Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

Open Thread 49.75

Not really sure where I’m going with this, but let’s try it.

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959 Responses to Open Thread 49.75

  1. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Scott, wat r u doin?

    Scott, staph.

  2. SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

    I think earlier you mentioned that the number of comments in the open threads was too high. Is your plan to combat this issue the opposite of the romantic “hard-to-get” strategy?

    • Inty says:

      You see, Commenters have a preset comment limit. Knowing their weakness, Scott sent wave after wave of his own threads at them, until they reached their limit and shut down.

    • Loquat says:

      I vaguely recall a few years ago reading studies on road usage that said building more roads to alleviate congestion didn’t work because usage would just expand to fill the new capacity. I feel like Scott’s just going to run into the same problem here.

      • Nornagest says:

        That sounds insane, at least as a general principle. Congestion could be the bottleneck to road use in certain situations, but it can’t possibly scale.

        • Mary says:

          The easier you make it to drive, the easier it is to decide to drive for more and more trivial reasons.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, but it can’t be that elastic. Driving takes time. How much time is the average driver willing to spend on the road per day? We’re bounded above at that point whether the time’s spent in traffic or hurtling down the left lane at eighty miles an hour, so I think we’re talking a factor of… maybe two, at the very most.

            And there do exist cities which aren’t very congested, so whatever ratio you need is attainable.

          • If you try to model it, the conclusion is that traffic increases, but not by enough to fully eliminate the gain.

            To see that, consider that if it did fully eliminate the gain, driving from point A to point B would be as costly as before, hence the same number of people would do it (putting aside unrelated changes such as population growth), hence the gain would not be eliminated.

            The supply of drivers is not perfectly elastic, which is what the argument requires. To get more, you have to lower the cost.

          • anonymous bosch says:

            It’ll always be somewhat annoying to drive because of fuel costs, wear and tear on the vehicle etc.

            But there’s no requirement that that be anywhere near a major factor.

          • I’m not sure how much congestion is driving for more and more trivial reasons and how much is the result of commuting– adding enough road space so that a longer commute is possible (though still awful) might affect decisions to drive in a way that’s different from driving for minor errands.

          • Matthias says:

            The solution to congestion is obviously a congestion charge first, more roads only second.

            (More roads are a way to raise more total congestion charge, though.)

        • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

          Use the peak vehicles per km^2 of road to find a sufficiently rural area that seems like it is not infrastructure bound. Then use the population density to scale the road density up to urban levels. If your km^2 of road per km^2 of land is significantly higher than 1, it is extremely safe to say that you can never build enough roads in a city to satisfy demand.

          People talking about these things are never talking about the North slope in Alaska, they implicitly mean cities or major highways.

          • Nornagest says:

            This will overestimate in proportion to how much the roads in the rural area you pick are under capacity. I think we’d have better luck graphing congestion against vehicles/mile of road for existing urban areas, or against density, and seeing if any patterns emerge.

          • “it is extremely safe to say that you can never build enough roads in a city to satisfy demand.”

            What does “satisfy demand” mean? Demand is quantity as a function of price.

          • Randall Randall says:

            @DavidFriedman

            While I don’t agree with the parent comment, I think it’s easy to steelman “satisfy demand” in this case to mean “lower congestion enough to bring congestion-related costs near zero”.

          • @Randall:

            I think the claim being discussed isn’t just that there are still some congestion costs after the road is expanded or a new road added but that congestion costs go back up to their previous level. That’s wrong for the reason I think I already sketched.

        • Bassicallyboss says:

          Apparently it scales quite a bit. One factor is that if you build a new highway, business will want to relocate adjacent to the new highway to take advantage of the traffic. But those business will also attract new customers who will naturally take the highway to get there. So highways in settled areas can create their own traffic, at least to a limited extent.

        • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

          I live in a very congested area, so I use the underground during rush hours.
          When the roads are emptier, like Sundays or at night, I gladly use my car.
          If there was less congestion at rush hour I would use my car more and that would actually be a return to a previous pattern because I used my car far more before my neighbourhood became a gridlocked nightmare.

          • But if enough people started using the road during rush hour to bring congestion costs back up to their previous level you would have no reason to do so. The new equilibrium has more people driving during rush hour but not enough more to bring congestion costs back up to where they were initially, because if they were back up there would not be more people driving during rush hour.

        • Adam says:

          Short run versus long run effect. People in a city aren’t just going to start driving four times as much if you build four times the surface area of road, or I guess more properly four times some throughput measure. However, new businesses and housing subdivisions will open there until the new roads are again congested.

          Obviously, in the limit you can just pave the entire unused surface area of a region and that doesn’t mean the whole population of Asia is going to later move there, so there is some upper bound.

      • I’ve read this too, but I wonder whether it’s not just due to a sort of bias that the most studied cases are exactly those cities that are growing, not the ones that solve the problems and achieve a steady state.

      • keranih says:

        In one or other of the Sprawl/Edge City type of books discussing the growth of suburbia in the 80’s and 90’s, there were two sourced bits of information – one was that there was an established limit to the distance Americans would walk rather than get into a car, and that malls were built to bend at this distance, so as to visually obscure how far the other end of the mall was. This got people to walk to the bend, and then on to the stores beyond.

        Secondly, that across human/Western/English history (I’m a bit unclear as to where they got this from) you could reliably measure worker commutes not in distance but in time. Forty-five minutes each way was the average maximum that people would tolerate traveling to work every day – whether that was walking or helicopter.

        Increasing the road capacity increases the average speed of transit. Faster commutes from point A means more people willing to move to point A. Rinse, lather, repeat.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        I’ve never been fond of this rule of thumb. Not because it isn’t true, or at least true-ish, but because it tends to be deployed as an argument against the morality of building the roads.

        To wit: the fundamental purpose of roads is not to eliminate traffic (if it was, the right thing to do would be to destroy all the roads; no roads, no traffic!) — it is to allow people to get where they want to go. Now that the road has been expanded, more people are getting where they want to go, so utility is increased.

        (Mapping this onto SSC open threads isn’t quite perfect, as the purpose of a SSC open thread isn’t (presumably) to allow the maximum number of people to post — it’s to foster an interesting discussion. Do more open threads support that purpose? I hve no idea.)

        • anonymous bosch says:

          This is an excellent point, but sometimes you’re trying to decrease traffic (b/c externalities.)

        • Ptoliporthos says:

          Exactly — Whenever I hear this argument deployed against a new road construction proposal I try to remind people that traffic jams are a sign of success! So many people want to live and do business in the area that the roads are full of people. That a new road should bring more people and business to the area is only an argument against it if you’re building it in some sort of nature preserve or bucolic gated community. Most major metropolitan areas are neither.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Given equal businesses, etc., a road is more useful on a per-traveller basis if it has no traffic jams than if it does.

          • Subbak says:

            Well, the true measure of success is if people are getting to the places they want to be. If you fail at city planning and people HAVE to use the road when it should be possible to use alternate mode of transportation (including living closer to places you want to be), then the roads will be crowded but it will still be worse than the situation in which people don’t use cars because most things are within walking/cycling distance or accessible with public transportation.

      • Fj says:

        The solution is to alternate frequent open threads with periods of few or none. Which would be equivalent to closing the new highway on Tuesdays, to discourage new users (who supposedly are limited by the minimum, not average traffic throughput), while still making everyone’s lives better for the rest of the week.

        With OTs there’s also the obvious evolutionary consequences. Breed a better kind of commenter through forced thrive/survive alternations!

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        The problem is that drivers do not pay for road access.

        If bread was handed out for free in unlimited quantities to everyone, we could never build enough bakeries either.

        If you price road access dynamically to keep traffic flowing well at all times, life in big cities will improve dramatically, and you also solve road financing!

        • Drivers pay for road access indirectly in gas taxes. The problem is that the price doesn’t depend on where and when they drive, and so doesn’t work as congestion pricing.

        • Subbak says:

          At some point you stop being hungry though. So you bakery analogy is dubious.

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            Once everybody is out driving, we would stop filling up roads too.

            Bread can be used for many other things than personal eating, and will be if it’s free.

            I vaguely remember an anecdote about bread was used as soccer balls in the USSR.

            Not that it really matters for the argument.

  3. Anon says:

    1000 MORE COMMENTS LETS DO THIS!!!

    • Acedia says:

      Hopefully! I mostly lurk but I never get tired of reading really smart people talking to each other about stuff. The complaints about too many comments are baffling to me.

  4. E. Harding says:

    This is self-promotion, but only a very tiny area of the U.S. has consistently voted for the small-government Presidential candidate when faced with the obvious success of the big-government incumbent:

    https://goo.gl/yhc3FK

    Any thoughts?

    • MugaSofer says:

      I can’t really tell what’s going on in that gif.

      • E. Harding says:

        Counties that voted FDR, 1936–>
        Counties that voted for FDR and Landon, but not Goldwater, 1936–>
        Full map for 1936–>
        Counties that voted for Landon, 1936–>
        Counties that voted for both Landon and Goldwater, 1936–>
        Counties that voted for both Landon and Goldwater, 1964–>
        Counties that voted for Goldwater, 1964–>
        Full map for 1964–>
        Counties that voted for Johnson and Goldwater, but not Landon, 1964–>
        Counties that voted for Johnson, 1964

        If anything, this is overestimating the number of counties that always vote for the small government candidate, as some of these are just places that have been Republican since Lincoln.

        • Saul Degraw says:

          But the Republican Party has not always been the party of small government. Lincoln was a Whig and the Whigs believed in federal spending. The GOP of Lincoln’s time also passed the Homestead Act and the Land-Grant College Act and then Reconstruction.

          NYC has also been a Democratic stronghold since the 1800s. During the Civil War, this led them to try and become their own independent city. Now it means that they are strongly on the liberal line.

          A more interesting question would be why some areas retain long partisan affinities even as the parties change positions and policies.

          • Pku says:

            Possibly those are the dominant areas who determine the party names, and the party changes of position reflect changes of position in those areas? (e.g. the democrats are primarily the party of New York, and their position is best summed up in the long term as “whatever New Yorkers think”.)

          • E. Harding says:

            Yes, in the 1860s the Republicans were, in some respects, the party of larger government (tariffs, reconstruction, etc.). Goldwater was definitely a small-government candidate, though, and so was Landon, relative to FDR.

            The longest-held political loyalties in the U.S. since the 1860s have been in Eastern Kentucky and in Tennessee. Eastern Kentucky contains both Jackson (solidly Republican since 1864) and Elliot (solidly Democratic since its founding) counties. Both are Trump/Sanders counties. However, the coal-mining area between these two has ricocheted from solidly Democratic in the 1970s to solidly Republican today.

    • Saul Degraw says:

      I honestly don’t think most people are committed ideologically to small-government and those that claim to be might be surprised by the results.

      For example, lots of rural voters in the West get very angry about federal control over land that can be used for ranching and extraction. They want it given back to the states but this might end up in less of the land being used for ranching and extraction because if you gave the federal land back to Oregon, it would be controlled by representatives of the major cities like Portland, Eugene, Salem, etc.

      • Nornagest says:

        You seem to be conflating “states’ rights” with “small government”. The ranchers might be, too, and in the case of federal land in the West they might even be right, but they are not the same thing.

        (I live in California. Here, less local control relative to state, or state control relative to federal, often means less oversight: for example, there’s a bill in the California legislature right now which would allow housing developers to escape certain types of local requirements, which are often very onerous, by matching a set of state-level criteria.)

    • Jill says:

      I guess you can decide to believe that candidates who didn’t win, were telling the truth when they said they intended to make government smaller. But does anyone know if there has ever been an ELECTED president, or even Congress member, who worked toward making government smaller. All the ones I can think of always tried to make government larger, including all of the Republicans who jawboned about small government while running for office.

      I guess it’s an appealing tale to tell, that someone runs for office in order to downsize their employer’s company i.e. the government. But I sure don’t see much evidence of people actually trying to do that, once in office– except for the current cases of GOP Congress members just trying to block and de-fund everything Obama wants to do. But that’s just party rivalry.

      Some people have plans to balance the federal budget, but they create magic asterisk budgets with magical savings that are supposed to materiaziize from unknown places.

      • Pku says:

        Not an american example, but Margaret Thatcher privatised a lot of things. Not sure if that’s exactly the same as downsizing though.

      • E. Harding says:

        The most obvious signs of a President’s ideology are in the Supreme Court picks. Reagan had Scalia. H.W. had Thomas. Clinton had Ginsburg. Bush had Alito. Obama had Sotomayor. There’s a clear pattern here.

        • Pku says:

          That’s one reason I’m upset over the current supreme court freeze – I was hoping that the ideological tension between president and senate might lead to them agreeing on a candidate for meta reasons instead of the candidate’s party affiliation.

          • Two problems with appointing federal judges at present:

            1. The increased role of government in many areas increases the amount at stake in getting a judge who supports your views.

            2. The abler a judge is, the more influence he has. So if you have to accept a judge proposed by a president of the other party, you try to make sure he isn’t a really able one.

          • Deiseach says:

            There are some who think it’s time to push hard now that the conservative majority is gone.

          • Urstoff says:

            The abler a judge is, the more influence he has. So if you have to accept a judge proposed by a president of the other party, you try to make sure he isn’t a really able one.

            Is that how we ended up with Alito and Sotomayor?

          • It’s part of how we didn’t end up with Bork. Posner probably hasn’t been considered for other reasons, but I wouldn’t give much chance of Easterbrook or Kozinski being nominated by a Republican president, let alone confirmed.

          • Outis says:

            It seems to me that the Supreme Court is the weakest part of the democratic order in America. The “living document” interpretation of the Constitution is just not the Constitution at all; it’s just a group of nine people, who serve for life, giving themselves the power to override or replace the role of representative bodies, with no basis in the actual written law. Many decisions which are good on the object level are not based in the constitution, and were not the Supreme Court’s to make.

            And now liberals want to do more of that? They think they’ve shown restraint so far? God help us. Why even have elections any more, when all the real power is in an unelected council of 9?

            tl;dr: the Supreme Court should be the ultimate arbiter of meta-level rules, yet liberals want to turn it into the ultimate object-level player. To me, that destroys the raison d’être of the Supreme Court itself, as well as any pretense of democratic rule in America. When I think of that, I honestly start thinking that Trump is the best choice left for America. Then I weep.

          • onyomi says:

            The problem with the theory of checks and balances is that different branches of the same federal government have many incentives to work together to increase each others’ power and little incentive to try to limit each others’ power.

            Sure, if you manage to get someone idealistic in there they might stand on principle some of the time, but there’s every incentive to just act as enabler for your party’s agenda. Moreover, the president and legislators have little incentive to nominate or approve anyone who will limit their power and/or try to decide every case on its nonpartisan merits, every incentive to nominate and approve someone whom they expect to consistently enable their agenda.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            The “living document” interpretation of the Constitution is just not the Constitution at all; it’s just a group of nine people, who serve for life, giving themselves the power to override or replace the role of representative bodies, with no basis in the actual written law. Many decisions which are good on the object level are not based in the constitution, and were not the Supreme Court’s to make.

            As far as I can tell, no modern supreme court justice has actually adhered to an interpretive doctrine which defers to the meaning of the constitution at the time it was ratified. The framers of the 14th amendment never intended it to forbid segregation or anti-miscegenation laws, so a bona fide originalist would have to believe that Brown and Loving were wrongly decided. Similarly, the framers of the second amendment understood arms to be flintlock pistols and muskets, the framers of the fourth amendment could not have intended it to apply to phones or computers, and the framers of the eight amendment evidently did not consider flogging and the stocks cruel or unusual. The alternative to a living constitution offered by conservative jurists is really a constitution that died in the 1970s.

          • “Similarly, the framers of the second amendment understood arms to be flintlock pistols and muskets”

            I don’t think that example works. For one thing, there were arms other than firearms at the time. More generally, since they said “arms” not “flintlock firearms,” they were talking about whatever things fit that category, not just whatever things they were familiar with did.

            On “cruel and unusual punishment,” “cruel” looks like a fixed category but “unusual” depends on what is currently usual and so can change over time.

            I agree that a lot of modern constitutional doctrine doesn’t fit original intent. The question is whether that is a good thing, or whether, when attitudes changed, the Constitution should have been amended rather than “interpreted.”

          • Anonymous says:

            The question is whether that is a good thing, or whether, when attitudes changed, the Constitution should have been amended rather than “interpreted.”

            I find it very striking that at least among those I’ve met, the liberal argument against a proper amendment process is invariably “but half the states would have refused to cooperate and ratify those amendments and so we wouldn’t have had all the stuff we wanted today if we’d followed those rules, therefore judicial activism is a good thing”.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Samuel Johnson has “arms” as “weapons of offence, or armour of defence.” If we restrict this to weapons available at the time, we get flintlock pistols and muskets (and, as you suggest, a nice assortment of blades). If we don’t, the second-amendment protects our right to own doomsday weapons. Neither seems quite acceptable.

          • ” If we don’t, the second-amendment protects our right to own doomsday weapons. Neither seems quite acceptable.”

            The implication isn’t that “arms” in the Constitution doesn’t include atomic bombs but that the invention of atomic bombs might be a reason to amend Article II. The question then is whether the amendment procedure in the original document is a better or worse approach than having Supreme Court justices amend the constitution by interpreting it to say what they think it should say.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It should be noted that strictly speaking nuclear weapons are not “Arms”. Arms are the implements of individual combat.

            Strategic weapons and support equipment such as siege engines, and their modern equivalents (nuclear bombs, and aircraft carriers) are ordnance.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            hlynkagc:

            I have heard this claim before. What is your source for it? The Johnson dictionary I cited says nothing about excluding ordnance, or individual combat. (What makes something a weapon of “individual combat,” anyway? Would a shoulder-mounted nuclear missile launcher count?).

          • Psmith says:

            If we don’t, the second-amendment protects our right to own doomsday weapons.

            Ayup.

            Neither seems quite acceptable.

            Maybe not to you….

            (Shitposting aside, James Madison explicitly cited the Second Amendment as justifying the private ownership of cannon-armed warships in a letter of marque and reprisal, IIRC.).

          • suntzuanime says:

            Arms are any weapon you cannot hug a child with.

          • Anonymous says:

            Isn’t the intent of that clause, “to put a check on government power and give the citizens ability to revolt against tyranny”? I might be misremembering things, but that’s the impression I got. Under that impression, I’d say that the right involves any and all weapons capable of challenging government power.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’d say that the right involves any and all weapons capable of challenging government power

            Why “capable of” instead of “necessary to”?

          • E. Harding says:

            “I might be misremembering things, but that’s the impression I got.”

            -The point was to prevent the need for tyrannical standing armies, and to place the power of the defense of the people from foreign enemies in the people’s hands. Reminds me a bit of present-day cypherpunks.

            http://www.madisonbrigade.com/library_bor_2nd_amendment.htm

            This purpose is largely obsolete today, but the amendment remains. The customs of Switzerland capture the spirit of the amendment better than those of America. In America, there is a large standing army and no threat to the states of foreign invasion that can be fended off by a well-armed populace.

          • John Schilling says:

            Regarding etymology: The phrase “small arms” dates to 1680 or so, indicating that before that date there was no need to distinguish portable arms from any other sort. And my recollection from various period readings is that siege engines and artillery were always their own category. 18th through mid-19th century, one often sees the formulation, “(small) arms and artillery”, which has way more syllables and letters than just “arms” and pretty clearly indicates that writers expected to be misunderstood as referring only to portable weapons if they used the word in isolation.

            So, in 1789 the term “arms” would have been potentially confusing in contemporary usage. But as a term of legal art, “right to keep and bear arms” (in various phrasings) was solidly grounded in English common law predating 1680. And as with other legal terms of art, the common-law rule is always to use the original understanding of the words even if we have to account for changes in the circumstances.

            Also, the phrasing “keep and bear arms” is perhaps a hint that the authors weren’t into the newfangled literary practice of counting artillery as “arms”.

          • Anonymous says:

            OK, thanks. That clears that one up. I think there should be some kind of “Constitution for Dummies: What the Amendments REALLY MEAN in PRACTICE” book, because the actual text doesn’t seem to have any correspondence to the real world at all.

            >Why “capable of” instead of “necessary to”?

            Bad phrasing?

          • hlynkacg says:

            The 1828 edition of Webster’s dictionary defines “Arms” as Weapons of offense, or armor for defense and protection of the body.

            Likewise in modern military usage, the term refers specifically to weapons that can be carried or used by an individual. I suppose one could argue that the old M29 Tactical Nuclear Device fell into this category but it’s an extreme edge case.

            Things like artillery and siege engines have almost always been their own category as reflected in many period sources where you’ll see numerous references to “Arms, Artillery, and other implements of war”.

            Edit:
            Ninja’d by John Schilling

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Presumably, the second amendment precludes the federal government from passing laws which forbid the manufacture or sale of components needed to build firearms. But by parity of reasoning, it would also rule out laws which forbid the manufacture or sale of components needed to build (portable?) doomsday weapons. Y’all really think we have a right to purchase fissionable materials and plague bacilli on e-bay? Does your second amendment nuttery know no bounds?

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Earthly Knight
            I think that you are seriously over-estimating the effectiveness of any such restrictions in the first place.

            Any law enforcement effort to not only remove guns from circulation, but the tools and materials that could be used to manufacture them would by its very nature have to be many times more intrusive and restrictive than the war on drugs has been. Guns and ammunition are a lot easier to make and hide than drugs are, and the number of people who know how to make them is a lot larger.

            Likewise if your intent is to prevent people from trafficking in biological agents ban private ownership of medical supplies.

            If you’re prepared to press on inspite of these facts you’re really in no position to be calling someone else “nutty”.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Anonymous

            >Paperback: 1440 pages

            Holy moly. That’s approximately a whole Bible.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I don’t know why you’re talking about banning guns, I’m making the point that an originalist interpretation of the constitution + allowing the reference of “arms” to evolve with advances in technology has the consequence that we have an unrestricted right to traffic in doomsday weapons (provided they are hand-held!) and all ingredients needed for their manufacture. To most people, this would be a reductio of the view, although I suppose Friedman’s line of “yeah, that’s a bad thing, we should probably pass an amendment to stop that” is still a live option.

          • hlynkacg says:

            To most people, this would be a reductio of the view…

            The idea that the first amendment would protect the ability to associate and communicate with large numbers of people instantaneously and relatively anonymously over great distances is equally if not more absurd.

            Who needs doomsday devices when we have the internet?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I agree that it is not absolutely clear that an originalist interpretation of the first amendment would extend its protections to internet speech. So much the worse for originalism.

          • Anonymous says:

            The bible comparison reminds me of this story from the Talmud:

            On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’

          • Jiro says:

            While trafficking in nuclear and biological weapons isn’t legal now, it’s not as if law enforcement has been cracking down on them. Otherwise law abiding people don’t own them because they are impractical to make, keep, and use, not because they fear being arrested for them.

            We may as well allow them. It would have no effect, and would avoid people using it as an excuse to ban other things in the way that you’re using it as an excuse.

          • hlynkacg says:

            So much the worse for originalism.

            On the contrary, it’s one of the stronger arguments in favor of a originalist approach. After all, the Constitutiuon couldn’t very well “constitute”, if it only applied to things that existed before it (or the pertinent amendment) was written.

            Are you equally ambivalent about extending the 14th Amendment to Gays, or the 19th Amendment to Transgendered people?

          • ” So much the worse for originalism.”

            It takes a candidate to beat a candidate. Do you prefer the alternative of “a majority of a group of nine judges with lifetime appointments get to overrule congress and state legislatures any time they believe doing so is a good idea”?

            That seems to be the implication of your argument that any time interpreting the Constitution according to what it actually meant when written produces undesirable results the court should interpret it differently.

            Is your view that the court only gets to overrule the legislature when it not only disagrees but can make a halfway plausible argument that its position is sort of maybe in the direction of what the Constitution says?

            For instance when it holds that a farmer who is growing crops to be consumed on his own farm can be regulated by congress due to the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce?

            The alternative position is “if the literal interpretation really produces a terrible result, that should be obvious enough so that you can amend.”

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Jiro

            While trafficking in nuclear and biological weapons isn’t legal now, it’s not as if law enforcement has been cracking down on them. Otherwise law abiding people don’t own them because they are impractical to make, keep, and use, not because they fear being arrested for them.

            I… I don’t think that’s true. I expect that sending out feelers to CDC researchers or nuclear technicians asking where you can score some anthrax or weapons-grade uranium is a great way of winding up in federal prison, actually. You really think that if there were an open market on fissionable material and biological agents there would be zero demand? Really?

            @ hlynkacg

            On the contrary, it’s one of the stronger arguments in favor of a originalist approach.

            You see the fact that originalism leads to verdicts too crazy for anyone to actually endorse– freedom of speech doesn’t extend to the internet, mini-nukes available on e-bay, anti-miscegenation laws a-okay– as a strong argument in favor of originalism? Heaven help me.

            Are you equally ambivalent about extending the 14th Amendment to Gays, or the 19th Amendment to Transgendered people?

            I’m not ambivalent about anything, because I’m not a bloody originalist. I’m saying we should reject originalism because it has wacky, untenable consequences.

            @ David Friedman

            It takes a candidate to beat a candidate. Do you prefer the alternative of “a majority of a group of nine judges with lifetime appointments get to overrule congress and state legislatures any time they believe doing so is a good idea”?

            Focusing just on the individual rights protected by the constitution, my own opinion is that we should interpret them (1) as liberally as possible (2) in the light of contemporary values and science, (3) except where there is an overwhelming societal interest in restricting them. The framers of the fourteenth amendment never intended it to forbid segregation or anti-miscegenation laws, but we should not feel beholden to their views, seeing as how they were unapologetic racists. Similarly, we know now that flogging and the stocks are cruel relics of barbarism, even if the delegates to the constitutional convention did not. And so on.

            It doesn’t trouble me too much that this gives a lot of power to a handful of unelected scholars. I see this as a necessary check on mob rule, and, at any rate, I think it’s served us pretty well so far.

            It’s also inaccurate to portray this as a choice between originalism and interpreting the constitution in light of contemporary values, because no jurist in living memory has actually been an originalist. The real choice is between jurists who interpret the constitution in light of contemporary values and jurists who do the same but also lie about it.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Similarly, we know now that flogging and the stocks are cruel relics of barbarism,

            Do we? How?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            IDK, communion with the Forms? Any method of interpreting the 8th amendment is going to have to give an account of what makes certain punishments cruel and how we come to know that they are cruel. I’m content to piggyback on whatever accounts others offer.

          • Jiro says:

            I expect that sending out feelers to CDC researchers or nuclear technicians asking where you can score some anthrax or weapons-grade uranium is a great way of winding up in federal prison, actually.

            I’d also expect that you personally wouldn’t be sending out such feelers regardless of the existence of such laws. Yes, in the hypothetical where someone really wanted them, the laws might stop them, but that hypothetical itself describes an unlikely situation.

            There’s a tiny percentage of people who would want them and an even tinier percentage of them who would want them, would otherwise be permitted to possess weapons, and would be able to store them safely.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Let’s say that the tiny percentage of Americans who satisfy your criteria and would leap at the opportunity to get their mitts on a petri dish of variola major is 0.0001%, one ten-thousandth of a percent. That comes out to 319 private citizens running around with the smallpox virus. For comparison, the safe number of private citizens to entrust with the smallpox virus is 0.

          • hlynkacg says:

            …Heaven help me.

            You’ve got that exactly backwards.

            It is the fact that the “Anti-origninalist” stance leads to verdicts like freedom of speech not extending to the internet, and anti-miscegenation being laws A-Okay, that makes the orginalist stance a strong one.

            The originalist stance is that “freedom of association” means freedom of association regardless of whether it’s being done in person or via electronic signal. Likewise it holds that “equal protections” means equal protection regardless of who invokes it.

          • Anonymous says:

            Maybe Balkin’s living originalism, but those certainly don’t flow from the standard originalist accounts — either original intent or original public meaning.

            Freedom of association doesn’t appear anywhere in the constitution. There’s “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. Claiming that this protects the right to associate online is a real stretch under a strict textualist or originalist view.

      • Adam says:

        There are plenty who try. I think the bigger problem is people have no real sense of how much of American federal spending is mandatory, not discretionary, and it’s orders of magnitudes more difficult to repeal legal entitlements than it is to pass a smaller appropriations bill. You need at least the president and a congressional supermajority and maybe the majority of the court, too.

        • Corey says:

          “An insurance company with an army”, as Krugman puts it. There’s just not a lot left after Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, DoD, and debt interest.
          Though also the US’s long-term budget problems aren’t as bad as they usually sound:
          – SS will need some benefit cuts and/or tax increases, but not huge ones, and the baby-boomer bubble has been accounted for (that’s what the trust fund is; SS isn’t a savings program, today’s taxes pay today’s retirees, the trust fund is to try to compensate for the baby boomer demographic).
          – Medicare/Medicaid projections are entirely driven by medical inflation. If we get medical inflation under control, these pose no long-term problem. If we don’t, we’re screwed no matter how we finance the government.
          – Debt interest projections, if they look bad, tend to assume that interest rates will snap from near-0 to 5% or so, with no clear reason why they should other than “they used to be such”
          – I don’t know enough to know how much army we need, relative to how much we have.

          • keranih says:

            I don’t know enough to know how much army we need, relative to how much we have.

            Well, we currently have quite a bit less than we have had in some time. Of all the named line items above, military is the only one which has been successfully shrunk, ever.

            (As for how much we need – well, who do we want to have the biggest stick on the planet?)

          • Anonymous says:

            We could cut our defense budget in half and still spend the most. It’s not a matter of wanting the biggest stick, it’s a matter of wanting an uzi when everyone else has sticks.

          • keranih says:

            an uzi when everyone else has sticks

            Enough people with sticks, and you’re going to run out of bullets long before you run out of people to shoot.

            (Also – we may be seriously disagreeing on how many nuclear nations there are on the planet. It’s more than one.)

          • John Schilling says:

            it’s a matter of wanting an uzi when everyone else has sticks.

            Ninety percent of the American military is about making sure that our guy with the Uzi will have a steady supply of bullets even when he has to get them by mail order from halfway around the world.

            The job of “world policeman” does not allow for anything resembling symmetry in defense budgets, and the United States should have insisted on a much better deal when we accepted that position.

          • Anonymous says:

            We can always quit. Just keep around the biggest stick for defense and forget the police/uzi business.

        • Mary says:

          The Supreme Court has already ruled that you have no legal right to a red cent of Social Security. Congress can take it at whim.

      • “But does anyone know if there has ever been an ELECTED president, or even Congress member, who worked toward making government smaller.”

        Warren Harding. President from 1921 to 1923. Federal expenditures:

        1920: 6.358 billion
        1921: 5.062 billion
        1922: 3.289 billion
        1923: 3.140 billion

        So far as congressmen, I think Ron Paul was consistent in his voting, and there have been probably been others.

        • E. Harding says:

          Pretty much all the decline occurred under Wilson:

          https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=FuX

          But a bit of it did occur under Harding.

          • Wilson reduced spending from wartime levels to peacetime levels. Harding reduced it from one peacetime level to a lower peacetime level. I suppose we can credit Wilson for not dragging out WWI or immediately starting another similar conflict by invading Canada and Mexico.

          • “a bit of it”

            1921: 5.062 billion
            1922: 3.289 billion

            Harding took office in 1921.

          • E. Harding says:

            David, I think those are fiscal years. The FRED graph above gives 4.4459 billion for 1921 and 3.1629 billion for 1922. And spending was over 18 billion in 1918, so most of the cuts did occur under Wilson.

          • BBA says:

            Also worth noting: before Harding, there was no OMB and little presidential input into the budget. Agencies went to Congress directly with their appropriation requests. The little-known Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 created the modern fiscal process and greatly strengthened the Presidency at the expense of Congress.

          • @Harding:

            I agree that the post-war cuts were very large. But cutting spending by 35% in a year, if you accept the figures I gave, or even the 29% in your figures, is still a huge reduction.

            Not reflected in your “a bit of.”

      • Idaho politicians have a history of trying to privatize a lot of stuff. (The most recent example I can think of is trying to yoke public schools to some idiotic computer boondoggle.) In my experience, “small government” means “I want to sell you something that the government usually does or makes. Why not just make it law that you have to buy it from me? I pinkie swear that it’ll be cheaper in the long run.”

        The funny part is that when people elected to do this stuff actually start to, everyone gets upset.

        • H.E. Pennypacker says:

          Yeah, I’ve always thought that real free market capitlism might work quite well, but it’s pure utopianism. There has never existed anything remotely like a really free market, the idea is as fantastical as the idea we’ll achieve a socialist paradise where everybody helps each other all the time out of the goodness of their heart.

  5. Salem says:

    Before we can reach Open Thread 50, Scott must post Open Thread 49.875, Open Thread 49.9375, and so on – an infinite number of Open Threads. Clearly, Open Thread 50 will never be posted, and Saint Sebastian died of fright.

  6. MugaSofer says:

    So, the media sucks. Really sucks. I’m not gonna go into the proof for this here, but it really amazingly hyperbolically sucks, and it’s awful.

    What do we do about it?

    • Anon says:

      You could try starting a consumer revolt and showcase to people evidence and specific examples of how much the media sucks and hope that with reality on your side the media’s attempt at branding you as a cyberbully who spends all their time harassing women will ultimately fail.

    • E. Harding says:

      Read and watch better media. Or create a website sort of like Politifact, but for the MSM.

      • MugaSofer says:

        Hey, if I knew about better media, I’d use ’em. I basically just use social media for “news” and fact-check anything I care about myself to see if there’s anything obviously wrong with it, which isn’t very sustainable.

      • John Nerst says:

        I don’t think reading better media really gets at the problem. I suspect “the media sucks” translates not just to “I want to read better media” but more importantly to “I want other people to read better media”.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Get up right now, go to your windows, open it and stick your head out and yell “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

      More seriously, just turn it all off. There’s a very small slice of the news media which is actually personally relevant to you. Mostly related to new developments in the field you work in, the weather, and some local news which you should probably pay attention to. But national or international news almost certainly isn’t personally important to you unless your last name is Rockefeller.

      Shrinking your circle of concern to match your actual ability to control events is a very effective way to preserve your sanity and restore your humility. Help people in need that you encounter, worry about your own family and neighbors, and do the best job you can living your own life. The rest of the world will either sort itself out or it won’t.

      • Adam says:

        This. I may be a terrible model of civic engagement because I hardly care about anything, but frankly, only paying attention to sports media and a tiny subset of developments in specialized areas of research I care about is sanity-preserving. Spend your time in the real world where you’re surrounded by a ridiculous abundance of cheap consumer goods, other people, the greatest variety of food and recreation options any society has ever seen, and quit reading about the imminent collapse of western civilization people are trying to sell you so you’ll give them more power.

        • Simon Penner says:

          Most people are not civically engaged. They pretend they are, by following the Washington gossip and having Opinions on whatever this week’s bread and circuses are. But when given the opportunity to actually engage, at a direct level, on issues relevant to them, by way of local media and local civics, nobody pays attention.

        • Anonymous says:

          quit reading about the imminent collapse of western civilization people are trying to sell you so you’ll give them more power.

          That’s funny! I was under the impression that the Death Eaters enthusiastically endorsed Dr. Dealgood’s advice.

    • blacktrance says:

      Disengage from it yourself, get a circle of friends that does the same (whether by influencing your current friends or getting new ones), then you won’t have to see it and its direct influence on your life would be minimal. You probably can’t do much about indirect influence.

      • onyomi says:

        Can’t speak for OP, but I think part of the issue is that the media sucking has a deleterious social effect. Even if you and your friends are personally discerning, it very little offsets the damage done by Fox, MSNBC, et al doing such a crummy, irresponsible, sensationalist job.

        The problem, of course, is that the public demands fast, sensational, partisan news, because it’s exciting.

        Yet I also don’t think we necessarily have to throw up our hands and accept the fact that most people are dumb and have bad taste. Take TV, for example. Game of Thrones, True Detective, etc. is WAY, WAY better than Green Acres and Happy Days. How did that happen? A different TV delivery model which encouraged not sucking somehow arrived.

        I wonder if there’s some way to make offering better, more nuanced news profitable (of course, HBO does already have Bill Maher, who I think, on average, is more nuanced than say, O’Reilly, but I’m talking about a more fundamental change: not just “get your news from HBO, but some sort of change to the delivery model equivalent to how HBO and Showtime make better TV possible).

        • Randy M says:

          [Better TV] How did that happen? A different TV delivery model which encouraged not sucking somehow arrived.

          I was just thinking about this the other day. I think it came about because previously few networks were seeking to dominate all the market, so they wanted every show to be accessible to every demographic. With cable, internet, etc. even major networks can’t hope to corner all the markets, so instead there is a strategy to go after a niche and hold onto it strongly. So more integrated plots where past events are referenced on more than clip shows are now seen as preferable.

          • I believe it also made a big difference when people could watch recorded tv. In effect, the audience acquired a much longer attention span.

          • Randy M says:

            That reminds me of when I learned to program the VCR to record Exosquad, which for some unfathomable reason showed new episodes at 7:30 AM on weekdays, when I had to walk to school.

          • LHN says:

            @Randy M: Those are both factors. There’s also a big difference between the ad-supported network model and the subscription model. Networks need viewers who watch as much as possible. (Or at least demographics that look that way when sampled via Nielsen, etc.) Someone who watches one CBS show (and its ads) is much less valuable to the network than someone who watches dozens.

            HBO and Netflix only need, in principle, one show for a given demo, as long as it’s enough to convince them to subscribe. If you’re watching Game of Thrones or Daredevil and paying them monthly, it doesn’t matter if you don’t watch any other show. If they can come up with a show that strongly appeals to a different demographic (e.g., Girls), that’s of much more potential value than a second or third show for high fantasy fans.

            (Though of course having e.g., multiple Marvel shows is still useful to get fans who might not pay $10/month for one show but will for three, or who might unsubscribe when Jessica Jones ends if Daredevil or Luke Cage doesn’t pick up the slack.)

            So commercial networks want to go for large, broad audiences, who don’t need to be deeply committed (if they miss the 8:00 block but watch the 9:00, that’s till something). Subscription networks ideally want a bunch of specifically targeted shows (with different targets) whose viewers really care if they see them.

            Ad-supported cable networks are kind of in the middle, since they need both enough viewership to be worth including in the cable network (but they’re generally included in bundles rather than marketed in isolation) and enough eyeballs to be worth advertising on. Some are more like broadcast networks (the oft-observed tendency of cable channels to evolve away from whatever specific interest they were founded to serve), while others (e.g., AMC) seem to have moved in the HBO direction.

            (SyFy did one, then the other.)

        • Virbie says:

          Regarding the reasons that better TV occurred: one of the reasons has to do with the shift in the economics of Hollywood. It’s not just your imagination that the top movies are much more frequently sequels, remakes, or adaptations. The changing market dynamics of 1) digital distribution and 2) a global market meant both that it was much less feasible to blanket the potential audience with marketing and that much less money was being made (DVDs were a hugely profitable revenue stream).

          The response to this shift was to make sure that the movie came with some level of free marketing/awareness attached: people would start out with a baseline of “oh shit a batman movie? I love batman” as soon as they hear about the movie.

          The result of this was that relatively creatively unconstrained scripts were harder and harder to make (aside from the indie market, which is practically a different playing field altogether). TV was a perfect opportunity for all the creative talent squeezed out of Hollywood, and thats a large part of why high quality, creative, risk taking TV took off outside of the unique environment of HBO.

    • suntzuanime says:

      It’s not just the media; cry.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      You turn off the TV and shut the newspaper.

    • mobile says:

      Be careful what you wish for. This question was being asked a generation ago, too. The answer they came up with was Fox News.

      • Corey says:

        This. We have all sorts of new news choices, but mostly that’s made it easy to construct reality bubbles.

    • Nornagest says:

      Vote with your wallet. Consume better media, or, if there is no better media, don’t consume it at all.

    • Simon Penner says:

      I’ve found that I don’t miss much when I wholesale ignore it. https://status451.com/2016/01/15/slow-media-local-media/

    • 57dimensions says:

      Just curious, specifically which media sources do you feel suck the most? Are we talking tv news, newspapers, online media?

    • Ano says:

      Nothing, forces too large for anyone to stop are eroding the quality of journalism and it was never perfect. Stumbling and Mumbling has a post about it. Obviously he writes from a British perspective but a lot of the same pressure exists in the US (the rich and powerful and institutions have more control over access, less money for good journalism, looking for headlines that people will click on rather than verified, in-depth journalism).

  7. Deiseach says:

    Since we’ve already considered how much better vegans are than vegetarians, how about if meat eaters behaved like vegans? 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      What meaty substitute could he have used for the flower in his hair?

    • Nornagest says:

      You’ve never met someone who’s into paleo, have you?

    • MugaSofer says:

      Well, I mean, they would die. Because you physically can’t live off nothing but meat.

      • Nornagest says:

        You can if you include organ meats — they have the micronutrients that you’d otherwise be missing out on. Eating nothing but chicken breast, yeah, that’ll kill you.

      • Adam says:

        I think you can depending on the meat. Don’t the Chukchi live entirely off reindeer and Inuits off seals and other large aquatic mammals? Or at least very nearly entirely.

      • Deiseach says:

        MugaSofer, why do you hate our Mother Earth and want her to die horribly? Why do you want to shed the green blood of the silent animals in a holocaust of destruction of the plants that produce our oxygen, when there is delicious meat walking around for the eating? 🙂

      • Frog Do says:

        In for the “well, actually”!

      • Ivan Ivanoff says:

        “In 1928 [Stefansson] and a colleague, under the supervision of a highly qualified team of scientists, checked into Bellevue Hospital in New York City and vowed to eat nothing but meat and water for an entire year … During the ensuing year, Stefansson fell ill only once – when experimenters encouraged him to eat only lean meat without the fat. “The symptoms brought on at Bellevue by an incomplete meat diet (the ration of lean without fat)” came on fast: “diarrhoea and a feeling of general baffling discomfort,” he recalled, and were quickly cured by a meal of fat sirloin steaks and brains fried in bacon fat.'”

        Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise

  8. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    Just saying, what if we had an open thread and nobody came?

  9. Anon. says:

    Has anyone read the new DeLillo? It features some rationalism-adjacent stuff like cryonics.

  10. Vox Imperatoris says:

    I don’t like this. It cuts off all the running discussions.

    • Guy says:

      I like this. It cuts off all the running discussions (that I get bored of).

    • Chalid says:

      I tentatively approve of it. If you’re interested in some running discussion you can just scroll back to the old thread. Hopefully this allows new topics to arise more frequently.

    • blacktrance says:

      I approve of it, because it gives commenters an easy out to being bogged down in a discussion they’re not enjoying.

    • anonymous bosch says:

      You can link to previous discussions.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      Agree. I just made a comment about how I’m seeing non-productive discussion rehashes more often now…and then the new Open Thread got posted. XD

  11. So, I’ve been thinking about utilitarianism recently, and I’ve had questions but no answers.

    Let’s table (for this post) the question of what utility is, and instead consider what we could do even if we had some magical utility number for each person.

    So. It seems “obvious” to me that if creating a person with non-negative utility makes someone else better off and no one else worse, then its good. I think this is fairly non-controversial. Of course, in this case, a man and women on a deserted island are morally fine if they have a bunch of kids only because they like the taste of human flesh – even if they kill the kids when they’re 12 year old assuming the kids have a decent life prior to this. The justification goes that the man and women want this, the kids (presumably) would prefer existence to non-existence, and no one else will even know. (this isn’t to say that killing the kids is fine, but giving birth to them with the intention of killing them if, presumably fine) This seems bizarre, but I’m tentatively willing to bite this bullet.

    Of course, there must be situations where creating people who have negative utility (e.g. would prefer death to life) is fine. For instance, if God exists, I’m pretty sure most people think him creating the universe is a good thing despite the fact that some people suffer.

    I mean, I guess in some sense I’m rehashing the total-utilitarianism vs average-utilitarianism issue, but I’m not really satisfied with either. It seems like if our decision doesn’t affect whether people will exist, it makes sense to just maximize total utility (or average utility, they are equivalent in this case). However, the method by which we should aggregate people’s utilities if some people may or may not exist depending on our choices seems, to me, the principle critique of the utilitarian philosophy. Without this, we cant effectively use utilitarianism to
    – weigh future generations against the present
    – determine the extent to which eating meat is wrong (or, indeed whether it is)
    – figure out whether we should care about the mere existence of future generations (I think its “obvious” that we should care about their quality of life given that they exist)

    This makes me a little sad, because I otherwise think utilitarianism is useful and largely consistent. So, long-story-short, does anyone have a logically consistent way to aggregate the utilities of people and potential people?

    • Guy says:

      I don’t have a full consistent system, but I’m pretty sure the answer lies in the difference between people guaranteed to exist and people who might exist, provided is performed, with some degree of priority going to those who are guaranteed to exist. (And those who cease to exist also cease to add to or subtract from utility totals, of course). I think the average vs total debate is mostly a red herring – you should just use whichever is more convenient for your calculator; either division is more expensive than tracking large numbers or it isn’t, and the systems can be adjusted to equivalence based on weights.

      Edit:
      Yeah, I think this is about right. Yiu want to track running total utility, or maybe a moving average, with each agent’s contribution to the total weighted by … the probability that they exist at the time in question, absent your intervention in the now? Tbe inverse opportunity cost associated with causing them to exist at that time? Something like that.

      You might have better results looking at world states, rather than individuals.

    • FrogOfWar says:

      It seems “obvious” to me that if creating a person with non-negative utility makes someone else better off and no one else worse, then its good.

      This is sometimes called the “mere addition” or “benign addition” assumption, and it is one of three principles that together entail Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion. Your best bet is probably to read up on that and the responses to it in terms of alternative utility aggregation methods.

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/repugnant-conclusion

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Your principle “if creating a person with non-negative utility makes someone else better off and no one else worse, then its good” doesn’t mean that it’s morally fine for the man and woman on a deserted island to intend to have a bunch of (still well-off) kids and eat them, if there are other options (having a bunch of kids and then not eating them) which are better. Something is permissible on a standard utilitarian framework not if it’s good, but if it’s best. So I don’t think that’s a bullet anyone has to bite.

      There are lots of logically consistent ways to aggregate the utilities of people and potential people – unfortunately, all of them have massively counterintuitive implications (repugnant conclusion, etc.) If you haven’t read the bit of Parfit’s Reasons and Persons where he discusses these problems or a summary thereof, I recommend it. I don’t think there is any view that gets around these problems in a way that is intuitively satisfying, and that’s one of many pretty decisive strikes against utilitarianism.

      • Anonymous says:

        Something is permissible on a standard utilitarian framework not if it’s good, but if it’s best.

        Does an utilitarian have to donate all their money to EA, excluding whatever is needed to keep them sane and working so they earn more money to donate?

        • Chrysophylax says:

          Yes, but the optimal level of personal consumption is a lot higher than you think it is, because society collapses if it isn’t and because they need to stay sane, work-capable and *motivated*.

          You are obliged to do the best you can do. That doesn’t mean the best some magical perfect person could do in your shoes.

          It also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do anything because you can’t do enough. Utilitarianism is about producing the best outcome. Nobody gives a damn about whether you are a virtuous person when there are still children to save.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          On the standard versions of utilitarianism, it’s hard to see how this consequence can be avoided. It’s one of the most common objections to the view. There are some people who propose modifications of utilitarianism to get around it – for instance, ‘satisficing’ rather than ‘maximizing’ utilitarianism, which says that you just have to act in a way that’s “good enough” on utilitarian grounds, and not necessarily best. Those have their own problems.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            On the standard versions of utilitarianism, it’s hard to see how this consequence can be avoided.

            By being an inmoral individual? Or a less-than-perfectly moral one, at least.

        • Mary says:

          To be consistent, yes. Utilitarianism does not regard any acts as supererogatory.

        • Anonymous says:

          I have been mistakenly treating satisficing as the standard version then.

        • Nicholas says:

          Only until they become poor enough that the marginal dollar is more valuable to them than to the targets of EA. With time discounting and imperfect efficiency, you can actually be quite well off before keeping one more dollar becomes more utility to you than giving it to a charity creates utility for the recipient.

        • Thatwasademo says:

          Well, that’s exactly why a religion founded on utilitarianism that says “everyone who is not a perfect utilitarian goes to hell” would be atrocious.

          Luckily, though, as far as I know nobody endorses that view and the only consequence for not being a perfect utilitarian is living in a world that is worse than “the world that might have been” to the degree you are imperfect. Do the best you actually can, hope others do likewise, and live with the difference.

          • Jiro says:

            But you always “can” give 10.1% instead of 10% in the same way that you always “can” have a child and not eat it than have a child and eat it.

            Having your kids and eating them too is just another version of murder offsets except that the offset goes to the person you’re killing rather than to some third-worlder prone to malaria.

      • Good catch. I should have said “It’s morally better if they have children and eat them than if they don’t have children.”

        Thanks for the recommendation, I will be sure to take a look at Reasons and Persons.

      • Zippy says:

        Section 7.10 of The Consequentalism FAQ, by Scott Alexander

        7.10: It seems impossible to ever be a good person. Not only do I have to avoid harming others, but I also have to do everything in my power to help others. Doesn’t that mean I’m immoral unless I donate 100% of my money (maybe minus living expenses) to charity?

        In utilitarianism, calling people “moral” or “immoral” borders on a category error. Utiltiarianism is only formally able to say that certain actions are more moral than other actions. If you want to expand that and say that people who do more moral actions are more moral people, that seems reasonable, but it’s not a formal implication of utilitarian theory.

        Utilitarianism can tell you that you would be acting morally if you donated 100% of your money to charity, but you already knew that. I mean, Jesus said the same thing two thousand years ago (Matthew 19:21 – “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor “).

        Most people don’t want to be perfect, and so they don’t sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor. You’ll have to live with the knowledge of being imperfect, but Jeremy Bentham’s not going to climb through your window at night and kill you in your sleep or anything. And since no one else is perfect, you’ll have a lot of company.

        That having been said, there are people who take the idea of donating as much as possible seriously, and they are some pretty impressive people.

        • “but Jeremy Bentham’s not going to climb through your window at night and kill you in your sleep or anything.”

          And now I have a vision of Jeremy’s stuffed corpse as the ultimate zombie.

        • Jiro says:

          In utilitarianism, calling people “moral” or “immoral” borders on a category error. Utiltiarianism is only formally able to say that certain actions are more moral than other actions.

          That doesn’t answer the murder offsets objection. If you can only say that certain actions are moral than others, then someone who gives 10%, and someone who commits murder and gives correspondingly more than 10% are doing equally moral sets of actions.

          Most people are deontologists to some extent and don’t think that a murder can be comparatively as moral as a non-murderer just because he does enough more utility-increasing actions that his total adds up to the same.

    • Adam says:

      Long answer short is no. This has been mulled over for centuries by some of the most intelligent people who ever lived and they never found a universally satisfying answer. The good news is the world has still mostly gotten a lot better in those same centuries.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      The laws of physics involve some kind of magical reality fluid that produces the Born probabilities. When we figure out what the maths is, we’ll feel really silly for not seeing it sooner, and we’ll also have the objectively correct way to weight possible future humans.

    • Patrick says:

      I don’t know why we can’t just decide that asking about the utility function of existence itself versus never coming into being is like dividing by zero.

      And just in case someone’s about to say it, “given that humans will exist in the year 2200 how should we take into account their capacity for utility” is a qualitatively different question from “is there an obligation to ensure humans exist in the year 2200 specifically for the benefit of those particular humans?”

      • Philosophisticat says:

        I’m not sure what you’re saying. Do you mean that whenever it’s the case that someone’s existence depends on our actions, our action has no defined utility? If that’s so, then utilitarianism would give us no guidance in any situation where that is so, which includes any major policy proposal and many if not most significant personal decisions as well.

        • Patrick says:

          No. I’m saying that there’s a qualitative difference between the guidance utilitarianism provides when considering the utility related concerns that may come into existence if or when future people are born, and the difference in utility between beginning to exist versus never having existed. People elide between those at their peril.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I’m still not following. There’s a question, for utilitarians, about how the welfare of people whose existence depends on our actions matters to the calculus.

            Are you giving an answer to that question? Are you just pointing out that things would be a lot easier for the utilitarian if we ignore those cases (which are extremely common)?

          • Patrick says:

            “There’s a question, for utilitarians, about how the welfare of people whose existence depends on our actions matters to the calculus.”

            There’s a difference between being concerned about the welfare of people whose existence depends on our actions, and being concerned about whether people get to experience welfare by existing. Those are materially different questions.

    • grort says:

      I like Scott’s post “Whose Utilitarianism?“. It argues that, to get utilitarianism to work, you need to first define the domain of people whose utility you are maximizing. It’s tempting to say “oh, we want to maximize the utility of all people” — but what about people who lived in the past and are now dead? What about people who don’t exist yet? What about aliens from Planet X who want to kill all humans?

      I’ve seen the term “prior-existence utilitarianism” used here, but I don’t think I’ve seen a formal definition.

      The solution I like is: at any specific instant in time, we make decisions to maximize the utility of the people who are currently living members of our community. The set of people who are currently living members can change, which means there’s not a single unique utility function we’re maximizing — but that’s okay, we make decisions at each instant according to the aggregated utility functions at that instant.

      You’ll notice that this solution doesn’t use numbers like “zero utility” or “utility of nonexistence” at all, which is nice because those numbers are horrible and poorly defined.

      As a moral framework, this solution still has flaws, in that it doesn’t tell us who is or isn’t a member of our community. So, for example, a group could still have slavery, if they decided they wanted to exclude the slaves from their utility function aggregation. The solution Scott reaches in his post seems to be that you declare that you’re in “moral communion” with anyone unless you really seriously disagree with their goals.

      Maybe the right conclusion is that utilitarianism isn’t a great moral framework, but it does make a pretty good community decision-making process?

      • Vamair says:

        My favorite version is maximizing the utility of all the people, including the dead ones, the unborn ones, the sleeping ones and the not-right-now-in-the-room ones or else it runs into problems. Aliens from planet X? First we should check if they’re people /*!NOT IMPLEMENTED YET*/. Then do count them if they are and treat them as a resource if they’re not. Is there a continuum on a “person” – “resource” scale? We should check that with nonhuman animals.

        • Dead people only matter if you are maximizing average utility. If you are maximizing total utility they are irrelevant, since nothing you can do will change their utility.

          • Vamair says:

            If you’re a hedonistic utilitarian, sure. But preferences when they’re about reality and not just feelings, may easily be about the future. A person creating some work of art (building a temple, for example) may prefer it to be finished and not demolished the day they die. The utility of a mother that has sacrificed her life for her child would also be lowered if the child dies, and so on. If a person wants to be remembered after death, not being remembered lowers their utility and so on. It’s understandable if you think of personal utility as a function of timespace states of the universe.

            An example I’ve used: an old woman has planted an apple tree. She really wanted for this tree to bloom long after her death and to be remembered for it. And she worked hard and sacrificed much for that end. Now she’s dead. There was a sure prophecy that your child will love the tree’s apples when he grows up. But he’s not born yet. And you don’t care about the tree or the apples (but do care about utility, or your son or the old woman). Is it okay to cut this tree down because you kinda would like to? Is it different if the woman is alive but is now in another country and will never return or know about you cutting the tree down. Would the answer change if there’s no prophecy?

        • grort says:

          Until quite recently (1920, in the US), most people believed women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. There are probably more dead people who believed women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, than living people who think they should. Surely you’re not arguing that a utilitarian philosopher should try to stop women from voting?

          The Aztecs believed very strongly that you should sacrifice people to Huitzilopochtli. An Aztec who learned that we weren’t performing any human sacrifices would be horrified. There are millions of dead Aztecs, and we could probably make them feel a lot better by sacrificing one or two people a year to Huitzilopochtli; do you think this is a good idea?

          The Quiverfull movement believes that everyone should focus all their resources on having as many children as possible. They also believe that everyone should convert to their philosophy. Suppose that we project that, in a few thousand years, there will be billions and billions of Quiverfulls — far more people than are currently alive or have ever lived. Should we go ahead and convert now, to satisfy the preferences of those future Quiverfulls?

          In Scott’s post “Whose Utilitarianism?“, he describes a scientist sent into the far future, where everyone spends all their time wireheading, and they don’t care about anything else. The scientist can either invent a new and improved wireheading machine, or a virus that would make people not like wireheading any more. There are a huge number of future-people, so their preference for the wireheading machine should dominate; is that what you would do in that situation?

          Suppose that, ten years from now, we in the United States find ourselves at war with China, and they send us all a letter saying: “Hello, we would like it very much if you gave us all your food and all your weapons.” The letter is signed by 1.3 billion Chinese people (compared to, recall, only 300 million United States residents). They’re not utilitarian, so they’re trying as hard as they can to kill us; should we do utility math, summing their interests with ours, in deciding how hard to fight the war?

          • Vamair says:

            I disagree that the preferences are never wrong. Sometimes the preferences are incoherent, sometimes they’re based on wrong beliefs, as with Aztecs. They have different strengths. While a lot of dead people believed that women shouldn’t vote (did they really? or do you only count free males?), most probably wouldn’t go out of their way to ensure that they never will.
            I doubt your example with Chinese works with realistic human psychology. Even if it does, the calculation would probably turn out in the favor of not giving up (unless the world would be much better if all the US people are slaughtered, which I don’t believe is the case). Utilitarianism is not a one person – one vote democracy. As a side note, I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable with such an example, probably because I’m not a First World citizen.
            All that said, I do agree that there are a lot of problems with naive preference utilitarianism and a single large technical problem with the “coherent extrapolated volition” utilitarianism (that is, we don’t know how to calculate it even approximately).

          • One problem with the Aztec example is that it isn’t clear how you should define their preferences. Imagine you could interrogate an Aztec and ask him whether he would be in favor of sacrificing people if the god in question did not exist, or did not want and reward sacrifice, and his answer was “of course not.” Do you consider preferences defined over specific acts, or over the consequences those acts were believed to produce?

          • grort says:

            On the one hand I agree with @Vamair and @David: what the Aztecs want is dumb, because they have some false beliefs, and because we know their beliefs are false we should declare Coherent Extrapolated Volition and ignore their expressed preferences (in this situation).

            On the other hand, I’m worried that you’ve now built a fully general exception system into your utilitarianism. You started with this very altruistic plan — to maximize the utility of “all the people, including the dead ones, the unborn ones, the sleeping ones and the not-right-now-in-the-room ones”. But every time you run into someone who wants something you really don’t want, you come up with a reason why their preferences don’t matter.

            Aliens from Planet X? “maybe they’re not real people.” Sexists? “probably didn’t actually have very strong preferences.” Aztecs? “they’re just wrong.” Chinese? “the world wouldn’t actually be better with the United States gone.”

            And the worry is: by choosing to maximize the utility of “all people”, (I think) you were hoping to build a general moral system. But if you can make exceptions to ignore all the people you disagree with, then all the people you disagree with can make exceptions to ignore you, and now you don’t have a general moral system at all, you have a system for doing what you want and calling it morality.

            A moral system is only effective if can make you do something you didn’t already want to do.

          • grort says:

            PS. I’d like to apologize for using “war with China” as an example. It made me a little uncomfortable too. What happened there was that I started out with “war with Planet X” as an example, but then you said the inhabitants of Planet X probably weren’t actually people, so I came up with China as an example involving actual people.

            Maybe what I should have done would be to clarify that, yes, the invaders from Planet X are indistinguishable from people, except that they want to kill us all so they can colonize Earth with their own people instead. (And recall that there are way way more of them than there are us, which is why they need to colonize Earth to get more space.)

          • Vamair says:

            @grort, when deciding on if something is good or bad I’d say that I use both my intuition and a quick utilitarian calculation on a (always very sketchy) data. When the result is the same, everything’s probably okay. When it’s not, you’d have to investigate further until you understand where one of your methods went wrong or at least until you become much more confident in one than another. Is there a better way to decide? For example a frequent failure of intuition is “the person did a good thing but it signals that they’re a bad person” or its opposite. A frequent failure of calculation is “five people want this, three people want that, five people win”.

            Most of the examples here give me a vibe of “the utilitarian calculation going counterintuitive depends on the ‘evil’ preferences being unusually strong and unconditional”, which is not usually true in a real world. Like if all the robbers wanted to get your wallet much more than you want to keep it and were much happier with it than you are and it didn’t lead to any bad results for the larger society then giving them everything they ask for is a right thing to do. True, but not really relevant.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        The solution I like is: at any specific instant in time, we make decisions to maximize the utility of the people who are currently living members of our community. The set of people who are currently living members can change, which means there’s not a single unique utility function we’re maximizing — but that’s okay, we make decisions at each instant according to the aggregated utility functions at that instant.

        1. This view faces the decisive objection that it requires us to take actions which will leave the planet an apocalyptic hellscape 150 years hence if doing so increases the net utility of living humans by the slightest smidgen. I also don’t see why you would restrict moral concern to a particular community. You could just as readily include all humans or all sentient beings.

        2. The prior-existence view is that we are obligated to act so as to maximize the net utility of all those who exist or will exist independently of what action we take.

        • grort says:

          Doing some more websearch, it looks like you’re right about the “prior-existence view”. I feel weird about that definition, though. Like, suppose we decide to nuke the planet right now; if we do that, then no future people will exist. Does that mean we don’t need to maximize the net utility of any future people? Doesn’t that mean that the prior-existence view reduces to just currently-existing people?

    • Zippy says:

      the kids (presumably) would prefer existence to non-existence

      Do not pass go, do not collect $200. The kids wouldn’t exist if they didn’t exist, so they wouldn’t have preferences.

      Anyhow, maybe you should look into the Procreation Asymmetry. Seems related.

  12. Randy M says:

    I’ve started watching Dr. Who. Three seasons or so into the new series (just saw the one with Shakespeare). It’s obviously entertaining enough if we’re watching it that much, but before watching I thought it was Sci-fi when it’s clearly fantasy in a sci-fi setting.
    I’m not looking for hard sci-fi; not sure if I’d even like hard sci-fi. But the powered-by-plot McGuffins are starting to grate.

    • Macbi says:

      It gets worse when Moffat take over.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Seconded. I really don’t understand why people like his style. It’s just so damn smarmy.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          Thirded

        • ShemTealeaf says:

          At his best, Moffat captures the fairy tale feel that characterize my favorite moments in Doctor Who. Episodes like The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, The Eleventh Hour, or The Big Bang have moments that feel absolutely magical, and I don’t think any of the other writers have really been able to do that.

          What episodes would you count among your top 10-15 of the revived series? For me, at least 50% of them would be Moffat-written, and most of the rest would be from his first couple seasons as showrunner. The Human Nature/Family of Blood two-parter and The Waters of Mars special are the only ones with no Moffat involvement that I would consider to be really top tier episodes.

          • Mary says:

            Blink was something else again. do NOT watch that just before you go to bed, folks.

          • Anonymous says:

            Episodes like The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, The Eleventh Hour, or The Big Bang have moments that feel absolutely magical

            I was induced to watch The Girl in the Fireplace on the (true, for all I know) assurance that it was one of the very best New Who episodes and would convert me to a fan.

            It was absolutely dire. It doesn’t even make superficial sense! The scenes and concepts don’t seem to go together, there are a ton of arbitrary limitations we’re supposed to just accept even though they’re perfectly nonsensical and so on.

          • ShemTealeaf says:

            Anonymous:

            You need a pretty heavy suspension of disbelief to enjoy Doctor Who. I don’t doubt that there are significant plot flaws all over the place, but the best episodes are usually entrancing enough that I don’t really notice or care.

            If you disliked The Girl in the Fireplace, I think Doctor Who is probably just not a show for you.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            A year after Girl in the Fireplace they had Family of Blood, where the Doctor didn’t anticipate that he’d fall in love, because, you know, Girl in the Fireplace was only a year before that and a year in TV time is like forever.

          • anonymous bosch says:

            They do imply the Doctor has adventures offscreen, so maybe it was.

          • DonBoy says:

            I consider Midnight to be a top-tier little thriller. It’s unlike most other episodes.

            In general, the storytelling style is rife with ideas that are thrown at you that you have to just accept, and my complaint is that I often can’t tell if these are references to past events, deliberate style choices, or just narrative shortcuts that one might call “cheating”.

      • anonymous bosch says:

        >Moffat

        When he’s good, he’s really good. But …

        • bean says:

          My theory is that he has about one good idea a year. And it’s a very good idea. His episodes during RTD’s era are some of my favorites. But when he has to start producing more ideas than that, the quality drops quickly.

          • Sweeneyrod says:

            Agreed. More evidence for this – sherlock is better than the more recent Dr who episodes because he has a year to choose 3 plots.

          • BBA says:

            Moffat managed to write a dozen high-quality Coupling episodes a year, at least until Richard Coyle left. But that’s a sitcom.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      boy, wait til you get to the end of this season…

      I enjoyed the show through about Season 6 or so. After Steve Moffat took over I felt he eventually lost the thread of the series, getting hung up on his own cleverness too often, and hitting the same plot points over and over.

      That said, his earlier episodes (when Davies was still show runner) are fantastic. I particularly love “Silence in the Library.”

    • Nestor says:

      The expanse would be the closest you’ll get to hard sci fi in a TV series, barring a few animes here and there.

      Dr. Who lost me a few seasons ago, my take is that there’s like one or two excellent eps. per season, and the rest are pretty mediocre.

      Folks around here might like Rick and Morty, it’s a cartoon but it takes some long hard looks at transhumanist and multiversal sci fi tropes.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        Agreed on both those recommendations. The Expanse is some classic Bradbury/Hienlien style rocketpunk. The production values are top notch and season 2 on the way. Rick and Morty is a bit of an acquired taste, some of the humor makes the cold void of space look warm and fluffy by comparison, but I like it.

    • InferentialDistance says:

      I recommend Babylon 5 and Farscape.

      • Vlad says:

        I second Babylon 5.

        The pre-planned multi-season storyline makes it unique not just among SF shows but among TV shows period.

        Fair warning: its highs a very high, but its lows are pretty low as well. If you’re not into that, you’re not gonna like it. If you are, enjoy the best TV show ever made.

        Also it gets MUCH better as it goes along. Even as a fan I sincerely recommend skipping season 1 if you don’t like it except for 1×13 – Signs and Portents, 1×18 – Babylon Squared and 1×22 – Chrysalis.

        • John Schilling says:

          It gets better for the first three seasons. The fourth, suffered quite a bit from the perceived necessity of compressing two seasons of story into one season of episodes, but you’ll probably still want to watch it. The “wait, we get a fifth season?” season, was a mishmash of abandoned plot lines, filler, and a slightly misplaced epilogue, with a few moments of greatness. I’d actually recommend giving it a pass.

          • Concurred. Except that it might not be a bad idea to skip the last episode of season 4, and watch the last episode of season 5 instead.

            And whatever you do, don’t watch the abortive spin-off Crusade. That was dreadful.

          • Jaskologist says:

            This is pretty accurate. Also, you need to keep in mind that at the time B5 was breaking new ground by leaning so heavily on continuity, and actually having a plan for how the story would play out (something that Battlestar Galactica failed at a whole decade later). A lot of us may have rose-colored memories of it for that reason. Season 1 can be pretty campy, but it gets a lot better. I would still watch Season 5.

            I highly recommend Farscape. That show had some of the highest highs of any I’ve seen. When it’s good, it’s really, really good. Sadly, when it’s bad, it’s really bad, but at least they weren’t afraid to take risks.

            Doctor Who is fun, but you do have to entirely disable your brain. It gets more entertaining than Season 1, but it never gets smart, with the exception of Blink.

    • Randy M says:

      One of the points that stuck with me from Orson S Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy is that in good speculative fiction the reader/audience is informed fairly early on what that rules of your universe are. That way they can understand the danger the protagonist is in, they can have proper expectations for how the universe will unfold, etc. It doesn’t mean you can’t have outcomes or societies that the reader won’t expect, but you will have to be more creative about it, and it will feel more satisfying and clever to the reader. (Sci-fi also should work with know laws of physics is all ways not otherwise specified)

      For example, if the security works by eye scans and the protagonist needs to get past it, taking a henchman’s eyeballs is a clever if macabre solution. The protagonist revealing a heretofore unknown shapechanging ability is probably borderline. The protagonist revealing that he knows a verbal override is bad story telling–it seems in that case more like this technology works, except when the plot needs it not to.

      Perhaps expecting consistency for something as interesting yet convoluted as time travel is unfair, but just the dang sonic screw driver which does a different thing unrelated to screwing or sound every week is a big trespass. Or in the Shakespeare episode, the aliens powers were clearly designed to set up W Shakespeare to save the day for being a superior wordsmith–but it strains credulity that the aliens secrets of using words in place of technology should apply across language differences and work so in sync with English grammar.

      • Anonymous says:

        This is why I hated higurashi. Having many conflicting clues made for a very intriguing mystery in the first and second chapter, but by the third chapter it was clear that the resolution will be some form of magic, and that makes it pointless to speculate or pay attention.

        • Jiro says:

          I’m 95% finished with Higurashi right now (on part 8). Characters tend to have unannounced hallucinations which makes it impossible to figure out what is going on, naq gur “Uvanzvmnjn Flaqebzr” znxrf fhssvpvragyl yvggyr frafr gung vg pna’g or thrffrq naq frrzf boivbhfyl jebat jura vg vf nyzbfg qrfpevorq va cneg 7. (Gurer’f n tbbq ernfba jul gurer nera’g nal erny-yvsr qvfrnfrf jurer xvyyvat bar crefba znxrf rirelbar ryfr va gur gbja nssrpgrq ol gur qvfrnfr.)

          Shegurezber, gur jubyr guvat pbhyq unir orra fbyirq va 3 be 4 ybbcf vs Evxn unq gnxra nqinagntr bs univat Unaln nebhaq. (Zvlb naq Gbzvgnxr qvfnccrne rirel ybbc naq lbh qba’g xabj jub xvyyrq gurz? Fraq lbhe vaivfvoyr, vagnatvoyr, fpbhg gb sbyybj gurz arkg gvzr.)

          • Anonymous says:

            Right, it waas hyped to me as this super good mystery work, and it sure seemed like it at first. The slice of life parts aren’t that interesting and the art is poor, so clearly it gained fandom with its plot. And however ridiculous the first arc appeared, there was a creator message/interview attached as a bonus that made it clear that the clues were intended to be confusing and you’re supposed to try and figure it out. I was even considering stopping and replaying it after a while, taking notes to try and figure it out.

            But a few arcs later it became clear it’s just magic so I went to watch the simplified anime version and lost any motivation to think about the plot, instead enjoying the faces Rena makes when in ax-mode.

        • Jugemu Chousuke says:

          While there was a bit of magic, IIRC it wasn’t necessary to solve most of the basic mystery of what was happening, it just added another meta-layer to the story. So while the magic was a bit incongruous, it didn’t ruin the story for me.

          On the other hand, the part I didn’t like about Higurashi was how it turned into a power-of-friendship shonen adventure towards the end.

      • Pku says:

        Yeah, I think that was my biggest problem with Harry Potter as a series – the biggest offender being Voldemort’s resurrection ritual. Consistent yet suitably complicated time travel is one thing HPMOR did spectacularly well.

        • Mary says:

          Nah, the biggest problem was that Arthur Weasley and Bill Weasley were both, in Deadly Hallows, Secret Keepers for their own homes. The entire series would have fallen apart if either James or Lily had been their own Secret Keeper.

          (And all it would have taken was that Bill and Arthur Kept the other home’s Secret. Then the implicit rule would have been the Secret Keeper could not be resident at the protected location.)

      • Chrysophylax says:

        The guy who wrote Ra has a piece on his webiste explaining how different kinds of time travel are supposed to work. Long story short, exactly two are consistent: meta-time and acausality. Meta-time is where the causal arrows always go forward in some layer of meta-time, but can go backward in lower layers, causing time to branch. There’s never more than one copy of anyone or anything. Acausality is where things happen for reasons that haven’t happened yet because the causal graph is cyclic. You can have an arbitrary number of copies of someone, but you never go “back” or “forwards” in time. Groundhog Day is meta-time, time turners are acausal.

        • MugaSofer says:

          Doctor Who pretty explicitly follows the meta-time model, except when the writers forget.

        • Mary says:

          Acasual? That would be more like Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol series, where the effect of your killing your grandfather is that you now exist — without your birth having occurred. An effect without a cause.

          Temporal loops are another means, widely used.

          Though there is another. Wearing the Cape had a time traveler, but Now is privileged — and goes forward at a rate of one minute per subjective minute. Past is fixed; Future is only probabilistic.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            https://qntm.org/models

            Acausal in the sense that it cannot be described by a causal network, i.e. an acyclic directed graph (per Judea Pearl). Instead, it’s a cyclic directed graph. LessWrong has a very nice article about how this works, illustrated with cellular automata, but I can’t find it.

          • Mary says:

            Cyclic would make more sense, especially given the other possible meaning.

      • anonymous bosch says:

        Who is consistent. Ish.

        Sonic Screwdriver fills in for “but he’s an alien, why doesn’t he know advanced science that can solve this.” The Shakespeare episode, while silly, had a plot centred around “word aliens need Shakespeare for his words”. Most episodes establish similar things – this alien needs human skin, this alien needs emotion because it’s psychic.

        It’s consistent, not logical.

    • rttf says:

      Dr. Who episode 1 (new series) is without a doubt the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched a lot of shitty movies. I have no idea what anyone sees in that series.

      • Adam says:

        I’ll at least grant the possibility that however many thousands or millions of people I seem to otherwise have taste affinity with are not insane, but yeah, I only ever saw the first episode, and it did not encourage me to watch more.

      • Nornagest says:

        I dunno, man, I watched a couple episodes of “Enterprise”.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      the powered-by-plot McGuffins are starting to grate

      The subversion of this is why “The Brain of Morbius” is so good. Instead of the Doctor trying to gain hold of some plot-advancing device, the antagonists are desperately trying to gain hold of the Doctor for their own conflicting purposes. The Doctor does basically nothing; it’s a shaggy dog story despite the famous “pre-Hartnell regenerations” scene.

      And the antagonists are woefully incompetent, but desperate enough to create a believable conflict and try dangerous things. The villain has no special powers, but is trying to lure the Doctor in with false hospitality for sinister purposes. The Sisters of Karn have the power to telekinetically capture the Doctor–but no idea how fire works.

      It’s like Fawlty Towers goes up against a coven of Discworld wizards. (The witches in Discworld were pretty competent, weren’t they?)

    • Mary says:

      I recommend the old series.

      Not because the science gets any harder, but because the new series has better special effects, budget for extras, plots, and shooting locations, but the old one had more fun.

      • Adam Casey says:

        Seconded, the old show had to make do with plot and clever scripts rather than CGI.

        Plus the really old shows were deliberatly more educational, which means harder. There’s an old episode where the plot mguffin is “the spring in this switch broke, look kids, this is how buttons work, if the spring breaks it stays pressed”.

    • Emlin says:

      The way I think of Doctor Who is that it’s semantically science fiction, but syntactically a mix of fantasy and horror, essentially fairy tales. When I saw it at first, I hated it, because it made no sense and had no rules, and explained nothing etc etc – it was terrible science fiction. But when I decided it wasn’t science fiction and asked myself what it actually was, I realized that it was almost always scary or distressing, that the monsters follow nightmare-logic and that they have thematic ties to primal fears, and the characters experience occasional moments of character growth through their adversities. I ended up really loving it, but I think the more you stop wishing it was good at the things Star Trek is good at the easier it is to love.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      I don’t find Sci-fi a good genre match for TV. TV is fundamentally about character and story (because it’s long-form), so speculative fiction settings on TV will always be co-opted to serve the story. A key part of fantastical genre convention is that The Special Protagonist is special because they can piss all over the world-building rules. The only fantasy show that stuck to its guns for power levels that I can think of is Avatar: The Last Airbender.

      Shows that include good practical use of world details are generally going to be the ones that are grounded in real life settings that can be researched and verified.
      To that end, heist and spy shows, and procedurals with a significantly practical gimmick, are going to be your best bet for shows that highlight good setting stuff. Leverage, Burn Notice, Lovejoy, maybe Numb3rs, which I haven’t watched? I’m currently enjoying Person of Interest a lot, but it’s dealing with AI Risk themes on a very sub-101 level, so that might annoy.

      On the anime side…Planetes? Space Brothers?

      • InferentialDistance says:

        On the anime side…Planetes? Space Brothers?

        Planetes was fantastic, but isn’t really speculative fiction; it’s fairly hard sci-fi character driven drama about near-future space exploration. Couldn’t stand Space Brothers because it was comedy of embarrassment, don’t know if it ever got into speculative fiction. I’d recommend the movie Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise, but again, less speculative, character-driven drama about near-future space exploration.

        On the softer side, you have series like Legend of the Galactic Heroes (politics of space empires plus some naval battles), Crest/Banner of the Stars (naval battles plus some politics of space empires, but with space elves), Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (super-police in cyberpunk Japan, with occasional pretentious philosophy quotes), Cowboy Bebop (misfit bounty hunters, humanity has colonized the solar system). Possibly some of the Mobile Suit Gundams, if you’re willing to allow “giant humanoid robots are standard military equipment” as a premise (namely the OVAs: 0080 War in the Pocket, 08th MS Team, and 0083 Stardust Memories).

    • anonymous says:

      you might enjoy stargate SG 1

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m rather amused by this thread because oh dear, children. You are complaining about the quality of the cool new revival of Who when the BBC finally decided to get interested in it again.

      I remember the Colin Baker years 🙂

      That was actually a period of controversy where it was felt that violence and controversy for the sake of it had been cynically exploited by an indifferent (and rather embarrassed by the whole series) BBC in order to kill it off once and for all.

  13. Dr Dealgood says:

    Since this has come up recently on Thing of Things, and was also a live issue here for a moment, what do people think of the idea that it’s “OK to cheat” in a relationship sometimes?

    The first place I had heard this was overhearing it from family members listening to Dan Savage but it seems to be picking up steam. The idea is that if a partner is unwilling to try a specific sex act / open the relationship then their refusal frees you to go outside of the relationship to meet your (supposed) needs. Or more frighteningly, that all relationships include by default a tacit acceptance of discrete affairs even in the case of explicit marriage vows.

    I’m not terribly sympathetic to the idea, as my phrasing above indicates. A sexless marriage, actually sexless that is not just one which is UnfullfillingTM, has been grounds for divorce for as long as we’ve had written records of it. The whole thing stinks of justifying betrayal, and having ideas like this in the water supply erodes trust generally.

    • Randy M says:

      Hmmm, seems like we hashed that one out pretty well a year and half ago (or so… the one with the marriage counseling from Scott).
      Here, setting the default

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I’m not sure that we did honestly. It seemed like a solid plurality of the comments were just people yelling at one specific poster for admitting to cheating or talking about gay marriage due to Scott’s ill-advised casting.

        And anyway the commentariat has shifted a lot since then so it’d be interesting to get a sense of how the new blood see things.

        • Mary says:

          Ah. I observe that it’s not much more likely for us to come to a conclusion, this time. Though other takes might be interesting.

    • Saul Degraw says:

      People are very good at coming up with all sorts of rationalizations to justify shitty behavior. This is what makes us people.

      Savage is pretty clear that he is cool with open relationships but also very clear that there needs to be strong discussion and agreement and sticking to the parameters. If someone called him and said “I started a relationship with Sally because Anne would not do this.” He would scream at the person for cheating and breaking the parameters of the relationship.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Are you sure? I’m pretty sure he’s given people the greenlight to cheat in exactly those kinds of situations. Maybe he’s changed in the last three or four years but he was pretty pro-cheating last I listened.

        • LTP says:

          I believe he has said it is okay in certain narrow conditions, such as where ending the relationship would have horrible consequences (children are involved and the marriage is otherwise healthy, or the spouse is dying and needs end-of-life care) and the other partner won’t agree to open the relationship and the need is very strong. In most circumstances, though, he would say to put up with not getting that need met, or end the relationship.

          • Julie K says:

            What does “the need is very strong” mean?
            (I’m reminded of the Shel Silverstein story in which a little girl begs her parents for a pony, saying that if they don’t get her a pony, she will die. They don’t get it, and she does die.)

        • Faradn says:

          @Dr Dealgood

          I think you’re mostly correct, although he’s left some gaps in his prescriptions.

          He says it’s okay to cheat when your partner unilaterally ends your sex life. He recommends breaking up instead, but sometimes circumstances (like children) make that a worse option.

          As far as not doing specific kink things, he is ok with that if it is a kink that can be separated from actual sex–like a man getting femdommed. He has been less clear about outsourcing kinks that are necessarily linked to sex acts.

      • Deiseach says:

        My impression was that his attitude was “If you asked Anne to do this, and you explained why it was important to you, and she refused to try, and you said you’d go elsewhere if she didn’t and she still refused, then you’re okay to have a thing with Sally because you gave Anne fair warning”.

        Though I don’t like Dan Savage in general, so I may be being unfair.

    • Anonymous says:

      How about starting with the strongest version and if you accept that work back from there?

      Suppose you’ve been married for 25 years, you’ve raised kids together, had a good marriage, including a fulfilling sex life. Your wife is in a tragic car accident and is now a quadriplegic. You still love her and want to take care of her, but sex isn’t physically possible. You are looking at years or decades of celibacy. Okay to go look for NSA sex?

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        If I’ve understood utilitarians correctly, I think the ethical choice there is to kill your wife.

        • Chrysophylax says:

          I *really* hope you’re joking.

          Killing your wife violates the social compact and very strong ethical injunctions against killing people without *actual good reasons*, not just “good reasons”.

          Killing your wife also violates her preferences and destroys the utility she produces by being alive.

          Killing your wife is also likely to make you miserable and to cause a huge amount of wasted resources for society as it catches, tries and imprisons you.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I was mostly joking (and I’m certainly no utilitarian), however:

            Killing your wife violates the social compact and very strong ethical injunctions against killing people without *actual good reasons*, not just “good reasons”.

            Well, if being quadriplegic is not a negative utility existence, I don’t know what is.

            Killing your wife also violates her preferences

            Farm Animals’ preferences seem to be the same, but there are pretty strong arguments that their continued existence creates negative utility.

            destroys the utility she produces by being alive.

            Quadriplegic people are a huge burden to their loved ones, it’s not clear to me that she’s producing utility.

            Killing your wife is also likely to make you miserable and to cause a huge amount of wasted resources for society as it catches, tries and imprisons you.

            If it catches you. I mean, cheating also requires not getting caught to be ethical, right?

          • Patrick Spens says:

            Well, if being quadriplegic is not a negative utility existence, I don’t know what is.

            Pretty sure Stephen Hawking doesn’t qualify as a negative utility existence.

          • Mary says:

            “Well, if being quadriplegic is not a negative utility existence, I don’t know what is.”

            The utility of a life to the person living it is probably one of those questions where subjective experience trumps all.

            Witness that quadriplegics do not all go kill themselves. Therefore, they do not think their lives have negative utility.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Mary
            Witness that quadriplegics do not all go kill themselves.

            How?

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            I realize you’re probably seriously probing the rhetorical point, but to me it comes off like a dead-baby-joke to me, akin to the joke about how the scientists who cuts legs off a frog and measures it’s reaction to stimuli (it hops in reaction to a noise), only to conclude that the frog “becomes deaf” when it has no more legs to remove.

            But seriously, unless quadriplegics also lose all means of communication with their injury, this is a pretty easy question to answer: you ask them.

          • Adam says:

            I got the impression houseboat’s point is that suicide is difficult to accomplish for a person with no working limbs. Thus, the fact that they don’t often die of suicide doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to.

          • Mary says:

            To take positive action to end your life, yes. To end your life by not taking positive action, no. For instance, you have the right to refuse medical treatment.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Adam
            I got the impression houseboat’s point is that suicide is difficult to accomplish for a person with no working limbs.

            It can become impossible in practical terms with disability much less serious than that. This is a real problem.

            Failed suicide can produce permanent crippling and helplessness, and destroy one’s credibility with caregivers. Thus unless you feel up to getting it right the first time, better muddle suffer along.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The utility of a life to the person living it is probably one of those questions where subjective experience trumps all.

            Witness that quadriplegics do not all go kill themselves. Therefore, they do not think their lives have negative utility.

            Not necessarily: survival instinct is pretty strong, so even if someone’s life was such that they felt more unhappiness than pleasure, I still think they’d find it difficult to kill themselves.

            Plus, even if the person’s life is, for them, slightly positive on balance, this might still by outweighed by the hassle they cause their caregivers. In which case, killing them would be the moral course of action under utilitarianism, provided you don’t feel guilty and provided you can make it look like an accident.

        • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

          Yes, it is.

      • Anonymous says:

        Your wife is in a tragic car accident and is now a quadriplegic. You still love her and want to take care of her, but sex isn’t physically possible. You are looking at years or decades of celibacy. Okay to go look for NSA sex?

        I can’t believe nobody’s pointed out yet that no, of course it isn’t remotely! You took an oath. You swore to be faithful to this woman for better or for worse; well, this is worse. I’ve noticed that to many people this does seem to work out to “for better or BEEEEEP” in their minds, but that’s still not the promise you actually made. There is no way for it to ever become okay for you to break it while remaining married, and there is no limit except death. If you don’t like it, don’t get married. I myself am a strong advocate of living in permanent sin.

        If you don’t like it, you can still divorce your quadriplegic wife. (It’s actually surprisingly common for people to dump their gravely injured or ill spouses with reference to some vague “I can’t handle it” which is obviously code for “I’ve concluded that I won’t enjoy this”, so maybe you can assuage that pesky conscience by telling yourself that as a heel, you’re totally normal.)

        • Anonymous says:

          Original anon here. Out of curiosity, would you mind sharing approximately how old you are?

        • Faradn says:

          There are common versions of traditional wedding vows that don’t actually ask you to forsake all others.

          • keranih says:

            I…would like to better understand how you are using the word “common” here.

          • Faradn says:

            “I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded(husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

            Is apparently the most common wedding vow spoken by Catholics in the U.S.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_vows

          • keranih says:

            @ Faradn, that is not what your link said. The wiki article abrevates the vow-making portion of the Catholic ritual quite a bit, and furthermore calls your version ‘another form’. This link will serve you better (and it’s the source for the WP information.)

        • You could divorce her but agree to continue supporting her in the same ways as before. That would terminate the sexual exclusivity agreement but nothing else.

          There is (tangent) a Dick Francis novel which involves this sort of a situation, although it’s a woman in an iron lung, not a quadraplegic.

          • keranih says:

            Ah, I remember that book! Forfeit, wasn’t it?

            An interesting exploration of the concept, I think, and which made most of the various conflicts involved for the betterment of the story.

      • Zippy says:

        Your wife is … now a quadriplegic … sex isn’t physically possible.

        Look, buddy, I didn’t play Katawa Shoujo for nothing…

        Anyhow, I recommend talking to your wife about the subject. Eventually, that is.

      • Anonymous says:

        Suppose you’ve been married for 25 years, you’ve raised kids together, had a good marriage, including a fulfilling sex life. Your wife is in a tragic car accident and is now a quadriplegic. You still love her and want to take care of her, but sex isn’t physically possible. You are looking at years or decades of celibacy. Okay to go look for NSA sex?

        No.

        Your wife is in a tragic car accident and is now a quadriplegic. You still love her and want to take care of her, but sex isn’t physically possible.

        What? According to the internets, you can totally have sex with a quadruplegic person – have children with them, even. It is more difficult if the quadruplegic party is male, sure, but it’s far from “physically impossible”. So stop shirking your marital duty.

    • blacktrance says:

      Ideally, there would be less social pressure to stick with the default relationship model, so people who have a strong preference for monogamy could make it even more explicit than they do now, and people who want open relationships would be able to at least suggest it without stigma. I’d expect much less cheating in such a world. But the fact that we don’t live in such a world is no excuse for cheating, and I say this as a sexually liberal person. People’s anger at the discovery of their partner’s infidelity is evidence for the default relationship not allowing for affairs.

      That said, I can imagine a few scenarios in which cheating is morally acceptable, but not for lack of sexual fulfillment.

      • Anonymous says:

        This is nonsensical. The reason we don’t live in such a world is that “people who have a strong preference for monogamy” is approximately 95% of the population. The reason that we have cheating anyway is because almost everyone’s preference is for their partner not to cheat first and foremost; virtually everyone who cheats knows in her own heart that she does wrong and justifies it in various ways in order to feel less bad about it.

        If more people were interested in open relationships, there wouldn’t be a stigma. You’ve managed to arrange this exactly backwards.

        • Chrysophylax says:

          Correction: most people strongly want to not be cheated on, but are much less keen on not cheating themselves. I don’t know whether most people have an active preference for cheating if they don’t get caught, but I wouldn’t feel surprised if that turned out to be true.

          Anecdata: my mother says she can list on her fingers the men she was acquainted with who didn’t try to get her to cheat on my father. If people think their own relationships are sacrosanct, they *definitely* don’t believe that of other people’s relationships.

          Better data: count the real accounts on Ashley Madison, then throw in all the people cheating on sites that aren’t explicitly for adultery, then remember that those were the people who tried to cheat *systematically* instead of impulsively.

          I do not think the average relationship involves a serious expectation of sexual faithfulness. I think it involves not thinking about the painful thing it’s socially unacceptable to discuss unless forced to. People are *very good indeed* at wishful thinking and wilfull ignorance.

          • Watercressed says:

            I think this argument proves way too much; humans are hypocrites about most social norms.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            Watercressed, I’m confused. You seem to be disagreeing while saying the same thing. My position is that people aren’t consistent. A marriage vow is a sacred oath in one context and boilerplate in another. The status of vows can be predicted pretty well by what’s advantageous for the person in question. This seems like a perfect example of hypocrisy.

          • Watercressed says:

            My disagreement is that all the hypocrisy is not enough to draw conclusions about how real the expectation of sexual faithfulness is.

            Humans have a strong preference for not being scammed out of their money, and there are a variety of social norms about dealing fairly with people you transact with.

            Because humans are hypocritical, they are less keen on restraining themselves if they see an easy mark and stand to gain. Despite this, the average transaction does involve a serious expectation that you are buying a television and not a box full of pebbles. The promises of a genuine article are not boilerplate, even if the seller has a really strong preference for getting $250 in exchange for a box of pebbles.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            Yes, but cheating seems like a really common problem, much more so than pebble TVs. Also, an awful lot of products don’t work as well as they’re meant to – they get bugs, or bits break off, or they just starting working slowly and making funny noises – and pretty much all products don’t work as advertised. This seems like a pretty close parallel to humans make grand claims of everlasting devotion and not trying very hard to keep them.

            Let me put it a different way. Do you think people are intensely surprised by acquaintances cheating? If you got a college reunion to all privately guess how many of their classmates have cheated, what do you think the mean percentage would be? As far as I can tell, people seem to think sexual unfaithfulness is normal – a reason to flap jaws rather than drop them. It seems like the discrepancy must be driven by the standard reasons for thinking that “it can’t happen to *me*”, of which the main ones seem to be the planning fallacy and flinching away from uncomfortable thoughts.

          • “As far as I can tell, people seem to think sexual unfaithfulness is normal – a reason to flap jaws rather than drop them.”

            I think it is pretty common among people in general. I would be surprised to hear that a close friend had been unfaithful.

            Similarly for some other forms of behavior I disapprove of. One of the things I learn from arguing climate issues on Facebook or watching chat on WoW is what standards are like outside my bubble.

        • blacktrance says:

          If 95% of the world really want monogamy, then we’ll see a lot of relationships negotiated to be monogamous, but I don’t think we can assume that just because so many people want monogamy now that they’d still want it if asking for an alternative weren’t stigmatized. There’s currently a strong incentive in many social circles to pretend to want monogamy, or to not examine whether it’s what you really want. Besides, there’s no reason why merely having an uncommon preference should be stigmatized.

          • Anonymous says:

            Besides, there’s no reason why merely having an uncommon preference should be stigmatized.

            In this case there are very good ones. Even the mild intrusion of a polygamous norm as accepted on the highly monogamous society can throw things desperately out of whack for the monogamous hypermajority. Just for one example, it’s quite common now to see polygamous relationships where one or more parties agreed to the setup only from being in love, actually want a monogamous relationship with one of the genuinely poly parties, and find the situation itself miserable and denigrating. The less polygamy is stigmatized, the more this would happen, obviously, because if anything’s irrational (and God knows…) it’s strong romantic feelings.

            Basically, suppression of the poly minority’s desire to have five girlfriends is by far the lesser evil, especially to the mind of a monogamous person since “they still get to have one, just like the rest of us! We’re not depriving them of anything we allow ourselves, so it’s fair”.

          • blacktrance says:

            Just for one example, it’s quite common now to see polygamous relationships where one or more parties agreed to the setup only from being in love, actually want a monogamous relationship with one of the genuinely poly parties, and find the situation itself miserable and denigrating.

            More common than people agreeing to monogamy when they want to be polyamorous? Given the high prevalence of monogamy, that could be more common. But I’m not arguing for replacing the current norm of monogamy with polyamory, but for a norm of people negotiating for the kinds of relationships they want, whether monogamous or polyamorous. It’s true that sometimes people may choose to pursue their non-preferred relationship style if it means being with the person they want, but why should monogamous people necessarily get their way, instead of it being dependent on the specifics of the situation?

            And I’m not willing to grant your assertion of there being a monogamous hypermajority. It’s true that most people are monogamous now, but who knows what they’d do under a more permissive set of norms?

          • Garrett says:

            There’s reason to suspect that having a large number of men who are unable to find a wife (because they’ve all been claimed by hypergamous polygamous men) results in a lot of social instability.

          • Adam says:

            There’s reason to suspect Bigfoot exists, but blacktrance’s form of polyamory doesn’t preclude his partners from marrying other men.

          • blacktrance says:

            But is there any reason to think that polyamory leads to hypergamous men monopolizing all the women? Polyamory means that both partners are free to date others, so if the men are literally monopolizing the women through an arrangement that allows themselves to have multiple partners but forbids it for the women, that’s not polyamory. Also, people have a desire for companionship, which is unlikely to be met by only dating someone who’s splitting their time with a large number of partners – all else equal, the more partners someone has, the less desirable they become as a primary partner.

          • Psmith says:

            @blacktrance, is this coming from personal experience or are you just speculating?

          • nydwracu says:

            In circles where polyamory is common, how many women are single and don’t want to be, and how many men are single and don’t want to be? In my experience, the numbers are ‘zero’ and ‘a lot’.

            I’d expect that, in all circles where polyamory is common, women are less likely to be single than men, and the average woman will be dating more people than the average man.

          • blacktrance says:

            Psmith:
            Personal experience.

            Nydwracu:
            That can be confounded by the community having more men than women, as in the rationalistsphere. If there’s gender imbalance, one would expect there to be more singles among the more common gender, whether under monogamy or polyamory.

          • Adam says:

            Maybe bizarrely, all of the poly people I know are men. Zero of them are single, but I guess maybe they’re the Rico Sauves of the poly world or something. They seem like dorks to me and I’m pretty sure I could easily outcompete them for any target woman.

            Frankly, I don’t see why we should subsidize sexless men that women don’t like. If you’re that much of a loser and you’re going to try to hold the world hostage with threats of violence if you can’t get a date, we should probably execute you or at least do everything possible to make sure you can’t reproduce.

          • Anon says:

            nydwracu, etc:

            Anecdotally, my experience from poly-friendly communities with roughly balanced gender ratios (swing dance, artists, and pagans) is that poly men and poly women, as classes, both tend to be dating between zero and three people, with roughly the same distribution for men and women. There are some men and, slightly less frequently, some women who are regularly having sex with > 3 people, but this is not all that related to the poly aspect. When it comes to romantic relationships, they’re pretty similar.

          • Psmith says:

            Personal experience.

            (also @ Anon)
            Fair enough. I will note that the word “dating” can elide some pretty meaningful distinctions.

            I’m saying that I’ve seen polycules with those demographics–for god’s sake, I worked at Google in the Bay–and while no one had a written OPP, the vast majority of those excess men were dating in name only. Because of status games and desire to be capital-P Poly, women would take secondaries…but not sleep with them, or be intimately available, or do anything else someone not in Rationalist Tumblr would identify as “dating.”

            Those men took the deal (“sure, you can say we’re in a Poly relationship, just don’t touch me, loser”) because the alternative was being single. I can’t entirely blame them, though it’s not for me. But the net effect is the same as a few high status people keeping harems.

            So.

            Frankly, I don’t see why we should subsidize sexless men that women don’t like.

            As with everything else in life, do what you want and deal with the consequences. But I doubt that the people who oppose normalizing polyamory are just mistaken about what’s in their best interest. Cet animal est tres méchant.

          • Anonymous says:

            Blacktrance:

            More common than people agreeing to monogamy when they want to be polyamorous?

            Yes. By far. Again, you seem to be — I suspect because you’re wired into the subculture — grossly overestimating how many genuinely polyamorous people there are. I don’t blame you for this at all; it’s very common in the sexual subcultures to grossly overestimate their numbers for a whole host of reasons. For instance, many gay people long touted, and most still believe, that 10% of the population was homosexual, when in fact it’s not more than 2% and probably less than 1,5% (the UK census of 2011 gave 1,4%; the idea that even one in three UK homosexuals is too fearfully closeted to come out to the census is… charitably best described as unfamiliar with the cultural climate of that country.)

            I’m not arguing for replacing the current norm of monogamy with polyamory

            But you are. You may not actively realize it, but that’s exactly what you’re doing: destigmatizing polyamory would mean monogamous relationships essentially constituting a minimum-member poly relationship that isn’t looking to expand. “Negotiating the kind of relationship you want” is inherently a polynorm, wherein the mere existence of negotiable terrain pressures people to accept negotiated relationships they’re unhappy with. Whether you like that that’s the case or not, that’s how it shakes out in the real world.

            why should monogamous people necessarily get their way

            I don’t know about necessarily, but pragmatically: because they’re the vast majority and their misery from not getting their way is vastly larger than that of the polyamorous. Think of it in terms of pure aggregate utils if you like, or simple democracy if you prefer that.

            Psmith: who’s your second blockquote from? I’d like to read that source.

          • Nornagest says:

            wherein the mere existence of negotiable terrain pressures people to accept negotiated relationships they’re unhappy with

            Whether you’re into poly or not, I think this argument should raise some eyebrows. Conventionally, people choose things because they prefer them to the alternatives.

            They do sometimes make bad choices, but it’s awfully presumptuous to block off a choice because it can be bad, especially when you have no idea how often. And especially especially if you aren’t dealing with a mechanism like addiction that makes it hard to back out of demonstrably bad consequences, which we aren’t. (There are sunk costs, and not small ones, but I’m not aware of any situation where we taboo stuff purely because of sunk cost issues.)

          • blacktrance says:

            Anonymous:
            For some reason, my comment isn’t showing up. Response here.

        • Nicholas says:

          If you cheat, you do not have a preference for monogamy. You have a preference for someone else’s monogamy perhaps, but you don’t have a preference for you to be monogamous.

    • aesthete says:

      Cheating is a good way to destroy trust in whatever context cheating occurs. In a marital context, one is essentially banking on 1) one’s spouse not finding out despite cohabitation and a generally good understanding of their partner’s personality and emotional state or 2) your spouse’s rancor being worth the positives of the other relationship. If #2, then why not divorce? If #1, then one’s risk aversion is probably quite unwisely low and should be understood as such.

    • Anonymous says:

      Treating marriage as just another contract erodes trust. Having a sufficient amount of ideas like this one in the water supply will eventually make it murky enough that people start looking for another one.

      I can see cheating as the reasonable option in very specific circumstances, but you don’t go promoting it on TV and trying to make it the default option. The default exists to fit most people, if you think you’re exceptional, do what you want and don’t complain if it turns out you aren’t special and the whole thing blows up in your face.

    • Salem says:

      Obviously cheating is never OK. You always see these hypothetical reasons to justify it, but they always turn into flimsy excuses for a pre-determined action. Take Anonymous’s “strongest example” above – you could always just ask your partner for permission. “Oh, but she wouldn’t agree.” Then maybe you should end the relationship, but you don’t get to continue it based on deceit.

      Maybe it is legitimate to say “Because you won’t meet my supposed needs, I am going to seek companionship elsewhere” – that way there is no deceit, and your partner has the requisite knowledge to end, or not, the relationship based on your misconduct. I would still consider that immoral, but the people seeking to justify cheating don’t even go as far as that to allay ethical concerns, because they know that doing so wouldn’t go well for them, and at base that’s all they’re concerned with.

      I too remember the argument that all relationships include a tacit acceptance of discrete affairs, because obviously marriage vows and promises of exclusivity are just boiler-plate. Even more hilarious was the argument that would-be cheaters have no ethical obligation to tell their partners that they intend to cheat on them, because if they were up-front about it, fewer people would want to form relationships with them. You don’t say.

      Ashley Madison was doing the Lord’s work, separating these scoundrels from their money and giving them nothing in return.

      • Anonymous says:

        Take Anonymous’s “strongest example” above – you could always just ask your partner for permission. “Oh, but she wouldn’t agree.” Then maybe you should end the relationship, but you don’t get to continue it based on deceit.

        Is it really better to present an ultimatum to your quadriplegic wife: let me sleep with other women or I’m divorcing you? This reads like typical minding to me. Most people don’t hold honesty, no matter how brutal, as the single highest value. Now if your wife happens to be of that … personality type maybe that’s a different story.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Honestly this might be fighting the hypothetical a bit but your example makes much less sense with a quadriplegic wife than a husband. I mean, what’s actually preventing you from having sex with a woman who’s quadriplegic anyway? It wouldn’t exactly be great sex if she couldn’t move at all but that’s a far cry from celibacy.

          And as for the ultimatum versus betrayal dilemma, I know that I personally would greatly prefer the former. I’ve had women tell me that I could fool around with other girls and be discrete about it before, but wouldn’t assume that as the default stance of anyone I was with. That could be a failure of projection on my part but I would guess that of those two the ultimatum is the better option.

          • FJ says:

            “I mean, what’s actually preventing you from having sex with a woman who’s quadriplegic anyway? It wouldn’t exactly be great sex if she couldn’t move at all but that’s a far cry from celibacy.”

            I want this comment preserved in amber and kept in a museum somewhere. It is perhaps the single strangest opinion I have ever encountered.

            ETA: I apologize if that came off as discourteous. But the comment seemed to be wholly bizarre in light of the (to me) obvious mechanical and physiological obstacles, as well as the notion that, were those obstacles to be overcome, the result would be “a far cry” from any alternative methods a man might use to endure the lack of a sexual partner.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, it’s obviously pointless since she wouldn’t be able to successfully bear children.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Alright FJ, I actually went out and looked this up. It looks like I was right, the main issue is just lubrication and that’s not exactly a tough fix.

            This should be obvious, but just as a warning: these links are to descriptions of the mechanics of sex with women who have spinal cord injuries. Don’t follow them if that’s going to weird you out.

            Spinal Cord Injury Network on female sexuality after spinal cord injury.

            Cosmo article written by paralyzed woman, a bit more detailed but with hints of unreliable narrator.

            I stand by my previous statement.

          • Nita says:

            Actually, I’d say conditions that merely transform PIV sex from [a physically pleasurable activity] into [having your body used as a giant fleshlight] are not the worst case. The worst case are things that make it actively aversive — e.g., vaginismus, vulvar vestibulitis, physical or hormonal aftereffects of childbirth, psychological aftereffects of rape.

          • Anonymous says:

            And as for the ultimatum versus betrayal dilemma, I know that I personally would greatly prefer the former.

            Do you have any vague inkling that there are people out there that would come down on the other side? Substantial number of people?

      • Deiseach says:

        would-be cheaters have no ethical obligation to tell their partners that they intend to cheat on them, because if they were up-front about it, fewer people would want to form relationships with them

        That’s the kind of attitude that makes “And I’m going to take a baseball bat to your kneecaps when I find out” positively understandable. If you go into a relationship (a) knowing the other person has an expectation of fidelity (b) allowing them to believe you intend to be faithful (c) you have no such intention from the very start but (d) you are being dishonest because you know they would not form a relationship with you if they knew you wanted a sexually open relationship –

        – then you don’t have a leg to stand on. The only ethical point on your side is to be honest from the start about “I don’t want/believe in exclusive relationships; I intend this to be an open relationship; I am okay with you having affairs on the side as well. If you want to pursue this relationship, I’m letting you know from the start so you have all the information and can make a decision”.

        Deliberately lying about “Sure I’m going to be faithful” in order to get the other person to have a relationship with you is even worse than any hypothetical “if a hot person hits on me, I’m going along with it” because the whole basis of any trust is eroded. It’s not about just sexual fidelity; you’ve demonstrated that the itch in your pants means more to you than trust, honesty, or keeping your word, so there’s no reason to think you’d be any more honest about, say, stealing your partner’s money – because you’ve shown yourself to be deceitful, dishonest, untrustworthy and only interested in your own self-interest and pleasing your self.

        • Mary says:

          One notes that in the Catholic Church such a view is double grounds for annulment:

          First, not intending to be faithful is itself grounds.

          Second, deceiving someone about something to obtain their consent, and in fact gaining their consent only by this deceit, is also grounds.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I’m going to take a baseball bat to your kneecaps…then you don’t have a leg tons on.

          I see what you did there. Excellent.

      • Error says:

        Maybe it is legitimate to say “Because you won’t meet my supposed needs, I am going to seek companionship elsewhere” – that way there is no deceit, and your partner has the requisite knowledge to end, or not, the relationship based on your misconduct.

        This is pretty much my position — except I wouldn’t even call it misconduct in that case. Arrangements can be renegotiated or withdrawn.

        (marriage with oaths about fidelity might be a different story, but that’s irrelevant to me because I refuse to marry)

    • John Schilling says:

      1. If you think that when you and your spouse exchanged wedding vows there was some tacit agreement that the whole “marital fidelity” thing was just boilerplate that nobody takes seriously, you’re almost certainly wrong and likely to find out about it the hard way. Violating an explicit agreement is cheating. If an agreement isn’t explicit, violating the social consensus and/or legal default for agreements of that general type is cheating, and for marriage the consensus and the default is sexual fidelity.

      2. From a strictly utilitarian standpoint, the harm caused by cheating falls almost entirely in the “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” category. Cheating without getting caught (and with adequate safeguards against pregnancy and STDs), is harmless.

      3. If you think you won’t get caught, you’re almost certainly wrong and likely to find out about it the hard way. And will, in the process, cause great harm to your spouse.

      4. Cheating is not virtuous, and is by definition against the rules. Are there any ethical systems I am missing?

      5. Go ahead and negotiate an open relationship already. Or get a divorce.

      6. It is remotely possible that you can negotiate an open relationship through implicit signaling. It is even possible that your spouse would prefer this to having to explicitly accept your extramarital flings. But it’s not the way to bet, and have you looked at how high the stakes are?

      • John, you’re very sure that people will get found out.

        I have no idea how often cheating gets caught. What’s your line of thought?

        • Chrysophylax says:

          I think that people are atrocious at lying unless they believe they’re being honest and even worse at planning cunning plots.

          I think that getting caught is pretty much guaranteed for a sustained affair except through the wilfull ignorance of the spouse or unless the circumstances are very favourable (e.g. being a long-distance driver with a regular route), in which case cheating is probably rather less of a surprise to the spouse.

          I think that one-night-stands are rather less likely to get detected, but I also think that the emotional state that causes you to cheat is itself detectable. This seems to be why people get into fights about suspected unfaithfulness / wandering eyes.

          I think that cheating was adaptive in the EEA for pretty high probabilities of getting caught, which is why humans are so prone to cheating, so fanatical about paternity in environments with very scarce resources, and so on. It seems likely that cheating has only become more common as the costs fell and the tnumber of opportunities rose.

          Basically, it seems like a stupid idea that people are going to do anyway because we’re sex-crazed murder-monkeys who don’t keep our promises and refuse to discuss uncomfortable topics unless forced to.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          just from a psychological angle, compartmentalizing your life in this way has serious costs.

      • Jiro says:

        From a strictly utilitarian standpoint, the harm caused by cheating falls almost entirely in the “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” category.

        That’s a hole in utilitarianism; it can’t handle blissful ignorance.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I don’t see how that’s supposed to be a problem.

          If it’s truly blissful, there is no objection. The issue is that ignorance often leads to non-blissful things happening in the long-run.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        “2. From a strictly utilitarian standpoint, the harm caused by cheating falls almost entirely in the “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” category. Cheating without getting caught (and with adequate safeguards against pregnancy and STDs), is harmless.”

        This is true of hedonistic utilitarianism, but not of many other, arguably more plausible forms of utilitarianism (for instance, desire satisfaction theories).

      • MugaSofer says:

        >Are there any ethical systems I am missing?

        Not cheating is slave morality! Reach out and take what you want from the world through the exercise of will!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Cheating is no different from violating the terms of any other contract. It’s not okay, and sometimes it’s the least worst option.

    • Adam says:

      I’d really like to see specifically what you’re responding to. I can’t agree with any general principle that it’s okay to cheat, and I don’t follow Dan Savage, but the few specific instances I’ve seen of him being okay with it were clear edge cases where he’s being a pragmatist rather than an idealist. I’ve never seen him promote cheating as a generally acceptable thing.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Dan Savage has an obligation not to imply that there has ever existed a cheater more virtuous than Santorum, or else people will lie about him and degrade social norms.

    • Two McMillion says:

      I’d say the answer is that marriage isn’t actually about human pleasure at all.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      I think cheating is generally personally harmful and bad from a utilitarian POV. It certainly seems to be dominated by discussing things like adults between any people who can face the idea that there’s a discussion to have. Personally, I think that being unwilling to discuss stuff like polyamory would be a strong signal of a fundamental personality mismatch. I expect the same goes for a large proportion of the SSC readership.

      I’m not sure that cheating is universally bad. There’s probably some level of cheating at which the benefits balance the costs, both personally and socially, if we start with the person with the best reasons to cheat and work our way up. I think this system is probably dominated by discussing things like adults as a society, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.

      I’m not sure how much cheating people believe occurs and whether they think vows are really a solemn binding contract. I suspect that people are *very* inconsistent on this, because infidelity is the topic where I would expect people to be most Hansonish. (Meta aside: what term should be used to mean “behaving as Robin Hanson predicts”, rather than “using models like Hanson’s”?) Basically, I think this is solved by conjugation: your vows to me were a sacred oath (that I nevertheless will suspect you of breaking), my vows to you were a solemn promise (except when I’m drunk or horny), his/her vows were boilerplate (and he/she will probably cheat with me if I offer/ask/cop a feel).

      If cheating weren’t commonplace, people wouldn’t think about it so much. Given how much people think about it, how common it is amongst other animals, and that people worried about it when they genuinely believed it meant damnation to Hell, I suspect that cheating in marriages is the default. I’ve certainly encountered people who think that marriages where nobody ever cheats are weird oddities people believe in because they don’t like the idea of their parents or partners cheating.

      I think part of the problem is that we want marriage to be ~romantic~ and discussing legal contracts isn’t romantic. If people were sensible, pre-nuptial agreements would be the default. Basically, I think we should be wombats. Wombat civilisation is much more Adequate.

      Does anyone have any good ideas about what could replace legally or socially binding commitments as a big ~romantic~ gesture for people to signal with, so that we can redesign the binding contracts to be sensible? There seems to be a fundamental problem that the commitment is part of what makes the gesture romantic. (I may be aromantic, so I’m kind of in the dark here. What things cause romantic feelings? What does romance feel like from the inside? AVENWiki isn’t clear.)

    • Deiseach says:

      If you’re going to be open to having extra-marital affairs, get that out of the way before you get married. It’s no good going “But honey, nobody means it seriously when they say they’ll be sexually exclusive in the wedding ceremony, it’s just pointless tradition!” once you’ve been caught with your trousers/knickers down.

      That being said, there may well be circumstances when someone who never thought they’d ever be tempted to cheat finds themselves in that position. I think, if it’s something like “it’s morally okay to ‘cheat’ when, for instance, your spouse is too ill/disinterested to have sex and you are happy in the marriage otherwise or want to stay together for the sake of the kids/the mortgage”, then you should consider going to a prostitute instead of going onto a site like Ashley Madison: it’s more honest if all you want is the sex.

      If you want an emotional component, then there’s more going on than “I just want to dress up like a panda and be called Big Boo-Boo but my spouse won’t do that for me”. In that case, it’s more honest to consider divorce or leaving the relationship.

      What is not okay, contra Ozy, is some guy with a wedding ring hitting on you and you thinking “Oh, I’m sure he’s being perfectly ethical here and his partner/spouse is aware and consents to being in an open marriage/poly relationship!” and then agreeing to bang him.

      I think such an attitude is charmingly naive, to put it in its nicest terms. The guy’s a snake and there’s nothing to say he won’t take advantage of you in the new relationship; the willingness to break the agreed commitment in one relationship makes me very dubious that he’s going to be committed and honest in his adulterous relationship (and I never understand the mistresses who go crying about ‘he promised he’d marry me but he lied!’ – woman, he’s already lying and deceiving by having an affair, why did you expect him to be any more honest with you?)

      • Salem says:

        And even if he does marry her, what does she expect? The man who marries his mistress creates a vacancy.

      • Winfried says:

        Does anyone know if there are any stats on the rates of sexual assaults by cheaters, or for that matter all criminal behavior?

        I can’t imagine that someone willing to break vows and risk social disapproval would be a fine upstanding conscientious citizen in all other areas, but maybe people can compartmentalize it.

    • Jill says:

      Cheating is wimpy. A person who doesn’t want to try to negotiate an open relationship will cheat. A person who has problems in a relationship but doesn’t want to go to couples counseling to work out the problems will cheat. A spoiled person who thinks they should get everything they ask for in a relationship, or else they are entitled to betray their partner, will cheat. A person who in a way wants a divorce but doesn’t have the guts to say so, will cheat. A person will cheat in order to “have their cake and eat it too”– have someone committed to them but not practice commitment themselves.

      Basically it comes down to gutlessness, Or believing one is entitled to get one’s own needs met but one’s spouse is not. And dishonesty and betrayal.

    • Frog Do says:

      I think “it’s okay to cheat” is not that terrible as a behavior, I think “it’s okay to cheat” is very terrible as publically known advice. Hate the sin not the sinner, uudging on an private/indivudal scale is different from judging at a public/group scale, etc, etc.

    • eqdw says:

      I’ll bite.

      First, a definition, so that we’re on the same page.

      Cheating: Violating the implicit or explicit expectations of the other person in your relationship.

      Cheating is horrible. Don’t do it. Full stop.

      As far as I’m concerned, basically anything goes in a relationship, provided you both agreed to it. But if you didn’t, then don’t do it. Doing it is a breach of someone else’s trust and, in many real-world contexts, could be considered a violation of consent (think of STI potential). Breaching someone’s trust is one of the worst things you can do in a relationship.

      Do you want to still see other people? Then talk about it. We live in a world where polyamory is pretty much accepted (and, if you live somewhere it’s not, just wait a few years), so use that. Be honest about it. Don’t lie to your loved ones.

      Calling back to Scott’s previous post, where we set the default: If you think you just need to cheat, because the relationship is not fulfilling your needs, then do the right thing and end the relationship. To do anything else is to hurt and disrespect your partner, treating your needs as always trumping theirs.

      Seriously. “Be kind to one another” is not a hard concept. I don’t know why everyone has such a hard time with this one.

      • Jason GL says:

        I like your definition of cheating, eqdw, but I don’t agree that it’s always horrible and wrong to “violate the implicit or explicit expectations of the other person in your relationship.”

        One good reason people cheat is that most people are *really bad* at clearly communicating their expectations. For starters, *having* clear expectations is a prerequisite for communicating them. Most people haven’t given much serious thought to their romantic priorities and values. How do you like to show affection? How do you like to be cared for? How much anger is it OK to express in front of your partner? Do you want your partner to share embarrassing and unflattering secrets with you, or do you want your partner to help you preserve some of your romantic illusions? If you had to choose only two out of four, would you rather have sex passionately, frequently, creatively, or spontaneously?

        In my experience, even otherwise thoughtful, respectful, and self-aware people typically fail to have these conversations before they commit to loving a significant other. They often don’t really understand what they want, and if they do understand they might not be honest enough to admit it, and if they are honest they might not feel the same way from one year to the next, and even if they do always feel the same way, they might not be articulate enough to share their feelings. It’s one thing to be bound to a clearly agreed-upon standard — it’s another to be bound to inchoate, shifting, half-expressed desires.

        The standard marriage vows, spoken in public, provide *some* evidence that your partner expects monogamy — but I think it’s fair to assume that not everyone who makes those vows takes them literally. At a wedding, everybody gets together and says maximally nice things in order to generate a mood of joy and celebration. The point is to have a good time together and to signal an intense commitment, not to precisely express one’s exact intentions about the future of the relationship. Suppose a couple wanted to commit to mostly only having sex with each other but gracefully tolerating the occasional outside fling. Would they spell that out in public, in front of their parents and grandparents and clergy and co-workers and friends from high school?

        Another good reason people cheat is that people often wind up in situations where all of their other options are intolerably painful. It’s easy to *say* that if the relationship is “not fulfilling your needs” then the “right thing” is to “end the relationship,” but what if you share a house, a set of children, and a decade or more of habits, routines, familiarity, and mutual coping skills? It’s easy to *say* that if you want to stay in the relationship, you should make whatever sexual sacrifices you need to make to stay on the right side of your partner’s boundaries — but many people find it deeply painful or even traumatizing to be in a sexless or nearly-sexless marriage. It’s not just about the absence of a certain kind of pleasure — it’s about the feelings of rejection, powerlessness, worthlessness, and loneliness that come with it. Sex isn’t just a fun recreational activity; it’s also an important symbol of some of our highest human values.

        I think Dan Savage persuasively argues that if you want your partner to stay monogamous, you owe your partner the courtesy of earnestly trying to meet the majority of your partner’s sexual needs. As he puts it, if sex is a big deal, then you should be willing to make a big effort to meet your partner’s sexual needs, and if sex isn’t a big deal, then you shouldn’t mind very much if your partner has extramarital sex. Breaching a loved one’s trust is very bad — but it’s also very bad to unilaterally cancel a loved one’s sex life, and it’s not clear to me that the former is always worse.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          if sex isn’t a big deal, then you shouldn’t mind very much if your partner has extramarital sex. Breaching a loved one’s trust is very bad — but it’s also very bad to unilaterally cancel a loved one’s sex life, and it’s not clear to me that the former is always worse.

          Right. If A wants exclusive rights to all of B’s sexual performance, well, that’s traditional. But if A now wants to be asexual, it’s crazy unreasonable ridiculous odd to insist that B become asexual also.

        • Totally agree.

          I thought of an analogy when reading this discussion. Sometimes musicians get locked out of the music business by their record deal.

          Imagine you’re a young musician and a big record company offers you a three-record deal. They gain the exclusive right to release your music for your next three albums. You sign the deal without consulting a team of lawyers you can’t afford.

          The record company decides after your first album that they don’t want to do a second one. They threaten legal action if you ever play music again. Too bad you didn’t major in contract law! This is the cause of many one-hit wonders.

          I think everyone arguing for strict adherence to marriage agreements even when one party doesn’t hold up their implied end of the bargain should ask themselves if they feel the same way towards recording contracts. If not, why?

          • suntzuanime says:

            It sounds like the musician should get a divorce.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Monogamous marriage is a standard deal and there are examples of it *all over the place* to look at. Everyone knows many people in monogamous marriages and the entire society is full of talk about them. It’s not very plausible that you can have no idea about what monogamy means.

            On the other hand, I don’t know a single person in a three album record contract (nor have I watched a TV show or read a book about someone in one).

          • Nita says:

            I haven’t seen anyone here argue against both cheating and divorce. Unlike the musicians, who presumably would be happy to ‘break up’ with their publishers and have no claims or obligations going either way, the hypothetical would-be cheater wants to keep getting whatever they’re still getting out of the relationship.

            For many people, marriage is not like a commercial contract, but anyway — if you have a contract with someone, and they are not doing what you expected, you can’t just keep taking what they do provide and secretly decide to ignore the terms you don’t like.

          • Anonymous says:

            I haven’t seen anyone here argue against both cheating and divorce.

            Paging all the Catholics…

            The record company decides after your first album that they don’t want to do a second one. They threaten legal action if you ever play music again. Too bad you didn’t major in contract law! This is the cause of many one-hit wonders.

            I think everyone arguing for strict adherence to marriage agreements even when one party doesn’t hold up their implied end of the bargain should ask themselves if they feel the same way towards recording contracts. If not, why?

            In Catholic terms, this would be grounds for an annulment, due to one party not knowing what they were getting into. That’s why there’s a mandatory pre-marital course to make the prospective spouses keenly aware of what they’re getting into.

    • Outis says:

      Dan Savage is an evil man. He tried to punish a man for his political positions by turning his surname into a bad word. His *surname*! What about the man’s children? His relatives? People unrelated to him who just happened to have the same surname? (And it was a surname given to orphans, too.) Just collateral damage, I guess.

      • Adam says:

        Funny thing is I heard the ‘mixture of shit with lube’ definition of the word before I even knew the origin of it, had never heard of Dan Savage, and didn’t know the senator existed. I thought it was a real word for a while.

      • Bryan Hann says:

        Not to mention licking doorknobs to spread disease. (Though he later said he was joking about it, so I don’t know. I like to take a man at his word.)

        • suntzuanime says:

          No no, you idiot lefty, you just don’t get how serious the right is about destroying us!

          Fuck Dan Savage.

          • Nita says:

            Well, Santorum wanted Savage and other gay people to be punished for ‘sodomy’ to protect society from their corrosive influence, right? That does seem to be on the serious side.

          • suntzuanime says:

            So how much nastiness towards Muslims would you say you endorse?

          • Nita says:

            None. However, if someone drew a nasty caricature of a particular imam after hearing his particularly nasty comments about the cartoonist’s ingroup, I wouldn’t conclude the cartoonist was evil. That kind of behavior is not nice, of course, but it’s understandable on a human level.

      • Dahlen says:

        … this thread makes me wonder how your opinion on somebody changes if the first things you find out about them also happen to be the most ignominious. As in, there’s no knowledge of sympathy-inducing info to balance things out.

    • Salem says:

      Eh, these comments show the problem with modern ethical discourse – all about making a supposedly detached decision, with no personal cost to yourself. The trolley problem is a case in point. So half the commenters here have been acculturated to approach the decision from the perspective of the prospective cheater, rather than his deceived wife.

      Contrast with Greek tragedy, where ethical decisions always come with a personal cost. If Sophocles were writing the “Trolley Problem,” he’d put the hero(ine) on the train tracks. It looks a bit different from there.

      I genuinely hope that all the people saying that cheating is sometimes OK discover that their partner, who they’d always trusted, has been cheating on them for years and given them an incurable STD. And they’re only finding out because the partner is leaving. Willskin in the game change their moral beliefs? I do hope we find out.

      • null says:

        Well my moral system suggests that people shouldn’t have major harm visited upon them for expressing different moral sentiments. Besides that, I bet most of the people arguing ‘for cheating’ (where even the people with the most lax moral standards say it should only be considered ok in exceptional circumstances), wouldn’t actually do it.

        The issue with the trolley problem as written by Sophocles is that self-sacrifice is standard. The use of the trolley problem thought experiment is to provide a clear-cut case where utilitarian consequentialism breaks with other moral theories, and in a way that sort of obviously makes it the better theory. There is probably a different thought experiment where utilitarian consequentialism is the obvious loser.

        • Adam says:

          I’m sure there’s an actual paper this is drawn from, but I remember an ethics class from forever ago where the discussion started by the professor used a thought experiment in which a community composed entirely of Ramsay Snows derived tremendous pleasure from detaining and torturing a single child, whose individual utility they may have driven down to about zero, but the utility given to everyone else should have been sufficient to make this practice ethically mandatory on the basis of either total or average utility.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            >a community composed entirely of Ramsay Snows

            Do they make their living manufacturing and selling high-grade dog food of dubious origin?

        • Salem says:

          I’m not suggesting that they should be punished for their speech, just that it would be both delightful and educational if they were on the receiving end of the brutal medicine they prescribe for others. Similarly, it would be wrong to poison Typhoid Mary, but it would be very fitting if she contracted severe food poisoning.

          You are missing the point about ethical choices – the issue is not “self-sacrifice.” To take an obvious example, Antigone isn’t self-sacrificing, she’s choosing, where each choice will come at a cost, both to herself, and to others, and we are invited to sympathise with the people on whom the effects will be visited, not merely the decider. By contrast modern thought experiments (not just the Trolley Experiment, but its reverses, such as the Fat Man Problem, Cut Up Chuck, and more broadly, the Violinist, etc) have all the consequences visited on other people, and we are invited to sympathise only with the decider. It’s a threadbare ethics, which attempts to neglect the fact that ethical choices are mostly done upon us, not just things we do, and promotes a kind of utilitarianism that few can truly reconcile themselves to.

          In other words – there are lots of people talking about the circumstances in which it’s OK to cheat. No-one’s talking about the circumstances in which you should expect to be cheated on, even though the former necessarily implies the latter. It’s not a co-incidence.

          • Salem says:

            How Sophocles might have written the Trolley Problem:

            “Jeremy was walking on a section of train tracks that he knew to be disused, but then John diverted a train onto those tracks and killed him. John claims that he did so in order to save a larger number of people on the train’s original path. James watched helpless as his screaming brother was obliterated by the train, and is now prosecuting John because as a mere passer-by, not a railway employee, he had no right to act at all. Yet if that were not the law, James would have found another means – his real motive is vengeance for his dead brother. Who is in the right?”

          • Anonymous says:

            Does John get sued by five people if he doesn’t pull the lever?

          • InferentialDistance says:

            I am 5 times more likely to be one of the people on the group of 5 than the group of 1. It is in my personal interest that other people pull the damn lever in trolly problems.

          • John Schilling says:

            You are about 500,000 times more likely to never be standing near enough to an actual runaway trolley to matter, but to someday be an inconvenience to someone who can vividly imagine a trolley in just the right place for everything to work out in his favor.

            It is in your best interest that nobody ever pull the lever in what they think is a trolley problem, and that everybody immediately beat to death anyone who defects from that norm – even in the 0.0002% of cases where there actually was a trolley.

          • Salem says:

            Does John get sued by five people if he doesn’t pull the lever?

            We’ll never know, because it didn’t happen. Do you think that making that argument at trial it will make him more sympathetic to the audience… and the jury? He’s on trial for his life, you know.

            You are about 500,000 times more likely to never be standing near enough to an actual runaway trolley to matter, but to someday be an inconvenience to someone who can vividly imagine a trolley in just the right place for everything to work out in his favor.

            QFT.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            even in the 0.0002% of cases where there actually was a trolley

            Idunno, I think they should be let off the hook if they can convince a jury of their peers that there was trolley.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            In actual trolley-like situations, the act/omission distinction is important, and does as well as consequences are important. In a realistic situation, most people would not push the fat man, because there is a rule against it.. prima facie, it is murder … and because it is an act and therefore more likely to attract the attention of those in power than an omission. (And because consequences are hard to calculate).

            I will argue that standard utilitarianism doesn’t describe due facto moral thinking well, that a hybrid approach is a better system, and also that a hybrid approach is better normatively.

            Trolley problems load the dice in favour of consequentialism because they present isolated cases, and exclude the possibility of error. Phrase the question as “should there be a general rule against killing people, even if your possibly flawed judgement tells you that doing so would save lives” and intuitions become more deontological.

            If you are going to assign praise and blame, you need rules. Praise and reward have utility because they shape behaviour in ways that can improve outcomes. Rules that are understood by all are the fairest way to assign reward and punishment. Its in ones rational self interest to join a system based on clear reciprocal rules. It s not in ones rational self interest to partake in a system where you can be punished for things outside ones control, which includes getting most consequential calculations correct. So behaviour modification has utility, and rules are useful for behaviour modification, therefore rules have utility.

            A deontology that is based on consequences will not be an absolute deontology. If the whole point of a rule is to achieve an outcome, it makes no sense to follow the rule where it would lead to the opposite outcome. However, a rule based consequentialist (or consequentialism based deontology) would not break rules as easily as a pure consequentialist, because a system of rules has utility in itself for the hybridist … and ‘break rules only when there is really good justification’ is the right answer.

          • yli says:

            Salem: Your Sophocles version of the trolley problem has one shortcoming. You didn’t make the five people on the second track into characters. Just the one guy on the first track. Humanizing only him biases the choice.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ Salem
        Contrast with Greek tragedy, where ethical decisions always come with a personal cost. If Sophocles were writing the “Trolley Problem,” he’d put the hero(ine) on the train tracks. It looks a bit different from there.

        This makes me want to see _Roy Rogers and the Methods of Rationality_. Except that RR wouldn’t use his brain power choosing who to save, he’d use it finding a way to save both.

    • Anonymous says:

      I personally dislike cheating but I think its fine for people to start abandong silly vows and contracts, those have no relation with the real world.

      • Nornagest says:

        Remind me never to sell you a house.

      • Salem says:

        It’s a strange version of the “real world” that doesn’t include such ubiquitous, everyday things as contracts. When I hire a plumber, or buy my groceries, does that all happen in some Platonic realm? In what I call the real world, if you abandon your contracts, a court is likely to assess damages against you, and ultimately bailiffs will seize your property – but perhaps that is all a figment of my imagination.

    • SJ says:

      Or … that all relationships include by default a tacit acceptance of discrete affairs even in the case of explicit marriage vows.

      I assume you mean discreet, not discrete

      Though if discrete is understood as “single, countable” in the sense that Integers are discrete (but Real Numbers are not discrete), then I suppose I should ask if you intended both meanings.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Yes, that was a mistake on my part. Thank you for pointing it out to me.

        After all, I think the principle would apply just as well to continuous affairs…

      • Agronomous says:

        I can see why his wife might be much more upset to find him in bed with one and a half women than with two….

  14. Daniel says:

    I’m 25 now (and really love and appreciate my life). What can I do now that will increase and extend my health and longevity over the long term?

    Any foods I should avoid or seek out?
    Any activities?
    Any testing I should be doing now?

    Thanks!

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I think the standard rationalist advice is to avoid motorcycles, sign up for cryonics, and maybe try one of CR or IF. There’s a thread over at /r/futurology with some more information if you are interested.

    • keranih says:

      DO NOT SMOKE.
      Wear a seat belt.
      Avoid cranky people. Avoid groups of young men, particularly groups of young men who regularly use alcohol/drugs.
      Brush your teeth daily.
      Eat a moderate amount of the available foods and exercise a moderate amount so that your BMI is at the 25 to 30 -ish range. (Edit: cook your animal proteins, to include dairy.)
      Get a flu vaccine annually, as well as other core vaccines such as tetanus.
      Avoid lengthy periods of sitting.
      Avoid mood/mentation altering drugs – to include alcohol and caffeine – except in the most moderate amounts.
      Read the instructions included with any systems that involve power tools and/or electricity.

      • Pku says:

        Are flu vaccines really worth the trouble (if you’re not particularly vulnerable)? my utility calculation was that I already (historically) have a small chance of getting the flu, and getting it doesn’t have significant effects anyways, so the reduction in probability is outweighed by the inconvenience of getting the vaccine.

        • onyomi says:

          I personally notice no correlation between me getting the vaccine and getting or not getting the flu. If anything, an anti-correlation. Though I am not keeping exact records and/or could have weird luck.

        • Adam says:

          It’s worked very well for me since joining the army, since even the reserve still forces me to get the shot. I used to get major secondary lung infections pretty much every winter ever since I had months-long pneumonia as a small child, now nothing so long as I get the shot early enough in the season.

          The confounder is I’m around children much less than when I was younger. Kids and schools seem like disease incubators and I’m sure much of my improved health is just not being exposed to them any more.

        • Sebastian H says:

          The inconvenience is very low nowadays (can you walk into a pharamacy for 10 minutes? do you shop at Costco ever?) and even if you don’t personally detect a reduction in the number of flus you feel, they prevent you from becoming a carrier for the flus that don’t hit YOU hard, but can hit other people around you harder.

        • Brian Slesinsky says:

          I don’t know a study, but conventional wisdom is that getting a flu shot also helps avoid transmitting it to others. For example, do you have elderly relatives? It might not be a minor thing for them.

      • eh says:

        Regarding long periods of sitting, long periods of inactivity aren’t good in general. Things like taking lunchtime walks or going with your co-workers when they want a coffee are probably better than just a standing desk.

    • Daniel says:

      So no need for 23andme?

      • Outis says:

        I would recommend avoiding 23andme in any case, since they store your genetic data, and there’s no telling who it’s going to subpoena it or put it into a database.

        • Agronomous says:

          Pair up with a friend and submit each other’s DNA.

          Even better, pair up with an anonymous stranger and do so.*

          Even more better, somebody found a startup to do this. (Suggested names: Do Not Access, DNopeA, 23andWho?, You Can Have My DNA When You Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands.)

          (* Make sure your close relatives do the same; your DNA’s not exclusively yours.)

    • Eric Rall says:

      Take up a strength training program and stick with it. Physical strength gives your body more of a safety margin against illness and injury. After adjusting for confounders (including baseline health status, BMI, and cardiovascular conditioning), muscle strength has a strong inverse correlation with mortality rates.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2453303/
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2938886/

      • Pku says:

        – This shows correlation, but, as far as I can tell, no reason to think that the causation doesn’t go the other way (sick people become physically weaker).

        – I was under the impression that aerobic exercise (over strength) was the main contributor to all-around health (as well as mental health). Even if these studies show causation after adjusting for that, wouldn’t it still be better to spend more time running over weightlifting?

        • Eric Rall says:

          1. Maybe, but only if physical weakness is a leading indicator of illness that hasn’t otherwise presented itself. The first study explicitly controlled for known health issues and for measured cardiovascular fitness (which should also catch some fraction of general weakness due to undiagnosed illness). The second study (a meta-analysis) mentions correlation-the-other-way as a possible interpretation of that study’s results, but argues that the strength-causes-reduced-mortality hypothesis more completely explains their findings:

          Secondly, these measures of physical capability could be markers of disease and general health status. Some of the community dwelling populations included in this review consisted of people with diseases or comorbidities that were not considered severe enough to warrant exclusion from the study but that may have affected both their physical performance and mortality risk. This could definitely apply to walking speed, chair rises, and standing balance, for which studies have been done only in older populations with shorter follow-up. However, this seems less likely to fully explain associations between grip strength and mortality, as these were also found in studies with follow-up over 20 years, in younger populations in which the prevalence of sub-clinical disease and existing comorbidities would be lower, and in studies that by the nature of their design (for example, recruitment of men from the active workforce) excluded people with health problems.

          2. My understanding is that aerobic exercise has been assumed to be the main contributor for some time, largely due to an emphasis on looking for ways to reduce obesity, but more recent research and analysis has called that assumption into question. Aerobics is probably better for short-term weight loss (due to calories burned) and for mitigating anxiety and depression (based on research Scott linked to a while back), with the caveat that interval-style cardio is probably better than traditional steady-state cardio, but strength training may be better for overall health and quality-of-life.

          The first study I linked measured correlations with strength and cardiovascular fitness, separately and together, against longevity and found a large effect size for each with diminishing marginal returns for each. Based on that, some of both is probably better than either one alone. It depends on to what extent each style of training has cross-over benefits to the other style of fitness. My anecdotal understanding is that weightlifting helps cardiovascular fitness more than steady-state cardio (distance running, etc) helps develop strength, but I don’t have any hard data to back that up.

    • Adam says:

      If I could go back to 25 and change anything, I wouldn’t join the Army, I wouldn’t try to climb mountains, I wouldn’t run. I think I’d still lift weights, but I’d be much more careful about it knowing that major prime movers in the legs and hips get strong much faster than stabilizers in the trunk. Don’t be a thrill seeker. A decade of adrenaline is not worth losing most of your mobility before you’re even 40.

      • E. Harding says:

        Did you experience muscle failures or tears? I thought running and mountain climbing were good for your health.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Only a single tear when he sees someone littering.

        • Adam says:

          Disc injuries. Currently one tear and four other herniations.

          Edit: Also, it’s probably not fair to say I wouldn’t do these things at all, but I wouldn’t push myself as hard and would not ignore what seemed like minor injuries and just head right back out as soon as I felt well enough.

        • Psmith says:

          Running has been quite a bit more annoying in terms of chronic injuries than anything else I’ve ever done, including lifting and wrestling.

          • Nornagest says:

            Not running on concrete seems to help a lot, although if you don’t have access to a field or trail, you’ll probably have to resort to a treadmill (very boring). And if you do, there’s a bit of a ramp-up period while your ankles figure out how to deal with a rougher surface.

            That said, I don’t run anymore, and I do lift and practice martial arts. Lifting is pretty safe if you’ve got your form nailed (but do not slack off on that!); martial arts produces a lot of minor injuries but they aren’t the kind that lead to chronic damage. Usually. I did lose some hearing in one ear thanks to a ruptured eardrum.

          • Adam says:

            I think my problem with lifting is I followed the damn Mark Rippetoe model to a T, and yeah, if you’re a sufficiently large-framed dude willing to eat like a maniac and gain 40 pounds while getting 8 hours of sleep every night, you can boost a completely untrained max squat of 180 to 400+ in two months, but that doesn’t mean your back is ready for it and you’ll learn that the hard way. I suspect his own athletes didn’t have the problem because he was coaching them and could catch bad form, but if you’re a solo lifter, be careful. Get a coach.

          • Psmith says:

            Get a coach.

            This is good advice.

            Also, not everything has to be about longevity. Of course, that’s what OP was asking about, but there are Other Reasons to lift or run or fight or ride or whatever.

          • LHN says:

            @Nornagest: Different strokes. I vastly prefer a treadmill (though admittedly I walk rather than run), because I like TV and air conditioning much better than the great outdoors.

            I suspect it would be a lot easier to talk myself out of exercise if I had to face water falling from above (sometimes frozen!) and uncontrollable temperature variations in both directions. Conversely, the treadmill lets me watch the shows I’ve recorded on the TiVo without feeling like a complete lump.

          • Outis says:

            I think my problem with lifting is I followed the damn Mark Rippetoe model to a T

            It could be worse. I almost ended up following it to a T-Rex.

        • John Schilling says:

          Running is, roughly speaking, good for cardio and some muscle development but very bad for joints. Climbing mountains covers too broad a range of activities to generalize. Joining the Army, even more so.

          Adam’s general rule seems to be, be physically fit and active but don’t overdo it and do think about exactly what you are doing. This seems sound, it’s what I do now, and I’d love to be able to tell 25-year-old-me to do the same.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Standard advice is boring. In fact, a lot of life-extending advice is boring too. So I can give anti-bs advice.

      Well, avoid nootropics(anything that isn’t honest about being a stimulate or an upper is probably garbage), and general life-extending drugs like resveratrol, that one wine drug. They are all complete bullshit, if you are not a lab-rat with dementia needing to solve a cheese puzzle a tiny bit faster or an earthworm that wants to live 20% longer.

      Cryonics is certainly bullshit right now. Its a great way to blow 10,000 dollars.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        >Cryonics is certainly bullshit right now. Its a great way to blow 10,000 dollars.

        Strong assertions without a shred of evidence! Just what the doctor ordered!

        If you investigate, you’ll find that “cryonics works” is the default hypothesis, in the same way that anthropogenic global warming is the default hypothesis, not some weird thing that needs special justification. You’ll also find that the people advocating signing up are giving subjective probabilities on the order of 5-10% and still think it’s an obviously great deal.

        • Chalid says:

          Say I believed cryonics had a decent chance of preserving my brain intact. If I am young(ish) and healthy, is there much to be gained by signing up for cryonics now as opposed to waiting for a few decades, or waiting until I’m in the hospital for something serious?

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          If you investigate, you’ll find that “cryonics works” is the default hypothesis, in the same way that anthropogenic global warming is the default hypothesis, not some weird thing that needs special justification.

          What? Unless you mean “Read The Sequences” when you say investigate, that’s exactly the opposite of the conclusion you’ll come to.

          Brand new, cutting edge techniques can induce reversible torpor in lab animals or preserve the fine structure of very small mammal brains. But no dead animal has ever been frozen, thawed and then revived in a way to suggest that something like that could work with a human being. And especially not using the sloppy techniques that commercial cryonics companies employ today.

          Beyond that, we really don’t know whether just having the structure of the neurons preserved would be enough. I just finished working in a myelin lab, and while I’m more genetics than neuro I’m very skeptical that you can just freeze and unfreeze glia without seriously futzing with overall brain function. Stem cells in particular get really weird when you thaw them, and that’s in vitro.

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            My impression is that the real hope isn’t to actually unfreeze and repair the brain biologically (though people keep talking about that for some reason), its that enough of the mind-determining structure has been preserved so that when/if uploading is figured out, the brain can then be scanned and uploaded. And as Alphaceph points out any generic information is unneeded, you only need the person specific and can then fill in details. (note: I suspect also preserving your DNA would be a good idea here)

            So cryonics working requires two things technologically- enough of the mind determining structure surviving, and mind uploading working eventually. Neither of these can be experimentally determined now, but my priors are that it has a sufficient chance of working to be worth it.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            What Alphaceph and Immanentizing Eschatons said. There needs to be some special reason why it would be impossible to extrapolate back to a close approximation of what the brain looked like before vitrification; or a special reason why nanotech is impossible, even though proteins work fine; or a special reason why even relatively weak, highly-constrained Task AGIs are impossible to safely build, PLUS a special reason for why we can never solve the engineering problems ourselves; or a special reason why we can’t possibly survive that long. Otherwise, it’s just a lowish chance (call it 1% to be conservative) of a ridiculously huge payoff.

          • Adam says:

            I don’t see any reason to think you can’t replicate brain state from forensic reconstruction and emulate it on other hardware, but you can do that in principle while I’m still alive too, and I see no reason to think I’d experience what the copy is experiencing. That doesn’t lead to me surviving past brain death.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Given you’re assuming all of that, why do you need a vitrified brain to begin with?

            By your logic, there shouldn’t be that much more in the way of obstacles for an AI to restore a brain from a canopic jar full of honey than an Alcor customer. Maybe a bit more extrapolation here and there but it’s fundamentally the same problem.

            That is to say, once you’ve assumed Drexlerian nanotech (which, by the way, is quite different from what proteins can actually do) and super-intelligent AI capable of taking a badly preserved brain and rebuilding a digital personality from it then cryonics itself is no longer necessary. Just hermetically seal your casket, drown in a peat bog, or maybe just keep a cheek swab and a diary. Knock your “conservative” odds down to 0.99% and give the money you saved to MIRI…

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @ Dr Dealgood: Because that’s a verbal argument when you should be doing maths, and thus predictably totally wrong. No amount of intelligence will let you reconstruct information lost to entropy unless you know the process that produced it. If you don’t have a perfect record of my life, you can’t reporoduce my memories or my personality, even given my genes and the salient facts of my life.

            > once you’ve assumed Drexlerian nanotech (which, by the way, is quite different from what proteins can actually do)

            I’m not. I’m saying that I can’t rule it out, it seems like a thing that might plausibly exist, I don’t think you can justifiably assign it a very small probability of being possible (or else I’d like to see your Nobel for solving protein folding), and unless you can justifiably say it’s very improbable, you can’t use it to rule out cryonics.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            >I don’t see any reason to think you can’t replicate brain state from forensic reconstruction and emulate it on other hardware, but you can do that in principle while I’m still alive too, and I see no reason to think I’d experience what the copy is experiencing. That doesn’t lead to me surviving past brain death.

            Please prove that you have subjective experiences and are not an emulation.

            If you believe that “mere” computations done on wetware can somehow be “you” (which you do and should), you ought to believe *exactly the same thing* about anything else performing the same computations, unless you think that there’s something special about the hardware (in which case QM is built on that being experimentally falsified – interference relies on “this particle” being a meaningless concept).

            If you think there’s something special about brains in particular, that still means you can be replicated on a brain, if not on silicon – but I think that’s just seeing a big confusing thing and trying to invent a big confusing answer that makes the problem go away without actually explaining anything.

          • “If you don’t have a perfect record of my life, you can’t reporoduce my memories or my personality, even given my genes and the salient facts of my life. ”

            At a tangent, I’ve imagined a different version of uploading. Suppose you had an extensive record of someone–what he had said, written, done. It might be possible to deduce him from it, to work out what a person would have to be like to produce exactly those actions. So you get to “revive” a dead person without any physical connection to his body.

          • Loquat says:

            @ David Friedman

            Have you ever read Sanderson’s novella The Emperor’s Soul? That’s basically the task assigned to the protagonist after a semi-successful assassination attempt leaves the titular emperor in a vegetative state.

          • onyomi says:

            My problem with the transporter/ship of Theseus problem:

            If you made a perfect clone of me right now–all the memories and everything–he wouldn’t be me in the sense that I wouldn’t expect to start experiencing anything from his perspective.

            “But you diverge from that point on since you don’t occupy the same space or have exactly the same experiences” you might say. Okay, what if you disintegrate me at the moment you create him. Why would the fact that I’m not now having new experiences make his experiences any more “mine”? I am, in fact, experiencing being disintegrated while the clone, or the computer is experiencing being me.

            Of course, no one else may be able to tell the difference, but I won’t be experiencing that subjective experience of life… right?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            If you made a perfect clone of me right now–all the memories and everything–he wouldn’t be me in the sense that I wouldn’t expect to start experiencing anything from his perspective.

            I would expect a 50% chance of continuing to experiencing things from my perspective up until now and a 50% of starting experiencing things from the clone’s perspective. In other words, I think of it as being split into two instances of me who begin diverging after the split.

          • @Loquat (and how did you get online after I planted you in my yard)

            I haven’t read that. I’m currently reading his _Warbreaker_, but not sufficiently impressed to be likely to read more. I started one of his other books a while back, stopped because I didn’t like the central characters.

            My younger son likes him and views him as particularly good at scientific magic, which interests me since that’s part of what I tried to do in _Salamander_.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @onyomi:

            > I wouldn’t expect to start experiencing anything from his perspective

            You don’t currently anticipate that. That’s not the same as it being true that you would not experience things from the other perspective. There would be two of you, each experiencing one set of sensory percepts.

            > Why would the fact that I’m not now having new experiences make his experiences any more “mine”? I am, in fact, experiencing being disintegrated while the clone, or the computer is experiencing being me.

            You’re correct denotationally but wrong connotationally. One of you experiences being disintegrated, the other doesn’t. For truly identical copies, there is no difference except in location.

            It helps a lot (I think) if you really focus on the point that *you are made of physics*. Somehow, in some currently-mysterious way, a physical structure you call “my brain” is producing your consciousness. The null hypothesis is that any identical physical structure in an identical environment must behave identically and thus *be just as much “you” as you are*.

            Any other hypothesis needs to specify a whole new set of physical laws to explain how brains produce mind in some way incompatible with the Standard Model; and worse, they’ll run afoul of the double slit experiment unless they *only* apply to brains, because you’ll need some kind of floating LISP tag to track “me” and we can prove particles don’t have those. These laws have got to somehow recognise brains, which means that instead of a nice simple equation, you need laws complex enough to *describe the set of human brains and generate a unique label for each*. It would make the Google backend look like Hello World. Even ignoring the enormous complexity penalty, you’d be inventing these laws in order to explain an experimental result you haven’t observed, when you feel uncomfortable about the other result occuring and have a strong intuition (but no rigorous argument) that it shouldn’t. That’s a pretty big red flag.

            (I find that “locate the real null hypothesis” and “try to work out an actual causal process that could produce this” are very powerful tools.)

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @ David Friedman, @ Loquat:

            I read The Emperor’s Soul and enjoyed it. It’s short, it’s good and it gave me very interesting ideas. (What’s the worldbuilding equivalent of the plot bunny? The lore tribble, maybe?)

            David, I discussed something very similar about a year ago with a friend: what would allow you to reconstruct someone’s DNA without a sample? It seems plausible that a superintelligence could get very close indeed from sampling family members and reasoning backward from observed appearance and behaviour. Probably not a full genome, but plausibly close enough to uniquely identify a human.

            The problem with reconstucting a person is that you don’t generally have nearly enough information about their experiences. You could probably construct a person with a very similar personality from, say, genome plus interviews with friends and family plus all records of an ordinary life, but you’d have to accept some loss of memories a direct upload would have. It might well be close enough that other humans wouldn’t notice the difference without knowing to look for it, but you couldn’t recover, say, Bitcoin passwords.

          • Loquat says:

            @ David Friedman (I tapped into your internet connection, obviously. Just be glad kudzu hasn’t learned to do that, it’d bring the whole net down.)

            The Emperor’s Soul is very much about scientific magic; the art of “forging” basically lets you turn something into something else, or someone into someone else, but you have to start with a close match or it won’t work. You can turn a table into a nicer table, or turn yourself into a version of yourself who spent his life practicing martial arts instead of economics, but you can’t turn a table into a bathtub nor can you turn yourself into Samuel L. Jackson. The story goes into quite a bit of detail about it, so you might enjoy that part even if you wind up disliking the characters.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I have stopped reading fantasy and science fiction for the most part because they no longer interest me. The Emperor’s Soul is an exception. It is good.

        • Adam says:

          I don’t really want to get into cryonics specifically, but I’d worry far more about the quality of my life than the length of it personally.

          • Pal says:

            Amen. Generally speaking, a 60-year 7/10 life has a lot more moments of ecstasy, joy, love, and meaning than that of an 80-year 5/10 life. Plenty of pieces of advice like “Don’t hang out with certain people” or “Don’t use intoxicants” will lead to an incrementally longer life at the cost of some deeply meaningful moments, connections, relationships, or life experiences that make human existence so worthwhile and beautiful.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            If cryonics works out, you get to spend millenia having a better life than any human who has yet lived. A civilisation able and willing to revivify people is a pretty great place to hang out!

          • Adam says:

            Well, like I just said above, making an exact copy of my memories and personality and running that on different hardware doesn’t mean I get to experience that future.

          • John Schilling says:

            A civilisation able and willing to revivify people…

            …as slaves, as medical-experiment test subjects, as mouthless things that must scream?

            Consider that most human actions are motivated by not-altruism. What’s left to motivate reviving long-dead people when you can just as well make new people?

          • LHN says:

            It’s interesting to imagine. If we developed a magic ray today that could revive people in graveyards, I don’t think we (at least in the West) would enslave them or subject them to deliberate torture. A fair number of people would certainly undertake whatever was necessary to support lost loved ones or immediate family members while helping them make the transition to modern life. But it’s hard to see a big push to revive, say, everyone in a medieval churchyard.

            Historical grants to cover famous people, or a a few ordinary individuals per era, to interview them. (I’m assuming an IRB would demand that the cost include substantial money to ensure that they can be housed, fed, and educated long enough become self-supporting if they allowed it at all.) But the interest would probably pall at or before the point that temporally displaced people became a noticeable social issue.

            (Even if there were any general sense of guilt at leaving people dead unnecessarily, well, they’re not going anywhere. Maybe in the future we can revisit it.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Even if there were any general sense of guilt at leaving people dead unnecessarily, well, they’re not going anywhere. Maybe in the future we can revisit it

            That’s going to be a critical part of the dynamic, yes. And it’s going to bias the odds towards you being resurrected in an era when the obstacles to resurrection are low and the profitability high. That “IRB” you were mentioning, that’s an obstacle. The opportunities for profiting from your resurrection, financially or otherwise, are expanded if thawed corpsicles are legally “property” or “livestock”.

            There are happier prospects, like the Mormon Epoch when resurrecting distant ancestors is seen as a virtue. But that’s the Mormon Epoch, when the state religion is, well, do the math, and quite possibly a more militant and heretic-intolerant version than the current LDS crowd.

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            @John Schilling

            Cryonic revival probably requires a level of technology that renders things like slavery obsolete (robots are cheaper and more effective), and presumably the cost of uploading should not be too high to a far future civilization if it works at all.

            The hope would be that future people (or the AIs they built) are benevolent enough to spend the bit of resources required to keep brains frozen and eventually upload them. That not happening is part of the failure risk, yeah.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            If cryonics works out, you get to spend millenia having a better life than any human who has yet lived. A civilisation able and willing to revivify people is a pretty great place to hang out!

            This strikes me as an exceptionally dubious claim, considering prior history the Transmetropolitan scenario (or plain simple failure) seem massively more likely.

          • John Schilling says:

            Cryonic revival probably requires a level of technology that renders things like slavery obsolete (robots are cheaper and more effective)

            For unskilled labor, yes. For some sorts of skilled work, possibly not. For the sorts of slavery where the value isn’t the labor output, well, those are among the nastiest forms of slavery to begin with.

            Even in the case of, e.g., the historian who just wants a firsthand account of early 21st century life, an eyewitness whose liberty, privacy, etc have to be respected is less useful than one who can be bolted to a chair with electrodes stuck in interesting parts of his brain. If the early 24th century disallows that sort of thing but the late 24th is OK with it, it’s the late 24th century historian who is more likely to be able to justify the line item in their grant proposal.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think cryonics could possibly work but that getting a way of preserving human tissue (including the brain) in (a) a non-destructive fashion (b) can be ‘thawed out’ and function afterwards is still ongoing, and any people frozen up to now are not going to be much more than lumps of meat that dissolve into mush in the future if ever they are unfrozen.

            I know that sounds harsh but I do think cryonics subjects to date are more in the nature of “the 999 experimental subjects we had to use before the 1000th one which finally worked”. Anything that depends on “okay, we won’t be thawing out and reviving your body and zapping it full of the cure for cancer or whatever else killed you, we’ll be scanning your brain and uploading the memories as either virtual personality in cyberspace or into a new robot/cyborg/cloned body” are science fiction, to be brutally honest.

            As to a future where the ordinary human of today gets thawed out – why? We might be interested in thawing out one, say, 18th century cobbler to find out his life experiences but we certainly wouldn’t thaw out every single 18th century cobbler who ever lived and died because what’s the point if we have to feed and house them in a society and culture that makes no sense at all to them and where they cannot meaningfully contribute anything (after the historians and recreators of 18th century cobbling methods get done with them)?

            A sample of what such a thawed-out subject might be is the 90s serial by Dennis Potter made by the BBC, Cold Lazarus, where a writer’s frozen head is thawed out for research and the project is bankrolled by a media mogul who intends using the memories of the subject as a kind of reality TV show:

            At a cryonics research institute in London, funded by the pharmaceuticals tycoon Martina Masdon (played by Diane Ladd), a group of scientists led by Dr. Emma Porlock (Frances de la Tour) is working on reviving the mind of the 20th-century writer Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney), whose head was frozen after Feeld’s death at the end of “Karaoke”. Unable to see any profit in the project, Masdon considers discontinuing it, but the media mogul David Siltz (Henry Goodman), who has been spying on Masdon, envisages making a fortune from broadcasting Feeld’s memories on TV, and proposes to Porlock that her team work for him.

            I don’t think our descendants are going to be reviving us in order that we – more unnecessary mouths in a crowded future – can consume resources that living people of their own time can use. If they can’t make some kind of profit or use from us, why revive a couple of million or more extra bodies? Think of the people who don’t want to have children because those children would consume resources and extrapolate that to our descendants – if the choice is between having a child of your own or thawing out some stranger, which would you choose?

            Now if they’re very much more ethically evolved than us and living in the post-scarcity paradise, maybe they might do so, but we’d still be nothing more than curiosities to them.

          • LHN says:

            Now if they’re very much more ethically evolved than us and living in the post-scarcity paradise, maybe they might do so, but we’d still be nothing more than curiosities to them.

            Though in the unlikely event that post-scarcity Singularity civilization revives a whole bunch of people from the past, they can presumably form their own society within it. (Since more or less by definition the past people can be granted living space, food, entertainment, etc. even if they just want to keep to themselves and live like animals.) Maybe the clear-eyed citizens of the future tour reservations laid out for the various eras.

            (“No one has to stay there, perish the thought! But they do seem more comfortable with their own kind. I showed one a simple ideotrope inducer, and you’d think I’d grown a second head unintentionally!”)

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @ John Schilling: You may have noticed that we get less and less willling to do that stuff over time, and it seems to correlate very strongly with average prosperity of the civilisation. Also, for the cynical view, do you think medical ethics boards are going to just *give up their power*?

            @Hylnkacg: Failure is obviously the most likely option. It’s also totally orthogonal. Also, fictional events aren’t meaningful evidence.

            @Deiseach: Acausal trade, for one thing. If you want people to revive you, it sure helps to be the kind of person who revives other people! This also creates a social norm (which isn’t even acausal).

          • “I don’t think our descendants are going to be reviving us in order that we – more unnecessary mouths in a crowded future”

            You are too quick to assume currently fashionable beliefs which have so far been consistently contradicted by events. The overcrowding argument was made and widely believed fifty years ago, along with predictions which turned out to be the opposite of what happened. Calories per capita in the third world went up not down, along with real income, life expectancy, … .

            Most people do not choose to be suspended. Reviving the few that do would probably represent a population increase of a fraction of one percent–of people different and so interesting–in a society likely to be much wealthier, not much poorer, than ours.

            I don’t think there is any guarantee either that revival would be possible or that it would happen, but I don’t see any reason to be confident that it wouldn’t.

          • hlynkacg says:

            fictional events aren’t meaningful evidence

            Maybe not, but they are illustrative.

            How well do you think someone who grew up in the 16th century, with a 16th century education and steeped in 16th century social norms would fair if you picked them up and dropped them into modern society?

            The breadth of human history is strong evidence that any cryonic revival from today would find themselves as out of place in “the Future” as someone from the Renaissance would be in our time.

          • “How well do you think someone who grew up in the 16th century, with a 16th century education and steeped in 16th century social norms would fair if you picked them up and dropped them into modern society?”

            We have quite a lot of evidence on this question. When my grand-parents came to this country form Eastern Europe about a century ago, they were making the equivalent of a jump of a century or so. People who come to the U.S. now from places were primitive than Eastern Europe was then are making the equivalent of a jump of several centuries.

            What about the modern world do you think your 16th century visitor would find not merely odd but so odd that he couldn’t function in it? Consider how wide a range of beliefs and social norms exists among current inhabitants of a single country.

            I’ve recently been reading about a society where marriages were arranged by parents or grandparents, where the family of the groom paid a sizable bride price to the family of the bride, where typical age at first marriage was about thirteen or fourteen, where everyone lived in multigeneration extended families ruled by the eldest members, where everyone was expected to wash separately clothes from the top half of the body and from the bottom half and men’s and women’s clothes, and with lots of other odd norms.

            In the Bay Area of California in the 1970’s.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          Well, when you die, how quickly are you frozen? You very quickly start aquiring permanent memory loss and brain damage with normal oxygen deprivation. With the freezing process, the thawing process…its not *you* who is reviving. Though it goes into philosophy of just what *you* is.

          But really, if someone is promising eternal life with modern science, you can probably bet that they are getting their pockets lined in this life.

          There are plenty of scientific criticisms of the current process. And everyone working in it now is banking on vastly better future tech to revive you.

          Anyways, I believe that by the time we have that sophisticated nanotech that every cryogenics place is banking on, the common singulaity “criticism” where machines don’t take Homo Sapiens on the ride is that our atomic structure will probably be found to have a better use then reviving our measly brains and memories.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            Try *actually reading a standard FAQ* before telling people someone’s a fraudster. I’d be more willing to trust in your “plenty of scientific criticisms of the current process” if you’d even read Alcor’s front page. Do you really think the people interested in this stuff don’t know the criticisms better than you do?

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            Oh, cryonics is the most sciency sounding way to eternal life as it stands now. As such, there will always be *some* genius who believes that its almost certainly the case he/she will be desperate enough to spend money on it, even if they believe its almost certainly not the case it would work.

            How many kings near the end of their lives hired and payed alchemists to find the elixer of youth?

      • Alphaceph says:

        > Cryonics is certainly bullshit right now. Its a great way to blow 10,000 dollars.

        People who say this usually don’t properly understand what cryonics actually is, and/or are not up to date with the cutting edge.

        Specifically, some key cryonics misunderstandings appear downthread:

        *Cryo patients are not frozen, they are vitrified
        *Cryonics mostly does not intend to “unfreeze” patients, and does not intend for their cells to ever work again. Instead, it intends to preserve and recover the information that fully specifies them, then rebuild from scratch either biologically, robotically or virtually.
        *Related: information that is generic to human beings doesn’t need to survive the cryo journey. That information will find other ways to get to the future. Only your personal deviations from a generic human brain – the stuff that makes you you – needs to survive.
        *One should carefully think about issues of personal identity before dismissing cryo. In particular, you are not your atoms (they get replaced naturally and are just completely generic lego bricks). Did I mention thay one should be a bit careful with the philosophy side and avoid jumping to a conclusion about what constitutes personal identity in, like, 3 seconds?

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Also, it is at least partly a red herring to wonder what vile motivation future society would have to maintain and eventually revive you. With Alcor at least, part (most?) of the cost is for precisely that service. If it turns out to take a thousand years to get there, sure, Alcor may not last that long. But if it’s fifty or a hundred, expecting it to survive and keep its original mission doesn’t seem that much of a stretch.

    • Virbie says:

      I know it’s boring but: Make sure you sleep enough,and properly.

      We’re just getting out of the age range where some people consider it uncool to sleep a healthy amount, but I know soooo many people my age (26) with messed up sleep that they’ve normalized (myself included, until a couple months ago). I can’t even adequately describe how much of a change its been: I feel like I’m on a moderately powerful stimulant (without any side effects) and I easily have three extra productive hours a day relative to before I dealt with this. And that’s not even getting into the reduction in discomfort and longterm health effects.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’ll beat my usual drum here:

      – Go to church weekly (+2-3 years, and you’ll enjoy them more, too)
      – Get and stay married (+ 8 years? Studies seem fuzzy here.)

      • Adam says:

        Marry for the right reasons, too. Be a devoted, loyal person yourself and find someone with the same qualities.

      • Anon. says:

        Obvious reverse causation.

      • Jill says:

        BTW, if you are an atheist, you can join a Unitarian Church. Perfectly okay to be an atheist there.

        Marriage is not for everyone. Maybe it is on average. But there are some people who would be torturing themselves if they married. And if one does marry, one needs the right partner– not just a marriage for marriage sake.

        • Andre says:

          Or Quakers! I’m an atheist Quaker and the people are so ridiculously lovely. Great way to get involved in LGBT activism, environmental concerns, social justice projects, thoughtful debates about anything imaginable, and a real sense of community. Plus coffee and cake and something to do on Sunday, and a great way to get involved if you move somewhere new or are traveling around. A+ would quake again

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Maybe I’m the only market for it, but is there a church for a conservative atheist?

          • Anonymous says:

            The conservative thing to do is hide your atheism.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Seconding Doctor Mist’s question.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Anonymous: Yeah, pretty much.

          • Randy M says:

            There are plenty of churches for conservative agnostics; if you have a willingness to at least hear them out, most will quite happily sit you in the front row.
            If you show up with an attitude of “I fundamentally disagree with you and always will, but can I hang out for the social benefits?” it’ll be tougher finding one with a terribly friendly reception, but I doubt you’ll be turned.
            But what you are looking for is a group that is progressive theologically and conservative culturally… that’s kind of a contradiction.

      • Pku says:

        Any advice for people who just don’t believe? I’ve considered the religion thing from a social standpoint, but the issue that I just fundamentally don’t believe in it seems insurmountable (and I can’t easily convince myself to change either).

        (Also in my case there’s the issue that if I went christian my more religious aunts would disown me, but judaism seems to have a much worse community:boring ritual ratio).

        • You might find some other institution that serves many of the same functions.

          I’ve been part of the Society for Creative Anachronism for a very long time. It isn’t a religion, but serves many of the same social and emotional functions. I expect the same is true of a lot of other social groups.

        • Adam says:

          Just be close to a group of people committed to mutual care and somehow derive meaning from life. Religion can give you that, but it can be something else, too. I’m in basically the same situation as you. Religion seems great and all, but I can’t just mesmerize myself into believing something when it sounds prima facie ridiculous and the evidence doesn’t convince me. Belief isn’t really voluntary.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Putnam found that participating in any extracurricular club cuts your odds of dying in the next year in half. I’m not aware of anybody who has attempted to tease that effect out from regular church attendance, but either way, join a club.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      A randomized controlled study shows that giving people a liter of olive oil every single week makes them live longer.

      • Randy M says:

        Do they have to ingest it, or can they resell it and pocket the cash? That’s equivalent to about $600 per year, which is more than what most people have in savings.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The great thing about randomized controlled studies is that the effects remain after averaging over the behaviors of all the subjects. The bad thing is that you have to know what those behaviors were if you want to apply it to yourself.

          My local Trader Joe’s sells its cheapest extra-virgin olive oil for $6/L, $300/year. The experiment was done in Spain and might not have been extra-virgin. It may well have been a retail price of $100/year. So I don’t think many people were selling it. They probably were sharing it with their families, though. And of course they were saving money buying less of whatever oil they used to buy.

      • Urstoff says:

        Because they have to walk the extra steps to the trash to throw out all that olive oil they don’t need?

      • birdboy2000 says:

        Monster Rancher was right.

      • zz says:

        I DIY soylent, and derive 100% of my fat calories from olive oil. 1 liter would last me the better part of a week.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Wikipedia lists soylent as 40% calories from fat. A liter of olive oil is 8000 calories. So either your recipe has a lot more calories from fat or you eat more than the classic 2000 calorie diet. The people in the study averaged 3000 calories per day before it began. (They were specifically chosen to be overweight.)

          • zz says:

            These are both true. For various reasons (not including keto), I’ve shifted some calories from carbohydrate to fat. I also expend substantially more than 2000 calories a day (I’m 175 pounds, lean, and often spend in excess of 2 hours a day doing physical activity worth 7–8 METs.)

    • Jill says:

      Try out activities until you find ones you like. And do them. Don’t believe the people who say “Do what you love and the money will follow.” It might and it might not. If the money follows, then good. If not, then find another way to make your living. But keep looking for, and doing, what you love.

      If you are an extrovert, find people and groups of people whom you enjoy and can learn from.

    • Deiseach says:

      If you’re a white male, get married.

  15. aesthete says:

    Not sure if anyone else is interested in this topic, but has anyone else read any historical-critical studies of the New Testament (e.g. Bart Ehrman, NT Wright, Burton Mack, E.P. Sanders) and early Christianity? I’ve been slowly reading through all of these, and while I’m a fairly traditional Christian I find it fascinating. Does anyone have any reading recommendations and/or interesting thoughts to share on early Christianity or Second Temple Judaism?

    • d010060002 says:

      I’m not sure if this is what you’re looking for, but I enjoyed Leviticus as Literature by Mary Douglas. It’s not second temple Judaism, but it talks about the formation of the Torah and how it was shaped by the society at the time.

    • E. Harding says:

      I like Vridar and, to some extent, Richard Carrier’s blog.

      • aesthete says:

        Wasn’t a huge fan of Carrier, but I’ve never heard of Vridar — I’ll have to check him out.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is large and thorough, but quite readable if you’re into that sort of thing.

      A few chapters of it are summarized nicely in this engaging talk. tldr; They analyze the Gospels and Acts statistically by comparing the frequency of names with the actual frequency of names for the area and time span they describe.

      Don’t bother with Carrier; mythicists are considered cranks for a reason. Ehrman is the way to go if you’re looking for an intelligent and respectable challenge to Christian beliefs about the NT.

      • aesthete says:

        Thanks, Jaskologist! Longtime lurker and your comments are one of the reasons I keep reading (Scott’s top-notch essays notwithstanding); looking forward to reading Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Always nice to meet a fan, but I’ve studied the topic extensively, and it turns out I’m only the seventh best commenter here.

          Anyway, the thing to keep in mind with textual analysis is that it can get a little too far up its own backside. Arguments can get so clever that it becomes easy to lose track of the fact that we often have no way to verify them one way or the other. For example, the Q hypothesis is interesting, and I’m generally agnostic about its truth, but it really, really bothers me that we have no physical evidence of a Q document itself.

          This is part of the reason I’m such a fan of the above video; they did an actual analysis which was capable of giving clear and verifiable positive or negative results. Usually there are a lot more judgement calls involved.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I remember having at least one professor cracking a joke about the extent to which some scholars would go with reconstructions of Q and other hypothetical texts.

        • heiner says:

          Seconded. And thanks for that youtube link Jaskologist. This is the kind of Christian talk I enjoy listening to.

    • Urstoff says:

      Listened to one of Ehrman’s courses from The Great Courses (Making of the New Testament, I think). It was pretty good.

      • aesthete says:

        Wasn’t it, though? Bart Ehrman and NT Wright are many things, but they’re never boring — something lacking in most authors of Serious Books for Serious People, heh.

      • Deiseach says:

        Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God?

        No.

        Honestly, if I never again encounter “They wuz rippin’ off Osiris/Mithra/Buddha”, I’ll die a happy woman >:(

        I much prefer my atheists straight up “there was no such a person”, thanks!

        • HircumSaeculorum says:

          I’m an atheist, and I consider the whole Zeitgeist thing to be absolute bunk. As, I might add, do the folks over at RationalWiki (who are pretty strident about that kind of thing).

      • aesthete says:

        Any particular reason you found The Jesus Mysteries persuasive? Along with Deiseach, I’ve heard the early Christianity = mystery religion enough times that I’m not going to bother going around that beaten trail again without good reason. Bart Ehrman is very persuasive on why NT scholars believe that Jesus existed and influenced early Christian beliefs.

        • Jill says:

          Deisach, well okay, you are not interested in previous myths that the Jesus myth was certainly based on. Fair enough. I myself like the idea of knowing which religious myths speak so loudly to humans that they keep going on and on in slightly different forms.

          Are you a religious person looking for books that confirm your current beliefs? Most people do prefer that. But if so, you should tell us your current religious beliefs, so that we will know what ideas our recommended book has to have in it.

          Aesthete, it made sense to me. No one knows everything about the subject with certainty, unless they came here in a time machine from 2000 years ago. I guess people like books that mesh well with their own religion or ideology. I kind of like empirical evidence myself, but that’s just me.

          Oh, here’s another one I thought was good. About the historical Jesus, rather than the religious idea of Jesus. But historical and evidence oriented again, so if you want a fundamentalist believer’s viewpoint, this is not it.

          Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith Paperback – April 7, 2015
          by Marcus J. Borg (Author)

          http://www.amazon.com/Meeting-Jesus-Again-First-Time/dp/0060609176/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1463610658&sr=1-1&keywords=meeting+jesus+again+for+the+first+time

          • Randy M says:

            Deisach, well okay, you are not interested in previous myths that the Jesus myth was certainly based on.

            No one knows everything about the subject with certainty, unless they came here in a time machine from 2000 years ago.

            I know by a strict reading this isn’t a contradiction, but it sure is close to one. Care to explain which things can and can’t be known with certainty?

          • aesthete says:

            No one knows everything about the subject with certainty, unless they came here in a time machine from 2000 years ago

            And yet we have a number of books and other forms of evidence from 1800-1900 years ago that might as well have been transported to us by a time machine. Ignoring these — and the degree to which they suggest early Christianity as a radical break from Judaism and Greco-Roman paganism — is just foolish.

            I do like what little I’ve read of Marcus Borg (mostly from a book he co-wrote with NT Wright), though I’ll point out that he’s exactly the type of liberal Protestant scholar who’s likely to have problems with a “Jesus myth”-style thesis.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Parallelomania runs into the same issues as running all the regressions on your dataset you can until you finally find one that is significant. There’s are just so many myths and stories out there that even pure chance is going turn up plenty of results if you’re willing to squint hard enough (see the 23 enigma for another variant of this). It takes a lot more to establish actual linkage, such as a plausible transmission path, and you need to make sure there’s not a more plausible one already sitting around. For example, I have seen people claim that the 12 disciples derived from the 12 signs of the zodiac, but it could much more easily allude to the 12 tribes of Israel, which is exactly the sort of thing Jesus would have had reason to intentionally evoke when he chose the Twelve.

            Second, a lot of the parallels given involve reading a Christian terminology back into a ceremony that wasn’t really there. You see this a lot when people try to invoke Mithras parallels. We really know next to nothing about Mithraism; it was a mystery religion with no surviving texts telling us what they really believed and did, so people often go too heavy on the interpretation. (Additional problem: we don’t even know if Mithraism pre- or post-dates Christianity.)

            Thirdly, a lot of the information out there on the internet is just outright wrong. Probably every graphic about the real origins of Christianity that you’ve seen on social media falls under this category, especially if it involves Horus or Ishtar. Same for The Da Vinci Code. I don’t know why this happens.

            (Zeitgeist, which tried to draw significance from the similarity (in English) between the words “Son” and “Sun” is in a category all its own.)

            Finally, where Christianity does actually base itself on other traditions, it’s usually pretty up-front about it. That it derives a lot from Judaism is hardly a secret. And while the Greeks didn’t much impact the scriptures, they had a huge influence on theological development, with church fathers freely admitting their debts to Plato, Aristotle, etc. There’s no need to posit a deeper conspiracy.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Be nice. I’m atheist and I agree with Deiseach about this, as do (I think) the majority of atheist scholars. The parallels between Jesus and Mithras are about as convincing as the parallels between Moses and George Washington – by which I mean very convincing when you first hear them, but probably not the way science should be done.

          • Deiseach says:

            Look, Jill, I’m currently knee-deep in three different Indian TV series based on Hinduism/mythology (whatever term you prefer). I’m constantly seeing parallels between incidents in the Indian and in the Greek myths (to the point where I did a Tumblr post about why Indra is not as big a dick as Zeus).

            Not to go to the extremes of the “mythology is a disease of language” types who were big back in the day (and who, for instance, said that the character of Iole in the myth of Hercules was not at all meant to be a real woman but instead was the sunset clouds, because her name means “purple” – which is a bit like saying no real woman named Violet ever existed but the name was obviously a transposition of the coloured sunset clouds), but taking the myths preserved in the Hindu tradition as older versions, and the later Greek ones as ancestral remnants transposed to their own cultural context as populations moved west and south and intermingled, makes sense to me.

            This does NOT mean I think Hesiod sat down with a copy of the Rig Veda and lifted it wholesale to create his Theogony, which is the level that “Jesus is totally a rip-of of Dionysius!” is at (please, neo-Pagans, tell me again how the Christians ripped off Samhain to create Hallowe’en; as both Irish and Catholic I wrote an entire feckin’ post on how WRONG you lot are).

          • Deiseach says:

            I like Jill, I honestly do, but I get the same reaction at times to some of her posts as someone being recommended by the earnest amateur that they really should read the Ladybird Book of British Birds when I’ve already encountered this stuff before, I really have 🙂

            I am particularly amused by “Deisach, well okay, you are not interested in previous myths that the Jesus myth was certainly based on” because from the age of about twelve or so I have had a complete Monkey God love thing going on for Hanuman and Sun Wukong (thank you, Puffin Books with your tasters of myths and legends of the world for the condensed version of the Ramayana where I thought Rama was a bit of a dick – honestly, that was no way to treat Sita! – but totally fell in love with Hanuman, and the children’s version of Arthur Waley’s translation of “Journey to the West” for the irrepressible Great Sage, Equal of Heaven, Handsome Monkey King) to go along with my smith-god thing (Hephaestus, Vulcan, Wayland, Aulë i Talka Marda – oh yeah!) which I have developed along the way.

            And Anubis. And Thoth. And Tyr. And Heimdall. And yeah, even Hades. And Manwë Sulimo.

            That’s enough to be going on with for the present, I think 🙂

            EDITED TO MAKE THIS VERY, VERY CLEAR: I AM NOT A FURRY. I just like smart, capable, kind monkey gods, okay?

          • LHN says:

            Stewart Robb’s “Letter from a Higher Critic” (1966) applied a similar analysis to WWII “history”, which has such obviously allegorical figures as a French leader named “de Gaulle” (subtle!), Eisenhower (=”iron hewer”) crossing from England to Normandy in a repurposing of Taillefer (=”iron hewer”) crossing from Normandy to England in 1066, etc. All in the service of a clear Christian apocalypse pitting the forces of the broken cross against “Church Hill”. (John Bunyan, call your office.)

          • Nornagest says:

            A friend of mine once claimed to worship Sun Wukong as the personification of munchkinism. I’m still not sure whether she was serious.

          • Deiseach says:

            A friend of mine once claimed to worship Sun Wukong as the personification of munchkinism

            I can see that; given the way he ran amok in the Heavenly Peach Gardens and how he manages to get powers not alone by virtue of his origins but from the Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist traditions and is the one that has to pull the party’s chestnuts out of the fire every single time they run into trouble (to the point where he throws a hissy-fit, says he’s had enough of constantly having to save their bacon for no thanks and is going back home, and returns to his kingdom on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit to sulk and is terribly bored until the rest of the band come to bring him back on the expedition), he is rather over-powered and competitive 🙂

            But I can’t help loving him, all the same. The late 70s Japanese version (dubbed into English) is very cheesy but great fun.

          • LHN says:

            @Nornagest So does that make the Buddha the DM who finally gets a munchkin to make a positive contribution to the party’s success?

          • Nornagest says:

            It would be in character for the Buddha.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Parallelomania is always fun, although my favourite example is probably Jean-Baptiste Peres’ send-up of the genre, “proving” that Napoleon Bonaparte was just an allegory for the sun god:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Baptiste_P%C3%A9r%C3%A8s#Grand_Erratum

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Deiseach
            thank you, Puffin Books with your tasters of myths and legends of the world for the condensed version of the Ramayana where I thought Rama was a bit of a dick – honestly, that was no way to treat Sita!

            Is there any version where Rama isn’t a dick?

          • ” I just like smart, capable, kind monkey gods, okay?”

            Monkey is a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t describe him as kind.

            Remember the last instruction by the sage who taught him.

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, “kind” is rather stretching it with Monkey, but he does put up with Tripitaka remarkably tolerantly (and that’s not all attributable to the pain-causing fillet) and he ends the journey a lot more ‘tamed’ (but not ‘tame’) than when he began it.

            Mostly I was thinking of Hanuman, though, and how I fell in love with him when he was so courteous and so gentle at first meeting Sita in the Ashoka Grove 🙂

            I like this series from the 90s a lot as it’s funny as well as respectful of the source material and people’s beliefs. (Also, real snake around Shiva’s neck! It’s very noticeable when they use rubber snakes in other series and rather distracting). You may recognise where I get my icon from 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            In fairness to Jill, she is probably not aware of other similarly learned works proving the falsity and pagan-derived idolatry of so-called ‘Christian’ worship, as instanced below.

            I mean, you all know Catholics are Evil, right? But do you know how Evil we are?

            We actually worship the goddess Semiramis (under the figure of Mary) and have propagated the mystery cult created by her for millenia and pretended to be Christian! Read all about it!

            Now of course, I would say we don’t worship Semiramis and have nothing to do with the religion of ancient Babylon, whatever it may have been, but then again I would say that, wouldn’t I? And since “No one knows everything about the subject with certainty, unless they came here in a time machine from 2000 years ago”, why should you believe my word over that of the late Reverend Hislop who has expended so much scholarship and effort on The Truth?

            The Chaldean Mysteries can be traced up to the days of Semiramis, who lived only a few centuries after the flood, and who is known to have impressed upon them the image of her own depraved and polluted mind

            That beautiful but abandoned queen of Babylon was not only herself a paragon of unbridled lust and licentiousness, but in the Mysteries which she had a chief hand in forming, she was worshipped as Rhea, the great “MOTHER” of the gods, with such atrocious rites as identified her with Venus, the MOTHER of all impurity, and raised the very city where she had reigned to a bad eminence among the nations, as the grand seat at once of idolatry and consecrated prostitution

            Thus was this Chaldean queen a fit and remarkable prototype of the “Woman” in the Apocalypse, with the golden cup in her hand, and the name on her forehead, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the MOTHER of harlots and abominations of the earth.” The Apocalyptic emblem of the Harlot woman with the cup in her hand was even embodied in the symbols of idolatry, derived from ancient Babylon, as they were exhibited in Greece; for thus was the Greek Venus originally represented, and it is singular that in our own day, and so far as appears for the first time, the Roman Church has actually taken this very symbol as her own chosen emblem. In 1825, on occasion of the jubilee, Pope Leo XII struck a medal, bearing on the one side his own image, and on the other, that of the Church of Rome symbolised as a “Woman,” holding in her left hand a cross, and in her right a CUP, with the legend around her, “Sedet super universum,” “The whole world is her seat.”

          • Nornagest says:

            …I count four separate pantheons there. Are we doing the Tacitus thing, where all gods with roughly the same portfolio are taken to be the same god no matter the context? And if so, can I pray to Zeus and still be in communion with whatever congregation came up with this?

        • smocc says:

          I’m less familiar with Monkey, but Hanuman is the best of all the pagan gods I know. If I had to be pagan, cult of Hanuman all the way.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Ehrman’s basic introductory textbook is a really good overview, and the further reading sections will generally point you to what you want to know. There’s an associated reader, too – but it’s not necessary (a decent bible plus the internet ought to provide most of it) – and I recall some of the footnotes in the edition I had being missing.

      Raymond Brown’s introduction I remember as being good too, but I spent less time with it than with Ehrman. As I recall, Brown was really big on John – John usually gets less attention than the synoptics.

      Also, Ehrman is an evangelical Protestant turned agnostic, whereas Brown was a Catholic. So they’re going to have somewhat different approaches.

      A good bible is a must. NRSV is pretty standard for scholarship these days. One really cool thing I have is the Jewish Annotated New Testament, which is a footnoted NRSV New Testament with essays and such by Jewish scholars. Really helps put things in context.

      If you don’t have any Greek, and even if you do, a gospel synopsis is helpful in letting you compare the four gospels, and compare the Greek to the English. The Aland one is kind of the gold standard. I actually preferred the Zeba Crook one which is a literal word-for-word translation with a glossary. It is better for letting you compare the Greek to the English and see where translations flatten things out and so forth. If you really want to get hardcore, a Greek lexicon can help – I remember liking Mounce’s analytical lexicon but then again I was taking Greek, so it might be a bit much.

      Finally, if you’re doing historical-critical studies, the parables probably interest you. This was one of the texts for a course I took on the parables, and I remember it being really good. It gives a good overview of religious and scholarly interpretation of the parables.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m not very impressed by Ehrman, but that’s probably because as you say, he’s very much reacting to his original beliefs, which were American Evangelicalism. So I do get the impression (possibly erroneous) that he’s constantly addressing a Straw Evangelical Bible-Basher all the time when constructing his arguments, which is not where I’m coming from.

        Eh. I don’t have much time for the neo-Gnostics, I suppose is what I’m saying.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Neo-Gnostic?

          And, yes, Ehrman is mostly writing for an American audience that has mostly been exposed to a certain variety of Protestantism. His textbook is, however, one of the best and most accessible overviews out there.

          You’d probably prefer Brown, I’m guessing.

          EDIT: Also, hardly “straw” – there are plenty of believers, and not just the stereotypically ignorant, who reject most/all of the critical scholarship.

          • Deiseach says:

            there are plenty of believers, and not just the stereotypically ignorant, who reject most/all of the critical scholarship

            It’s okay to take That Guy as the person you want to argue a case against, but in Ehrman’s case (and I’m only going by skimming some of his stuff), he makes That Guy the representative of the entire global and historical Christian tradition, and that just ain’t so.

            Christians in the entire world and last two thousand years were not American Baptists (sorry, Trail of Blood guys!)

            I am probably also prejudiced because I tend to think of the historico-critical method as “Oh, that thing that was wildly popular in the 19th century from Bultmann, right?” So Ehrman seems to me not cutting-edge but rather more of the same old same old.

            I am one of those who go more for the traditional understanding 🙂

          • dndnrsn says:

            A lot of biblical scholarship is, yeah, basically just recapping what Germans had done by the mid 20th century. Still, I am hardly from a bible-thumping background, and a lot of the stuff I learned in the first intro to early Christianity course I took was new to me.

  16. Eggoeggo says:

    I was going to joke last time about too many open threads possibly encouraging shitposting.
    But then I thought “no, that’s far too insulting to the people who comment here”.

  17. TD says:

    Wha-Why? People are just going to start leaving really stupid comments just for something to fill the space…

    I see what this is! This is a false flag to create a posting crisis and delete the comment section after it gets too toxic. I see through you! Top tip: have you ever noticed that you never see Scott posting at the same time as an anon@gmail post? I rest my case.

  18. keranih says:

    A while back on the “Stay Classy” thread, I introduced the idea that specific verbal patterns in response to a question (“Would you like some ice cream?”) had been shown to be indicative of social class.

    The specific reference turns out to be far less authoritarian than I remembered. It was in John T. Molloy’s New Women’s Dress for Success (1996). The actual section was:

    “In addition to vocabularly, we are judged by our sentence structure. A professor of mine once said you can tell a person’s background simply by asking her if she would like ice cream on a hot day. If she says, “Yeah,” she is lower class, if she says, “Yes”, she is middle class; if she says, “Yes, I would,” she is upper middle class; if she says, “Yes, I would, thank you,” she is upper class. He based his statement onn the fact that people from poor backgrounds are largely non-verbal, and people from upper-class backgrounds tend to speak in complete sentances and are usually taught to be very polite.”

    To me, this is interesting, partly because one of the other essays on class linked in the comments to the Classy post referenced Molloy and his Dress for Success books – but in the sense that they were only useful for lower to middle class people trying for upward movement. It is also interesting that the advice came from someone on the Gentry ladder, which supports the idea put forth by other commenters on this in the Classy post, who said that the REALLY upper class spoke in short sentances.

    Anyway, here it is an OT that I thought I got this posted early enough to reach a lot of the people who had read the Stay Classy thread.

    • Jill says:

      Lewis Lapham, former editor of Harper’s magazine, and current editor of Lapham’s Quarterly, writes the absolute best funniest books on class in the U.S.

      Money and Class in America: Notes and Observations on Our Civil Religion

      Lapham’s Rules of Influence: A Careerist’s Guide to Success, Status, and Self-Congratulation

      http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Lewis+Lapham

    • Deiseach says:

      That’s very interesting, because I am resolutely lower-class and I was taught by my mother to say “Yes, thank you” (or “No, thank you” as the case depends). Grunting “yeah” at someone would have been considered very rude!

      So I suppose I’m basically saying “Take your condescending classism and shove it up your jumper, matey” which only proves the professor’s point for him 🙂

    • TD says:

      I think this works for most people, but there are a lot of weird autists who are going to be outliers (moi par exemple). Since I was a kid I’ve always been very concerned with asking very politely for things (to the extent of saying “can I please go and get a drink of water” in a friends house), but I also have a conscious disdain for formalities I consider to be vestigial left overs of a more caste like society, as well as an irrational dislike of pompous toffs (I quite like rich entrepreneurs and industrialists though). I tend to mix very precise speech and “big boy words” with lower class signifiers such as replacing “isn’t” with “ain’t”. I say “excuse me sir/miss” one minute, but then “I’m going for a shit” the next, leading to disdain from toffs… and normal people.

      Clothes give you away as (non) working class scum straight away. I only buy shoes cheaper than £15 out of the principle of the thing. Maybe I’ve been a hipster this whole time. Can you be a hipster and not know it? I thought it had be self-conscious and affected? I think I went beyond ironic as a child, lost track, and then it became my regular personality. Shit.

    • Jill says:

      Harvey Jackins, who invented Re-evaluation co-counseling, a form of peer counseling, wrote a book or 2 that touch on class issues and beliefs. I don’t see them at amazon though. He’s dead but the organization lives on and I think it has branches in many major cities, and they should know which book is about class issues and where to get it. Too bad it’s not so easy to find it. It’s the best account of characteristics of different social classes I’ve ever seen. The organization at one time had groups where people grouped according to the class they identified with, in order to peer counsel each other to get beyond the issues of their particular class.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-evaluation_Counseling

      Web site for the organization

      https://www.rc.org/

      This organization is far from perfect, but has significant strengths.

    • Julie K says:

      cf. U and non-U English (upper-class and middle-class speech, 1950’s England), in which “the different vocabularies often can appear quite counter-intuitive: the middle classes prefer “fancy” or fashionable words, even neologisms and often euphemisms, in attempts to make themselves sound more refined (“posher than posh”), while the upper classes in many cases stick to the same plain and traditional words that the working classes also use.”

      • Aapje says:

        Indeed, it is the same in Holland. The upper class have distinguished themselves from the wannabes by using plain words.

        There was a British television series that delved into this: Keeping Up Appearances.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ keranih
      the idea put forth by other commenters on this in the Classy post, who said that the REALLY upper class spoke in short sentances

      That may depend on who they’re talking to.

  19. Douglas Knight says:

    Scott,

    Without programming, you can get much of the functionality you wanted by (1) making these threads hidden and (2) providing this link as your generic open thread link. It’s a link to the tag archive, so it requires a second click to get to the actual thread, but it might be worth trying.

  20. Pku says:

    Not to be confused with open thread 4975.

  21. Scott, what’s your opinion about left-libertarianism, more specifically market anarchism as in Kevin Carson, Roderick Long and the crew at c4ss.org?

    Have started reading SSC lately and haven’t seen anything about this, so decided to ask (since the open threads are going loop)

    • Also Bleeding Heart libertarianism, which is a somewhat different version.

      “Left-libertarianism” describes several different things.

      • For sure, in a certain sense (universal individual rights) all the liberal/libertarian tradition is “left”. Scott even has a post about something resembling BHL, here. But I meant something more in the line people at C4SS propose: neo-proudhonian mutualism and/or left-rothbardian agorism (SEK3 and all). There is also the slightly related stirnerite anarcho-individualism, but I don’t think of that as specifically within any left-right spectrum.

    • TD says:

      I don’t know about Scott, but I feel like Kevin Carson is making concessions to anarcho-capitalist theory, and then trying to put a Marxist spin on it a lot of the time.

      On the other hand, he supports land reform of the Chavez style, so I can’t tell whether he’s inconsistent or I haven’t read enough of his stuff yet. I started reading his blog ages ago and then stopped for some reason.

      • I usually talk based on his books, rather than his articles online, but he sounds absolutely not Marxist nor an ancap at all. For all I know, he sticks pretty fairly to Benjamin Tucker’s and Proudhon’s legacy: essentially, property based on occupancy and use, small scale free association and stare as the prop up of the current economy system, based on privileged access through coercion. Although it certainly sounds like a middle term (because it sort of is a middle term)

        I have never seen him support top-down land reform, and read him speak against it over and over. but again, I’m talking out of his books, which I read, not eventual articles, which I haven’t.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think I know enough about their theories to comment.

  22. Rob says:

    So, I wonder – if we tallied all of our posts on this open thread and analyzed the most frequent words, which would be more prevalent: meta about the open thread, or things that are not meta about the open thread?

  23. Sebastian H says:

    Since it is an open thread, I’d love to talk about a side theory of talking about things.

    For lack of a better terminology I use “border” and “whole” but I’m completely open to better labels. The concept is that sometimes it is difficult to mark the exact border between the US and Mexico on an inch by inch basis (especially when it follows natural ‘borders’) but talking about the US and Mexico as two different countries is still useful in most contexts.

    A lot of discussion among intellectuals and thinking types is about ‘border’ issues because that is where the most interesting disagreements are. Things like: what is the exact border between murder and justifiable killing? Is it justifiable if you are protecting yourself? Protecting yourself from anything or just some things? Protecting other people from those same things, or only some more limited things. When is something alive? Does replication suggest alive-ness? Etc. etc. etc.

    That’s great when you need to decide border issues, and not particularly interesting when something clearly falls into the interior of the whole. But this causes a number of thinkers to decide that because border issues are tough, or maybe even intractable on the most edge case of borders, that the whole isn’t ‘real’ because we can’t hyper-precisely define the borders.

    That seems to me like potentially a very big mistake and it seems to come up all over the place.

    • Adam says:

      Sounds plausible but do you have an example?

    • fuzzy spectrum seems to be a good middle term operational tool.

    • Anonymous says:

      A phrase I’ve come across, that closely resembles “border issues,” is “edge cases.”

    • Waring says:

      This is vagueness- there’s a huge philosophical literature on it, most famously on the sorities paradox. There’s different ways of cashing it out, but borderline cases and paradigms are typical.

      I work on related issues, if you have anything in mind to discuss.

    • Timothy says:

      The biological “species problem” and responses might be of interest.

    • John Nerst says:

      Agreed, this is a big one. We tend to get distracted with border distinctions and it’s time we started to consider categories to be defined by their centers rather than their borders. It seems like that is how pattern-matching computational engines like our brains actually work, and that the idea of sharp categories is a compression technique we’ve unfortunately reified.

      Seeing categories in terms of “necessary and sufficient conditions” also makes it easy for destructive relativism to sneak in. It’s a common form of argument that if borders cannot be drawn unambigously, the whole distinction is meaningless.

  24. Liskantope says:

    I’d like to put in a request for a post (preferably sometime between now and the election) on the motives behind abandoning consequentialist utilitarianism when it comes to voting. It seems like most people accept consequentialist utilitarianism as a matter of course for most choices, but then treat voting almost as a mode of self-expression.

    • Nornagest says:

      Good luck coming up with a reliable estimate of the consequential outcomes of voting. Every time I’ve seem someone try, it’s been of the form “letting the other guys in will cause the apocalypse”, which I find thoroughly unconvincing. (Yes, even for Trump.)

      • you’d need a futarchy to be thoroughly utilitarian on elections. the it currently is, voter are more rational in treating the whole thing as a tribal ritual. information is too dispersed for it to be worth being a rational utilitarian voter.

    • Adam says:

      Pretty much what Nornagest said. The expected marginal impact of any single vote is indistinguishable from zero in nearly any election and the range of options you even have is so restricted to begin with, what’s the point of being rigorous about it? The chief virtue of democracy seems to be it beats the hell out of coups and civil wars when it comes to modes of leadership transitions.

      I also highly doubt people use any sort of formally justifiable decision-making process for most choices. Most choices are of the ‘soup or salad’ variety, ‘do I get out of bed now or in ten minutes?’ They’re impulsive, barely thought out, and barely matter.

      • Liskantope says:

        I mostly disagree with what you’re saying here.

        The expected marginal impact of any single vote is indistinguishable from zero in nearly any election

        Sure, but people mostly seem to understand the whole Prisoner’s Dilemma idea that if you decide to do something for a reason, then you should assume that many other people are making that same decision for that same reason, and that en masse voting is extremely effective. I’ve always imagined this to be the most common motivation for voting in the first place.

        I also highly doubt people use any sort of formally justifiable decision-making process for most choices.

        Not most momentary, everyday choices, no. Although I believe that to a large extent, even the most mundane choices are made on a consequentialist basis, just with much less rigor and conscious thought. Voting, on the other hand, represents a choice that has usually been thought out over many months. I’m not saying that I would expect the decision to be made with the level of rigor of, say, SSC posts analyzing studies on something controversial. But I would expect consequentialists-in-practice to consider, for instance, that voting for Ralph Nader in 2000 might help tip the contest in favor of George W. Bush instead of saying, “Screw Bush and Gore (even though Gore’s policies are closer to mine); I’m voting for a third-party candidate!”

        • vivafringe says:

          It’s really important to recognize that voting is NOT a prisoner’s dilemma. Large swaths of people choosing not to vote will make voting MORE attractive, not less, which is the opposite of a prisoner’s dilemma.

          If you’re a consequentialist, choosing to vote is pretty shaky. You’re better off picking up litter or whatever. Yes, if everyone thought that way, maybe the relative good you could do by voting would outweigh the good you could do by other means. But that’s not the world we live in, and it doesn’t appear like it will be the world we live in any time soon.

          • Liskantope says:

            To be clear, I wasn’t trying to imply that voting was itself some sort of Prisoner’s Dilemma. I was only trying to refer to the decision-making strategy of “assume that others will decide whatever you decide”, which is a major aspect of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. It probably has a name in its own right, but I can’t remember one.

            Anyway, the typical situation that comes to my mind is not the dilemma of whether or not to vote. It’s the scenario where one wants to vote for a candidate who shares more of one’s values, regardless of the expected outcome of large numbers of people voting that way. Most of the people I know seem to consider it always worth it to give up an hour of their time to vote.

            I appreciate your point about it being doubtful that voting is worth it, all other people’s behavior remaining roughly the same.

        • Adam says:

          People mostly seem to understand the whole Prisoner’s Dilemma idea that if you decide to do something for a reason, then you should assume that many other people are making that same decision for that same reason, and that en masse voting is extremely effective.

          That isn’t incompatible with nonetheless zero expected marginal impact, in contrast to however many thousands of other things you could be directing attention and effort to.

          Although I believe that to a large extent, even the most mundane choices are made on a consequentialist basis, just with much less rigor and conscious thought.

          I completely hold out the possibility that I’m wrong, but I’m not basing this on personal suspicion. It’s based on neurological and cognitive studies of how humans actually make everyday mundane decisions.

        • “Sure, but people mostly seem to understand the whole Prisoner’s Dilemma idea that if you decide to do something for a reason, then you should assume that many other people are making that same decision for that same reason”

          This seems to me to confuse the direction of causation. It’s true that if there were a good reason not to vote that might both cause me not to vote and other people not to vote, which might have bad consequences. But that isn’t evidence that there is not a good reason not to vote–the truth of a proposition is not determined by whether its being true has good or bad consequences. The fact that the existence of a good reason not to vote might cause me not to vote doesn’t imply that my choosing to vote affects the existence of a good reason not to.

    • Anon. says:

      It seems like most people accept consequentialist utilitarianism

      What leads you to think this? Most people in the West are still Christians and therefore very much not consequentialist or utilitarian.

      • Liskantope says:

        When people make serious, slow, conscious decisions, they tend to consider what will likely be the outcomes of those decisions and whether they (and people whose welfare they value) will likely be better or worse off. For instance, this is the case when folks decide whether or not to join the army, or which school to send their children to. It’s even the case for deciding smaller questions like whether to lock the doors on a particular night, given the extremely low chance that someone will try to break in that night.

        • Anon. says:

          None of those things makes you a consequentialist or utilitarian.

          • Liskantope says:

            I’m not, by the way, talking about the philosophical position that anyone identifies with. I’m talking about the rough ethical framework people use to make most decisions in practice, whether or not they are explicitly aware of it.

    • John Schilling says:

      Any ruthlessly consequential analysis of casting one vote in one election is likely to be dominated by A: the hour of your time it takes to actually cast the vote, B: any more time you spend thinking about who to vote for, C: the warm fuzzy feeling you get for doing your civic duty, and D: the probability of your friends laughing at you for doing it wrong.

      Quite possibly the winning move is to feel smugly superior for not voting at all. Or just do what your friends are doing. Only if your friends are rationalists does it likely make sense to do an object-level assessment of the consequences of a particular candidate winning the election.

      • Adam says:

        Even then, at least for the presidential election you need to be a rationalist living in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, or Florida.

    • Jill says:

      People vote on emotions, not issues, not facts, not anything rational. Here is a book by a guy who didn’t foresee Trump’s rise but did get tons of other Republicans elected to the White House and Congress over the past few decades. He did this by getting candidates to say the right words to trigger the emotions that get people to the polls and voting for the candidate.

      He’s perhaps the biggest name GOP consultant in the past few decades.

      Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear Paperback – August 5, 2008
      by Frank I. Luntz

      http://www.amazon.com/Words-That-Work-What-People/dp/1401309291/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463603505&sr=8-1&keywords=Words+THat+Work

    • MF says:

      One doesn’t need to abandon utilitarianism when it comes to voting if you’re a one-boxer.

      Put another way: your decision-making processes are not unique.

      If you choose not to vote, the people who think like you also won’t vote. If you choose to vote, so will anyone who thinks like you. Thus, your decision to vote counts for far, far more than one vote if your preferences are shared by a large enough group of people. (Note that you don’t need to share the *exact* same set of decision-making processes/algorithms/whatever you want to call them. There’s a fair bit of fuzziness allowed.)

      Of course, the main issue there is that there aren’t that many people who’ve been exposed to Newcomb’s problem, so there probably aren’t enough people with thought processes similar to “you” (assuming “you” are a one-boxer) to make voting worth it, since being a one-boxer is the only way this all can work.

      But in principle voting as a utilitarian is very justifiable, or would be if enough people were one-boxers.

      • Liskantope says:

        Aha! So that’s how I should refer to the “I should assume that whatever I choose is what a large number of other people in my position will choose” logic! (See my clumsiness in comments above.) Thanks for introducing me to the two-box problem. So much basic rationalist material left for me to learn…

    • Sid says:

      Haven’t actually read this yet so can’t vouch for it, but very relevant: http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/published/rational_final7.pdf

    • If you think that people are “abandoning consequentialist utilitarianism when it comes to voting”, then that doesn’t just mean you’re completely confident you’re right about the consequentialist utilitarian consequences of voting, it also means you think that reasoning is so obvious that you expect everyone else to think the same way. This is absurd. Even in this thread there is a broad range of opinions on this matter. Instead of bulverizing the people who vote, a much better question to ask is: Is voting rational?

      I don’t put much credence to TDT/superrationality arguments, and am uninterested in purely discussing the individual emotional effects of voting, but I still see a reasonably good utilitarian case for voting. The basic argument is this: Suppose the difference between two candidates position is equivalent to one candidate taxing and wasting $1000 from each voter. Suppose as well that you’re completely uninformed on how other voters will vote, and model the election result as a uniform distribution in how much votes each candidate will get. Then your chance of influencing the outcome of the election is 1/(number of voters), and if your vote affects the outcome you save $1000*(number voters). Therefore the value of your vote is equivalent to giving a stranger $1000. If you are partially altruistic, and you value a random voters’ happiness 10% as much as you value your own, this is worth the same as $100 for you. This is clearly more than the effort of going to the polling station.

      Of course, these estimates are very loose. I expect this answer to be off by several orders magnitude, which means that it’s not at all clear if voting is worth it. Moreover, several of the variables depend on your specific circumstances, so it might worth it for some people but not for others. I would love to see a more detailed analysis that actually attempts to quantitatively answer these questions.

      In particular, one subtlety worth describing explicitly: In many states we already know that most voters favor a particular candidate. In those cases the chance your vote influences the election is far smaller, so the expected utility from influencing the outcome is almost certainly not worth the cost. Nonetheless, it may still be rational to vote, since by changing the number of votes your candidate gets you’re affecting who people will anticipate winning in future elections. I’m pretty sure voting in non-swing states has a much lower value than voting in a swing state, but I’m not sure whether it’s worth it.

      Full disclosure: I have so far been eligible to vote in one major election and I have not voted then.

      • Liskantope says:

        then that doesn’t just mean you’re completely confident you’re right about the consequentialist utilitarian consequences of voting, it also means you think that reasoning is so obvious that you expect everyone else to think the same way.

        I don’t claim anything of the sort. I’m talking about people whose stated reasons for voting a certain way outright contradict a basis in consequentialist utilitarianism: “I’m voting for the candidate who stands for what I believe in, period. Why do you keep talking about who’s more likely to win / be effective in office?”

        For instance, this is the impression I get from a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters. But I’m not claiming their voting for him is actually a bad choice from a consequentialist point of view, just that their stated reasons behind their choice contradict its tenets. I’m actually pretty undecided on which Democratic candidate is better choice from the consequentialist point of view.

    • [Disclaimer: this is self-promotion]

      I recently investigated this and concluded that whether you should vote is dependent on how much you care about the well-being of others in society. A perfect altruist who cared as much for everyone on Earth as themselves would probably vote.

      • Chalid says:

        But all the people voting for the other party also place a high value on the victory of their party, right?

        • Good point – didn’t think about that.

          I suppose the question then becomes how we view political support. Presumably, people don’t just support a political party for arbitrary reason (or wish they didn’t). Presumably, they choose one party over the other because their values are different or because they have different information.

          In the latter case, you should still vote if you have better information than average. In the former, it becomes admittedly tricky, because then we get into ethical questions. However, given some specific ethical system (if we don’t assume a means of determining the “goodness” of one party over another, then there is no way to discuss whether one should vote), isn’t it still the case that one party will probably be significantly better than the other?

  25. T. Summer says:

    I am a newcomer to both lesswrong and SSC, and I have only recently started reading the sequences. While reading Elizer’s work I became a bit confused: I do not understand how Elizer can say, “The obvious answer isn’t always the best choice, but sometimes it is,” in his blog post titled Simplified Humanism as Transhumanism, but also stresses the importance of understanding and minimizing bias in … What’s a bias, again?. In the former he supports acceptance of some intuitions, but in the latter he supports elimination of them. Am I just missing a bigger picture?

    • anonymous says:

      no, you’ve hit on one of the cruxes of rationality. take the system 1 system 2 model for instance. you can’t escape that in order for system 2 to work on something it has to be promoted to conscious attention by some process that is itself something we are only dimly, transiently aware of.

    • Jill says:

      Here is a good book of scientific research on how things that we are only dimly, transiently aware of actually influence our choices.

      Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

      http://www.amazon.com/Predictably-Irrational-Revised-Expanded-Decisions/dp/0061353248/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463603289&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=PRdictable+irrationality

    • Frog Do says:

      The first one is crap, the second one is better. That’s the big picture.

      Edit: Since your a newcomer to LW and SSC, if it’s your thing go ahead and read it all. The good stuff ends up refuting most of the bad stuff, and you’ll be able to tell them apart eventually.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      “Am I just missing a bigger picture?”

      Intuitions are useful for morality because intuitions are related to the question “what are your goals”. Intuition is not useful for determining if things are true or not.

      So if you are dealing with the first, the question of “what do I feel like” is a relevant one, but if you are dealing with the second, it isn’t.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        I should probably give an example. Intuition is how you try to pin down what your utility function is. Ignoring intuition is how you have to deal with formalizing it; if you don’t, the incentive is strong to brush aside incongruities. Just because your mind says “well, these will never really conflict” doesn’t mean it is reliable.

    • anonymous bosch says:

      First intuitions aren’t always right, but they aren’t wrong.

      You check whether there are non-obvious reasons something is incorrect, but often correcting for bias doesn’t change the result. If you’re always correcting that hard, then you’ll get the wrong answer.

      Google “reversed stupidity is not intelligence” for this.

  26. SUT says:

    Can somebody charitably explain the following?

    After two terms of the most progressive president ever, Democrats became obsessed with electing the “Most Liberal Man in the World”.

    This would be like if Cruz was president for two terms, and Republicans were like, the problem is this country is facing is: we’re not trying hard enough to lower taxes and we’re not paying heed to Christian values enough.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      After electing the most economically leftist president in American history for two terms, democrats elected him again to two more. The year was 1940.

      Obama hasn’t been all that left-wing on economic policy – notably, inequality actually worsened under his administration, and no one went to prison over the 2008 crash. (Or, for that matter, on civil liberties – “most transparent administration” my ass.) And he was willing to compromise quite a lot with congressional Republicans on budget issues, and “reformed” Social Security in such a way that cost of living increases don’t keep up with real inflation.

      As a Sanders voter (and a NEET) this isn’t good enough, and paying lipservice to other liberal causes doesn’t excuse a lack of action on bread-and-butter issues.

      • onyomi says:

        “Obama hasn’t been all that left-wing on economic policy – notably, inequality actually worsened under his administration”

        Do you take it as a given that left-wing economic policies reduce inequality? I don’t. Most of South America is much more left-wing, economically, than the US, and also more unequal.

        • birdboy2000 says:

          Yes, on a definitional level. I’d even go so far as to say that policies which worsen inequality cease by virtue of that fact to be left-wing.

          As I understand it, Latin America elected left-wing governments precisely *because* it was so unequal, and those governments came with a mandate to fix that problem.

          • Salem says:

            OK, then the Republicans are clearly the left-wing party in the USA, because they’re much more free market than the Democrats. Similarly the Conservatives are the left-wing party in the UK, and so on. Socialism, by contrast, is a right-wing ideology.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Free market policies exacerbate inequality, they don’t reduce them.

            At best (which I highly doubt) they increase growth sufficiently that the working class winds up better off anyway, but they certainly don’t do so by reducing inequality. Parties which favor repealing inheritance taxes, ending progressive taxation, and cutting welfare for the poor are not reducing inequality in any sense of the word.

          • onyomi says:

            “Free market policies exacerbate inequality, they don’t reduce them.”

            I mean, care to back that up at all? It is certainly at least conceivable that welfare programs, on net, increase inequality by reducing the incentive to work. Plus, there are other “free market” policies besides “cut welfare to the poor,” which I’d actually say is non-central to free market economics. Do you think deregulation and free trade axiomatically increase inequality?

          • “Free market policies exacerbate inequality, they don’t reduce them.”

            Why would you expect that to be true in general? Violations of the free market involve the government intervening to benefit some interest group. The interest group might be poor people, it might be rich people. Quite often there are policies justified as helping poor people that, on average, help richer people–free state universities, for example, or farm programs.

            Governments generally say they are opposed to inequality, but it doesn’t follow that they are.

          • Fj says:

            Because even without any violations the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And then you also need violations to prevent the rich from destroying the free market assumptions (by colluding, forming monopolies etc), but that’s just dealing with the inevitable end result of the general trend of the rich getting richer.

          • Alsadius says:

            The poor haven’t gotten poorer in centuries. Empirically, the rise of industrial capitalism has made the poor richer than anything else in human history. I mean for god’s sakes, poor people are fat today – that is a massive triumph compared to the era when they starved to death.

            Also, it’s really hard to put together a monopoly without government intervention. It can be tried, but they usually fall apart quickly – look at Dow breaking the German chemical cartel(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Henry_Dow#Breaking_a_monopoly), for example. These sorts of strategies work great if you get everyone on board, but there’s always more people coming into the system who want to undercut your cushy monopoly, and your ability to co-opt them can’t keep up. Look at what happened to the Big Three automakers in the 70s – they’d gotten used to selling overpriced crap to a captive market, so they got the snot beaten out of them when other producers came along.

          • Salem says:

            Because even without any violations the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

            The poor get poorer? The poor get poorer?

            The “poor” today are incomparably richer compared to the poor of the past, and this trend shows no signs of abating. Would you rather be a poor person in (say) 1916 or 2016? It’s not close. It’s even arguable that the poor today are wealthier than the very richest men of the past, because they have access to modern healthcare, central heating, air conditioning, sanitation, consumer electronics, etc, that were not available to the rich of the past at any price.

            The genius of the free-market is that it enables everyone, rich and poor alike, to get richer. And the greatest benefit goes to the poor:

            The capitalist engine is first and last an engine of mass production which unavoidably also means production for the masses. . . . It is the cheap cloth, the cheap cotton and rayon fabric, boots, motorcars and so on that are the typical achievements of capitalist production, and not as a rule improvements that would mean much to the rich man. Queen Elizabeth owned silk stockings. The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within reach of factory girls.

          • Julie K says:

            The poor haven’t gotten poorer in centuries.

            Except in places like North Korea.

          • John Schilling says:

            Except in places like North Korea.

            The poor in North Korea have been getting pretty steadily less-poor for about the past fifteen years. Roughly speaking, the lot of North Korea’s poor increased dramatically from 1945 to 1975, plateaued for about a decade, declined dramatically from 1985-2000, and has been slowly recovering since. Whether 2016 or 1975 is the high-water mark depends on how you weigh relative forms of deprivation.

            Of which the entire Korean peninsula has had plenty. North Korea is definitely a poster child for “extreme poverty really sucks”, not so much for “the poor get poorer”.

          • Fj says:

            All right, the poor don’t get poorer, the question was whether free market increases inequality. It generally does, for purely mathematical reasons: for starters, exponential growth results in the term with slightly bigger initial value quickly dominating everything, then you have fixed vs variable costs and other economies of scale, and network effects, and unfair competition practices, and so on.

            Kinda obvious that this is a fundamental property of a free market, so everything else should be a commentary on why this surprisingly sometimes doesn’t happen, for non-market reasons (like companies “getting lazy” whatever that’s supposed to mean). Weird how a lot of people see it the exact opposite way.

          • keranih says:

            No, the free market increases inequality because it increases the distance between “least amount of stuff anyone has” and “most amount of stuff anyone has”. If all anyone can have is, well, a hundred different article of clothing, five houses, enough to eat 11 months out of the year, and enough gold to have hot and cold running servants, then that world is far less “equal” than a world where the most you can have is a three-hide tent, two good spears and a leaky water bladder. The distance between the guy with a three hide tent and the guy with no tent is much shorter than the distance between the guy with five houses and servants and the guy with no house.

            The distance between the guy who can buy a suborbital vacation and the guy with no house is even more.

            In the case of a world where we do not force people to own anything, we will always have people who own nothing. And when we are capable of having more and more stuff – like shuttle rides – the distance will keep on growing between the ends of the scale.

            There are a few ways to make people more equal – most of them are rather lousy, and in practical terms, the only ones that work are taking more and more wealth away from more and more people to most folks are sitting at the level of the guy without any tent.

            It will take a lot of work to persuade people that a system that makes people more equal by granting more stuff to the bottom half, while holding the top half stable, because that has yet to work.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            On the other hand: diminishing marginal utility. Inequality in utils can be shrinking at the same time inequality in income is increasing. If we subscribe to the more extreme version I’ve heard, in which income above a present-day upperish-middle-class level doesn’t matter at all, then– a few generations hence, when this becomes a poverty-level income– the market will have accidentally given us complete effective equality.

          • Fj says:

            @Cerebral Paul Z.

            On the other hand: diminishing marginal utility. Inequality in utils can be shrinking at the same time inequality in income is increasing.

            OK, good to know that the bunch of the growing social problems highlighted on this blog don’t matter. Starting from not enough money to pay junior doctors or adjunct professors, to the observation that recruiting women to the workforce somehow failed to make every family twice as rich, to various housing crises, to, like, everything: it doesn’t matter.

            But seriously, it sometimes seems to me that the people in this and related communities operate in a sort of schizophrenic mode, with two incompatible approaches to the society chosen at will.

            On one hand, there’s this “far” mode where we are on the brink of robots automating everything, post-scarcity economy, and the most pressing issue is how to distribute the unlimited abundance of stuff to everyone. Basic Income, all that kind of stuff. It doesn’t matter if Basic Income removes a lot of people from the workforce, we already have more than enough stuff for everyone, the only problem is fair distribution.

            On the other hand, when we talk about issues actually touching one’s life, it’s suddenly the “near” mode, where we complain about not having enough stuff for even basically decent existence. Doctors forced to work 80hrs weeks? Why not hire twice as many doctors? Oh no, who’s going to pay for that, we don’t have all that extra food and housing for them.

            Why enrolling women into the workforce didn’t work out? Well, there’s not enough cars, there’s not enough schools and teachers, there’s not enough houses in good neighborhoods again. This stuff is scarce, man. It’s not like we can just hire enough teachers and build a bunch of houses, we’d have to pay the teachers and the builders and we don’t have money for that, we are just getting by.

            The problem with having a split mind like that is not just that it’s ridiculous and wrong. It’s also that it prevents you from seeing obvious solutions. Why doesn’t the United States of America return to the pre-Reagan tax brackets? Like, if the problem is that the poor and middle-class people don’t have enough money to buy stuff, let’s tax the rich for 70% of their income again and redistribute that money? Like, the part where the government can impose income tax, and decide what it is, is already here, sooooo?

            But no, all redistribution proposals fall in with the basic income robot future fantasies, while all concrete proposals treat the current arrangement as a given and not subject to change.

          • LHN says:

            Pre-Reagan tax brackets don’t get you much– from the era of 91% marginal tax rates in the 1950s to the present, the percentage of GDP collected has been largely stable. It’s been around 18%, varying from about 15% to about 20% and currently nearer the higher end of that range: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauser%27s_law

            Getting that number substantially higher may be possible in principle, but not by restoring something the US has already tried.

          • John Schilling says:

            On the other hand, when we talk about issues actually touching one’s life, it’s suddenly the “near” mode, where we complain about not having enough stuff for even basically decent existence. Doctors forced to work 80hrs weeks? Why not hire twice as many doctors? Oh no, who’s going to pay for that, we don’t have all that extra food and housing for them.

            Wait, when did anyone suggest that there wouldn’t be enough food or housing for more doctors? I missed that.

            People did suggest that it would be impractical to “just pay for” more doctors, but “pay” is not synonymous with “food and housing”. “Pay”, in this context (and almost every other context), is “that which motivates people to work as doctors”. And in that context,

            the most pressing issue is how to distribute the unlimited abundance of stuff to everyone…

            …makes the problem worse. Now you can’t motivate potential doctors by offering them food and housing, because they’re guaranteed that anyhow. It’s harder to motivate them by offering them fancy cars, airplanes, and other luxury goods, because those things are cheaper and more abundant. And the bit where you could motivate would-be doctors with beautiful women hoping to marry doctors was always sort of rooted in women’s fears of material deprivation which a doctor’s reliably high earnings would counter.

            It is entirely consistent to believe in a near- to mid-term future in which low-skill services and the manufacturing of consumer goods is automated to the extent that those things are abundant and the people who used to provide them are unemployed, but high-skill services like medical care still have to be provided by highly skilled human beings.

            In that plausible, internally consistent scenario, the problem of how you motivate people to spend eight years in med school and then eighty hours a week or whatever practicing medicine, is harder than it is today.

            And if we take a break from looking a generation or two into the future and consider next year or five years from now, which is also an entirely reasonable and consistent thing to do, then the pay and motive questions are constrained by the fact that there are only a certain number of doctors available and nothing you do today can much change that in less than eight years, so how do you make do with the ratio of doctors to sick people that you’ve got right now?

          • Fj says:

            In that plausible, internally consistent scenario, the problem of how you motivate people to spend eight years in med school and then eighty hours a week or whatever practicing medicine, is harder than it is today.

            If you make it 40 hours a week, then you get way more people motivated to spend eight years in med school.

            Like, the whole 80hrs/week thing doesn’t make any sense in this respect, it should go the other way round. Make it easier to be a doctor and you are going to have more doctors.

            When you say, but what if we had Basic Income, then those potential doctors would just live in some shed with internet connection and enjoy developing imaginary societies — lass, that’s my entire point.

            That the mode of reasoning about social problems that allows one to propose Basic Income is fundamentally divorced from the mode of reasoning where one complains about not enough doctors.

            In the fantasy robot land we have the Basic Income, everyone’s medical needs are seen to by the robot doctors, and the only people who become human doctors are the people who really want it. And they don’t work 80 hours weeks.

            In the real life land suddenly we can’t afford to double the doctors’ population wholesale, because, leaving aside the problems with the dual distribution of losers and winners, we can’t afford to double the population of winners, because each of them wants a mansion and a new car every two years, and we just don’t have those extra mansions and cars. Because we don’t have enough people building mansions and cars. There’s not enough stuff. And not enough stuff to double the population of maybe winners either.

            So the real junior doctors do work 80 hours weeks. Not because we have enough stuff to guarantee them Basic Income so there’s not enough doctors somehow (which is a contradiction with the premise, robot doctors, remember?), but because we don’t have enough stuff to afford twice the number of them.

            How can one think along the first sort of lines in one kind of circumstances, and along the second kind of lines in others, is weird as hell. Especially when they are proud of being a Rationalist.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Well shit, Fj, no one held a gun to your head and made you post stuff like “exponential growth results in the term with slightly bigger initial value quickly dominating everything.” When you back things out to such a level of abstraction you’re going to find people here, maybe even non-schizophrenic people, willing to meet you on that level. It’s silly to complain about it.

          • John Schilling says:

            When you say, but what if we had Basic Income, then those potential doctors would just live in some shed with internet connection and enjoy developing imaginary societies — lass, that’s my entire point

            Are you deliberately misgendering me, addressing someone else right after directly quoting me, clueless about the meaning of words like “John” and “lass”, or what?

            As for your entire point,

            In the fantasy robot land we have the Basic Income, everyone’s medical needs are seen to by the robot doctors, and the only people who become human doctors are the people who really want it. And they don’t work 80 hours weeks.

            Who, other than you, said anything about robot doctors?

            You misunderstand the general arguments that have been made here (and elsewhere) about the adverse effects of automation on labor economics if you assume omnipresent robot doctors. Most people making such arguments are at least implicitly addressing the stages of the process when we do have highly automated production of food, housing, and consumer goods but not robot doctors. And, in the post you quoted and explicitly responded to, I made that explicit.

            This is a reasonable and consistent position which many people hold and are concerned about. In a world which has Abundant Cheap Stuff but not robot doctors, the need for doctors will be the same as in our own world. There will need to be as many doctors, still working 80-hour shifts until they are very senior, or there will need to be almost twice as many doctors working 40-hour shifts. However, this society would seem to have less ability to motivate people to work as doctors, because the levers, “offer them more stuff if they work as doctors”, and “offer other people more stuff if they provide useful services to doctors”, won’t be nearly as effective.

            How will this society obtain the same number of doctor-hours as our own, whether structured in 40-hour shifts or 80 (and our experience seems to be that it’s easier to get it in 80-hour chunks), when it does not have the full range of doctor-motivating capabilities as our own?

            Do you have any point to make about that scenario, which many of us are concerned about, rather than the infinite-doctorbot scenario that mostly just interests you?

          • “Because even without any violations the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

            Why would you expect that to be the case, and what evidence is there that it is the case?

            The same questions if what you mean is “the rich get richer faster than the poor get richer,” which strikes me as more plausible but still pretty dubious as a general description of a market society.

          • “It generally does, for purely mathematical reasons: for starters, exponential growth results in the term with slightly bigger initial value quickly dominating everything, then you have fixed vs variable costs and other economies of scale, and network effects, and unfair competition practices, and so on.”

            On the other hand, you have the pattern summarized in “shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations.” Growing up rich is likely to make you more willing to spend money, less willing to make an effort to earn and save it, than growing up poor.

            And you have reversion to the mean. Today’s rich are people for whom everything went right–good genes, good luck. On average their children won’t do so well–but out of the current poor, some will.

            I wouldn’t confidently predict that inequality in an laissez-faire society will decrease, because there are lots of things going on with effects in both directions, but I see no reason to predict that it will increase.

          • Fj says:

            @John Schilling
            Oops, sorry, with all this scrolling up and down between the comments and the reply window I got confused about who I was replying to.

            I guess my main point of disagreement is where you describe your scenario as a near-medium future. Because if we again look at our doctors, currently the problem is 100% not enough money, and it’s the fungible money in the sense that increasing NHS funding means that we don’t have enough money to feed orphans. The scenario where the problem is that we don’t have enough special luxury goods status money and doctors would rather be unemployed than study for 8 years is a completely different kind of thing.

            Transition from here to there will be a societal change on the scale somewhere between industrialization and the invention of farming. We are nowhere near that. It will obsolete a lot of problems we currently consider insurmountable and bring its own unique problems that we can’t even imagine now.

            I have nothing against fantasizing about this future and its challenges, of course. It can even have some value besides entertainment and intellectual stimulation. But I do find it weird when it somehow gets reclassified from medium-far to near, and then to basically now, so why don’t we implement Basic Income instead of bothering to solve the problems we have now with the means we have now? I mean, read that Scott’s graduation speech.

            @David Friedman: well, all right, as long as we understand that we are in a bit weird situation where we admit that it’s non-market forces that arrest the Free Market’s natural tendencies.

            Also, I’m not sure how the regression to the mean is supposed to work, for example. What I’m talking about is the class of people who live on the dividends on the capital they own (vs everyone else). You have to be savvy to get there, but your children only have to not be exceptionally stupid to keep getting richer relative to the general population.

          • Agronomous says:

            The Western Left’s recent obsession with inequality seems irrational to me. Consider a policy with the following effects:

            * Everybody in the U.S. makes 10% more money (wages, welfare, social security, capital gains) in purchasing-parity terms.
            * Except Bill Gates, who makes 20% more money.

            If inequality is the most important thing, then this policy would make America worse-off, and we should reject it. This conclusion seems indefensible to me; if you put it to a vote, I expect the policy to win in a landslide. (With maybe Bill, Warren Buffet, and Bernie Sanders voting against.)

            It’s hard not to think that Inequality Is a Problem because the Left’s run out of other things to criticize capitalism for.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Agronomous: The strongest argument in favor of economic equality is Vladimir_M’s observation that some things, such as land and status, are essentially zero-sum.

          • John Schilling says:

            I eagerly await your proposal for achieving status equality.

        • I think India is an even more extreme example. The government has been officially socialist pretty much all of the time since independence (not sure about the stated principles of the current administration), and the country feels like a left wing picture of evil capitalist inequality–a small minority living a comfortable first world life, many of them government employees, a huge majority very poor.

          • John Schilling says:

            One can say the same thing about modern China, still ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. Socialism can be kind of ambiguous; the CCP isn’t being at all vague on that front. And from the iconography,
            they’re straight-up Maoists.

          • onyomi says:

            China is rapidly getting a lot better on this score as compared to India.

          • TD says:

            Socialism is ambiguous because strictly speaking the idea of all the means of production being owned by “society as a whole” is vague as all hell. Abstraction is something humans do excellently to solve problems, but that’s an abstraction too far, an abstraction detached from any meaningful physical configuration in the world.

            Therefore, what happens when you try to act out ownership by the proletariat or society as a whole is that you end up with highly centralized state ownership. Ownership is meaningless without control, and “society as a whole” either can’t control anything, or perhaps this would imply direct democratic delegation on every single situation to do with production ever, which would be enormously inefficient, and possibly lead to socialism “voting” itself out of existence. Any left-anarchist delegate system could not remain “instantly recallable” either, before that creates instability, and so you end up with a relatively fixed bureaucracy selected from the top down.

            My entire problem with socialism (where it’s understood as universal common ownership and not just the existence of a welfare state, which I like) is that it has an unrealizable goal at its heart that just transforms it into something like state capitalism every time it’s tried. When these states start privatizing and giving out goodies to buddies, as in China, the line between crony capitalism and socialism grows exceedingly thin. It’s just monopoly capitalism with some red paint on it.

          • Mary says:

            There were Edwardians whose objection to socialism was that it was just capitalism on a REALLY grand scale, because there was no possibility of escaping the captains of industry, aka officials.

            And in The God That Failed, one writer gave what is, in one sense, the most damning condemnation the USSR ever got: it was a large-scale company town.

        • LTP says:

          That is a good point, but still, on economic policy Obama has arguably been the right of every President from FDR to Ford, at least, be it on regulation, labor, taxes, trade, or the welfare state. Nixon, considered a conservative figure in the wake of LBJ, was proposing a guaranteed minimum income and price controls, for example.

          Now, you might say this seeming moderation is due to political constraints from Republicans and moderate Democrats in congress, and there might be *some* truth to that, but I think the idea that Obama *ever* campaigned as some leftist ideologue, a la Bernie Sanders, is false. Even in 2008, he explicitly campaigned on compromise and working with the other side and unity, which are decidedly centrist messages. I would say Obama ran as and has governed as a technocratic center-left President on economic policy.

          • E. Harding says:

            Kennedy cut taxes. And FDR was pretty pro-trade, at least, relative to the Republicans of the time. The food stamp program has become frighteningly big under Obama -way larger than under Eisenhower.

            Obama in the Senate in 2008 was a tad to the right of Clinton, while Sanders was the most left-wing Senator.

        • reytes says:

          I think, if you’re trying to account for the choices of Democratic voters, you can probably take it more or less as a given that they take it as a given that left-wing economic policies reduce inequality.

    • Acedia says:

      70% of actual registered Dems are voting Clinton, not Sanders. His support is coming from young independents.

    • brad says:

      The one axis view is so hopelessly oversimplified that “most progressive president ever” is near meaningless. If you look at Sander’s biggest issues — anti-inequality, anti-big corporations and especially banks — I don’t see anything Obama has done that suggests he is the most “progressive” on those issues. I don’t even think he’s in the top 5.

    • John Schilling says:

      Pretty much the same story as with Trump, from the other direction. “Most progressive president ever”, is constrained to the very small subset of progressives who can win a general election in a nation that is ~50% anti-progressive and whose political process is strongly biased in favor of centrists. To a person who lives in a progressive or liberal bubble, “Most progressive president ever” is essentially synonymous with “least progressive person I know”. To a person who lives in a progressive or liberal bubble, someone from about the center of that bubble seems like they ought to be electable, and the simple explanation for why that doesn’t happen is that the party elites are a bunch of sell-outs.

      Note: This doesn’t require that bubble-dwellers be unaware of the existence of e.g. Republicans. Just that they model the GOP as a lump of Concentrated Pure Evil, with no overlap in voters or candidates to the sensible liberal/progressive rest of the population. The way to defeat Evil is to nominated candidates who appeal to the broadest range of liberals and progressives so as not to alienate sensible voters and leave them sitting at home on voting day. Someone from the center of the bubble – meaning that the “sellouts” are actually costing the progressive cause its rightful electoral victories.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Meanwhile, change labels, rinse, and recycle for the conservative Christians who live in a different bubble. I grew up on the fringes of that bubble, and I know that ten years ago they were saying the exact same thing after six years of a Bush presidency.

        • Randy M says:

          I think that’s more of an issue with the single axis scale than the bubble. Bush was a social conservative, but a big government one who was friendlier to business than to capitalism.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Meanwhile, change labels, rinse, and recycle for the conservative Christians who live in a different bubble.

          Pretty much.

        • John Schilling says:

          Agreed. Every bubble tends to believe its own central members are the candidates who would obviously sweep the election if they were given the chance. And anyone who has one foot in the bubble and one in the broader political landscape (e.g. party leadership, almost necessarily) is liable to be branded a “sellout”.

    • BBA says:

      The simplest explanation is that it isn’t happening.

      Clinton is leading Sanders in both the aggregate popular vote and the bound delegate count. If there were no superdelegates Clinton would still be winning.

      Sanders supporters may be louder and more visible online, but that doesn’t mean there are more of them.

  27. Aido says:

    I’m hoping to gather more viewpoints/ideas regarding transgender issues. Specifically:

    1. I believe I am clear on the distinction between sex and gender. The former is about the physical world and the latter is about the societal or cultural world.

    2. It seems plausible to me that identifying as transgender or non-binary etc is entirely within the realm of things that are reasonable. Really, all you’re doing is saying that you want society to treat you a certain way. If in endorsing your view, society is not leading you to believe things that are not true about the world (your cultural/societal role is not something that has an absolute state), then this only moves us up the utility landscape towards higher peaks. Great, I’m on board.

    3. However, I’m thinking the train stops when it comes to sex-changes or the feeling that one is in the wrong body. That is, there is no further fact you can point to that would suggest that you are in the wrong body. It’s just not a sensical notion to begin with given what we know about the nature of consciousness and its complete reduction to the physical world.

    Note I am not seeking opinions about the morality of supporting a sex-change. That is, (3) could be true, but we might morally be compelled to support a person seeking a sex-change regardless. I think this question is much more difficult and I’m hoping to more clearly establish the required assumptions before I do any thinking on it.

    • John Schilling says:

      If I have a computer whose device drivers were burned into true ROM at the factory, and it came with drivers for a SCSI hard drive (only) but an installed ATA drive, is it not objectively true that my computer has the wrong hard drive?

    • Randy M says:

      I think this was discussed at length in the prior thread or two? Might want to check.
      In regards to number three, I can see the transgender case from two viewpoints.
      One, biological, is that the feeling of gender arises from a variety of biological inputs, the existence of feeling in the genitalia only one of them. Hormones, hormone receptors, neurological maps, etc. can theoretically cause a mismatch between brain and sexual organs.
      Two, perhaps there is no defect in expression, and a person feels, based on social cues or falling on the feminine end of masculine or vice versa that they are a female. Even so, is a person their mind or their body? If a mind, then why not allow them to say that it is their biology that is wrong, and that needs to be changed?
      (I’m trying to steelman for the sake of discussion here)

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t think my “feeling of gender” depends at all on the sensations coming from my genitals (I mean, not even a little bit) . . . and I’m wondering how typical I am in that regard.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      Scott did a post on this, but as a quick rundown:

      Gender is not just cultural or societal. There is a condition called body dismorphia, which basically means that your brain’s internal map of your body is different from your actual body. We see this in amputees with phantom pain, and also the inverse. Transgender people, before their transition, experience the same: Their sex does not match the internal map of their body, i.e. their gender.

    • anonymous bosch says:

      >there is no further fact you can point to that would suggest that you are in the wrong body

      Taboo “wrong”, you’re confusing people.

    • Zippy says:

      It’s been a good 15 minutes since I embarrassed myself by making bold, unsubstantiated claims on the internet. Let’s have another go, shall we?

      1. I believe I am clear on the distinction between sex and gender. The former is about the physical world and the latter is about the societal or cultural world.

      Ever since the 90s I (like most people) have been using the two words synonymously and/or using the word “gender” to mean “type of genitals” and “sex” to mean “sexual intercourse”.

      Furthermore, I think this is the best way to resolve the train-stoppage in your post (I am not a transgender person, nor do I know any in real life). If you define a transgender person to be “a person who experiences gender disphoria” and “gender disphoria” as “the feeling that your genitals are wrong”, then everything lines up.

      That is, there is no further fact you can point to that would suggest that you are in the wrong body. It’s just not a sensical notion to begin with given what we know about the nature of consciousness and its complete reduction to the physical world.

      “Wrong body” is just a figure of speech which evaluates to “my current body causes me disutility”.

      There’s more stuff I could write here, but it really be worth the time?

      • Deiseach says:

        If you define a transgender person to be “a person who experiences gender disphoria” and “gender disphoria” as “the feeling that your genitals are wrong”, then everything lines up.

        Until you get trans people and trans rights activists arguing that such attitudes are “gatekeeping” (i.e. insisting that only trans people who experience bodily dysphoria and/or wish to surgically transition are ‘really’ trans, so only those particular trans people get treatment such as access to hormones).

        And since there’s no reason Zippy should be left to languish alone in self-induced embarrassment, I’ll chime in with “not all trans people feel dysphoria about their birth genitals”. There was a comment to a Tumblr post about this (yeah, yeah, I know you are all already rolling your eyes and groaning) from a trans woman who (presumably) identifies as lesbian as she (I am assuming that is the preferred pronoun here but don’t know for sure) mentioned she has two girlfriends in the context of talking about her still-functional penis with which she makes love to the two girlfriends.

        So she plainly identifies as a “woman with a penis” and does not feel “my genitals don’t fit, I want to have them altered to the genitals that do fit”.

        Any attempts to define transness on a basis other than “you’re trans if you say you are” are going to be seen as cis people trying to control and define the terms of the discourse and as medical and psychological gatekeeping and oppression.

        The “born in the wrong body” rhetoric is more or less admitted to be “this is the kind of thing the cis people can understand so it’s useful as PR”, the same way as “born this way” was useful PR for gay rights activism as a message the straights could understand in order to gain acceptance of LGBT as part of the mainstream.

        • Randy M says:

          mentioned she has two girlfriends in the context of talking about her still-functional penis with which she makes love to the two girlfriends.

          Is it hateful to wonder just what the two girlfriends identify as?

        • Nita says:

          The “born in the wrong body” rhetoric is more or less admitted to be “this is the kind of thing the cis people can understand so it’s useful as PR”

          Since you’re so immersed in the tumblr trans community, surely you have noticed that people who experience physical dysphoria do exist. Apparently, some of them even insist that only they are the true trans people.

          Also, being a woman with a functional penis and two girlfriends sounds awesome.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hm. Polytranslesbian. This sounds positively chemical.

          • Randy M says:

            Personally I’d reserve the word awesome for something more like someone being about to birth intelligent life from his or her uterus.

            But at least we can say feminism is now moot if you are wishing to be functionally male but have the social and legal status of a woman.

          • Nita says:

            Well, if someone actually managed to produce an intelligent newborn, that would be super-impressive.

            And don’t get me wrong — having a uterus is awesome as well. I can sustain an embryo for 9 months, and have a pretty good chance of surviving its birth even without medical assistance!

            Of course, most of the time, this superpower just causes a terrible stomach ache with simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea once per month. It has its upsides, it has its downsides — just like the XY-chromosomes-and-penis configuration. I’m just glad to hear about someone making the most of it and bringing joy to others in the process.

        • pheltz says:

          So she plainly identifies as a “woman with a penis” and does not feel “my genitals don’t fit, I want to have them altered to the genitals that do fit”.

          Not having read the post in question, I can’t speak to the specific case, but this doesn’t necessarily follow. Drawing from personal experience, the mindset might be a lot closer to “I don’t like being embodied in this way, but I can try to make the best of a bad situation.” Moreover: has she made or does she intent to make any other sort of medical transition? There can be a lot more to body dysphoria than just genitalia. I don’t think I’ve yet met the binary-identifying trans person who doesn’t have any body dysphoria. So I think what Zippy is saying can hold up with a little revision.

  28. onyomi says:

    Apparently now it’s insulting to describe someone as a “statist.” Is there some value-neutral way of saying “not an anarchist” or “person who thinks states are desirable and/or necessary”? Archist? I don’t think most people would know what that means. “Proponent of government”? Too long.

    Personally I wouldn’t take the statement “Bakunin is an anarchist; Hobbes a statist” to imply I like Bakunin any more than Hobbes.

    • Acedia says:

      I get the impression “statist” bothers some people for the same reason “cisgender” bothers some people – the portions of humanity they describe are such an overwhelming majority that it’s almost like calling someone a water-drinker or an air-breather. Neither of them bother me, it’s a time-saver in certain narrow contexts to have words like that.

      Some libertarians do use statist as an epithet, for what it’s worth. See:
      https://www.reddit.com/r/shitstatistssay

      • onyomi says:

        I mean, I can understand the problem is that it is usually used as a negative because people who aren’t statists tend to take for granted that statism is correct since it’s such a majority position. But given that, it seems like there’s no word we can use for “not an anarchist” that won’t accrue such a connotation.

        Most people, myself included, believe private property should exist. Therefore I don’t really have a word or often feel a need for a word to describe that position. But if a Proudhon-type anarchist were to call me a “propertarian” or something, I’d be fine with that. I do think private property is a good idea!

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Statist has always felt like an insult to me. I think it’s because it’s a word like heathen or gentile: using it means lumping everyone who isn’t in the ancap club into one big undifferentiated mass.

      That’s not to say it isn’t ever useful. If you’re an anarchist you need a snappy word for non-anarchists. But it’s a bit rude.

      • onyomi says:

        Well, so what’s the non-rude way to say it? “State supporter”?

        I don’t see anything inherently wrong with “lumping” large sections of humanity into one group if the description is accurate. I wouldn’t mind being called an “air breather” as per the example above.

        Also, it’s not just the ancap club. As mentioned, I’m talking about a word for “not an anarchist.” I think Noam Chomsky is an anarchist, but definitely not an ancap, for example.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Well left-wing Anarchism Classic is just weird. I’m not sure how to classify them tbh.

          I would stick with Statist, just not call any particular person a Statist to his face. Keeping it in the third person so to speak.

    • I think “statist” is often used to imply something considerably stronger than “not anarchist.”

      • onyomi says:

        Is there any value-neutral way to say it? Or do I just have to say “non-anarchist”? The double negative mildly bothers my grammar sensibility.

        Looking it up, apparently some weird Christian libertarians are using “archist.”

        Now I just need a good excuse to quote “The kings of the earth stood up, and the archists were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ.”

      • Randy M says:

        I don’t think statist is ever used positively or as a self-identification; generally it means “Would prefer the state to act more than I would.”

        • Dahlen says:

          Moldbug did. At some point he described himself as an “archist”, for lack of a better word. As in, the perfect opposite of an anarchist. Can’t be arsed to look it up.

    • Frog Do says:

      You could go with “archist”, for symmetry.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think it just sounds like “static”. I wouldn’t want to be called static, it makes it sound like I’m inflexible in my ideas. Similar with say xenophobe and xenophile, which sound like diseases.

      Disclaimer: not a native speaker.

    • Mary says:

      Ursula K. Leguin used “archist” in The Dispossessed.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      an ananarchist. “Not an anarchist.” There you go.

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      I thought this is mainly because of the way the word ‘statist’ is used. An anarchist/libertarian believes that the state should do either nothing or pretty much nothing; thus, they use ‘statist’ as some sort of a mirror image of their own views, using it to describe their political opponents as persons who think that the state should do everything or pretty much everything. The problem is no-one thinks that way. Or at least that’s how I’ve experienced it.

  29. Buckyballas says:

    A question to the libertarian, minarchist types:

    Assuming anthropogenic climate change is occurring and will be catastrophic (on Michael Mann predicted levels, say), how should our society respond in a way that is both effective and congruent with libertarian principles? The main replies I have heard are “through the courts” and “through a carbon tax”. The former does not strike me as effective (the time lag between the pollution and the damage is too long) and the latter does not strike me as congruent with libertarian principles. What’s one to do?

    • InferentialDistance says:

      the latter [a carbon tax] does not strike me as congruent with libertarian principles

      Charging people the cost of their externalities is hella libertarian.

      • Randy M says:

        I think the same case that libertarians make against the death penalty would apply here; sure, maybe they agree with the underlying theory that holds it is just or a useful deterrent to [charge a carbon tax/execute murderers], but does a libertarian want to grant the state the sanction to implement that policy, and all the apparatus that requires, and all the pushing of boundaries that would inevitably come with that?

        Of course, I could see a pragmatic libertarian case that going from where we are now to adding carbon tax is not really much different, so we ought to in this case. But if we were in a minarchist-type scenario, getting from their to a regulatory agency with the power to monitor and tax all emissions seems… not hella libertarian.

        • InferentialDistance says:

          Negative externalities are functionally theft. Minarchist governments already have enough regulatory power to enforce peace, property, and contract; adding externalities to that doesn’t seem particularly degenerate in the way that, say, allowing factories to freely dump waste into rivers does.

          • Mary says:

            Not allowing factories to freely dump waste in rivers IS externalities.

            The sticking point is at what point do you say, that externality is the price you pay for not living on a desert island.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            Not allowing factories to freely dump waste in rivers IS externalities.

            Wouldn’t that be regulation? Dumping waste into a river means that all the parts of the river downstream of you end up with your garbage in it, which forces those property owners to pay for the cost of your trash, which seems the textbook definition of an externality.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            And then we define failure to recycle as an externality, and then we define not putting the OSHA poster up in the breakroom as an externality, and then we define not subsidizing your employees’ contraception as an externality, and next thing you know we’re back where we started.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            And then we define failure to recycle as an externality, and then we define not putting the OSHA poster up in the breakroom as an externality, and then we define not subsidizing your employees’ contraception as an externality, and next thing you know we’re back where we started.

            And then we define not giving all your money to InferentialDistance as murder…

      • Garrett says:

        I’d add that one of the secondary goals of libertarian philosophy is to have a government with much less corruption. It’s hard to hold a government to account when you can’t even keep an updated count of the number of pages of laws and regulations to which you might be subject to.

        A carbon tax has the advantage of being transparent and hard to game. If you tax it based on the amount of extracted carbon being used, you have a solid and straight-forward system. You only need to apply the tax at the extraction point (of which there are countably few at-scale). The only difficulty is knowing the exact amount of carbon in what you are extracting, and that is very easy to estimate.

        This is in contrast to cap-and-trade where there is a lot of room for back-room dealing and for mystery credits to be created.

    • Civilis says:

      To my reading, the problem is that the question already assumes ‘society’ is going to have a response, rather than individuals having responses. It’s like asking what the minarchist reaction to the Yellowstone Supervolcano should be. People should have enough incentive on their own to know what course of action to mitigate the effects best suits them.

      Climate change is cover for a lot of different effects, and people should react to those effects as needed. We have sea level rise, so people on the coast should move inland. The parts of the world that are arable will change, so farmers should move to the newly-arable areas. Since we are talking about a minarchist framework, any laws that don’t allow people to change their circumstances should be eliminated, but in most cases, to a minarchist those laws should be removed whether or not climate change is an issue.

      (Now, I’m not a minarchist, though I do lean in that direction. For me, an interesting question that I can’t come up with a good answer to is ‘what’s the minarchist reaction to a killer asteroid detected with enough time to do something about it’?)

    • Chalid says:

      Reduce fossil fuel subsidies, privatize roads (leading, presumably, to driving becoming more expensive), rezone cities to allow denser construction (leads to less driving, lower heating and cooling costs), deregulate nuclear power, eliminate government involvement in flood insurance (to encourage people to move away from vulnerable coastlines)…

      probably an actual libertarian could come up with several more.

      • An actual libertarian would not assume that privatizing roads made driving become more expensive.

        Fossil fuel subsidies in the U.S. are pretty small already.

      • Garrett says:

        Could you come up with actual examples of fossil fuel subsidies which are:
        1) Not applicable to businesses at-large (eg. counting employee salary deductions as subsidies).
        2) At some degree of large scale (I don’t care if a particular company got a $20 subsidy based on an accounting mix-up).
        3) Not due to fraud (like using agricultural gas on the highway).

  30. Pal says:

    I brought this up briefly in the last thread (in relation to “Categories Were Made For Man”) and got a couple replies but I’m still really not understanding how the sand heap Sorites Paradox isn’t just a linguistic ambiguity issue. I don’t even mean to be difficult. I just literally don’t understand. “Heap” is an ambiguous word. As soon as we define it as “5 pounds or more of sand” or “100 grains or more of sand” the issue is resolved. If you want to be difficult, we can further refine this definition to be a certain amount of atoms or something. Heaps don’t exist in the real world. They’re just a label we impose on a reality, which is that X amount of similar types of particles are in certain nearby locations.

    Can someone please help me, because everything I read about this or hear from other people is basically gaslighting me. I feel like a crazy person or Winston at the end of 1984 (2+2=5). I don’t believe I’m smarter than the dozens of philosophers who have worked hard on this project, but none of the arguments for why this isn’t linguistic seem sane.

    • ton says:

      If you take a large heap, is it ambiguous whether it’s a heap or not? If you think that some object is unambiguously a heap, then going one meta level up the property of “unambigiously an X” is subject to the same problem.

      Take a look at http://philpapers.org/archive/FRAQTV.pdf

      • Pal says:

        But… if we define heap as “5 pounds of sand or more,” then it’s definitely not ambiguous whether a 30lb pile of sand is a heap, nor is it ambiguous whether a 5.01lb or 4.99lb pile is. I’m not entirely following the pumpkin paper linked, though it seems like a pumpkin is a slightly harder issue since all its particles are biologically linked and therefore more a part of some objective “whole” or single entity than a sand heap. But a sand heap is just a bunch of similar particles that happen to be nearby. There’s nothing which demands they be a united entity other than our labeling them as such.

        I apologize, I’m not quite sure what you mean by one meta level up in ambiguity, or how that corresponds to the linked paper.

        • ton says:

          >But… if we define heap as “5 pounds of sand or more,” then it’s definitely not ambiguous whether a 30lb pile of sand is a heap, nor is it ambiguous whether a 5.01lb or 4.99lb pile is.

          But then you’re conceding sharpism. We’re asking what it *means* when you say “this is a heap/pumpkin”.

          The meta level up: you can argue that some states in between the first and last are just undefined, or meaningless, etc. But you can still ask “what’s the first object on the list that isn’t defined”? As long as you agree that the first object has some property and the last one doesn’t, there must be a transition where that property disappears.

          • Pal says:

            “We’re asking what it *means* when you say ‘this is a heap/pumpkin’.”

            So the problem is, in fact, a linguistic one? It’s concerned with what words mean and how we use them — not whether there’s some truth of the matter about the pile of sand, but how the word “heap” (the word itself, not the pile) is vague.

          • ton says:

            I guess, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.

            “According to the view I christen sharpism, when Joe says to his daughter in a perfectly ordinary context
            ‘The earth is super-duper old’, his claim has an incredibly discriminating meaning: although it has one
            truth status if the earth is over 3,347,342,343 years, 2 days, and 17 nanoseconds old, if the earth is even
            a nanosecond younger then his claim has some different truth status”

            It’s referring to the meaning of the claim.

            And it ends with “The vagueness paradox is this: although there is an extremely strong argument for sharpism, the truth
            of sharpism seems to require a linguistic miracle.”

          • Pal says:

            @ton, okay well I feel more sane now and understand with greater clarity the issue. That makes sense, thanks for indulging.

      • Jeremy says:

        I think this is just offloading the imprecision of language onto the term “unambiguously”. The false premise is that at the start of the pumpkin experiment, it is Unambiguously True(TM) that there is a pumpkin there, and that the term “unambiguously” here means something mathematically precise. “Unambiguous” means that you get a bunch of people around, they look at it, and they nod their heads and say “yup, that’s a pumpkin”. It doesn’t mean that the world has entered some discrete state of definitiveness separate from the case when you gather a bunch of people and they look at the pumpkin and they all nod and say yup it’s a pumpkin, but then one of them who has minor brain damage says “maybe it could be a squash”.

        I certainly understand the bafflement of the OP. The pumpkin only exists as a bunch of particles, and the label pumpkin is just a word, which (as we have rightly explored) is not mathematically precise, no matter how many precision enhancing quantifiers you attach to it.

        • ton says:

          You can get around it by denying that the original object is a pumpkin, but then you can’t make sense of language.

          You can deny that the original object is unambiguously a pumpkin, but if you ask a bunch of people all of them will say it is, so your words mean different things than their words.

          You can agree that the original object is unambiguously a pumpkin, which leads you down the question of when is an object not unambiguously a pumpkin.

          • Jeremy says:

            No, the object is unambiguously a pumpkin. What “unambiguously a pumpkin” means is that if you gather a bunch of people around, they will all say it’s a pumpkin. It doesn’t mean that no person ever would be confused about if it’s a pumpkin. That is pretty much impossible for ANYTHING, even the most unambiguously true statements about reality, such as 1+1=2.

            Everyone’s natural use of language has ambiguity, even when they say the word “unambiguously”.

            Is this a pumpkin? “yes”
            Is this unambiguously a pumpkin? ” yes”
            Could somebody look at this and think it’s not a pumpkin? “probably not”
            What do you mean probably not? I thought you said it was unambiguously a pumpkin? “well yeah but if they were drunk or didn’t know what a pumpkin is…”

            etc etc. People love to say “100% certain” “unambiguous” “impossible” etc, but obviously they are not using the same level of mathematical precision that you are trying to apply to their words .

            I think the fundamental misunderstanding you have is that you think being a pumpkin or not is a property of the collection of atoms before you. It’s not. It’s a property of language, and language resides in the brain of you and everyone else. Just because your brain thinks in crisp clean categories doesn’t make it 100% correct 100% of the time to do so.

          • ton says:

            @Jeremy That’s actually pretty similar to the answer I came up with, at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11686445

            And yes, you need to bite the bullet of claiming that even the original object is not fully a pumpkin.

    • Anon. says:

      >Heaps don’t exist in the real world.

      This is what bothers people, they want to think that objects exist and have properties and all that stuff. There are huge implications that follow from “heaps don’t exist”.

    • Dahlen says:

      Since categories were made for man, as that post argues, man sometimes needs words with fuzzy borders (to delineate their logical extension). The paradox basically says that, once you know the borders to be fuzzy, it’s difficult to delineate the exact extent of the fuzz, so to speak. We know that a “heap” is larger than a “pinch” and likely smaller than a “truckload”, but these words are all fuzzy borders and no quantitative measure of the fuzziness. I can visualise it easily after having worked with the Feather parameter in selection, in Photoshop. You can select a larger or a smaller area and define clearer or fuzzier borders for it.

      What’s paradoxical about fuzzy borders is the clash of this notion with the typically reasonable assumption that the addition or removal of the discrete elements the heap is made out of (for it is, after all, fundamentally discrete) has to account for something. It gets relevant in real life by applications such as: deciding whether to bother to vote based on the question of how large an electorate should be before nobody’s vote matters in the least; just like the addition of one grain of sand doesn’t make the difference between heap and non-heap, neither would the outcome of the election hinge on my vote. It’s linguistic in that we have highly discrete words for describing a highly continuous underlying reality. Our language isn’t nearly as mathematical as paradoxes such as this might suggest it should be; perhaps that’s what it fundamentally points at.

    • Anonymous says:

      These posts make me do a double take every time. Heaps are partially ordered trees, people!

      • InferentialDistance says:

        Oh yeah? My heaps are partially ordered arrays!

      • Jeremy says:

        What are you talking about? They’re usually implemented using linked lists of free blocks!

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s still a tree no matter how it is laid out in memory.

        Though maybe now we are recapititualating the original argument with new terms.

    • CatCube says:

      In terms of sand (or other granular material) a “heap” generally will be one where the angle of repose is an important property. Very small (double-digit numbers of grains) won’t have this property, but it slowly becomes important. So you have heaps of sand that will find their own angle, and small groupings of grains that won’t, and the ambiguous range between them.

    • Deiseach says:

      A heap is more than a pile but less than a load 🙂

  31. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Utilitarian question: is the logical position on airport security that only Muslims should be screened rather than inflicting negative utility on every passenger, or am I missing something?

    • ton says:

      How hard do you think it is for a Muslim to look like a non Muslim?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I think that depends on A) how bad security is at catching fake IDs and B) what percentage are converts.

        • John Schilling says:

          And what about (real or false) converts from Islam?

          If you’re proposing some sort of “one drop” or “one Muslim grandparent” rule, or anything remotely along those lines, that introduces a whole new set of negative-utility consequences.

    • Pal says:

      This would essentially require a state system of officially registering and acting upon religion, like some Middle Eastern countries (eg Jordan) currently have. All sorts of privileges get given to (and taken away from) different religions and affiliations. I highly doubt the loss of civil liberties, the gain in government power/infiltration over daily life, and the general sense of oppression that (almost all) citizens would feel under such a system are worth less from a utilitarian standpoint than a few dozen or even a few hundred lives saved annually. This is a big country; tiny rights violations add up quickly into major pooled discontent and unhappiness.

      Civil liberties are a big utilitarian game of sacrifice. We give up some small portion of safety (a slightly higher chance of an already minuscule probability – the terrorist attack) in order to live less restrained and more equal lives (plus feeling free, which is a big emotional gain in happiness). This also explains why laws requiring police search warrants are net good, even if they cost lives annually. Agency and control are major parts of life satisfaction, which is part of why wealth to some degree correlates. We can’t underestimate their utilitarian significance.

      • fubarobfusco says:

        Civil liberties are a big utilitarian game of sacrifice. We give up some small portion of safety (a slightly higher chance of an already minuscule probability – the terrorist attack) in order to live less restrained and more equal lives (plus feeling free, which is a big emotional gain in happiness).

        This really isn’t clear to me. It seems like civil liberties support safety rather than sacrifice it. Specifically, they support our safety from harm by the agents of our own government.

        When government does hew to civil liberties — which is doesn’t always do — it is exercising caution and refraining from causing reckless harm. It is reining in the biases and presumptions of its agents. Requiring that law enforcement agents follow due process is like requiring that surgeons follow checklists: even if the agent’s “instincts” are usually right, going through the checklist makes sure they aren’t screwing up due to normal human bias. It’s a technology for improving the effective rationality of a system made of subrational humans.

        This really isn’t much different from other deontological rules. “Murder is wrong!” really serves to say, “If you find yourself drawing the conclusion that a particular murder would be acceptable, stop! The evidence of history shows that it is much more likely that your reasoning has run off the rails, than that you have accurately reached that conclusion.”

        Same goes for torture in the name of security. “If you are investigating a bomb threat and find yourself drawing the conclusion that you really need to stick an electrified knife up someone’s rectum to find where the bomb is, stop! The evidence of history shows that it is much more likely that you are acting out of panic, bias, and hatred, and are going to cause a big fiasco, than that electro-rape is actually a good idea here.”

    • John Schilling says:

      Missing several correlated things. We don’t have a list of Muslims or a reliable way of identifying Muslims for screening. Muslims who are carrying bombs will be highly motivated to represent themselves as non-Muslims, and will likely receive professional assistance in that goal from the same people who provided them with a bomb. And Muslims who are ambivalent about carrying bombs may flip to “Fuck it, I’m carrying a bomb” on seeing their fellow Muslims subject to such explicit, hostile, and systematic discrimination.

      Your proposal will certainly increase the probability of airliners exploding compared to universal screening, and may increase the probability compared to no screening at all. And it takes a lot of passenger inconvenience to match the negative utility of an exploding airliner.

      • E. Harding says:

        “And Muslims who are ambivalent about carrying bombs may flip to “Fuck it, I’m carrying a bomb” on seeing their fellow Muslims subject to such explicit, hostile, and systematic discrimination.”

        -If true, it would vastly improve the case for the Muslim ban.

        • John Schilling says:

          I wasn’t aware that a Muslim ban was on the table.

          But if it were, the same logic would also vastly improve the case for an E. Harding ban. I’m certain there is some set of activities we could ban that would convince a large fraction of real or pseudonymous E. Hardings to say, “fuck it, I’ve got nothing to lose, I’m going with some sort of criminal violence”. Thus neatly and retroactively justifying the bit where we ban E. Hardings from any association with civil society.

        • multiheaded says:

          E. Harding’s comment is… basically the quintessence of oppression. Bravo. I struggle to think of more stereotypically villainous reasoning. Alderaan had it coming, eh?

          • drethelin says:

            The question is not whether there is a theoretical set of laws that would provoke E. Hardings to murder, but whether a significant subset E. Hardings can be provoked to murder by relatively minor slights.

            Almost no one is provoked to terrorism by the VASTLY increased airport scrutiny since 9/11. If Muslims specifically are more likely to explode based on this provocation, E. Harding is in fact completely correct that they should be singled out. If there are a significant population of Muslims CURRENTLY entering the country who are one instance of racism away from terrorism, then it seems completely insane to let them in at all.

            There’s also the fucked up situation where you’re comparing LITERALLY murdering hundreds of uninvolved and unrelated civilians with causing people an inconvenience.

            And it takes a lot of passenger inconvenience to match the negative utility of an exploding airliner.

          • John Schilling says:

            Almost no one is provoked to terrorism by the VASTLY increased airport scrutiny since 9/11.

            And almost no one is excused from that increased security. A shared burden will be tolerated where scapegoating will not.

            Apply exactly the same level of security we have now, to only gingers or only the left-handed or only those with a Zoroastrian great-grandparent or whatnot, and you almost certainly will see violent pushback. This says a great deal about human nature, not so much about sinister Zoroastrian gingers. And if you think it says something about Muslims, that really says something about you.

        • Immortal Lurker says:

          What I th