Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

OT48: Open Your Heart

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

1. Thanks to everyone who attended the SSC meetups in California. A few people have asked about doing something like that more regularly even when I’m not visiting; if anyone wants to arrange something like that I’ll do my part to popularize it. Otherwise, there are always rationalist meetups in Berkeley and EA meetups in Stanford; I don’t know the exact times and locations but they should be pretty easy to find out if you ask.

2. Some people have asked about a forum to replace the overloaded Open Thread system. Right now I feel like there’s already a subreddit, it’s underused, and I don’t see why people would use a forum if they’re not using the subreddit, but if anyone strenuously disagrees I’m happy to listen to counterarguments.

3. I’ve been posting a lot less recently because I’ve been on vacation, but now I’m back and should return to a more normal schedule.

4. Comment of the week is TD on the role of 4Chan vs. SomethingAwful in internet culture wars, plus the ensuing thread.

5. Book 1 of Unsong is finished. If you’ve been waiting to read it until there was a big chunk you could read all at once, now’s your chance.

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1,467 Responses to OT48: Open Your Heart

  1. xerxespraelor says:

    ???

  2. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    That’s nice, dear.

  3. expjpi says:

    I enjoyed the meetups a lot! Can recommend to people not sure if they’d fit in. This is a blog advocating niceness, community and civilization and the people who read it seem to get high marks for those.

    • James Bond says:

      Wow , that makes me regret not going. I am definetly hoping for some more SSC meetups around.I am guessing that there is a lot of us in the Bay Area

    • Mark says:

      Are there ever any of these in Chicago?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Which is fine until the reason you don’t fit in is that you’re not nice, communal, and civilized.

    • Liskantope says:

      I’m becoming increasingly upset at how my recent move to Europe really seems to have decreased my opportunities for attending rationalist events. Yes, I know that there are groups in various parts of western Europe, but I suspect that most of the people I know from SSC are attending events either in the Bay area or in the northeast.

      • Basium says:

        I know there are a couple of SSC readers in Berlin, if you’re near there.

      • The Less Wrong Community Weekend in Berlin is a pretty amazing annual event, for what it’s worth. 🙂 This year it’s happening in September. I intend to be there; granted, I’m a lurker, not a regular commenter, but either way, I would expect a lot of European Slate Star Codex readers to turn up there.

        • Liskantope says:

          Thanks, and I’ll definitely look into this. I think I’m close enough to Berlin to be able to visit quickly and relatively cheaply for a long weekend. I’ve always wanted to check out Berlin eventually, and maybe this would be a good opportunity. I don’t identify strongly with LW as I do with SSC, but maybe I’ll have finally finished with the Sequences by then. 😉

          • I didn’t identify with LessWrong at all when I went to the 2015 LessWrong Community Weekend; I also changed my mind quickly. (And, while I think you were just being humourous, just to stress: You don’t need to have read the Sequences!)

  4. Luke the CIA stooge says:

    This candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada is running on a platform of ending ALL corporate subsidies.

    I know this group has the kind of wonks who go crazy over that stuff so go nuts.

    Starting questions: What would be the benifits and drawbacks? Could this have unintended consequences? Have they tried this anywhere else that you know of? Has this been proposed seriously before?

    check him out: http://www.maximebernier.com/en/

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Fully generalized argument- it depends on what is counted as a corporate subsidy.

      Looking at the page
      “We’ve had a good example of this kind of detrimental intervention these past few days when the government of Quebec provided a single business, Bombardier, with 1.3 billion dollars in aid. Talk about a concentrated benefit!

      Mr. Daoust justifies his request by saying that the federal government intervened in order to save Ontario’s auto industry. It’s always the same argument from those who see the federal government as a cash cow, wherever they may be in the country: Ontario received this investment, Newfoundland benefited from this programme, Quebec received this amount, that industry was favoured over another. So I deserve it too!

      We must put an end to this dynamic. There is another, simple way for the federal government to show fairness to all regions of the country, to industries, to businesses, as well as to taxpayers: It is to completely stop subsidizing businesses and to reduce their taxes. ”

      It appears to be a good plan.

    • Great idea. I don’t think you’ll find an economist anywhere who thinks that’s a bad idea. The reason nobody else has done that is that the people who receive billions in corporate subsidies lobby strenuously to maintain their privilege and regular voters don’t care enough to overrule them. This is the kind of thing politicians like to promise but never follow through on once they win.

      • Alliteration says:

        In the limited case of true large positive externalities, economist general favor subsidies. However, I can think of any obvious cases that. (Maybe vaccines?)

        On the other hand, because subsidies are so politically tempting, outright banning them might be better.

        • Anonymoose says:

          Theoretically alternative energy might qualify, although in practice I doubt the externalities are high enough.

          • Ricardo Cruz says:

            Are you referring to alternative to energy sources that cause pollution? Then, strictly speaking you have negative externalities, not positive ones. In that case, taxes are the best way to tackle it, because not only do taxes make alternatives cheaper, but they make using less energy cheaper as well.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Mostly, if you want to intervene in the economy for this kind of thing, the way to go isn’t subsidies – its pigou taxes. Don’t subsidize windmills, tax coal. This is the way to go because it encourages all alternatives to the thing you want to get rid of instead of relying on politicians picking a winner – even domain experts are hard pressed to do that, and politicians rarely are.

          • One problem with Pigouvian taxes, and externality policy more generally, is that it depends on knowing, at least approximately, the sign and size of the externality. For a big issue such as climate or population, that’s harder than people usually assume. There are both positive and negative externalities, they are spread out over an uncertain future, so estimating the net effect is hard, and it’s easy to fudge the calculations in the direction of whatever belief you start with.

            There’s a webbed video of a talk I gave on the subject.

        • The obvious case and common example is basic research.

        • The proposal is to get rid of all the subsidies that currently exist, most of which have nothing to do with positive externalities and everything to do with handing out political favours.

    • Deiseach says:

      In theory, it’s great. In practice, you get the company going “Okay, don’t bail us out. We’ll shut down (and likely move elsewhere) and you can deal with the five hundred people who lost their jobs, their families, the local businesses which are now heavily hit by loss of consumer spending because people don’t have good paying industrial jobs anymore, opposition parties using this to make political hay, and so on and so on. Enjoy getting your head handed to you in the next election!”

      Bombardier is interesting in this regard; its Belfast arm is heavily reducing its workforce due to the problems of its parent company, and since it replaced one of the major, and long-time, employers in the North of Ireland, this has severe consequences, even though it had been in receipt of government subsidies for over a decade:

      [Enterprise Minister, Jonathan Bell] added that the firm had received £75m of NI Executive assistance between 2002 and 2015.

      • cwillu says:

        1.3B would pay 500 people a salary of 100,000$ per year for ten years, and still leave 800 million left over for incentives to encourage other more profitable companies to open-up shop there.

        An over-simplification, sure, but then again I’m not the one implying that the two choices are “spend the money on a bail-out” and “don’t do anything whatsoever” :p

      • MugaSofer says:

        Bombardier employs 18,000 people in Quebec, and their business supposedly generates a further 40,000 Quebeci jobs.

    • John Schilling says:

      I didn’t see where he defines what a “corporate subsidy” is, which is where any such proposal will be gamed to death. For example, in the passenger-aircraft manufacturing business, the EU and especially France are often accused of subsidizing Airbus by simply giving them money. China is accused of subsidizing COMAC on account of the former still being a Communist regime and the latter being a state-owned manufacturing enterprise. The United States is frequently accused of subsidizing Boeing by buying lots of large military aircraft that look an awful lot like airliners and paying way too much for them.

      But the United States Air Force legitimately does need(*) lots of vaguely airliner-ish planes with special features and requirements that are going to push up the price somewhat. So how do we keep the usual suspects from channeling their subsidies through government contracts with terms particularly favorable to industry?

      And that’s just one example. The government is certainly going to be building infrastructure like roads, water and sewage lines, etc. If it pays gigabucks for high-capacity links to a remote site that happens to hold Company X’s mining town and little else of real interest to anyone, is that a subsidy for X? Or do you prohibit the government from building so much as a dirt road and an airstrip to support a community with a single dominant employer?

      * At least as long as it is going to be doing the EU’s warfighting as well as America’s, but that’s a separate discussion

      • Deiseach says:

        If it pays gigabucks for high-capacity links to a remote site that happens to hold Company X’s mining town and little else of real interest to anyone, is that a subsidy for X?

        That depends: is company X mining a valuable mineral that is only found in economically viable quantities in that region, and without it nobody will have the new iMachine or a working Thing for the Internet of Things to run on?

        Or is company X paying large wodges of dosh into the party-in-power’s election coffers in that state and it just so happens that the senators from that state are very influential at government level and they need to be kept sweet with pork barrel projects?

        In the first case, you could well argue that yes, it’s a subsidy for company X but it’s also a subsidy for the economic productivity of the entire nation, so it’s not merely the shareholders of company X who get the benefit.

        • Part of the argument against such subsidies is that the ability of a company to make money by doing something is a better, although imperfect, measure of the value of having that thing done than the ability of the company to persuade the government to subsidize it.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If that mining town needs Internet, why wouldn’t Company X pay for it itself and cover it with their nighunobtanium revenues? The prices of iDevices go up a bit, no subsidy required.

    • SJ says:

      Does Canada have farm subsidies in the way that the United States does?

      That would probably qualify as “corporate subsidy”, under some definitions.

      It’s a government payout for activity (or inactivity, in some cases) that large corporations can use to extract huge direct payments from the government.

      • Alliteration says:

        Canada has a milk board which has a monopoly on buying milk from farmers. Thus, milk products are significantly more expensive in Canada than the USA.

        It used to have a wheat board but that was abolished by the former Conservative Government.
        I am unsure if it has other subsidies.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Like others have said, I like it a lot but it depends on what counts.

      I support significant wage subsidies, but some people call this a subsidy to businesses. (I think they are intellectually dishonest but I’m biased to think that.)

      Are specific businesses being targeted with the subsidy, or is it a case where anyone can show up to claim the prize?

    • Chrysophylax says:

      Generally speaking, less rent-seeking is better, and any subsidies should be justified by stong arguments. There are a couple of good reasons for subsidies but they’re all easy to abuse. First, externalities. Second, regulation of monopolies can (at least in theory) involve forcing their prices low and covering their losses, but this is less practical in a dynamic setting. Third, the (dodgy) Infant Industry Argument is somewhat less dodgy when the protection comes through subsidies rather than trade barriers. Fourth, labour market imperfections, as outlined by Deiseach, although my general feeling is that any firm that can’t support itself is probably doomed in the long run anyway. Fifth, bailouts, but those cause moral hazard problems and should be both short-term and accompanied by punishment.

  5. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #14
    This week we are discussing “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick.
    Next time we will discuss “Transmission” by Nate Soares.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I watched the film version of this story, Screamers, years before I read it, so I had the twist spoiled, but I liked it anyway. The story has a bleak, nihilistic atmosphere which fits well with the subject matter.

      I’m not sure whether Phillip K. Dick thought of the robots as being conscious or not, but if they weren’t, then the implied fate of Earth reminds me a bit of the Disneyland with no children scenario; a world of machines eternally making war on one another with no moral agents to suffer or benefit.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Ever have one of those stories that made a significant impression on you when you were little but couldn’t find later because you didn’t remember the name or who wrote it?

      Seems that “Second Variety” was that story.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Glad to see that my subthread managed to reconnect you with “Second Variety”. What deep impressions did it make upon you?

        • hlynkacg says:

          I read it in one of my dad’s pulp sci-fi collections when I was 9 or 10 and had nightmares about it for weeks. The image in particular of “the survivor” on her way to the lunar station to start the cycle anew really stuck with me for some reason.

          Years later I remember watching Terminator 2 and finding it eerily familiar. I tried to go back and find the original story, but with no luck. Since then I’ve occasionally wondered I had somehow imagined it. Yet here we are.

    • SJ says:

      The “Second Variety”.

      First time I read it, I had a feeling that the ending of the story was going to pull the rug from under the reader. But I couldn’t predict quite how.

      This time, I knew what the ending would be. But I still read the story all the way through.

      And I’m never really sure if the various “Varietys” of automated killing machines were cooperating or not. But the main point is that multiple ones were present, and only one of them had to fool the soldiers long enough to get on the rocket to Moon Base.

    • Murphy says:

      wow, Screamers stayed really close to the original dialog.

      Though I remember thinking that the anonymous desert planet was a weird setting. Post nuclear earth makes far more sense.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I was a little disappointed by this one. I thought that the reveal of the Second Variety was far too easily deduced too far in advance, and I spent the whole story thinking, “Well, this chowderhead SHOULD shoot her now in order to save the Lunar race from extinction, but I also can already tell that he’s not going to.” That said, it was my first encounter with the story and I really liked the horrible robots murdering everyone. Fun idea.

    • Agronomous says:

      The weird thing about this story is that, for a Philip K. Dick story, it’s not all that weird. Though I guess I did see Screamers, so I pretty much knew the twist(s). (Of course, the stupid fucking opening-spread illustration gives one of the twists away, and the middle illustration another. And the intro text—when I was on a Project Gutenberg 1950s Sci-Fi kick, I had to train myself to skip over those. It’s like current-day movie trailers….) And it’s clear that The Terminator didn’t get all its ideas from Harlan Ellison.

      Is it possible that it was a lot weirder in 1953? The whole Russians-at-first-seeming-really-bad-but-really-not thing hadn’t been done to death that early in the Cold War, for instance. Nor was the paranoia aspect.

      I think the expository dialog was very well done, and the scheming of Tasso kept me off balance. It’s a bit strange how they dance around her career choice, but I guess mass-market media were more strait-laced sixty years ago. And the incident that reveals all to the main character at the end was also very effective.

  6. Tophattingson says:

    The SomethingAwful vs 4chan discussion, and trying to research events surrounding it, made me notice something. There is barely any recorded history of internet communities. I know that in theory we have access to pretty much every document we need either from the source or via archive. That doesn’t matter much when you have a billion documents and no way to determine which is important. At best you get an encyclopedia dramatica article which condenses a few events and that is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

    That statement about a sudden-seeming SJW takeover of SA in 2010? I can’t read or learn more about that without consulting someone directly. The internet relies on “Oral Tradition”.

    An example from my own internet experience is a community that existed from 2010-2014 of about 100 individuals that migrated across at least 6 different websites (one of which I was de-facto running), split several times and then finally died from a total deficit of new arrivals. It’s not recorded history; you’d have to ask someone involved for knowledge of it.

    In meatspace important individuals (and even unimportant ones) writing biographies would usually cover history at that scale. Little equivalent exists on the internet.

    Perhaps we should be recording this history properly before it fades from memory, server and archive? Is 4chan or SomethingAwful or countless equivalent websites an interesting enough topic to recieve a history book (or several). I think they are.

    • Zippy says:

      Perhaps we should be recording this history properly before it fades from memory, server and archive?

      No. It will fade forever, and good riddance. It was never important, and will never be important. People will be saved the trouble of even considering reading the history.

      Of course, if you want to chronicle some online community, go ahead.

      • No. It will fade forever, and good riddance. It was never important, and will never be important. People will be saved the trouble of even considering reading the history.

        It’s nothing more than an interesting story. People like reading fiction anyways, what difference does it make if that fiction is based on actual events?

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          Well, I’d be a bit happier without the constant barrage of articles holding me responsible for the imminent reactionary apocalypse for posting funny frog memes in a Peruvian Weaving imageboard… actually, nevermind, that sounds metal as fuck.

      • Deiseach says:

        It was never important, and will never be important.

        The trouble is, you never know what historians of the future will want or need to know. What was silphium, exactly? There are so many examples where nobody bothered to write down, or draw, or explain, what a thegorbobble was, because everyone knows what a thegorbobble is! A five year old child can thegorbobble!

        And then a thousand years later we’re stuck with the “thegorbobbles may have been used for ritual purposes” which is the stock anthropologist/historian phrase for “we haven’t the foggiest notion”.

        The “Great Man” view of history, where one important charismatic figure made sweeping changes at a particular moment, is falling out of favour (if it hasn’t already long gone). Instead, we know better that the real currents of history are explained by precisely the tea-table squabbles, grudge-holding, and the Countess’ favourite cousin who was the lover of the Minister who went to school with the Duke who commanded the King’s armies managed to get her boyfriend the plum job at the Embassy through this web of connections which put him in the right time at the right place to take advantage of the opportunity to become The Great Man of the hour.

      • JDG1980 says:

        No. It will fade forever, and good riddance. It was never important, and will never be important.

        I disagree. In the past two years, we have started to see real-world political movements arise out of Internet ephemera. The SJW movement as it exists today would not be possible without the Internet, and it was largely an Internet phenomenon before it erupted into the real world (if you consider college campuses the “real world”) in the past year or so. On the other side of the aisle, the Alt-Right is largely a creation of the Internet, and the Republican Party’s leading Presidential candidate this year is soliciting Alt-Right support.

        Future historians will want to know how these political movements got started, and you have to go to message boards and social media to find the primary sources.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          the Republican Party’s leading Presidential candidate this year is soliciting Alt-Right support.

          Is not. I’d argue it’s largely coincidential. The alt-right saw a succesful politician who opposed their mortal enemies the social justice crowd, and hailed him the great messiah. Things seem to not at all go the other way around.

          • tmk says:

            This is very interesting. I also have the impression that the online alt-right has latched on to Trump, but he has not returned the affection. For example, I don’t think Trump has ever used the word ‘cuck’, nor endorsed many alt-righters. Tt doesn’t seem like a large portion of Trump’s voters have any alt-right ideology either.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I don’t think he’s done much to specifically court them besides being unusually nativist. Though I am wondering now whether having a super model Eastern European wife is extremely un-alt-right or extremely alt-right. Weirdly I think it’s kind of the latter.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            The alt-right fetishises women they don’t see as western a lot, so I’d say it is. Of course, by this logic Obama courts the Red tribe by being married, so this is probably a case of looking into things too much.

          • Jiro says:

            alt-right isn’t the same thing as Red Tribe, and I thought Obama’s wife was from the US anyway.

          • null says:

            I think the analogy Stefan Drinic is making is that “Trump is appealing to alt-right because he is married to a foreign woman” is on the same level as “Obama is appealing to Red Tribe by being married”.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            That is exactly what I am saying, yes. Thank you.

          • Vorkon says:

            While I agree that the alt-right mostly latched onto Trump, rather than the other way around, I still think it’s fair to say that internet communities have had a non-negligible role in the current political climate. Trump’s support is, in many ways, a reaction to Political Correctness, as exemplified by the Social Justice movement, and as others have pointed out, the current Social Justice movement largely grew out of the Internet. Any future history which completely ignores online communities would be missing an important piece of this puzzle. Perhaps not the most important piece, but they definitely wouldn’t have the full picture.

        • The Nybbler says:

          This is at least the second wave of SJWs, the first wave was in the 1990s before the Internet was big. Maybe that’s why it died off. It started on college campuses; here’s one example:

          http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-05-08/news/1993128032_1_potential-rapists-campus-feminist-art

          • Viliam says:

            They were making the same mistake in 1993 they are making in 2016. Impressive.

            I mean, they are technically correct that every man is a potential rapist. But it would be equally technically correct to say that every woman is a potential rapist, so why the focus on men? Or let’s make it a potential murderer, to avoid the gender issues.

            (Aren’t they allowed to choose a subset they focus on? Yeah, as long as other people are allowed to focus on e.g. black men.)

          • hlynkacg says:

            All men are potential rapists, all women are potential whores, and EVERYONE is a potential murder, thief, and jaywalker. The solution of course is to treat everyone with suspicion (if not out right hostility).

            Hey guys I think we solved the “equality” problem 😉

          • Anonymous says:

            @Villiam

            I think they’re flailing confusedly, trying to achieve with modern egalitarian ethics what they instinctively feel is the right way to do things. Male on female rape is much more serious matter than the converse, because a) the costs of said rape are paid primarily by the female and her relatives, b) the ability of men to rape women is greater than the opposite.

            But this is really hard to say coming from the notion that people should have equal rights, or one of the more radical positions, such as that people actually are equal, biology be damned.

          • LPSP says:

            I’ll add to
            “I mean, they are technically correct that every man is a potential rapist. But it would be equally technically correct to say that every woman is a potential rapist, so why the focus on men?”
            by saying further that every child you see is a potential rapist adult just waiting to happen.

            You could drive by a school and wave your arm claiming “Before you lie future pedophiles” and it probably wouldn’t be wrong. This is how meaningless of an argument we’re talking.

          • Nita says:

            Well, some non-feminist rape prevention tips (don’t drink when men are around, don’t be alone with a man in his room etc.) do seem to imply that not considering all men potential rapists is reckless.

          • Part of the situation is that a good many women have been mistreated by men, and their complaints have been ignored.

            At this point, I’m seeing a lot of cultivation of rage without efforts to evaluate the actual level of risk. Also, women who *haven’t* been abused by men have their voices ignored.

            What I’m seeing is a lot of people (SJWs and MRAs) who don’t want to hear that the problem is that people are dangerous. They want to blame the whole mess on the Evil Other Gender.

          • suntzuanime says:

            How interested are you in a big list of women entitled “THESE WOMEN MAY FALSELY CLAIM TO HAVE BEEN RAPED”? Like, it’s not *untrue*.

          • Nita says:

            @ suntzuanime

            Apparently, someone already gave one of those to Eric Raymond.

          • suntzuanime says:

            That’s not the same thing as a list populated based just on gender.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Nita

            Those rape prevention tips you’re referring to aren’t saying that you have to consider all men are potential rapists. “Don’t go to college parties with lots of alcohol” (as Kasich’s version of the anti-drinking one goes) means you should consider that there may be at least one likely rapist around at such parties. “Don’t be alone with a man in his room” implies that a man who would get you alone in his room is a likely rapist, not that all men are.

            Both of these are also usually said with the condescension of age to youth, and they’re also both (especially the latter) reflective of conservative thinking. It’s not even close to similar to the idea behind “all men are potential rapists’

          • suntzuanime

            Have an account of a woman who was strongly pressured to recant a truthful testimony of being raped.

            False accusations happen. True accusations happen. People are a hazard.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Maybe I’m not making myself clear. I am not in favor of saying “look at this woman, she’s going to lie about rape*“, any more than I’m in favor of saying “look at this man, he’s going to commit rape*“. Even though rapes and false accusations do happen, to tar someone with that brush based on nothing more than their gender is vile.

          • gbdub says:

            @Anonymous,

            Male on female rape is much more serious matter than the converse, because a) the costs of said rape are paid primarily by the female and her relatives, b) the ability of men to rape women is greater than the opposite.

            a) Is substantially less true than it used to be given ubiquitous access to birth control (and also, male rape victims have been sued for child support).
            b) This is true insofar as rape is defined as “physically forcing someone to have sex with you”. But if you expand the definition to include sex after basically any form of verbal or emotional coercion or persuasion, or any intoxication by inhibition-reducing substance (even if voluntarily consumed), then women are just as capable of rape (and probably commit it at substantial rates).

            That’s actually one of the more frustrating things about the discussion to me – you can either promote the idea that a quarter of college women are rape victims, or you can promote that rape is almost exclusively male perpetrator – female victim. But the two beliefs aren’t really compatible, because they are both true only for very different definitions of rape. If you want to live in a world in which the broad definition of rape and sexual assault used to obtain those 25% numbers is ruthlessly enforced, fine, but recognize that to do so consistently would require going after a lot more female perpetrators.

          • Anonymous says:

            a) Is substantially less true than it used to be given ubiquitous access to birth control (and also, male rape victims have been sued for child support).
            b) This is true insofar as rape is defined as “physically forcing someone to have sex with you”. But if you expand the definition to include sex after basically any form of verbal or emotional coercion or persuasion, or any intoxication by inhibition-reducing substance (even if voluntarily consumed), then women are just as capable of rape (and probably commit it at substantial rates).

            Right you are. But these innovations are new. Knee-jerk responses due to whatever mix of evolved instinct and cultural momentum still abound, and tend to be towards what I said.

            That’s actually one of the more frustrating things about the discussion to me – you can either promote the idea that a quarter of college women are rape victims, or you can promote that rape is almost exclusively male perpetrator – female victim. But the two beliefs aren’t really compatible, because they are both true only for very different definitions of rape. If you want to live in a world in which the broad definition of rape and sexual assault used to obtain those 25% numbers is ruthlessly enforced, fine, but recognize that to do so consistently would require going after a lot more female perpetrators.

            The way I see it, the problem with rape is that it’s currently based (at least legally) on the unknowable state of mind of the parties to the past event. Absent there being a highly fool-proof lie detector or mind-reading device, it is quite difficult to prove any sort of wrongdoing if the victim has not been detectably roughed up by the other party. (And I should fear the government – or anyone else – having access to a mind-reading device, for obvious reasons.)

            This is complicated by the fact that sex without a prior written contract is legal, and that there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. So you have a situation where you cannot prove or disprove consent of one or both parties, and simply the event of them having had sex is not sufficient for a conviction. This admittedly lets a lot (I have no idea how much, though) of rape go unpunished.

            There are some initiatives to deal with this, but they are somewhat bizarre. For example – putting the burden of proof on the party accused of rape. Another is the existing ban on legal children having sex with legal adults, which is apparently based on the presumption of children not being able to consent properly.

            Both are obviously absurd – the first example throws out presumption of innocence, and makes it easily possible to frame someone for rape, should they be incapable of disproving the accusation; the second is unjust to young people, whom it presupposes pre-sapient, and arbitrary with the distinction of who may have sex with whom (two 17 year olds having sex is fine, but once one of them has their 18th birthday, their nookie becomes rape?).

            Paging Dr. Friedman – can you tell us how our forefathers dealt with this universal issue?

          • “Paging Dr. Friedman – can you tell us how our forefathers dealt with this universal issue?”

            So far as age of consent, it was generally much lower than in the U.S. at present. Under Jewish law, adulthood was twelve for women, thirteen for men (possibly “and a half” in each case), plus, I think in both cases, evidence of puberty. I believe it was twelve in England a few hundred years ago, but that’s by memory. In the U.S. in 1880, twelve was the highest age of consent, and in Delaware it was seven.

            Past societies had the same problem we do with proving consent. But in many of them fornication, sex outside of marriage, was illegal even with consent.

          • Anonymous says:

            >Past societies had the same problem we do with proving consent. But in many of them fornication, sex outside of marriage, was illegal even with consent.

            Yeah. My impression is that they put a much, much lower weight on unknowables like consent, and much more on evidence – such as presence of written contract.

          • Nita says:

            ‘Rape’ in our modern understanding, as non-consensual sex, was not something they were terribly concerned with. Extramarital or otherwise ‘improper’ sex — yes, non-consensual sex — not so much. For example, ‘marital rape’ was not a thing — even if you physically held your spouse down while they they cried and begged you to stop, you wouldn’t be breaking any laws.

            And of course, talking about sex in public was not allowed, and even a shadow of doubt about a girl’s chastity could ruin her life and her family’s ‘honor’, which created a strong incentive not to complain — so, in the eyes of the wider society, there was often no problem to be solved at all.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not sure the current state of affairs is an improvement over the past.

          • Nita says:

            I think the changes reflect an increased ability of the legal system to handle these issues. There used to be no maybe-rape-victims in the same way there were “no disabled people” in the Soviet Union — with no good solutions available, facing up to the problems would have been too painful, so they were carefully ignored.

            Look at the Old Testament, for instance — it’s either rape or not rape depending on whether it happened inside a settlement? To determine whether a wife has been adulterous, give her some cursed water? These are obviously honest, but sad attempts to get by with very inadequate means of fact-finding, and it’s understandable why a society would rather not be reminded of this deficiency in justice.

            And the solutions currently available are still not quite satisfactory, so noticing the problems is still somewhat socially painful.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not sure outsourcing every social ill to the legal system is the correct solution.

          • Nita says:

            Right. Hence the many blog posts, books and advice columns that aim to help individuals avoid being harmed and inflicting harm on others in interpersonal relationships.

            If someone currently believes that sex is something a man can ‘get’ if a woman is negligent in ‘guarding’ it, or that women ‘can’t’ rape, then changing their mind can reduce the expected number of rapes without involving the legal system at all.

            Similarly, advice, encouragement and practical help for getting out of dangerous situations (including bad family situations), or for steering social situations away from danger, can do a lot of good.

            But when all else fails, it has to be clear that betraying someone’s trust and violating their bodily autonomy is not OK. A small minority of people seem to be resistant to persuasion and social pressure, and we have to deal with them somehow.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nita

            Right.

            However, I, personally, would prefer a legal system where I can determine without a doubt if I am going to be in trouble for doing something or not. Currently, having sex seems a big grey area, where you risk being accused of rape pretty much every time you do it, so that the only reliable defense is not to have sex (and even then, it’s possible to get credibly accused). I would prefer there to be an explicit legal way to have sex that does not entail making a gamble on spending the rest of my life in jail for it. Right now, covertly filming your own, entire sex life (which itself may be illegal, depending on factors) seems the only nearly-foolproof countermeasure.

          • Nita says:

            Well, currently, you are likely to get ‘in trouble’ only if the prosecution can prove your guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to a judge or jury. But there is no guarantee that an innocent person will never be accused and/or found guilty of rape, or theft, or murder, or any other crime.

            Every time I cross a road, I trust several drivers not to go berserk and run me over on purpose. Every time I go to bed, I trust my husband not to kill me in my sleep. Every time I have sex, I trust my partner to stop if I ask them to. Every time I buy a drink in a bar, I trust the bartender to serve what I ordered, without any dangerous alterations.

            By choice or by necessity, we all place our lives in the hands of others, and rely on their willingness not to abuse this power. Sometimes there’s a trade-off between enjoyment and risk, but no reasonable course of action can keep us safe from all misfortune and malice.

            Edit:
            Also, personally, I would avoid having sex that my potential partner seems somewhat likely to regret. So, no sex with drunk strangers, no cajoling friends into sex, no adulterous sex, no sex with folks who seem very young or emotionally volatile etc. Not just to avoid accusations, but to avoid inadvertently causing harm (which would retroactively spoil my own enjoyment as well).

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, currently, you are likely to get ‘in trouble’ only if the prosecution can prove your guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to a judge or jury. But there is no guarantee that an innocent person will never be accused and/or found guilty of rape, or theft, or murder, or any other crime.

            In the case of theft, there is legal recourse in the form of financial records, such as the simple receipt. When I buy something in a store, I am not concerned that I will be accused of thievery, because these legal implements are in place. There is, additionally, AFAIK, no credible movement to make people guilty of theft upon accusation, only exonerated if they prove beyond all doubt that they are not thieves.

            In the case of murder, it is largely the same, with the addition that it is eminently possible to live your entire life without killing a single human being, and lose nothing for want of that. Not so with lack of sex, especially on the societal scale.

            Every time I cross a road, I trust several drivers not to go berserk and run me over on purpose. Every time I go to bed, I trust my husband not to kill me in my sleep. Every time I have sex, I trust my partner to stop if I ask them to. Every time I buy a drink in a bar, I trust the bartender to serve what I ordered, without any dangerous alterations.

            By choice or by necessity, we all place our lives in the hands of others, and rely on their willingness not to abuse this power. Sometimes there’s a trade-off between enjoyment and risk, but no reasonable course of action can keep us safe from all misfortune and malice.

            I do not mean to abolish all risk. Please leave the poor strawman in peace. The conversation is about legality, enforcement, detection and punishment, not about the fact that we are all at risk of being struck by (a random meteorite|deadly illness|a truck) and dying as a consequence.

            What I want is legal clarity concerning a very important aspect of life. There is currently anything but on that matter. I cannot have clarity if, for plain reason of not being telepathic, nobody can truly ascertain the key fact of the matter – consent. I want to be able to enter a legal contract with another party that guarantees that they are not able to arbitrarily change their mind later without being in breach of that agreement, or defraud me, and have the appropriate state organs enforce that contract with potential penalties.

          • Nita says:

            Of course you cannot read the mind of another person. But you can observe their behavior and make reasonable inferences, and ask for confirmation if there is any doubt. That’s what people usually do when they want to avoid infringing on someone’s autonomy, and that’s probably what your local law expects from you, too.

            Even an MMA fight is stopped by the referee when one of the fighters curls up into a ball and stops participating. Since sex usually happens in a more intimate setting, you have to be your own referee and pay attention to your partner.

            Someone who was 100% enthusiastic during sex suddenly deciding that they were raped seems like someone suddenly deciding to crash their car into yours, or to shove you off a bridge. It can happen, and it would be terrible, and there’s no guarantee that they would be punished, and no punishment could restore what they would have taken from you. But luckily, it doesn’t seem very likely to happen in the average person’s life.

          • Jaskologist says:

            And of course, talking about sex in public was not allowed

            I don’t think this is at all true (see any Shakespeare play). I suspect it originates from a caricature we hold of the Puritans, and isn’t true of them either.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “Every time I cross a road, I trust several drivers not to go berserk and run me over on purpose. Every time I go to bed, I trust my husband not to kill me in my sleep….” “…Every time I buy a drink in a bar, I trust the bartender to serve what I ordered, without any dangerous alterations.”

            …A big part of that trust comes from the knowledge that everyone agrees those actions are pure evil, there are no similar, difficult-to-disambiguate actions that everyone thinks are good and necessary, and there are serious, formal penalties to punish anyone who does them. Further, there is no large-scale movement arguing publicly that those actions are actually virtuous and that people who take them are the real victims and should be protected from the spiteful malice of their spouse/customer/impromptu-hood-ornament.

            …My take is that free love is pretty clearly a bad idea. The level of irreducible harm seems high, and all we can do is mess with the risk distribution. I don’t think there’s a win-win solution to this one.

          • Anonymous says:

            Of course you cannot read the mind of another person. But you can observe their behavior and make reasonable inferences, and ask for confirmation if there is any doubt. That’s what people usually do when they want to avoid infringing on someone’s autonomy, and that’s probably what your local law expects from you, too.

            But absent a recording, if it came to court, there would be no evidence of either. It would come down to the parties contradicting each other as to what occurred.

            Even an MMA fight is stopped by the referee when one of the fighters curls up into a ball and stops participating. Since sex usually happens in a more intimate setting, you have to be your own referee and pay attention to your partner.

            While I agree that one should be considerate, and it would be highly rude to ignore your partner’s desires, this is not the point.

            Someone who was 100% enthusiastic during sex suddenly deciding that they were raped seems like someone suddenly deciding to crash their car into yours, or to shove you off a bridge. It can happen, and it would be terrible, and there’s no guarantee that they would be punished, and no punishment could restore what they would have taken from you. But luckily, it doesn’t seem very likely to happen in the average person’s life.

            Neither is being raped, at least not outside of the Third World or prison. That’s not the point.

            I’m not sure how to convey the point I’ve made above in a more comprehensible manner than I did so far. I’ll try with an analogy.

            In the Communist Block countries, there was a common way of doing things, given their shared communist economic-legal system, in the domain of procuring necessary products (such as fruit, meat of any kind, clothes, toilet paper, etc). The centrally planned economy failed to produce and supply these goods, for reasons that are irrelevant here, but suffice to say that shortages were widespread and permanent.

            Enter the black market. You could buy what you needed there, even though it was illegal, and often the risk of getting caught was negligible because the local police commissioner was in on the thing to buy his kids the normally unavailable bananas. This de facto free market worked – less efficiently and reliably than one might expect from a legal consumer economy – but it was illegal. Participants were criminals, basically making just about every citizen a criminal.

            With the end of communism, things improved rapidly. You no longer could only source meat through illegal deals with farmer relatives, you did not need to be a party member to import exotic fruit such as oranges. For all its own faults, legal market economies work much better than black markets in the goods they are allowed to traffic, because they don’t need to contend with being locked up for it, because the government doesn’t suppress it, because they can avail themselves of the utility of trust engendered by legally-enforced dealings.

            Sex nowadays is a black market activity. I want the government to stop being so communist and allow people to make legally binding promises of exchange. I want people to be able to marry again.

          • Anonymous says:

            Legally binding promises of exchange generally do not include the availability of specific performance, much less self help.

          • Anonymous says:

            Legally binding promises of exchange generally do not include the availability of specific performance, much less self help.

            Huh?

          • John Schilling says:

            Well, currently, you are likely to get ‘in trouble’ only if the prosecution can prove your guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to a judge or jury.

            You don’t consider being fired from a job or expelled from a school to be ‘trouble’?

          • Frank McPike says:

            Re: Huh
            They mean that if you contract with another person to perform a specific service for them, courts will not require you to actually perform that service, only to pay money damages. So, if you agree to mow my lawn every day for a year, and you then decide you’d rather not, I can’t get a court order requiring you to actually mow my lawn. And I certainly can’t make you mow my lawn through extra-legal force. I can, instead, get some measure of money to compensate me for that breach.

            So if the other anonymous means that we should allow people to form contracts requiring them to have actually have sex with another person, without being permitted to change their mind and decide they don’t want to, then he’s not asking for us to treat sex like other sorts of contracts, but asking for something that’s fairly exceptional and generally rejected in other contexts.

            Put another way, labor in capitalist countries (or at least countries with this legal feature) is entirely consensual at the moment it occurs, not merely consented to in advance. There may be financial penalties for refusing to work, and often those will weigh in favor of doing labor you would otherwise prefer not to do (in that respect, contractual penalties are no different than wages). But no one, not even the state (outside of exceptional circumstances, like the draft), is permitted to use force to make you work for them. That seems like a relevant contrast with communist countries too.

          • Nita says:

            @ Anon

            It would come down to the parties contradicting each other as to what occurred.

            Right. And the prosecution would be unable to prove they you’re guilty, so they wouldn’t choose to prosecute in the first place.

            Even if instead of you it was an actual rapist who actually raped someone, without tangible evidence of non-consent they would be very likely to go free. The possibility of being raped and then rejected by the justice system is something we just have to live with.

            Could you explain how exactly marriage would solve the problem? You could define marital rape out of legal existence, of course, but that wouldn’t improve the experience of someone being held down by their spouse and having things shoved into their bodily orifices against their will. Forced sex in such a marriage would still be rape, in the moral sense, just like dehumanizing treatment is still morally abhorrent even if ‘re-education camps’ are legal.

            @ FC

            there is no large-scale movement arguing publicly that those actions are actually virtuous

            There’s some sort of movement in favour of false rape accusations? That’s terrible.

            @ John Schilling

            Anon was talking specifically about the law, I think.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Nita

            These cases both happen. A person drives a car into another person for no apparent reason. A person claims consensual sex was rape because of some after-the-fact reason.

            The driver will be charged with reckless driving, vehicular homicide, or some other offense. If he doesn’t have a really good excuse, he’s likely going to be convicted of a crime. The person hit, even if they survive, will not be prosecuted.

            The person (and it’s essentially always a man) falsely accused will be prosecuted for rape. It’s a crapshoot whether he will be convicted or not; he’ll certainly spend a long time (probably the rest of his life) under a cloud of suspicion. Even if he is acquitted, there will be no serious negative consequences for his accuser.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Nita: The United States Education Amendments of 1972 is a law. Passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President of the United States, enforced at need by men with guns, the whole deal.

            The current administrative interpretation of that law, is that universities basically have to throw out male students who are accused of rape, without due process and even in the presence of reasonable doubt. Or else the school gets shut down and the administrators maybe go to jail.

          • All this reminds me of the people who complain about false rape accusations because of “regret”. My reaction is always to wonder how much of the time they’ve been talking women into sex the woman wasn’t clearly interested in. I’ve had a safe life– my assumptions should include the use of force, too.

            I know a man who says he was falsely accused of rape. I believe him. What happened was that, at college, he let a drunk woman sleep it off at his place. She wakes up with no memories in the home of a man who isn’t her type, and accuses him of rape. She’s believed.

            I don’t remember the details of the consequences for him, but they were serious– loss of scholarship? Thrown out of university, I’m pretty sure. Also, denied access to a shelter in very cold weather.

            These days, he’s the sort of moderate feminist I consider reasonable.

            Well-attested story of a false accusation and conviction This one is about clearly criminal rape– a white woman was raped by a black man she didn’t know. She focused on remembering what he looked like.

            A man who resembled the rapist was arrested. They had very similar distinctive eyebrows, but otherwise didn’t look that much alike.

            The police line-up was mishandled. Line-ups work much better when the suspects are presented one at a time. If they’re presented in a group, the victim is more likely to look for a best match rather than an actual identification. Also, memory is more fragile than you might think.

            She identified him as the rapist in the line-up and at the trial. He was convicted and imprisoned. As I recall, he had a good alibi which was ignored in favor of her eye-witness testimony.

            The actual rapist confessed, and the falsely convicted man was released. When she found out about that (after a period of freaking out), she contacted the falsely convicted man and asked for his forgiveness. They’ve written the book and tour talking about forgiveness and the importance of handling victim’s memories carefully.

            I bring this up because the standard story of false rape accusation is based in the premise that it’s just women being erratic.

          • Anonymous, I think you’re on to something with the idea of sex as black market.

            Sorry, no cite, but I’ve read about people with religious upbringings who can’t bring themselves to say a clear yes to sex, even when they want it.

            As a general point, I think culture is like a palimpsest– the previous culture is faded out and overwirtten, but it isn’t gone. This is especially true about sex. The previous anti-sex ideas aren’t gone, they’re still in the background.

            I believe without evidence that there are conflicts from ancient Babylon that we’re still playing out without knowing about them.

          • John Schilling says:

            All this reminds me of the people who complain about false rape accusations because of “regret”. My reaction is always to wonder how much of the time they’ve been talking women into sex the woman wasn’t clearly interested in.

            That would be pretty much all of them, given the extent to which almost all segments of almost all societies encourage women to feign some degree of disinterest in sex. Which, as a clearly effective negotiating strategy even if all you want is sex, probably isn’t going to go away any time soon. And from what I’ve seen, when we try to make that go away we end up overcompensating and encouraging women to feign more interest in sex than they actually feel, which leads to equally damaging miscommunications.

            One way or another, the early stages of most non-rapey sexual relationships tend to involve people whose interests aren’t entirely clear. And that includes most sexual relationships involving people who believe they live in communities where everybody is clear and open about all of their sexual interests.

            [relevant case histories don’t need to be repeated here]

            I bring this up because the standard story of false rape accusation is based in the premise that it’s just women being erratic.

            In some cases, like your first example, it pretty clearly is just that.

            But I think the “not clearly interested” standard you raise, is confusing the issue. The standard is consent, not “interest”. There are plenty of legitimate reasons people will consent to sex when their actual interest is elsewhere – e.obvous.g overt prositition, but it goes well beyond that. And while consent can be a disturbingly fuzzy border for a legal proceeding, “interest” is even more so. Particularly when people are encouraged or find it an effective negotiating strategy to misrepresent their actual level of interest.

            It no longer surprises me to see people use “interest” or “enthusiasm” as de facto standards for rape on the grounds that a woman can be presumed not to have consented to sex if she wasn’t clearly interested. And that, I think, very much does lower the bar for false accusations by women behaving erratically, because it makes a rape accusation the insta-win strategy for e.g. avoiding the social embarrassment and/or self-loathing of waking up in Mr. Wrong’s bed.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nancy Lebovitz:

            Yes, the whole problem is that there’s no easy answer to this.

            You could have a rule—and this is not so far from what the rule was in the past—that nobody should believe a woman when she says she’s been raped, unless she has hard evidence like bruises all over her body. (Though given the BDSM stuff these days, who knows if even that would be “hard evidence”?)

            You could have a rule that says woman who claim that they’ve been raped should be believed no matter what. And this is the caricature of what feminists believe, maybe even what some of them actually do believe.

            Or you could have a rule that says women ought to be believed—and action ought to be taken against the accused rapists—even in cases where the evidence is plausible but doesn’t amount to “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a court of law.

            In the first case you give, where a girl wakes up in the house of some stranger guy with no memory of what happened the night before, the accusation seems pretty plausible. If women in situations with similar lack of hard evidence are told to take a hike, well, you’re going to have a lot of rapists getting away with it. On the other hand, if a woman’s story in that kind of situation is believed by a college disciplinary board, maybe you deter innocent guys from lending a hand to drunk girls—but you also deter rapists. Is that tradeoff worth it? Maybe it is.

            Do I think it’s a problem that the federal government is dictating this and causing it to be implemented in the worst kind of CYA mode? Absolutely.

            One of the biggest problems is the idea that, if the man and the woman are both drinking, the woman can be let off the hook because she was a helpless victim, while the man is held responsible for his willful decision to rape. That’s pure anti-feminism, of the “women are the weaker sex” variety.

            Overall, though, the situation just forces us to consider a question most people don’t want to: how many guilty rapists are we prepared to see go free to stop the conviction of one innocent man? There are various slogans here, but the answer probably isn’t “a thousand” or “a million”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            “All this reminds me of the people who complain about false rape accusations because of “regret”. My reaction is always to wonder how much of the time they’ve been talking women into sex the woman wasn’t clearly interested in.”

            This really looks like an attempt to blame the falsely accused. “Oh, even if they didn’t commit rape, they did something wrong so it’s OK to accuse them”. Consider the worst case of this: a woman who was not interested was begged, cajoled, and otherwise talked into sex (with no force or threats explict or implied). Does she have no agency? Is it not her responsibility to refuse to do things she does not want to do? If she does them, and then blames someone else, is she not doing wrong?

            This is further compounded by the issue that there is likely to be some interaction before sex, and in our society it is _still_ typically expected that the man initiates it. And, though less than in the past, she’s still expected to show some reluctance, to demand at least some flattery before she agrees. Thus it’s quite possible for the man to think he’s simply doing the steps of the dance, while she’s genuinely reluctant and he actually persuades her.

            Further, there are cases where no such things happen, that she was enthusiastic at the time and only changed her mind after, for example when a parent or boyfriend found out.

            Cases like the one you mention where a man is accused of rape simply because he was alone with her while she was in a vulnerable state are why you see recommendations to never be alone with a woman you don’t know well. It’s the same with men not being alone with children who aren’t their own; the danger of false accusation results in men being unwilling to engage in what should be laudable behavior.

            The mistaken identity case is bad, but it’s not of the same sort as the others. It could happen with any crime, and as far as I know there’s no big “ignore alibis” movement out there. There is a “believe women” movement, and it’s quite powerful.

          • Frank McPike says:

            @John Schilling
            The article you link is outraged at a preponderance of the evidence standard being used, and that both parties have a right to appeal an unfavorable verdict, seeming to regard both as a violation of due process. It notes, correctly, that both of those things would be exceptional in a criminal trial. It fails to note that both elements are bog standard in pretty much any civil trial, including civil trials where the wrongs alleged are also criminal. If those procedural elements are inherently unfair, a due process violation, or a serious threat to our rights, university disciplinary proceedings should be the least of our worries.

          • Randy M says:

            That’s pure anti-feminism, of the “women are the weaker sex” variety.

            But it is pure feminism in the “give women privileges to make up for historic oppression” variety.
            Motte and bailey? Or just two competing groups who will both call themselves feminists?

            There is a “believe women” movement, and it’s quite powerful.

            Ms Clinton endorsed this before she was reminded she didn’t.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Randy M:

            But it is pure feminism in the “give women privileges to make up for historic oppression” variety.
            Motte and bailey? Or just two competing groups who will both call themselves feminists?

            I would say it’s to some extent both. And also just the fact that a lot of the unsophisticated feminists have bought their own propaganda that male chauvinism / “patriarchy” is about “hating women”. There’s probably never been a society in which men just universally “hated women”. Rather, they see them as less capable, more innocent, and in need of male protection.

            I’ve quoted this before, but here is Victorian writer James Fitzjames Stephen writing against J.S. Mill’s feminist ideas, but in a way in which he sounds like a modern left-wing feminist calling for special protections for women from the patriarchal system of capitalism:

            Let us suppose, to take a single illustration, that men and women are made as equal as law can make them, and that public opinion followed the law. Let us suppose that marriage became a mere partnership dissoluble like another; that women were expected to earn their living just like men; that the notion of anything like protection due from the one sex to the other was thoroughly rooted out; that men’s manners to women became identical with their manners to men; that the cheerful concessions to acknowledged weakness, the obligation to do for women a thousand things which it would be insulting to offer to do for a man, which we inherit from a different order of ideas, were totally exploded; and what would be the result? The result would be that women would become men’s slaves and drudges, that they would be made to feel their weakness and to accept its consequences to the very utmost. Submission and protection are correlative. Withdraw the one and the other is lost, and force will assert itself a hundred times more harshly through the law of contract than ever it did through the law of status. Disguise it how you will, it is force in one shape or another which determines the relations between human beings. It is far less harsh when it is subjected to the provisions of a general law made with reference to broad general principles than when it acts through a contract, the terms of which are settled by individuals according to their own judgment. The terms of the marriage relation as settled by the law and religion of Europe are an illustration, of course on an infinitely wider and more important scale, of the very principle which in our own days has led to the prohibition of the employment of little children in certain classes of factories and of women in coalpits.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “There’s some sort of movement in favour of false rape accusations? That’s terrible.”

            Large parts of the Feminist movement have been claiming some or all of the following:
            “it is imperative that all rapes be reported”
            “false rape accusations do not exist/are too rare to matter”
            “All rape accusations should be believed”
            “those accused of rape should not defend themselves”
            “being accused of rape should be treated as a positive growth experience”

            There are not movements arguing the analogous positions for murdering sleeping spouses, running over pedestrians, or dosing peoples’ drinks. If there were, I think a lot of people would be a lot more worried about those things happening to them.

            I started digging up links, but honestly I’m pretty sure everyone in this thread has already seen them.

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            It fails to note that both elements [preponderance of evidence standard and both parties having the right to appeal] are bog standard in pretty much any civil trial, including civil trials where the wrongs alleged are also criminal. If those procedural elements are inherently unfair, a due process violation, or a serious threat to our rights, university disciplinary proceedings should be the least of our worries.

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that in civil trials you are allowed to have an attorney and you get to cross-examine witnesses, both of which are (in my non-lawyer-ly opinion) fairly important components of due process but which are sometimes explicitly forbidden in university hearings.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, in civil court you also have discovery. Whereas in university hearings it’s often the accused against a board acting as prosecutor and judge both (an inquisitorial system). Also, in most civil trials where “preponderance of the evidence” is used, much less is at stake than expulsion and disqualification from further education. That standard is considered appropriate where the parties are similarly situated, where the plaintiff will have lost as much by an wrong verdict in his favor as the defendant would have lost by an wrong verdict in hers. That’s simply not the case in a punitive hearing like this.

            But insistence on a “clear and convincing” standard is “male privilege”, or so I’m told.

            https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/11/06/princeton-title-ix-agreement-higher-standard-proof-sexual-assault-cases-last-legs

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox

            they see them as less capable, more innocent, and in need of male protection

            That’s part of it, for sure. But there’s also stuff like this:

            I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

            he sounds like a modern left-wing feminist

            I don’t know what kind of left-wing feminists you have been reading, but I’ve never seen them call for “cheerful concessions to acknowledged weakness”, or argue that “submission and protection are correlative”.

            @ FC

            Let’s see…
            1 and 2 cannot be interpreted as “false accusations are virtuous”.
            I haven’t seen 3 addressed at legal or other authorities.
            I haven’t seen 4 or 5 at all.

          • Randy M says:

            “There’s some sort of movement in favour of false rape accusations? That’s terrible.”

            Ezra Klein comes close

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            That’s part of it, for sure. But there’s also stuff like this:

            I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

            Yes, fair enough.

            I don’t know what kind of left-wing feminists you have been reading, but I’ve never seen them call for “cheerful concessions to acknowledged weakness”, or argue that “submission and protection are correlative”.

            I meant in regard to his conclusions, not his tone. Obviously, his tone is one of a traditionalist.

          • brad says:

            @ReluctantEngineer

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that in civil trials you are allowed to have an attorney and you get to cross-examine witnesses, both of which are (in my non-lawyer-ly opinion) fairly important components of due process but which are sometimes explicitly forbidden in university hearings.

            There’s a lot of conflation between substantive and procedural complaints. Having an advocate, being able to confront your accusers, being judged by a neutral party — those are procedural issues. The burden of persuasion, both where it rests and at what level it is set, is a substantive issue. So is the actual definition of consent.

            In my opinion, the college disciplinary systems are highly lacking in procedural due process, but the substantive rules are more or less fine. Advocates would be much better off going for the low hanging fruit of truly neutral arbitrators, or allowing assistance of counsel than fighting over “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “affirmative consent”. But the latter somehow seems more fun to argue about and so gets disproportionate attention.

            @The Nybbler
            There are other very high stakes civil matters besides college discipline, deportation proceedings to name just one.

          • Nita says:

            @ Randy M

            Thanks for the link. Here’s what he says about false accusations: “they do happen, and they’re awful.” Not really close to FC’s “[false rape accusations] are actually virtuous”, IMO.

            @ Vox

            He concludes that women must submit to men (or else…), while left-wing feminists, depending on their particular flavour, conclude that we must either “smash” or carefully reform the system. Eh, these conclusions don’t seem all that similar?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – I find I do not have the spoons necessary to continue this conversation in a productive manner. I humbly retract all statements made and apologize for involving myself in the first place.

          • Frank McPike says:

            @ReluctantEngineer
            Having lawyers present is an important part of due process in the legal system. I think lawyers are not quite so essential in proceedings outside the legal system. Still, under the SaVE Act, participants in university disciplinary proceedings for sexual assault or sexual harassment now do have the right to have an attorney present at all hearings and to consult with them freely about any element of the proceeding.

            I should note, therefore, that if you think that university disciplinary hearings conducted without lawyers are unfair, then you should thank Title IX law for introducing them. Universities have been expelling students for ages, often for offenses less serious than sexual assault (in fact, principally for drug and alcohol offenses), and almost invariably without the benefit of an attorney. And there’s still no legal requirement for universities to give students that right in non-Title IX cases. If it is your position that students should be given the right to have an attorney present at university disciplinary hearings, then that it not an objection to how they adjudicate sexual assault, it’s an objection to how they adjudicate (and historically have adjudicated) everything else.

            Some other elements of civil trials, like cross-examination and full discovery are indeed not present in university proceedings (at least in some cases because of the limited authority of universities and competing legal requirements). But these have generally not been present in university disciplinary proceedings, and are rarely present in disciplinary proceedings in other sorts of institutions.

            And while universities are trending towards adding more legal system-like protections, many parts of our society are in the process of moving further away. Mandatory arbitration clauses are becoming increasingly common, and actually deny parties access to the legal system, instead forcing them to take their claims to arbitration proceedings that don’t contain some of the typical elements of legal due process. True, parties consent to these clauses, but the same sort of consent is expressed when enrolling at a university.

            (Personally, I think that the dangers of mandatory arbitration are overstated, and that deviations from the formalities of the legal system are often good things for all parties in the contexts in which they’re employed. But the arguments against deviating from legal formalities in the university setting can apply in both cases.)

            @The Nybbler
            Many civil trials have less at stake than in university disciplinary hearings, but many also have much, much more at stake.

            It’s not at all clear to me what you mean by both parties being similarly situated. If you mean that parties have access to the same level of resources, then no, that’s not a typical feature of civil cases (or even criminal cases). If you mean that each party stands to lose the same amount should the case be decided against them, then no, that’s also not typically a feature. If I bring a tort claim against you, and you have no counterclaim, either you pay me damages (or are issued an injunction, possibly) or neither of us pay each other anything, depending on the result.

            My confusion with this line of argument is not that there is nothing to it at all, merely that it seems selectively applied.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            He concludes that women must submit to men (or else…), while left-wing feminists, depending on their particular flavour, conclude that we must either “smash” or carefully reform the system. Eh, these conclusions don’t seem all that similar?

            The similarity is in the practical conclusion that a system of legal and social equality between men and women is or would be systematically biased against women because women can’t compete on a level playing field.

            Stephen was defending the contemporary system in which women were “shielded” from the abuses they would suffer under a regime of legal equality. Radical feminists are opposed to our system in which there is more or less legal equality, calling for more special protections to be given to women, to stop them from being exploited.

            They no doubt disagree on the details of what the protections for women ought to look like. Stephen thinks women ought to be protected by their husbands and/or fathers. Radical feminists, by the state. The point upon which they agree is that “equality under the law” would not actually result in equality but the systematic oppression of women. I think that’s an interesting similarity. I’m not trying to say that radical feminists are secretly neo-Victorian reactionaries, though.

          • Odoacer says:

            @Frank McPike

            My confusion with this line of argument is not that there is nothing to it at all, merely that it seems selectively applied.

            I think there is selective application, because many of those bringing it up believe that rape/sexual assault is qualitatively different than cheating or other actions that can get one expelled from a university. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that rape/sexual assault should be best dealt with the legal system and not strictly on campus.*

            Tangentially, Freddie deBoer argues that affirmative consent laws, which IIRC only apply to certain states’ university systems, are wrongheaded partly because:

            In any event, if we continue to treat affirmative consent as an issue that only pertains to college students, we are creating a definition of sexual consent that pertains only to a small sliver of our population which comes from particular demographic backgrounds. If we universalize affirmative consent, we unleash a lower standard onto police and prosecutors who have already demonstrated themselves to be incapable of avoiding racial or class prejudice. And I in no way believe that the inequality that is endemic to our judicial system will not fall on people of color and working class students in our universities.

            *Also, most people probably aren’t familiar enough with deportations, let alone the legal system, to have a completely coherent set of beliefs about it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @brad
            Yes, deportation proceedings are civil and high stakes. And no “preponderance of the evidence” standard is used. They do have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that you were not “Born in East L.A.” (i.e. that you are indeed an alien).

            @Frank McPike
            The idea with “similarly situated” is that if you sue me and I’ve committed a tort against you and done $X in damage, if the case goes in my favor, you’ve been hurt by $X (before the case even started). If I have not committed that tort and the case goes in your favor, I’ve been hurt by $X.

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            @Frank McPike

            As it happens, I think do think that the disciplinary hearings at the university with which I am affiliated are arbitrary and often grossly unfair for things other than sexual assault (basically, once the process begins, nothing can stop it and the student is inevitably found guilty). The particular topic of this conversation, however, was disciplinary proceedings for sexual assault, which I still consider arbitrary and grossly unfair (even if they are less unfair than disciplinary hearings for other things).

          • Randy M says:

            Here’s what he says about false accusations: “they do happen, and they’re awful.” Not really close to FC’s “[false rape accusations] are actually virtuous”, IMO.

            He says a little more than that:

            For that reason, the law [that he supports] is only worth the paper it’s written on if some of the critics’ fears come true.

            That’s his point, and the same point contained it the one you first objected to

            “There’s some sort of movement in favour of false rape accusations? That’s terrible.”

            “These new injustices are the price we must choose to pay to disincentive the injustices we are dealing with now.” Basically a slightly less vindictive form of “Bring it on and let the men suffer instead for awhile.”

            Whether he/they are right in some sort of utilitarian computation is left as an exercise for the reader.

          • bean says:

            @ReluctantEngineer
            As it happens, I think do think that the disciplinary hearings at the university with which I am affiliated are arbitrary and often grossly unfair for things other than sexual assault (basically, once the process begins, nothing can stop it and the student is inevitably found guilty). The particular topic of this conversation, however, was disciplinary proceedings for sexual assault, which I still consider arbitrary and grossly unfair (even if they are less unfair than disciplinary hearings for other things).
            In fairness, the threshold for triggering other disciplinary proceedings seems a lot higher than the threshold for sexual assault proceedings. Most schools don’t kick you out if someone says they saw you smoking a joint once or that you were drunk underaged. (Yes, I know there are some conservative Christian schools which pretty much do that, but they’re certainly not the majority.) To get into expulsion-level trouble, you need to be egregiously over the line. While the actual handling of evidence may not be any better (and in fact might well be worse), innocents are a lot less likely to end up in the firing line.

          • @nita:

            Marital rape wasn’t considered rape because the wife had given consent–in public, with witnesses. That was considered part of the marriage contract, and it wasn’t revocable.

            But forcible rape in other contexts was something people worried about in lots of past societies. It was a capital crime in 18th century England, for example.

            “And of course, talking about sex in public was not allowed”

            When and where? I would have said that there was quite a lot of talk about sex in many past societies.

          • “I want to be able to enter a legal contract with another party that guarantees that they are not able to arbitrarily change their mind later without being in breach of that agreement, or defraud me, and have the appropriate state organs enforce that contract with potential penalties.”

            Until recently, you could. It was called “marriage.” The husband agreed not to have sex with other women and could be punished if he did and got caught. The wife agreed not to have sex with other men and to have sex with her husband.

            I think the wife may have also had some right to have her husband have sex with her, but I’m not sure. In Islamic law it’s explicit in both directions, although not symmetrical–the husband has the right to sex whenever he wants unless there is some good reason not, the wife has the right to sex a certain number of times a month.

          • My reaction to the preponderance of the evidence standard is that if you do it, the rule should be symmetrical. Rape is a very serious offense. False accusation of rape is a very serious offense. If you expel a student when you think it is more likely than not that he is guilty of rape, then when you don’t expel him you expel his accuser (unless there is some plausible story in which her error was innocent) on the grounds that it is more likely than not that her accusation was false (I ignore the unlikely case of exactly .5 probability).

            And yes, I think something similar would make sense in civil cases. That was the case in Periclean Athens, for at least some categories of their equivalent of tort suits. The losing plaintiff owed the defendant one sixth of the amount he had claimed the defendant owed him. We don’t know if that depended only on losing or on failing to get a sufficient minority to vote for conviction.

            An unpublished piece of mine that touches on this.

          • Frank McPike says:

            @Odoacer
            That may be true, but it’s not clear to me that rape is very different in that respect from beating someone up – generally also a good way to get expelled. Still, if someone takes the position that universities should not intervene in either case, then their position seems consistent.

            @ReluctantEngineer
            A couple people in this conversation expressed worries about various procedural features of university systems. I intervened mainly to note that those procedural features are not very exceptional (either in universities or the legal system). If we agree that there’s nothing unusually unfair about how universities deal with sexual assault under Title IX, then our disagreement is more subtle.

            My own view? There’s a lot of variation in how schools handle disciplinary issues in general, even where their procedures are superficially similar. Specifying a particular procedure is not necessarily a foolproof way of bringing about positive reform. I’m not convinced that a more legalistic system is necessarily more fair than the best alternatives (as, in fact, I think the legal system in general is not exactly flawless), although it’s probably fairer than the worst alternatives. I expect the major effect of Title IX (enforced primarily through lawsuits from both sides) will be, and already has been, to gradually standardize university disciplinary systems in ways that increasingly resemble the legal system (which, notably, seems to be the opposite of the prediction of many in this thread). While those reforms have already begun with sexual assault and sexual harassment, I expect that most of those procedural changes will eventually spread to other sorts of disciplinary proceedings within universities. Whether that is a good thing will likely depend on how good a system that university had beforehand, and will therefore vary. It will also vary based on how good universities turn out to be at imitating the legal system.

            @The Nybbler
            That’s true, but only of suits seeking damages. It’s not true if an injunction or other equitable remedies are on the table. There are differences in how the two are treated procedurally, though not in the direction you might think: the constitutional right to a jury trial does not apply to equitable remedies.

            @David Friedman
            That’s an interesting article, thanks for sharing it. I suspect I’ll end up disagreeing, but I’ll need to think about it in more depth.

            Edit: You mention an account of the relevant mathematics in a footnote. Is there a publicly available version of that?

          • onyomi says:

            @David Friedman

            Do you have any theories as to why we haven’t already created at least some variant of “loser pays,” even though it seems a bipartisan consensus that frivolous lawsuits are a big problem? I guess lawyers would stand to lose and most American politicians are lawyers?

          • Randy M says:

            But forcible rape in other contexts was something people worried about in lots of past societies.

            Even within older understandings of marriage, just because consent is assumed, it doesn’t necessarily* mean force is allowed–or everything that moderns lump under terms such as sexual contact.

            *Though they may have overlooked violent husbands at times, the two concerns aren’t necessarily linked any more than breaking kneecaps is standard banking practice.

          • Nornagest says:

            I guess lawyers would stand to lose and most American politicians are lawyers?

            I suspect this is less important than it’s generally given credit for. Most politicians are lawyers, but trial lawyers are a small proportion of the legal population, and the kind of trial lawyer that deals with frivolous civil suits is an even smaller one. I get the feeling it’s a smaller one yet among the lawyers that become politicians, but I could be wrong about that.

          • Randy M says:

            null is right

          • Anonymous says:

            There are no affirmative consent criminal laws. Only university policies. And the pro-rape faction isn’t arguing that it should stay that way, they are arguing to reinstate marital rape immunity.

            Incidentally I can’t say I have much respect for a religion that forbids consensual sex outside of marriage but is perfectly okay with fucking someone that clearly communicates an unwillingness to be fucked. Doesn’t seem like the kind of thing a loving God would put in place.

          • null says:

            Great job feeding the troll.

            EDIT: Randy M, I feel like it’s bad form to edit your comment without leaving the original up. This way future readers have no idea what Anonymous is responding to.

          • Randy M says:

            If I felt it likely he was arguing in good faith, that would concern me more.

            In any case, it is fairly easy to reverse engineer.

          • hlynkacg says:

            1) You must be new here.

            2) You’re lying when you say that there are no affirmative consent laws.

          • “Edit: You mention an account of the relevant mathematics in a footnote. Is there a publicly available version of that?”

            No. It’s a project I was working on, but I never finished the article. I should probably get back to it at some point, but I’ve been doing other things.

          • Nita says:

            @ David Friedman

            Marital rape wasn’t considered rape because the wife had given consent–in public, with witnesses.

            If you wake up in the middle of an operation and yell, “oh god it hurts, please stop,” but the surgeon keeps cutting you, are they engaging in a consensual activity because you signed a piece of paper saying “I consent to surgery” a few hours ago?

            The kind of ‘consent’ you give when you get married (by the way, I don’t recall traditional Christian marriage vows mentioning sex, but let’s assume they do) is not the kind of ‘consent’ we expect in consensual sex today. That’s why I said their idea of rape didn’t match ours.

          • “It’s odd that so many of you are desperate to rape have non-consensual sex with your hypothetical wives.”

            If I correctly understand the argument I think you are referring to, it isn’t that people want to have non-consensual sex with their hypothetical wives. It’s that people want a mechanism to have consensual sex without the risk of being falsely accused of non-consensual sex, an accusation they would have no way of disproving.

            One way of doing that would be to have some publicly verifiable form of assent. That is one of the things that marriage used to provide.

            Does that make the argument clearer and less puzzling?

          • jpt4 says:

            David Friedman:
            http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/24/ot48-open-your-heart/#comment-349903

            At first blush, that Delaware set their age of consent at seven years is Heinleinian to the point of incredulity, but in fact it was lowered from ten (with the penalty increased from a decade’s imprisonment to death) in 1871, and not formally revised until 1972 [0].

            [0] http://blogs.lawlib.widener.edu/delaware/2014/07/07/the-age-of-consent-and-rape-reform-in-delaware/

          • Anonymous says:

            So if the other anonymous means that we should allow people to form contracts requiring them to have actually have sex with another person, without being permitted to change their mind and decide they don’t want to, then he’s not asking for us to treat sex like other sorts of contracts, but asking for something that’s fairly exceptional and generally rejected in other contexts.

            Right.

            It wouldn’t work with marriage, at least, because the default is still (I believe?) that spouses hold property commonly. Being ordered to pay money to yourself isn’t much of a penalty. So you’d have to figure out some workaround. Ordering to perform seems like a perfectly cromulent way to get out of this. Abolishing common spousal property would be another.

            In either case – ordering to perform, ordering to pay, some other penalty – that’s entirely fine. The point isn’t to brutalize, but to indicate with clarity that what you did was wrong, that the injured party is in the right, and that the system and society at large backs this interpretation.

            pro-rape faction

            If allowing people to publically declare consent ahead of time and pre-commit to actions they might later find themselves uninterested in carrying out, but honorably carrying them out anyway, means I’m in the “pro-rape faction”, then so be it.

          • Anonymous says:

            The kind of ‘consent’ you give when you get married (by the way, I don’t recall traditional Christian marriage vows mentioning sex, but let’s assume they do) is not the kind of ‘consent’ we expect in consensual sex today. That’s why I said their idea of rape didn’t match ours.

            It’s not explicit in the vows, but there is scriptural support for it. As Dr. Friedman mentioned above, this interpretation explicitly was part of civil law until the mid-20th century.

            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians+7%3A3-5

            3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

          • Anonymous says:

            If I correctly understand the argument I think you are referring to, it isn’t that people want to have non-consensual sex with their hypothetical wives. It’s that people want a mechanism to have consensual sex without the risk of being falsely accused of non-consensual sex, an accusation they would have no way of disproving.

            Just so. I don’t believe I physically could bring myself to have sex a woman who violently resisted. I’d sooner vomit.

          • Nita says:

            I don’t believe I physically could bring myself to have sex a woman who violently resisted

            I’m sincerely glad to hear that, anon.

            But I, for example, don’t want to use violence on my husband — ever, at all. “I can’t keep going, it hurts too much — welp, I guess I’ll have to try to scratch his eyes out,” is not the kind of thought that should occur in my marriage bed.

            And I think many people feel the same way. We want to use language to communicate our needs, so being responsive to language seems like a reasonable default expectation.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Trying to divert the discussion to violent rape is an extreme red herring. That’s not the stuff that makes up the vast majority of /r/deadbedrooms.

            The norm is simple: if you refuse to take care of your husband’s sexual needs, you are a bad wife.

            If your husband responds by beating you, he’s also a bad husband.

            The question of recourse is an implementation detail. Generally, there is no good solution to a bad marriage. But since we can apparently expect men to determine in advance whether or not their one night stands will retroactively withdraw consent, it hardly seems unreasonable to expect women to refrain from marrying men who will beat them.

          • Anonymous says:

            @David Friedman

            If I correctly understand the argument I think you are referring to, it isn’t that people want to have non-consensual sex with their hypothetical wives. It’s that people want a mechanism to have consensual sex without the risk of being falsely accused of non-consensual sex, an accusation they would have no way of disproving.

            The word consent is being used is two different and confusing ways in there.

            On one account the revive marital rape immunity faction is worried about false accusations of non-consensual sex in the sense that in the moment / from contextual clues / from martial history the sex in question was something that both parties are or would be okay with. The immunity would releave this worry. Call this the shield view.

            The other account is that they desire a cudgel to coerce sex out of an unwilling-in-the-moment partner. And, “not me of course”, but allow for outright violent sex against a resisting spouse as something rude or unfortunate but not illegal. Call this the sword view.

            It’s seems pretty clear to me that, at least in this sub-thread, the sword is the main motivation, not the shield.

          • Anonymous says:

            Generally, there is no good solution to a bad marriage.

            It’s called divorce. Unless you worship a god that hates you and doesn’t want you to be happy, in which case a bad marriage should be right up your ally.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s seems pretty clear to me that, at least in this sub-thread, the sword is the main motivation, not the shield.

            It seems pretty clear to me that it’s quite the opposite!

            Allowing violent coercion is not necessary for the norm that Jaskologist explains to work.

            It’s called divorce.

            >divorce
            >good

            laughingelfgirls.jpg

          • Jaskologist says:

            That’s like calling capital punishment a “good solution” to a murder.

      • Foo says:

        The internet is how people form communities now. (I derive more of my identity from the online communities I participate in than the city I live in, and I’m far from the only one.) “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” If we don’t learn from the historical record of communities that have been created in the past, communities of the future will continue to make the same mistakes.

    • bidirectional home says:

      “Recording the history” only encourages those smug goon fucks. Don’t give them a goddamn inch. They already meticulously archive their retarded forums (behind a paywall) anyway.

      (In case you don’t have enough context, oral tradition is the way of imageboards. Lurk more.)

    • FeepingCreature says:

      I’m all for this.

      People don’t tend to think of their small forum as the start of a movement. People don’t tend to think that they’re participating in history.

      • I think a lot of people in small movements believe that they will, or might, affect the world. Most of them are wrong, fortunately or unfortunately depending.

    • onyomi says:

      I think it’s a very good point. I think “the internet” is a space which has only very recently been taken seriously enough that anyone would think to do such a thing, but hopefully, eventually, this will be a legitimate branch of history. We’ve already seen it to some extent with things like people writing the history of Bitcoin. Of course the reason for interest there is the potential impact on the real world: which raises the question, are the histories of internet communities inherently worth recording/cataloguing/analyzing/exploring? Or are they only interesting insofar as they relate to real world events?

      A sort of compromise position: even if there’s no way to connect an internet history to real people, the behavior of online communities, if nothing else, seems to provide a rich source of sociological data. People are definitely already writing PhD theses on Facebook, for example.

    • An example from my own internet experience is a community that existed from 2010-2014 of about 100 individuals that migrated across at least 6 different websites (one of which I was de-facto running), split several times and then finally died from a total deficit of new arrivals. It’s not recorded history; you’d have to ask someone involved for knowledge of it.

      You have no idea how common this is. I’m currently ‘apart’ of two forums, one of went through six different iterations before dying like yours did, except now it’s back again with even less of the community remaining. The other forum is/was incredibly dead, before getting a facelift and completely re-branding.

      From what I’ve heard, there was some interesting history on that first forum, completely lost forever now that community went through so many diasphoras and such.

      Also, I can’t believe no one has brought this up

      http://world2ch.org/

      It’s a history of the early days of various *chans.

      • Tophattingson says:

        You have no idea how common this is. I’m currently ‘apart’ of two forums, one of went through six different iterations before dying like yours did, except now it’s back again with even less of the community remaining. The other forum is/was incredibly dead, before getting a facelift and completely re-branding.

        I brought it up specifically because I know it’s a really common occurrence. It’s a history that a lot of people who used forums over the past 10 years have experienced.

        http://world2ch.org/

        It’s a history of the early days of various *chans.

        That’s exactly the kind of material I’m thinking about. It isn’t the only recorded history though. There’s a handful of other small (and one big) attempts at recording the history of a web community. Here’s some more I have managed to find.

        https://allthetropes.org/wiki/All_The_Tropes:History

        The history of TV Tropes and All The Tropes are directly linked, but only All The Tropes can comprehensively report on “The Google Incident”.

        http://fanlore.org/wiki/Main_Page

        An incredibly comprehensive history of fanfiction by the Organization for Transformative Works that stretches all the way back to Kirk/Spock Fanzines of the 70s. Everything you didn’t want to know about slash fiction.

        http://tanasinn.info/wiki/Complete_History_of_4chan

        4Chan events in chronological order.

    • Zorgon says:

      This is part of the reason the ants have “Archive. Everything.” as a founding principle.
      (Well, that and the habit of some of their ideological enemies of deleting everything once the damage is done.)

      In many ways I’m actually in agreement. The Internet magnifies arguments over the garden fence to Biblical proportions. Fire the whole lot into space and start again.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        Isn’t at least as strong a reason for them doing that having a way to back up their viewpoint? When you’re dealing with opponents as dishonest as theirs, being able to exactly pinpoint why they’re wrong is a feature. I don’t think it’ll save their reputation at all, mind, but it’s a sensible theory.

        • tmk says:

          > When you’re dealing with opponents as dishonest as theirs

          Isn’t this just the kind of “boo the outgroup” argument that rationalists should avoid?

          • null says:

            1. You’re assuming he’s a rationalist. I’d expect a majority of SSC commenters are not.

            2. From his point of view, that is a factual statement and he probably has examples to back it up. Just as from some anti-GGs’ point of view, the main purpose of GG is to harass people, particularly women and minorities, and this can also be backed up with examples.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Dishonesty is a real thing, and some people are more dishonest than others, and this has consequences. I would say this is exactly the sort of truth from which rationalists must not avert their eyes.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            I don’t identify as a rationalist. As a lazy person, I also don’t feel like at length explaining every point I make. Whether or not you think the SJ crowd these people are up against are dishonest or not, the ants believe they are, and they also think keeping records helps in dealing with that.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            it seems your innovations have borne fruit, honored cartoon general.

      • tmk says:

        Who are “the ants”?

        • suntzuanime says:

          http://pastebin.com/dLxtWbtA

          The word is censored, so a lot of people use euphemisms rather than fire up pastebin like a civilized human being.

          • tmk says:

            Ok Scott, the word blocklist is completely dysfunctional. Much of the discussion is completely impenetrable unless you have learnt the secret keywords from previous threads. Either make a public list of forbidden topics and delete an comment that talks about them, or come up with something else.

          • suntzuanime says:

            In the abstract there might be something to be said for binding the ingroup tighter with shared shibboleths and shedding the less-invested commentors since we already get more than enough comments. “Dysfunctional” always depends on exactly what function you’re trying to perform. I do find it a bit distasteful, though.

          • null says:

            I thought the blocklist was so that Scott’s blog didn’t show up in google searches for Evil.

          • tmk says:

            But in this case the ingroup will only bind together over the issues that have been problems in the past. It excludes those who are less interested in culture war topics, which I think is opposite of the intention.

          • Anonymous says:

            In the abstract there might be something to be said for binding the ingroup tighter with shared shibboleths and shedding the less-invested commentors since we already get more than enough comments. “Dysfunctional” always depends on exactly what function you’re trying to perform. I do find it a bit distasteful, though.

            I used to think I hate impenetrable shibboleths, but then I realized that in every community where I became invested, I loved the shibboleths that I could pronounce.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The euphemism “ants” was used here before the word was banned, however. It’s from “sexually viable worker ants”, the word for which is a homograph for the forbidden word, though the first vowel is the same as “gamete” and not “gamer”.

            I guess we’re developing our own version of Cockney slang.

          • Zorgon says:

            The word blocklist serves the function of making it possible to discuss concepts vaguely related to the banned issue (like, for example, the Archive Everything principle I mentioned above) while not getting sucked into the 48,000th discussion of whether or not Person X said something nasty about Person Y on Twitter that one time.

          • Agronomous says:

            @Zorgon:
            If you’re going to dredge up ancient history, at least get it right:

            It was not that one time, as you damn well know; show me one place where I (or anybody else) said it was that one time. What we’ve been saying (over and over), and that you seem unable to comprehend (over and over) is that X tweeted almost those exact words about Y that other time.

            Stop strawmanning and provide one single cite that anybody claimed X did it that one time, or concede the point. I, and readers who don’t have a dog in this fight, will (justifiably) interpret failure to provide a cite as tacit concession.

          • Zorgon says:

            That is some seriously impressive Poe-work, Agro. I was halfway through the second paragraph before I realised you weren’t actually yelling at me.

          • Agronomous says:

            @Zorgon:

            Thanks, I try. But I’m not sure it comes under Poe’s jurisdiction if it’s ideology-neutral—I was intending to poke fun at behavior I’ve seen on many sides of many arguments.

          • Zorgon says:

            I suspect that just makes it a Double Poe.

      • Deiseach says:

        Fire the whole lot into space and start again.

        Which down the line only leads to a whole lot of re-inventing the wheel. Having the bad example of those who went before should at least help not to fall into the same pits.

    • 57dimensions says:

      It seems to me in certain fandoms there definitely seems to be more recorded history, quite a few people in the tumblr and livejournal fanfic communities have put together master posts on various large events and controversies within the communities.

      There is also great deal of documentation and collection of information going on in fandoms connected to the real world, for instance the One Direction fandom–which I highly doubt anyone here is involved in–is now basically a giant conspiracy theory engine revolving around a possibly fake baby, there is so much documentation and talk about this stuff it will never die from the web. I mean, it trends on Twitter at least once a week. But, that fandom is one of the largest and most active on the web, and there are far more small communities that are much more likely to fade into nonexistence. But I guess, if you want to preserve your community, who better to document it than yourself?

    • MichaelM says:

      I spent a long portion of my teenage years on LUELinks, a bastard little cousin of both 4chan and SA. While the membership was never as big as either (I think we peaked at 20,000 accounts — not unique individuals), it had a rich, unique history of its own. There was even someone who maintained a document about that history, but it has been so long since I even bothered going back (it still exists as far as I know, even more of a wasteland than it was back then) that I don’t begin to remember the name. I wonder if the document could be tracked down.

      The interesting thing is just how like real history some of it looks. The community emerged from a particular board on the GameFAQs website as a way of circumventing moderator sanction of file sharing and obscene links and the mechanism used (links with unique codes attached to them, so you could share the code instead of the link) persisted and lay under the community for a long time. However, eventually, the takedown of Megaupload killed that mechanism, as so many links were direct links to files on that website. It was a major turning point in what was, at the time, a relatively large community.

      As someone with a deep passion an interest in history, it would be fascinating to read and write a good story of the LUEsers.

      • Tophattingson says:

        The interesting thing is just how like real history some of it looks. The community emerged from a particular board on the GameFAQs website as a way of circumventing moderator sanction of file sharing and obscene links and the mechanism used (links with unique codes attached to them, so you could share the code instead of the link) persisted and lay under the community for a long time.

        The community I referred to has similar origins. An off-topic discussion board on a forum that saw increasingly strict moderation. The split actually happened in two waves. The first was when cursing was banned and the second was when a specific sticky thread was taken down permanently.

        As someone with a deep passion an interest in history, it would be fascinating to read and write a good story of the LUEsers.

        Agreed. I would want to know more about the history of LUELinks and also GameFAQs itself. I know that it’s a rather big community but my only interaction with it has been the FAQs for the Monster Hunter series.

      • I hung out on GameFAQs a lot as a teenager, although this was long after the LUE board was made private. The thing that’s always seemed most remarkable about GameFAQs to me is how many boards it has—its aim is to have one board for every game ever made, and it has lots of subsidiary boards too on different topics. So there must have been hundreds if not thousands of different GameFAQs micro-communities, each with histories of their own.

        One board whose history I know about was the Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door board, which did a particularly interesting bit of mythology-generation after an event known as “Hurricane Wally”. I only started visiting the board after this event (I made my account in early 2006, and I can’t have started visiting the board long after that), but, as I was told, what happened was that people used to post a lot of fanfiction and, especially, interactive fanfiction on the board, which the moderators considered off-topic. But they tolerated it for some time until suddenly deciding to delete everyone’s work from the board (I don’t know if they were given prior notice, or anything like that). One of the moderators who was called “wally” made a post afterwards explaining that the fanfiction had been deleted for being off-topic, and so the deletion came to be referred to as “Hurricane Wally”, and wally was a sort of folk devil for the board from then on.

        After this first “hurricane” came several others, as people continued posting their fanfiction and it kept getting deleted after it overwhelmed the board too much, and eventually some people made an off-site board to post the fanfiction on. I used to know the location of this board, but I don’t remember it, and I never visited it much. But others started posting the fanfiction on one of the dead GameFAQs boards. Now, that gets us into another interesting feature of GameFAQs, which is that there was a vast number of boards for games from the 80s or early 90s which nobody played or talked about any more, so the boards were “dead”. But people did use those boards, for all sorts of purposes—for example, people would find some obscure Commodore 64 game and post a topic on the board “claiming” the board for themselves, and then they could invite their friends there and found their own little personal micro-community. Some users were known as “board hunters”, and they made it a mission of theirs to go through the entire listings of games for each console, inspecting each board to see what interesting things they could find there, chatting with the “owners” if the board was claimed, or just making random posts for other board hunters to amuse themselves by finding. Nobody was going to talk about these games anyway, so the moderators didn’t bother enforcing the rules against off-topic postings. In fact I’m pretty sure there were some board hunters who were moderators, or who became moderators; being a well-known board hunter was one of the ways you could achieve some degree of cross-site fame.

        Anyway, the people from the PM:TTYD board who didn’t go to the off-site board went to the board of a football game for the Sega GameGear called, naturally enough, “Hurricanes”. Of course they didn’t just use it to post fanfiction on but also formed a social community, and for most of the time I was on it it was mainly just a social community. Today there’s nothing left on the board except for a thread (or “topic”, as is the traditional GameFAQs terminology) by BanditYoshi—an old regular who I remember—back in 2008, after the board had already essentially died. (I think Hurricane Wally took place in 2005 or so, so the whole saga only lasted a couple of years; people just lost interest in the board after a while.) Most of the posts in that topic are just BanditYoshi “bumping” the topic, i.e. making a content-free post so the topic doesn’t get deleted (“purged”). He’s been keeping this up regularly for 8 years now; his most recent bump was two days ago. It might be one of the longest living topics on GameFAQs now, although in less than one years’ time he’s going to run up against the 500-post-per-topic limit, and the final vestige of life on the Hurricanes board will finally die away.

        (Not that it will vanish altogether; GameFAQs added a topic archiving function some time after I stopped visiting the site regularly. But it was added too late to archive any of the other topics that used to be on the Hurricanes board.)

        • LPSP says:

          When you put it that way, GameFAQS really had a fascinating culture. I remember hosting popularity contests on the Metroid boards, where people voted for who would win in a fight between various bosses or what-have-you and I would write up a short piece of fiction about it. It’s weird to think that these vote-tourneys would persist but straight-up fanfiction banned.

    • boottle says:

      I would like to see a full history written down about the rise and fall of the skeptic movement. As far as I can tell their high watermark was around early 2011, and then a bunch of stuff happened at once, starting maybe with elevatorgate, that destroyed it all.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This would be interesting, definitely. I would buy a book that was an account of how that went down that made an attempt to be neutral (instead of the two opposing sides of “awful old white misogynist Islamophobes ruined everything” and “essjaydoubleyous ruined everything”) but that recognized the fundamental irony that an anti-religious movement was shaped by, and ultimately suffered a schism due to, the same human drives that cause those things among religions.

      • qwints says:

        Yeah, a lot of it can be summed up as a prisoners delimma of a bunch of self-promoters who could get more attention by talking about internal strife than the supposed point of the movement. If you date the skeptic movement as when TAM existed (2003-2015) it really just looks like the little brother to the New Atheist movement.

        I’d point at the Sci AM blogs fiasco and the creation of FTB as more central to the dissolution than elevator gate. But really, the American skeptics communtiy basically always was running on old money and celebrity rather than creating anything new.

        All that said, Id definitely listen to a discussion between Derek, DJ and Rebecca as to what they think happened.

        • boottle says:

          I’m from the UK, where the high watermark was maybe a little later, we had the court cases of Simon Singh and Paul Chambers bookending it. It all fell apart in similar circumstances involving political differences and supposed allegations of sexual misconduct…

          I think also there was maybe a party political dimension to it, though I’m not confident of this. In the US, it seems to me, a lot of it was anger directed at Bush and his religious views, which dissipated over Obama’s first term.

          In the UK, a lot of it was directed at the Labour government at the time, who were perceived to be overly authoritarian and hostile to Evidence Based Policy (on drugs etc). Many supported the Liberal Democrat party, with a bit of an odd couple alliance between libertarian leaners and left wingers. When the Tory-Liberal coalition came to power, opposition became more explicitly and traditionally left wing.

      • tmk says:

        Are you sure you mean the skeptic movement and not New Atheism? I always felt that they we separate movements, although with a significant overlap in ideas and supporters.

        The skeptic movement is centered around James Randi and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. New Atheism is centered around Richard Dawkins.

        Do you think that the skeptic movement got dragged into the atheists issues, or am entirely wrong to treat them as separate?

        • boottle says:

          I think they may seem separate from close up, but in the grand scheme of things there’s not much different.

          New atheists I suppose can be drawn much wider, to include anyone who read and agree with Hitchens/Dawkins etc in the mid 00s, whereas Skepticism was probably more of a real ‘community’ so to speak, with local SITP groups etc, but I’d be pretty confident to say that most Skeptics were at least some sort of Atheist, and New Atheists would agree with Skeptics on most things even if they weren’t formally active.

          Also, I think the schism that led to its downfall crosses across both groups, with Atheism Plus and all that. (And is a causal link in the chain that led to the Ant Wars.)

          • tmk says:

            Do expand on your last point. It seems interesting, but I cannot see the causal link. Are they not parallel phenomena, driven by the general collapse of the Broad Liberal-Libertarian Alliance to Control Internet Debate?

            I realize it’s dangerous to ask for a culture war discussion, but this subthread seems calm enough to handle it.

            I agree that skepticism and atheism have a large overlap. Most skeptics are not religious, and most atheists agree with skepticism. There is of the common opposition to creationism. But I think that is only one of many issues for skeptics. They also work on alternative medicine, psychic mediums, UFOs, homeopathy, various conspiracy theories, astrology, etc, things New Atheists generally don’t care much about. Maybe I only saw one side of the skeptics. Or, could it be a difference between countries? The Culture War in general is mostly a US and UK issue I think.

    • ThatOneGuy says:

      I have some knowledge of the history of 4chan’s Risk community. It was a game that was played in threads on /b/ where a host would post a map broken into sections. People would choose colors and then make posts on which blank areas to take over or which other nations to attack. They would obtain a number of areas based on the last digits of their post number. (Say 1-3 gets 1 area, 4-6 gets 2 areas, 7-9 gets 3 areas, 0 gets 5 areas, doubles gets 10 areas, trips gets 20 areas.)

      The game itself was quite fun and developed over time around the medium of 4chan’s board setup. For instance, it originally worked by posting as quickly as possible but later turned into a rounds system supported by the unique ID system.

      It’s also generally interesting since the development of the community ended up moving into skype and was full of long lists of unsavory characters.

      • LPSP says:

        Risk-style threads still persist to this day on /tg/. There are different versions for different settings like GoT and such. No idea if they have attendant Skype communities as well, but it’s likely.

    • moridinamael says:

      I think you have to do it the way we get a lot of our “real” history. You interview people. Ideally, you interview a lot of people, and don’t be too selective in your dragnet.

      I was (am?) technically a somethingawful goon but I have absolutely no idea what anybody is talking about with respect to some kind of massive SJ implosion. This is probably because I never really spent much time in the Politics subforum. I guess I did notice that it gradually became less acceptable to dismiss things as “gay” or “retarded.” That said, if you only interview the “important” people, you get a sense that SomethingAwful was just 100% politics all the time, which is the opposite of how most of its members experience it.

      • Tophattingson says:

        Interviewing people alongside prompting people to write their own history as they know it is a good place to start. Already got some of that in the comments here. A Wiki might be a viable format for that?

        Any sufficiently large “community” online is really probably several different communities that share a domain name and maybe an account system.

        For a more recent parallel on 4chan, /u/ shares the same website as /pol/ yet Trump is of complete irrelevance to /u/. Many people make the mistake of thinking 4chan =/pol/, /int/ and /b/ when in reality much (most?) of the activity is gaming, anime, porn and anime porn.

      • Patrick Spens says:

        A lot of it is Ron Paul’s fault actually. Which is something that always makes me happy.

    • Loquat says:

      I would definitely read a history of a certain blog commenting community I used to follow – the blogger migrated from one site to another (notably, the old site was one one of those totally independent make-your-own-blog hosts, while the new one was part of a portal where visitors would run the risk of being exposed to other bloggers that held differing political viewpoints), and so an influential chunk of the community decided to maintain the old place to be the community forum, picked some of the loudest and most opinionated commenters to be the mods of it, and some months later there was a drama-filled meltdown. I saw a fair bit of it myself, of course, but it would be fascinating to see an accurate summary of the whole thing.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        My first thoughts when reading this: wow that is vague but I really want to know who it is.

        My second thoughts: Slacktivist, huh?

        (In retrospect, I don’t know about the meltdown, but there was a huge change when he left)

        • Huh! I used to post regularly in the comments section years ago, before the migration and swap-over. (I think a few other regulars here did as well.)

          I also have a vaguely-prurient interest in whatever happened there.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Fred Clark left the site for Patheos and it just looked like the website became far leftier than it was before.

        • Loquat says:

          Wow, good guess.

          For those interested, the drama meltdown as I understand it more or less went as follows:

          One of the things the new mods decided to do was solicit essays from the community, particularly for a series on religion. A few articles went up doing basic “I’m a member of Religion X, this is what we believe, etc” intro stuff, which nobody much had any issues with… but then they posted one on atheism. And it wasn’t an intro-to-atheism type article, it was an essay by a religious believer arguing that wanting to convert people to atheism is evil. (Really, the argument worked against all religious conversion attempts period, but the author was focused on atheism specifically.) Now, if you read the wording very carefully and squinted your eyes just right, you’d understand the author wasn’t calling atheism in general evil, but we all know hardly anyone on the internet does that.

          So as you can imagine, they got a lot of hate mail and hate posts from angry atheists from the wider internet, plus complaints from atheist community members. The mod response seems to have been more or less to hunker down and wait for it to blow over – which coincidentally resulted in not ever getting around to posting the promised intro-to-atheism article which the atheist community members were asking for, and which might have mollified critics who thought the site was anti-atheist. But things never really did blow over, and the mods got into a mental state of believing anyone who wasn’t 100% supportive of them and their actions was an enemy in need of flaming, and this spiraled into a lot of community members being less than 100% happy with their performance, hence meltdown.

    • pneumatik says:

      Isn’t this the point of the Wayback Machine at archive.org? It’s just copies of web pages so you’ll have to do your own anthropology, but it’s certainly a record of past web sites. Closed forums might not be on it – I think it respects robots.txt file – but otherwise it’s pretty comprehensive.

    • Error says:

      I’ve been frustrated by exactly this with respect to Usenet. We actually have a comprehensive history of it, in the form of Google’s archive, and I’d love to dig through it for some records of the early days of my own communities. Unfortunately it’s kept behind an interface so atrocious that it’s useless for any serious historical diving.

      It’s a tragedy.

    • Tophattingson says:

      Here’s more internet history of SomethingAwful: http://archive.is/cGKD0

      Most interestingly for the idea of a SomethingAwful vs 4chan culture war.

      “There was a reading group who read Deleuze and Guattari together, producing strange diagrams reminiscent of plant organelles, claiming to illustrate rhizomaticity.”

      • FacelessCraven says:

        this is really, really, amazingly good. thank you for posting it, and kudos to the author.

        • tmk says:

          I found it really hard to follow. The author seems to have some very peculiar ideology and groups his opponents together in non-standard ways. Then he invents new terms to define them.

  7. Kyle Strand says:

    Scott and other open-threaders, you have very likely already seen this, but if not, you may find it interesting; I found it very nearly astounding. http://www.vox.com/2016/4/21/11451378/smug-american-liberalism

    • J says:

      Very interesting, thanks for posting.

    • Adam Casey says:

      A very good article. Feeds into what I’ve been saying about the media reaction to Trump for a while. People don’t hate him because of his policies, he doesn’t have any. They hate him because he’s white trash.

      I don’t actually object to hating people because they are white trash. Hardly the worst prejudice. But it’s rather silly to pretend it is anything other than class prejudice.

      • Nathan says:

        I hate him because of his policies. He does have some, mostly involving war crimes.

        Broadly I think you’re correct though.

        • Adam Casey says:

          So he’s gone on a few rants which, if taken literally, would be war crimes.

          But like … so have I? I don’t actually endorse my rants. The question is does Trump endorse what he’s said about fighting terrorism. Maybe, maybe not, maybe he’s not actually thought about it. Either way I don’t think you can call those policies.

          • A POTUS who promotes war crimes is not the same thing as a random person on the internet who promotes war crimes.

          • Frank McPike says:

            “Either way I don’t think you can call those policies.”
            Surely if Trump did endorse what he said, then you would call that a policy? Up to this point, whether or not America uses torture has been a policy question. “It’s not a policy when Trump says it” seems like a kind of special pleading in order to save your initial claim. When Cruz said (in the same debate) that he wouldn’t use torture, wasn’t that a policy position?

            Even apart from that, Trump has made many statements that constitute explicit policy proposals: limiting Muslim immigration, eliminating birthright citizenship, and getting rid of H1-B visas. Those are controversial positions, and the sort that inevitably inspire legitimate disagreement. He may have endorsed some of them inconsistently, but you don’t need to believe for an absolute certainty that a candidate will actually implement a given policy in order to hold it against them.

            Many people (in fact, most people I’ve talked to) dislike Trump because:
            1. He’s proposed bad policies.
            2. He’s duplicitous and willing to lie about his beliefs.
            3. He doesn’t have serious or considered positions on important policies.
            4. All of the above.

            Even if you dispute 1, you seem to believe 2 and 3 are true. Surely these are legitimate and common reasons to disapprove of presidential candidates that don’t boil down to class prejudice? Is it really surprising that many people dislike Trump for vices that you agree he has?

          • Adam Casey says:

            Oh yeah. If Trump decides he means it and actually comes up with plans that would make those awful things happen then it’s a policy. My point is just that Trump changes his mind about everything. What he says one week is not a good guide to what he will say the next.

            Re your 4 points: I think they’re all true to one degree or another of any politician one dislikes. I think Cruz has terrible proposals and lies about what he thinks and so on.

            I’m not trying to explain why people hate Trump per se. I’m trying to explain why the extra passion, why the “this guy is basically hitler”, why this “this is unthinkable and a sign of the endtimes”. Because really, on your 4 points Trump is hardly even an outlier, let alone a monster.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Adam Casey

            I’m not paying much attention to Trump, but a pattern I’m seeing reminds me of “The serious charges are not true, and the true charges are not serious.”

            His nasty ideas are not practical (his wall etc), and his practical ideas are not nasty (supporting Social Security, Planned Parenthood, etc).

          • hlynkacg says:

            Objective observation would appear to indicate that Trump is a pragmatic populist, and honestly, I’m ok with that.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            I know most of you don’t want to hear this, but my guess is people don’t like Trump because he wants to waterboard everyone.

            If he goes on to win the nomination he will likely garner >40% of the vote in the general election.

            There are 2 possibilities.

            1. All his followers are morons and they just aren’t as smart as you, being way too sophisticated to fall for his cons.

            2. You don’t understand Trump’s followers, you don’t understand what drives them.

            And.you.aren’t.even.trying.to.

            When Islamic terrorists suicide bomb western targets most people after being aghast at the specific act make a good faith effort to understand what is driving this behavior.

            When African Americans loot and burn down their own neighborhoods there is a good faith effort to understand the social dynamics driving this seemingly irrational behavior.

            There is an assumption that there are underlying conditions with rational grievances that drive people to do seemingly irrational things. Smart people, our best and brightest, investigate and try to untangle the paradox.

            Is that what is happening here? I would argue that the media treatment of Trump voters is a confirmation to them of everything they perceived about the media and the establishment to start with. No respect. No empathy. No help. Arrogant elitists.

            Something really is happening here. Very few people are trying to find out what it really is.

          • John Schilling says:

            There are 2 possibilities.

            1. All his followers are morons and they just aren’t as smart as you, being way too sophisticated to fall for his cons.

            2. You don’t understand Trump’s followers, you don’t understand what drives them.

            And.you.aren’t.even.trying.to.

            No, we are trying to. And we are I think succeeding. But it keeps coming back to the Trump supporters being morons wrong at the object level when it comes to the probability of supporting Trump actually leading to the changes they want, for reasons rooted in the rational ignorance of the average voter.

            Bottom line, they want to feel good for a few minutes in the voting booth, sticking it to the elitist snobs even though it won’t do them any good and will probably make things much worse, because they don’t see any path to a better outcome than that.

            Which, I think, was your motive for that nice little rant. Feel better?

          • Tom Scharf says:

            I would submit to you that Hope and Change wasn’t likely to result in changes many voters hoped for.

            Who should the Trump voter be voting for instead? Who best represents their interests? They probably feel abandoned by both parties. My guess is the first person who came along and gave everyone else the finger was going to end getting the support of this group. It happened to be Trump. Trump was either lucky or more insightful than anybody gives him credit for.

            The mockery and knee slapping about Trump is starting to turn into palpable fear in the media I think. It’s going to take more than group shaming to bring him down. I’m not sure the media knows how to use any other tools in their toolset.

            If Hillary gets indicted Trump might actually win. It might actually be worse if Hillary doesn’t get indicted and she handles it poorly (i.e takes victory laps on her vindication). A lot of people are going to be holding their nose going into the voting booth this year I suspect.

          • ” But it keeps coming back to the Trump supporters being morons wrong at the object level when it comes to the probability of supporting Trump actually leading to the changes they want, for reasons rooted in the rational ignorance of the average voter.”

            Alternatively, each individual Trump supporter realizes that his supporting Trump won’t lead to changes, whether Trump’s policies are good or bad, since his vote has almost no change of changing the outcome of the election. But supporting Trump does make him feel good. So he does.

          • eh says:

            But it keeps coming back to the Trump supporters being morons wrong at the object level when it comes to the probability of supporting Trump actually leading to the changes they want, for reasons rooted in the rational ignorance of the average voter.

            Proving that Trump supporters are factually incorrect is not sufficient; you also have to prove A) that they are more wrong than everyone else, i.e. that you aren’t making an isolated demand for rigor, and B) that they have not stumbled on the right answer anyway, i.e. maybe nearly electing a scary vaugely-right-wing populist will shift public view towards positions that are genuinely beneficial, like retaining selective immigration, or not deploying ground troops to the most fucked-up region on the planet because 1 in 100,000 of your citizens were killed by a single renegade Saudi engineer.

          • Teal (formerly Anonymous) says:

            @Tom Scharf

            1. All his followers are morons and they just aren’t as smart as you, being way too sophisticated to fall for his cons.

            2. You don’t understand Trump’s followers, you don’t understand what drives them.

            There’s a difference between morons and “aren’t as smart as you”. Sticking with the latter — assuming posters weren’t lying a few open threads back when IQ came up, there are plenty of posters here for whom most Trump supporters just aren’t as smart as them. (Ditto for Clinton and Cruz supporters.) Even if the 1 out of 1000 or whatever Trump supporters that are smarter, or the 2 out of 100 that are within a standard deviation to the left, have some intelligent reason for supporting Trump that still leaves an overwhelming majority as plausibly supporting him for reasons that look ‘moronic’ from their perspective. Sure the same thing may well be true about Clinton supporters, but so what? That doesn’t obviate the claim as to Trump supporters.

            I don’t think I’ll ever understand how people can simultaneously be into HBD and the critical and undervalued importance of IQ and at the same time exhibit this weird egalitarianism that constantly posits a hidden wisdom of the common man. Most people go around doing things for dumb reasons. Understanding mass movements is mostly about figuring out why dumb people think dumb things.

            Arrogant elitists.

            Would you prefer false, cloying modesty and protestations of fellowship?

          • John Schilling says:

            Who should the Trump voter be voting for instead? Who best represents their interests?

            Either Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz, depending on how committed they are to conservative social values.

            Neither of the two tailors their lies quite so specifically to Trump’s supporters as does Trump, and I’m pretty sure they don’t tell quite so many blatant lies in general. Their underlying beliefs and attitudes are probably as closely aligned with Trump’s supporters as are Trump’s. Their personal interests, insofar as they are not filthy stinking rich and do have to work for a living, are much more closely aligned. And they are much more likely to be able to represent those beliefs, attitudes, and interests by the highly effective means of winning an election and running an effective presidency. Meanwhile, the least effective way of representing the interests of Trump supporters would have to be handing the Oval Office to Hillary Clinton with a #NeverTrump mandate.

            And both Sanders and Cruz are as strong a symbol of dissatisfaction with the parties as you can vote for with any expectation that they will then be able to work with the parties to turn them into something the disaffected voters can trust in the future.

            Unless your desires go no further than having someone tell you pleasing lies and maybe watching the world burn, in which case, sure, if you’re that part of Trump’s demographic you’ll at least briefly enjoy voting for him.

          • Lyyce says:

            @Teal I think the point is not that most of Trump supporters support him for stupid or bad reason, but that is the case for most (if not all) of the candidates, past and present.

            Then outing only Trumps supporters as stupid and uneducated on politics looks like isolated demand for rigor.

          • Teal (formally Anonymous) says:

            The isolated demands for rigor point is a decent one, but it isn’t the same as “they have great reasons but you are too arrogant / biased to see it”. Yet I see that fairly often here w/r/t various red tribe things. I’d much prefer to see the response that the blue tribe is filled with idiots too.

          • Jiro says:

            Sure the same thing may well be true about Clinton supporters, but so what? That doesn’t obviate the claim as to Trump supporters.

            But that gets back to the isolated demand for rigor. If it’s all supporters, why single out Trump?

            This is also another case of implicature. Making a statement that Trump supporters are stupider than you implies that you think that only Trump supporters are stupider than you, even if you didn’t add the word “only”. Yes, it is logically possible that Trump supporters are stupider than you because most people are, but nobody communicates that way in the real world.

          • Lyyce says:

            True, but “they have great reasons but you are too arrogant / biased to see it” is just “they have reasons and objectivity which are a priori no worse than ours” taken to far, basically making the same mistake by assuming your ideological opponents are idiots.

            I hardly ever see people treat political opponents as sensible, from any side, that’s probably one of the reason political discourse is so fucked up.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            Does being smarter make you more qualified to determine what is best for a farmer, people in Appalachia, or the hood if you have no experience with any of these? Perhaps if you grew up in these environments.

            I don’t want my nuclear plant designed by farmers, but I don’t think farmers want their farms run by nuclear engineers. Engineers will make better garbagemen than garbagemen will make engineers (except in Dilbert), but don’t extrapolate that to infinity. Understanding the physics of basketball isn’t that helpful in being a better player, or coach. The Ivy league has terrible basketball teams, and they aren’t being asked to teach Kansas how to be better at it.

            Many problems are judgment calls with very incomplete data and constantly evolving confounders (take action in Syria?), having a big room of technocrats isn’t much of an advantage.

          • “I don’t think I’ll ever understand how people can simultaneously be into HBD and the critical and undervalued importance of IQ and at the same time exhibit this weird egalitarianism that constantly posits a hidden wisdom of the common man.”

            It’s pretty easy. Less smart than me isn’t the same thing as stupid.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            “I don’t think I’ll ever understand how people can simultaneously be into HBD and the critical and undervalued importance of IQ and at the same time exhibit this weird egalitarianism that constantly posits a hidden wisdom of the common man.”

            You are trying to fit IQ into a one-size fits all category. IQ doesn’t have much to say about when a person believes life starts in an abortion debate, what God might be, the amount of risk you are willing to tolerate in 401K investing, whether Shiites are not true enough to Islam to deserve death, how large the social safety net needs to be, the death penalty, etc. These are type of things people vote on that technocrats are simply not very useful, and when they appeal to their own IQ authority on these, it is demeaning.

            I watched my mom die a very unkind long drawn out death by cancer. I may value cancer research and death with dignity over issues such as climate change. The fact you are 16% smarter than me isn’t really a factor here.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            “I don’t think I’ll ever understand how people can simultaneously be into HBD and the critical and undervalued importance of IQ and at the same time exhibit this weird egalitarianism that constantly posits a hidden wisdom of the common man.”

            It seems pretty straight forward to me. The stereotypical Academic or mid-to-upper level bureaucrat tends to be insulated from the consequences of their ideas. As such their assumptions are never almost challenged or updated. Meanwhile the “common man” always has the gods of the copybook heading looming over them, and thus has much stronger incentive to “get it right”.

            See this reply in Scott’s post on social class.

          • Agronomous says:

            @Tom Scharf:

            When African Americans loot and burn down their own neighborhoods there is a good faith effort to understand the social dynamics driving this seemingly irrational behavior.

            And when registered Republican voters burn down their own party by supporting Trump, even though they disagree with him on a number of issues (as far as anyone can tell), we should try to understand the social dynamics.

            Basically, voting Trump is how white working-class people riot.

          • “Basically, voting Trump is how white working-class people riot.”

            Interesting analogy.

            I don’t think it’s perfect. One reason to riot is for the fun of it, and that probably applies to voting for Trump as well. But the sort of riot referred to in the previous post also tends to involve looting stuff—material rather than just psychic gain.

            It can be seen as an externality/public good problem. The result of looting the electronic store is that in the future it isn’t there so it’s harder to buy stuff. But I share the cost of that with everyone else in the neighborhood, whereas the benefit of getting a looted television is all mine.

            I don’t see a close analogy to that in the Trump case.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I don’t think looting is a core part of what rioting is about. It’s just a side effect, opportunistic behavior that crops up when you have a breakdown in public order, valuable goods, and less-than-virtuous people all coinciding. Certainly if they’re setting cop cars on fire and whatnot you aren’t going to refuse to call it a riot just because they haven’t stolen anything.

          • Zorgon says:

            It’s really quite amazing how concepts like outgroup homogenity bias and attribution of motive just go flying out of the window when dealing with a perceived low-status outgroup, isn’t it?

            I’m not American, so Trump is only indirectly my problem, but I had the same problem with my more straightforwardly-liberal FB feed and their utter and complete astonishment at the victory of the Conservative Party in last year’s UK elections. The concept that there might be a very large constituency that doesn’t think the same way they do is inexplicably anathemic to some.

            (I predicted a hung parliament or narrow Tory win, because although I anticipated the Lib Dem collapse, I did not expect the Labour turnout to be as atrociously poor as it was, nor the Tory vote to be as driven as it was, given the anaemic and rather pitiful show from the right-wing press. Still, though, some of my friends were expecting Green Party victories.)

          • Anonymous says:

            B) that they have not stumbled on the right answer anyway, i.e. maybe nearly electing a scary vaugely-right-wing populist will shift public view towards positions that are genuinely beneficial, like retaining selective immigration

            There is something weirdly circular about this line of reasoning.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            I like the this is how the WWC riots analogy. At least it is the proper way to riot in my opinion.

            This also demonstrates how out of touch the media has been with what the WWC is thinking. Not a single one of them saw this coming. The urban media bubble has ignored them to the point of not even acknowledging their existence. It’s been saturation flood the zone coverage of race, race, race. I suppose it is a hard pill to swallow that the WWC is allegedly responsible for the plight of the disadvantaged minorities and needs to pony up some of their privilege, and they find themselves living in a broken down mobile home. A valid response to that request could easily be summed up in two words.

            There may be some truth to “none of you elitists are ever going to help us so we are going to throw a brick through your window because it feels so damn good”.

            Globalization and to a lesser extent immigration have hurt the working class sector. Denying that is problematic. I don’t think protectionism is the answer or that this path was necessarily avoidable nor repairable at this point.

          • Anonymous says:

            You know have every time there’s an inner city riot and some white person gets on TV as says “don’t they realize they are only burning down their own neighborhood?!?”

            Yeah. Hurt is a relative thing. It could get much worse.

          • “Globalization and to a lesser extent immigration have hurt the working class sector. Denying that is problematic. ”

            Perhaps, but how do you demonstrate that it is true? Why do you believe it is true?

            Lots of things are always changing, so it’s hard to attribute outcomes to any one of them. The same person who may get paid less because what he was making is now being imported also buys things for less because they are imported. Some people lose a job because what they were making is being imported, some gain a job producing the goods we are exporting in exchange.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            It’s self evident that globalization has hurt the WWC. Steel mills are out of business, and the world certainly uses more steel than it used to. The labor rate in China and India is a fraction of US costs. Private sector union power has diminished because a company can off-shore manufacturing if it needs to. Even Trump morons can see these things, and they aren’t reading about them in the NYT, they are looking out their window.

            But you are correct that they aren’t complaining when they buy something for $2 at Walmart. I think it is likely true the middle and upper classes have gained benefits from globalization, the lower class has lost out.

            All the technology has automated out mostly WWC jobs and the people who maintain and design the automated machinery are highly skilled and highly paid. We have transitioned to a knowledge economy, and if you don’t have knowledge you lose. The people who lost out in the genetic lottery are in a tough position.

            I’m not one to preach about income inequality, and see this progress as the inevitable march of trying to make things better for everyone. When we tell the losing side of this march “tough shit” then I guess we end up with Donald Trump.

            The next election cycle will include pandering to the WWC by everyone. This bloc is up for grabs.

          • Agronomous says:

            @Zorgon:

            It’s really quite amazing how concepts like outgroup homogenity bias and attribution of motive just go flying out of the window when dealing with a perceived low-status outgroup, isn’t it?

            Just to be clear about where I stand: I’m a pointy-headed conservative, who pays attention to law blogs and legislative battles more than election horse-races. I thought (much of) the white working class was in my ingroup, at least politically. Lots of them call in to conservative radio shows and seem to have principles and think about party unity and all that.

            Marco Rubio would have made the best candidate,* but he had to shoot himself in the foot with amnesty; Kasich would peel off a lot of Democrats, but that’s because he practically is one (I accidentally called him “Kasinich” once); Cruz is a principled conservative and a very good lawyer who could beat an indicted Hillary, probably. Maybe.

            Illegal immigration came out of nowhere, sideswiping both parties, because outside talk radio (both conservative and African-American), everybody in the media agreed it was totally cool and nothing to get upset about. Whoops. Turns out when you’re competing with illegal immigrants for jobs, there is something to get upset about.

            So Trump, whose candidacy was totally a blast while he was just pissing off the media by absorbing their superpowers and turning them back against them,** was the only one talking about it, and now this incredibly non-conservative rich guy who gave lots of money to the Clinton foundation, of all things, is on his way to either the nomination or the destruction of the Republican party (which, for all its faults, at least provides a home for conservatives).

            I find myself wishing fervently for Sanders to get the Democratic nod, so I can vote for him. He’s too far left to actually get anything done, and every move he makes as President will either damage the Democrats’ brand (by being too socialist) or hurt their morale (by not being socialist enough).

            (* Because he’s the one low-information voters would most want to sleep with. I’m pointy-headed, but not naive.)

            (** My understanding of mass media and campaigning may be somewhat oversimplified.)

        • suntzuanime says:

          I mean, you are voting for President of the United States. War crimes sort of come with the territory.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Pretty much. If your goal is to have a president that won’t embarrass you with your tumblr international commie friends, you’re shit out of luck. Obama was about as dovish as I’ve come to expect from an American President, but the left here still thinks of him as a mass murderer (and also holds him accountable for a coup that happened 40 years ago).

      • Seth says:

        “People” hate Trump for different reasons. The key reason for the “passion” is because the Republican establishment hates Trump. They hate him for mostly the wrong reasons – because he’s nationalist rather than purely global capitalist, and he’s not a team player in terms of the Republican Party coalition and positioning. Thus, it’s acceptable for professional pundits to say he’s a horrible person. Otherwise, the same hate would be deemed proof of the derangement of hippies.

        It has nothing to do with class prejudice. The very patrician Bush was always playing at being a literal cowboy. You’re seeing the intra-party Republican fight now, reflected in acceptable bounds of professional media discourse.

      • Pku says:

        Yeah. I dislike Trump, but whenever I see a media article bashing him I remember what Donal Noye/Tyrion said to Jon: “They don’t hate you because you’re better than them. They hate you because you act like you’re better than them.”

    • onyomi says:

      I think this is ultimately a shift toward “Bulverism”–that is, skipping over explaining how you’re wrong and jumping right to why you’re wrong. I actually saw an entire event at Harvard devoted to examining the question of why so many Americans vote against their own economic self-interest. That they do so was taken for granted.

      • Anonymous says:

        I thought it was pretty well established that they do so? That it’s wrong for them to do so is what’s taken for granted.

        • onyomi says:

          It’s well-established which major party’s economic policies are better for the poor and middle class?

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m thinking of specific instances of people voting against their economic self-interests. (I also hoped the second part of my comment wouldn’t be ignored.)

            [@Onyomi, I think you edited your comment? I responded to the longer, unedited version (which, btw, I liked better).]

          • Zarel says:

            I guess the implication is that they vote against their interests in the primaries, too.

          • onyomi says:

            Re. the second part; yes, that also seems it shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially by the side (the liberal side) which so emphasizes altruism (that is, voting on idealism, not self interest).

            I do think it’s basically been proven, based on what I’ve read, at least, however, that voters don’t actually vote on the basis of pure economic self-interest. Signalling virtue and group identification are probably more important.

          • Anonymous says:

            [Content warning: Blasphemy]

            @Onyomi, yes, liberals using “self-interest” as a criticism has always puzzled me. (The only justification might be when your opponent claims that they are voting in their own self-interest and you want to point out that they aren’t.)

            I tend to think that voting against one’s economic self-interest can be rational and justifiable. For example, you may want to avoid incentivizing certain behavior, or you may prioritize fairness over personal gain (because a society in which people believe they are treated fairly is a better one). (I’m not sure if this is what you meant by “idealism”.)

          • sweeneyrod says:

            It seems pretty well established that some people vote against their self-interest — if most minimum wage whites vote Republican, and most minimum wage non-whites vote Democrat, one group has to be wrong (unless economic effects of policies that have disparate impacts on different racial groups dominate the effects of policies like raising the minimum wage, which seems unlikely).

          • suntzuanime says:

            Raising the minimum wage itself could easily have disparate impacts. It’s easy enough to construct a model where you need some unskilled workers but can automate some away in response to a minimum wage hike, and you’re a horrible racist so you’d prefer to automate away the black ones.

          • onyomi says:

            “one group has to be wrong”

            That is true. But I’m pretty sure the conference in question was taking it for granted that it was the blue collar people voting for Republicans who are are wrong, not say, minorities voting for Democrats or something else like that.

          • Tracy W says:

            On the issue of voting in economic self-interest, if a party promises a policy that directly tranfers say $1000 a year to you, but you believe that their other policies are so bad that the economy would fall apart and your total income would fall by $5000, your economic self-interest is to vote against that party.

            There’s also a short-term vs long-term issue of course. Is it in your economic self-interest to have another $1000 a year if that’s funded through debt? Although to my NZ-raised ears both the US main political parties are appalling on that point.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            If you are an unemployed coal miner who lost their job due to the “war on coal”, which way would the vote for self-interest go?

            I think there is a major disconnect in that many (most?) people take pride in being self supporting. They don’t want to be dependent on government and they see government benefits as shameful (regardless of the actual facts).

            “We won’t take a dime if we ain’t earned it, when it comes to weight brother we pull our own, if it’s our backwoods way of living you’re concerned with, you can leave us alone”

            Josh Thompson – Way Out Here
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0sYnro_3Rc

          • Chalid says:

            At the other end of the economic ladder, lots of people in the top tax bracket vote Democratic, and that is mostly against their economic self-interest (narrowly defined). I don’t think this is controversial?

          • @Chalid:

            Probably against the economic interest of some, in the interest of others. The government spends a lot of money subsidizing things, and some of it surely goes to high income people who vote Democratic.

            Some lawyers have very high incomes. One reason is the expansion of law and regulation pushed more by Democrats than by Republicans.

        • Deiseach says:

          What seems to have been established is (A) If poor/working class white Americans vote Republican rather than Democrat, they are voting against their economic self-interest (B) why would they do this? are they evil or just stupid?

          The question always at least implies, if it does not outright state, that they are talking about poor white Americans; poor non-white Americans are assumed to vote Democrat (or, if they don’t, you can’t say it’s because they’re stupid, that would be racist).

          What has not been established is that it is voting against their economic interest, or at least that they would be better off voting for the Democrats than the Republicans; when people are all too happy to lecture you about being a racist for not being delighted a poor Chinese worker has got the job you used to have, even if they are now working for buttons and in worse conditions, why should you think that voting for the party they vote for is going to help your situation? Or that, all else being equal in their circumstances, if poor white Bob and poor black Bill apply for help, there will be preferential programmes to help Bill since he is considered more disadvantaged than Bob, on racial grounds alone? Bob’s son may be able to take advantage of an affirmative action push to get into college, and good luck to him, but where are the programmes to get “sons of poor white Virginian unemployed coal miners” into college?

          • Anonymous says:

            when people are all too happy to lecture you about being a racist for not being delighted a poor Chinese worker has got the job you used to have, even if they are now working for buttons and in worse conditions

            I wonder which party is telling them this. It seems more libertarianish than a traditionally right or left position (in the U.S.).

          • Anonymous says:

            Specifically, in which ways, would the poor be better off under President Romney?

          • Anonymous says:

            “when people are all too happy to lecture you about being a racist for not being delighted a poor Chinese worker has got the job you used to have”

            No one says this. Look to Bryan Caplan or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. All your comments on US politics conveniently leave out the fact that this is an overwhelmingly pro-corporate society on both sides of the aisle, just a little less so on the left.
            We don’t talk about that on SSC. We talk about anti-corporate bias. We dont talk about the TPP or the Panama Papers. We dont talk about Palantir or Blackwater. We talk about anti-sweatshop bias.
            When convenient, everyone here agrees that voters are irrational, as per Caplan. But try to mention that this would take a certain form among social conservatives who never get what they want, just more tax cuts for the rich, and you suddenly get a lot
            of pearlclutching.

          • onyomi says:

            “Specifically, in which ways, would the poor be better off under President Romney?”

            It could at least be argued that his more pro-business, anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-trade war with China stances might have increased attractive employment opportunities for the poor and middle class.

          • onyomi says:

            “You make a fool of yourself everytime you lecture us on American politics.”

            Aaand, rude anon@gmail is back.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’d much rather people be able to make wrong assertions and have them challenged, rather than being chided for looking foolish, which adds zero substance to the discussion.

          • Anonymous says:

            “when people are all too happy to lecture you about being a racist for not being delighted a poor Chinese worker has got the job you used to have”

            No one says this. Look to Brian Caplan sweetheart. You make a fool of yourself everytime you lecture us on American politics.

            Stop that! You’re making us look bad! YOU BRING SHAME TO FAMILY!

          • Ononymous says:

            “It could at least be argued that his more pro-business, anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-trade war with China stances might have increased attractive employment opportunities for the poor and middle class.”

            So trickle down?

          • Anonymous says:

            So trickle down?

            Trickle down is not a thing. You can safely try again.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            I think most people need to examine the possibility that economics isn’t very correlated with red/blue tribal policy except in indirect ways. After over 50 years on this earth I’m not a big believer in presidential economic determinism.

            President Clinton didn’t invent the internet economy. It’s easy to show positive progress when you are president Reagan and the economy was a total disaster under Carter (external forces, OPEC, etc.). No policy resulted in the iPhone.

            I think policy nibbles around the edges of the much larger chaotic forces that really drive the economy. A mosquito on an elephant’s arse. This is even more the case with a global economy. Most of the things that are probably important both parties agree on. Market economy. Educated workforce.

          • suntzuanime says:

            There’s an argument to be made that early attempts to regulate the internet could have severely dampened its impact, so you could credit Clinton with avoiding those.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            There is no question that a president/congress could sabotage the economy if so inclined. Not that either side hasn’t been accused of this routinely.

            But the US pretty much runs the US economy, not the red/blue economy. To people on the outside I doubt they can tell any difference with who is in office.

          • Deiseach says:

            Specifically, in which ways, would the poor be better off under President Romney?

            Specifically, in which ways, would they be worse off? Okay, President Romney supports the business policies which lead to globalisation and outsourcing jobs to China, so the main manufacturer/employer in your town closes down and moves its BPO overseas, and you lose your job working on the assembly line/ in the back office as secretarial support.

            Just as we see under President Obama.

            Meanwhile, industries that lean Democrat are the likes of the Silicon Valley Democrats (to head off any protests, I’m not bashing the liberal entrepreneurs!) who are providing high-tech employment but are looking for employees at a higher level than “worked soldering circuit boards” (that’s what their sub-contractors in China do, if they even are involved in making things), so they’re not going to provide you with alternative employment (unless you’re able to re-invent yourself as a whizz at programming or start-ups).

            So why change to vote Democrat when it’s not readily apparent this will get you back your lost job plus you have the sneers about “bitter clingers to God, guns and anti-gays” and how all the problems of the world are due to the privilege of white cis het men?

            I think, as the couplet has it, no matter who gets into power:

            Parnell came down the road and said to a cheering man:
            ‘Ireland will get her freedom, and you still break stone’

          • JDG1980 says:

            I wonder which party is telling them this. It seems more libertarianish than a traditionally right or left position (in the U.S.).

            Matt Yglesias and Brad DeLong, both mainstream U.S. neoliberal pundits closely associated with the Democratic Party establishment, have repeatedly made statements to this effect.

            Here’s an article in Vox.com arguing it’s OK to hurt American workers to help the world’s poorest. This kind of globalist utilitarianism is very popular among the modern intellectual center-left. We can expect a Hillary Clinton administration to reflect this (Brad DeLong worked in Bill’s administration and will probably work in Hillary’s) and therefore the white working class in American will rightly see a Hillary Presidency as being opposed to their interests.

          • Anonymous says:

            @JDG1980
            Here’s an article in Vox.com arguing it’s OK to hurt American workers to help the world’s poorest.

            Except that it’s not actually saying that at all. It does explain that there’s a trade-off between free trade and protectionism.

          • The Vox article is crystal clear. Here is the moral thrust:

            Is there any defense of Sanders? There is, but it’s one that a lot of liberals won’t like: Screwing over the global poor might well be in America’s interests, or at least the interests of some Americans.

            Which puts Bernie in a very awkward position: Delivering on his campaign promises requires doing real damage to the global poor.

            This isn’t an awkward position at all. Benefitting Americans is good. Period. Story. End of.

            I definitely fall into the Blue-Tribe culturally, and feel really uncomfortable with the working class. I hang out with them quite a lot because I have many friends that straddle the class line. I am out of place.
            Good example. I went for a Cost Accounting position at a factory. One of the managers told me I was simply too nerdy to last.

            But, it’s really obvious to these people that the American government exists to advance the welfare of Americans. Screwing over the welfare of Americans to benefit non-Americans would never cross their minds.

            To Vox? Well, we need to have this deep ethical disc-

            No. Just no.

            FWIW, I believe most American politicians think Free Trade is a net win for almost everyone, so this shouldn’t comment should not be taken as support for Trump/Sanders.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ A Definite Beta Guy:

            The key word is “some Americans”.

            Say free trade benefits 90% of Americans but is bad for the very poor. (I am not saying that’s true, just stating it hypothetically.) Well, why should the vast majority of Americans sacrifice so that these 10% can benefit?

            The US government exists to serve the interests of the majority of Americans. Also, most people would say the US government has the obligation to serve the interests of Americans only through ethical means. So if we could increase our wealth a tiny bit by invading Canada and looting everything, enslaving the people to work for us, we still shouldn’t do it.

            (I think that’s sort of a moot point because it wouldn’t even benefit us in the long run.)

          • Tom Scharf says:

            Enslaving Canadians is a bad idea?

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          > I thought it was pretty well established that they do so? That it’s wrong for them to do so is what’s taken for granted.

          Direct versus indirect, near versus far is important here.

        • Paul Torek says:

          Yes. People vote their values, not their interests, by and large. Cf. The Political Brain .

      • many assumptions of the What’s the Matter With Kansas thesis have been challenged

        • Walter says:

          I always thought the “What’s the Matter With Kansas” guys were impressive for managing to live in a country with a hundred million or so conservatives and never talking to any. Like, how could they get us so wrong?

          • Frank McPike says:

            Thomas Frank has not only encountered conservatives, but in fact used to be one.

            @Onyomi
            My understanding is that general consensus among academics who study public opinion and voting habits is that Frank’s account has serious problems: either that it explains patterns that don’t actually exist, or that its narrative about how those patterns formed doesn’t line up with reality. If you’re looking for specific examples, Larry Bartels’s “What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas” definitely had the best title. (You can find it here: http://www.princeton.edu/~bartels/kansasqjps06.pdf)

            There’s also a good amount of literature debating the broader question of whether the sort of culture war that Frank’s thesis rests on really exists or drives voting behavior at all. Morris Fiorina is the big name on that issue (I don’t know if he’s addressed Frank directly, but their claims certainly conflict). You can find a direct criticism of Frank from that perspective here: http://web.stanford.edu/~jrodden/jep.20.2.pdf

    • Anonymous says:

      1. I’m not sure that liberals have any sort of monopoly on smugness. In my experience, it’s just as much a feature of conservatives or libertarians.

      2. If I believe someone to be wrong on the facts, it’s almost inevitable that’ll come off as smugness to some degree. (Come to think of it, where do I remember seeing this most often? SCC threads.)

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m not sure that liberals have any sort of monopoly on smugness.

        It’s the unrecognised smugness that piece is talking about. It’s easy to see the mote in your brother’s eye, harder to see the beam in your own.

      • “If I believe someone to be wrong on the facts, it’s almost inevitable that’ll come off as smugness to some degree.”

        I wonder if part of what determines smugness is how preponderant your views are in your circles. If all the smart and educated people you know share your world view, it’s pretty easy to believe that your view is obviously true and its only the fact that other people are stupid or ignorant that explains their not sharing it.

        On the other hand, if your views are a small minority within the bubble you live in, you’ve probably talked to people who, on other grounds, you think well of, tried to show them why your views are correct, failed, and had to come to terms with the fact that although your views may be correct, they are not obvious, and its possible for intelligent and educated people to reject them for good, although perhaps mistaken, reasons.

        • ChetC3 says:

          I wonder if part of what determines smugness is how preponderant your views are in your circles.

          Yes, people espousing unusual views are more likely to be perceived as insufferably smug. See “hipster”, “contrarian”, etc.

    • Tom Scharf says:

      The most satisfying confirmation bias I have had all year.

    • Pku says:

      It’s interesting, and I agree with a lot of it, but I think they’re still making the mistake of assigning agency only to liberals (I’m guessing most of the writer’s social circle is liberals and conservatives are still a faceless outside group for him). It feels like he thinks that liberals act, and conservatives react. Which is exactly half true, and leads to a feeling that he’s only telling one side of the story (though he does mostly avoid vilifying either side).

      (In particular, he’s a bit unfair to Jon Stewart, who despite being an icon of smug liberals was actually a pretty good interviewer when interviewing republicans).

      • Tom Scharf says:

        Jon Stewart was good face to face, but he took a lot viscous cheap shots otherwise. I watched his show for years but I thought he really got too mean spirited and took himself too seriously at the end. He spread the criticism around and wasn’t afraid to torch liberal taboos. When it was comedy it was good, when it became an agent of change it became less interesting.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Some of that may be his writers; the interviews would have been less scripted than the rest of the show. (Though to some extent as a mouthpiece you are taking responsibility for your writers, so we can still blame him.)

          • Tom Scharf says:

            Yeah I wondered about that. I assume he yielded fairly major control over the show’s content. I haven’t watched Jon Oliver so I don’t know if it changed since he left.

    • BBA says:

      Once again I link Kevin Drum’s response which distinguishes between smugness and condescension.

      • Deiseach says:

        The comments to that piece are disheartening; nothing at all to engage with “yes perhaps we do come across as condescending at times”, all arguing that conservatives are just dumb, conservatism is a religion, they can’t handle the truth!!!!!

        • BBA says:

          I like Kevin Drum but he has one of the worst comments sections on the internet, and that’s saying something.

      • Kyle Strand says:

        Thanks; that’s excellent.

        I find the second quoted tweet pretty absurd. Has that guy forgotten that Kim Davis is a Democrat?

        • BBA says:

          “Liberal” and “Democrat” aren’t synonyms, and Davis has left the party regardless.

    • eh says:

      I am reminded of two things, a blog post by Stephen Fry, and The Road To Wigan Pier by Orwell.

      Trump’s idea of what success is, what style is, what America means has largely been ‘voted for’ and has become an aspirational norm for hotels, malls, resorts and homes up and down the land, uglifying America with an especially repugnant kind of short-lasting gloss and shallow gleam.

      Trump is the faux-mahogany and fake-brass lamp and ceiling fan available in Target and Walmart that swirls and beats the air above us all, not shining light, just stirring the air noisily and to no purpose, while claiming to be somehow an heirloom and a collectible.

      http://www.stephenfry.com/2016/03/trumperytowersoverall/

      Here am I, a typical member of the middle class. It is easy for me to say that I want to get rid of class-distinctions, but nearly everything I think and do is a result of class-distinctions. All my notions — notions of good and evil, of pleasant and unpleasant, of funny and serious, of ugly and beautiful — are essentially middle-class notions; my taste in books and food and clothes, my sense of honour, my table manners, my turns of speech, my accent, even the characteristic movements of my body, are the products of a special kind of upbringing and a special niche about half-way up the social hierarchy. When I grasp this I grasp that it is no use clapping a proletarian on the back and telling him that he is as good a man as I am; if I want real contact with him, I have got to make an effort for which very likely I am unprepared. For to get outside the class-racket I have got to suppress not merely my private snobbishness, but most of my other tastes and prejudices as well. I have got to alter myself so completely that at the end I should hardly be recognizable as the same person. What is involved is not merely the amelioration of working-class conditions, nor an avoidance of the more stupid forms of snobbery, but a complete abandonment of the upper-class and middle-class attitude to life.

      https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/o/orwell/george/o79r/

      Orwell says middle and upper classes see the working class as dirty or smelly, while Stephen Fry tries to defame Trump and his supporters in terms of tackiness and cheapness. He seems outraged that the poor buy cheap cutlery and use cheap ceiling fans. He later preempts this interpretation by claiming “that to decry such offences against taste is emphatically not a kind of snobbery”, but this seems like an attempt to smooth over cognitive dissonance rather than a real argument.

      • Nita says:

        Gaudy / tacky / tasteless is not the same thing as cheap.

        This is the Trump Taj Mahal. Does it look cheap to you? Do you think it was made that way because a different design would be more expensive?

        Personally, I think naming your casino after someone’s tomb is both tackier and more worthy of contempt than the shiniest bling-bling in the most expensive rap music video. But hey, maybe I’m just out of touch with poor folks like Donald Trump. Perhaps growing up in a Soviet communal flat has made me a total snob.

        On the other hand, I don’t buy the idea that aesthetics is somehow connected to morality. You can see beauty in what I consider ugly or vice versa, and be a perfectly fine person. But I understand that aesthetic sense is very important to some people, so they want it to be The Solution to everything — just like some smart people want intelligence or rationality to be The Solution.

        (Bonus image: the interior of the real Taj Mahal.)

        • Deiseach says:

          This is the Trump Taj Mahal. Does it look cheap to you? Do you think it was made that way because a different design would be more expensive?

          Yes, it does look cheap*. I realise that it is actually quite expensive, that a lot of money has gone into making it look like this, and that the individual elements are not cheap in themselves.

          And that the intention is to give an impression of luxury, grandeur, wealth, all the subconscious cues to influence the people to keep pushing money into the slot machines in order to entice them for “just one more spin for the big win”.

          But it is cheap, in that it’s not visually tied together well; the most important elements are the slot machines and so the design has to fit around them, yet the style is not “modern technological”, it’s a very bad rip-off of faux Versailles (in what is named after a Moghul architectural construct? This is the interior style of the Taj Mahal!) and that carpet and upholstery is dreadful: too busy, too many clashing details!

          So a jumble of incongruous and incompatible styles, done expensively but with a watered-down pop culture idea of what wealth and luxury are supposed to be, still stuck in a heavily over-upholstered suffocatingly close Second Empire style.

          I may be poor and with working class/lower middle-class roots, but by damn I am an aesthetic snob! 🙂

          I see no reason Trump couldn’t have tried for a more cohesive and internally consistent style of décor in keeping with the ‘Taj Mahal’ motif that would still convey the notion of wealth and luxe to the people playing the slots (who, for all practical purposes, may as well be playing them in a building based on ‘concrete parking garage’ style as the main interest of the casino is to encourage them to become mildly addicted enough to keep shelling out money to play, and the main interest of the players is to have the gambling experience which is more about satisfying that craving rather than winning, though the lure of the easy big win is always there of course) – well, no reason other than “this is the tried and true conventional style, don’t get fancy, go with what works” bullishness.

          *Cheap in the sense of “trying to emulate the real expensive items”, paste or rhinestones instead of diamond, and making up for cheapness by excess. That impression still persists, even if you’re using real diamonds as big as the fake paste jewels of the cheap items your taste or apprehension of impressiveness has been formed by or based upon. “Cheapness” in this sense means “not realising less is more, that you don’t have to compensate for falsity by making it bigger and shinier”.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think the Trump Taj Mahal is intentionally tacky. That’s Trump’s brand, and also that’s what casino gamblers want and expect. Glitz and glitter and excess, flashing lights and loud noise. “Luxe” doesn’t enter into it; Trump is going for something like a pimped-out Cadillac, not a Mercedes. Yes, it’s tacky, and it’s ugly, and it has no class. But that’s all on purpose.

          Um, I think I’m still talking about the casino, but the same applies to the campaign. The man knows his market.

        • Nornagest says:

          This is the Trump Taj Mahal. Does it look cheap to you? Do you think it was made that way because a different design would be more expensive?

          Mirrors, crystal, fake gold leaf, and sculptural moldings are mainstays of the Vegas/Atlantic City style because they look luxurious but can be made quite cheap when you’re running a million square feet of them; retrofitting your house to include them would cost a lot, but economies of scale save you if you’re making a casino. Or a block of McMansions, though that’s usually a little more low-key.

          They’ve fallen out of favor in real high-end construction for the same reasons.

          • The set designers for one of the early Hollywood extravaganzas are showing the director around the set. His response:

            “It just shows you what God could have done if he had the money.”

            That’s my reaction to Vegas.

      • LPSP says:

        Orwell was way ahead of his socialist peers. Fry meanwhile continues to descend into postural emptiness. Good one for bringing up the comparison.

        I see little doubt in the theory that Left and Right politics is simply the argument between the richer and poorer sides of the middle class, with the Left representing the richer.

    • moridinamael says:

      They come right up to the point of admitting that their political opponents might have principled arguments, but still can’t bring themselves to say it.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’d love to pick your brain to figure out what you think liberals actually think.

        • moridinamael says:

          I don’t find “liberals” to be a useful term for carving reality at the joints.

          If you take the linked article at face value, the idea is that “liberals” are happy to dismiss the opposition as being literally too stupid for form coherent, reasoned opinions.

          But don’t worry, I grew up in the South, and down there we’re equally good at assuming that liberals are too stupid to form coherent, reasoned opinions.

          My gripe was more that the entire article seems to be dancing around the idea that maybe those Conservatives actually, like, in some cases, maybe, subscribe to consistent edifices of thought which they arrived at through deliberation and study. But he still can’t actually say this outright.

  8. Sniffnoy says:

    A quick thought on copyright registration, which I’m reposting from elsewhere since more people will see it here:

    One of the big problems with the current copyright system, in the US and elsewhere, is the problem of giant copyright snarls where nobody can tell who owns the rights to something, making it impossible for anyone to license it. This would be avoided with a proper copyright registry, but of course the Berne convention forbids this; and there are some substantial advantages to having automatic copyright (e.g. if you just make some drawing and put it on the Internet and then someone else starts selling T-shirts of it, you want to have some recourse).

    So here’s an idea I had for an intermediate sort of system; I am wondering what other people think of it. It would presumably also be disallowed under the Berne convention, but, it’s not like such a thing is realistically going to be implemented anytime soon with or without that, so, whatever.

    The proposal is simple: Copyright is automatic, as it is currently, but copyrights may also be registered. The effect of registration is that only a registered copyright may be sold, or even licensed in an exclusive manner. That is to say, you can license out your copyright, but any contract you make to not license it to other parties would not be enforceable. This, I hope, would reduce the problem of snarls: If the copyright is registered, you can consult the registry. If it is not registered, then you know that the person to contact is the original author (or that they are a person you can contact about it, anyway). Also, unregistered unexpired copyrights would automatically expire on the author’s death, getting rid of that problem. There are still possible snarls if e.g. the registries don’t record as much as we like or if it’s not even clear who the original author is, but it seems like at least a partial solution to me.

    • Under current law as I understand it, copyrights can but need not be registered. Registration ipermits you to collect statutory damages for infringement, rather than being limited to actual damages, the costs the infringement imposed on you.

      I’m not sure I understand your version. One way of reducing the problem of orphan works, works under copyright whose owner is hard to locate, is to have a system where after some period, say ten years, a copyright must be renewed at some modest cost.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        “One way of reducing the problem of orphan works, works under copyright whose owner is hard to locate, is to have a system where after some period, say ten years, a copyright must be renewed at some modest cost.”

        This also has the benefit that Disney is incentivized to just pay the token amount every ten years instead of having their pet Congressmen extend the copyright terms to an even more insane length every time it looks like Steamboat Willie is about to enter the public domain.

        • Alliteration says:

          As cynical at is its, sometimes building the law to allow direct transfers of wealth from the public to the elites is better than the inefficiencies that lobbies/corruption/bribery can create. For example, the president just paying himself 1,000,000 extra dollars is better than him creating a bad law that increases the stocks he owns in value by 1,000,000, because the former there is no bad law.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’ve always thought politicians in democracies are absurdly underpaid.

          • TD says:

            @Protagoras

            You can always do it the other way around, and forbid politicians from owning anything or having any money. That way, figuring out what transfers of money are corruption and what aren’t is a non-issue, since politicians give up these rights in return for being allowed to have political power. No income streams other than the constitutionally stipulated stipend and lodgings. If any evidence is found of any private ownership by politicians, they can be brought before court and if found guilty, dismissed in shame and permanently barred from political office.

            Few people would want to become politicians under such a scheme, but that’s by design.

          • Anonymous says:

            @TD

            That sounds like a fairly workable system, if it could be implemented. That would require a Czar of some sort, because the politicians in charge of things probably wouldn’t consider this an improvement of their lot.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            @TD

            I can see this working perfectly well for say, presidents and congressmenl. But many positions in state and town (and I do mean town, not city) governments are unpaid or receive nominal compensation, and I can’t imagine many skilled people wanting to serve in low-level positions in local office at the expense of any wealth save the government stipend – and the government’s probably raising taxes a fair bit to pay for said stipends.

            You could, of course, exempt those positions, but corruption also happens on the local level.

          • Tracy W says:

            @td: you’d also have to forbid politicians’ families and friends from owning anything.

            Your scheme would also mean that all politicians would be much more dependent on staying voted in for their income to continue.

            I understand Julius Ceaser’s motivation for changing the Roman Republic was that if he stepped down from his role as Consol he would be open to prosecution by his political enemies. Generally I think it’s a good thing to make leaving politics attractive to politicians.

          • Murphy says:

            @TD

            Ok, lets imagine I’m a high level politician.

            So I don’t own anything but if I vote the right way I get to stay in a Nike brand house, spend every night with a Coca Cola brand hooker, every meal can be provided by a Disney brand Cook and I can be chauffeured around in a General Motors Limo.

            Not owning any of that of course, just staying with some “friends” and getting lots of lifts around and dinners from “friends”

          • TD says:

            @Murphy

            Maybe we need to imprison politicians and have them under public surveillance 24/7.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Sorry, only just got back to this now!

        Yes, for some reason when I wrote this I forgot copyrights can in fact be registered in the US, with the effect you mention. My point is not to replace that effect; this is pretty independent of that.

        Renewal fees and sensibly short copyright terms also help, of course, in that they get the work into the public domain faster. But the goal here was to avert the problem of licensing snarls in the case where the work is still under copyright.

        Can you specify what you don’t understand? (Sorry, I’m getting back to this really late, don’t know if you’ll see this, but…)

    • Zippy says:

      In the US, copyright owners are precluded from collecting statutory damages and/or attorney’s fees for any infringement occurring before registration. So if you accept the extremely low-resolution view of more money more incentive then registering is already incentivized, I guess.

      Is it currently a part of the rationalist memeplex that we should abolish copyright completely? I hope so. I think gwern said something about this once, but even notable software freedom advocates like Richard M Stallman don’t usually have the gall to say that copyright should be done away with completely.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Copyright requires both private property and a government, so I feel like both halves of the community oppose it.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Gwern’s argument in “Culture Is Not About Aesthetics” is that the creation of fiction should not be subsidized, since there is already too much new fiction being produced. Copyright can be modeled as a subsidy.

        • Deiseach says:

          So what about intellectual rights and plagiarism? If we’re doing away with copyright, why not go the whole hog and say sure, let a student use chunks of someone else’s article or book in their essay with no attribution and pass it off as their own work.

          I suppose the argument there would be that there is no harm being done so long as the original author does not know about it and that knowledge is being disseminated?

          What then if the enterprising student makes a book out of the chunks they lift from others and sells it? I’m seeing examples of this from fanartists online, who produce work and share it freely, then find online services (like Redbubble) being used by people who lift their work off the internet and stick it on t-shirts etc. and sell it for their own profit, with neither permission nor attribution.

          • Plagiarism is a different issue. The student is claiming credit for intellectual work he didn’t do, thus defrauding his professor, the university that grants him his degree, and future employers who rely on that degree as evidence of ability.

            In the academic world, plagiarism is a much more serious offense than copyright violation. Things have tightened up a bit in recent years, but it used to be common for a professor to make a bunch of photocopies of an article for his students to read as part of class readings.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            First, there is a difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism. Even if copyright is abolished, private institutions can still maintain a strong taboo on claiming to have written something you haven’t. Students get expelled for plagiarism because of that taboo, not because they are infringing on someone’s copyright.

            Second, Gwern’s argument is specifically about fiction. He even has a section arguing that subsidizing nonfiction is much more defensible, and that there is no reason why you can’t remove the subsidy on fiction while still subsidizing nonfiction.

          • Eltargrim says:

            it used to be common for a professor to make a bunch of photocopies of an article for his students to read as part of class readings

            And with my understanding of fair dealings (not necessarily fair use), this kind of thing is still permissible. Whether or not litigation-averse institutions will permit it in policy, however…

          • Deiseach says:

            Things have tightened up a bit in recent years, but it used to be common for a professor to make a bunch of photocopies of an article for his students to read as part of class readings.

            This is eight years or more ago, but the school I worked in got hit with a letter from some organisation claiming that unless they paid for a licence, any copying by teachers of textbooks, etc for handouts was illegal and they would be sued.

            How they were going to go into every school in Ireland and check every class to make sure the pupils didn’t have a photocopy of the notes on the set novel or whatever, I don’t know, but the local government organisation running the school took it seriously enough to pay up (at least for that year).

            Looking it up on the web, I see that they are still going:

            (b) The copying licensed shall not in the case of any one published work exceed five per cent of the work or one chapter (whichever is the greater), save that:
            (i) in the case of an article in a journal or periodical, the whole article may be copied, but not more than one article in any one issue of the publication;
            (ii) in the case of a short story or poem of not more than ten pages in length, the whole of the short story or poem may be copied;
            (iii) in the case of material that is not a conventional book, journal, or periodical, or is not divided into distinct sections, the Licensee shall ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that copying is limited to extracts that are equivalent to the limits set out above.

            So it looks like you can see a relevant article in the newspaper and make copies of it for your class – if the school has a paid-up licence.

            I thought at the time and still think that this was some chancer making a handy little earner for themselves and the school textbook publishers – I somehow doubt the journalist who writes an article in a magazine that gets copied for a science or history or English class sees a penny of the license fee – but apparently it’s legal.

            I think copyright can get very blurry; if figures like Superman are now part of the cultural consciousness, does it really make sense to claim copyright over them?

            On the other hand, doing away with copyright altogether also, I think, blurs the distinction between plagiarism and copyright: if the student is guilty of not doing the intellectual work and using the stolen work to get value, what about taking the artwork or written work of someone else and passing it off as your own and selling it for a profit? Getting the degree is a means of making profit, as you expect to get better paying work than if you did not have it. The person taking your drawing or witty quote and putting it on a t-shirt for sale is also claiming credit for work they did not do.

          • Murphy says:

            @Deiseach

            Scammy as fuck, they’re a just a private company… but legal.

            The disgusting thing is that educational institutions have an exception and can copy sections freely and legally unless some shyster sets up a company exactly like that and gets enough rightsholders to sign up. Then they can extract rent under section 173.

            I can’t find any requirement for them to in any way track what works are actually being used. The schools could exclusively use Scott A’s posts as handouts if they felt like it but the company would have no legal obligation to give a penny to Scott. They can distribute it however they like as long as they’ve got “a substantial number of rightsholders in the category
            of works to which the scheme is designed to apply”

            http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2000/act/28/enacted/en/pdf

            My bet is that the owners arranged for some brown envelopes to exactly the right ministers to get that piece of shit legislation.

      • For arguments for abolishing copyright and patent, see Against Intellectual Monopoly.

        • Max Goedl says:

          Do you think intellectual property would be protected under anarchy, i.e. in a world of private rights enforcement agencies? In other words, do you think the benefits to an innovator of having his IP rights enforced are normally larger or smaller than the costs to the protection agency of enforcing them?

          • Mary says:

            Do you think property rights would be protected under anarchy?

            Depends on who you are.

          • The short answer is no, so far as the sort of market for law I have sketched. I explain the reasons why in one of the chapters of the third edition of The Machinery of Freedom.

          • Furslid says:

            Yes and no. It’s likely that major for profit distributors would contract to enforce copyright. For instance Amazon would agree not to sell bootleg works. They would contract with content creators not to do so. If they did they would stop getting distribution rights. Also, they would lose customers as many customers prefer legitimate works. They also have deep enough pockets to be targeted for enforcement.

            It is unlikely that not for profit decentralized infringement would be stopped. File sharing would be basically immune. No agreement with creators, no reputation for treating creators fairly to protect, and no deep pockets.

          • Murphy says:

            @Furslid

            Under that model it feels like “copyright” or something similar would be the most trivial of rights they’d grant themselves by those methods.

            Why limit yourself to something similar to traditional copyright when you could use the same tools to extract money from anyone who tries to distribute something you decide you feel you want to claim?

            What’s to stop you using the same tools to do a land-grab on copies of Shakespeare or anyone who uses the the word “Embiggen” without paying you a fee. Sort of a “you get what you can grab” for information monopoly rights.

          • Furslid says:

            @Murphy

            I don’t think they could. There is a natural alliance between creators to protect their rights. Why should an author deal with a company that screws over other authors? There is no such alliance between people asserting arbitrary rights. Why should I care if someone doesn’t enforce your arbitrary rights.

            Also, consumers generally like to see creators they like supported. So they will prefer to deal with companies that deal fairly with creators. So a reputation for dealing fairly with creators is valuable. A reputation for caving in to crazy claims wouldn’t be.

          • Murphy says:

            @Furslid

            Then your enforcement mechanism sounds a tad fragile.

            It also seems to rely overmuch on what people find “natural” which is pretty easily shaped by a decent advertising campaign.

            Just do what PR companies and people trying to claim thrones do: find some thin and vaguely plausible claim and then manufacture support for it. Pay a historian to write a nice little report claiming that your companies owner is clearly the direct decedent of Shakespeare or come up with some other thin excuse like justifying it based on the promotion and support your company/group provides for shakespearean productions.

            It doesn’t have to be real, just plausible enough and pretty soon everyone else in your industry will be doing similar land-grabs and the overton window will have shifted.

        • TD says:

          Do you think anarchy would be protected under anarchy?

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Personally, I don’t. “Anarcho”-capitalists are the best friends the accelerationist far-left could ask for.

          • Murphy says:

            @onyomi

            That’s really really really silently assuming that everyone will play nice.

            “would large scale combat have broken out on anywhere near the same scale if, instead of the two factions controlling hundreds of thousands of conscripts, all military commanders had to hire voluntary mercenaries and pay them a market wage for their services?”

            This is really really side-stepping the problem that a third option is open to you: hire a small band of voluntary mercenaries and pay them a market wage and use them to conscript 10 times as many people at gunpoint and to hold a few family members hostage to ensure their good behavior. Far far cheaper than hiring that many at fair market wage.

            Which is pretty close to what actually happens in many crappy conflict zones.

            Who’s going to stop them? The conflict zones I’m thinking of are where no single body has enough power that it can project to prevent such practices, government or private.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Sorry, only just got back to this now!

        Yes, this is true, but the point here isn’t to incentivize registration, it’s to prevent the problems that come from not registering. It’s true that sufficiently incentivizing registration could also achieve that, but the incentive wasn’t the point here, preventing snarls was. And given that copyright snarls are in fact a current problem, clearly the current incentive doesn’t suffice for that purpose.

    • brad says:

      If we are going with pie in the sky proposals, I like the exponentially increasing renewal system. E.g. $1k at 7 years, $10k at 14, $100k at 21, $1M at 28, $10M at 35, $100M at 42, and $1B at 49.

      • Why? The cost imposed on others by your copyright is more likely to decline over time than to grow.

        • Watercressed says:

          I’d imagine it’s because we want all those likely things in the public domain while still preserving the possibility of unlikely long-term-profitable creations.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        What’s the unit of what needs to be registered? Does an entire Disney movie that is the work of millions of dollars require the same registration fees as one photograph?

        • Murphy says:

          Even more fun: composite works.

          if the script was written in 2010 , the music was composed in 1980 but performed in 2011 and a song was written to go with the old music. The scenes were shot in 2012 and edited in 2013 but snippets were released in trailers in 2012.

          It’s one of the tricks sometimes pulled with DMCA notices on parodies:
          Someone does a parody(protected) and shoots their own everything and makes a parody version of the songs from a movie with completely different words but to the same tune so that it’s recognizable.

          Someone objects but can’t get the whole thing pulled because protected parody.
          So they file a DMCA for just the tune. Not the movie as a whole.

          Copyright is depressingly fractal.

    • Luke Somers says:

      Oi, conflicting IP is the reason we haven’t had a Star Control game worth anything this millennium. If one party owned it, at least the new game would be able to use more than just the name.

  9. Theo Jones says:

    I’ve been thinking about the argument about politisation that popped up in the last open thread. I think that the issue is more germaneness than keeping politics out of the conference. Everything may be political in some sense. But some political issues are tangentially related enough, that it is worth keeping out of relatively unrelated decisions.

  10. I plan to do another meetup at my house, probably on a Saturday in May, June or July. Possibly including board games. Comments and suggestions welcome.

    • Inty says:

      I suggest ‘The Resistance’ as a board game if you’ve never played it. It works well for groups of 7-10 (can be played with as few as 5, but in my experience the games aren’t as good). It’s a game of deception and double-bluffs. Each game is supposed to take 40 minutes, but my ones take about an hour, and generally I’ve found game length to be positively correlated with enjoyment.

      • Liskantope says:

        Ah, I’ve had some great times playing resistance with friends, and I imagine it would be a fun way to get to know new people as well. Then again, our in-game discussions would get so heated that sometimes I just wasn’t in the mood to make myself hoarse arguing.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        No, no, invest in a copy of the boutique board game Mega Civilization, which works for groups of 7-18 and is about expansion and trade in Eurasian civilization (minus China) from the Agricultural Revolution until Roman times.
        (Just kidding.)

    • EyeballFrog says:

      What city would this be in?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks! Let me know in advance and I’ll try to advertise it.

  11. I’ve never seen a forum I liked, but I don’t know why they get on my nerves so much compared to blogs with a simpler commenting structure.

    I also don’t know why I miss trn so much, but hate forums.

    Picking up on a previous topic, have some thoughts about consumerist society….

    I haven’t read a tremendous amount of what other people have said about consumerism, but as a good science fiction fan I can pick up an evocative phrase and run with it.

    I take “consumerist society” to mean a society in which activities are elevated by being bought and sold, or by involving commercial products. For example, taking a walk isn’t bad, but it’s cooler if you keep track of what’s going on with a store-bought fitbit. You aren’t on the cutting edge if you just walk and judge whether it’s the walk you want by how you feel, and I think you’d be considered weird in most social circles (though cool in others) if you built your own self-tracker.

    Mainstream American society isn’t purely consumerist, it’s complexly consumerist and anti-consumerist. For example, making your own clothing is a luxury because mass-produced clothes are very cheap *and* they are hard to duplicate with the sort of tools you can afford to own privately. You wouldn’t want to wear clothes which look too different from mass-produced clothes.

    Sex isn’t supposed to be bought. I’ve been trying to figure out what a society would look like if sex was higher status if it was bought instead of produced as a shared pleasure. I’m sure a sufficiently skilled sf author could figure out the details, but the result would be satire, not any known society.

    Extrapolating left wing ideas as I understand them: all advertising contributes to a consumerist society because in addition to whatever product is advertised, there’s an underlying message that buying things is cool and/or that if one’s life doesn’t include mass-produced items, it’s deficient.

    • “I’ve been trying to figure out what a society would look like if sex was higher status if it was bought instead of produced as a shared pleasure. ”

      I believe that in classical Greece, a Hetaira had more status than a wife.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        And you are correct, too. However, hetairai weren’t higher status because they also slept with their customers. An example to really illustrate Nancy’s point would be one of a society where sex with a more average prostitute counts as higher status than that with some one night stand because you’d be paying for the former.

      • Hircum Saeculorum says:

        That was in large part because of how insanely low-status wives were in classical Greece. They weren’t allowed education or much contact outside the house, and it would have undermined the social order intolerably to let them participate in the wine-soaked symposiums that Greek men loved so much.

        A Hetaira had status because she could. They were paid for conversation more than for sex, and had more status than wives because they were good for both.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        My understanding is that’s half-true. Remember that almost all the Classical (~490-323 BC) primary sources come from Athens, which seems to have been Sharia-esque in its treatment of female citizens.
        Herodotus, who was from Artemisia’s Halicarnassus in Asia Minor, gives a very different picture of women than Thucydides or the other Athenians. And, oh heck, Plato appears to have been an anti-democratic subversive who wanted women to have a stronger role in the state and was skeptical of homosexuality.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Sharia-esque is a funny word to use, since calling Muslims Athens-esque instead would be a tad more appropriate. Islam has at times been influenced much by the writings of the ancient Greeks, though certainly there was much resistance to such influences as well.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Super accurate. The most recent example may be Ayatollah Khomeini sitting in France studying Plato and deciding that what an Islamic state needed was a Guardian Council, not a hereditary monarch.

      • Deiseach says:

        I was thinking of hetaerae and geisha and les Grandes Horizontales as well, but that is complicated because the status there was the associated aura of sophistication that intelligent conversation, music and dance, and elegance in person and dress of the courtesan reflected upon the male consumer.

        There being ordinary dancing girls and musicians who were hired for parties and expected to provide sexual services as well, alongside slaves and concubines and booty of war and common prostitutes who did not have the same elevated rank means that it was not the purchase of sex per se that was considered higher status, but that you could afford a more expensive provider: like buying real diamonds rather than Swarovski crystals as jewellery (no matter how glitzy the ads to make the latter seem high-status and trendy).

        Nancy’s example would have to be a world where, for instance, instead of being seen as a trap and a hideous imposition, paying child support was a sought-after status for a man; envious whispers about “he’s paying to support three children” indicating that the smugly pleased expression of proven studliness on the guy’s face was warranted, and that he had been able to convince one woman at the least (or three separate women? wow!) to sell him reproductive access*. This means that prostitution is not a profession open to all, and requires training; anyone can have sex for free (and a non-prostitute asking to be paid is going to be rebuffed with the same attitude as a quack trying to peddle crystal healing as medical treatment) but to purchase sex means you need to be worth the courtesan’s time and trouble.

        *To be fair, we should have the same apply to women; a woman who wants to buy a sperm donor can’t just head off to a clinic, she needs to show she is of high enough worth to persuade a man to sell her his services.

        • “*To be fair, we should have the same apply to women; a woman who wants to buy a sperm donor can’t just head off to a clinic, she needs to show she is of high enough worth to persuade a man to sell her his services.”

          It isn’t symmetrical. Wombs are a scare reproductive resource. Sperm isn’t.

          • Damn. I didn’t think about the gender implications of sex only being respectable if it’s paid for, but I think the problem can be avoided if we assume that long term sexual relationships are rare and low status– seen as evidence of being too cheap to pay for sex.

          • Deiseach says:

            Wombs are a scare reproductive resource. Sperm isn’t.

            But if we’re arguing that paid-for sex (in distinction to “yeah, everyone’s had a fumble in the haystack” sex) is seen as more high-status, unless you’re going to argue that women aren’t interested in status games or that women of a higher socio-economic class aren’t going to be signalling their ability to purchase the company of desirably literate, talented and skilled companions, then women too will want to show that they can purchase high-status sex. My point here is that it is not about reproduction as such (any woman, as you point out, can become pregnant either for free or by selling sex), it’s about status-signalling. If buying sex is seen as high-status and desirable behaviour, having children from paid-for sex is going to be the ultimate level (because you’re still paying for the sex via child support) – we’re flipping current mores on their heads where buying sex is seedy and only about animal lust, and True Love Married/Partnered Soul-Mate Sex and Babies is the high-status, desirable goal.

            Which also means that the “fallen women/soiled doves/filthy whores selling themselves” notion is going to be flipped on its head; if sex workers/hetairae are high-status occupations, then you really think men won’t want to get in on the act and sell their services? And since despite all that the LGBT rhetoric about “there’s no ‘normal’, there’s just ‘common'” has to say about the relative proportions of heterosexual to other orientations, most people are still going to be heterosexual, which means straight guys selling their services to straight women (though granted, in a “paid sex is high status” world, this puts a whole new spin on “gay for pay”).

            There seems to be a trend towards single women accessing sperm banks to have children and certainly there were legal cases taken to permit single women to have access to these:

            In 1990, when the UK government first legislated about the use of assisted reproduction, it was stated that clinicians needed to consider a ‘child’s need for a father’ in deciding whom to offer treatment. In practice, we know that some fertility clinics were already offering, and continued to offer, treatment to lesbian couples and single women, but the ‘need for a father’ was only recently replaced by the ‘need for supportive parenting’ when the legislation was last amended – in 2008.

            In a culture where “paid-for sex is higher status than sex you can get for free”, the ultimate cachet will be proving your status by having bought-and-paid for reproductive sex, whether you’re male or female – married women may well have children ‘for free’ with their husbands, but what is to stop a single/widowed/divorced or separated woman having a child by a paid companion? Or that single parents may be more than a ‘politically correct’ phrase and really mean men as much as women (yes, currently there are single men parenting children but much fewer than women) and women proudly paying child support to the fathers of their kids who are raising those merry-begots?

            I suppose I’m being mischievous in thinking of “Twenty Years After”, the sequel to Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers”, where Athos is the one left in the position of the traditional seduced-and-abandoned mother (he has an encounter with a woman who becomes pregnant by him, leaves the child on the doorstep of the man she thinks is the father, Athos collects the baby, and is solely responsible for its raising and upkeep for the next sixteen years until he reveals the secret of his parentage to not alone his son, but the unwitting mother).

            In a culture of “paid sex is for the high status”, why not single fathers with children and women paying child support to demonstrate that they too are high status enough to buy sex?

          • hlynkacg says:

            In a culture of “paid sex is for the high status”, why not single fathers with children and women paying child support to demonstrate that they too are high status enough to buy sex?

            Because that would be patriarchal, oppressive, heteronormative, and thus against the spirit of this thought experiment.

          • Hircum Saeculorum says:

            What is the spirit of this though experiment? This all sounds pretty nightmarish to me, though not in the same way as traditionalist gender roles.

          • Hircum, the spirit of this thought experiment (or at least as I started it) is goofing around– just playing with a premise to see what sort of society might follow from it.

            There’s no reason to think it would be an improvement on sex mostly not being for money, and it would probably be worse than many real world arrangements.

            I kind of regret bringing the idea up. It’s a new idea, and it’s about sex, and the result has been so far that there’s been very little discussion of real world consumerism.

          • I have sketched out the world-building for a potential novel with something like this system. The premise is that women are permanently about 20% of the population, and most/all of them work as prostitutes, at least in their youth. Men pay small-ish fees for femal sexual access, but they pay large fees for children. Selling one’s children is the main source of income for the female enclaves.

          • @Mai:

            You might want to look at The Rainbow Cadenza by J. Neil Schulman. It’s a different version of a future society with a very high m/f ratio.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @Mai
            I’m curious. Assuming your society is populated by great ape descendants, how is the 1:5 ratio of females to males being maintained?

            A natural human population would breed that out in a few generations as families who produce more daughters would enjoy a significant reproductive (and social) advantage over those who don’t.

          • Murphy says:

            @Hlynkacg

            Depending on the setting I can think of a workaround if it’s a nearish-future or similar to current tech (or a fall civ with less advanced tech but fallen from something like our current tech)

            Gene drive: It can force a gene through a population even against negative selective pressure. I’d paint a scenario of a world where a mad dictator without enough men for his armies decided to release a gene drive into his population to increase the proportion of males.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_drive

            It could even gradually get worse with each generation.

            Of course with a population of billions eventually a tiny minority with resistance to the mechanism of the gene drive would eventually be selected for.

        • Outis says:

          Deiseach, you seem to have a weird fixation with making men pay for child support. There really is no reason why paid-for sex should be reproductive sex; it strikes me as a bizarre that your idea of “paid-for sex is high status” immediately turned into “paying for diapers, nannies, school, and pretty much all of a person’s expenses until adulthood is high status”, especially when that does not include any additional sex.

          BTW, what you describe as science-fiction is pretty much the official message in large swaths of our culture.

          • Deiseach says:

            Outis, I’m not excepting women for paying men for child support! And if we’re turning conventional mores on their heads, where instead of “devoted real true love” sex, “paid for bought and purchased” sex is high-status, then the corresponding “take precautions so you don’t sire/bear a bastard” notion gets reversed as well: you want to have kids by paying for them, so you can show off exactly how high status you are – not alone are you sophisticated, cultured and wealthy enough to be a customer of the ranking hetaira of your city, you are one of the elite few who can pay for having a child by them!

            We’re already doing something similar with the first steps of setting up sperm banks, and now reproductive technology is an industry and a business. Given that egg donors can make premium prices (if they fit the desired qualities of health, looks and intelligence) and that commercial surrogacy is now a substantial business in Third World countries, we are de facto approaching “paid for babies are better”; a poor Indian woman will be (relatively) better off renting out her womb for a foreigner’s baby than having a ‘free’ child of her own.

            Simply extend the logic to a world where paid sex is more high status than free sex!

          • Nita says:

            And, just like owning a house or a yacht is higher status than renting one, securing lifetime arrangements with your intimate companions would be higher status than hiring them for a limited time.

            Any Joe Schmoe could have a roll in the hay, but only King Solomon could have “seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines”.

    • Outis says:

      This distinction between bought and non-bought things seems remarkably unimportant and uninsightful to me. Yes, higher-status items are sometimes bought and sometimes not bought, but not because we’re just scratching the surface of this exciting area of analysis; rather, because the concept is completely uninformative and uncorrelated with status.

    • Viliam says:

      I’ve been trying to figure out what a society would look like if sex was higher status if it was bought instead of produced as a shared pleasure.

      One possibility would be that the partners are not paying for sex to each other, but to a third party.

      Imagine that the standard way to get sex is to use some kind of “dating service”, where compatible partners are selected, each of them is tested for possible diseases, and then they have anonymous sex in a pleasant environment. There would be a range of “dating services” starting with cheap ones where you only get a brief health test and a simple room; up to the very expensive ones where only sufficiently attractive people would be allowed, they would be given manicure etc. before sex, and the room would be super romantic, i.e. the service would do everything they can to make the experience great.

      In that world, people who try to have sex without using the “dating service” would be consider low-status, essentially because everyone would suspect that they have some serious problem that doesn’t allow them to use the standard way. For example, that they are so poor they can’t afford even the cheapest service, or they have an incurable veneral disease that would make them rejected from anywhere, or that they have some behavior (e.g. they get violent during sex) which got them banned at many places. The idea of having sex with such person would sound like an idea of having sex with a homeless person sounds today, i.e. not appealing to most people, and even those who want to experiment and try dangerous stuff would not consider it the right kind of dangerous.

      Growing up in that society, once in a while you would hear a story about a person who tried to have sex outside the “dating service” system, and was horribly disappointed, sometimes even hurt. An analogy to experimenting with drugs today: it would mostly happen to young people trying to rebel against the social norms and choosing the most stupid way to do it.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Mainstream American society isn’t purely consumerist, it’s complexly consumerist and anti-consumerist. For example, making your own clothing is a luxury because mass-produced clothes are very cheap *and* they are hard to duplicate with the sort of tools you can afford to own privately. You wouldn’t want to wear clothes which look too different from mass-produced clothes.

      I think part of the confusion is that consumerist doesn’t just refer to mass-produced goods. Making a meal out of pricey locally grown organic food and artisinal beer, based on an “authentic” recipe and with cookware bought for that purpose, is not any less consumerist than going through the drive-through at McDonald’s. If anything, the way product choice integrates seamlessly with self-image might make it that much more consumerist.

      In the same way, consumerist sex doesn’t necessarily mean sex with prostitutes. If you have two partners who meet on a commercial dating site like OKCupid or Tinder, have modified their bodies to match those of porn-stars (non-prescription Viagra, plastic surgery, extensive shaving / bleaching), and use branded condoms and lube or specialized sextoys during the acts themselves that seems just as, if not more, consumerist than paying a prostitute. It’s about how much of your identity is based on what you consume rather than who you are.

      • Dr Dealgood, you have a point.

        I didn’t get into the very expensive unique item aspect of consumerism, though I think it’s implied by the idea that things and activities are elevated by spending money on them.

      • brad says:

        I think part of the confusion is that consumerist doesn’t just refer to mass-produced goods. Making a meal out of pricey locally grown organic food and artisinal beer, based on an “authentic” recipe and with cookware bought for that purpose, is not any less consumerist than going through the drive-through at McDonald’s. If anything, the way product choice integrates seamlessly with self-image might make it that much more consumerist.

        I don’t think that’s quite right. If you had compared going to a farm to table gourmet restaurant than the two would balance, but the hobby of cooking is prioritizing making something over mere consumption. The essence of consumerism is that there is something elevated about consumption and it’s opposite is that there is something elevated about creation.

        Though there can be some overlap. If you are more excited about the knives you have than the dishes you are making with those knives it shades into the consumerist side.

      • “It’s about how much of your identity is based on what you consume rather than who you are.”

        But isn’t the point that what you consume is supposed to signal things about who you are?

        A guy drives around in an expensive sports car. That signals that he is well off, has elegant tastes. He takes his date to a fancy restaurant. That signals that he is well off, generous, knowledgeable about restaurants. He talks to his date about his opposition to sexism, homophobia, the Koch brothers and Citizens United. That signals that he has the political views fashionable in his, and hopefully her, circles. He recites poetry to her. That signals that he is educated and cultured.

        Where is the distinction between what he consumes and what he is?

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Where is the distinction between what he consumes and what he is?

          For him? Probably none.

          That is, he’s an archetype of the “last man” of consumerism according to it’s detractors. A perfectly superficial man defined entirely by his fashion tastes and money.

          You might say that everyone is like that to some extent, in a sort of Hasonian everything-is-signaling sense, but even then it’s a matter of degree.

    • SJ says:

      I’ve been trying to figure out what a society would look like if sex was higher status if it was bought instead of produced as a shared pleasure.

      If you think of marriage as an exchange of non-cash economic value, you may be describing a situation in which
      –marriage is deemed high-status
      –women look for men who are willing to work hard and provide a secure home
      –men look for women who are attractive, make pleasant company at social events, and are good at performing (or managing the staff who perform) the non-paid-for work of running the household
      –older people tell scandalous stories of young people “messing around”, and getting the benefits of sex without putting in the un-paid work of settling into a long-term relationship.

      But that all depends on your definition of “bought sex”.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Sex isn’t supposed to be bought. I’ve been trying to figure out what a society would look like if sex was higher status if it was bought instead of produced as a shared pleasure. I’m sure a sufficiently skilled sf author could figure out the details, but the result would be satire, not any known society.

      I think a world in which this was sustainable would be so different from ours that the real though experiment is: How would humans need to be different for this world to exist?

      For starters, I’d say children would need to grow up very quickly with little needed care.

    • Agronomous says:

      @Nancy:

      I also don’t know why I miss trn so much, but hate forums.

      You miss trn because it was objectively awesome. I remember when a whole bunch of GUI newsreaders came along, and just didn’t seem to get that the point of GUIs was to make things easier. I tried each one for a bit, before going back to trn each time.

      Forums suck. It’s like every site is reinventing the wheel: some triangular, some square, the very best ones pentagonal. Jeez, just make all the comments available via NNTP, and we’d be able to use the actual trn everywhere.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz:
      A world in which the only high-status sex is that which is paid for has no marriage (except in fringe sects of low status people, like polygamy today), it seems to me. The government would certainly not take any interest in enforcing the contract. I don’t see how you can have heterosexual couples in a lifelong cohabitation contract and then make their sex low status. Not unless it’s also patriarchal, with “wives” seen as “breeders only”.

      As to the consumerist aspect, perhaps thinking about hotels and clubs is informative, because these are already sex adjacent. If you are in a nightclub, paying for bottle service is “high status”: it gives you access to a table and a very expensive, over-priced bottle is brought to you in a way that everyone knows how much you paid. Sneaking that same bottle into the club in your jacket is the opposite.

      The same mattress at a Ritz and Quality Inn are two different prices. Some of this price differential is amenities, but much of it is brand. If I go out of town to meet someone, the infer different things about my status based on whether I am staying at a youth hostel, a Days Inn or a Ritz-Carlton.

      I think one of the problems with your thought experiment is that you need to identify who is granting you the status? In the examples I brought up, the obvious example is “someone you want to have sex with” which doesn’t help us.

      Imagine a society that had an extremely high “productivity” ethic combined with a great deal of formalism. Sort of the popular imagined Japan. Emotional impacts on productivity are frowned on, therefore intense relationships are de-valued, but “relaxation” is highly valued (so as to make one more fit for productivity). This could be a society where paid for sex is the norm, and the more expensive the better.

      I think the idea of where the kids come from and how they are raised gets in the way, though. That’s going to make it a very dystopian consumerism. Because I think that the ultimate reason you are having trouble imagining sex as consumerist is that consumerism is ultimately driven by the mating drive. We want the status as a way to ensure reproductive success.

      • Your productivity society might work. Sex for free is low productivity, especially non-reproductive sex. Raising children is high status because it’s a sort of productivity and contributes to future productivity. There could even be contracts for raising children together, but not for financially uncompensated sex.

        Could it work if the money goes to the principals families? It might– this would be stable if it got established because the families would have an interest in keeping the system going.

        My mind is reeling with the idea of a society where not-legally-enforced marriage is minority/low status, and is predominantly engaged in by religious minorities.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Isn’t “a society where not-legally-enforced marriage is minority” just the inner city?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Nancy Lebovitz:
          I think you could have to go with a “Gattaca” style concern about genetic makeup? Sex is “never” for procreation anymore.

          Everyone raises their own child (men and women), but only one child. Perhaps we could go with a concern for zero population growth, in an “island” nation with land/other resources that are constrained somehow.

          Children are custom ordered, your own DNA is the start, with a precise mix of custom additions and government mandated randomness. Each resulting zygote is analyzed before being grown to the age of 2 or 3 years (or perhaps even older?). Old enough that the child can walk and talk almost as soon as they are “born”. This makes sense as children are only born so helpless due to size constraints on the head vis-a-vis the birth canal.

          If you make children born ready to go to school (pre-K) having received early language acquisition and socialization “in vitro” so to speak, you eliminate one of the primary drivers of the gender role difference in a modern society.

          Just spitballing, here.

          So what would sexual consumerism, or consumerism in general, look like in a society where status can’t gain you reproductive success and that is resource constrained? What role does status play in that society? In order for it feel “right” it would need to be some sort of modification of our existing status dynamics that are build around sexual success.

          If you would want to explore consumerism in this kind of society, the constraints that made sexual reproduction verbotten would still need to allow for consumerism in general (it can’t be a resource starved world, just eeking by). Perhaps some sort of long term concern for the genetic health of the populace caused by [insert magical cause here].

  12. suntzuanime says:

    Personally, I hate basically every technical decision made by Reddit as to how to structure a discussion. It has that awful upvote/downvote system that it uses to reorder its threads to the extent that it’s basically impossible to follow in any sort of chronological fashion and every time I end up on Reddit I want to swear and kick something. This is a big part of what’s keeping me from using the subreddit, which wouldn’t necessarily keep me from using a forum. I don’t really strenuously disagree, because I think the comments section is more or less ok anyhow and might not bother with a forum either, but I hope you can at least tolerate the counterargument.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, reddit is awful.

      The only thing I find really wrong about the comments section is that the markup doesn’t look minified or especially render-optimized, and it really should be when threads get really long. You can really feel the slowdown in aged open threads.

    • there is a tab to sort posts chronologically

    • Anon. says:

      The Reddit New Comments Highlighter extension helps a bit.

    • brad says:

      I agree, but I’d go further. I won’t join another community with gamification. No up/down votes. No like button. No earned flair. Not even if I can hide them, because I can’t hide them from everyone else.

      • The problem with this is it may make it impossible to differentiate between newbies and or trolls with veterans, creating possible confusions. That may allow unsavory individuals to infiltrate a community using newly registered puppetry accounts. Alleged voting abuse abuse tends to be overstated; most people will ignore comments they disagree with and only down-vote comments that are unhelpful and or detract from the flow of the discussion.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          So uh. How long until this happens here? It’s been three years, and I haven’t seen this happen yet so far.

        • brad says:

          If you have registration, there’s no problem differentiating veterans. Even without it, and using only email addresses, this blog doesn’t seem to have a problem.

          As for voting, I’m not worried about rings, or brigading, or other outright abuses but rather the conversational distortions it inevitably brings. Voting leads to discussion of voting, to playing to the crowd, to bravery debates, and much more. The cons outweigh the meager pros.

        • Hackworth says:

          > most people will ignore comments they disagree with and only down-vote comments that are unhelpful and or detract from the flow of the discussion.

          Well that’s the officially intended use case for the downvote button, but in reality, it’s used as the “I don’t agree with this”-button. The up/downvote system has its uses, but I would limit the influence of downvotes. Only count downvotes if the downvoter also leaves a comment under that post, with a possible minimum comment length of a few characters to obstruct trivial “no” or “-1” comments.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Well, the failure case of that would be trolling comments either just get downvoted to “-1” or get ten thousand replies saying “Not Even Wrong” (or whatever other short phrase would evade your trivial-comment-obstructor.)

            Of course, that might still be better than the current system’s failure case.

      • Alex R says:

        So you’d be against a Discourse forum because it features likes and an invisible reputation system?

      • Soumynona says:

        I don’t know. Voting restores some fraction of non-verbal communication that’s lost in a purely textual medium. Voting could be thought of as an Internet way to roll your eyes at somebody or to nod along.

        Though I think that can be achieved with per-comment scores and no aggregation beyond that (so no user karma, total likes, or anything like that).

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      I’m not a fan of reddit either (though it being the largest content and discussion aggregator out there, I still use it), but the interface of each subreddit is fairly customizeable… could it be possible to make a completely unreddity subreddit, one with standard comment ordering, no visible upvotes and downvotes, etc.?

      • Anon says:

        I don’t know about comment ordering – I suspect that it’s probably very difficult, as I have never ever seen it done, and on reddit playing games to make janky css is pretty much a sitewide pastime so if it was easy I imagine I would have seen it done.

        In terms of removing upvotes and downvotes – that’s sort of doable. A lot of subreddits attempt to ‘remove downvotes’ or ‘remove voting from the np.reddit subdomain if user is not subscribed to the subreddit’ – however, anyone who disables the subreddit’s custom css can still do whatever they want and downvote as they wish, so this sort of approach thing relies on the community complying voluntarily. I imagine that removing upvotes as well as downvotes would be a really poor design decision for this reason – suddenly only defectors from the community norm of not voting who have gone through the trivial inconvenience of disabling the subreddit css would have the power to determine what rises to the top, rather than the community as a whole, which I imagine to engender a dynamic even more corrosive to polite discussion.

        I am already disabling the slatestarcodex subreddit’s css, so any sort of changes people attempt to implement using these methods won’t even matter to me.

      • Why is there such consternation about voting systems? A downvote only means that someone for whatever reason did not like your comment . Do people really rake those things personally

        • Alex R says:

          People tend to dogpile on downvoted comments; people also use the fact that a comment is downvoted as an excuse not to read it or not to treat it charitably. Some systems (like Reddit) also order comments based on votes, leading to a “rich get richer” behavior on highly upvoted comments. This is made worse when reputation is publicly visible, as highly reputed commenters are more likely to get upvotes, which boost their rep, which garners more upvotes, etc.

        • Anonymous says:

          >A downvote only means that someone for whatever reason did not like your comment.

          Because popularity does not equate correctness. The downvote, additionally, is very unclear about what it is supposed to signify:
          – “I disagree”,
          – “Your comment is spam”,
          – “I don’t like you”,
          – “Someone else downvoted this comment”,
          – “I don’t like your comment’s tone”,
          – “I misclicked”.

          • TD says:

            What if you had all of those as separate buttons for more precise upboating?

          • Anonymous says:

            Not sure – there are some sites with that solution, but I don’t frequent any to have an opinion. It still doesn’t solve away skewing towards popularity.

          • There’s no way to have a useful button for “I misclicked”.

          • But even ‘correctness’ can be subjective . Based on my own experience, overall, comments that are constructive, show effort, tend to not get down-voted too much, even if they go against the grain of the tribe. Sometimes they do though. One idea would be to disable the down-votes and only keep the up-votes, and then use the report button for posts that are Spam or obv. against the rules

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nancy

            I can imagine one – if you clicked by mistake on one of the other buttons, and the site disallows complete take-backs (I know at least one that allows you to changed an upvote into a downvote or vice-versa, but not take back your vote), you can downgrade to “i misclicked”.

          • JDG1980 says:

            Slashdot lets you specify reasons for your crowdsourced moderation decisions, but unfortunately these are detached from the actual reasons why people would upvote or downvote. “-1, Troll” isn’t supposed to be used for disagreement, but of course in practice it is, just as “+1, Insightful” signifies agreement. It would have been more honest to just have “Agree” and “Disagree” moderation decisions available.

        • Tom Scharf says:

          In some cases I think downvoting is the mechanism for public shaming and this gets out of control for controversial subjects. Climate change is an example of where it’s many times impossible to have a reasonable comment. I’ve quoted the IPCC verbatim in response to ridiculous assertions on extreme events for example and literally was downvoted XX to 0.

      • Mammon says:

        I think there’s a way to force chronological comment ordering. I’ll bring it up with the other mods.

    • ShemTealeaf says:

      Some points in favor of the reddit structure:

      1) It’s very easy to follow an individual thread without having to wade through irrelevant distractions. That’s not necessarily an improvement over the comment section, but it is better than a traditional forum as I understand it.

      2) It’s easy to see the top level comments at a glance, so that I can decide whether to start reading an individual thread. If the top level comment isn’t something that interests me, I can just minimize it and go on reading the rest of the comments without interference.

      3) The voting system means that the top comments are usually pretty good, and low-effort and/or trolling comments are hidden unless I seek them out. This isn’t quite so critical for a community like this, where the average quality is very high, but it’s great for large communities where maybe only 10% of the participants are capable of writing interesting and insightful comments. Rather than trying to cull the bad comments, you can just look at the most upvoted ones and end up with far better than average content almost all the time.

      4) Reddit notifies you when someone replies to your comment, so you don’t have to constantly monitor a bunch of different threads. That’s one of the main things that keeps me from posting more in the comments here. It’s annoying to have to refresh the comments and search to see if anyone replied to me, and it’s frustrating to know that any time I reply to someone, there’s a decent chance they’ll never even see it.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ll take trolls and spammers over popularity contests every day.

      • 57dimensions says:

        To #4, since I just started coming here recently I was kind of surprised at the lack of a reply notification system. Pretty much every other website where you can comment or reply in someway has a function to notify you when someone interacts with your post, even though those interactions tend to be much less substantial than comment replies here.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      One more suggestion regarding the Subreddit: A lot of the gripe with it comes (rightfully, in my opinion), due to the points system. Admittedly, I’m not too savvy regarding the interface, but can’t we extend the time in which the points remain hidden? If so, for how long? This could help alleviate their negative effect.

  13. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    In his Tumblr post, The Unit of Caring recounts her experiences trying to play a pacifist, enlightened Civilization game, and how she eventually realized that she couldn’t just build libraries and universities and needed to devote some of her economy towards building a military that could deter aggression and defend her country in case of war. I found this incredibly amusing, and was reminded of the discussion on “accidental conservatism simulators” in OT21 as well as Dividualist’s post on using Hearts of Iron IV to model the system requirements for a functioning nation. Apparently, video game simulations of reality are a surprisingly effective tool for teaching Gnon-compliance.

    • suntzuanime says:

      It’s really easy to accidentally design a conservatism simulator, because the people inside the games aren’t real and it’s easy to not have compassion for them.

      • Anonymous says:

        Simply out-group real people, and they’ll be quite dehumanized.

      • Acedia says:

        Yep.

        I don’t understand the shock some people express when they see that a person who’s compassionate in real life is a bastard in Civilization or Grand Theft Auto or whatever. It’s because they’re not real. If I thought for a moment that the denizens of Los Santos had qualia I’d play the game very very differently (or more likely quit and delete it). You can’t infer anything significant about my character or political views from the way I play single player video games.

        • Anonymous says:

          >more likely quit and delete it

          You genocidal monster!

        • Civilis says:

          I think the lesson, though, is what happens when you get someone in real life with enough detachment to think of real people the way most of us consider people in video games.

          Imagine a game of Diplomacy, that classic destroyer of friendships. We recognize that the circles on the map aren’t real cities and the blocks aren’t real armies, and when we move those blocks onto those circles, people aren’t dying. In order to win, we recognize that we need to be ruthless, pragmatic, deceptive and self-centered: a lot of blocks are going to need to move onto a lot of circles. We console ourselves with the fact that in the real world, we would never be like that, we would play nice.

          Now, imagine sitting at a real world negotiating table, across from representatives of a tyrant that thinks of his armies as blocks and your cities as circles on a map. Are you still going to think your best option is to play nice?

          • hlynkacg says:

            I really ought to have a calligrapher transcribe several copies of this comment on to really good paper, frame them, and send them to certain friends, family members, and the mod of a particular political discussion forum on which I used to be a regular poster.

            On one hand I think it’s fortunate that many people are able to go their whole lives without having to get bloody. On the other being faced with a decision that may very well kill you or someone else is (for lack of a better word) an education that I wish more people had.

      • Shieldfoss says:

        While we’re at it: One of the examples is that women are useless in HoI IV unless you can secure them a good marriage.

        That doesn’t say anything about the usefulness of women, it says something about the usefulness of gaming token #24 which is not, in fact, a woman but a gaming token. If women in HoI IV instead gave +9001 effectiveness to all spies, that would also say nothing about the puissance of real life women viz: employment at the CIA because it’s still not a woman.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          That’s a fully general counterargument against simulations. If you think that the way the game models women is too detached from reality to be useful, then say that and explain why.

          • Shieldfoss says:

            You should maybe purge “fully general counterargument” from your vocabulary, it’s interfering with your ability to judge counterarguments.

            You should be smart enough to know why the robber in Settlers of Catan is a bad model for explaining Urban Violence in Republic-Era Rome without me doing a full compare and contrast, but the very very very short of it: “The game designer wasn’t trying to create a realistic robber, they were trying to create an interesting game mechanic.”

          • Soumynona says:

            It’s a fully general counter-counter-argument.

        • Anonymous says:

          There are women in HoI4? That seems like a pretty big change from the series so far.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yup, CK2. I mixed up the games.

            In particular, I was referring to this:

            I haven’t had much of a problem with homosexuals, but there’s something vaguely unsettling in playing the game and realizing that you’re thinking of women as being kinda useless but sometimes useful if you manage to marry them off right.

            Which I realize does not reflect the actual views of that commenter on real life women.

        • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

          I agree with you but I think you mean Crusader Kings not HOI

          • Anonymous says:

            If that is so, then Shieldfoss’ statement is a strange one. Women are necessary in CK2, just as in real life, for reproduction. Sometimes they are useful for other things*, but that’s not their primary function.

            * In CK2: securing alliances, helping out with running the state (you get half the stats of your spouse as a bonus to yours), sometimes serving in back-stage roles in the administration (like spymasters), and very definitely not cuckolding you (choose your wife well).

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Don’t forget plotting to murder!

          • suntzuanime says:

            Sometimes it’s worth moving a few mountains to get your talented daughter to inherit instead of a dipshit son. Attractive queens are good at maintaining the loyalty of your male nobility, too.

            And if you don’t manage to have any sons, even an unattractive daughter is better than letting your dynasty be extinguished.

          • Anonymous says:

            @suntzu: Pretty much.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Committing *hard* to feminism in CK II is a very strong strategy.. because in a context where no other faction allows women positions of power, being able to hire the most talented women in all of christendom means you get a much better selection of minions, and they are generally very easy to bring into your court.
            This works best if you are in one of the larger culture groups.

          • Anonymous says:

            >Committing *hard* to feminism in CK II is a very strong strategy..

            You mean “egalitarianism”, not “feminism”.

            >and they are generally very easy to bring into your court.

            No, they aren’t.

            Not since they nerfed the opinion modifiers (very unlikely to get high enough opinion to invite anyone) and nerfed invitation (can’t invite lesser partners of a marital union; not sure if they fixed the bug yet where you can’t invite either the wife or the husband of a matrilineal union). If you’re running Conclave, you can in certain cases (for those not close relatives of their liege) use favors to invite them without fail, but they first have to be well disposed to you to accept a favor bribe, so you’re looking at potentially two bribes – which can get expensive fast.

            An easier way to get good councillors is simply spamming holy man invitations (unless you need all that piety for some reason, like being muslim).

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “You mean “egalitarianism”, not “feminism”.”

            Feminism as a descriptor works better (since it is 1st wave feminism- elimination of legal barriers).

      • Civilis says:

        Sometimes, that compassion may have the unintended consequence of making people’s lives worse.

        One of the things I remember most from the International Relations classes I took in college is the class sessions studying nuclear strategy, because there is a lot that is paradoxical. The one rule that most scares me because of how wrong it seems is that it’s better to have the enemy targeting your civilian population than your strategic infrastructure, and, likewise, it’s better to target the enemies cities than their strategic infrastructure.

        You want to see that blip on the radar headed to one of your cities, where it will end hundreds of thousands of lives in a blink of an eye, rather than to a strategic missile base in the middle of nowhere. Why? Because you have the time to make sure it really is the opening salvo of the Final War and not a system glitch before you order your own strike (it’s much less of an issue now with better second strike capability than it was in the early days of the cold war, fortunately). Trying to be compassionate ends up removing a safeguard on those very lives you are trying to protect.

        • JBeshir says:

          Do errant blips on the radar and system glitches care about where my weapons are really aimed?

          I’m not sure that aiming my weapons at the enemy’s cities significantly reduces the odds of the enemy seeing a false report of an attack on their strategic infrastructure.

          It’s not like they’d take my word for it and just write off anything that looked like an attack on their strategic infrastructure because I told them I was going to nuke their capital instead.

          • Civilis says:

            You also have to factor in that if your enemy is at all competent, his command structure likely knows what your strategic doctrine is. In fact, his command structure likely knows more about your strategic doctrine than your own public does.

            If you know their plans because they publish non-classified summaries and your espionage / electronic intelligence / satellite reconnaissance data matches what they say, it’s a good chance they are not lying. There are too many people involved to say ‘I’m targeting your cities’ when you are really targeting their strategic infrastructure without a very good chance of it getting discovered, and both sides should be smart enough to know that getting caught doing that would bring you perilously close to what you’re trying to avoid.

            It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, and although I took the class years after this kind of thinking mattered, I still was kept awake at night thinking of the horrible implications involved.

    • Dan Peverley says:

      If you play Grand Strategy, if you want to be safe you must blob. Otherwise the blobbers can get you. Blob for safety from the blobbers! Blob for the blob god!

      It’s a very intuitive mechanic that gets into everyone’s heads as they play. Even though you can “go tall” in some games, you see the naked incentive at all times to take what you can, not even for greedy reasons, but because France is getting huge and you need to bulk up.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Simulation has a conservative bias.

    • ChetC3 says:

      This becomes a much less impressive insight when you realize the “video game simulations” are almost all derived from tabletop wargames. Something like Civ is basically a heavily modded Risk. It adds mechanics letting you give up building some army dudes this turn in exchange for getting more/better army dudes later, but the core of the game is still the more dudes->more land->more dudes feedback loop.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        This is simply not true. First, there are ways of winning Civilization other than domination or conquest; the science victory is based around paying the opportunity cost of building better dudes in order to build a space ship instead, and with the cultural victory you never even get the option to build better dudes because you stop researching halfway through the game in favor of accumulating culture. Second, Civilization is explicitly designed to weaken the more dudes->more land->more dudes feedback loop; cities cost more money the more you have and the further away they are from your capital, which means that additional cities give diminishing marginal returns.

        • ChetC3 says:

          Are you talking exclusively about Civ 5? Because in the earlier Civs, expansion was definitely king. I’m pretty sure it was the dominant strategy in some of the earlier versions of Civ 5 as well. “Infinite City Sprawl” kind of speaks for itself.

          First, there are ways of winning Civilization other than domination or conquest; the science victory is based around paying the opportunity cost of building better dudes in order to build a space ship instead, and with the cultural victory you never even get the option to build better dudes because you stop researching halfway through the game in favor of accumulating culture.

          Science victory was a neat idea, but in practice is just a convenient alternative to the tedious slog of late-game conquest. It’s very hard to be in a position to win a science victory without also being in a position to win by domination or conquest. Culture victories do tend to require a different play style, but the victory condition and the Culture mechanic itself weren’t introduced until Civ 3, and it’s generally hard to pull off against a competent opponent taking the domination/conquest route.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I’m talking about Civilization IV, which is the best game in the series. Every Civilization game has tried to limit the more dudes->more land->more dudes feedback loop, but Civilization IV is the only one to truly pull it off; in it, cities start out at negative value, which means that an empire can easily bankrupt itself by expanding too quickly. In every other Civilization game, cities always have positive value even if that value is negligible, which leads to ICS since the only cost of making an extra city is the opportunity cost of building a settler. I’ll allow Sullla to explain:

            In every Civilization game, there is some kind of mechanic put in place to limit the expansion of empires. In the first three Civilization games, this mechanic was corruption, whereby every city would lose out on some production and commerce the further away they were located from the capital. The level of corruption ranged from nonexistent (in the original Civilization there was no corruption with Democracy for government, which was simultaneously overpowered and hilarious as a concept) to modest (the final patched version of Civ3) to catastrophic (in the original release version of Civ3). The whole point of corruption was that more cities would cease to be useful beyond a certain point, because they would be hopelessly corrupt. The whole concept never worked though; even if those extra cities were hopelessly “1/1” (one shield and one commerce), you were still better off founding them, and settler units were always cheap in Civ1/2/3. In the first two Civ games, the AI was feeble at expansion and it was easy to win even on the highest difficulty simply by out-expanding the AI civs. The Civ3 AI was programmed to be rapidly expansionistic, and therefore the Civ3 early game was always a mad rat race to see who could grab the most territory. Although that could be a lot of fun, the game mechanics meant that more cities was always better, without fail.

            Civ4 shook up the formula by eliminating corruption and replacing it with maintenance costs. Instead of cities being free and all of their infrastructure costing money, Civ4 reversed things and made cities expensive while their buildings would be free. When cities were initially founded in Civ4, they were too weak to pay their own support costs and had to be supported by the rest of your empire. In other words, every new city was essentially an investment – you would take an initial loss, and then as the city grew over time and built its own infrastructure, it would start to turn a profit and could support other cities in turn. Thus in Civ4 more cities were still generally better for your empire, but one couldn’t build them too fast or in too marginal locations, which would result in economic stagnation. The Inca team in our Pitboss #2 game was a prime example of a civ that suffered from over-expansion, building too many cities too fast without adequate defenders and suffering for it economically and militarily. This was a really good system, encouraging the placement of strong and smart city locations, while still allowing for massive lategame empires. Infinite City Sprawl (ICS) was effectively solved in Civ4.

            Civ5 replaced city maintenance with global happiness as the empire limiting factor. Instead of each city having its own happiness meter, the empire as a whole shares one global rating. If that rating drops too low, then cities stop growing and eventually no more settlers can be produced. The idea was that players would have to balance vertical growth of a few highly developed cities against horizontal growth of many small cities. The developers clearly intended players to build a small handful of cities (roughly five to ten on a standard-sized map) and based the happiness mechanic around that assumption.

            There’s just one problem: global happiness is a complete failure at stopping expansion in Civ5. It simply does not work. Civ5 reverts back to the old system of empire management, in which more cities are always better for your empire. Remember, there are no sliders for science/gold/culture in Civ5. Science is based mostly on population, with the basic formula of 1 population point = 1 beaker/turn. Gold is also largely based on population; much of your income comes from internal trade routes between cities, which are entirely based on population (trade route formula is gold/turn = 1.25 times city population). Most of the rest of the income comes from working trade post tiles, and more population means more citizens working those trade posts. In other words, unlike Civ4 where planting additional cities will increase your costs and slow down science (at least initially), in Civ5 the exact opposite takes place. Your gold and research will go up from having more cities, regardless of the quality of the terrain involved. There is no tradeoff between expansion, warfare, and research. Expanding and warring will INCREASE your beaker count. An extra city will always be a net positive in terms of gold and research.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Civ 5 eventually solved it (I think Sullla also covers that)… by making a science penalty for additional cities. It… isn’t a good fix.

    • Peter Scott says:

      How would you play a greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number Civ game? If your society is going to be nicer than others for most of the game, then I can’t help thinking that the single best thing you can do is an early rush. Taking over a nearby capital city with some hurriedly-equipped axemen gives a huge, compounding advantage, and to get a similar advantage with later-game wars would require more death and hardship for much larger populations.

      A complementary idea would be to make sure that all your potential enemies are on another continent, and then build a decent navy as your main line of defense. The AIs in the whole Civilization series tend to suck at using navies, so this is a natural place to get the most advantage with the least effort. This depends on what kind of world map you’re playing, though.

      • A long time ago I designed, and a friend started to program, a game called Hansa.

        There are two ways in which structures of human interaction are created, conquest and mutual advantage. There were lots of computer games simulating expansion by conquest. I wanted to do one based on mutual advantage.

        You are building a trade league. When you invite a city to join your league, it looks at how well off the citizens of nearby cities in the league are compared to their autarchy level, how well off they could be by themselves. The higher the advantage to being in the league, the more likely the city is to accept your invitation. If a city in the league drops below its autarchy level as a result of how you are telling it to produce and trade, it has a probability of seceding.

        Never got fully implemented, unfortunately. It was part of Living Paper, a project I and a friend had to create programs that would teach economics.

        • Bassicallyboss says:

          This sounds like a game I would be quite interested in playing. Do you know of any games in a similar vein that have been published?

          • Vaniver says:

            There’s nothing that I’m aware of that correctly does the ‘rebellion’ or ‘defection’ calculation. I’ve thought a lot about how to do it well for the strategy game that I can’t get out of the back of my mind, but that’s not helpful to you.

            I think the most similar game is probably the Merchant Prince remake.

            It’s also worth considering the Anno series, where conflict is tertiary, trade is secondary, and expansion / logistics is primary. The various Patrician games are also worth looking into.

            There are a bunch of trading games where you buy things in place A and sell them in place B for more than you bought them for (hopefully); they tend to totally ignore the combat side of things (or relegate it to fighting pirates).

            Which, speaking of which, Sid Meier’s Pirates kind of falls into this vein, or at least can be played this way.

            Probably my favorite strategy game right now is Imperialism II, where combat is important (and is a big part of eventually winning) but the game is mostly about development, which can be done either peacefully or violently. (Instead of invading native provinces in the new world to colonize them, you can buy land from the natives and then develop it. Instead of invading the minor natinos in the old world, you can ally with them (and then they join you if someone else invades them).) Diplomatic relationships between major and minor partners drive trade relationships, which themselves drive diplomatic relationships–so there is a sense of “if England cuts us a better deal, we’re going to go with them instead” but it’s not as intelligent as it could be.

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        I would say that is probably the case if you assume population represents groups of people who age and die as IRL. However, if leaders, spies and great people are not demigods but representative of the general population, then everyone in Civ has biological immortality and disease immunity (and super slow reproduction), which would change things alot- it shifts things more in favor of peace and caution somewhat atleast.

      • Nicholas says:

        Pump your economy sky high, build spies and diplomats, and buy every army stack that they send at you. For your finishing technique, buy their cities out from under them, and encircle their final city with diplomats and spies to sabotage any doomstacks they manufacture to rise again.

      • Vaniver says:

        This reminds me of games of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, where the seven factions are always the same, and there tends to be a split between the ‘nice’ (kind of) factions of the University, Corporation, and Peacekeepers, and the ‘mean’ factions of the Spartans, Believers, and Hive. (Typically the Gaians also fall into ‘mean’, but not always.)

        And this meant that if you started off next to one of the mean factions and were playing a nice faction, typically there were huge returns to somehow murdering them early on, because you knew that eventually the differences would be too much to bear and they would turn on you. And that meant that oftentimes the best games as, say, the University were when you started next to the Believers, because that meant you wouldn’t have to deal with them later.

        • Murphy says:

          huh… I would have classified the morganites and the gaians on opposite sides to you. But then I almost always played a research-environmentalism approach (powerful early and mid game due to free mindworm units) which made the morganites want to murder me on sight and the gaians would offer an alliance shortly after meeting.

          • Machine Elf says:

            They’re talking about the way the mechanics of the game incline the factions, I think. Morgan’s support penalties and bonus energy push him hard to a “builder” strategy; Dierdre’s ability to capture mindworms early means she has a good “momentum” plan, though she can also shift to a builder style with her efficiency boost.

            EDIT: mixed up who i was replying to

        • Aran says:

          a split between the ‘nice’ (kind of) factions of the University, Corporation, and Peacekeepers, and the ‘mean’ factions of the Spartans, Believers, and Hive. (Typically the Gaians also fall into ‘mean’, but not always.)

          As a University player, I usually found myself allying with Deirdre against Morgan rather than the opposite.

          I don’t remember the exact mechanics here, but in the late game my biggest problem were usually drones and inefficiency, so using a Green (+2 Efficiency) seemed more advantageous than Free Market (-5 Police) – with the inevitable impact on diplomacy.

          (Of course, this is dependent on the hard-coded AI reactions to your social system – in a multiplayer game, the factions would likely be completely different.)

    • Deiseach says:

      Because “I refuse to do Wrong things” is just much easier

      Argh. This is the kind of statement that drives me scatty. No, it’s not easier, you just made an entire post about how in your game it wasn’t easier, what was easier was to go the route of playing the game like the rest of your opponents and declare wars, encourage your allies to attack, draw out wars so your opponents were maximally ground into the dust and willing to sue for peace, and then start wondering about “well, maybe I should invade first and make all these independent nations provinces of my empire – um because my country is doing so well with its literacy rate, yeah, once I reduce their capitals to a smoking ruin and increase the number of widows and orphans, I can then teach the survivors how to read!”

      You may have your starship civilisation, but it will be run by people not alone prepared to have, but used to having, blood on their hands and quite comfortable about it. Everyone will be literate and educated and liberal and rich – and ready to kill anyone who gets in the way of them being liberal and rich.

      This is how you get The Punisher and arguments over why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?

      Being good isn’t easier, and we’ve seen the world where “don’t strive for personal virtue, strive to make the world a good world through your pragmatic lack of personal virtue” ends – we’re living in it.

      • hlynkacg says:

        This is an excellent point, and a major contributing factor in my “re-conversion” so to speak.

        “Pragmatism” is an excellent strategy but 10 years down the line you’ll be asking yourself where your humanity went.

      • Kaminiwa says:

        I think the quote can be more charitably interpreted as “Being scrupulous is easier than winning.”

        It’s really quite easy to follow rote pacifism, and watch helplessly as your empire burns. It’s much harder to actually win the game. It is hardest still to win the game while maintaining as much scrupulosity as you can.

        (And, this being Civilization, it’s pretty much impossible to win AND maintain full scrupulousness. I’m sure it technically be done, but I think it would be down to luck and/or exploiting weird glitches in the AI)

        • Deiseach says:

          In a game, it depends what you want to do: win (at all costs) or play according to your own particular style.

          There are games I would happily (well – grudgingly) lose if it were a choice between “in order to win you must do X” and “X violates the principles of my character/nation/whatever”. That’s because to me, sometimes winning is not worth it, it’s not what I’m playing for. (Sometimes, of course, winning is exactly what I’m playing for).

          That post was all about “what I had to do in order to win the game”, which is fair enough; if the game is structured such that a peaceful nation will get stomped by a more aggressive/less scrupulous one, then you bite the bullet and get yourself an army.

          But the ending seemed to be trying to carry that message over into the Real World, and I’m very dubious about that. The justification for the “so I yielded to realpolitik” in the game was “my enlightened empire will then make everyone happy!” which – yeah, if that makes you feel better, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that you let a war drag on longer, with attendant suffering for the civilian population you now want to help and enlighten, for your own best advantage.

          And if we apply that principle of “so I had to kill 100 million kulaks but wading through blood will somehow leave me unstained in the Brave New Future when we all beat our swords into ploughshares (because I’ll be the last power standing and there is no-one left to oppose me)” in Real World dealings with family, friends, co-workers, the general public, we get a very nasty manipulative person whom no-one wants to deal with, because they’re trying to tell you that their boot on your face is actually all for your benefit in the long run.

      • Yrro says:

        Moral conflicts are not good vs evil — they are one moral value vs another moral value. Economic progress vs social progress. Near gains vs far gains. Do I lie about the Jews in the attic? I hate how many video games ignore this.

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      If one places a high enough value on peace then its entirely possible that being the doomed moral victor is still better than winning and sacrificing one’s values to achieve it. Sure, there will be war anyways, but someone will end the game eventually. Would her going to war necessarily have an expected value of reduced amount of violence in the world? (for the sake of argument lets assume she is playing above her normal difficulty level, or if she normally plays max has a bunch of difficulty mods on. World conquest is hard IRL).

      Of course placing value on “peace” in of itself is silly, but Civ doesn’t really simulate the effects of other kinds of oppression so I had to stretch the metaphor a bit (OK, a lot). my point is that even if the liberal/leftist equivalent in a scenario (which if we are talking about modern progressive values imposed on ancients, they probably are) are inevitably doomed, it doesn’t make them necessarily wrong.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      OTOH

      “In roleplaying situations, authoritarians tend to seek dominance over others by being competitive and destructive instead of cooperative. In a study by Altemeyer, 68 authoritarians played a three-hour simulation of the Earth’s future entitled the Global change game. Unlike a comparison game played by individuals with low RWA scores, which resulted in world peace and widespread international cooperation, the simulation by authoritarians became highly militarized and eventually entered the stage of nuclear war. By the end of the high RWA game, the entire population of the earth was declared dead.[15]”

      • Anonymous says:

        Source? This sounds like a fascinating read.

        (Not that I believe for a second that nuclear war has a remotely likely result of complete annihilation of the species.)

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I’d read the thing about performance of Right Wing Authoritarians in the Global Change Game, and it seemed fairly suspect because of the simulation’s rules. It grades very harshly on threats favored by the left, like environmental damage and overpopulation, to the extent that I would expect no conservative could win regardless of authoritarianism.

        Basically they found that your score of how well you do on a test of right wing ideas anti-correlates with how well you do on a test of left wing ideas.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Dangling comparison. When people learn right wing lessons from other games, is that objective truth, or a refection of the game design?

          • bean says:

            All games map reality imperfectly. Some are worse than others, and you seem to have picked a spectacularly bad example. He took a game which is ‘won’ by playing from a left-wing perspective (and this is a game where only losing 400m people to famine is considered a very good result) and then loaded it with people who have right-wing perspectives, who then promptly lost. Most of the games under discussion aren’t nearly as visibly political, and certainly don’t seem to have been designed with anywhere near the care that this one was to give a certain political outcome.
            For that matter, take the discussion of gays in Crusader Kings. While it’s vaguely possible that the developer decided to include that possibility to push a political point, that doesn’t mean that the lesson (dynasts removing themselves from the gene pool is annoying/problematic) is wrong.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I’d go with a reflection of game design.

            I’m right wing by most definitions but I dislike arguments from fiction more than I like cheer-leading. You can make a game to reward any nutty behavior, even just clicking a button over and over for hours, which should be a sign that the optimal strategy in a game is not necessarily useful in real life.

            That said, as others have pointed out this is a case of a game being made deliberately and explicitly for the purpose of propaganda consciousness raising. Finding out that the Global Change Game has a left-wing bias is about as surprising as the discovery that America’s Army is pro-military.

          • bean says:

            @Dr Dealgood
            I’m not sure that we should be so quick to dismiss arguments from fiction entirely. I agree that fiction is easily corrupted and lessons should be viewed warily, but there are times it’s a good way of teaching lessons, too. In some cases, this is through books/TV and in other cases, it’s through games.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “For that matter, take the discussion of gays in Crusader Kings. While it’s vaguely possible that the developer decided to include that possibility to push a political point, that doesn’t mean that the lesson (dynasts removing themselves from the gene pool is annoying/problematic) is wrong.”

            And then you discover that gays won’t have procreative affairs and you proceed to marry off as many of your dynasty members off to gays- sure there are less kids, but it insures they are all yours!

            Also gay man+ attractive with gay underlings = stable realm. Admittedly this is hard to pull off, but they did have ways in the past to make people gay through education so you could aim for this.

          • Randy M says:

            Fiction is a way of making an argument, but not demonstrating evidence. It’s like a layman’s syllogism, laying out axioms (event A happens, character has trait X) and drawing conclusions from them (plot events). Whether or not it is plausible is up to the reader to determine, though of course due to the potential for emotional resonance it is great at smuggling in assumptions.

          • “Fiction is a way of making an argument, but not demonstrating evidence. ”

            I agree. It’s too easy to use author control to cheat.

            In my novels I explore ideas, including advantages and disadvantages of alternative social/political systems (implicitly, not explicitly), but I don’t try to argue that one system is better than another.

        • That fits with my criticism of Altemeyer’s work.

      • For my reasons for distrusting Altemeyer’s work using his RWA scores, see my extended exchange with him on my blog from a few years ago. He responds in the comment thread.

      • bean says:

        Several problems here. First, nuclear war isn’t an existential risk to humanity, and any game which says it is and purports to be a simulation isn’t very good. (Referenced documents make it clear it was supposed to be a tool for raising awareness of environmental issues.) Second, by explicitly making it a geopolitical simulator means that people’s attitudes towards international relations will shape how they play. Oddly enough, college students who are high on the RWA scale seem like they’d be more likely to embrace Realism, while low-RWA individuals are going to be more Liberal. This is exactly how each group played. To look at if high-RWA people are inherently less cooperative, you would need to find a game which doesn’t map so neatly to pre-existing thoughts.
        Actually, it’s worse than that. The participants were told to role-play. If I get told that, I’m going to act as I think the person I’m playing would. The Soviet player probably was aggressive and militaristic because that’s how he thought the Soviets were, not because that’s how he inherently was. Geopolitical roleplaying seems like a terrible way to study this issue, possibly the worst way.

        Of course, now I’m wondering what would happen if a cross-section of the readership here were to try geopolitical roleplaying. That could be very interesting….

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Nuclear war isn’t an existential risk in our world, but our world is apparently not run by RWAs. If RWAs are everything Altmeyer thinks they are, they would presmuably increase their stocks of nukes instead of honoring non-proliferation treaties.

          • bean says:

            This is not a good response for two reasons:
            1. Nuclear war is not an existential risk to humanity in any feasible world. The number of nukes it would take to wipe out humanity is vastly greater than any quasi-rational security policy would require.
            2. The rules of the game they were using were “Nuclear war kills everyone”. Based on what I’ve read, this was true regardless of things like arms control. ‘Set the table on fire’ is a good nuclear-war rule if you’re doing a wargame on the Central Front between NATO and the Soviets, but it’s not a good one for a global ‘simulation’.
            I don’t have a full set of rules, but I would also point to another case of stupidity on the military side, namely the Soviet invasion of North America actually working in the RWA scenario (at least before the US went nuclear). This is absurd on many levels, and it’s important because the ability to apply military force is an important part of international relations, so the rules on that should bear some resemblance to reality if you want to produce a reasonable simulation. These ones look like they were written by someone who was either deliberately being stupid or massively ignorant of warfare.

          • Jiro says:

            Many people consider an existential risk to human civilization to be substantially as bad as an existential risk to humanity. Nuclear war can certainly be that.

          • bean says:

            From this book:
            “A nuclear holocaust ensued which
            killed everyone on earth–7.4 billion people–and almost all other forms of life which had the misfortune of co-habitating the same planet as a species with nukes.”
            This is not a statement by someone with a realistic view of nuclear weapons.

            The fact that it could destroy civilization as we know it, but not wipe out humanity, is what makes the use of ‘set the table on fire’ here particularly bad. It would be much more interesting to take a quai-realistic look at what the aftermath of a nuclear war looks like. Have some (rudimentary) method of deciding on how much each region is damaged, based on how many nukes it took (2-4 pre-computed levels would be fine). Remove all existing Elites, and get new ones (to represent the fall of existing governments). Continue play. There are definitely games where nuclear war would bring the game as it is to an abrupt end, but this is definitely not one of them.

          • John Schilling says:

            Remove all existing Elites, and get new ones (to represent the fall of existing governments). Continue play.

            Existing elites, at that level, have bunkers and evacuation plans. Keep them in the game. Don’t let them quit, if you can help it. But make them play with the realistically-degraded resources they would have in that scenario, and bring in new players to take the roles of the warlords, populist leaders, etc, who would arise to compete with them. And, yes, vividly describe the consequences.

            That would be an interesting and useful simulation. Otherwise, just hold a screening of “Dr. Strangelove” and “On the Beach” and be honest about it.

          • bean says:

            Existing elites, at that level, have bunkers and evacuation plans. Keep them in the game. Don’t let them quit, if you can help it. But make them play with the realistically-degraded resources they would have in that scenario, and bring in new players to take the roles of the warlords, populist leaders, etc, who would arise to compete with them. And, yes, vividly describe the consequences.
            A fair point. I was coming from the perspective that, although the individual people may survive, the government infrastructure as a whole might be damaged enough that the president ends up running the state he lands in and maybe the next one over. From a simulationist perspective, a major nuclear war would be a pretty big break in the policies of a government, and it might make more sense to replace the existing ‘elite’.
            In seriousness, though, the game is going to require a substantial overhaul before it becomes really useful. Things like internal politics and quasi-realistic warfare are vital to actually learning anything. The fact that all of the ‘global elites’ can just decide to have a meeting and talk things out without someone facing trouble from Congress/Parliament/the Politburo is enough to disqualify it as a serious tool for looking at that.

            Edit:
            It looks like I forgot to explicitly call out ‘apply damage’ as part of the process in my previous post. You would of course give whoever is running the ‘country’ (I might base replacement of the elite on a dice roll modified on how badly the area was damaged) appropriate resources based on how many nukes he took.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            I am not clear where this is going, If Altmeyers game had an explicit , but unrealistic rule that pushing the button ends the world, then the players still pushed the butto knowing that.

          • bean says:

            If Altmeyers game had an explicit , but unrealistic rule that pushing the button ends the world, then the players still pushed the butto knowing that.
            You’re making the assumption that the rule was explicit, and I’m not sure that’s true. And you also miss an important point about the logic behind nuclear weapons. They only work to deter war if you can convince the other side you’ll use them. The best way to do this is probably to actually be ready to use them, even if from a strict utilitarian point of view of the moment it would make more sense not to push the button when the chips are down. (I believe a good utilitarian would pre-commit to push the button because then you generally get peace instead of non-nuclear war.) I’m not sure if the American player did a bad job of being convincing, or the Soviet player did a bad job of reading him.

          • Protagoras says:

            @bean, Not so much. If your opponent is rational, the risk that you might retaliate should be too big a risk to take when the retaliation will be nuclear. This is regardless of your prior commitments (that is, this still seems true even if you’ve previously committed to not doing things like that; who knows what people might do when huge numbers of their friends and families have been slaughtered?) OTOH, if your opponent is irrational, there may be no reliable connection between your commitments and policies and what your opponent does. Doubtless there are highly specific scenarios with the right set of implausible assumptions where the precommitment to retaliate is crucial, but they don’t seem to resemble real world situations.

          • bean says:

            @Protagoras
            If your opponent is rational, the risk that you might retaliate should be too big a risk to take when the retaliation will be nuclear. This is regardless of your prior commitments (that is, this still seems true even if you’ve previously committed to not doing things like that; who knows what people might do when huge numbers of their friends and families have been slaughtered?)
            I don’t think that’s true. (At this point, we start to see breakdowns between the game and reality, so I’ll address both.) It depends on how they weight their utilities, and on the possible consequences of nuclear war. For the game, if the player rates the value of losing at 0 regardless of how it happens (which is not totally irrational in a game), then the probability of you using nukes becomes very important. In real life, it’s more complicated. Nuclear war is no longer instant death, and the credibility of a deterrent begins to play a big role in everyone’s strategic math. Someone with half a dozen bombs that take weeks to assemble does not have a deterrent against someone who stands a good chance of being able to take them out in a first strike, shoot down the bombers, and ultimately absorb the damage if they have to. The Soviets should be very glad we didn’t think like them in the 50s. But to have a credible deterrent, you need to look like you’re willing to use it (this is similar to the precommitment in the game). On the other hand, there isn’t a scoring system like there is in the game, and it’s fantastically unlikely that someone will rate ‘didn’t come first’ (whatever that means) equally with ‘nuclear annihilation’.

            OTOH, if your opponent is irrational, there may be no reliable connection between your commitments and policies and what your opponent does.
            That depends on what you mean by ‘irrational’. Someone who is totally irrational (and in real life has no preference between death and second place) would not really care what you say. These people generally don’t run governments. But there are different degrees of irrationality, and different metrics for rationality. Soviet actions were undoubtedly influenced by the credibility of the US deterrent. If they thought we’d risk nuclear war rather than roll over, they didn’t act. The most obvious example is when Kennedy’s turn towards Flexible Response set off the Cuban Missile Crisis, and they discovered that they’d gotten their math wrong. Fortunately, they were smart enough to back down instead of pushing the button. (Not that it would have done them much good.)

          • Protagoras says:

            Having a nuclear force is expensive. Just having it is thus a signal of some likelyhood of being willing to use it (people do not spend huge sums on useless things). It is true that things are different for games (in the real world, one aims at long-run survival/prosperity, not some arbitrary stopping point where victory/defeat is assessed on some standard); no doubt this is another problem for generalizing from games.

          • bean says:

            Having a nuclear force is expensive. Just having it is thus a signal of some likelyhood of being willing to use it (people do not spend huge sums on useless things).
            This is true, but not that relevant. I’m reminded of the first episode of Yes, Prime Minister here. When they think you’re likely to pull the trigger, and how much damage they expect you to do if you do, are both very important to making strategic decisions. Would the US be willing to risk New York to save Paris if the Soviets came west? The French weren’t sure of that, which is why they got their own nukes. The British nuclear deterrent was calculated to be large enough to drag the US into the war with them, giving them the protection of our nuclear umbrella. Yes, people generally stayed far away from things which caused serious risk of nuclear war, but what those things were was very important in how the Cold War played out. The fact that we were manifestly not willing to risk it over Vietnam meant that the Russians and Chinese could operate with near-impunity because we were so afraid that we would send signals that they might take as being preludes to nuclear war.

            It is true that things are different for games (in the real world, one aims at long-run survival/prosperity, not some arbitrary stopping point where victory/defeat is assessed on some standard); no doubt this is another problem for generalizing from games.
            This is also true, although it depends on the player and the scoring.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            people do not spend huge sums on useless things

            You’re assuming that the deterrent effect of having the capability in the first place does not constitute a “use”. Building up a nuclear arsenal may be expensive, but it’s a bargain compared to a war with the Soviet Union.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Hlynkacg:

            You’re assuming that the deterrent effect of having the capability in the first place does not constitute a “use”.

            It’s not a deterrent if you’re not willing to use it…

          • It’s not a deterrent if you’re not willing to use it…

            It can be, depending on administration change. Crises typically take a while to build up. During the prelude to WWIII, a pacifist CIC can be removed (or otherwise side-lined) and hardliners can take over.

            I understand that means “you” are willing to use it, if “you” is a nation. But put this in practice. Maybe Putin actually thinks Obama is a coward that would never use nukes. Great. Except there’s a non-trivial chance Obama would be impeached or otherwise overruled by other administration officials. That’s a big chance to take when you’re talking about thousands of nuclear weapons.

            Arsenals like China’s don’t have to be large. They need to be a minimum deterrence. You can even say “we won’t ever really use these nukes” and believe it, but will your opponents REALLY take that chance?

        • MugaSofer says:

          >nuclear war isn’t an existential risk

          I’m seeing this repeated over and over here.

          Why do you disagree with the experts on this, and when did it become the consensus on SSC?

          The wider rationalist movement still seems to view nukes as an existential threat, including our host, last I checked.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Existential means it makes humanity go extinct. There is no case where nuclear war is capable of doing that (given current capabilities and goals) because a significant portion of humanity lives in areas that will not be affected by the bombings. Africa and Latin America are unlikely to get hit by a significant number of bombs.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why do you disagree with the experts on this,

            Which experts claim that nuclear warfare would cause the actual extinction of the human race, and what is the basis of their expertise?

            and when did it become the consensus on SSC?

            It’s been discussed several times over the past six months, mostly in the Open Threads I think. Like, for example, the last one. None of the experts cited were even suggesting actual human extinction, and the ones claiming billions of dead were found to be among other things grossly ignorant of the basic principles of nuclear weapons and warfare.

          • bean says:

            Why do you disagree with the experts on this, and when did it become the consensus on SSC?
            I don’t. I learned from the actual experts on this.

            The wider rationalist movement still seems to view nukes as an existential threat, including our host, last I checked.
            With all due respect to our host, he’s not an expert on military issues. The links you provide are in line with the pop-culture view, and I’d guess that he’s merely reflecting said pop-culture view instead of taking a researched position. The same goes for the wider rationalist community. I’d trust them to be able to figure out something they were looking carefully at, but I’ve seen no evidence they’ve given nuclear war that level of scrutiny.

          • anon says:

            After reading the thread linked by Schilling, I’m pretty convinced that the x-risk of nuclear annihilation is low. (Although it’s obviously still bad if hundreds of thousands to millions are killed in a nuclear strike.) It makes me wonder what is the current consensus among military experts regarding the existential threat associated with biological warfare. It also makes me wonder about Bryan Caplan’s recent blog post, where he approvingly cited a book claiming mass-mobilization warfare is obsolete. I was instinctively skeptical about such a claim, but if a limited nuclear exchange is a genuine tactical possibility as opposed to a theoretical deterrent, maybe the thesis is worth revisiting?

          • bean says:

            It makes me wonder what is the current consensus among military experts regarding the existential threat associated with biological warfare.
            AIUI, it’s definitely non-zero. I haven’t heard quantification, but I’d put it on par with asteroids at a minimum.

          • MugaSofer says:

            Thank you all for the links. It seems that while experts tangentially related to the field tend to talk about full-blown nuclear exchanges in “human extinction” terms, actual climatologists seem to view the possibility as an open question, given the lack of experimental data – and the specific individuals who disagree can’t produce strong evidence.

            I’m definitely updating downwards my understanding that nuclear war is, or was, an existential risk.

    • Murphy says:

      I had the opposite experience with “Democracy” since the game so heavily rewarded economic growth and socialist policies while almost ignoring war entirely.

      There’s a very very strong stable zone with high-tax, high education, high control/police, high research, almost no religious people, no debt, almost no oil consumption, universal public transport, universal health care, basically socialist-green everything and the feedback loops reward you every step of the way.

      In many games I stop as soon as I’ve reached the equilibrium zone where you basically can’t lose. the only risk is being assassinated by the disgruntled religious before you eliminate them. (through enlightenment of course)

      The crazy thing is that once you reach the equilibrium zone and have deep cash reserves you can even lower taxes and make even the capitalist happy.

      try going the small-government or anything but socialist route and everything falls to bits or requires constant maintainance.

      • Matt M says:

        One of the main problems I’ve always had with these types of games is that they have a built-in predisposition to favor large government micromanagement because… that’s what the game IS.

        A game of Civilization where you hit a button saying “let the market make its own decisions” and then you sit back and wait and watch yourself win wouldn’t be very entertaining at all, now would it?

        The entire premise of the game is that top-down micromanagement is how civilizations are built/run/etc.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Victoria 2 attempts that. Notably it gets refered to as a “spreadsheet simulator” a lot more than the rest of Paradox’s games. Also teaches us the important lesson about how awesome communism is because of how pants on head retarded your capitalists are.

          • Anonymous says:

            Communism is awful in any country bigger than a handful of states. Manually upgrading the five hundred factories that need it (“‘upgrade all button’? what ‘upgrade all’ button?”) is horrifyingly tedious.

            Your choice is essentially between letting the retarded AI run your economy or developing carpal tunnel.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            You can upgrade nearly full factories; it is good enough for everyone who isn’t China.

          • Anonymous says:

            Sometimes, you ARE China. Hell, the German Empire, or Russia, or a France blob are all going to have major problems with manually upgrading factories.

            Communism scales really poorly.

  14. Maia says:

    Re: 1: Obligatory periodic plug for San Francisco rationalist meetups. Every Monday evening, see the LessWrong website or the bayarealesswrong Google group for details.

  15. Matt says:

    So there are some obvious problems with utilitarianism (e.g., justifications for slavery) and I was thinking about how it could be modified to better guide policy. What I thought was that humans do indeed want to optimize for total utility, but there are also deep moral desires for both median utility (equality) to be maximized as well as for individual freedom (liberty).

    Based on that, would it be possible to expand on basic utilitarianism, so as to maximize for those three values: total utility, median utility, and freedom – in a way that sees diminishing returns for each? For example, progressive income taxes may damage freedom, but increase median utility and increase total utility in a more than compensatory manner . However, at a point high income taxes begin to decrease individual liberty and long-run growth in a way that offsets the gains in median utilities and thus reaches an equilibrium?

    I have a bunch of ‘unknown unknowns’ around this topic and would love to hear others thoughts. I’m not a philosophy major, but what is your one-sentence answer to optimal policy-making?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Maximizing median utility sounds like a great ethical system for oppressing minorities.

      Really this whole system you’re trying to build seems like an ad-hoc kludge to deal with conclusions you don’t like. But how can you expect an ethical system to “guide policy” if you never let it lead to a conclusion you don’t like? Maybe what you mean is that you want a way to modify it to better justify your preferred policies?

      • Theo Jones says:

        Then there is the classical issue with that type of rule. Adding/keeping around people with less than median utility is bad.

      • Creating optimal policy benefits everyone, not just a majority. In the case of taxes, if taxes are too high it may disincentivize risk taking and investment, and then markets fail and the economy will also fail or undergo severe recession or stagnation, ultimately hurting everyone. China saw an explosion in living standards after, in the 70’s, abandoning market-communism, as an example of good policy.

        • suntzuanime says:

          What is this, discussion of specific tax policy and historical examples? Get on my level (the meta-level).

        • “Creating optimal policy benefits everyone, not just a majority.”

          I’m not sure what that means. It is probably true that the Chinese shift to capitalism made most people much better off, but not necessarily everyone.

          Consider two slightly different policies, one of which does and one does not include a steel tariff. There is a sense in which total welfare is better without. But people who own stock in the domestic steel industry are worse off.

          The only ways I know of to define “optimal” involve some way of adding up gains and losses, so that a benefit to one person can compensate for a cost to another.

          How are you defining it?

          • Samedi says:

            Optimal, in this context, necessarily includes the qualifier “for whom”. I don’t think there is any such thing as universally objectively optimal. Pareto wrote about this problem.

          • “I don’t think there is any such thing as universally objectively optimal.”

            There is unlikely to be a set of institutions which is better for every individual than any other set of institutions.

            But there are useful senses of “objectively optimal” short of that. One of them is the utilitarian optimum (average or total). Another is maximizing economic efficiency, which can be viewed as a proxy for utility, imperfect since it ignores different marginal utilities of income but a lot easier to figure out how to maximize.

            Both are ways of adding content to the concept of “maximum size of the pie.”

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Setting a tax level to maximise GDP implies nothing about redistribution, and therefore nothing about his much utility “everybody” gets,

        • ThrustVectoring says:

          Uhhh, what? That implies that hurting someone by a negligible amount in order to make literally every other person much better off isn’t “optimal”. Like, hurting them by an amount such that tracking the harm and compensating them for it is worse than just ignoring it, overall.

      • Vitor says:

        Yes, median utility is of course problematic.

        I think what would actually need to be maximized is something like average utility with a quadratic penalty for outliers, i.e. if average happiness is 100, then having one person at 70 (or 130) gives -90 utility, almost the worth of one whole person’s happiness.

        This would only work if you’re not allowed to throw someone out of a community, of course. In that case, you’d have to keep counting them at 0 utility. Same with dead people.

        • Rowan says:

          That sounds like a great system for if you want a society devoted to finding people with high happiness setpoints and beating them with rods.

      • Matt says:

        Hey, this seems like a rather aggressive answer to what was a pretty open ended and non-political post on my part.

        My main line of thinking is around AI – what simple values could we imbue it with if we wanted it to govern in a way that was optimal. Bostrom does a pretty good job of arguing against pure utilitarianism in his book and I was trying to see if there was a way to build on utilitarianism.

    • Matthias says:

      I’ve read some philosophers try a lexicographic ordering.

      Ie to compare to counterfactuals, you sort all the people involved by increasing happiness. The situation were the least well off person is better is the better situation. If they are equally well off, you compare the second worst off person, and so on.

      The author took into account that happiness is hard to compare. So this construct was mainly to be used like in statistics, where you are merely trying to reject the null hypothesis.

      (In the end, the author argued for a basic income, adjusted for extra disability payments.)

      Can’t remember the author, sorry.

      • Vitor says:

        So this scheme supports reducing the happiness of the happiest person to only epsilon above the most miserable person, if in exchange the miserable person’s happiness rises by epsilon? Trading your house for one grain of rice for a poor person? Oh sorry, that person isn’t literally the most miserable person alive, never mind!

        I understand the desire for simple and intuitive schemes, but this produces pure nonsense if taken at face value. If not taken literally, the scheme can be interpreted in many ways, some of which I support and others which I don’t.

      • satanistgoblin says:

        Sounds a lot like Rawls Difference Principle: that inequalty is acceptable only so far as it benefits the worst of. Seems insane and pathological to me.

        • Anonymous says:

          Preventing the poorest children from suffering from malnutrition vs. helping upper-middle class couples buy a summer home? Seems eminently sane to me.

          • satanistgoblin says:

            That would be perfectly OK in standard utilitarianism assuming no side effects. But taking away arbitrarily many utilons from people just to give someone 1 utilon is messed up, imho.

          • Mary says:

            Preventing an upper-middle class couple from buying a summer home in order to give one poor child one meal is another matter — but obviously also covered.

      • The idea of maximizing the welfare of the worst off person is due to Rawls. So far as I can tell, it is indefensible–at least, I have never found anyone able to defend it. A while back I had some exchanges with members of the Bleeding Heart Libertarian group, who spoke very respectfully of Rawls but were unwilling to defend his central claim.

        • Anonymous says:

          “indefensible”

          I really have to wonder if we’re operating on a shared definition of this word.

        • suntzuanime says:

          For the longest time I had thought Rawls was an 18th century philosopher, because his arguments were so unsophisticated.

        • Since the worst off person would be better off dead, wouldn’t Rawls support the quick extermination of the human race over the status quo?

          • Wrong Species says:

            This is the argument against all maximizing ethical systems. I’m not a “death eater” but this is one way society has really regressed since the old days. Before they used to say something like “avoid doing these certain things and do your duties.” Obviously I don’t agree with everything they thought but at least they recognized that moral rules should be structured in a way that is practical. And now everyone seems obsessed with building systems that no sane person would fully commit to. I know I’m a broken record bringing this up in so many threads but it’s absolute lunacy.

          • Aegeus says:

            It’s probably because this board descends from Less Wrong, and LW is really interested in making an ethics system that can be implemented by a maximizing AI.

            And to be fair, the hypothetical “best ethics system ever” should be capable of handling edge cases. If it can’t handle them, that suggests there’s a better ethics system out there somewhere.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Aegeus

            And to be fair, the hypothetical “best ethics system ever” should be capable of handling edge cases. If it can’t handle them, that suggests there’s a better ethics system out there somewhere.

            Not necessarily. It could be the case that there’s an analogue of Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem for ethics: it could be that it is impossible to construct an ethical system that is both:
            1. able to cover every conceivable dilemma and situation that may arise, including “edge cases” (completeness)
            2. doesn’t ever contradict itself (consistency).

        • Theo Jones says:

          From what I remember from reading Theory of Justice, Rawls didn’t literally mean the worse off person. He meant the worst of group. With group being very poorly defined.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “Still, we should question why individuals in the original position would choose a principle that focuses upon groups, rather than individuals. Won’t application of the minimax principle lead each person in the original position to favor maximizing the position of the worst-off individual? To be sure, this principle would reduce questions of evaluating social institutions to the issue of how the unhappiest depressive fares. Yet avoiding this by moving the focus to groups (or representative individuals) seems ad hoc, and is inadequately motivated for those in the individual [sic] position.” — Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia

      • Tracy W says:

        This approach assumes infinite risk aversion. But people don’t act like that. Eg say a friend invites me to a party. They live a couple of blocks away across a reasonably busy couple of roads so there’s a small chance of me being badly injured or killed on the way there or back. If I knew that I was definitely going to get killed or injured I wouldn’t go to the party. But the small chance in itself is not enough to deter me. (I might not go to the party for other reasons of course.) Most people are like me by revealed behaviour. Thus presumably most people like me would prefer to live in a society that has a higher living standard overall than one that maximises the outcome of the worst off at all costs.

        • Harsanyi proposed the veil of ignorance/original position argument well before Rawls. Unlike Rawls, he drew the correct conclusion—the society you would choose would be the one with the highest average (VN) utility.

          There are serious problems with that conclusion, but at least if follows from the assumption.

    • blacktrance says:

      So there are some obvious problems with utilitarianism (e.g., justifications for slavery)

      I’m not sure what you mean by this, but if you’re referring to a hypothetical situation in which slavery would be good from a utilitarian perspective, I expect the world would be sufficiently different for slavery to not seem as bad as it does now.

      • Matt says:

        So, my thinking here is that people have different preferences and elasticities in terms of happiness. If someone has relatively inelastic preferences and high skills, then a pure utility-maximizing society could make a justification for enslaving that person if their labor would benefit others in a way that compensates for it.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          Such a person wouldn’t mind being enslaved, since their preferences are inelastic. In the limit, such a person would be a robot.

          • Matt says:

            It’s not all-or-nothing, someone can still suffer from slavery even if they suffer relatively less than someone else.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I expect the world would be sufficiently different for slavery to not seem as bad as it does now.

        Would it?

        Seems to me that Marx’s core thesis was that this is the world we live in. “From each according to their ability to each according to their need” and all that. You have the ability to dig ditches, society need’s ditches, ergo you will dig.

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        I agree with blacktrance. A world where Total Utilitarianism justified slavery would look enormously different from the world we exist in.

        When I think about the Utility Monster, I’m reminded of this SMBC comic. And when I’m reminded of this SMBC comic, I think about the joke that compares God to a kid who fries ants with a magnifying glass. Most people couldn’t care less about the welfare of ants. Most people are perfectly willing to spray ants with Bug Killer Aerosol without a second thought. Because ants are a lower life-form which are ethically incommensurable with humans.

        Analogously. In the parallel universe where the SMBC comic reflects reality, Felix is (for all intents and purposes) God. Felix’s slaves are lower life-forms who could not possibly begin to contemplate the sheer ecstasy which Felix experiences.

        The visceral objection to the comic is that it’s not physiologically plausible (in the real world) for Felix to “experience a level of happiness” so much higher than that of his subjects that Total Utilitarianism would justify slavery. Because in the usual thought experiment, we don’t imagine God Incarnate sitting on the throne; we imagine Felix The Homosapien. But as soon as you replace your mental imagery of Felix The Homosapien with “a higher deity, who works in mysterious ways” ™, the idea of Mandatory Servitude suddenly doesn’t seem as repulsive (as evidenced by Abrahamic Religions, et al).

        • hlynkacg says:

          Different in what way?

          Utilitarianism does justify slavery. Stalin’s Russia is a prime example. The needs of the many out weigh the needs of a few шкідник and кулак.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Different in that: it would be possible for Felix (or a group of Felixes) to obtain such a degree of marginal utility from the enslavement of others that it would outweigh the combined marginal utility of his slaves had his slaves been set free.

            I believe Scott has commented on this once, saying there’s probably some biological limit to the utility a single human brain can experience. And since we all run on the same hardware (more or less) [0], it’s not possible for a single person to simultaneously experience two persons’ worth of maximum-utility. (I.e. ain’t nobody got enough dopamine for that. [1]) This is one of those scenarios where “it’s not prohibited by the laws of physics, but neither is it prohibited by the laws of physics for a broken vase to spontaneously fix itself”. Maybe this will change when brain emulations are invented.

            I don’t understand the reference to Stalin.

            [0] p.s. now that I think about it, I believe one of the rationalizations the U.S. Antebellum South used to justify slavery was that blacks were monkeys who had IQ’s of 5.

            [1] I’m reminded of David Foster Wallace’s essay Consider the Lobster. It discusses the ethics of eating lobsters, which in all likelihood feel great pain and cannot even secret opioids to mitigate it (like humans would).

          • hlynkacg says:

            The argument is that the utility lost by enslaving a small number of people is offset, by the substantial increase in the utility of everyone else.

            A utilitarian does not walk away from Omelas they embrace it.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            I understand that the utility lost by enslaving a small number of people might be offset by the substantial increase in the utils of everyone else. I just doubt it would actually increase total utility, since the increase in utils from (enslaved -> not enslaved) tends to be much greater than increase in utils from (slave owner -> not slave owner). You agree that a graph of “utility as a function of money” follows a sublinear curve, right?

            I mean, if we’re all we’re doing is making each individual work so that the fruits of their labor may be distributed to others (such that the aggregate value of those fruits is several-fold greater than the utils sacrificed by the individual) that also describes Capitalism. And also Communism. It’s called market-specialization. What do we gain by dividing the population into a master class and a slave class? It’s more efficient to make everyone slaves to the market than to set aside an aristocratic class which is beholden to no one.

          • Matt M says:

            As an American, one of the things I find most interesting about reading some of Stalin’s defenders among Russians is how many true believers there really were – how readily people were willing to accept “sure my life completely sucks, but this is necessary for the greater good and maybe my childrens will be better” as a completely sufficient state of affairs.

          • anon says:

            I’ve recently been trying to learn a bit of Soviet history (which of course my American high school education omitted, except for the Yalta conference). I know about the kulaks — but what does “shkidnik” (if I’m parsing the Cyrillic correctly) refer to? I see that it is the Ukrainian word for “pests”. Does it just refer to any “counter-revolutionaries” whom Stalin felt had to be purged / sent to Siberia?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Your guess is spot on.

            The direct translation would be something along the lines of “bug”, “vermin”, or “nuisance”, but idiomatically it’s someone accused of “Wrecking” so yes, counter revolutionaries (or any other poor slob who somehow ended up on the party’s bad-side) is exactly who it’s referring too. 😉

        • Wrong Species says:

          In today’s day and age, sure. But weren’t societies like Ancient Rome built on slavery?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Nope. Rome’s backbone throughout its republican period was its middle class, and once slaved starting takin’ the farmers jerbs it didn’t take long for it to stop being a republic.

      • Shieldfoss says:

        Indeed. For example, a Roman punitive expedition into Barbaricum isn’t picking between “A) take slaves or B) don’t take slaves,” it is choosing between “stop them from raiding our empire by A) killing them all or B) enslaving them all.”

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ Matt

      Are you thinking of something like this?
      https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Complexity_of_value
      http://lesswrong.com/lw/y3/value_is_fragile/

      The last part of Lewis’s _The Abolition of Man_ has a similar point: that we can’t really choose one principle and try to sacrifice all the others to it. There are several principles, and taking any one of them so far that it violates another principle is … not good. An example using Lewis’s list might be “Show most kindness to family and friends, but don’t be harsh to outsiders, and be fair to everyone in business and law.”

    • As Caplan and others have noted, most voters are irrational (the term ‘irrational’ strictly being used in the economics sense), and this irrationality results in voter preferences that deviate from the optimal, and I think there is some truth to this, and utilitarians understand that irrationality should not guide policy, only quantifiable evidence that generates the best policy. Utilitarians may be content with some voices (irrational ones) perhaps being marginalized or excluded if it leads to an optimal outcome, and I think that’s an acceptable trade-off. What defines ‘good policy’ is harder to quantify, but one criteria is that it ‘advances’ civilization, although what quantifies as ‘advancement’ is obviously not politically agnostic. For the ‘left’ such policy may be to advance social justice causes, as a way of maximizing happiness. For the ‘right’ it may be to maximize economic growth and technological innovation, in the hope prosperity and innovation will trickle down and benefit all.

    • Anon. says:

      This is just one huge appeal to consequences. Nothing good can come of it.

      If utilitarianism is true, utilitarianism is true regardless of its implications re: slavery or anything else.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        What would it mean for utilitarianism to be “true”?

        • Anon. says:

          Here we go…

          It would mean moral facts exist and utilitarianism is it.

          • TD says:

            M-moral facts?

            What?

          • TD says:

            I’m really not sure what any of that means. It just blasts my head to pieces. I need to go on reddit, and ask them to explain moral realism like I’m five.

            What is an example of an “ethical sentence that expresses propositions that refer to objective features of the world”?

            I mean, I have some ideas, but I want to hear it fresh again this time, so I can compare and contrast.

          • Anon. says:

            >What is an example of an “ethical sentence that expresses propositions that refer to objective features of the world”?

            “It is morally right to act in a way that maximizes total utility.”

            Technically you can give up realism and still believe that ethical sentences are propositions, this is called “error theory”. The catch is that error theorists view all ethical sentences as false.

          • TD says:

            “It is morally right to act in a way that maximizes total utility.”

            Assuming this is a utilitarian, then are the “objective features of the world” in this case, measurements of happiness?

            I have a very hard time with formal moral philosophy. It’s always been something I’ve never bothered to learn much about, but I always end up encountering it through peripheral interests. Whenever I encounter moral realism, it always sounds completely absurd to me.

            Not wanting to catch up and read 10,000 books, I always just assume that they are using non-standard usages of words as jargon, and they don’t literally believe that moral truth can be measured, so I usually shrug and pass on, leaving it to the experts.

            It’s never stopped bugging me though. I think eventually I might have to read those 10,000 books.

          • Anon. says:

            Assuming this is a utilitarian, then are the “objective features of the world” in this case, measurements of happiness?

            That too, but that’s not the bit realists are concerned with.

          • Creutzer says:

            TD, I like to think that the ability to even consider moral realism as a coherent proposition is a bug in the human mind. The notion of an objective/absolute good is nonsensical to me, but some people seem to think it exists. The human brain likes to treat all sorts of things that are not absolute and about the objective world as if they were. Given the enormous stakes in the case of morality, that kind of makes sense – you may as well implement it as if it were a factual matter.

            Once you’ve seen that it isn’t, of course, you can’t unsee this fact, so you lose the ability to conceive of what it would even mean for moral realism to be true.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Moral realism is the majority position among metaethicists, most of whom do not take the thing they’re analyzing to be a technical or reformed use of ordinary moral language. So I think it would be a mistake to dismiss the view because it sounds weird. You may be misunderstanding what moral realism is committed to if you’re thinking of it as the view that “moral facts can be measured”.

            This may not help, but realism about other normative domains is even more popular than moral realism, and might at least help you see what the moral realist thinks. For instance, many people are inclined to think that “it’s irrational to choose to believe something your evidence shows to be false” is true. Someone who thinks it’s rational to believe things that the evidence shows is false is, they think, simply mistaken. It’s not just that they have different rational tastes – they’re wrong about rationality.

            If that doesn’t also strike you as an absurd thing to think, then that might help you get in a realist mindset about morality.

          • Anon. says:

            Moral realism is the majority position among metaethicists, most of whom do not take the thing they’re analyzing to be a technical or reformed use of ordinary moral language.

            This is a bit like saying theism is the majority position among theologians.

          • Alliteration says:

            @TD

            One version of moral realism is that morality exists as a platonic objects. In other words, at the most fundamental level of reality, there exists physical objects (like electrons and quarks) and platonic objects (like morality) which are just as real as physical objects. The platonic objects just don’t positions or cause anything in the physical world.

            Another version of moral realism is that objective morality is God’s morality. God is so big that his morality becomes objective.

            (If you like stretching your mind, I might also suggest reading about Plato’s philosophy, not because it is true, but because it is so different from what you seem to believe I think it might help you understand other people.)

            @Creutzer
            Just as a data point for your theory.
            To me, both moral realism, moral error theory, moral non-cognitivism seem coherent. I believe moral realism however.

          • My account of my version of moral realism.

          • onyomi says:

            I am mostly convinced by Huemer and your much shorter version, but I also agree that I found his refutations of nihilism and biological determinism, if not unconvincing, then, at least, too brief.

            The best argument I’ve read so far against biological determinism, imo, is the one Huemer presents about how, if we were to guess which moral intuitions evolution would produce behind a veil of ignorance about the intuitions it did produce, we’d probably make very different guesses. But then, if we were to guess how evolution would produce an eyeball in the absence of any knowledge about how a creature might perceive photons, we’d probably guess wrong about that too.

          • Creutzer says:

            @Alliteration: I wonder if I predict that people’s coherence judgements for error theory and moral realism go together. I’m not sure because I don’t really understand error theory, although in a way that doesn’t subjectively feel the same as my non-understanding of moral realism. It’s got more to do with puzzlement over the idea that you should require paraconsistent logic for a meta-ethical theory. If, after all, all moral statements are false, you’ve got to drop non-contradiction…

          • Philosophisticat says:

            >>>This is a bit like saying theism is the majority position among theologians.

            It could be, but I think there are some reasons to doubt that kind of explanation:

            1) Support for theism among philosophers (who are generally pretty familiar with most theistic arguments) is extremely low (compared to the support for theism among specialists in philosophy of religion). So while theism is, unsurprisingly, popular among the super dedicated specialists in religion, it is very unpopular among the next lower level of expertise. On the other hand, moral realism is very popular both among metaethicists and among philosophers generally, who typically have some familiarity with metaethics but do not dedicate all of their time to it. More generally, I do not see any evidence that metaethicists are drawn from a pool of people who are disproportionately antecedently inclined towards realism in the way philosophers of religion are drawn from a pool of people who are disproportionately antecedently inclined to theism.

            2) Theology, and philosophy of religion, as fields, are substantially made up of questions that are of very little interest on the assumption that theism is false. Metaethics, on the other hand, is a rich area of inquiry even for anti-realists.

            3) Although I do not have polls then, there were times in relatively recent history when anti-realism was a bigger presence in metaethics than it is now (the dominant view, I would guess).

          • Creutzer says:

            @David: You say that you cannot, on a gut level, believe that your moral intuitions are like a preference for an ice-cream flavour. That’s understandable, because you probably don’t feel any problem with it when other people don’t share your preferences, and you probably don’t have an intuitive feeling that ice cream of your non-preferred flavour simply shouldn’t exist.

            Now, I don’t know if you have such emotional reactions, but some people, including me, find it really revolting, for example, when someone exhibits bad table manners, wears certain items of clothing in an improper way, or performs a musical piece in an incompetent and ignorant way. There’s a feeling of “the world shouldn’t be such that there are people doing this” which is subjectively very similar to the experience of moral objection – and yet it would be absurd to be an intuitionist about absolute sartorial truths. (If you can feel the absurdity of sartorial intuitionism, then you have a pretty good idea of how I intuitively feel about moral intuitionism.)

          • Alliteration says:

            @Creutzer
            My understanding of error theory is this:
            When normal people make moral claims like “Killing innocent people is bad”, they are making objective claims about the world.
            But nothing is actually bad or good. All moral intuition is an illusion.
            There for making a moral claim is an error.

            Error theory wouldn’t be trying to claim the statements like “killing is either bad or not bad” are false.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            For a moral realist, an objectively true moral statement need not look out of the ordinary, it could be “thou shalt not kill”. There is similar dispute about how to understand vanilla maths statments like 2+2=4.

            Moral realism probably requires some domain of moral facts. People often confuse moral facts with weird, supernatural, metaphysical facts, but they don’t have to be. To a realistic utilitarian, the moral facts are ordinary facts about preferences and happiness levels.

          • Creutzer says:

            To a realistic utilitarian, the moral facts are ordinary facts about preferences and happiness levels.

            Not necessarily. Being a realist and a utilitarian doesn’t necessitate that sort of identity theory about moral facts. If you’re a motivational internalist, in particular, you’re going to have a hard time identifying normative facts with descriptive facts instead of postulating them as their own kind of facts.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            @ TheAncientGeek:

            “I’m not a contractarian. I don’t know where you’re getting that from.”

            You think you are not a contractarian.
            You may think you are not writing English prose, but I can see that you are. Where I am getting *that* from is the content of your writing. That was a contractarian claim. I don’t suppose that you are a contractarian overall. My take on Rand’s metaethics is that it swerves into contractarian or virtue ethicist theory in order to fix cerain problems..and then swerves out again, as if the diversion had never happenned.

            “I am not trying to “ride two horses”. I agree that you should break the contract whenever it is in your interest to do so.”

            Then you haven’t answered the PP objection, except to say that one should in fact prudently predate.

            Or did you mean “whenever it is not in your long term interest?” That is a significantly difrerent claim.

            If you can defect from a mutual beneficial contract at the drop of a hat, so can the other party. Under such ciscumsances, a society of egoists, there is no rational point in
            forming contracts, and so the original
            appeal to “you scratch my back and Ill scratch ours” achieves nothing and so the problems it was intended to address remain.

            “However, I think such situations are not commonplace, particularly not under a political system of laissez-faire capitalism.”

            Under real systems, or your ideal system? Under real capitalism there are explicit and implicit contracts which most people abide by, which makes it rational for you as an egoist to enter into them. But, in a sense, you are free riding. In an theoretical system, which exists nowhere, of pure egoism, it would be less rational for anyone to enter into a contract, because people would be following your advice to immediately break contracts that didn’t suit them.

            “I don’t think there is a “prudent predator problem”. If predation is prudent, then it’s good, period. What I am denying is that predation is actually prudent.”

            There’s no intrinsic level to the (im)prudence of predation, rather
            there are varying types of punishment and discouragement of various kinds of predation in various societies.

            Prudent predation is predation that you can get away with.

            Contractarians, ie people who are not egoists, have the advantage that they won’t break rules even when it is possible to get away with it.

            Egoists, as you have said, will. So if egoist societies want to match contractarian levels of non-predation, they will have to set up systems that compensate for the widepsread rule breaking…perhaps by increased surveilance and scrutiny, so that the opportunities to predate without beign caught are reduced.

            “Rand doesn’t “argue against” the “social good” because there’s no reason to. There’s no case for the “social good”.”

            If the social good is a contractarian, you-scratch-my-back-Ill-scratch-yours arrangement, *you* have given an argument for it.

            “And Rand clearly defines her terms, making it known precisely what she is talking about. The moral good, as she uses the term, is defined as what promotes an individual’s life, which she argued is the same as what promotes his happiness.”

            Argument by stipulative definiton don’t carry mcuh water.

            “One such factor making it in the individual’s interest to keep promises is his reputation. Another is his fear of legal punishment. Another is his desire to cultivate beneficial habits of promise-keeping. If he finds it natural and easy to keep promises, this is likely to serve him better than if he tries to waste time puzzling out in every interaction whether there’s a way to cheat his fellow participants.”

            Another is his philosophy. You have an instrumental/epistemic split there. If you want good outcomes in terms of people refraining from predating, including predating on you, you should not promote egoism as a philosophy because, as you have made clear, it encourages casual rule breaking.

            “No, Rand said that each individual’s ultimate purpose is to achieve his own happiness,”

            I am not saying that Rand doesn’t say what she actually said. I am saying that Rand, counterfactually, could have said the something different…that is, using the same premises and similarly vague reasoning, she could have come to the opposite conclusion.

            “Sacrificing oneself to the group is […]”

            …not the only alternative to unrelenting seflishness.

            Contractarianism isn’t “be as altrusitic as possible, because altruism is a virtue”, it’s
            “get into mutually beneficial arrangements and stick to them”.

            It’s a rational decision, for values of “rational” where you are trying to optimise long-term or expected or average outcomes. Egoism is a rational decision where you are trying to maximise short term outcomes. They are not the same, and unrelenting egoism, the pursuit of one short-term gain after another, is pretty much the behaviour of the dumber sort of criminal.

            ” there will come times when the thing that most serves the group is not simultaneously the thing that most serves one’s own long-run happiness. One should only serve the group insofar as it contributes to one’s own happiness.”

            As you are now using “long term”, that would be contactrarianism, not egoism. (Previously you said “whenever it is not in your interests”. That would be egoism, not contractarianism).

            You may have a better ethical theory than Rand’s but you don’t have a better egoism than Rand’s. Inasmuch as your theory works it is not egoism.

          • blacktrance says:

            Egoism is a rational decision where you are trying to maximise short term outcomes.

            This is a bizarre assertion. What kind of egoist only wants to maximize short-term outcomes?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ TheAncientGeek:

            I hope to respond in more detail later, but I second blacktrance here.

            No one in the history of egoism, as far as I’m aware, has advocated the view that “egoism equals infinite time preference“.

            By your standards, investing a nickel today to get a dime tomorrow is not really egoistic; it’s somehow “contractarianism” or something. Why invest when you can fly to Vegas today, get drunk, and gamble away all your money?

            If that’s what “egoism” means, then I’m not an “egoist”. But…that’s not what egoism means. Not in anyone’s usage that I’ve ever seen.

            When I say the egoistic is concerned with his “long-run” interest—or that he would break an agreement if it were against his interest—I mean only that he will try to maximize the total happiness across his life. So he will not fly to Vegas and gamble away all his savings today for a little bit of fun, if that means he will be penniless and miserable tomorrow. He will not try to embezzle funds from his job if it means he will get fired or sent to jail. And so on.

            The distinction I take to exist between egoism and contractarianism is a) they disagree on what makes something good—the egoist says the fact that it’s in your interest, the contractarian that you agreed to it—and b) the contractarian holds that people ought to keep their agreements even if when taking into account the full costs and benefits, it’s not in their interest. Also, I would say c) contractarianism as I’m familiar with it usually involves some kind of device like the “veil of ignorance”, which egoism rejects; egoism says people should bargain, but from their actual positions.

            The egoist defects in the one-shot prisoner’s dilemma and plays tit-for-tat in the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. Egoism is not synonymous with “always defect”.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @Philosophisticat
            In support of your assertion, a survey of philosophy professors and graduate students showed 56% were moral realists: http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:
            I’m an egoist and a contractarian – the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Egoism is the general ethical theory, and contractarianism is its application to political philosophy and the grounding of rights. The contract is good (to the extent that it’s good) because it’s in your self-interest to agree to it. The contractarian certainly doesn’t think that any contract that one may agree to is automatically good, but that it’s good (for an independent reason) to agree to some particular contract.
            As for the Veil of Ignorance, that’s contractualism, not contractarianism.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            I didn’t realize that there was some distinction between “contractualism” and “contractarianism”. (Not being sarcastic here; I just have never heard of this distinction.)

            If “contractarianism” is merely the view that, under some circumstances, you should agree to some contracts, then I am certainly a “contractarian”. But I interpreted it in a somewhat different way, as I indicated above.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            What kind of egoist makes sacrifices? If you get into a contractual arrangment that is projected to be to your advantage, in terms of expected value, you can still lose out in practice .. you can pay more in tax than you get out of the government in services and benefits, you can get drafted and killed in battle instead of being the one who is protected, and so on.

            Contractualism idoensn’t support Rands politics (admitedly, egoism doesn’t either, but in a different direction, proving again thay they are different theories) Contractualism doesn’t mean that no one should ever be compelled, it doesn’t mean altrusim is unconditionally wrong, it doesn’t mean that taxation is slavery, and so on. It’s quite compatible with statism, including centre-left, nanny-state statism. It doens’t suggest that there is anything necessarilly wrong with any exising liberal democracy.

            “contractarianism as I’m familiar with it usually involves some kind of device like the “veil of ignorance”, which egoism rejects; egoism says people should bargain, but from their actual positions.”

            And without that veil, you have prudent predation, again. A egoist baron who knows he is a baron, in a completely dominant position, should be a robber baron, should predate on his serfs,since it is in his
            selfish interest to do so, so long as no one can stop him.

            Remember, you yourself put forward the existence of de-facto…actual… punishments for predation as the reason for an egoist not to predate…but some people will be in an actual position where they “are the law”, and have nothing to fear.

            If you follow thorugh the logic of egoism as rational behaviour based on self interest and actual position in society, what you get, in view of realistic inequalities between individuals, is something much more like deatheaterism than libertariansim or anarchy. The domination of men over women. the rich over the poor, etc, follows naturally.

            And if you follow through the logic of full-strength behind-the-veil contractualism. you of course get the kind of liberal,
            but not libertarian, society that Rawls argued for.

            “No one in the history of egoism, as far as I’m aware, has advocated the view that “egoism equals infinite time preference“.

            The history of egoism mostly consists of people saying it is obviously wrong.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The Ancient Geek:

            What kind of egoist makes sacrifices? If you get into a contractual arrangment that is projected to be to your advantage, in terms of expected value, you can still lose out in practice .. you can pay more in tax than you get out of the government in services and benefits, you can get drafted and killed in battle instead of being the one who is protected, and so on.

            Okay, yes…but the expected value is all you have to go by. The fact that you can lose out from deals is not a reason to refrain from making all deals.

            If you can gain on net by breaking the agreement when it turns out not to be in your interest, then egoism would say you should break it. But this is very rarely the case, since agreements typically come with enforcement mechanisms and reputational effects.

            And without that veil, you have prudent predation, again. A egoist baron who knows he is a baron, in a completely dominant position, should be a robber baron, should predate on his serfs,since it is in his
            selfish interest to do so, so long as no one can stop him.

            I am not denying that you should predate if and when it is prudent. I am denying that it in fact is prudent.

            Remember, you yourself put forward the existence of de-facto…actual… punishments for predation as the reason for an egoist not to predate…but some people will be in an actual position where they “are the law”, and have nothing to fear.

            Fear of punishment is not the only egoistic concern. The fact is that serfdom or slavery is not in the interest even of the master class. They are in a better position than the oppressed class, but the abolition of slavery or serfdom benefits everyone because it’s a much more efficient mode of production.

            It may indeed not be in the interest of a master to unilaterally free his slaves without any form of compensation. That’s a problem with inefficient systems: individuals may have no reason to act in a way that would cause them to gain if everyone else did the same. The master does have an incentive to bargain with others to arrange some form of compensated emancipation. What he loses in the value of his slaves, he more than gains in the reduced prices caused by the introduction of a free market in labor.

            If you follow thorugh the logic of egoism as rational behaviour based on self interest and actual position in society, what you get, in view of realistic inequalities between individuals, is something much more like deatheaterism than libertariansim or anarchy. The domination of men over women. the rich over the poor, etc, follows naturally.

            The basic disagreement between us seems to be that you apparently think that there are large, ineradicable conflicts of interest among individuals and groups. You think it’s in the interest of the rich and powerful to rule tyrannically and take away everyone else’s freedom, but they don’t because they’re too stupid or duped by foolish moral theories to realize this.

            If it’s in the interest of men to oppress women, then men should oppress women. And if it’s in the interest of women not to be oppressed, then they should resist. In such a conflict of interests, victory simply goes to the stronger. Both sides are acting correctly; they just have incompatible ends.

            However, I do not think that any such thing is the case. It is not in fact in the interests of men to oppress women. Both sides benefit from gender equality. Perhaps women benefit more (perhaps not!), but it’s a win-win bargain.

            In the same way, I think the existence both of political freedom for the poor and of income inequality is in the interests both of the rich and of the poor. If it were in the interest of the poor to overthrow capitalism and seize the means of production, then I would say they should do it. And if it were in the interest of the rich to stop them, then I would say they also should do that. But in fact, I think political and economic freedom is in the interest of both.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            “Okay, yes…but the expected value is all you have to go by. The fact that you can lose out from deals is not a reason to refrain from making all deals.”

            I am not sayign all egoists would refrain from all ethical contracts. I am saying that more egoism means less sticking to ethcial rules, one way and another, and so introduces a PP problem.

            “If you can gain on net by breaking the agreement when it turns out not to be in your interest, then egoism would say you should break it. But this is very rarely the case, since agreements typically come with enforcement mechanisms and reputational effects.”

            Again, you are appelaing to what is typical in socieities imbued with altrusim, statism and other evil things.

            “I am not denying that you should predate if and when it is prudent. ”

            Then do you concede the point that egoism, as a metaethical theory, is unable to support common object-level ethics, such as “stealing is wrong”.

            “I am denying that it in fact is prudent.”

            But that if free riding on social arrangements made by people you believe to have the wrong ethics. And would vanish if they converted to the right ethics. Is that not a problem?

            “Fear of punishment is not the only egoistic concern. The fact is that serfdom or slavery is not in the interest even of the master class. ”

            “They are in a better position than the oppressed class, but the abolition of slavery or serfdom benefits everyone because it’s a much more efficient mode of production.”

            From behind a veil, it might make sense to bet on a system which is better for everybody. But in front of it, you might be able to see that you personally would do better from predation that from a fair share of societal wealth.

            Remember that people are not necessarily motivated by absolute wealth alone. People can also be motivated by status, sex and sadism.

            A hierarchical, deatheater society might not deliver the absolute wealth, but it can deliver huge wealth differentials, harems full of concubines and dungeons full of enemies..things you can’t get in a liberal democracy for any price.

            “The basic disagreement between us seems to be that you apparently think that there are large, ineradicable conflicts of interest among individuals and groups. You think it’s in the interest of the rich and powerful to rule tyrannically and take away everyone else’s freedom, but they don’t because they’re too stupid or duped by foolish moral theories to realize this.”

            The kinds of societies I am talking about have happened over and over. The deatheaters want to go back to something that used to exist. Hence theri name..the real, unspeakable one.

            “If it’s in the interest of men to oppress women, then men should oppress women.”

            According to EE. But you can’t argue the correctness of EE on the assumption of EE as a premise.

            If EE, as metaethics, leads to the grossly unintuitive object-level ethics, it is wrong as metaethics. That’s the only way of judging metaethics anyone has. You can’t use scientific empiricism.

            “However, I do not think that any such thing is the case. It is not in fact in the interests of men to oppress women. Both sides benefit from gender equality. Perhaps women benefit more (perhaps not!), but it’s a win-win bargain.”

            From behind a veil, you should choose equality, because then you won’t end up as an oppressed, exploited woman if you end up as a woman. But EE is not based on being behind a veil, and the people who know they would win in an unfair, unequal society, would know that they would be a winner, and have no selfish reason to care about the losers.

            You are still trying to ride two horses. These “everyone is better off” arguments aren’t EE.

            “In the same way, I think the existence both of political freedom for the poor and of income inequality is in the interests both of the rich and of the poor. ”

            What’s that got to do with EE?

            “If it were in the interest of the poor to overthrow capitalism and seize the means of production, then I would say they should do it.”

            That’s an implication of EE, but not a defence of EE. Socieities that discourage violent revolution thorugh egalitarianism, democratic representation, and so on are better
            for everyone, but they can’t be justified by EE, and Rand doens’t like them. EE just can’t get enough people to sign the contract.

            “But in fact, I think political and economic freedom is in the interest of both.”

            Political and economic freedom — certainly *negative* freedom — isn’t enough to stop class conflict, because there is no mechanism to prevent the losers in society being forced down to a postion of desperation. Objectivists amd libertarians have nothing to offer to adress that problem except hopes.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ TheAncientGeek:

            Then do you concede the point that egoism, as a metaethical theory, is unable to support common object-level ethics, such as “stealing is wrong”.

            Not at all. It disputes the idea that stealing is absolutely, intrinsically wrong. If you’re Jean Valjean, you can steal a loaf of bread.

            But it certainly supports the idea that stealing, as a general rule, is wrong. Can you look at the life of the average criminal and say it’s a huge success that any self-interested person should want to imitate?

            But that if free riding on social arrangements made by people you believe to have the wrong ethics. And would vanish if they converted to the right ethics. Is that not a problem?

            I do not think they would vanish, as I think these social arrangements are quite practical from an egoistic viewpoint. If they would vanish, that doesn’t refute egoism. It just means I should shut up about it and practice egoism covertly while preaching altruism overtly.

            Yet even if promoting egoism has “negative externalities”, the entertainment value I get from discussing it is unlikely to be outweighed by the minuscule chance that I will inadvertently convince someone to go out and rob people—and become one of his victims. I’m not that influential.

            From behind a veil, it might make sense to bet on a system which is better for everybody. But in front of it, you might be able to see that you personally would do better from predation that from a fair share of societal wealth.

            You “might“. What I am disputing is that you will.

            Remember that people are not necessarily motivated by absolute wealth alone. People can also be motivated by status, sex and sadism.

            A hierarchical, deatheater society might not deliver the absolute wealth, but it can deliver huge wealth differentials, harems full of concubines and dungeons full of enemies..things you can’t get in a liberal democracy for any price.

            Are those things actually in the interest of anyone? Do they promote people’s ultimate happiness? I do not think so.

            The kinds of societies I am talking about have happened over and over. The deatheaters want to go back to something that used to exist. Hence theri name..the real, unspeakable one.

            Yes, these societies used to exist. And did the elites of those societies live better than the common man of today? I dispute it.

            According to EE. But you can’t argue the correctness of EE on the assumption of EE as a premise.

            I’m not arguing for ethical egoism on those grounds. I’m saying that those conclusions are a straightforward, unproblematic inference from the truth of egoism and certain empirical premises. I am saying that I disagree with those premises.

            If EE, as metaethics, leads to the grossly unintuitive object-level ethics, it is wrong as metaethics. That’s the only way of judging metaethics anyone has. You can’t use scientific empiricism.

            I am not an intuitionist. I completely disagree with that methodology.

            You don’t say: “murder is wrong, blasphemy is wrong, and sodomy is wrong; what ethical theory explains why all those are wrong?” That is completely backwards. Ethics consists of judgments, not direct observations. The object-level conclusions are necessarily less certain that the meta-level standards upon which those object-level judgments are based.

            If the object-level judgments seem “unintuitive”, it’s because people “intuitions” are the result of the application of other, unconsciously-held standards. It doesn’t mean those standards are correct.

            From behind a veil, you should choose equality, because then you won’t end up as an oppressed, exploited woman if you end up as a woman. But EE is not based on being behind a veil, and the people who know they would win in an unfair, unequal society, would know that they would be a winner, and have no selfish reason to care about the losers.

            You are still trying to ride two horses. These “everyone is better off” arguments aren’t EE.

            Life is not zero-sum.

            What I am saying is that a gender equality is better even for the “winners” under inequality. Not that the average is better. But that equality is a Pareto-improvement, or can be made that way through bargaining.

            I do not, as a matter of fact, think that I would be better off as a man with a harem full of slave concubines. If you think that you would be…frankly, I think that reflects more on your character than on mine.

            What’s that got to do with EE?

            That it’s not in the interest of a given poor person to try to overthrow the rich and steal their wealth?

            That’s an implication of EE, but not a defence of EE. Socieities that discourage violent revolution thorugh egalitarianism, democratic representation, and so on are better
            for everyone, but they can’t be justified by EE, and Rand doens’t like them. EE just can’t get enough people to sign the contract.

            You just keep asserting this. Why can’t they “get enough people to sign the contract”?

            Political and economic freedom — certainly *negative* freedom — isn’t enough to stop class conflict, because there is no mechanism to prevent the losers in society being forced down to a postion of desperation. Objectivists amd libertarians have nothing to offer to adress that problem except hopes.

            The mechanism that keeps the “losers” from being pushed down into a “position of desperation” is that it’s not in the interest of the “winners” to do so.

            The world is not zero-sum. It is not in the interest of some people to go and enslave/exterminate others.

            You just keep asserting ever-more absurd things about egoism, apparently with the idea that egoism is whatever any opponent believes it is. You haven’t even taken back your incredible assertion that egoism means infinite time preference.

            In any case, saying that I’m wrong about the empirical facts and that really it is in the interest of the rich and powerful to oppress everyone else is not an argument against egoism. And I am not arguing for egoism by saying that it isn’t. Whether “predation” is “prudent” is completely irrelevant to the metaethical status of egoism.

          • blacktrance says:

            This whole “egoism implies reactionary dystopia” argument reminds me of “If God doesn’t exist, then murder is okay”, and is equally mistaken.

            Also, egoism is an ethical theory, not a metaethical one. Metaethics is about the nature of moral properties and judgments, and ethical theory is about the principles of what one ought to do.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            Also, egoism is an ethical theory, not a metaethical one. Metaethics is about the nature of moral properties and judgments, and ethical theory is about the principles of what one ought to do.

            No, egoism is metaethical in that it says what makes something good is that it’s in your interest.

            Within that, you have different egoistic ethics. For instance, Objectivism vs. Epicureanism asceticism. Both are egoistic, but they have very different ideas of what, specifically, one’s interest consists of and how to achieve it.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @Vox

            Views about what makes things wrong are not necessarily metaethical views, as philosophers normally conceive metaethics. Thinking that what makes adultery wrong is that it is the breaking of a promise is not taking a metaethical stand. Any first order moral view is going to say that what makes things wrong is that they violate the view’s preferred moral principles, and egoism is a view about the most general moral principle. You could hold egoism together with just about any metaethical view – you could be a noncognitivist egoist, an intuitionist nonnaturalist egoist, a naturalist egoist. Now, if you made the claim that the property of wrongness and the property of failing to maximize the agent’s own welfare are the very same property, or that “wrong” just means “fails to maximize the agent’s interests” then you would be engaging in metaethics. But not all egoists need be committed to those claims.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            @Vox

            “Not at all. It disputes the idea that stealing is absolutely, intrinsically wrong. If you’re Jean Valjean, you can steal a loaf of bread.”

            Egoism doens’t support tonly he standard exceptions to standard rules either.

            Not only can poor Valjean steal a loaf, Baron Bolligrew can.. indeed should!..”wring form the horny hands of peasants their vile trash”.

            “But it certainly supports the idea that stealing, as a general rule, is wrong. Can you look at the life of the average criminal and say it’s a huge success that any self-interested person should want to imitate?”

            That’s not the case that needs to be answered. The hard case is people whose actual position in society is dominant, and therefore have no motivation to get into equitable arrangements with weaker individuals. They can..indeed should!…predate, and being dominant positon, they can set up legal and social mechanisms that allow them to get away with it. Baron Bolligrew’s theft is taxation his rapine “droit de seingeur”, and so on.

            “I do not think they would vanish, as I think these social arrangements are quite practical from an egoistic viewpoint. If they would vanish, that doesn’t refute egoism. It just means I should shut up about it and practice egoism covertly while preaching altruism overtly.”

            How very deatheaterish! You’re really helping me out here.

            “Yet even if promoting egoism has “negative externalities”, the entertainment value I get from discussing it is unlikely to be outweighed by the minuscule chance that I will inadvertently convince someone to go out and rob people—and become one of his victims. I’m not that influential.”

            The issue is the relation between ethics and politics. If the powerful made the kind of egoistic calculation you are recommending they would set up a tyranny or an oligarchy, not the required minanarcho-capitalist society.

            Compare with Marxism. It promises equality, but leads to anything but.

            (Perhaps we could avoid a repetition of the Marxism farrago this time around..the way that hordes of early twentieth century intellectuals enthused about a political system that looked great on paper, but didn’t work in practice for reasons which were weirldy understandable in hindsight. Perhaps the worlds intellectuals coudl do the world a service, this time around, by shooting down libertarianism before someone creates widespread misery by putting it into practice, ie Communism 2.0)

            “From behind a veil, it might make sense to bet on a system which is better for everybody. But in front of it, you might be able to see that you personally would do better from predation that from a fair share of societal wealth.

            You “might“. What I am disputing is that you will.”

            If you didn’t, in practice, you wouldn’t be an egoist in practice. That is like saying a Marxist society can work so long as people only pay lip service to Marxism and actually do something different. It proves too much, if it proves anything.

            “Are those things [harems and dungons] actually in the interest of anyone? Do they promote people’s ultimate happiness? I do not think so.”

            They might not be in line with some objective ethics..but then altruism might be the Objectively True ethics, as many think, but Randians don’t.

            I said earlier that Rand makes diversions into both contractualism and virtue theory. Saying that egoism is actually following some subset of your values that is somehow more moral or healthy than the aveage value is virtue theory. You are saying egoists should only follow their virtuous value and not their vicious ones…in contrast to you previous pronouncements that egoists should predate when they can get away with it.

            Virtue is, incidentally, not the same thing as long-termism. Many a tyrant thas died happily at an advanced age. A criminal is someone whose predation is against the law, a tyrant is somehow who both predates and defines the law.

            “Yes, these societies used to exist. And did the elites of those societies live better than the common man of today? I dispute it.”

            I have already answered that point, several times over. The elites may
            1) care more about relative than absolute wealth, and 2) be able to live better, because they can torture their enemies and rape their servants, entertainments which are not available in current society.

            “I am not an intuitionist. I completely disagree with that methodology.”

            What’s the alternative? How can you tell, in an intutiion-free way that egoism is correct ethics?

            “You don’t say: “murder is wrong, blasphemy is wrong, and sodomy is wrong; what ethical theory explains why all those are wrong?” That is completely backwards. ”

            You have no choice but to do something like that, because there is no other way of judging the correctness of premises. it’s not a great situation, and if there was a better way of dioing things, we would have solved ethics long ago.

            “Ethics consists of judgments, not direct observations. ”

            How do you observe goodness?

            “The object-level conclusions are necessarily less certain that the meta-level standards upon which those object-level judgments are based.”

            Which are what? You can be fairly certain that somethign does or does nto follow a premise, but how do you justify the premises?

            “If the object-level judgments seem “unintuitive”, it’s because people “intuitions” are the result of the application of other, unconsciously-held standards. It doesn’t mean those standards are correct.”

            What makes anything correct? How do you gert to conclusion without using unjustified premises? Show your working!

            “What I am saying is that a gender equality is better even for the “winners” under inequality. Not that the average is better.”

            Why? Don’t just make the claim, justifiy it.

            “I do not, as a matter of fact, think that I would be better off as a man with a harem full of slave concubines.”

            Doesn’t generalise. It’s been popular enough, where men could get away with it.

            “If you think that you would be…frankly, I think that reflects more on your character than on mine.”

            No, no,. no, this isn’t about who is personally virtuous. It’s about three things:

            1) Is Rand ethics correct?

            2) Is Rands politics correct?

            3) Does Rands politics follow form rand’s ethics?

            It’s a truism that all sorts of ethical and political systems can be made to work so long as everyone involved is a saint. But your given timber is crooked.

            “You just keep asserting this. Why can’t they “get enough people to sign the contract”?”

            Because it is not in the interest of enough of them. To pu it another way, it is much easier to make the average person better off than it is to make everyone better off.

            Actually, it doens’t matter how many people defect, it matters how strong they are. The people you most need to get into an ethical contract are the strongest, as they can do the most damage, but they are also those with the least to gain from one.
            (or at least, form entering one with the weak. They have plenty to gain from entering a contract with the equally strong. hence contracts where women are nothing but the property of men, and men agree to respect each others property)

            This has been tested in the laboratory of history. When the Cavaliers created Southern society, they were starting from a blank slate. And what they did was to create something even more unequal than English society, with slavery added to servitude.

            Political and economic freedom — certainly *negative* freedom — isn’t enough to stop class conflict, because there is no mechanism to prevent the losers in society being forced down to a postion of desperation. Objectivists amd libertarians have nothing to offer to adress that problem except hopes.

            “The mechanism that keeps the “losers” from being pushed down into a “position of desperation” is that it’s not in the interest of the “winners” to do so.”

            So it never happens? It is actually in the interests of winners to push people down to a millimetre before the point of rebellion. Some of them have misjudged that. Some of them have judged it finely, creatign long-lasting misery. And some of them have decided that that kind of brinksmanship is a bad idea, leading them to adopt liberal … not libertatian values.

            Liberalism, social democracy, can offer a no-revolution guarantee, because it has mechanisms in place to prevent revolts. Libertarianism, by contrast, runs on the hope that the winners will adopt the second solution I mentioned, even though history clearly shows the the probability of their dosing so is significantly less than 1.

            “The world is not zero-sum. It is not in the interest of some people to go and enslave/exterminate others.”

            Human psychology is largelty propelled by status, which is zero sum. remember the problems with communis..the fact thta it assumes an unrealistic model of human nature?

            “Infinite time prefernce”

            You said “whenever”. Maybe you take that back.

            “In any case, saying that I’m wrong about the empirical facts”

            What emprical facts? The complete absence of tyrrany, oligarchy and patriarchy?

            “and that really it is in the interest of the rich and powerful to oppress everyone else is not an argument against egoism. ”

            It’s an argument against my wanting to live in such a society, when I am likely to be among the everybody else.

            if you had some kind of rock-solid proof of egoism, I suppose I would have to accept the consequences. But you don’t.

            “And I am not arguing for egoism by saying that it isn’t. Whether “predation” is “prudent” is completely irrelevant to the metaethical status of egoism.”

            Jusdging metaethics by its ethical consequences is the default in the absence of the really robust apriori argument that no one has.

          • blacktrance says:

            Philososphisticat:

            You could hold egoism together with just about any metaethical view – you could be a noncognitivist egoist, an intuitionist nonnaturalist egoist, a naturalist egoist.

            You couldn’t be a noncognitivist egoist because noncognitivism excludes normative ethics altogether. Ask the noncognitivist (or error theorist) egoist whether it’s true that one ought to act in one’s self-interest – they can’t honestly answer in the affirmative.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @Blacktrance

            You couldn’t be a noncognitivist egoist because noncognitivism excludes normative ethics altogether. Ask the noncognitivist (or error theorist) egoist whether it’s true that one ought to act in one’s self-interest – they can’t honestly answer in the affirmative.

            You can. To be an egoist, you just have to think that agents always ought to act in their own self-interest. You don’t also have to think that there’s some mind-independent fact involved. Noncognitivists still do first order ethics – they just have a particular view about what’s really going on underneath when they do so.

            Also, many of today’s sophisticated noncognitivists are happy to say not just that X is wrong, but that it’s true that x is wrong, and even perhaps that it’s a fact that x is wrong. That’s because they hold views about what it is to say something is true that don’t carry realist baggage. For instance, if you have a deflationary view about “true” such that to say “X is true” is just to assert “X”, then saying “it’s true that killing is wrong” is just the same as saying “killing is wrong” – i.e. it’s the expression of a noncognitive attitude.

            So the kind of intro-to-metaethics gloss on cognitivism and noncognitivism as “can moral claims be true or false?” turns out to be misleading.

          • blacktrance says:

            To be an egoist, you just have to think that agents always ought to act in their own self-interest. You don’t also have to think that there’s some mind-independent fact involved.

            If you define realism by mind-independence, yes, but I take realism to be the position that moral statements are truth-apt, some moral statements are true, and that the truth-maker of moral statements isn’t opinion – also, when you look at it closely, defining mind-independence in a way that cleanly separates realism from non-realism is difficult. Regardless of the position on mind-independent facts, though, one has to believe that moral statements can be true in order to subscribe to any normative theory, which definitely excludes noncognitivists and error theorists. By definition, non-cognitivists don’t think moral statements are truth-apt, so they can’t say that any ethical theory is true.

            As for the kind of application of “true” that’s used by deflationary noncognitivists as in your example, it gets away from substantive truths, e.g. “the cat is on the mat” is truth-apt in a way that “Boo murder!” or “Don’t murder!” isn’t, and the distinguishing feature of noncognitivists is that they think that moral claims are like the latter, even if they choose to use terminology in a way that makes them say that they think that moral claims can be true. People who believe that a normative theory is true believe it in the first sense.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @Blacktrance

            If you want to reserve “egoism” and “utilitarianism” for realist views, that’s fine. They’re terms of art and nothing important rests on them, so use them how you like. But that’s not the way most philosophers use the terms. R.M. Hare, for instance, is famously a noncognitivist utilitarian. People have even argued that Mill was a noncognitivist. Substantive normative theories are taken to be compatible with either realist or noncognitivist metaethics.

            Also, noncognitivists who accept accounts of truth that allow them to say moral claims are true aren’t just choosing to use the word “true” with that meaning. They think that’s how “true” actually works, when ordinary folk and normative ethicists not engaged in metaethics are talking, even if they don’t realize it. You may think that they’re wrong about that, but that’s a substantive dispute.

          • blacktrance says:

            If there are any terms I’m using in a non-standard way, it’s “realism”/”non-cognitivism”/etc, rather than “utilitarianism” and “egoism”, because after a brief look at Hare (I’m not that familiar with him), I’m inclined to classify him as a realist even though he’s the classic example of a prescriptivist.

      • suntzuanime says:

        If you actually believe in moral truth, it doesn’t seem like appeal to consequences is actually a fallacy. Oftentimes we judge the truth of a proposition by looking at what that proposition implies and seeing if those implications seem likely to be true.

        Of course believing in moral truth is ridiculous.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          Are there other topics where you would be willing to say that something the majority of experts by any reasonable delineation of the term believe about something is not just false but ridiculous?

          I find people are weirdly confident about this stuff. Well, not weirdly, I guess. I also thought moral realism was obviously false before studying metaethics. In retrospect I’m embarrassed by it though.

          • Anon. says:

            I find people are weirdly confident about this stuff. Well, not weirdly, I guess. I also thought moral realism was obviously false before studying metaethics. In retrospect I’m embarrassed by it though.

            Go on, you can’t leave us hanging like that. What made you change your views?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Oh man, there are *so* many topics where I would be willing to say that something the majority of experts by any reasonable delineation of the term believe about something is not just false but ridiculous, lol

          • Philosophisticat says:

            >>>>Go on, you can’t leave us hanging like that. What made you change your views?

            I just found that the arguments against moral realism were much less compelling than I had thought. It’ll probably disappoint you, but it’s mostly a special case of “hey, philosophically contentious issues are genuinely hard, people haven’t just missed something obvious staring them in the face for thousands of years”.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            >>>Oh man, there are *so* many topics where I would be willing to say that something the majority of experts by any reasonable delineation of the term believe about something is not just false but ridiculous, lol

            Ah, well that explains it.

          • Anon. says:

            the arguments against moral realism were much less compelling than I had thought

            This implies realism-by-default, and realism as something that needs to be argued against. But clearly this is a Russell’s Teapot situation: anti-realism should be your default and realism needs to be argued for.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Anon – I don’t think I agree with you about ‘defaults’, but setting that aside, I’m not claiming that realism is true, or that I was convinced to be a realist because arguments against realism weren’t as compelling as I thought. I was convinced that realism wasn’t obviously false because the arguments against realism weren’t as compelling as I thought.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Economics. Nutrition. Climate <ducking and running>.

          • onyomi says:

            Is there a name for the bias which prevents people reaching a conclusion the implication of which is that they and all their colleagues should go home and do something else?

          • Alliteration says:

            Green Anon. says “This implies realism-by-default, and realism as something that needs to be argued against. But clearly this is a Russell’s Teapot situation: anti-realism should be your default and realism needs to be argued for.”
            Considering that throughout history, moral realism is far more common than anti-realism*, it appears that human intuition favours moral realism.

            Russell’s Teapot is based on human intuition about the existence of physical objects.

            It seems that we should believe morals intuition over a trying to generalize physical-object intuition to morals; especially, because morals are so different from physical objects.

            *for example, most religions.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I’ve noticed that philosophers seem unusually reliant on the idea of consensus when it comes to moral realism. Just another reason for me to suspect something is wrong with it. Why are philosophers so obsessed with the idea of intuition when they pick and choose which intuitions they believe we should listen to?

          • Anon. says:

            Intuition isn’t magic. Unless you have evidence that intuition is better at finding the truth than systematic reason and/or empiricism, we can dismiss that argument (and your intuition) out of hand.

            And anyway, the teapot isn’t about intuition, it’s about making claims and then shifting the burden of proof to the anti- position.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Moral realism doesn’t clearly lead to the Russels Teapot problem since it doesn’t clearly require any additional entities.

            Before ditching intuition wholesale, consider the role of intuitive appeal in selecting mathematical axioms.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            “Intuition isn’t magic. Unless you have evidence that intuition is better at finding the truth than systematic reason and/or empiricism, we can dismiss that argument (and your intuition) out of hand.”

            There are a few things wrong with this. First, Using intuitions isn’t an alternative to using ‘systematic reason’ or empiricism. Our judgments about what systematic reason or empirical evidence supports are themselves at bottom motivated by intellectual seemings, i.e. intuitions. People who support the use of intuitions, moreover, don’t say we should do so at the expense of reason. Reason tells us what to do in light of our perceptual and intellectual seemings. So intuitions are both the grounds of and the material for our application of systematic reason.

            Second, the suggestion that we must dismiss some faculty out of hand if we cannot first (noncircularly) show that it is a reliable guide to truth leads you to skepticism. Try showing that perception is a reliable guide to the truth without appealing to any of the outputs of perception. It’s pretty hard.

          • Michael Huemer’s book Ethical Intuitionism is an explanation by a professional philosopher of how moral intuitions can be used as a basis for moral realism, which some here may find of interest. His view is pretty close to mine, although much more detailed.

          • Samedi says:

            @onyomi

            “Is there a name for the bias …”

            Good question. There should be. Closest I can find is the “System justification/status quo bias”. This doesn’t truly capture the phenomenon you are describing but it’s at least in the neighborhood. Maybe add a bit of “sunk cost” and we are closer still.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I just want to point out that moral realism is not the same as “intuitionism”.

            Moral realism is only the idea that “moral claims do purport to report facts and are true if they get the facts right. Moreover, they hold, at least some moral claims actually are true.”

            Even subjectivism—the idea that what’s good for you is just whatever say it is—is a realist moral theory. The moral claim “this is good for me”, under that theory, reports a fact: I say it’s good. If I don’t say it’s good, it’s not good for me, so the claim is false.

            Moral naturalism—which is what I subscribe to—is the type of moral realism opposed to moral intuitionism. (Subjectivism actually is a type of naturalism, for that matter, just a very empty one.) Intuitionism says that there are some kind of special, fundamentally moral facts. Naturalism says that moral or evaluative facts reduce to, i.e. are another way of talking about, descriptive facts.

            Under naturalism, moral facts are just as real as facts in, say, civil engineering. There are no facts fundamentally, irreducibly “civil-engineerial” in nature. It all reduces to physics. But that doesn’t mean civil engineering isn’t real, or that question in it have no factual answers. Precisely the opposite is true: the fact that civil engineering reduces to facts outside that domain is why there are objective answers in it.

            While I have large disagreements with the details of her theory, Ayn Rand asked the right question for a naturalistic theory of ethics: what facts (i.e. descriptive facts) give rise to the concepts of “evaluation” or “ethics”? It is the fact that man desires certain ends, ends which cannot be achieved automatically but that require the pursuit of a certain course of action. What contributes to man’s ends is “valuable” or “good”; what detracts from them is “bad” or “evil”. (She goes on to argue that the only consistent end is one’s own survival, which is the part I disagree with.)

            The “is-ought problem” is supposed to be the big problem with moral naturalism. It’s definitely the favorite weapon of intuitionists like Huemer. The idea is supposed to be: no matter how many descriptive facts you add up, they will never imply an evaluative fact. But fundamentally, the is-ought problem is no different from the “physics-engineering problem”. Namely, no matter how many physical facts you add up, they can never imply an “engineerial” fact.

            Does this disprove engineering, or establish that it must be founded upon intuition? What’s the fallacy there? Obviously, it’s just that engineering is just defined as the study of certain physical facts in a particular context. (If you think engineering is too quasi-ethical, you can do the same with chemical facts or geological facts.) Whether to call them engineering facts is a human decision, but that doesn’t make the facts subjective or unreal.

            And the same goes for ethics: whether to call certain descriptive facts “evaluative” or “ethical” is a human decision, made to suit human purposes. But there is no mysterious gap which forces us to wonder how a descriptive fact could possibly imply an evaluative fact, as allegedly totally different kinds of facts. According to moral naturalism, the evaluative is a subcategory of the descriptive.

            (The naturalistic definition I have in mind is: “the good, for an individual, is that which tends to maximize that individual’s own happiness.” But I’m not going to argue for that here.)

            In any case, I am a realist about naturalistic moral facts (and I think everyone else should be, too—even if they think I’m wrong on the standard or think there is no objective standard). I’m an error theorist about Michael Huemer’s intuitive sort of “fundamentally moral” facts: I think he is making intelligible claims that are all false.

          • “The naturalistic definition I have in mind is: “the good, for an individual, is that which tends to maximize that individual’s own happiness.””

            How do you demonstrate from the facts of physical reality that one ought to act in the way that maximizes one’s happiness?

            That’s Hume’s is/ought problem.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            How do you demonstrate from the facts of physical reality that one ought to act in the way that maximizes one’s happiness?

            What does “ought to” mean? That’s the problem.

            The intuitionist assumes that “ought to” names some mysterious property which is not reducible to descriptive facts, and which we discover by a special faculty of “moral sense” or some equivalent.

            All I am saying is: I propose to define the word “ought” such that whatever maximizes one’s happiness is what one “ought” to do. It’s a useful conceptual shorthand, no different in my view from saying: I propose to define the word “table” to stand for “a piece of furniture consisting of a smooth flat slab fixed on legs”.

            There’s no problem of “how do you demonstrate from the physical facts of reality that such a structure has to be called a ‘table’?” Does anyone really think there’s something special about whether an object is a table, such that the question can only be answered by intuition?

            I’m not trying to say this is how everyone uses the word “good”, but they just don’t realize it or something. I don’t think everyone uses the word “good” in any one consistent way at all. It’s a vague, fuzzy concept. Like “cool” or “funky”. There’s no faculty of intuition that tells you whether something is cool or funky; you can’t point concretely to the essence of “funk” because there isn’t one.

            Naturalism—as I see it—inherently involves revisionism in regard to terminology. And there’s always a question of whether one should go with revisionism or elimitivism: if I say we should use the word “good” in this way as opposed to the vague way, am I saying goodness is this other thing, or am I saying goodness doesn’t exist?

            But I think it’s no different from the problem of revising the term “planet”. In Greek, it means “wanderer”, and they were conceived totally differently—sometimes as gods, sometimes as objects embedded in crystalline spheres. The Greeks were wrong about what planets were. But should we say that science has proven that planets don’t exist, or that planets are really something different?

            I think it’s helpful to speak of happiness as being the standard of the good because it illuminates more than it misleads. When I say it’s good, I intend most of the connotations that go along with the concept “good” as commonly used: I intend to praise it, recommend it, cheer for it, and so on. Whereas if I said something like “I don’t believe in morality; I am beyond good and evil,” it would connote that I don’t intend to judge or criticize behavior like lying, stealing, or killing—or that I think Hitler did nothing wrong, or something like that. (Moral error theory, as a matter of fact, does say that Hitler did nothing wrong—but also nothing right.)

            As a side note, to correct a misconception I saw somewhere: error theory does not deny the law of excluded middle. That law says everything is either A or non-A. But they say: murder is either wrong or non-wrong, and either right or non-right. And they conclude: murder is both non-wrong and non-right. Just as everyone else thinks the existence of Pluto is both non-wrong and non-right. This doesn’t contradict the law of excluded middle.

            Otherwise, the law of excluded middle would prove that everything is either red or green, since they are opposites. No, some things are non-red and non-green; they aren’t the only possibilities.

            By the way, I just want to add that I’m not a materialist. Naturalism says that evaluative facts reduce to descriptive facts, not necessarily that those descriptive facts are physical facts.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            @Vox

            Cashing out moral norms in terms of non moral norms only gets you halfway to a closure of the is-ought gap . You need to explain where obligation comes from. Non moral shoulds tend be conditional… if you want to build a bridge that doesn’t fall down, you should do so and so.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ TheAncientGeek:

            Ah, but I think they are conditional. I only believe in hypothetical imperatives, not categorical imperatives.

            This is one area where I think Rand laid things out very well:

            The proper approach to ethics, the start from a metaphysically clean slate, untainted by any touch of Kantianism, can best be illustrated by the following story. In answer to a man who was telling her that she’s got to do something or other, a wise old Negro woman said: “Mister, there’s nothing I’ve got to do except die.”

            Reality confronts man with a great many “musts,” but all of them are conditional; the formula of realistic necessity is: “You must, if—” and the “if” stands for man’s choice: “—if you want to achieve a certain goal.” You must eat, if you want to survive. You must work, if you want to eat. You must think, if you want to work. You must look at reality, if you want to think—if you want to know what to do—if you want to know what goals to choose—if you want to know how to achieve them.

            […]

            In a rational ethics, it is causality—not “duty”—that serves as the guiding principle in considering, evaluating and choosing one’s actions, particularly those necessary to achieve a long-range goal. Following this principle, a man does not act without knowing the purpose of his action. In choosing a goal, he considers the means required to achieve it, he weighs the value of the goal against the difficulties of the means and against the full, hierarchical context of all his other values and goals. He does not demand the impossible of himself, and he does not decide too easily which things are impossible. He never drops the context of the knowledge available to him, and never evades reality, realizing fully that his goal will not be granted to him by any power other than his own action, and, should he evade, it is not some Kantian authority that he would be cheating, but himself.

            […]

            The disciple of causation faces life without inexplicable chains, unchosen burdens, impossible demands or supernatural threats. His metaphysical attitude and guiding moral principle can best be summed up by an old Spanish proverb: “God said: ‘Take what you want and pay for it.’” But to know one’s own desires, their meaning and their costs requires the highest human virtue: rationality.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Vox Imperatoris: I don’t think the is-ought problem in the simple form you describe is taken to be the biggest problem for moral naturalism. Most metaethicists these days will agree that “you can’t derive an ought from an is” is, taken literally, not really a special problem for naturalistic reduction of morality (rather than anything else). Rather, the slogan should be taken as elliptical for something more subtle about the way natural and moral facts are ‘just too different’, usually cashed out through some kind of internalism. I think you’re probably aware of this but I worry you’re giving the impression that objectors to moral naturalism are stupider and more easily refuted than they are.

            (Their main objection to your own view will probably be that by offering a reforming definition you’re changing the subject)

          • Anon. says:

            @Vox

            I don’t understand why you need realism for that.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Philosophisticat

            Our judgments about what systematic reason or empirical evidence supports are themselves at bottom motivated by intellectual seemings, i.e. intuitions.

            Really? My judgment that the sun having risen every day in the past supports my belief that the sun will rise tomorrow is “motivated” by an intellectual seeming? How so?

            Second, the suggestion that we must dismiss some faculty out of hand if we cannot first (noncircularly) show that it is a reliable guide to truth leads you to skepticism.

            On the other hand, the suggestion that we are entitled to trust the outputs of a faculty without any independent evidence that the faculty is reliable leads to dogmatism unlimited. “The crystal ball says you’ll win the lottery next week.” “How do you know that it’s trustworthy?” “Because the crystal ball said so!”

            @ Vox

            Even subjectivism—the idea that what’s good for you is just whatever say it is—is a realist moral theory.

            We’ve been over this before, Vox. Almost nobody thinks that. Virtually all definitions make belief in the mind- and language-independence of moral truth a requirement for being a realist. Think about what you would say to someone who told you that he believed that global warming was real, real because Katie thinks it to be. You’d say he was speaking in riddles, wouldn’t you? The same goes for moral realism.

            Moral naturalism—which is what I subscribe to—is the type of moral realism opposed to moral intuitionism.

            This is not really true; Moore-style intuitionism combines a non-naturalist moral ontology with the thesis that moral knowledge is acquired via intuition, but there are other forms of non-naturalism. Kant was a non-naturalist but not an intuitionist, for example.

            All I am saying is: I propose to define the word “ought” such that whatever maximizes one’s happiness is what one “ought” to do.

            This is not a realist view. Realism requires that moral truths be language-independent (see above), but prescriptive moral truths on your view will be true only by stipulative definition in the Vox-language.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @EarthlyKnight

            Really? My judgment that the sun having risen every day in the past supports my belief that the sun will rise tomorrow is “motivated” by an intellectual seeming? How so?

            Why think that induction is the rational way to form beliefs, rather than counterinduction (according to which the fact that the sun has risen every day in the past supports that it will not rise tomorrow)? Is it that induction has inductive support? But that’s circular, and by the same lights counterinduction has counterinductive support. For that matter, why think that it’s rational to believe things that are likely true rather than likely false? Or for more fun, see the ‘new riddle of induction’ about grue-like predicates. While of course it’s controversial, I think the lesson to draw from these problems of induction is that we accept induction rather than counterinduction, (and take our evidence to support green-like conclusions rather than grue-like conclusions) because induction just seems intuitively good and counterinduction seems intuitively stupid (or that those principles codify our intuitions about which particular judgments are good or stupid).

            On the other hand, the suggestion that we are entitled to trust the outputs of a faculty without any independent evidence that the faculty is reliable leads to dogmatism unlimited. “The crystal ball says you’ll win the lottery next week.” “How do you know that it’s trustworthy?” “Because the crystal ball said so!”

            I think you’re missing the dialectic. Anon’s comment suggested a principle that was supposed to explain why we can dismiss the output of intuition. I pointed out that the same principle tells us that we should be skeptical about perception. Assuming that skepticism about perception isn’t correct, that means the principle is wrong. I’m not claiming that there are no constraints on when we are entitled to trust a faculty. But “you need to independently show that the faculty is reliable first” isn’t it. Pointing out that “anything goes, always” is also a lousy rule doesn’t contradict anything I said. The challenge is to find a plausible principle that will tell us to reject our intuitions but not tell us to reject perception.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Behold, as I validly deduce a conclusion containing the verb “ought” from premises containing only the verb “is”!

            1. The cat is on the mat
            2. It is not the case that the cat is on the mat

            3. Therefore, you ought to donate your life savings to MIRI (1, 2, explosion)

            Prepare to be amazed, as I perform the same feat from no premises at all!


            1. The cat is on the mat or it is not the case that the cat is on the mat (LEM)
            2. Therefore, the cat is on the mat or it is not the case that the cat is on the mat or you ought to donate your life savings to MIRI (1, DI)

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            @Vox

            The obligatoriness of moral behaviour is required in the social context. You are required to behave morally unconditionally, irrespective of whatever else you are doing, and you cannot excuse yourself on the grounds that the laws of nature did not prevent you from stealing.

            You seem to think you have improved on Rand, but I am not seeing it. Rand needs to show that the individual good is the true moral good, and that the social or universal good isnt, which means she needs to write sentences comparing the one to the other. Notoriously, what she actually does is write sentences saying Man this and Man that, in other words sentences which are ambiguous between individual and group,….and you follow her in that.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anon.:

            I don’t understand why you need realism for that.

            What is this supposed to mean? Realism just is the view that ethical propositions are meaningful, can be right or wrong, and at least some of the time are true.

            @ Earthly Knight:

            We’ve been over this before, Vox. Almost nobody thinks that. Virtually all definitions make belief in the mind- and language-independence of moral truth a requirement for being a realist. Think about what you would say to someone who told you that he believed that global warming was real, real because Katie thinks it to be. You’d say he was speaking in riddles, wouldn’t you? The same goes for moral realism.

            Take it up with the authors of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, from which I quoted that definition. I’m not being idiosyncratic.

            If you want to, you can say that subjectivism is not a realist theory. That doesn’t affect my argument because I’m not advocating subjectivism.

            As for your global warming example, I’d say that’s a bad theory of global warming because the climatological features we care about in the world, to which we give the name “global warming”, are not determined by anyone’s subjective opinion. In just the same way that whether an action will promote happiness is not determined by subjective opinion.

            This is not really true; Moore-style intuitionism combines a non-naturalist moral ontology with the thesis that moral knowledge is acquired via intuition, but there are other forms of non-naturalism. Kant was a non-naturalist but not an intuitionist, for example.

            Fair enough. But in practice, “