriate or not is a question for epistemology, not physics. Not because physics is talking about one reality and epistemology about a different one. But just because, by definition, it’s an epistemological question that needs to be studied by philosophical methods. Whether anything in physics is true depends on whether certain propositions in epistemology are true; to attempt to use the existence of physical knowledge to prove the existence of knowledge in general would be absurdly circular.

            There’s no fundamental difference between philosophy and other domains. You can say that physics or biology are just sub-fields of “natural philosophy”. But they become sub-fields because in order to do physics, you have to actually go out and do experiments, and since no one can do experiments in every field, people outside the field just have to accept the validity of those experiments on (rationally grounded) authority. Philosophy, on the other hand, is the field where nothing is taken on authority or restricted to those who have specialized knowledge—but which, consequently, is restricted merely to what one can say on the basis of “armchair” reasoning.

            That’s basically the difference between, say, philosophy of mind and psychology. Philosophy of mind consists of everything you can say about the mind without getting out of your armchair. Psychology consists of everything else.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            > These arguments always boil down to the legitimacy of methodological naturalism, and the ultimate conclusion is always the same: since empiricism is impossible without MN, you can either like it or lump it.

            Its more a question of whether MN is all you need. Can you use it to answer questions like, what is knowledge, what is the good?

          • FrogOfWar says:

            @Nita

            I’m not interested in debating the general quality of Putnam’s philosophy of language, in part because I’m not even a partisan of it. My point was simply that what is in fact chemically possible has no bearing on the quality of the twin earth thought experiment. If your claims about laypeople and scientists differing in their referents was supposed to support your position on that issue–as opposed to more generally just being an argument against Putnam’s philosophy of language–then I don’t see how.

            (As a side note, I do find it odd that you make no mention of the fact that a huge portion of “The Meaning of ‘Meaning'” is devoted explicitly to explaining how the words of laypeople and scientists manage to have the same referents despite them caring and knowing about different features of the relevant objects. Though again, Putnam’s overall view is not my dog here.)

            The shadow example is more directly on the relevant point. But I never defended the claim that the quality of thought experiments is never affected by whether the relevant scenario is physically possible. I only defended the claim that it isn’t relevant concerning twin earth.

          • Protagoras says:

            Anecdata; I am now inclined to think that semantic externalism is broadly correct, at least in some form. But I resisted it for a long time, and part of the reason I long found it unconvincing is because its partisans provided arguments that seemed very weak to me. And, specifically, the physical impossibility of twater was indeed one of the reasons I found the water/twater thought experiment less than fully convincing.

            It also may be noteworthy that Putnam himself tried to modify the scenario in later years so as to be less scientifically implausible (with limited success).

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @Eli

            tries to evade the charge that they cannot produce for me one non-natural thing.

            How about the number 11? I am not altogether sure what you mean by “non-natural”, but if you mean something like “not located in any particular place in space and time”, or “not entering into causal interactions with other objects”, the number 11 certainly qualifies. Now, maybe you would not call the number 11 a thing. But then I suggest that your belief that there are no non-natural things is true only insofar as you define “thing” so as to exclude the most respectable category of non-natural things.

            @Nita

            If I said, “imagine that, on another planet in our universe, there are people just like us, only they usually carry their shadows draped over one shoulder instead of attached to their feet,” would you not think this was an extremely weird and distracting way to set up a thought experiment?

            Your objection here seems to be that thought experiments which involve situations we know to be nomologically impossible (that is, situations which could not occur under the natural laws which govern the actual world) are in some way incoherent. This is a bad objection. Here’s one reason why: we need sometimes to consider what would occur if a scientific theory we know to be false were true, if for no other reason than to show that it makes the wrong predictions. Suppose I am trying to prove to an interlocutor that gravity does not everywhere attract inversely as the square of the distance. How can I do this if it is incoherent even to contemplate a world where gravity attracts everywhere inversely as the square of the distance?

            Empirical facts: If you are a modern biologist studying feline phylogeny, the definition of “tiger” you use on the job must involve genes.

            This is false– species membership goes by descent, not genotype. Roughly, anything descended from a member of species M is also an M unless and until a speciation event occurs. (A badly mutated tiger is still a tiger, for the same reason a human being with Down’s syndrome is still a human being.)

          • Protagoras says:

            @Earthly Knight, It is not obvious that an adequately nominalistic set theory is impossible; David Lewis was working on that in some of his later writings, and came up with some very promising results (his paper “Mathematics is Megethology” contains a summary of the view he was working on). If a nominalistic approach to set theory works, and we define numbers in terms of sets (as is standard), there won’t be anything non-natural about 11.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Oh, okay, he wants to have sets as plural quantification over parts and wholes. That’s weird.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Earthly Knight, I thought it should have been clear just from what I said that I wasn’t talking about the first possibility you mention. Or the second, for that matter, but the second also shares a problem with the third, namely that I have no idea why you think possible worlds would have anything to do with anything (unless you just saw the name David Lewis and assumed it must be about that). There’s nothing about possibilities in the account Lewis proposes.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            If numbers come straight out of Plato’s world of forms, why would that make them non-natural? This question doesn’t even involve naturalism.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @Protagoras

            One problem that jumps out at me is that Lewis has the null set being the fusion of all individuals. This is pretty kooky. The null set is to the left of me, it is to the right of me, and it weighs more than an elephant. Huh?

            @Vox

            If numbers come straight out of Plato’s world of forms, why would that make them non-natural? This question doesn’t even involve naturalism.

            I’m not sure what you’re asking, in part because I have no idea what anyone here has at any time meant by “natural”. If “natural” means “located in space and time”, “capable of entering into causal relations”, “subject to the laws of physics”, or “investigable a posteriori”– I don’t know what else it could mean– numbers will come out as non-natural.

          • Nita says:

            @ TheAncientGeek

            I do not think that philosophy is globally wrong. I like philosophy. But are scientists really at risk of being “permanently and dramatically mistaken” unless they listen to professional philosophers?

            Biologists used to be more “realist” about species, but then they got out of their armchairs and made some observations. Now biologists are less realist about species. Their underlying philosophical assumptions got adjusted in light of empirical evidence. More broadly, all natural sciences seem to have gone from naive to more sophisticated assumptions without constructing a coherent, philosopher-approved ontological framework at each turn.

            Meanwhile, most people have been holding even less justified assumptions than “Laws of Nature are literally Laws set down by God” for centuries, despite the existence of philosophers’ alternative proposals. “Tide goes in, tide goes out — you can’t explain that” remains persuasive until you actually explain how tides work without God.

            Of course, without philosophers, we wouldn’t have the words to talk about various epistemological stances and their development. But I think the development would still occur.

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            philosophy, which studies these broad questions in the context of the background knowledge available to everyone

            So, philosophers only use knowledge that everyone can have. But if we don’t even know what knowledge really is, how can we know what those things are?

            Or, to make some tentative progress, let’s take “knowledge” as “justified true belief”. Under this well-respected definition, we can’t know whether we’re truly doing philosophy until we learn 1) what beliefs are available to “everyone”, 2) which of those beliefs are true, and 3) which of the true beliefs are justified.

            And yet, you seem confident that at least some philosophers actually exist. Clearly, you must be naive about your own assumptions and in need of external guidance.

            @ Earthly Knight

            species membership goes by descent, not genotype

            The history of descent is what the biologist is trying to find out, genotypes are the input data. “Tigers” are the group of animals represented by the strings of letters in the folder /P_tigris/. (If one string is very unlike the others, it might be excluded from the sample as unrepresentative of the group as a whole.)

            This approach allows the biologist to conclude things like “tigers are polyphyletic” and communicate them to colleagues without confusion. Everyone would understand what she meant, and no one would go, “That’s impossible! P. tigris is a species, and species membership goes by descent!”

            In other words, language users spontaneously develop weird de-facto “definitions”, and they serve them quite well, despite not fitting into any of the elegant, universal frameworks philosophers seem to be working on.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Earthly Knight, Well, obviously, if it seems intuitive to you that the empty set should be non-natural, it’s going to be unintuitive that Lewis has an empty set with natural properties. But, as he points out, the fusion of all individuals satisfies the one and only condition that the empty set is absolutely required to satisfy (being guaranteed to contain no elements). And mathematics has become increasingly pragmatic over the years, more willing to accept whatever works than to impose additional intuitive constraints beyond what can be proven to satisfy the axioms.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            I do not think that philosophy is globally wrong. I like philosophy. But are scientists really at risk of being “permanently and dramatically mistaken” unless they listen to professional philosophers?

            Biologists used to be more “realist” about species, but then they got out of their armchairs and made some observations. Now biologists are less realist about species. Their underlying philosophical assumptions got adjusted in light of empirical evidence. More broadly, all natural sciences seem to have gone from naive to more sophisticated assumptions without constructing a coherent, philosopher-approved ontological framework at each turn.

            Biology can’t say anything one way or the other about whether we should be realists about species. Not because there’s anything wrong with biology or because they’re benighted, ignorant fools—but because it’s not a biological question!

            Biology, as such, just goes out and collects empirical data about living things, formulating theories to systematize it.

            Questions about whether species are really real or whatever are philosophical questions. Now, there’s nothing that says one can’t do “philosophy of biology” or that one can’t be a philosopher and a biologist at the same time.

            I’m not trying to say that philosophy is some kind of arcane priesthood into which only those with the Secret Knowledge can enter. Anyone can say whatever he wants about philosophy; he has the perfect right. Indeed, everyone implicitly must have some opinions on philosophical matters. It’s just that if he doesn’t know anything about philosophy—which is to say, the history of philosophy, or what has been said before in philosophy—he is more likely to be wrong, or at the very least vague and confused.

            But that’s not to say outside opinions aren’t useful! I don’t have much respect at all for contemporary academic philosophy. I’m not trying to defend it and say they’ve got the last word on everything. That’s the difference between philosophy and other fields of study: it’s less about advancing toward consensus over time (though that would be ideal) and more about enumerating and fleshing out all the possible positions.

            Philosophy is a subject where you have to think for yourself and judge everyone’s writings for yourself. (In contrast to “special sciences” where you don’t have blind faith but you do necessarily have a certain level of trust that other people are not lying to you about the data.) I’m not saying that scientists ought to blindly accept the “received opinion” of professional philosophers.

            As to the question of species: there is nothing about the study of biology in general or evolution in particular that casts any more doubt on immanent realism than what you can get looking at the most general facts. You can just look at the color spectrum and try to tell me where the dividing line is between red and orange, or at countless other examples. Now, I think the immanent realists can’t produce a decent answer here, and I of course think the same about species. But it’s not in any way a new problem.

            The influence of biology here is not as a form of rational argument but as a type of intellectual fad or fashion. This kind of thing happens all the time. When they were formulating the laws of mechanics, everyone was interested in billiard-ball mechanism. In the 19th century under the influence of Darwin, everyone was talking about how the universe/morality/whatever is constantly evolving. If lots of people are studying species, which is a phenomenon that seems really hard to square with immanent realism, maybe that will draw people away from that view. But what if people are making all kinds of advances in, say, geometry? That could draw them in the opposite direction for just as little real reason.

            Now, philosophy as a general subject is not concerned with whether immanent realism is true of species in particular but rather of everything in general. If you want to look at species in particular, you are doing philosophy of biology, which of course requires a greater degree of familiarity with the actual content of biology. (And of course it presupposes answers to such questions as: do living things exist? Can the laws governing their behavior be studied scientifically?) There’s no hard line or some law that says a person who has a PhD in biology can’t have a philosophical outlook on the subject.

            Nevertheless, the point is: okay, take your biologist who says absolutely proves nominalism in regard to species. Fine, but what about all the arguments against nominalism? They’re good arguments! They’re very tricky to refute, if indeed they can be refuted. If the philosophical biologist and all his friends build up some nominalist theory of species without ever engaging with the history of philosophy, they are very likely to have formulated it in a bad way that is vulnerable to the first serious criticism that comes along.

            You can’t just say: “but the empirical data prove nominalism right!” If someone can produce arguments against nominalism using the same or other data, the data also appear to prove nominalism wrong! The data on their own, without philosophical interpretation, can’t settle the dispute. As Steven Kaas says:

            Why idly theorize when you can JUST CHECK and find out the ACTUAL ANSWER to a superficially similar-sounding question SCIENTIFICALLY?

            So, philosophers only use knowledge that everyone can have. But if we don’t even know what knowledge really is, how can we know what those things are?

            Or, to make some tentative progress, let’s take “knowledge” as “justified true belief”. Under this well-respected definition, we can’t know whether we’re truly doing philosophy until we learn 1) what beliefs are available to “everyone”, 2) which of those beliefs are true, and 3) which of the true beliefs are justified.

            And yet, you seem confident that at least some philosophers actually exist. Clearly, you must be naive about your own assumptions and in need of external guidance.

            This is absurdly uncharitable.

            Obviously, by purporting to say what philosophy consists of, I am claiming knowledge and thereby implicitly taking positions on a whole host of philosophic questions. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that, or that there is a definition of philosophy somehow independent of any particular position in philosophy.

            A universal skeptic would say he doesn’t know what the definition of philosophy is because he doesn’t know anything. Obviously, I think that’s a pretty dumb position because somehow this universal skeptic remembers where he left his keys in the morning to drive to work and write that. He knows how to find the philosophy department and not the physics department. Nevertheless, he’s at least a useful foil and in philosophy you can’t just say “ur dum”.

            And again, my position is not: “defer to your betters”; “don’t think for yourself”. It is simply that, while thinking for yourself, it is often helpful to consider the opinions of those who have thought before you. That is what it means to study philosophy.

            I am not a professor. I am not trying to defend my academic “turf” and say nobody else can walk on it without approval in triplicate from me.

          • Jiro says:

            Or, to make some tentative progress, let’s take “knowledge” as “justified true belief”. Under this well-respected definition

            I suggest Googling up “Gettier problem” before claiming this is a well-respected definition.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @Nita

            This approach allows the biologist to conclude things like “tigers are polyphyletic” and communicate them to colleagues without confusion.

            But then it would be entirely natural to follow this up with “so I guess tigers aren’t a species after all”, and to either reclassify the tigers as the best candidate monophyletic taxon or abolish them. After a while, biologists will accept this usage and begin to correct any colleagues who use “tiger” to refer to the old, invalid taxon. After a while longer, the change will trickle into public consciousness, and people who erroneously talk about tigers in the old way will share the fate of people who erroneously speak of Pluto as a planet. Natural language is full of constraints on reference. We do not allow people to talk just any way they like.

            @Protagoras

            Well, obviously, if it seems intuitive to you that the empty set should be non-natural, it’s going to be unintuitive that Lewis has an empty set with natural properties.

            The problem isn’t that I have intuitions that sets are non-natural (I have no issue with the set of green things having the combined mass of all of the green things, or being located wherever the green things are). The problem is that making the null set be the fusion of individuals is intuitively crazy. Upon reflection, I suspect it also creates serious problems elsewhere for Lewis:

            –Propositions are sets of possible worlds, propositions which report contradictions are the null set, but if the null set is a fusion of all of the individuals, worlds being individuals, we have contradictions identified with all of the possible worlds, equivalent in intension to logical truths. This is unacceptable.

            –Abundant properties are sets of actual and possible individuals, metaphysically impossible properties are the null set, but if the null set is a fusion of all of the individuals, we have metaphysically impossible properties being identified with all of the individuals, equivalent in intension to the property of being an individual, or the property of existing in space and time. This is equally unacceptable.

          • Troy says:

            On the ill-definedness of ‘naturalism’: the PhilPapers survey (http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl) found that 50% of philosophers self-identified as naturalists, but they do not all appear to have the same idea of what naturalism commits one to. For example, according to the Correlations page (http://philpapers.org/surveys/linear_most_with.pl?A=main:Metaphilosophy:naturalism), 14% are non-physicalists about mind, 40% are Platonists about abstract objects, 64% think we can have a priori knowledge, and 38%(!) are objectivists about aesthetic value, despite these all being positions many other naturalists would consider non-naturalistic.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Earthly Knight, I’m not sure why those are unacceptable. A contradiction would be true in any world which was a member of the empty set; a world in which the empty set exists still isn’t a world where the empty set has members, so it still isn’t a world where the contradiction is true (which would be the unacceptable result). And similarly for the other case.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Troy:

            Yes, “naturalism” is really vague.

            I mean, I know what I mean by it: I don’t believe that there are any supernatural things, things which are outside the natural order. But whatever real thing I saw, I would call it “inside the natural order”. If it’s real, it’s necessarily inside the natural order in my opinion.

            There’s only one perspective from which a natural/supernatural distinction makes sense to me: the religious perspective from which one says that God created a universe with a certain natural order, which nothing in the universe can violate. Yet nevertheless, he can violate it if he wants, and these are supernatural phenomena.

            When I say “don’t believe in the supernatural”, I mean don’t believe in ghosts or ESP or stuff like that. Because they’re not real. If they were real, I would say that we have proved ghosts and ESP are natural phenomena, not that we have demonstrated the existence of the supernatural.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @Protagoras

            Sorry, I think I was confused about the empty set being the fusion of possible worlds while logical truths are the fusion of the singletons of possible worlds (which also doesn’t make a lot of sense). Still, it is profoundly strange to think that you and I are part of 2+2=5 and part of the property of being at once red all over and black all over. We also must dispense with the idea that sets are located where their members are; the empty set is located everywhere but has members nowhere. Unless these problems with the empty set can be fixed, I think they spell doom for the proposal.

      • Maware says:

        I think we already have a superintelligent AI that has provided satisfying answers to most philosophical questions. It’s called the Christian God.

        Hint, you’re unaware that you are giving technology religious power and reframing religious beliefs and desires in a worse form. Transhumanism is the province of people who think technology has near magical power to shape things, and is even more unrealistic than heaven or hell.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Hint, you’re unaware that you are giving technology religious power and reframing religious beliefs and desires in a worse form. Transhumanism is the province of people who think technology has near magical power to shape things, and is even more unrealistic than heaven or hell.

          This is not an argument. It’s just a bald assertion. And this is a place where you shouldn’t expect it to go unchallenged.

          Just because Daedalus didn’t exist, doesn’t mean it’s impossible for man to fly.

          • Maware says:

            It is impossible for man to fly. It is not impossible for man to build things that can fly, that are capable of conveying him places.

            You can challenge it all you like, most transhumanists have no real conception of what technology can or cannot do, and give it powers that are essentially fantasy. It’s exactly the same as all the SF authors who thought we’d be inhabiting the moon or Venus right now, until science caught up and actually showed us the insane effort it took just to get off our planet, and how vast the universe is. Or how corrosive Venus’s atmosphere is.

            The more i study technology, the more realistic i become about what it can accomplish and the more I distrust people who make grandiose claims about what it can do to make us superhuman in the future. The more i understand about the brain, the less likely I find it to be able to be prolonged or scanned into a computer or whatever quackery Kurzweil is ranting about in his latest book. We can change and help the human condition, but within hard limits it seems.

          • Soumynona says:

            Maware, saying that it’s impossible for humans to fly and only possible to build things that help them fly is a really obnoxious form of semantic nitpicking that’s borderline trolling. Obviously, everybody who talks about people flying, knows that and even the referenced myth of Daedalus involved the guy actually building a device for flying rather than growing wings.

    • The Smoke says:

      Most philosophical questions are actually easy. It’s just that many people feel that the obviously right answers are not satisfying.

      • LTP says:

        I feel like a lot of people on opposite sides of philosophical debates can and do say things like this, though. Taking the outside view, there’s no reason to think what you see as the easy and obvious answers are actually the correct ones.

      • Anon. says:

        Yup. “Intuitiveness” is used as an objection to an enormous range of correct philosophical answers.

        Another large source of disagreement comes from unmotivated assumptions about things that are not subject to empirical investigation. The AI can’t do anything to help there.

        • The Smoke says:

          There’s also the class of questions, where nobody has any idea and all arguments are pretty much unfounded.

          For example questions about the nature of consciousness. I feel like its clear that animals are conscious to a degree, say I expect a cat to be like a human without articulated thoughts. Apparently the Eliezer-Clique have different opinions here.
          I think neither of us has a very well-founded opinion here, since we just don’t have any sufficient idea about consciousness.

      • Noge Sako says:

        DING DING DING!

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Agreed.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Examples?

        Because I do not at all agree with you.

        • The Smoke says:

          God, Morality, Free Will.

          On further thought I also disagree with my statement. It’s just that the kind of question it applies to tend to dominate the public discourse.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            On further thought I also disagree with my statement. It’s just that the kind of question it applies to tend to dominate the public discourse.

            Not sure if you meant to apply this statement to the three topics you listed.

            God? I don’t think God exists, but it’s not obvious. I’m tempted to say that it’s obvious that the Christian God does not exist, but…obviously…a large number of people don’t find it so obvious.

            Morality? I’m not even sure what position here is supposed to be “obvious” to you. So much for that one.

            Free will? You mean, of course, that the libertarian position on free will is obviously correct? 😉 But seriously, also not obvious.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Back up here. I can understand the easy answers to God, Free Will or Consciousness(I happen to agree to some extent) but morality? What exactly do you think is the obviously correct ethical theory? Because whatever answer you give there is going to be a problem with it.

          • The Smoke says:

            Trigger Warning: Reductionism
            God: More generally you could ask: “Is there something beyond our physical reality?”. Answer: There’s so far no reason to assume this and any unmotivated specific guess is certainly false. The notion of a God is pretty specific, and hence not worth of consideration. (Simulation arguments are a more justified take on the question.)
            Morality: There is no distinguished ethical system. Philosophy can help you work out some criteria which you can use to compare different moral systems, but in the end it is still arbitrary which of those you deem important.
            Free will: It kind of depends what you are asking here. Are the actions of an individual more than a product of physical processes? No.
            Some people then weaken this to: Can humans make decisions that are not perfectly predictable and not directly determined by what some other entity wants? Here the answer is in general positive, but that basically only means that you don’t understand the physical system well enough.

            Edit: I consider those obvious, in the same sense in which other people consider it obvious that the universe is older than 5000 years:
            The alternative conflicts with your general conception of reality and the only reason to consider it (the alternative) is that people keep telling you that’s how it is.

          • null says:

            It seems somewhat disingenuous to suggest that these answers are obvious, especially when significant portions of the population disagree with all of these.

            EDIT: I agree with all of these answers.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Obvious to people who think in x fashion (most people don’t think like that).

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @The Smoke

            You say you know the right answers to various philosophical questions. But I think your questions are too defective to have right answers, and at any rate they are not questions anyone cares about.

            There is no distinguished ethical system.

            I have no idea what it would mean for an ethical system to be distinguished. Here are some more serious questions: are ethical claims to be interpreted literally, that is, as expressing propositions which may be true or false? Are any ethical claims true? Are they true independent of what anyone believes or feels, for instance, in a world where there are no people? And if there are true ethical claims, which ones are they?

            Some people then weaken this to: Can humans make decisions that are not perfectly predictable and not directly determined by what some other entity wants?

            This, again, does not strike me as a sensible question or having much to do with free will. Here are two which do: if the universe is deterministic– if the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the universe jointly necessitate all past and future human actions– do humans have the ability to act otherwise than they actually do? And, if the universe is not deterministic– if, for instance, one of the indeterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics turns out to be correct– do humans have the ability to act otherwise than they actually do?

          • The Smoke says:

            @Earthly Knight

            I actually think the more standard way in which you phrase the questions is not really sensible, which is why I tried to do it differently (apparently I did a bad job, too). Nevertheless, if you would answer all of your questions with ‘no’, then we’re basically at the same point.

    • Adam says:

      I guess this is surprisingly against the grain here, but no, I don’t envision a future in which AI can satisfactorily answer hard philosophical questions. I don’t think the barrier to answering them is imagination or intellectual capacity or whatever it is computationally that we think AI will have more of than the collected body of billions of humans over thousands of years. At least some metaphysical, aesthetic, and ethical questions are fundamentally unanswerable. In fact, the very question of what a person finds satisfying as an answer is itself a matter of aesthetics. Maybe I’m harder than most to satisfy.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Explaining why a question is improperly framed and has no answer, is a form of “answering” it.

        For instance: “When did you stop beating your wife?” “I never started beating my wife.”

        • Adam says:

          Humans have already done that, to the satisfaction of almost no one.

          • Mary says:

            People have asserted that some questions are unanswerable. Explaining, which would require proof, is somewhat harder.

      • Maware says:

        The AI could never answer them, because it never ponders them. What the AI will do is have a huge library of philosophy texts and words, and will repeatedly string them over and over according to whatever criteria the programmer things makes a “good” answer. It will have no understanding of any philosophical ideas whatsover, in the same way Searle’s Chinese room experiment had the person doing it not know the Chinese language.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room

        His example is really what AI is, even deep learning AI.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          Which electrical impulse or chemical in your brain “understands” English?

          Searle’s Chinese Room reveals more about how we identify discrete entities than it does about the nature of consciousness or understanding.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Unlike probably 95% of the people on this site, I actually agree with you on the Chinese room question.

          But it’s irrelevant.

          The AI doesn’t have to have any kind of subjective consciousness in order to be able to tell humans the answers to philosophic questions. No more than a calculator has to be conscious to tell you what 503 * 789 is.

          All objective logical reasoning can be implemented in the form of a computer program. There is nothing in the actual work of deriving philosophical answers that requires subjective consciousness. If, for instance, there are certain axioms that underlie all knowledge, if you feed the computer many items of knowledge, it can tell you what those axioms are.

          AlphaGo is not conscious and doesn’t understand Go. That doesn’t mean it can’t beat people at Go.

          In the same way, an AI doesn’t have to be conscious to compose the (as rated by humans) most beautiful song or painting ever made, or the funniest joke, or the most inspiring political speech. You can do all that with the “deep learning” stuff.

          “Is it conscious or not?” is a complete red herring as relates to the question of what AI can do.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I agree that the question is a red herring. But I don’t really see why the Chinese room thought experiment is considered refuting the idea that machines could think. We could have an AI that does everything that humans do and then some, and despite all that you still wouldn’t believe that it could have consciousness? What would the AI have to do to convince you otherwise?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Wrong Species:

            We could have an AI that does everything that humans do and then some, and despite all that you still wouldn’t believe that it could have consciousness?

            An AI could do everything externally observable that human beings can do, and it wouldn’t convince me that it had subjective consciousness, because there is no particular reason you’d have to be conscious to do any of those things.

            Of course, in this case, there would be plenty of things humans could do that AIs couldn’t: have thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, etc. But you don’t need to understand mathematics to add up numbers; you don’t need to feel anger in order to howl and stamp your feet; you don’t need desires in order to systematically achieve a goal.

            I know that other human beings are conscious by inference to the best explanation, given that I am a human being and have subjective, first-person conscious experience. It’s preposterous that everyone else is talking about it, but I’m the only one who’s really got it. So I presume that other people are conscious, too. That’s not the strongest possible evidence, but it’s the evidence I’ve got.

            It is, theoretically, a rebuttable presumption: if Daniel Dennett or whoever keeps going on about how he has no idea what anyone means by “qualia”, maybe it’s because he really is a soulless automaton that doesn’t have any subjective consciousness. But there are also many reasons that argue against that explanation.

            What would the AI have to do to convince you otherwise?

            If the AI had a mind and wanted to convince me that it had one, it would have to explain the nature of consciousness and the interaction of mind and body, and on that basis prove to me (or the relevant neuroscientists, computer scientists etc.) that its mind was influencing its electronic “brain”.

            Or else it would have to convince me that I’m wrong about dualism. But if I knew how it could do that, I wouldn’t be a dualist. I can say in general what it would look like: it would have to show me that subjective experience is not merely caused by, but identical to (that’s what “reducible to” means) non-subjective, external facts. And I can’t see how that is possible.

            ***

            Also, I just want to note that I do not share Searle’s position on the mind-body relation. He is, at best an epiphenomenalist. My position is almost exactly that laid out by Bryan Caplan in this essay.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Vox

            Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that an AI passing the Turing Test can automatically be considered a conscious being. The Chinese Room argument is a good refutation of that. The problem for me comes from the next part where it’s asserted that AI could never have consciousness. I can easily conceive of an AI that acts like a conscious being but isn’t but I believe it would be built differently, lacking some physical features that the conscious AI does have. Now what would that look like? I don’t know, but I do think this is much closer to the truth than the idea that consciousness comes from some non-physical aspect, which, as far as I can tell, can never be proven or disproven and seems to be based solely on our own intuitions(which is crazy to me because our intuitions are obviously flawed.)

            You state that the AI would have to be able to explain the nature of its consciousness to convince you. But that is an unreasonably high standard! You don’t ask that of other humans. You admit that it’s not the best evidence but say that the similarities between yourself and other humans seems like some evidence. Fair enough. What about a human level AI? It wouldn’t be able to answer your question but it conceivably exist. Would you assign it no rights until it could solve one of the hardest problems in philosophy? What about aliens? If ET came to Earth and demanded to be treated as a sentient being would you dismiss this until it could prove it’s consciousness?

            Of course, this presumes that being able to explain consciousness is a trivial task. There could be a intelligent AI that fully understands the nature of consciousness but it’s too complex for you to understand. Or conversely, the AI could be a really good debater and convince you that it is really conscious but it simply isn’t. While convincing you that it does have a mind seems an important aspect in understanding consciousness, I don’t think it’s necessary. Of course, I’m not certain what is necessary, but you’re missing something.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Wrong Species:

            Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that an AI passing the Turing Test can automatically be considered a conscious being. The Chinese Room argument is a good refutation of that. The problem for me comes from the next part where it’s asserted that AI could never have consciousness. I can easily conceive of an AI that acts like a conscious being but isn’t but I believe it would be built differently, lacking some physical features that the conscious AI does have. Now what would that look like? I don’t know, but I do think this is much closer to the truth than the idea that consciousness comes from some non-physical aspect, which, as far as I can tell, can never be proven or disproven and seems to be based solely on our own intuitions(which is crazy to me because our intuitions are obviously flawed.)

            I don’t know about Searle, but I’m not saying that an AI could never be conscious, that somehow it is not possible to create an artificial being that is conscious. I’m saying I don’t think current AIs are conscious, and that there’s no particular reason to suppose that a given AI is conscious, even if it can do all the externally observable things human beings can do.

            And as for your last point, the evidence for the mind is “based solely on our own intuitions” only to the same extent that the evidence for the physical world is “based solely on our own intuitions”.

            In any case, the proof that consciousness “comes from some non-physical aspect”—which is not how I would phrase it because I’m not talking about what it “comes from” or is caused by but what it is—comes by listing aspects of consciousness that are not shared with physical things. Disproof of that would consist of an argument against that, combined ideally with showing that the brain is a closed physical system that can be understood without reference to anything mental.

            You state that the AI would have to be able to explain the nature of its consciousness to convince you. But that is an unreasonably high standard! You don’t ask that of other humans. You admit that it’s not the best evidence but say that the similarities between yourself and other humans seems like some evidence. Fair enough. What about a human level AI? It wouldn’t be able to answer your question but it conceivably exist. Would you assign it no rights until it could solve one of the hardest problems in philosophy? What about aliens? If ET came to Earth and demanded to be treated as a sentient being would you dismiss this until it could prove it’s consciousness?

            I am asking it to prove a lot more than I would expect another human being to prove. The universe isn’t fair. The fact is that other human beings not only have similar behavior to me, but they are built in fundamentally the same way and have a common origin. The human-level AI only has the first one.

            As for rights, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. Whether other people are conscious is immaterial to whether or not they have rights. Respecting other people’s rights is not a sacrifice I make for their sake: rather, it’s the most best way, in the long run, for me.

            Trying to enslave a race of robots that were functionally identical to human beings in every respect except not being conscious would be just as impractical as trying to enslave human beings. They wouldn’t be able to use their full potential; they would resent it (or display all the outward signs of resenting it) and try to rebel against it at the first opportunity; along with all the other factors that make slavery against the interest of the masters as well as the slaves.

            On the other hand, if they’re, like, willing and obedient slaves who want nothing more than to serve humanity (which is what “Friendly AI” is), then what’s the problem?

            Of course, this presumes that being able to explain consciousness is a trivial task. There could be a intelligent AI that fully understands the nature of consciousness but it’s too complex for you to understand. Or conversely, the AI could be a really good debater and convince you that it is really conscious but it simply isn’t. While convincing you that it does have a mind seems an important aspect in understanding consciousness, I don’t think it’s necessary. Of course, I’m not certain what is necessary, but you’re missing something.

            Really, I suppose it doesn’t have to fully explain the nature of consciousness. It just has to show where the non-physical influence comes in.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Vox

            So we agree then that an AI could conceivably have consciousness but it would be very difficult to tell, correct?

            As far as intuition goes, that’s such a big question that could be talked about endlessly so I’ll ignore that for now. And I also spoke loosely when using the word “rights”, which goes beyond the current discussion.

            But as far as my question about aliens go, how would you respond? If they insisted that they were conscious, would you automatically assume that they simply weren’t until they could prove otherwise? I guess what I’m wondering is if you’re skepticism about AI consciousness is an issue of humans vs other beings or is it biological beings vs non-biological beings. Do you think animals are conscious to some extent?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Wrong Species:

            So we agree then that an AI could conceivably have consciousness but it would be very difficult to tell, correct?

            Yes.

            But as far as my question about aliens go, how would you respond? If they insisted that they were conscious, would you automatically assume that they simply weren’t until they could prove otherwise? I guess what I’m wondering is if you’re skepticism about AI consciousness is an issue of humans vs other beings or is it biological beings vs non-biological beings. Do you think animals are conscious to some extent?

            With aliens: I just don’t know. I am agnostic on the question. If Vulcans landed on the planet tomorrow, I wouldn’t know whether they were conscious. If they talked about having conscious experience, I would be inclined to believe them. After all, there must be some cause as to why they talk about it. On the other hand, it could easily be a mistranslation or an attempt to deceive us. Maybe the kinds of things Dennett says about “qualia” are true for them: that it’s just a way of speaking, that thinking of it as some kind of special thing is a category error.

            As for animals, you have the same factors of similar behavior, similar construction, and similar origin. A ape’s brain is so apparently similar to a human brain, and its reaction to being kicked is so similar to a human’s reaction, that I am very inclined to say that apes are conscious and really feel pain when you kick them. With other mammals, like cats, dogs, and cows, I’m inclined to say the same thing.

            But as you get less similar, my confidence drops way down. Are chickens conscious? Plausibly. Lizards? Frogs? Octopuses? Fish? Earthworms? Clams? Protists? Bacteria? I don’t feel very inclined to say that bacteria are conscious.

            On the other hand, it’s conceivable that even apes aren’t conscious and the dividing line was somewhere between us and australopithicus. That seems unlikely to me, but I don’t claim certainty one way or the other.

            And with AI: if you gave me one out of a black box, I would treat it just like the Vulcans and wouldn’t claim to know one way or the other whether it were conscious. But if you give me one that works on basically the same principles as a calculator and has been iteratively developed from it, I’m going to say it’s unlikely. I guess it’s conceivable that some kind of panpsychism is true and that even calculators have a “calculating soul”—but I don’t see any evidence for that.

          • Wrong Species says:

            > But if you give me one that works on basically the same principles as a calculator and has been iteratively developed from it, I’m going to say it’s unlikely.

            Don’t you think it’s conceivable that an AI researcher could invent a conscious being based off those “same principles”(whatever that means)? After all, humans are built off the “same principles” as bacteria, right? And we agree that bacteria are probably not conscious and humans probably are. If you say that they aren’t built off same principles as humans, then I would say that a Superintelligent AI will probably be as far removed from a calculator as humans are from bacteria. In both instances, the former have the same basic building blocks as the latter but with more complexity.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Wrong Species:

            Don’t you think it’s conceivable that an AI researcher could invent a conscious being based off those “same principles”(whatever that means)? After all, humans are built off the “same principles” as bacteria, right? And we agree that bacteria are probably not conscious and humans probably are. If you say that they aren’t built off same principles as humans, then I would say that a Superintelligent AI will probably be as far removed from a calculator as humans are from bacteria. In both instances, the former have the same basic building blocks as the latter but with more complexity.

            Sure, it’s conceivable.

            And if AIs are invented through some kind of black-box, “make random alterations until you get something that writes opera” approach, maybe it’s somewhat more likely. Otherwise, if you’re just beelining toward intelligence, it seems like consciousness would naturally be selected against as extraneous (unless, for some reason, they simply have to go together).

            Anyway, saying that artificial consciousness is inherently impossible is not my intention or my point. My point is just that artificial intelligence and artificial consciousness are not the same thing, and that it’s possible to have one without the other.

            Therefore, as connects to the Chinese room thing, it is wrong to say (as many people do say) that the Chinese room “understands Chinese”. And it’s just as wrong to predict (as Maware was saying) that you could never build a machine that can speak perfect Chinese.

            You seem to agree with me on that. So: good. 🙂

          • Wrong Species says:

            This seems like a good place to end this discussion. I can definitely see what you’re saying. Consciousness will surely be more difficult to implement than intelligence so we should be skeptical about the ability of intelligent machines to be conscious beings. Good talk.

    • Mary says:

      The vision would heavily depend on what the answers were.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t think so.

      The reason is that I think many philosophical questions simply do not have an answer. For example, I don’t think “what is the correct interpretation of morality?” is a meaningful question. The most likely scenario, I think, is that human brains have a concept that you could call ‘morality’: that you could identify some brain signal as an internal representation of what we generally understand as morality, such that if you were to monitor people’s brain activity while showing them images or telling them stories which contain events you expect people will have a moral view on, and then asking them if they would describe what they saw or heard as moral or immoral, you would see a correlation between people’s brains having sent the signal you identified as ‘moral’ and them going on to pick the option ‘moral’, and vice versa for immoral.

      But I don’t think you’ll get any further than that, to identify what really is and is not moral according to some provably correct argument. I think the question “what is the correct interpretation of morality?” is analogous to the question “how tall is a human?”. That is, you can identify how tall any particular human is, and you can state the range within which human heights typically fall, and you can state how tall the tallest person ever and the shortest person ever were. But there is no one answer to the question. It’s similar for all humans but not identical, changes as they age, varies based on both genetic and environmental factors, even the average distribution has changed over time. You cannot collate this information and find the value at which all human heights converge, the true height that was really how tall everyone was all along, if you could only have measured them properly. That’s just a non-concept.

      The difference between morality and height is that we can easily measure each person’s height, whereas measuring a person’s moral beliefs is much more difficult. For another example: do you think there is one true taste? That a sufficiently intelligent AI could answer, once and for all, what tastes good and what tastes bad? I think it is much more tempting to say ‘yes’ to this than it is to the height question. But I don’t think it’s any more likely. When everyone has a characteristic, and you can’t precisely measure it but everyone’s seems sort of similar, it almost seems like if you could get a precise enough instrument you would find that everyone really agrees even if they don’t realize it. But I think that’s an illusion.

  5. Douglas Knight says:

    Your original $6000/year calculation already counted all corporations, not just public ones.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Huh! Maybe I’m a moron.

      Someone on Tumblr said that Piketty’s calculations also suggested a higher figure, but they didn’t do the math themselves.

      • Benquo says:

        I haven’t read Piketty, but I think I remember people discussing him saying that he counts land wealth (including that not held by businesses) as capital.

    • Couldn’t we just go on national taxation revenue currently assigned to all social services that UBI is designed to replace, as this is a guide to what is politically feasible to actually gather? In which it seems trivially nowhere near enough?

      • Ricardo Cruz says:

        Sure, but that’s besides the point. This is a discussion about whether a book’s suggestion to convert corporate profits into basic income makes sense.

        • It depends what you mean by makes sense. World peace is a good goal too. I’m just suggesting a different measure that would provide a more realistic starting point for thinking about UBI.

          • Ricardo Cruz says:

            This is not a discussion about UBI in general. It is a discussion about a particular UBI plan.

            This is like two engineers arguing about whether a house made by wood would hold. And you come along and say, why not use cement? Sure, cement might make more sense, but we are arguing about wood here.

          • Fair enough, I butted in. But I think cardboard would be a better analogy than wood.

      • brad says:

        There’s a lot of work being done there by “is designed to replace”. If you take most of federal social spending, including tax expenditures, you aren’t all that far off.

        But once you start saying things like ‘social security is different’ or ‘tax expenditures are just letting you keep more of your own money’ then it looks a lot more difficult.

        • Fair comment, I think I agree. Clearly we’d need to identify the public programs that would be cut in order to fund a UBI. Unless the red tape overhead is much greater than the services themselves, I just do see how its possible to fund a UBI without convincing high income earners / companies to pay a lot more tax, which is not a new debate, and has been moving in the opposite direction in in at least some OECD countries. It seems necessary to consider the political environment, which I’ve found to be something UBI proponents don’t often discuss.

          • JBeshir says:

            The starting point is to say that anyone earning more than the UBI pays UBI-equivalent in more tax- making it neutral to them- which leaves you only needing to cover the unemployed and very low earning.

            Generally, since one way or another most systems are paying enough for those people to live anyway, a UBI at equivalent “livable” level doesn’t cost much more than you can get by scrapping whatever you were paying for those people to live.

            The main potential needs for tax rises would be providing people who were previously eligible for but not using welfare money, any hit to employment that results (which, as under the current system, means higher taxes on the remaining to remain liquid if it’s a long term effect), and making the marginal tax rate at low levels of earning less steep.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ JBeshir:

            The starting point is to say that anyone earning more than the UBI pays UBI-equivalent in more tax- making it neutral to them- which leaves you only needing to cover the unemployed and very low earning.

            In other words, the highest welfare cliff imaginable.

            Why the hell would anyone without huge earning potential work in that environment, if the basic income were enough to actually live decently on (which is supposed to be the point)?

            If the government is pay you $20,000 a year for doing nothing, nobody is going to work for $20,500 a year. That’s 40 hours a week for $500 a year. You’d have to really not like leisure much even to work for $30,000 or $40,000 a year.

            Any sensible welfare system has to be formulated where the benefits are a smooth curve that gradually decreases as you earn more. If the benefits went to zero at the point equal to the value of the benefits, either it’s a sharp cutoff or the gradual curve consists of making $10,000 a year and paying $10,000 a year in taxes, $15,000 a year and paying $15,000 in taxes: leaving you no better off with the basic income.

          • “The starting point is to say that anyone earning more than the UBI pays UBI-equivalent in more tax- making it neutral to them”

            You are ignoring incentives, assuming that people’s incomes are frozen.

            Consider a simplified case:

            Before the $20,000 UBI, I was earning $40,000/year, paying a 20% flat tax of $8,000, keeping $.80 out of each dollar of additional income. With the UBI, by your approach, I pay a 70% flat tax, “making the UBI neutral” to me.

            But now I keep only $.30 of each additional dollar, so the tradeoff between work and leisure shifts in favor of leisure and I earn less than $40,000—how much depending on my particular tastes and opportunities. So you have to raise the tax rate farther to raise the amount of money for the UBI. Which increases the incentive to earn less.

          • John Schilling says:

            True to an extent, but you’re stacking the deck by assuming a $20K UBI and paying for the whole thing with new taxes – both of which go well beyond what anyone is suggesting here or what would be politically feasible in the real world any time soon.

            For a $6K truly universal base income, two-thirds of which is paid for by cancelling existing safety-net programs (including EITC and Social Security) and the rest by a flat tax, and assuming half the population are taxpayers, I get a baseline 20% tax rate increasing to 30% in the UBI scenario, rather than your 70%. I believe the available evidence suggests that most people’s earning and investment behavior is relatively insensitive to tax rates in the 20-30% range, whereas you are correct that a 70% marginal tax rate would highly disincentivize productive activities.

          • JBeshir says:

            The incentive problem is why I said “starting point”. In the basic tax neutral form I outlined, where UBI is replacing an effective floor provided by welfare systems, you would have a welfare cliff, same as the welfare system being replaced*. It would be no worse or better than that system was.

            The point I wanted to make was that UBI isn’t any more impractically expensive than a welfare system. And it isn’t any more broken incentive-wise, either- it just entails merging the existing behaviour into the tax rate, which will then concisely represent the extent to which incentives already sucked.

            What costs you is doing *better* than the existing system used to do, financial incentive wise. You need to increase taxes at the high end insofar as you want to lower them at the low end to do that. This is expensive, but the expense of improving incentives is no reason not to switch to a UBI and at least represent the crappy incentives you already have in a single tax rate rather than in lots of complicated rules all over the place.

            What probably cripples the system incentive wise is not so much financial changes as that the welfare system used to have a mandate to seek work to remain in receipt of benefits, whereas the typical version of UBI does not. This might be fatal to any version of UBI which lacks this constraint.

            * As Vox points out, more sensible welfare systems incorporate phase out of existing benefits as income rises already- this results in a high effective marginal tax rate, but not an absolute cliff. The UK’s new Universal Credit system, for example, has a taper of 65% (after an allowance below which it is 0%, just to complicate things).

            When converting this to UBI, this is equivalent to the welfare floor scenario, but with you already having done the tax rises necessary in order to lower the 100% tax rate down to the taper, and move the switch back to normal taxation to the point where you’re sending back more than you’re getting. You would need further tax rises at the higher end to lower taxes at the low end further.

        • John Schilling says:

          If you take most of federal social spending, including tax expenditures, you aren’t all that far off.

          And you should be able make up the difference by increasing taxes on the rich and the middle class by approximately the UBI, because “We are going to raise your taxes by $6K/year, but we are also going to give you $6K/year in guaranteed free money” is economically neutral.

          You should be able to do this, but in anything like the current political climate, the middle class is going to be very suspicious that you are trying to pull a fast one.

          • Brandon Berg says:

            Although narrowing the base and increasing marginal rates is pretty much the opposite of good tax policy.

          • “You should be able to do this, but in anything like the current political climate, the middle class is going to be very suspicious that you are trying to pull a fast one.”

            Because you are. As my previous comment pointed out, changing the tax structure to make it substantially more progressive affects incentives.

    • Jeremy says:

      I’m curious about the wages = 50% of GDP then. What is the other 50% if not return on capital?

    • Mr23ceec says:

      May I point out that corporations are just 1 form of private company? I’m not 100% sure how much various personal enterprises and LLCs take up in the GDP, but it can’t be completely insignificant.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Reminder for everyone that wants to be (mostly) Anonymous: the Email anon@gmail.com is already being used by several people.

    • Anonymous says:

      And so the Anonymous collective grows! (Posted such a PA downthread before reading the comments, now deleted.)

      • Hlynkacg says:

        Jokes on you, you are all the same entity.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yes. I am *happy* that you know this. *Light reflections* is not Anonymous, just *fingers*.

          • Nate says:

            A marvelous reference, but one I wouldn’t expect many people to get. The above comment is written as the Orz speak in Star Control II; putting words or phrases in asterisks is how your translation software communicates “this sounds funny, but it’s the best translation I can come up with”.

            (It’s strongly hinted that the Orz are 3D projections of a 4D, interdimensional cosmic horror.)

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I hate this. I liked being able to tell the different “Anonymous” posters apart.

      Now it’s like 4chan or something.

      • Anonymous says:

        >Implying this wasn’t always 4chan

        We’re being a bit more honest about it, that’s all.

        • onyomi says:

          It really isn’t 4chan.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s a lot like /tg/ or the other highbrow parts of the chans.

          • Shieldfoss says:

            @Anon

            Having spent quite some time on /sci/ and /tg/, it really isn’t like those parts of 4chan either.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s less porn spam, and shit doesn’t get done, but there is a lot of articulate debate about things that normal high-brow people find irrelevant/uninteresting/low-status.

          • Shieldfoss says:

            R:32 / I: 1
            Hello. I’m Chad and I’m writing a nov͋͗el about the highly unlikely possibility of an extraterrestrial attack on planet Earth. So what are your weaknesses, also in an event of invasion what would be your initial action ? I’m only asking because I’m writiͪ͌ng a novel. I’m Chad.

            R:24
            Is it pronounced oiler or you-ler?

            R: 37
            A friend and I had a discussion: who is better overall, Lagrange (her opinion) or Euler (my opinion) ?? Take everything they’ve ever done into account.

            R: 38 / I: 3
            Aspiring geologist here Is geology a meme science? Do you guys consider it a hard science like physics?

            Is geology a meme science?

            meme science?

            EDIT: And these weren’t the dumbest threads, these were just the dumbest threads among the ten first threads.

          • Anonymous says:

            >Geology
            >Not a meme science

            I bet you think data science isn’t a meme either.

            Seriously, though, all communities have jargon, when I started reading this blog, all the talk abou fnords and castles and fields seemed pretty silly as well.

          • Anonymous says:

            Seriously, though, all communities have jargon, when I started reading this blog, all the talk abou fnords and castles and fields seemed pretty silly as well.

            Always seems this way, doesn’t it? When you are an outsider, the insider jargon is silly. When you are an insider, the jargon is perfectly fine.

          • Shieldfoss says:

            I’ve been on /tg/ and /sci/ for years and I still cannot stand half the jargon of those boards.

            And it’s not “the jargon” that makes this place better than 4chan, it is 100% the fact that I am free from bad threads.

      • onyomi says:

        I am also not a fan of this development. What, really, is the upside to not only being anonymous in terms of people figuring out who you are irl, but in further preventing people from connecting one of your anonymous comments to any other?

        It seems only to enable bad behavior (drive by snark), but I can’t think of much positive it enables to counterbalance it (I will admit, myself, to having, once or twice, posted anonymously something I was embarrassed to post even under my pseudonym, but I certainly don’t do it as regular practice and already can’t remember what it was or why I thought it was such a big deal; probably me taking myself and the value of my online persona too seriously).

        Also, yeah, my brain kind of wants to collapse everyone with the same gravatar into one person.

      • anon says:

        I’m sorry that it’s so difficult for you to evaluate posts based on their content instead of the reputation of the person posting them

        • null says:

          That’s not the point. The fact is that having different people with the same Gravatar in the current system makes it harder to follow conversation threads, especially since people insist on using variations of the name ‘Anonymous’.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Sorry, but it does actually matter when the comment does not contain a complete description of what kind of person the poster is and what he thinks about every subject.

          If some random guy on 4chan says I should read a certain book and doesn’t explain why, I think, “Why do I care what you think I should read?”

          If e.g. David Friedman says it, I care.

          Or if someone has a whole spiel about how Israel is an apartheid state, and they explain why, and we have a whole back-and-forth, I probably don’t want to get into that again from square one the next time they say Israel is an apartheid state without realizing it’s the same person. If I want to talk about it again, I’d like to continue where we left off.

          Edit: but null is correct that this isn’t even the point most of the time. Not having labels on who’s speaking is annoying. You have to figure out whether it’s really the same guy or not.

          It’s like reading a book without enough “he said / she said” tags. You get halfway through the exchange and have to go back to the top counting the lines one at a time to figure out who said what.

          • onyomi says:

            And based on my experience just in this thread, it encourages rudeness.

          • anonymous says:

            Onyomi, as long as we’re judging manners, note that some might find the fifty (!) individual comments you made in the last thread (Rulink Class) to be indicative of another form of rudeness.

          • onyomi says:

            So posting a lot is inherently rude?

          • anonymous says:

            It’s undoubtedly narcissistic. Fifty out 1000 posts were yours at one point. Nearly all of them personal musings on the silly red-blue schemata.

          • onyomi says:

            Most of them were a debate on racism vs xenophobia in the context of the “birther” controversy, which by the way, was brought up by others. You make it sound like I’m using the SSC comment section as my own personal navel-gazing blog, but I don’t see how an extended back-and-forth with a few other commentors on a topic I didn’t even introduce constitute that. (Yes, I created the comment thread with a topical comment on the linked issue of “Trump anxiety,” but the “birther” controversy which ended up going on so long was introduced by others.)

            But if other, non-anonymous users feel I’m abusing the SSC comment section in such a way, feel free to say so and I’ll try to cut back.

          • null says:

            You are not abusing the SSC comment section.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, black and white anonymous is spamming way worse than you are.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Agreed,

            Black and white square anonymous is currently sitting on 56 posts* out of 1,002 compared to Onyomi’s 35 so they’re really in no position to be accusing anyone else of spamming or narcissism here.

            Edit:
            That’s ignoring “Anonymous”s that have different gravatars and “Anon”s who have the same.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Man, that anonymous email really did escalate to full-on asshole rather quickly. This is one ban I won’t mourn.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Onyomi

            No such thing! Your posts are short, neat, non-repetitive, non-hominem, non-bickering.

            If there were to be a quota on posting, it should be on total wordcount per thread, with long posts costing more than short ones.

            My suggestion was just an alternative to someone’s wish for pruning by random rejection of new posters. Whether any pruning is needed, except by the Ban Hammer, IDK.

          • bruceeasly says:

            Hey, I like my eulogies for the white working class written by sheltered libertarian academics!

  7. What happened to “Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism”? It seems to have been edited to remove all references to conworlding.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, I was using that post in Important Discourse enough that I removed the weird parts about my personal life.

      • FTR, I don’t think an interest on conworlding is a negative thing. Although it seems reasonable to assume I’m probably in a minority.

      • Julie K says:

        Are you still happy with everything else there, e.g. the statement that conservative Christians are icky?

      • Mister Eff says:

        Is it possible you could include/share/whatever a link to the original? I’m sure I could wayback it, but you probably have it somewhere already.

        And no, there’s no particular reason. It’s just to indulge my memory-hole insecurities.

  8. Gildor Inglorion says:

    I’m curious as to how the utilitarians here feel about total vs average vs prior-existence utilitarianism, and how much of a problem it is that finding a satisfactory method of aggregating utility is difficult.

    • Eli says:

      Ok, ok, hold on, there are enough people who don’t believe in the prior-existence restriction that a term for it, and the term “replacability”, had to be developed, so that these guys could actually expound a theory….

      This is why utilitarianism has such a bad fucking name, guys.

      • Anon says:

        Uh… most people would find “I know! We’ll just enslave every child born after today and put them to work for the benefit of people who are alive at this moment!” to be a morally objectionable stance. Prior existence is not obviously a good test.

        As a rule, if you find yourself thinking “how could anyone be dumb enough to believe [novel-to-you philosophical stance]”, you should consider the possibility that you have missed or misunderstood some argument, not jump straight to mocking.

        • suntzuanime says:

          It’s a morally objectionable stance because their parents are alive right now and would care about their children.

          • Mary says:

            So let’s enslave all children as soon as they are orphaned.

            Or pay women lots of money to carry unwanted children to term and enslave them.

            Or better yet, invent a drug that numbs people’s parental feelings. That would not only allow us to enslave the children, it would eliminate all the pain and suffering that existing conditions cause parents to suffer.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Once they’re orphaned it’s too late, they already exist. And you can’t precommit to enslaving them because before they’re orphaned they have parents.

            There are numerous problems with the second plan, the most obvious being that slaves just aren’t worth all that much if you have to raise them yourself. You wouldn’t end up ahead after paying out lots of money to the mother.

          • Mary says:

            Once they are born, they exist. But your argument on enslaving them turned on the concerns of their already existing parents, not on their having acquired existence. If not enslaving children not born yet turns on the existence of people currently in existence, so to must the argument against children not yet born or orphaned.

            As for the payment, if the only problem is economic, you are stating there is no moral objection to it.

          • suntzuanime says:

            If not enslaving children not born yet turns on the existence of people currently in existence, so to must the argument against children not yet born or orphaned.

            Someone must be born before they can be orphaned, so there is no point at which they have no parents but have not been born. If they are orphaned before being born they will never be born at at all.

            There may be a need for some sort of reflective consistency criterion, as it does seem a little weird to precommit to the creation of slaves who, when they are born, you will predictably cry out to free. I’m not sure what that would look like. Maybe it’s not necessary? People have children for selfish reasons all the time.

          • Adam says:

            For now, but there’s no reason to think we won’t ever figure out how to clone some deceased unknown soldier and grow the clones in artificial wombs.

          • Anonymous says:

            Say you encounter the following choice. Option 1: everyone born from this moment on experiences excruciating torture for their entire life. Option 2: everyone born from this moment on experiences wondrous bliss for their entire life, and one person currently alive stubs their toe.

            If you are going to protest that people currently alive would suffer from knowing about the pain of those who have to experience lifelong torture, grandfather it so that it only applies after the last person currently alive dies.

            I think preferring option 1 over option 2 is indefensible.

          • suntzuanime says:

            People currently alive have preferences over the happiness of their children even if they won’t live to see that happiness fulfilled.

          • Mary says:

            If people currently alive had preferences over the misery of their children even if they won’t live to see that misery fulfilled, would that make enslaving the children mandatory?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Like I say, I’m not a utilitarian so I don’t find anything particularly “mandatory”. But in that weird counterfactual where parents hate their children I think it would be pretty hard to convince them there was anything wrong with it. It seems wrong to you because you’re in the ordinary actual factual where parents love their children.

          • Mary says:

            so you think that enslaving children is not actually wrong, I just think it’s wrong — then how can anything be a morally objectionable stance?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Of course nothing is actually wrong, come on! That’s like a fundamental tenet of utilitarianism, that nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. Give me a break.

          • Anonymous says:

            @suntzuanime

            All right then. In my Option 2, let’s say the people currently alive experience the same suffering as you expect the people in Option 1 would experience from knowing about the fate of their children. Everything else stays the same: all future people in Option 1 experience a lifetime of torture, all future people in Option 2 experience a lifetime of bliss plus one current person stubs their toe.

          • Mary says:

            “That’s like a fundamental tenet of utilitarianism, that nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

            Nonsense. The fundamental tenet of utilitarianism is the greatest good of the greatest number, which is obviously incompatible.

          • suntzuanime says:

            It is you who is nonsense, there’s nothing obviously incompatible about a definition of a word and the use of the word.

            I suppose it’s technically possible to have a utilitarianism that counts conch shells collected as utility instead of any sort of measure of satisfaction of people’s wants, but that’s not utilitarianism as it actually exists as an intellectual movement.

          • Zippy says:

            This seems to be what we in the business call a “hack”. You basically got the right answer in this particular case by using the wrong set of general principles.

            Or, rather, you got that it was immoral, but, because you are preceding from the wrong set of general principles, your estimation of the proposition’s magnitude of immorality would probably be low. This matters in real life (as much as any of it matters in real life) because often Bad Things must be traded against each other.

            I’m not really qualified or interested enough to support this challenge on your moral reasoning, though. Sorry.

            Side note: you’ve accidentally mistaken utilitarianism with moral anti-realism.

          • Adam says:

            And I just realized I accidentally replicated the plot of Attack of the Clones.

          • Mary says:

            You have not fixed your claim. “any sort of measure of satisfaction of people’s wants, ” does not thereby entail that all good and evil can be altered by your thinking differently. That would require to be able to change it from “satisfaction of people’s wants” to frustrating them if you changed how you thought.

        • Soumynona says:

          Doesn’t prior existence mean that you’re supposed to care about all people who already exist at the moment of making any decision, but aren’t obligated to create more people with net-positive lives? What you described sounds like a complete straw man.

          Your second paragraph. Practice what you preach.

          • Anon says:

            It’s not just that you aren’t obligated to create new positive lives, but also that you are not forbidden from creating new net-negative lives. I believe mine is roughly the standard objection to prior existence (apart from time inconsistency); if you think it’s a strawman, I’m curious why.

            On your second point, “prior existence is obviously correct” is not a novel-to-me philosophical stance, nor was I mocking it.

    • Protagoras says:

      I guess I lean slightly toward total. Most of the decisions I make on primarily moral grounds are not of the sort where the problems with total apply, but I do recognize that total has problems. I lean toward utilitarianism because I tend to think the problems with other approaches are more severe and less likely to be solveable, not because I think utilitarianism has no unsolved problems.

    • I’m not a utilitarian, but I have published on that question.

      “What Does Optimum Population Mean?” Research in Population Economics, Vol. III (1981), Eds. Simon and Lindert.

      I think maximizing average utility is indefensible for pretty straightforward reasons. Maximizing total utility leads to some counterintuitive results. I tried to construct a pareto-like criterion that would let you compare some alternative futures with different numbers of people in them, but not all.

      • Theo Jones says:

        Just read your paper. It’s a pretty neat solution to the issue.

        For those who don’t have access to a library with it, here is my summary (hopefully not too far from your intended meaning) of the rule.

        Lets say there are two worlds A, and B. World A has a population that is 1/2 that of world B. A genie goes to a typical (in terms of well-being) resident of world B, and offers the resident a game of Russian roulette. There is a 1/2 chance of losing, but if the resident wins he will become a resident of world A with typical utility. World A is better if the resident would be expected to accept the genie’s offer, if the resident would refuse the offer, then world B is better.

        • sptrashcan says:

          Isn’t this basically the revolutionary’s choice? Risk death for the chance to live in a preferable world?

          In a practical sense, I suppose you could call war a crude form of electing futures by counting how many people are willing to die for their preferred future. Of course other factors apply, but if you consider proficiency at killing for your preferred future as a proxy for how well you’ve made decisions so far… well, that’s a dark line of thought.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            if you consider proficiency at killing for your preferred future as a proxy for how well you’ve made decisions so far… well, that’s a dark line of thought.

            “Right makes might.”

            — Abraham Lincoln

        • Not quite right. If the resident would refuse the offer, we don’t yet know which is better.

          The next step depends on the fact that people in each world vary. We ask is there is some mapping of people in world A onto specific people on world B, presumably the happiest ones, such that everyone in A is being mapped onto someone in B he would rather be. That leaves half the population of B with nobody mapped onto them. If those people all have non-negative utility, meaning that, given the opportunity for painless suicide, they would reject it, B is superior to A.

          It’s only a partial ordering. And this is a simplified account, since my argument doesn’t depend on typical residents. The first step is mapping each person in B onto a lottery among roles in A which he prefers, where half the roles in A consist of nonexistence.

          It isn’t equivalent to total utility. If total (V-N) utility in A is greater than in B, A is preferred, but if total utility in B is greater, B may or may not be preferred.

      • DES3264 says:

        If we normalize “non-existence” to utility zero, and assume that the people in world B are risk-neutral, this seems the same as total utilitarianism (except that it is much harder to adapt this phrasing if world A is larger). But I should probably read the paper.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I’m not a utilitarian, but from an outsider’s perspective, the ones who aren’t prior-existence are totally deranged.

    • Noge Sako says:

      -Partly responding to a different comment, but it goes better here
      I argue for the total-view. In people, not too dissociated from real life it leads to justified conclusions such as eliminating factory farming, leading to vaccine development, and countering climate change.
      Including the examples that don’t involve people,I think a lot of these counter-intuitive results are due to biases resulting from typical evolutionary processes. A good example is the Grahams number of sand specks in the eye vs a lifetime of severe pain. The bias evolution gives is arguing for the former, but I believe a disassociated view argues for the latter. We are very pre-disposed to accept the former, since in most examples in life, that would be the “correct” cognitive view.

      I think its a mistake to not consider that utility may be totally independent from human, or even *conscious* existence. Or even non-sentient beings. Or even worms! I believe that’s what usually alters precise thought on the subject. Utility may ultimately be as fundamental a force as the electric.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/magazine/18wwln-lede-t.html

      For all we know, the emotions we receive are simply unlocking that what happens when an electron splits, or a photon is displaced. And that appears to be a basic conclusion.
      It gives…strange results. What if an extremely high energy gamma-ray burst contains more emotion then the entire human race, and the human fulfillment is to create an LHC devise.
      The Sheogorath-“madness” idea is that just like the electric force, its perfectly balanced with positive and negative forces. I don’t believe that one is true, but its interesting.

    • Troy says:

      We had a good discussion of aggregating utilities last year, in threads in which I advanced Bostrom’s infinitarian challenge to consequentialism. The relevant threads are here:

      http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/02/20/ot15-open-relationship/#comment-185623
      http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/12/ot16-avada-threadavra/#comment-189409

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      re: Prior Existence.

      I strongly suspect that Prior-Existence is just a way to encode path-dependence. E.g. replacing Alice with Bob is a lot messier in meatspace than in Sim City. Meatspace entails all sorts of macabre ramifications (both physically and game-theoretically). I consider this question dissolved.

      re: Total vs Average.

      Both paradoxes sound undesireable. There must be a third option.

      The Repungent Conclusion sounds less ridiculous when the model allows for negative utility. As Sister Y might argue, merely adding people to the world doesn’t necessarily raise total utility (this is why I lean pro-choice). On the other hand, [channels Hanson] if each soul gets to choose whether to enter the world, the future will reach an equilibrium where each additional person’s utility (as well as everyone else’s utility) is a mere epsilon above 0. This is undesirable.

      I find Average Utilitarianism (though imperfect) more appealing. Because my intuition says quality trumps quantity. Still, I dunno how to reconcile this with the commensurately undesirable Utility Monster paradox. The objection clearly stems from a sense of egalitarianism.

      In keeping with my Ethics is really just Economics theory, I’ve recently been wondering if we’ve been framing it wrong. “Egalitarianism” in the economic context is usually used to discuss the distribution of wealth. At the highest level, the debate mostly consists of Communism (planned economy) vs Capitalism (free market). If Communism represents “equal wealth” and Capitalism represents “equal opportunity”, then Utilitarianism-as-we-know-it is the equivalent to Communism in the sense that whether we pick Average or Total, the distribution of utility is predetermined by a Central Ethics Agency rather than determined by each individual’s will and resources to realize their goals.

      (my comment is poorly formed and this reflects my ongoing confusion.)

      • Anonymous says:

        On the other hand, [channels Hanson] if each soul gets to choose whether to enter the world, the future will reach an equilibrium where each additional person’s utility (as well as everyone else’s utility) is a mere epsilon above 0.

        Maybe so, but that isn’t total utilitarianism, as it doesn’t take into account the effect on the people who have to have an extra person put into their world. In maximizing total utility you would stop adding people when the marginal person takes away more utility than they add. I don’t see a reason to expect that point to lie when everyone’s utility is at zero or near-zero.

        If there are a million people on some utility level, and adding one extra person reduces everyone’s utility, including that of the added person, to 99.999% of the previous level, that person has imposed a net utility cost approximately nine times greater than their own utility.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          I don’t see a reason to expect that point to lie when everyone’s utility is at zero or near-zero.

          A major criticism of Total Utilitarianism is that of the Repungent Conclusion:

          For any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living. (Parfit 1984)

          Barely worth living == near-zero utility per capita. My comment was contrasting the Least Convenient World of Total Utilitarianism with the Least Convenient World of Average Utilitarianism.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Which seems like a cute bit of propaganda, to rephrase your opposition’s position and get it referred to as “repugnant”. Even Searle only went so far as to call his room Chinese.

          • Protagoras says:

            Derek Parfit is extremely sympathetic to utilitarianism. His “repugnant conclusion” (and the “absurd conclusion” is I think what he calls the companion issue) are problems he wants to find answers to, not slurs directed at his foes.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not seeing the repugnancy. To me, the idea of a large enough number of barely happy people being more important than a single very happy person sounds entirely reasonable.

            I would expect that the number of barely happy people that a population would have to contain, to be equally valuable as ten billion very happy people, would be many many times greater than ten billion. I also expect – and this is the point I tried to make above – that in such a scenario, the population size is well above the level which would maximize total utility. That is, you could remove some people and total utility would increase, as the marginal person is imposing a utility cost greater than their own utility.

          • Mark says:

            If imagining that other people are happy is what makes me happy, and if other people are like me, then noteworthy unhappiness has a massive negative utility cost.
            Even the possibility of noteworthy unhappiness has a massive cost. Non-deontological utilitarianism also has a massive cost.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            If anything, I was expecting replies to the prior existence claim.

            @protagoras

            I too am sympathetic to utilitarianism and want to find solutions to it. I don’t think we disagree on anything. (I think there’s an aphorism about how the closest allies are often the harshest critics.)

            @anon

            So given a plot of Population vs Total Utility, you propose an n-shaped curve. This is also what I would expect. But the least convenient world I’m proposing doesn’t have an n-shaped curve, it has a monotonically- (and perhaps asymptotically-) increasing curve.

            I find this less absurd than a universe containing a single, infinitely-happy denizen (though ideally I prefer a universe with a few infinitely-happy denizens over a universe with an infinite number of barely-happy denizens). But I still wouldn’t want to live in either universe. This leads me to believe that neither Average Utilitarianism nor Total Utilitarianism are perfect frameworks (even if we were to polish them with caveats).

            But if you were to feel perfectly content in a universe full of a near-infinite number of barely-happy denizens, then maybe that’s just a difference in terminal values or preferences.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            If find all this talk about “patching utilitarianism” weird.

            If your reason for rejecting a certain form of utilitarianism is “I don’t like that kind of world; it doesn’t appeal to me”, then you’ve already got your guiding ethical theory: subjectivism, the good is whatever I think it is, or whatever appeals to me at a given time.

            So now you’re just trying to figure out what exactly appeals to you. But maybe there’s no way to make all your vague feelings cohere into a single ethical theory. Maybe what appeals to you today won’t appeal to you tomorrow.

            To frame this as a discussion about which form of utilitarianism is true seems kind of silly.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            If your reason for rejecting a certain form of utilitarianism is “I don’t like that kind of world; it doesn’t appeal to me”

            Teach me how to consequentialism.

            p.s. in case I was unclear, my objection is “I don’t like what this form of utilitarianism suggests I should optimize for in hypothetical edge-case x”.

            But maybe there’s no way to make all your vague feelings cohere into a single ethical theory.

            This applies to ethics in general. So idk why you say this as if it were relevant to utilitarianism specifically.

            To frame this as a discussion about which form of utilitarianism is true seems kind of silly.

            I don’t frame it this way. I think of it more as an episode of Dexter’s Lab. Half of ethics consists of playing scientist, in attempting to suss out patterns in our intuitions. The other half of ethics consists of playing engineer, in trying to build a coherent ethical framework which generalizes to societies larger than Dunbar’s Number.

            My Metaethics says Normative Ethics is analogous to Civil Engineering. Does this indict me such that my utilitarian license will be revoked?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ FullMeta_Rationalist:

            I’m pretty sure this applies to ethics in general. So idk why you say this as if it were relevant to utilitarianism specifically.

            It’s relevant to ethics in general, of course. I bring in utilitarianism because that’s what you happen to be talking about.

            My Metaethics says Normative Ethics is analogous to Civil Engineering. Does this indict me such that my utilitarian license will be revoked?

            It seems to me like your metaethics says normative ethics is more analogous to what color you’re going to paint the bridge, not to civil-engineering questions of whether it’s going to stay up or not. Whether the bridge is going to stay up or not has an objective answer, independently of what anyone thinks about whether it’s going to stay up.

            But the argument you’re having is: “What kind of bridge appeals to me more, a red one or a yellow one?”

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            The test of an ethical theory is “whether everyone likes it” (think TDT and archipelagos) and “whether society implodes” when we implement the algorithm irl. I predict that choosing whether to optimize for Total vs Average utility has a real impact on how society might operate (even before we evaluate the algorithm in the limit) and therefore has a real impact on the theory’s robustness in the field. So naturally, I feel this question is of a higher order than determining the color of the bikeshed.

            Re: my comment “then maybe that’s just a difference in terminal values or preferences” and your comment “But maybe there’s no way to make all your vague feelings cohere into a single ethical theory”.

            And furthermore, maybe there’s no way to make everyone’s vague feelings cohere into a single ethical theory. And maybe a single bridge can’t simultaneously satisfy everyone’s preferences anymore than a democracy can.

            Suppose we build a bridge and it’s sturdy enough for most usecases, but it’s too small to support tractor-trailers over a certain weight. FMR Shipping Co is very unhappy about this. Does the bridge represent a failed construction project? Is the answer to the question objective? Is the question analogous to deciding whether to color the bridge yellow or blue?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ FullMeta_Rationalist:

            Suppose we build a bridge and it’s sturdy enough for most usecases, but it’s too small to support tractor-trailers over a certain weight. FMR Shipping Co is very unhappy about this. Does the bridge represent a failed construction project? Is this analogous to deciding whether to color the bridge yellow or blue?

            It’s a failure from their perspective. And it’s certainly not a question of civil engineering. Under your premises, it’s like the question of yellow vs. blue in that some people want it one way, others want it another way. There may be more of one than other, but that’s hardly relevant to the question of who’s right.

            Let me put things in a simpler and better way. Utilitaranism says that the good is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Subjectivism says the good is whatever a given person thinks it is. If some people don’t think the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the good, then these two positions conflict.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            In that case, fine; it’s bikeshedding. But I was never trying to answer the question of “who’s objectively right” so much as “what’s optimal given a set of x mathematical-constraints and set of y business-tradeoffs”. I think assuming that “there exists a treasuremap which leads to THE GOOD and we just have to search Platonic Heaven to find the map” is the wrong way to go about ethics.

            I’m pretty sure THE GOOD is just a variable for whatever we optimize for or whatever aligns with our terminal values. The Greeks got it backwards in thinking THE GOOD was static and objective. I hear the Greeks also thought that vision radiated outward from our eyeballs.

            On the meta level, I’m a subjectivist in that I descriptively model others as having arbitrary terminal values. I take this as self-evident. On the object level normative level, I’m a preference utilitarian because I predict that preference utilitarianism will lead to lots of people being able to satisfy their terminal values. I acknowledge that this up for debate.

            But I’m hesitant to say “morality is subjective” for the same reason a civil engineer might hesitate to say “engineering is subjective” to a shaman. Because my model of ethics is more nuanced than “morality is subjective, yay or nay”. Answering “yay” would very likely give the wrong impression.

            Preferences are subjective, but that doesn’t make the legalization of murder a good idea to implement. I see no inconsistency in this model.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ FullMeta_Rationalist:

            Fair enough for most of what you say, but I take issue with this:

            On the object normative level, I’m a preference utilitarian because I predict that preference utilitarianism will lead to lots of people being able to satisfy their terminal values.

            No. Preference utilitarianism doesn’t, of itself, “lead to” people being able to satisfy their terminal values. Preference utilitarianism isn’t a policy position. It’s a position about the proper evaluative standard.

            Preference utilitarianism says “whether the greatest number of people can satisfy their terminal values ought to be our standard of right and wrong”. Saying you think it ought to be the standard of right and wrong because it will lead to the greatest number of people being able to satisfy their terminal values is just circular.

            It’s like saying: “I support paperclipism because it will lead to maximum paperclips.” I’m sure it will, but questioning whether paperclipism is good is just another way of questioning whether maximum paperclips is really good.

            Preferences are subjective, but that doesn’t make the legalization of murder a good idea to implement. I see no inconsistency in this model.

            It’s a bad idea from your perspective. It’s a good idea from the perspective of the guy who wants the maximum quantity of murders.

            ***

            Maybe a better way of expressing my point in that second part:

            a) Paperclipism: the moral theory that goodness is whatever promotes maximum paperclips.

            b) I desire maximum paperclips.

            These are two separate things. Maybe paperclips are good, but you don’t desire them. Maybe you don’t desire them, but they’re good.

            And, strictly speaking, the theory of paperclipism doesn’t “lead to” more paperclips. Maybe you spread the Good News of Paperclips, and it leads to people resenting your preaching and moving to staples altogether.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Idk man. “proper evaluative standard” sounds an awful lot like policy to me. Implementing a policy necessarily involves the evaluation of a decision tree in order steer one’s decisions towards the ideals of said policy. Are you sure you’re not bifurcating?

            It’s like saying: “I support paperclipism because it will lead to maximum paperclips.”

            What I’m trying to say is more analogous to “I support democracy because I predict we can build a successful society around democracy”. Where “successful” is defined as “compatible with my preferences” and “preferences” are defined as a subjective, spooky, psychological thing that science doesn’t fully understand yet. My particular preferences include a term for other people satisfying their preferences as well as my own, which is why I like democracy and not dictatorships (though if dictatorships were shown to more closely align with my preferences and not collapse into anarchy, I might choose that instead). No turtles, I promise.

            Voltaire may disagree with what you say, but he’ll fight for your right to say it. Ron Paul dislikes the idea of smoking pot, but he would prefer to live in a world where pot is legalized. I don’t like murder, and I think it’s a bad idea policy wise. Do you see the difference between a personal preference and a group policy?

            The reason I say murder is a bad idea policy-wise is because the value of the policy is not only contingent whether people prefer it, but also contingent on whether one can build a successful society around it. If you were playing the Sims, could you build a successful society around legal murder? Similarly, could a civil engineer build castle out of sand? Is a castle made of steel not objectively superior along nearly every architectural metric, ceteris paribus? (By the way, let me know how building a society around the tiling of paperclips goes. There must be some kind of Civ mod for that. Rule 34.)

            I honestly don’t think murder is “objectively wrong” in any cosmic sense. The cosmos don’t give a shit about us. Morality was made for man, not man for morality. Similarly, a bridge isn’t “objectively wrong” in any cosmic sense. That’s very different from saying “this bridge component will buckle under minimal load, and therefore the design is weak in comparison to other possible designs”.

    • blacktrance says:

      I’m not a utilitarian, but total utilitarianism seems the least correct of those. Utility is supposed to be a quantification of well-being, and in total utilitarianism there’s a decoupling between the two, so it loses sight of the motivation behind utilitarianism of making people as well-off as possible. But average utilitarianism has problems too, such as ranking a world consisting of one person suffering greatly as worse than a world of a million people suffering mild discomfort, and also it allows for the killing of people with (sufficiently) below-average utility. Some kind of hybrid of average and prior-existence utilitarianism seems most plausible.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        Average Utilitarianism does not necessarily imply killing people who have low utility, as long as we include past people in the population – you will not increase the average utility by killing them unless by killing them you prevent their utility from being even lower that it would otherwise be (and even total utilitarianism recommends killing people in that case; this is still problematic, but it’s a general problem for utilitarianism). Unfortunately, this is not much help for average utilitarianism, because it has even worse implications: it implies that if the world contains one person suffering a billion units of torture before dying, we ought, if we have the option, create another person suffering a billion-minus-one units of torture before dying.

    • grort says:

      I think prior-existence utilitiarianism is closest to the True Path, but it’s not there yet. (And I’m pleased to see there’s a name for it.)

      Total utilitarianism could lead to creating people until they’re all miserable; average utilitarianism could lead to killing off the least happy people until there’s nobody left. As people downthread have observed, prior-existence utilitarianism could lead to precommitting all future offspring to be slaves. So clearly we need to keep working on utility-aggregation functions until we find something that doesn’t have these problems.

      (There’s a counterargument in the Consequentialism FAQ, part 7.3: “Do you want to live in a society where these problems happen? No? Probably other people don’t either. So utilitarianism will aggregate your preferences and avoid doing that.” That’s a nice theory but I’m not sure how far I trust it.)

      • grort says:

        I think part of the problem is that we don’t have good baselines for the utility of not existing. Total utilitarianism assumes that people who don’t exist yet have a utility of zero (and then calibrates the rest of its scale so that most people’s utility is positive). Average utilitarianism assumes that people who get killed have a utility we don’t need to care about because it’s unmeasureable.

        I wonder if we could “patch” utilitarianism by assigning some artificial values to those events. For example, for purposes of average utilitarianism, we could assume that people who get killed have negative utility (equal to whatever utility they would have experienced throughout their potential lifespan, had they not been killed).

    • Zippy says:

      I’m pretty sure that if you combine total utilitarianism with the procreation asymmetry (or, rather, the principles that create the the procreational asymmetry), you get the right answer.

      I’m not entirely sure how to describe this unambiguously. Probably someone already has, but I don’t really enjoy reading philosophy papers.

      Also this introduces a lot of complexity into your equations because you have to acknowledge things like Time and Causation. A shame, really; you’d like to just integrate over the curve of happiness in the universe (as if that were easy!).

      • Philosophisticat says:

        To my knowledge, nobody has given a satisfactory account of the principles underlying the procreation asymmetry, and I see no reason in advance to think that there’s a natural way to ‘combine’ those principles with total utilitarianism (or utilitarianism of any form, for that matter).

    • Philosophisticat says:

      The objections to all three views strike me as pretty devastating, and the problem seems to me like a serious one, both in raising doubts about utilitarianism as the right approach to morality and because those views substantially differ in their prescriptions.

      For what it’s worth (I’m not a utilitarian), some version of the prior existence view seems the best candidate to me, but only because the (very serious) problems it faces are shared by most plausible non-utilitarian views as well.

    • Hummingbird says:

      I identify as a consequentialist, hard leaning toward utilitarianism.

      I find prior existence utilitarianism unsatisfactory because it insufficiently addresses negative outcomes of future persons and actively encourages behavior such as “borrowing against the future”. Examples include climate change and natural resource depletion/ruination.

      As for average and total, it gets dicier. Of course I’d like to have choices that are between only increasing both average and total, or not. The implications of maximizing average against total or maximizing total against average are certainly repugnant conclusions.

      I really honestly don’t know. It seems that every combination, modification, or augmentation I imagine leads to possible unsatisfactory outcomes. It seems that having an individual utility floor (guaranteed basic utility) would *help*, but the range of possible outcomes is still unsatisfactory.

      Hm. This thinking smells of consumer surplus, GDP, average income, and guaranteed basic income. There may be some interesting econ models for me to investigate…

  9. Simon says:

    About sea-lioning: I follow a certain war correspondent on Twitter, and yesterday he mentioned he was annoyed and would quit his account for a while. I checked his mentions, and apparently some woman had asked him something along the lines of ‘don’t you ever feel bad making money from war?’, to which he responded ‘Sorry, that’s not a conversation I’m interested in.’ And the Very Moral floodgates opened.

    Now, to some people it is perfectly legitimate to keep asking him questions. He didn’t answer after all, and he’s a public person, and it’s an important subject.

    But, on the other hand, those people are assholes and they need to shut up.

    That’s why I disagree with the two linked comments. Yes, it’s fine to ask for more information, but if the other person says ‘I don’t want to engage’, then leave them alone. And especially don’t go on your anti-war-correspondent-forum and ask them to join in.

    • rockroy mountdefort says:

      that isn’t sealioning though

      sealioning, as conceived, is someone saying “I hate __________s “, and _________s saying “we think we are okay people and don’t deserve to be hated”.

      what you are talking about is a different thing, which is not sealioning, but which certainly does suck and is stupid

      • Nita says:

        The original definition (in the form of a comic) involved the sea lion following someone around (in their home as well as in public places) and demanding an explanation.

        • Zorgon says:

          And was dumb strawman bullshit written by an idiot and broadcast by more idiots.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t mind most naces. But riggers? I could do without riggers.

          • anon tith-smeller says:

            I’m getting a fascinating picture of someone burdened by rowing boats that are just too … sexy.

            “Nace” has a variable and regional definition, but that’s definitely the most amusing.

        • Deiseach says:

          In the original comic, I didn’t think the sealion was being unreasonable. Following them home was extreme, but since the person didn’t want to explain or justify why they had a prejudice against sealions, what could it do?

          (a) Give up and allow nasty remarks about sealions to pass unchallenged – not great

          (b) Make a nuisance of themselves by continuing to harp on about it – not great either

          I don’t think the person being “sealionned” was any more in the right than the sealion who moved from “reasonable query” to “stalker nuisance”, and the way the comic was written made it seem like the “excuse me, what do you have against sealions?” was being a nuisance and unreasonable and persecuting, even before it got to the popping up everywhere and following them home.

          • ChetC3 says:

            > (a) Give up and allow nasty remarks about sealions to pass unchallenged – not great

            It’s the only sensible response. Other people are free to dislike you (or anyone else), and to state that dislike to their friends in casual conversation out-of-doors.

          • J Mann says:

            “In the original comic, I didn’t think the sealion was being unreasonable.”

            Ah, a sealion etiquette question! Now, that, I can discuss!

            I think it’s out of line to enter someone’s home and ask questions while they are trying to sleep. (Alternately, if the sealion is an invited guest, it’s somewhat rude).

            More generally, after a few evasions, I think the sealioning is basically harassment. Maybe the anti-sealion person has it coming for being such a bigot, but at a certain point, it’s not an investagory technique.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Which is where the analogy breaks, because the people complaining about sealioning were stating their dislike in a public square. And complaining about responses in that same space (i.e. no one followed them home). Basically they want the wide audience Twitter gives them, but they don’t want the audience to be able to respond. Which is fundamentally, not the way Twitter works.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Deiseach
            In the original comic, I didn’t think the sealion was being unreasonable.

            I was on the comic-sealion’s side. First the comic-woman was thoughtlessly rude; then she was deliberately and repeatedly rude.

            The comic-woman made a thoughtless remark in a public place, and the Sealion ‘called her out’ on it in a very polite, reasonable way. Instead of replying “I apologize, I shouldn’t have said that here; I’ll withdraw the remark” (or even, “Er, sorry!”) — she deliberately did something rude: ignored him.

            If she had ever said anywhere in the sequence, “I’m sorry, but please let’s not go deeper into it” and the Sealion had ignored HER request, then he would be out of line, imo. Except that since it’s all really online, he could say, “Well, here are links to some evidence if you or any lurkers ever get interested” — as he walked away.

          • Frank McPike says:

            @houseboatonstyx
            When in public, ignoring a stranger who is trying to engage in conversation with you is generally an effective way of communicating to them that you aren’t interested in having a conversation with them. I’m not sure that a verbal refusal to have a conversation needs to be used when a nonverbal one conveys the same meaning.

            But all of this seems beside the point, given that the character in the comic actually does say “Go away.” So I don’t see a case to be made that she wasn’t clear about what she wanted.

            Now, she didn’t apologize, but even if we agree that an apology was owed, I don’t think that being owed an apology by someone grants a right to follow that person around asking for it. If I’m in public, and I overhear someone insulting me, I might be within the bounds of social etiquette if I inject myself into their conversation and ask for an apology. But I would have far exceeded those bounds, and then some, if I followed them from place to place insisting upon one. I think this is true regardless of how grave the insult was and how polite and well-founded my admonitions are.

            The point of the comic is not that the woman is not rude, but that even granting her rudeness the sea lion is in the wrong. It takes a position in favor of the social norm that no matter how wrong someone is, and how angry that makes you, sometimes the only appropriate recourse is to leave them be because they want to be let be.

            There are certainly at least some people in the world who dislike me, and probably an even greater number who have said something negative about me (much less something negative about a group I belong to). But even so, I think that social norm is a good thing. I don’t think that others’ dislike of me is an impossible thing to live with, even if I occasionally encounter evidence of that dislike. I’d much rather be denied the opportunity to correct some false beliefs about me (or receive some apologies) than have to worry about being relentlessly pursued every time I hold a belief about someone else that they think is false.

            (How this norm should be applied to situations that differ from the comic in important respects is a more difficult question. But insofar as we are discussing the situation in the comic itself, I feel confident saying that the sea lion is well out of line.)

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Deiseach

            Considering how rude she has been all along, I’d consider this justified.

            They’re both out of line, perhaps different lines. ‘Calling someone out’ is rude per se; I just give him a lot of points for formal polite manner, and for allowing the comic-woman a chance to speak for her side (seldom seen with real SJW ‘call-outs’).

            Another thing that’s uncool and (unjustly imo) annoying, is shifting a conversation from high gear superficial to grinding low gear ‘have to really think about it’ or maybe — horrors! — have to look something up! That’s regardless of content, and applies even if the shifter is part of the party and someone has asked his opinion.

        • Peter says:

          Trouble with the original “definition” – for a definition, it was very vague. The author may indeed have issued some clarifications later but by then “sealioning” was already a thing – also, I think people more often refer to the cartoon than to the clarifications.

          The trouble, I think, with that sort of thing is that the clarifications can contain a quite narrow concept, which isn’t too hard to defend, and the people using the term “sealioning” to criticise people can use a broad concept which is widely applicable, and hard to defend against (are we still allowed to mention early medieval castles here?[1]). The vagueness means that people can do this without feeling they’re doing something dishonest and indeed may end up feeling agrieved when being accused of such dishonesty.

          [1] Similar complaints could of course be aimed at the medieval castle metaphor too, and I think have been.

          • Jiro says:

            The author meant for sealions to refer to Gamergaters. The idea is that if Gamergate is accused of harassment, you are acting like the sealion if you then insist on asking for proof of the harassment (and that asking for proof of harassment publicly is the equivalent of barging into someone’s living room.)

            Saying “if you’re accused of harassment, suck it up” is a flawed idea; any comic strip trying to depict it is going to have readers who notice how flawed it is and realize that maybe if you don’t want sealions asking you questions you should stop accusing sealions of things.

            Notice how vague the author’s “clarification” is about what sealions are actually supposed to stand for. People with behaviors, yeah. Which people with which behaviors? This is not an author depicting a reasonable concept vaguely and having people use it in unreasonable ways contrary to what he meant. This is an author depicting an unreasonable concept vaguely, and the people who use it in unreasonable ways are doing exactly what he meant.

      • tkmh says:

        The author clarified the meaning of the sealion comic: he meant the sealion to be a stand in for people displaying behaviors, rather than demographic groups:

        It has been suggested that the couple in this comic, and the woman in particular, are bigots for making a pejorative statement about a species of animal, and then refusing to justify their statements. It has been further suggested that they be read as overly privileged, because they are dressed fancily, have a house, a motor-car, etc. This is, I suppose, a valid read of the comic, if taken as written.

        But often, in satire such as this, elements are employed to stand in for other, different objects or concepts. Using animals for this purpose has the effect of allowing the point (which usually is about behavior) to stand unencumbered by the connotations that might be suggested if a person is portrayed in that role — because all people are members of some social group or other, even if said group identity is not germane to the point being made.

        Such is the case with this comic. The sea lion character is not meant to represent actual sea lions, or any actual animal. It is meant as a metaphorical stand-in for human beings that display certain behaviors. Since behaviors are the result of choice, I would assert that the woman’s objection to sea lions — which, if the metaphor is understood, is read as actually an objection to human beings who exhibit certain behaviors — is not analogous to a prejudice based on race, species, or other immutable characteristics.

        My apologies if the use of a metaphorical sea lion in this strip, rather than a human being making conscious choices about their own behavior, was in any way confusing.

        As for their attire: everyone in Wondermark dresses like that.

        • Nornagest says:

          Is this guy always this wordy?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Sometimes you have to talk like a lawyer to make sure no one misunderstands you.

          • Nornagest says:

            In my experience, talking like a lawyer usually means more people misunderstand you.

          • J Mann says:

            And remarkably, all those words just obfuscate. What are “certain behaviors?”

          • Zorgon says:

            If nothing else, it’s a clear demonstration that the left is just as good at “dog whistles” as the right.

        • J Mann says:

          OK, I think I get it now.

          1) The Wondermark author is saying that the sealion is an, um, ethics in online recreation advocate, and that the sealion bothering people in their houses is offensive, just like it is when one of these fellows engages with an opponent on twitter. Is that right?

          1.1) @Scott – sorry if I got that wrong – I’ve seen some references to a term being barred, but I can’t find it in the commenting guidelines, and since it’s barred, I’m not sure exactly what’s barred or what the limits are.

          2) The Wondermark guy’s note is hilariously obtuse. I particularly like his patronizing lecture that people who read his comic “as written” are mistaken, because frequently “in satire such as this, elements are employed to stand in for other, different objects or concepts.”

          Yes, dude, the people who are mistaking your intent believe that people prejudiced against sea lions are stand ins for other, different objects or concepts, such as people prejudiced against other people.

          (And frankly, I wouldn’t think much better of the couple if they had said “vegetarians are the worst” or “people with tattoos are the worst,” even though those are “certain behaviors” that the subjects chose to engage in.)

          • Pete says:

            I think reproductively viable worker ants is the in-group term, although I haven’t seen it written for a while.

            Here’s why

          • tkmh says:

            The Wondermark author is saying that the sealion is an, um, ethics in online recreation advocate, and that the sealion bothering people in their houses is offensive, just like it is when one of these fellows engages with an opponent on twitter. Is that right?

            I not sure, but I think the comic was written to describe a Twitter behaviour in general, and got popular off the back of the ethics in online recreation. As far as I know the author wasn’t involved with that at all.

            I think what happened was that the author wrote the comic knowing that his regular audience would read it to mean what he intended to describe (i.e., that a certain kind of repeated insistence that you defend a political point is annoying). Then the comic became widely known because of the ethics thing and was read by a large group of people who couldn’t reliably judge its intended meaning. Furthermore, a good proportion of those new readers had a good incentive to read it uncharitably, since it was being used as a weapon against them by their ideological opponents. Although one plausible reading of the comic is “calling out bigoted people’s opinions is wrong, and people that call people out are the worst”, that’s clearly not the reading intended by the author.

            Probably a lot of the problem stems from this overexposure of the comic and its use as a weapon. Instead of being a joke for a known audience that loosely describes a common undefined but identifiable phenomenon, now people demand that its meaning is made precise and misinterpret it as a prescriptive rule for online behaviour.

            (And frankly, I wouldn’t think much better of the couple if they had said “vegetarians are the worst” or “people with tattoos are the worst,” even though those are “certain behaviors” that the subjects chose to engage in.)

            I don’t agree. The couple’s opinion doesn’t have to be a ‘good’ one for the sealion’s subsequent behaviour to still be annoying. Both parties can be in the wrong.

          • Montfort says:

            The ant term is not banned, but usually voluntarily censored in various ways. I believe the reason is to avoid drawing in people tracking the term by search engine.

            Discussion of the term which is actually banned can be found by searching for “traction fairies” (no quotes) in these comments.

          • J Mann says:

            @tkmh – thanks, that’s very well explained and would explain a lot.

            (And if I may say so, you have a gift for writing clearly notwithstanding the various levels of obfuscation in this discussion – your post was really fun to read).

            And I agree – IMHO, the sea lion’s first question is reasonable, and after that, he’s progressively more in the wrong. (I’d adjust the slope based on how offensive the couple’s comments were by a broad community standard. IMHO, “I could do without vegetarians deserves a little more call out than “I could do without child molesters”, but after the first question, the sea lion is basically calling out rather than engaging in discourse.

            The couple is probably in the wrong with the first comment (depending on whether sea lions are actually reprehensible), and I would say courtesy normally suggests some kind of response to the first question, but at a certain point, I agree they’re reasonable in requesting that the sea lion lay off.

          • Jiro says:

            The things done by the sealion in the comic get objectionable, and the people in the comic are in the right to ask the sealion to lay off, but the comic is a metaphor for something that actually happened, and what actually happened doesn’t compare very well to what the sealion did in the story.

      • Nero tol Scaeva says:

        The original sea-lioning: https://youtu.be/Uwk6r8TJD2U

        (probably NSFW)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think the difference is as far as I know he’s not starting any debates himself by attacking people.

      I feel like if you go up to random people and demand to know what they’re doing about prejudice against Bulgarians, you’re being annoying. But if I say “I hate Bulgarians”, and then people try to argue with you about how prejudice against Bulgarians is wrong, well, you kind of walked into that one.

      Starting to think nobody has the slightest idea what sea-lioning is. This is as bad as when people talk about “Mary Sue”

      • Zorgon says:

        Their belief that they have the right to say something abhorrent about Bulgarians in public without recourse from Bulgarians should tell you everything you need to know.

        “Sea-lioning” is therefore best described as “the process by which awful people pretend they have the right to restrict other people’s right of reply in public places”.

        THAT definition does not appear to have an obvious counter, at least to me… but then I am hardly unbiased in this particular horse race.

      • ton says:

        I’m using the term in the sense the blog post used it, not the implication from the comic of being against certain groups (which was not intended according to http://wondermark.com/2014-errata/

        Such is the case with this comic. The sea lion character is not meant to represent actual sea lions, or any actual animal. It is meant as a metaphorical stand-in for human beings that display certain behaviors. Since behaviors are the result of choice, I would assert that the woman’s objection to sea lions — which, if the metaphor is understood, is read as actually an objection to human beings who exhibit certain behaviors — is not analogous to a prejudice based on race, species, or other immutable characteristics.

        My apologies if the use of a metaphorical sea lion in this strip, rather than a human being making conscious choices about their own behavior, was in any way confusing.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Good Lord. That may be the most smug thing I’ve ever read. How can that guy read his own writing without wanting to punch himself?

        • GCBill says:

          The author may not have intended for the term to be used against certain groups, but if someone claims that people with [immutable characteristic] are disproportionately likely to “display certain behaviors,” then what’s to prevent the unintended usage?

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay. So the woman in the strip says “God I hate smokers”.

          Person who is standing outside the pub smoking says “Hey, why say that?”

          Instead of “I don’t mean you” or “I think smoking is unhealthy” or “My ex was a smoker and spending time with him meant my clothes smelled like an ashtray”, she just says “ZOMG, so unreasonable!”

          Now, following her home etc. is unreasonable, nobody disagrees with that. But she does not explain her reasons and still have the smoker/sealion badgering her for “Excuse me, why why why”, she just gives a flat refusal to even consider what she said.

          I think if you give a reason for what you said, and the other person still willfully continues “why why why” then you are entitled to say “this is going nowhere, I’m not responding”.

          But refusing any kind of an answer is sulking. If you really think the question is stupid, then say so straight off. “I don’t have to talk to you and I’m shutting this down!” is saying you recognise you made a dumb remark with nothing to back it up and you are too bull-headed to apologise (and I’m prone to that myself, so I can’t throw stones).

          • J Mann says:

            Well, even refusing to give an answer is fine – IMHO, what makes her wrong is that she resents the sea lion for even asking.

            If I’m at Starbucks (or on twitter) and I say “joggers are the worst,” and someone politely engages me, I don’t think it’s reasonable to resent them.

      • onyomi says:

        Okay, for the benefit of those of us (just me?) who never heard of sea-lioning before this thread, is this an accurate-ish description:

        Criticize or insult person or group in a public forum. Then act annoyed when person or group member has the audacity to come on your [blog, twitter, youtube channel] to defend themselves?

        • Anonymous says:

          That’s one perspective. Another definition would be “constantly hounding, beyond what’s reasonable and proportionate, a person for an offhand remark”.

          There is some truth to this second definition, sometimes it is much saner to live and let live. However, the problem is that the people who actually use the term “sealioning” unironically cannot accept this second one, because it’s been a trademark SJ tactic (although frequently not as polite) for as long as forever. So you have to make some sort of mental contortion to say “OK, this that you’re doing right now is super obnoxious, but it was totally OK when we were doing it”.

          • Zorgon says:

            No, but you see, when they do it it’s activism.

            [/sarcasm]

          • Anonymous says:

            The thing is that, hypocritical as it might be, the point still stands. It’s important to be able to let go, and just not mind people saying dumb things.

          • Mary says:

            “Who, whom?” has been a guiding principle of (certain) Leftists for a long time.

        • ton says:

          “Criticize or insult person or group in a public forum”

          Not as described in the blog post, nor intended by the comic.

          The definition I’m working from is more like

          “make claim, others ask questions that show a lack of basic research, you refuse to engage”.

          Claim doesn’t need to be attacking anyone.

          Also, the sealioner isn’t “defending themself”, they’re only asking questions and nitpicking. Someone bringing actual arguments is different.

          • Pete says:

            “other’s ask questions that show a lack of basic research…”

            I don’t see how it’s possible to read this from the comic. The sealion is responding to someone saying they don’t like sealions, not someone making an argument. How are you supposed to do basic research into that?

          • ton says:

            @pete: I’ve been using the meaning in the blog post, not the comic, which isn’t as clear. They tried to clarify in http://wondermark.com/2014-errata/

          • Pete says:

            OK that’s somewhat more understandable. On the other hand, it means that the original comic sucks. Comics and cartoons are a great way to convey an idea in a very small amount of space, but I didn’t get that idea at all from the comic.

            In fact, the first time I read the comic I was confused because the sea-lion appeared to be calling out a racist, yet the people linking it approvingly and using the term sea-lioning tend be be vehemently anti-racist and be strongly in favor of calling them out.

          • Zorgon says:

            Well, bearing in mind that their “calling out” behaviour is exactly the same as that exhibited by the sealion the comic, one can assume that their approval is not actually based on the depicted scenario but is instead based upon their (correct) assumption that the comic’s author is On Their Side.

        • ChetC3 says:

          Fairly accurate, for anyone who has the same lack of respect for social boundaries and poor emotional self-regulation as a sealion.

        • Anon says:

          I had never heard of it before today, and don’t use Twitter, so you’re not the only one. That description sounds basically accurate, from my limited understanding of the issue.

          Though I would say that responding to a negative comment about you/your group on Twitter (when Twitter was the platform a person used to make the original negative comment) is different than following them from Twitter (or whatever public original platform they made the comment on) to their personal blog elsewhere on the internet. Blogs are more personal and private than Twitter (at least IMO), and blog runners usually have the latitude to decide who gets to post comments on their blog.

          I think it’s more reasonable to negatively react to someone following you* around to various sites on the internet (especially if it’s to your personal blog) than for you to react negatively to someone responding to a public tweet you made on a public website that you do not own or run in any way. The blog scenario seems kiiiind of defensible to me, while the whole “getting mad that someone tweeted a response to my tweet insulting their group” thing doesn’t.

          *Generic you

        • vV_Vv says:

          If I understand correctly, the meme originated, or at least become popular, in the context of GamerGate.

          Something like:
          SJW: “Gobblegabbers are all white creepy racist virgin neckberd misogynerds who harass women.”
          GGer: “Excuse me sir, do you have a moment to talk about #notyourshield?”
          SJW: “Go away from my Twitter, sea lion! This is my safe space! Somebody call the UN, I am being cyber-raped!”

          This is the reason why GGers use the sea lion in their imagery as a form of reappropriation.

          Of course, the comic is vague enough that it could be used to justify the KKK talking shit about black people without being called out.

          • BBA says:

            It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Not only did it trigger every single failure mode of internet discourse, it revealed a few new ones we didn’t know existed.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I think it’s the other way round – follow someone around for saying something you don’t like to a greater extent than is reasonable. Challenging the original statement is reasonable, commenting on every blog post they ever make with “Why do you hate [x]?” is not.

      • Jiro says:

        Starting to think nobody has the slightest idea what sea-lioning is. This is as bad as when people talk about “Mary Sue”

        A Mary Sue is a character that shows a set of character traits that normally implies concern with using the character for wish-fulfillment over other concerns such as plot and characterization.

        Note that much of the difficulty in defining it is because it’s hard to define anything. The classic example is how to define “chair” while including everything from beanbag chairs to chairs used in art projects yet excluding other things. If you want to cover everything with an explicit definition you’ll need clauses to handle weird subcases (“is intended for sitting on, or is used in a context where objects similar to it are implied to be intended for sitting on”, to handle the chair used in the art project).

        If you don’t count something as hard to define just because the definition allows nitpicking of noncentral cases, “Mary Sue” isn’t hard to define.

        • Mary says:

          “A Mary Sue is a character that shows a set of character traits that normally implies concern with using the character for wish-fulfillment over other concerns such as plot and characterization.”

          the author’s wish-fulfillment at that.

          At witness that the classic originals (in Star Trek fanfic) often had the same name as their authors.

          The problem being that if the reader can get into the character as a wish-fulfillment for them, it’s arguably not a Mary Sue — but different readers appreciate different characters.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s why I said “over other concerns such as plot and characterization”.

          • Mary says:

            Nah, some wish-fulfillment stories manage to triumph over putting wish-fulfillment over other concerns such as plot and characterization.

      • Dahlen says:

        The comic artist’s mistake in illustrating their point through that comment was to pick a contention in which the sea lion had skin in the game — its identity group was directly targeted by the comment, which, in a certain reading, awards it sympathy points from the audience. Very often that’s not the case in real contexts. It’s more usually a case of “someone wrong on the internet”.

        The tactic is in fact very easy to define, it’s certainly not the case that nobody knows what it is. What the authors call “sea-lioning” is the disingenuous demand for more involvement in the debate, in a rhetorically disadvantageous defensive position, as punishment for disagreement (because it’s frustrating and a time sink, and the sea lion isn’t looking to get convinced no matter how patiently you treat this). In the OP, you presented it as the Bulgarian in the example volunteering facts and evidence. It’s a big distinction. Taking the time to come to the debate with your homework done is evidence against engaging in sealioning.

      • Skef says:

        “Starting to think nobody has the slightest idea what sea-lioning is.”

        But the particular reason for that is interesting — that comic seems to be like an ethical variant on the striped dress photo: people divide about evenly on the impression of whether the human or the sea lion is at fault.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I get the impression that most people agree that the sea lion is intended to be at fault, but many people think it is actually being more reasonable than the author gives it credit for.

      • Simon says:

        I thought it meant something like “the online behavior where people keep trying to get answers from/make points to a person that (indirectly) started a conversation they are no longer interested in”. It can be one question or, more commonly, a Gish gallop.

    • Deiseach says:

      But would the reporter take “no” for an answer if he asked a subject a question and they went “Sorry not a conversation I’m interested in” and then took their ball and went home?

      Someone who makes a living asking awkward questions and ferreting out answers should be prepared for the shoe being on the other foot. Even “No, I don’t make money off war” is better than “Not talking about this, la la la la”.

      • vV_Vv says:

        It seems to me that many public figures don’t understand how Twitter works. They tend to use it as some sort of top-down press release system, and then they act shocked when people interact with them in a way they didn’t foresee: “OMG why are these lowly peasants responding to me? Make them go away!!11!”

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          I am reminded of “Ask Me Anythings” on Reddit and how many people arrive ignorant of how the process works and how badly it winds up going. The end result is that AMAs done by famous people or people with a PR flack machine go hilariously badly. Most notably people go in expecting to answer a list of scripted softball questions.

    • Zaxlebaxes says:

      That experience you talk about sounds horrible. The war correspondent’s actions seem totally justified. But I don’t think what the woman was doing fully maps to what people accused of sealioning are doing. There’s an argument going on below about this, so I’m going to try to explain what I meant when I made one of the comments Scott linked to.

      I chose this username for reddit (and now here) a little while back, and I was inspired by an idea Roderick Long, a libertarian philosopher at Auburn, expressed in a talk about contentious terms like capitalism, socialism, right, left, etc. He used the example of a made-up word: zaxlebax, defined as “a metallic sphere like the Washington Monument.” His point in creating a definition that absurd and self-contradictory was to explain that many contentious terms contain assumptions within their very definitions (here, he’s talking about terms being defined by standard usage, as in a dictionary). He chose an assumption that was plainly false as a way of illustrating not only words whose definitions include false assumptions but those whose definitions included debatable or unproven assumptions.

      I think that’s what goes on with sealioning. The sealioning comic emerged from the context of a particular controversy, and has to be understood in that context. In that context, at least from the sealions’ perspective and from my perspective as an observer, this was going on: people we’ll call dugongs were accusing the sealions of hating and harming seals. When the sealions asked the dugongs to demonstrate that what the dugongs were saying about the sealions being dangerous and worthy of condemnation was true, the dugongs refused to do so while continuing the accusations. When the sealions continued to press, the dugongs accused them of sealioning. I think, in that circumstance, the dugongs had some sort of ethical obligation to substantiate the serious accusations they were making against the sealions or to cease making them, and that the sealions had a right to be part of the public conversation occurring about them.

      From the perspective of the dugongs, what happened was essentially the sort of thing you described above, but where the dugongs were the war correspondent and the sealions were the woman who hounded him. But the comic, made by a dugong, appears to split the difference. It acknowledges that the original claim was about sealions being bad, though it neglects to mention that it was in actuality a collection of repeated public accusations made about the sealions being dangerous and harmful in a potentially actionable way.

      The way it looked to me, the situation was more like the woman in the example accusing the war correspondent of making money from war, and then the correspondent saying, “If you’re going to accuse me of war profiteering or the like, you better substantiate it or stop.” And then the woman accuses him of sealioning. In the example, in fact, the woman doesn’t appear to be doing anything remotely similar to what the historic sealions were doing: she’s not asking him for evidence of anything, she’s not maintaining an ostensibly polite and level-headed tone (as the sealion does in the comic while behaving rudely), and she’s not responding to anything about her at all. From the way you portray it, she just came out of nowhere; she started it, and made an unsubstantiated accusation herself. The bad part wasn’t just that the war correspondent had randos in his mentions. It was precisely what that rando was unjustafiably saying and doing in a context that had nothing to do with her.

      Which brings me back to the zaxlebax. I think that the comic, which coined the term “sealioning,” wanted to define it as roughly “to enter, unwelcome, into a private conversation, badgering the interlocutors repeatedly and rudely, demanding that they meet a certain unreasonable standard of facts and evidence for the claims they made in the conversation, such as the people we are calling sealions are doing in this case.” That definition includes the assumption that this is what the historic sealions are doing in the context in which the comic was created: they are entering into a private conversation, they are rudely badgering the dugongs (too many animals), and the demands they are making are unreasonable. In other words, the term “sealioning” implies that behaving in the way the people originally accused of it behaved was essentially the same as behaving like the woman in your example. Then, one basically has to say, “And I think what the sealions did was bad because you shouldn’t do what the woman did to the war correspondent,” inverting the situation. Using the term is like taking a “package deal.” It’s inventing a category, like “famous zaxlebaxes,” which is inherently problematic. Someone adds the Washington Monument to the list, another person lists the Avogadro Project kilogram, a third lists their copy of The Orb’s tenth studio album. None of them fit the definition, because the definition is unfittable.

      This is sort of like a motte and bailey. The motte for sealioning is what that lady did: being horrible and harassing someone online by asking rude questions. The bailey is the behavior it was actually being used to describe: asking someone who publicly accused you of something to justify their accusation with evidence when they don’t want to.

      Using the medium of a comic only furthers these dark arts, because the author can chalk any of the baked-in-but-false assumptions up to humorous exaggeration when called out on it, while still taking advantage of those assumptions where useful. The people accused of sealioning did not, of course, literally stalk a dugong, following them home. Of course, the comic artist isn’t saying that happened. When pressed, stalking is only a metaphor for the sealions’ behavior, a humorous exaggeration. But on the other hand, the artist wants our attitude toward that behavior to be closer to our attitude toward stalking, rather than our attitude toward someone having the gall to respond in public to a public accusation made against them. Below, some commenters are in fact saying that the sealion behaved badly for following the person home. Of course, the imaginary sealion behaved very badly! But that doesn’t tell us anything about the world outside the comic. Another commenter said the comic couldn’t be a straw man, because it was about itself; it was about the behavior it depicted. But it wasn’t; it was about a thing that happened, and it was claiming that what happened in reality was like what happened in the comic on some essential level. When the artist was criticized for depicting a situation where the sealion was depicted negatively for responding to prejudiced statements against sealions, the artist responded by pedantically explaining that he was not literally prejudiced against sealions and that the comic was actually metaphorical. It was really about people; the sealions were representative. Somehow I doubt the artist actually thought his critics didn’t realize the sealions represented people. But by conflating all these things together, using humorous exaggerations to confuse people’s attitudes toward the behavior in the comic and the behavior in real life, using the animal metaphor as a shield to deflect criticism of the comic’s underlying message, and by wrapping it all up into a catchy package-deal term, the artist does real harm to real people, and to our ability to understand and judge the situation.

  10. Theo Jones says:

    As per the top comment about sealioning, and Scott’s response.

    I think this represents a big issue in the structure of Twitter and other social media content silos. There are five roles that a communication service can fulfill, 1) 1 to 1 communication between two individuals (ie. personal email), one to many communication (ie. a newspaper), 3) a group of like-minded individuals coming together to discuss a matter of common interest (ie. an Internet forum for conservatives),4) a community of people with, disparate views to come together and discuss those differences (ie. a broader focus Internet forum), and 5) core infrastructure that serves a bunch of unrelated users with different interests and goals (ie. a webhost).

    Twitter tries to be all five, and this creates a lot of problems, and tensions.

    And it creates people with different expectations of what type of community they are dealing with. There are a lot of different communities and users with different goals. And sometimes these communities don’t get along. The structure of social media systems forces them into the same silo. This creates perverse outcomes.

    This is where the sealioning stuff comes from. Remember the original cartoon. The sealion followed the tweeter home. And that’s what the people who complain about sealioning think is happening. Their vision of the purpose of Twitter is one in which they are dealing with like-minded people, or broadcasting their ideas to people who agree with them. Their conception of what Twitter is marks off 1,2,and three on my roles of a communication service, but they aren’t using Twitter for roles 4 and five. They look at their notifications and, like the sealioned person in the cartoon, see someone intruding on their home. Meanwhile, the person who is responding to the Tweet, thinks of Twitter as a way for people with disagreeing viewpoints to interact, and therefore thinks it is perfectly fine to rebut the person talking about how evil Bulgarians are. Considering the structure of Twitter, both have a point.

    This also creates some of the controversies over censorship. Twitter is in large part acting as core infrastructure. And its important infrastructure. Social media sites contain so much of Internet discourse that if your opinion is blocked from them, then you are at a severe disadvantage in getting it out. They are so powerful that by taking sides on political issues they could alter the discourse on those issues quite a bit. Its safe to say that both Sanders and Trump are social media candidates– if social media wasn’t available to them, then they couldn’t sustain their campaign solely on traditional media. FiveThirtyEight.com has a post up showing the social media mentions of each candidate for president if you want a visualization of this. But Twitter isn’t purely infrastructure. The different communities can affect each other. If my webhost also hosted a neo-NAZI blog, it wouldn’t affect my site very much. The neo-nazis could read their site, and my readers could read mine. But if a bunch of neo-nazis started using Twitter, then there would be clear leakage on the other users. And this could damage the reputation of Twitter. One FB friend of mine put it thusly: If a bunch of bikers start attending your bar, then you become a biker bar unless you kick them out. Again an impasse created by the dual roles of Twitter.

    I think its an inherent problem in the design of such services, one that will eventually lead to their decline, and replacement with services that handle each type of Internet communication more individually. The reason Twitter type services gained popularity is more their ease of use, then their structure.

    • You are so right about Twitter.

      I think the way Twitter is set up makes it an unintentionally brutal front in the culture war. I usually don’t participate in the culture war, but I saw a post that combined two of my pet peeves (punching down and entitlement as fully general insult) so I responded. Rather than giving a counterargument or simply ignoring me, the culture warrior I was responding to quoted my tweet and let hundreds of her followers hurl insults at me for a few days.

      Anywhere else on the internet I would avoid that kind of thing. I don’t go to Facebook groups or blog comments sections I know to be filled with people who despise me. But on Twitter, where I have much less control over who sees my tweets, I unintentionally stumbled into a flame war. It was disconcerting and gave me serious doubts about trying to use Twitter as a productive medium.

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        I recently read an article which argued that Twitter’s invective was due to a clash of protocols [0]. People tweet conversationally. They assume their tweets are ephemeral and that their followers will understand the intended context. But often, followers (especially journalists) interpret the tweets as if they were on the record. They often quote the archive as if it were Ex Cathedra and often don’t understand the context in which a comment was made.

        I think Twitter the company is aware of this problem and is struggling to fix it.

        [0] can’t find source.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think the problem is that Twitter started off as quick status posts to be shared by you and your friends (the equivalent of the “I’m on the train” phone call).

          But when celebs and corporations and every hog, dog and divil started using them to garner followers as customers and advertising traffic, or to pontificate on various world topics to the audience at large, then it broke down because it was no longer a private system, it was a public one, but still running on the ‘quick private message’ model.

        • Jacob says:

          I’m not sure this is a problem from Twitters perspective. All they care about is that people use their service. Flame-wars generate lots of activity, so it may be a feature, not a bug.

          Then again, they could solve a lot of these problems by upping the character limit. That way people could provide context. There are rumors they may do this, we’ll see.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            IIRC Twitter Inc’s base of active users has been steadily shrinking over several quarters. Perhaps the hypothesized protocol clash isn’t the root of the problem. But Jack Dorsey knows there exists a problem, so he’s been pulling his hair out trying to fix it.

          • Zorgon says:

            He’s currently going exactly the wrong way about it, too. “Trust And Safety Council” indeed.

      • antimule says:

        Garret, can you paraphrase a post that you responded to?

    • Occasionally Steve says:

      You forgot 2b, many to one communication (twitter hatemob attempting to ruin someone’s life).

      • Alliteration says:

        Many-to-one does have legitimate usages, for example people e-mailing a radio show questions or a Reddit AMA. However, it can be used for harassment.

    • Yrro says:

      Yep, this is a large part of why I stopped disagreeing with anyone on Facebook. I realized we were interpreting the purpose of posting on the platform entirely differently. People post opinions on Facebook to vent, find agreement, and share common opinions – not to seek debate, even friendly debate.

      • My experience of Facebook is very different. I have cultivated a friend list almost entirely composed of libertarian-leaning academics and grad students and found that the level of discussion is very high. There are many disagreements, but they are always respectful.

        • Yrro says:

          Hmm, my Facebook list consists almost entirely of people who want to show me pictures of their baby (or dog), and that and party invites are pretty much the only reason I have an account. Not sure which norm is more common.

          • Adam says:

            Same here. My actual Facebook friends are overwhelmingly people I actually knew once, either because we lived in the same neighborhood, went to school together, worked together, whatever, which has little to do with common ideology. On the other hand, the only serious discussions I ever have on Facebook are in curated secret groups that don’t consist of my friends.

          • My Facebook friends are almost all people I’ve met in person at least once. The median number of meetings is probably one or two because I meet a lot of people at conferences. The number of times I’ve met someone is probably inversely correlated to the amount of Facebook interaction, since the people I met with every day for all of high school have much less in common with me than people I met once at an academic conference. The Facebook algorithm has appropriately curated my feed, which means lots of economics and not many puppy videos.

            I’m pretty sure I’m an outlier.

          • Randy M says:

            I’d say the median number of in person meetings I’ve had with my facebook friends is in the high hundreds or low thousands, because there are very few that aren’t family or friends that I’ve known for years, and only 3 or 4 that I’ve never actually met.
            But I do sometimes get into lengthy political discussions with a couple of others that I half hope everyone else scrolls past; having my thoughts on display for your mother, wife, pastor, etc. to see does tend to help me error on the side of polite and moderate.

        • I have both experiences of FaceBook.

          Most of my postings are in one of two contexts. Exchanges in the climate debate on FB are mostly a waste of time, except for the information they provide about how unreasonable many people are.

          Exchanges in the SCA (medieval historical recreation) groups, on the other hand, are usually civil, sometimes informative. People are asking for information, providing for information, showing off the neat things they have done.

          So the platform has the potential for both.

    • Arbitrary_greay says:

      I really enjoyed Status 451’s Splain it to Me article, because it points out how much certain communities and areas of the internet don’t actually want an information-based discussion. (which is very frustrating)

      Your second-to-last paragraph on Twitter leakage is a problem that also applies to Tumblr. It’s a complete nonsense platform for discussion purposes. The ease of proliferation of posts which makes it the ideal platform for some types of posts makes it a non-starter for anything other than “number of likes” feedback. I wonder if Facebook’s emoji reactions would work there, as well?

      • Anon says:

        One thing I find really annoying about Tumblr’s format is that when you “like” a post that has a reply on it, Tumblr gives you no way to distinguish whether you’re liking it because you enjoyed the parent post, or whether you’re liking it because you enjoyed the response and thought the parent poster was incorrect.

        All of those likes simply get registered in the original poster’s number of likes, even if most of the people liking that post are doing so because of a response another poster added to it.

        I use Tumblr for fandom posting and it works really well for that, but it’s probably one of the worst websites on the internet to actually have a discussion on.

        • Those threads where the posters’ names are up at the top and earlier posts are nested within later ones are awful for anything longer than the height of a screen.

          • Nornagest says:

            N
            o

            k
            i
            d
            d
            i
            n
            g
            .

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            All the same, I loathe the comment/forum format Tumblr retools reblogs into for the dashboard. Some uses of the “endless embedded quotes” format are very clever, and worthy content in their own right.

    • brad says:

      I disagree that Twitter is acting as core infrastructure or is terribly important. If twitter banned Donald Trump it wouldn’t do much to hurt him and if it banned all mention of Donald Trump it would hurt them more than it would hurt him. On the other extreme it wouldn’t hurt my ability to get my message out at all if they banned me because no one looks at my tweets anyway.

      The people that twitter has the most power over are those that exist because of twitter in the first place. Like these people: https://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-teens-are-making-money-off-novelty-twitter-accounts

    • Zaxlebaxes says:

      Precisely; you really hit on something there. Add in function 6) as a platform for coordinating political and social activism and 7) as a theater in which activism itself takes place–a mirror for society, in which people with universalizing visions for society endeavor to enact them virtually. These two functions are actually probably just extensions of the ones you outlined above, or dimensions in which all five functions occur: conversations between individual activists, signal boosting, conversations within and between activist groups, as well as call-outs and actions which reward desirable behaviors with status and punish undesirable behaviors with adverse social consequences. So many things could happen. One person could be privately disparaging Bulgarians to another, and Bulgarians could call them out just because they think it’s the right thing to do. One could also be disparaging Bulgarians to another person with the intention of provoking large-scale, coordinated and/or decentralized action against Bulgarians. One could be disparaging Bulgarians without any real purpose in mind, and others could take up the anti- or pro-Bulgarian mantle. Maybe you were just exasperated when you said, “will no one rid me of this meddlesome rando in my mentions?”, but now the knights are already on the boat across the Channel to Bulgaria to dox the Archrando of Twitterbury wearing a sea lion hair shirt, or something.

  11. irrational says: