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Open Thread 50.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever.

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707 Responses to Open Thread 50.25

  1. Anonymous says:

    What are some relatively high status, low effort, low wage jobs for men? Do any exist?

    • Alex Trouble says:

      Do you have an example of one for women for reference?

      • Anonymous says:

        Vice President for Marketing of the Dead Rich Person Charitable Foundation

        N.B. I’m not sure whether or not this would be high status for a man. I suspect not.

        • 57dimensions says:

          I don’t think that’s low wage either though, isn’t that usually like a rich housewife job? Or did you mean high wage in your first post?

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s relatively low wage because it’s a rich housewife job. You can get someone with an impressive resume and pay her $60,000 a year because she doesn’t need the money.

          • Nicholas says:

            Most of us would only include jobs pulling below $29,000 a year in the low-wage category.

          • $60,000 per year is rich people’s salary.

          • The Nybbler says:

            $60,000 is a salary a rich person might pay, not receive.

          • $60,000 for a DINK is “oh my god I have more money than God” salary, unless you’re stupid with your money or live somewhere insanely expensive.

            $60,000 is definitely not low-income. Median household income in the US is $51,000 per year. Median wage for a white man over the age of 25 is $48,000 per year.

            http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat37.htm
            If you’re making $60,000 per year, congrats, you are one of the richest people to have ever walked the Earth.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes, let’s all mouth the facile and irrelevant truths. The more we do so the more praiseworthy we are.

            We all feel so #grateful to be as #blessed as we are. And we need to remember how very rich we are, not only because there are children starving in Africa, but also because there are housewives in the suburbs of Cleveland without granite countertops!

            That out of the way, if you went to Yale undergrad, got a masters at LSE, and then worked for McKinsey for two years, your non-profit employer is getting off very cheap by paying you $60k a year.

          • I’m not signaling high status by saying $60k is a rich person’s salary, I’m saying you’re signaling you’re a spoiled brat when you call $60k a low wage.

            How much do management consultants make at McKinsey?

            McKinsey salaries: Business analysts (fresh out of undergrad hire) earn a $75,000 salary + $5,000 signing bonus + $5,000 relocation allowance. Associates (fresh MBA hire) earn a $125,000 salary + $20,000 signing bonus + performance bonus of up to $40,000 + 12% of bonus/salary contributed to retirement fund.

            And that’s working crazy consultant hours, right?

            Sounds like $60k/year for a bullshit job is a pretty good deal, even for elite people. Meanwhile millions of average Americans are busting their asses doing real work, and 1/2 of them make less than $48,000 a year (less if you lose your white man premium).

            It’s not signaling to say $60,000 is a rich person’s salary. It’s definitely signaling to suggest $60,000 is anything resembling low wage.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @A definite beta guy:
            I feel like we need to have a different word for high income than “rich”.

            $60,000 is definitely higher than average income. I’m not sure that it is enough income to leave your kids and grand kids trust funds that mean they don’t have to work when you die (unless you live like you have a far below average salary). It’s the standard “income and assets aren’t necessarily all that well correlated” argument.

            To a certain extent “rich” has the connotation of having assets that mean you don’t have to work.

            But your main point, that someone who makes $60K can’t be said to have a low income job, is correct. If that person is high status, the job might be low income compared to what is perceived to be substantial in their cohort, but that’s really a different proposition.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s not signaling to say $60,000 is a rich person’s salary. It’s definitely signaling to suggest $60,000 is anything resembling low wage.

            It is factually incorrect to say that $60,000 is a rich person’s salary. The concept of “rich person’s salary” is nearly oxymoronic, but if such a thing can be said to exist, $60K/year is not it. $60k/year is within a standard deviation of the average salary for Americans who have salaries, which is within any reasonable economic definition of “middle class”.

            Yes, yes, ‘one of the richest people to have ever walked the Earth”, but the same applies to anyone mopping floors for minimum wage in the contemporary Western world; that’s not what anyone here is talking about and you know it.

            And, yes, it would also be factually incorrect to describe $60k/yr as a low wage, but the only person to say anything resembling that said it was a relatively low wage in the context, later made explicit, of rich-person jobs.

            $60k/yr is solidly within the range of middle-class, and towards the top end of working-class, incomes in the contemporary United States, and just about everyplace else that uses dollars. Trying to redefine “rich” to include that income level, is either Humpty-Dumptyism, or ignorance. Either way, please stop.

          • Someone mopping floors at Wal-Mart is likely making scarcely above minimum wage at a partial work schedule, without benefits. At $8.25, 30 hours per week, 50 weeks a year? This comes out to appx. $12,000 per year, which is a bit above the PPP income of China.
            Even at nominal terms, there are probably a good 300 million Chinese with access to more money than you. To say nothing of the hundreds of millions of Americans and Europeans with also superior incomes.

            So, no, mopping floors part-time at Wal-Mart does not make you one of the richest people to ever walk the earth.

            If you object to the definition of rich being watered down, fine. I object to any definition of “rich” that creates a hedonic treadmill with no reasonable end. That a third of Americans could be described as “rich” seems roughly accurate from this end of intertubez.

            By the way, Donald Trump is pretty damn poor. Would you agree? Relative to Warren Buffet, I mean.

            $60,000 for 2 couples is $120,000 per year.
            Here’s the distribution:
            http://www.city-data.com/top2.html
            $120,000 is EXTREME right tail. Granted this all households and not all families, but $120,000 is #blessed by ANY reasonable definition. If you don’t want to call that rich, again, fine. Your choice.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, no, mopping floors part-time at Wal-Mart does not make you one of the richest people to ever walk the earth.

            Yes, it does. Granted, there are at least a billion people today who make more money than a Wal-Mart floor-mopper, but those are the one percenters, every one of them. Over one hundred billion people have walked the Earth, and almost all of them have been hunter-gatherers, subsistence farmers, slaves, serfs, or peasants.

            If your standard is “all people ever”, then the guy making $60k/yr is rich and so is the floor-mopper. If your standard is “citizens of modern industrial democracies”, then the guy making $60k/yr is middle-class and the floor-mopper is poor. And it’s pretty clear that everyone else in this thread is using only the latter standard, while you are dancing between the two as you try to defend an incoherent argument.

          • Anonymous says:

            $60,000 for a DINK is “oh my god I have more money than God” salary, unless you’re stupid with your money or live somewhere insanely expensive.

            I’m not signaling high status by saying $60k is a rich person’s salary, I’m saying you’re signaling you’re a spoiled brat when you call $60k a low wage.

            It’s not signaling to say $60,000 is a rich person’s salary. It’s definitely signaling to suggest $60,000 is anything resembling low wage.

            I object to any definition of “rich” that creates a hedonic treadmill with no reasonable end.

            There’s more than one status ladder and there’s more than one thing to signal. You are pursing this tedious exercise in pedantry in order to signal that you are oh so clever and have this whole “life” thing figure out. Unlike those that are “stupid with their money” or foolishly choose to “live somewhere insanely expensive” you know that living in the an inexpensive city in the interior of the country is the way to go. You spend your days reading Mr. Money Mustache or the equivalent and will have the last laugh when you retire at 45. No big fancy salary needed. $60k is enough anyone and nothing to be ashamed of!

            So sure from the perspective of an hedge fund guy living on the UES you aren’t signaling high status — rather to him you’d be signaling ‘I’m a shlub with a boring insurance job, living in flyover, with an ugly wife and some ugly children, scratching out deadly dull existence’ but that’s not how you see yourself and that’s not what you intended to signal.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Join a community in which femininity and motherhood are valued, such as a Mormon ward, and become a housewife?

        • Anonymous says:

          You have to pump out at least 5, and better yet 8, kids to get that status though. I’m thinking not low effort

    • Nita says:

      Internet celebrity.

      • Anonymous says:

        Deanlets and deanlings make a fair bit of money. That makes the competition harder than it would be if it were “relatively high status, low effort, low wage”.

    • Psmith says:

      Art, theater, entertainment.

    • Alex Trouble says:

      College professor, in certain fields.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      Low effort * low wage usually means teacher of some sort. High status — for men — would be [low effort + low wage = teaching] + socially useful skills, especially skills that young women want.

      So something that fits that description is a social dance (e.g., Salsa) teacher or a college professor of a course lots of women take.

      • Anonymous says:

        High status may be useful for getting lots of women to sleep with you, but that doesn’t mean anyone that can gets lots of women to sleep with him is high status. No one is going to take a salsa teacher seriously except perhaps his students, and then only to a certain extent.

        College professor works, but the the entry process has become so hyper-competitive that it might as well be high effort because if you aren’t a high effort kind of person you’ll never make tenure.

        • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

          Well, if pastor fits what you’re looking for, it still follows the simplistic model I wrote: Teaching on a subject that interests women more than men (women are more religious than men).

        • TrivialGravitas says:

          Well, the tenure positions are high wage, the untenured positions are low wage, but frequently very high effort (depends on wether you can hand off the grading par of the job to a computer in the subject).

          • Anonymous says:

            Adjunct professor is an interesting choice. Not that much work, not that hard to get, can be spun to a certain extent as plain old professor especially if you can get an article or two published in some obscure journal.

            The big problem is all these articles coming out in the middlebrow media about how they are downtrodden. That’s going to hurt your spinning efforts. Still, not bad.

          • onyomi says:

            Being an adjunct professor and making enough to live on, unless you live very, very frugally, is not easy. It’s a lot of work. Especially because most people have to commute to more than one school in order to cobble together enough classes to live on.

          • Anonymous says:

            The question assumed money wasn’t really an issue. See here: http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/05/25/open-thread-50-25/#comment-363861

          • onyomi says:

            I mean, okay, if you want to have a job just for the sake of saying you have a job at cocktail parties then you could teach one class as an adjunct and just call yourself a “professor”; or you could do nothing and call yourself a professor… since anyone who was impressed to hear you were a professor will probably be less impressed if they learn you actually just teach one class at the local community college, anyway…

            If I wanted a low effort, low pay job just to be able to say I had a career I’d pick some kind of writer or artist, personally. One can easily self publish a novel and then you are a published novelist.

      • 57dimensions says:

        From what I’ve heard, teaching is definitely not low effort.

        • J says:

          Beware of what you hear about teaching; the teacher’s union in recent years has been one of the largest donors to politics.

          I taught for a few years, and at the beginning I put a lot of effort into it, and toward the end it wasn’t fun anymore and I put very little effort into it.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          My guess is that there is a lot of variance. A teacher who doesn’t assign homework, treats the textbook as a course-in-a-box, and sticks to short multiple choice tests will probably have to put in a lot less effort than one who assigns homework daily, looks far and wide for course material, and uses essays or free response questions for exams.

          But the part might take a lot of effort no matter what is getting the job in the first place. I tried to apply to a math teacher position in my local public school system about a year ago, and was told that there were fifty applicants for the same spot. Apparently the standard career track is to become a substitute teacher for a few years while you try to break in. Everything is a goddamn rat race in this fucking economy.

          • Sweeneyrod says:

            Come to the UK! We have a permanent shortage of maths and science teachers.

          • Anonymous says:

            Careful what you wish for. He’s already migrated once.

          • Deiseach says:

            Re: UK maths and science teachers – my brother worked in a London school for a year as a science teacher, got on okay, but gave it up mainly because of the hassle of the crazy paperwork. Nothing to do with teaching but all the bullshit box-ticking to comply with regulations about “are you being cross-curricular enough?” and key stages and all the rest of it.

            The schools must be desperate for teachers, because the school tried to arm-twist him over breaking his contract (he didn’t; he’d done the year which was the initial contract they gave him). He more or less said “Good luck with that, I’m going home to Ireland, you can send all the paperwork to my former English address” and they gave it up because how could they force him to stay?

    • onyomi says:

      Pastor strikes me as one example. High level of respect (within a certain community), but doesn’t seem a very hard job to get, and probably doesn’t pay well unless you’re a televangelist.

      • Anonymous says:

        This strikes me as a very good one. Only applicable to certain communities of course, but meets the criteria very well.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        It took a long time for one of my relatives to get a job as a pastor after graduating. And the church she went to was very small, so I doubt she gets much money.

        Incidentally, my pastor growing up was revealed to have spent his entire shift masturbating to porn, so I guess its a great job when you can get it.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Not low effort. You have to be a manager, counselor, and motivational speaker all in one, at least if you want to do well enough to get status out of it.

        I think there’s an iron triangle at work here. For a job to be high status, there has to be some barrier in the form of high effort or low pay that keeps everybody from joining it and diluting the status.

        • onyomi says:

          Yeah, I think the nature of high-status is that it inherently can’t be accorded to everyone who would like it but isn’t willing to expend a lot of effort.

          You can be one of very few born to it (one or both of your parents were members of the peerage, a tycoon, or a celebrity) or born to have it (by virtue of being born super-talented at something accorded high status so what would be difficult for others to you seems easy, though even the super-talented generally have to work hard to reach the tops of their fields), or else you can be one of the larger group willing to work very hard to get it.

      • Alex Trouble says:

        That’s what I thought, but my experience is that someone like a Catholic priest works very hard, while protestant ministers either have another job entirely or are, as you mentioned, televangelists.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I’ve attended or visited over a dozen Protestant churches in my life, and I’ve literally never met a pastor who either had another job or was a televangelist.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            Yeah, I botched that. I meant to add, “or their minister job is a difficult, long-hours job like being a priest.”

    • Nornagest says:

      Journalism, if it’s not the kind that involves heavy research or getting shot at. Hard job to get, though.

    • keranih says:

      high status, low effort, low wage

      I’m…really having a hard time linking high status and low effort jobs. High status/low effort lives, as in the persona Bruce Wayne projects, due to long term sustained effort by ones forbearers. But in the case of jobs which one can enter into by ones own effort – nsm.

      I think there are jobs where a person can take advantage of the respect given to the position – a Mayor or MD or preacher who gets the respect of the office, but due more or less entirely to the effort exerted by the majority of people who have held that position, while the specific person in question is a lackadaisical lout who barely puts in minimal effort.

      And to be true, there are people who make very difficult tasks look easy. In my experience, the way to make the very difficult look easy is to be constantly practicing at completing the impossible.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m…really having a hard time linking high status and low effort jobs. High status/low effort lives, as in the persona Bruce Wayne projects, due to long term sustained effort by ones forbearers. But in the case of jobs which one can enter into by ones own effort – nsm.

        The thing is that socialite doesn’t really work anymore. Suppose a couple has enough money via inheritance to live a very decent life — not Bruce Wayne, but in the low to mid six figures using the 2% rule of thumb. They are perfectly content money-wise with this few hundred thousand a year and don’t care about any more money they could bring in by working high pressure professional gigs despite having the educations for it.

        Once they have kids the wife can stay home no problem, even if they have a nanny too. No one is going to look askance at that. But the husband can’t show up to social situations and say he’s a stay at home dad, that he doesn’t work, that he teaches salsa, or that works at a rock climbing gym. It wouldn’t do. Hence the question.

        • keranih says:

          Ah. Got it, I think.

          I really really want to say “martial arts instructor” except that is not at all without effort.

          Possibly – race horse owner. Or something else related to agriculture/wildspace – board of local park, gentleman farmer, sponsor of localvore eateries. One could involve oneself – help manage galas, throw charity balls – for very little return, and yet interact with Wealthy Important People. Just…hire a really, really honest and compent person to manage your funds.

          • Well, low effort can mean multiple things. Sure, it took a lot of time, talent, and focus to develop mastery of a martial art, but once you have that, you don’t need to spend that much time in the day to day to have the lifestyle of a master.

            (Sure, you should practice your skills a lot, but that’s somewhere between fun and unconscious rote activity, and most of them teach a decent amount, but that’s pretty simple. You certainly don’t need to have an unpleasant/stressful job — you just teach students and hang around the dojo.)

            I think martial arts instructor qualifies pretty nicely under my “ski bum” category below.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Ah, but then there’s the business side of things. Running a professional martial arts operation is running a specific kind of gym.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            The best martial art’s instructors I’ve had all had other jobs (or were managing the whole organization between classes). So it can’t be *that* much effort. It takes a decent chunk of work to get the job in the first place, but less than a college degree.

            I have no idea how much status it actually has though.

        • Psmith says:

          the husband can’t show up to social situations and say he’s a stay at home dad, that he doesn’t work, that he teaches salsa, or that works at a rock climbing gym. It wouldn’t do.

          I don’t see why not.

        • Anonymous says:

          But the husband can’t show up to social situations and say […] that he doesn’t work

          Absolutely he can. There was a time, and where I’m from it’s “still”, when any properly upper-class person would just look at whoever asked him about his work and answer with an incredulous, mildly offended “Work?!“, and that would be that, no elaboration.

          In several countries (notably France, AFAIK) a lot of the ancient nobility died out in the 19th century not due to revolutions or anything like that, but because they refused to work. Nobody in their family had ever worked. A gentleman could not possibly labor for his bread.

          The truly moneyed response is always to answer the question of what you do for a living as though someone had asked what kind of octopus you prefer to fuck. Confusion and disgust.

          Or is this perhaps one of those American things? Is it somehow less okay to admit to leisure in America?

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            Most of the people who were like that, stayed in Europe. You probably ended up with fewer of them in the US, they were more scattered around, people had less respect for them, and they probably would have worked if push came to shove. If you think back to the 4 groups Scott mentioned a few posts ago, only the Cavaliers could really be that landholding elite; most of the industrialists started out poor. There’s some interesting history of “old money” social elites marrying new money industrialists essentially so that the new money would have access to the old social circles and the “old money” (who were often quite poor by this point) relying on the industrialists to fund their lifestyle.

          • Devilbunny says:

            Not working in America is… essentially unacceptable socially. Even those with enormous wealth who have retired are expected to pursue some kind of engagement with society (e.g., Gates Foundation). Married women need not work for money, but even socialites are expected to do charitable work.

            This also stems from the fact that there isn’t anything like feudal rents to be had, where one simply sat back and collected the money. The wealthiest people I know do live in great luxury, but they also actively participate in the management of the businesses they own (worth anywhere from $500M to $1.5B). They have to; another friend of ours was set to inherit a business worth maybe $100M until a large company came into the local market and undercut them substantially due to efficiencies of scale. Poof! No more business.

          • Psmith says:

            Not working in America is… essentially unacceptable socially

            Who’s gonna not accept it? You think, what, you’re not going to get invited to join the country club if you live off interest and spend your days playing golf and drinking mimosas?

            I am not exactly The One Percent myself, but you guys ITT talking about how it’s “not done” or “not acceptable” to not work seem to be postulating the existence of some kind of unified cabal that will conspire to exclude you if you don’t perform the appropriate rituals. To the extent that that’s true, I don’t think working is one of the relevant rituals, and anyway if these people’s values are so different from yours why do you want to be accepted by them?

          • JayT says:

            It’s not that you would necessarily be excluded from anything, it’s just that you would have very little social capital, and very little status. In America, being a stay at home parent is something that was “woman work”, and men that do that are definitely looked down at, by both men and women.

        • John Schilling says:

          But the husband can’t show up to social situations and say he’s a stay at home dad, that he doesn’t work, that he teaches salsa, or that works at a rock climbing gym. It wouldn’t do.

          My brother does it. He married money, rather than inheriting it, and it’s small-m “money” still being earned in this generation. But he attends the social situations appropriate to a six-figure beltway lawyer’s family, because that’s what he is, and suffers no stigma from being the stay-at-home parent of the couple.

          Possibly you live in a culturally conservative enclave, or possibly you’re going by memories or reports of how things were done a generation or two ago. But here and now, in any reasonably cosmopolitan city, it absolutely will “do”.

          • Anonymous says:

            Interesting. I’ve read a fair bit about stigma for SAHDs. Not just socially for them, but also things like mothers don’t want to arrange playdates with their kids.

            I don’t know anyone that’s tried so I have no direct experience, but my gut says it would be a big negative in the (urban, well educated, thirtysomething) circles I travel in.

          • Randy M says:

            I assumed the original meant the wife was already a stay-at-home mother, and the couple was wealthy enough that the husband didn’t need to work but felt awkward about no way to account for his time in polite society. Unless you have way more children than is typical for the UMC, I’d agree that having multiple full time caregivers is probably excessive (especially since they likely hire someone for housework).

            I think someone could bring up a hobby they pursued with some passion in place of a career in response to a “what do you do?” question. Like sailboat racing or whatever.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think someone could bring up a hobby they pursued with some passion in place of a career in response to a “what do you do?” question

            All the better if it’s a plausibly-monetizable hobby like writing or painting. In polite society, nobody is going to ask how much money you make selling your works.

            A similar rule applies for volunteer or charitable work; if you can tell people you’re the Director of Outreach for the XYZ Society, they don’t need to know whether that’s five hours a week of newsletter-writing or fifty hours of hob-nobbing with the Elite.

          • JayT says:

            This is certainly not the experience I have seen with my friends. I live in the SF Bay Area, and I’ve had several male friends become stay at home parents because their wives made more money, and the result has always been that they were the butt of jokes, that stay at home mothers wouldn’t invite my friend’s children to play dates, etc, etc.

          • Equinimity says:

            My experience as a house husband caring for the children in middle class Australia 20 years ago was that I was definitely shut out of all the ‘parents’ experience around me. It was only after I went back to work that I realised that the dead-beat dad stigma had rubbed off on me. I wasn’t seen as caring for my kids, I was seen as forcing my wife to support the family.
            Now? There’s certainly more support for fathers with children in tow, for one, the baby changing tables aren’t shut away in the womens toilets. (I had to carry a plastic sheet with me so I could change nappies on the grass in parks.) From what I hear though, the father being the primary care giver is still met with a certain amount of suspicion. Not the outright social rejection I got, but a ‘since a man can choose to do anything, why would he choose that.’

    • Outdoor sport bum seems the best. There are plenty of good rock climbers, surfers, or skiers who make just enough teaching $skill (or just working at a rock gym/ski resort, or even just tending bar near one) to pay for their rock bottom expenses, and spend 90% of their time climbing/skiing/surfing. They all seem to clean up with women despite living quite possibly IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER.

      (This requires living in a location that’s optimal for your sport, but most of these are really nice places if you’re into that sort of thing. Oh god, I _have_ to live in Hawaii/Vail/Yosemite.)

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t know; I think there’s a correlation, but not a perfect one, between “does well with women” and high-status. I think professor is viewed as more high status by most of society than outdoor sports bum, but I think the latter get more women.

        • Most of society calls the guy a “ski bum”, sure, but everyone he ever meets respects him as being a sick carver (or whatever the kids are calling it these days), the tourists solicitously ask him for advice or training, and he doesn’t really have to answer to anyone. Sure, he’s poor, but what does he care? No one he hangs out with gives a shit, and they’d laugh at the I-banker who pointed it out. Status is relative to a society.

          And, as I said, he has his pick of all the local women. Like it or not, that’s the biggest sign of having status in a community.

          • onyomi says:

            “Like it or not, that’s the biggest sign of having status in a community.”

            Uh, I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.

          • Viliam says:

            A short version is that humans have two sources of status: dominance and prestige. The “bum” has zero social dominance (could have some personal dominance if he looks strong), but if people ask him for advice, he certainly has prestige.

            Prestige + personal dominance should be enough to get someone laid a lot.

          • onyomi says:

            I just think status and getting laid are loosely correlated (albeit more strongly for men than women) but entirely different phenomena.

            Though if you take two otherwise identical men and give one of them higher status, then I think the higher status one will find it easier to sleep with hot women. That said, I don’t think ease of sleeping with hot women is even close to being an accurate proxy for how much respect and prestige and dominance a man enjoys within a community.

            There are too many fairly obvious exceptions: women are often attracted to the outlaw biker, the struggling artist, the sensitive misfit: these people don’t enjoy much prestige at all, but may easily get laid.

            Conversely, a fat, bald, old rich guy will certainly have an easier time getting laid than a fat, bald, old poor guy, but women would overwhelmingly rather sleep with the young, handsome rich guy, even if he’s less rich and less dominant.

          • Anonymous says:

            I just think status and getting laid are loosely correlated (albeit more strongly for men than women)

            I think they’re negatively correlated for women. Women lose status from getting laid a whole lot, and I can honestly say I haven’t known a single man who would reject a beautiful woman on the basis that she wasn’t making enough money, was of a low social class, or was generally a “loser” (which is has been observed elsewhere is an almost entirely male epithet). As a contrast, I have known several men who actively preferred working-class women because they were (in the minds of those men at least) less obnoxious outside of the sex part per se — again, a negative correlation.

            That said, I don’t think ease of sleeping with hot women is even close to being an accurate proxy for how much respect and prestige and dominance a man enjoys within a community.

            I do agree with this, though.

          • Anonymous says:

            I can honestly say I haven’t known a single man who would reject a beautiful woman on the basis that she wasn’t making enough money, was of a low social class, or was generally a “loser” (which is has been observed elsewhere is an almost entirely male epithet).

            You say that as if beautiful woman was something you could measure like height or cup size. Notwithstanding MRA pseudo-science about hip-ratios, it isn’t.

            Take identical twins and dress them differently, put different make up on them, have them adopt different postures facial expressions, have them speak with different accents, use different words, adopt different attitudes and one is going to be perceived as more beautiful than the other by any individual man.

            I have known several men who actively preferred working-class women because they were (in the minds of those men at least) less obnoxious outside of the sex part per se — again, a negative correlation.

            All other things being equal a man with this preference is going to experience a status loss. A sufficiently high status man can show up to a social event with an inappropriate woman in tow, but it’ll cost him versus bringing someone that better fits in the milieu.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            >MRA pseudo-science about hip-ratios

            The following journals are officially hotbeds of disgusting reactionary mansplaining MRAs, and should be sneered at by all right-thinking people:
            Journal of Biological Psychology
            Biological Psychology
            Archives of Sexual Behavior
            Ethology and Sociobiology
            The Journal of Social Psychology

          • Anonymous says:

            What do you know about those journals? Who are the editors? What are their reputations in the field? What is the submission process like? Who peer reviews for them? What are *their* reputations in the field?

            It turns out that being able to type of few words into google doesn’t make you an expert at, well, anything. Sorry charlie, no shortcuts for you.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Journal of Biological Psychology

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_Psychology_(journal)

            It is 43 years old, has an impact fact of 3.399 (number of times each paper is cited on average) and is edited by
            http://academic.research.microsoft.com/Author/8392117/ottmar-v-lipp

            He has 121 publications, the most recent (2011) being
            http://academic.research.microsoft.com/Publication/49607256/lack-of-pain-sensitization-in-schizophrenia-is-related-to-differences-in-supra-spinal-but-not

            So yeah, it looks pretty mainstream.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            That’s just a sign of how firmly entrenched and powerful privileged MRA conspirators are.

          • The first place I heard about hip-ratios was my college anthropology class.
            Granted, I know most colleges are now controlled by MRAs, but there might be some legitimacy to the idea.

            Don’t even get me started on the MRAs in my accounting department. They told me I need to have a debit AND a credit for each entry. CIS-gender hetero-normative scum.

    • Pku says:

      Presumably the military has a lot of low-effort administrative roles. (I know the IDF does, but that might be a result of having to find make-work for conscripts. OTOH, the US military is a huge organization and has to have some of those).

      • keranih says:

        The low level low pay grunt jobs involve showing up at 6 am and running two miles (or more) five days a week. (Plus a moderate amount of being able to independently follow instructions, no matter how stupid they are.) The upper level jobs involve either superior people management skills or superior technical skills, and generally both.

        The US military is a lot of things, but based on the people I’ve interacted with and their impact across the globe, low level effort they are not.

        • Pku says:

          Regarding the grunt jobs, is this universal? My impression was that this was true for marines but not necessarily for all service branches (though the people I heard this from were former marines, so it may not be totally reliable).

          Regarding upper level jobs, while the high-effort early stage would make these a poor target for someone looking to slack off, are they really rewarded by skill? I thought promotions were determined purely by time spent in service (until major or so) for most of the military (and that there’s an accelerated promotion track that’s hard to get into, but that aside).

          • keranih says:

            Beware of getting info off the Internets. Anyone could be your dog, or your kudzu vine, posting under an assumed name about things they know nothing about.

            Having said that –

            Over the last thirty years (the expected median upper limit of military leadership) there has been – roughly in order – a never-ending battle against the forces of the Evil Empire, a completely unexpected catastrophic failure of the EE, an unprecedented drawdown of military forces, installations, and expenditures, random involvement in penny-anty border conflicts across the globe, a completely unexpected catastrophic attack on domestic American civilians, a multi-front war against enemies who couldn’t be bombed back into the stone age because they’d never left the cave-painting stage, more penny-anty border conflicts, and a continued rise in the efficacy and potential of former no-notice powers such as China and India. Oh. And space. And cypher.

            Across that time, promotion from 0-3 (promotion to 0-3 is generally at 4-ish years and still within the required first contract) to 0-4 has varied from 93% at 5 year ‘time-in-grade’ to 63% at 11 years TIG. (*) Variations also occur across services – the AF has been particularly eager to cut people in order to save their planes.

            The degree of pure-merit vs pure-stick-to-it-ness is certainly up for discussion.

            (*) Not my numbers. I have them from old silverbacks who have lived through those years. Official figures may vary.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            That’s penny-ante, the Latin for before, as in Ante Meridian or antedate. In poker, an ante is a (typically small) stake that all players place in the pot before the hand begins, hence the name.

            (Sorry for being a spelling Trotskyist)

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            Wouldn’t a spelling Trotskyist claim that we can’t claim we know how the word would look if we spelled it correctly because true spelling has never been tried?

          • Sfoil says:

            There are low-effort jobs inside the military, and a few that even have high-ish pay, but it’s very difficult for a civilian to figure out what they are, particularly the latter. Even then, yes, they do involve generally having to at least wake up really early. Being a cook would seem like a low-effort job for instance, but in reality it’s awful. Also those low-effort jobs are usually low status (motor pool clerk, human resources tech) within the military.

            Most of the higher-paying low effort jobs involve putting in a lot of effort up front to master a skill and then coasting on your mastery for the rest of your career. This isn’t unique to the military.

        • JayT says:

          While I think the jobs are fairly rare (or maybe not, I really don’t know for certain), there are certainly some low-effort jobs in the military. One example I have is my brother in law. He works in the armory at an Air Force base in the States. His job is to do inventory, and to occasionally put the munitions on a truck and drive them to the tarmac. Then he sits around and waits for the munitions people to attach the armaments to the planes. After that is done, he goes back to the armory. He’s in the process of trying to transfer out because he finds the job so boring. As a member of the military, he has fairly high status in most circles, the pay isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either, and it is pretty easy (though with some level of danger being around all the munitions).

      • Corey says:

        My (mostly uninformed) understanding is that a lot of those jobs got contracted out to civilians, e.g. no actual soldier does KP anymore, KBR runs the mess hall instead. Or maybe that’s just in war zones.

    • James says:

      Royalty

    • Julie K says:

      [aspiring] author

      • Julie K says:

        Or artist.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Yeah, this is the first thing I would try if I was rich but required to get a job for social reasons.

      • Mary says:

        They can, in fact, be a total nuisance for actual writers, who are greeted with the assumption that they are also fakers.

        Like one writer who gave her profession, had the official blithely say, “oh that doesn’t count” and write down “housewife” until she said, “Oh goody — does that mean I don’t have to pay income tax?”

    • What are some relatively high status, low effort, low wage jobs for men? Do any exist?

      A perfect example: to be “of counsel” to a prestigious law firm. It means you’re listed among the firm’s attorneys with the notation “of counsel”, meaning, someone who doesn’t necessarily do much work, or make much money, but is respected enough to be kept around as a hanger-on.

      Essentially an “of counsel” lends his (less often her) name and prestige to the law firm, and maybe does some specialized work or consultation, perhaps mentoring younger attorneys or attracting clients, in return for an office and a nominal salary.

      It’s a role typically of retired lawyers, or lawyer-politicos who want to park their professional lives somewhere. If you’re “of counsel”, you might do very little work, but nobody can call you unemployed.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      I’m not sure about high status,, but marketing is definitely low effort.

      • Zorgon says:

        This has been coming up a lot in this thread, and I find it counter-intuitive as marketing my own work seems like an endless, thankless Sisyphean horror. Is there marketing work out there that is actually easy?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think people are confusing “I find marketing non-value added” and “Doing marketing must not involve work, otherwise it would add value.”

          I think the first view is common but naive, and the second is just some sort of standard fallacy at “work”.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ HBC
            I think the first view is common but naive, and the second is just some sort of standard fallacy at “work”.

            That seems to turn up in the UBI discussions — conflating hard/stressful with value adding/contributing.

      • Deiseach says:

        Since I can’t sell or market worth a damn (and so have missed out on jobs where it was part of the rewquirements), I’d definitely say marketing is not low-effort.

        It may look like that from the outside, and if you’re good at it it probably does come easily, but being faced with a list of “Ring these people up and persuade them to give us money make a donation to our worthy cause” is not a low-effort task – at least not for me 🙂

    • Murphy says:

      depends on when the effort is.

      I could probably make a much higher wage in finance but I went into a side channel of academia. Not low wage but lower than I could be getting. Compared to by old job it’s far more relaxed but to get in the door you need to have put effort in in the past to get good qualifications and results.

      Now I get to spend my day doing things I consider enjoyable and low effort in large part because I worked 12 hours a days for years a few years ago.

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      Business owner of a seasonal recreation service? Business owner is high status, you don’t have to work in the winter/summer, and it’s possible to get away with only working weekends in the season if you sacrifice a decent chunk of cash to hire people. My grandfather did this as a second job but there’s no reason he couldn’t have just lived here year round (I mean aside from the fact his main business made him a millionaire while the hotel barely stayed in the black).

      • John Schilling says:

        Warren Meyer (runs campground concessions on national parks) would like to have a word with you about how “low effort” this is, and what sort of effort. But IIRC he is a former techie who came into that line of work by deliberately investigating how he could most readily become his own boss on favorable terms, so maybe there’s something to his analysis and all the other options are worse.

        • TrivialGravitas says:

          Can’t really say from a brief look at his blog but from your description it sounds like he’s running a massive operation, not just one Marina/restaurant/campground etc. This is much more work (though if successful, much more pay).

          • John Schilling says:

            I think if you want status it has to be more than one site or it has to be a rather more impressive site than just a campground.

            Roughly speaking, status scales with number of people being managed, as does effort, so maybe we should be looking at ways around that equation. Businesses with a high status:employee ratio, or employees who are particularly easy to manage.

      • Deiseach says:

        Seasonal jobs like that are not low-effort. You work your tail off all the hours God sends when the season and the tourists are there, and then you twiddle your thumbs and hope to hell you made enough during the peak season to tide you over and pay your bills the other nine months of the year.

        Had a guy in doing a “professional development” workshop at work the other day who used to be in retail for a supermarket chain, left it and had his own small shop in a local fishing village (one of those “buy everything you want” here things). Did okay when the holiday season and the tourists were there, but eventually had to give it up after three years as it simply was not making enough to keep itself and he re-invented his career from retail to career coaching/training.

    • Viliam says:

      This would need some investment at the beginning, but create a NGO with some good-sounding purpose, then hire people to take care of all the work, and become the founder/advisor. If you give yourself a low wage, and give the actual boss all power they need, it is likely no one would be bothered by you doing nothing. Your actual work could be sometimes travelling and giving speeches.

      The advantage of being a NGO instead of a for-profit company is that the actual boss is more likely to be a nice person who will not seek to overthrow you. Also, for-profit companies can be compared by how much profit they actually make, but non-profits are “sacred” and no one except for effective altruists would dare to judge your actual productivity.

      • Deiseach says:

        create a NGO with some good-sounding purpose, then hire people to take care of all the work, and become the founder/advisor

        That can work for a while but also can then blow up in your face. See Camila Batmanghelidjh, though it is true that in the hey-day she did enjoy very high status (how much effort is debatable, and it’s hard to tell if it was low wages or not as the lack of accounts-keeping is the trouble here).

    • Deiseach says:

      Prince Consort of the reigning monarch of the U.K. Though that may or may not be thought of as “low wage” (expenses are paid out of the public purse and Parliament sets allowances and has pruned many of the minor royals off the Public List).

      Minor royal of any European house, I suppose, if it comes to that.

    • Gunnar Zarncke says:

      Cal Newport comes to mind. For a summary see
      http://lesswrong.com/lw/k0v/a_summary_and_broad_points_of_agreement_and/

      Quote from there:

      The Law of Innovation: Pursue accomplishments that are hard to explain, not hard to do: Newport talked of a “failed-simulation effect” where things seem impressive if the people who hear about them can’t easily imagine a standard path to them. He then offers some more guidelines both on how to innovate and on how to make one’s innovation seem impressive.

      An example was running a charity to ship specific goods to Afrika or something like that.

  2. onyomi says:

    In the last Open Thread I gave an anecdote about a company leaving a high-tax, high-regulation state for a lower-tax, lower-regulation state, pointing out my impression that states like CT, RI, and MI which consistently elect the politicians who enact high-tax, high-regulation policies seem always to cause this kind of stagnation (as so many films now are unnecessarily produced outside of CA).

    One response was to the effect, “if we keep deregulating to compete with the lowest regulation area, pretty soon all work will be done at near-slave wages in Southeast Asian sweatshops, and this would result in a cyberpunk dystopia.”

    Practically speaking, I think even if most US states hugely cut regulation and even if the US drastically reduced immigration restrictions, there still wouldn’t be so profound a “race to the bottom” as people expect.

    But heuristically, let’s imagine all the floodgates are opened somehow and all employers around the world now have access to the cheapest, most unregulated labor in the world capable of doing whatever job they want.

    I think the assumption is that this would result in dystopia, but to my mind it would result in utopia: it would certainly take away employment opportunities from 1st worlders in favor of 3rd worlders at first, but isn’t that just in a humanitarian sense? Moreover, this level of interconnectivity and productivity, it seems to me, would, in fairly short order, create a globe so much richer, on average, than it is now, that even the 1st worlders would find themselves better off, before long.

    Disagree? Would dystopia truly be the result of allowing maximum “race to the bottom”? And how do we justify not allowing it, ethically, other than because we value the livelihoods of people who share our culture over those who don’t?

    Also, no one much talks about the alternative “race to top” reductio, which, in my view, is much scarier: workers and companies are tied to the land they were born/created on and not allowed to move just because some other jurisdiction offers a better deal. Wait, didn’t I just reinvent feudalism?

    • Alex Trouble says:

      If workers are competing globally, that means firms are competing globally as well. Thus, prices and profits should be subject to the same forces that would drive conditions down.

      That being said, if a country the size of the U.S. doesn’t see this “race to the bottom” than increasing size another 10 or 20 fold shouldn’t matter. We’re already at least that much bigger than early industrialized countries. “Country” is such a heterogeneous category; it would make 0 sense for “country” to be the optimal unit of economic independence.

      • Jiro says:

        The range of cultures that includes most of the US and the range of government quality that includes most of the US are far smaller ranges than similar ranges for the world. “Country” includes people of similar cultural background ruled by the same system of government, so this is not a coincidence.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          I’m not sure what your point is. Global competition would be driven by the number of people/firms, their skills, their products, their supply and demand curves. I think this is mostly driven by the number of people and firms, how easily they can move, and productivity, not by culture.

          • Moebius Street says:

            I think the point was that if there’s an evil country whose leadership allows slavery, just to enrich themselves, then companies would rush there for cheap labor. I think this is false because those corporations aren’t as evil as everyone makes them out to be, and even if they were, their potential customers wouldn’t stand for it.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            Slavery (or similar conditions) are also pretty poor for producing many types of goods.

      • Corey says:

        The problems with the Euro are showing that to share a currency you really need governmental/fiscal-policy unity. So the ideal is one country per currency. (Which is a bit orthogonal to what you’re talking about).

        • No.

          Large parts of the world in effect shared one currency back when there was a real gold standard–pounds and dollars were just names for different amounts of gold.

          During much of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the number of currencies used in international trade was much smaller than the number of countries–first the Noumisma (Byzantine) then the Dinar (Islamic–many countries) the Ducat and the Florin. There were multiple silver currencies, but my impression is some, such as the dirhem, were used by more than one country.

          You only need one currency per country if each country wants to be able to control its currency, in part to get revenue by inflating it.

          • John Schilling says:

            The claim was, “you really need governmental/fiscal-policy unity”

            If every government’s fiscal policy is that gold and silver can be arbitrarily turned into money by anyone who has some and that nothing but gold or silver are money, because anything else gets your government laughed out of office even if it’s a divine-right monarchy, then I would say that counts as fiscal-policy unity.

            There’s room for quibbling about governments that prefer gold vs. those that prefer silver and those that offer free coinage and those that mint only a fixed supply of coin, but I think for most of the relevant history those were quibbles. If the local prince won’t turn your family silver into pennies, the guy two countries over will be glad to turn it into dollars and there’s moneychangers down the block who compete to arrange the transaction.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:

            Euro or precious metal, you are talking about “monetary policy unity” not “fiscal policy unity”. The contention that I understand Corey to be making is that if you have monetary policy unity you also need fiscal policy unity, or you suffer the kind of negative effects that Greek government currently has.

            Krugman has banging that drum since 2009 (and I think before). I believe it was one of the standardly discussed drawbacks of entering into the Euro in the first place.

          • John Schilling says:

            If your monetary policy is free coinage of gold and silver, or something close enough to it that moneychangers will predictably make up the difference, isn’t your fiscal policy pretty much carved in stone?

            Sure, in theory you could try to e.g. do classical Keynsianism by buying up lots of gold on the up cycle and storing it in vaults to release at need, but I don’t know that anyone has actually had the power and the discipline to pull that off in a significant way. Fiscal policy doesn’t become diverse and influential enough for “you really need governmental/fiscal-policy unity” to hold, until you’ve got at least fractional reserve banking and if not outright fiat money as tools.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            I’m not sure we are using the phrase “fiscal policy” in the same way?

            I am using fiscal policy to mean “how much your government spends, and how that spending is financed”.

            So, regardless that everyone is essentially spending in “ounces of precious metal”, fiscal policy asks “how many ounces do I spend, and through what combination of means (pillage, owning of industry, taxation, debt) do I get those ounces.

            I don’t see how the fact that I spend ounces of gold prevents me from increasing taxes or issuing debt.

          • John Schilling says:

            If all you’re doing is taxing and spending, I’m not seeing where “you really need governmental/fiscal-policy unity”. So you use Flanian Pobble Beads as your currency, just like every other government in the spiral arm, and the damn Flanians mint so many Pobble Beads as to cut the value in half.

            Your people are as productive as ever, and the galactic money-changers will compete for the opportunity to get them enough of the newly-minted FPBs to carry on as normal with every price doubled. So, while there are certainly problems with inflation, they will lie elsewhere and not much affect the government’s “fiscal policy” of collecting X% in taxes and using it to buy everything on a particular shopping list.

            If you’re taxing, spending, and borrowing – great, now you get to pay back in devalued Pobble Beads.

            I don’t see where you need control over the currency unless A: you are a net creditor or B: you are planning some funny business like deliberately creating inflation for your own end. With the latter being most of what constitutes “fiscal policy” in the modern world, and drives the debate over who gets to control the currency.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            The Greek economy is in the tank. If they were still using Drachmas, any German creditors would have already taken a haircut just be virtue of wanting Deutsch Marks but holding debt denominated in Drachmas, which have now weakened based on simple economic output disparity. The relative changes in the strength of the economies would have a certain self-correcting effect.

            In addition, The Greek government would be able to simply pay the government’s creditors by printing Drachmas! The Greek government can’t have a fiscal crisis brought on by debt service (as long as they don’t enter an inflationary spiral.) They can inflate their way out of the recession, or at least ameliorate it. it’s not an unlimited ability, but it is definitely one of the tools available to them.

            But when the Greek government has no control over printing money then they don’t have this option available to them. They issued debt in a currency they can’t print and now the options available to them are mostly bad, from their point of view.

            This is the precise situation that a hypothetical “gold only” unified monetary policy would be in. You can’t just declare there to be more gold.

            (and this leaves alone the whole “when monetary supplies are fixed and population and productivity are growing, deflation is a son-of-a-bitch” argument.)

    • Nornagest says:

      Wait, didn’t I just reinvent feudalism?

      You’ve reinvented serfdom. Feudalism would need a bunch of other stuff, like locally strong but highly decentralized authority, which is unlikely given current technology.

      There haven’t actually been that many feudal societies, especially outside Europe; it’s not a state that cultures inevitably pass through.

      • onyomi says:

        Okay, so next time someone criticizes company x for moving to low-tax, low-regulation state instead of “doing the right thing” and staying in high-tax, high-regulation state, can I accuse them of supporting serfdom? Maybe Hayek used that word more advisedly than I realized…

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          If we allow the serfs to move, what incentive will they have to fix their own manors?

          Answer me that, you stupid libertarians!

        • It’s only serfdom if the workers in the low wage country are not free to choose their employment. It isn’t low wage that defines serfdom or slavery.

        • onyomi says:

          “It isn’t low wage that defines serfdom or slavery.”

          I was referencing the inability to move to a different jurisdiction, not the low wage.

    • Corey says:

      A little orthogonal: I used to think globalization would necessarily immiserate the whole world, and lost a decade of career to that belief (therefore I’m heavily invested emotionally in trade-economics theories now).

      But back then someone pointed out to me that US States already have perfect capital and labor mobility, yet West Virginia hasn’t sucked out all the jobs from the rest of the country, nor has the rest of the country devolved to WV wages. (The reason, as I later learned: positive agglomeration externalities).

      My big turning point came from a Brad DeLong midterm question (I wasn’t in his course, just following his blog at the time). Given then-current numbers for GDP-per-capita of the US and China, and their then-current long-run real annual growth rates (2% and 7%), show when they intersect. (The answer, after some logarithms, was in 82 years, at ~triple the then-current US GDP per capita). So the numbers show there really is enough growth potential to keep from immiserating the world.

      • Psmith says:

        West Virginia hasn’t sucked out all the jobs from the rest of the country, nor has the rest of the country devolved to WV wages.

        South Carolina is working on it, depending on who you ask. (I’ve heard a lot of complaints about cheap and correspondingly shoddy non-union electrical work in right-to-work states. Union guys were doing the complaining, so make of that what you will.). And political externalities of interstate migration are absolutely a thing. Ask Coloradoans about Californians sometime.
        Which is not to say that free migration between states is a net negative. But it certainly has real negative effects.

        • Moebius Street says:

          political externalities of interstate migration are absolutely a thing. Ask Coloradoans about Californians

          Living in TX, we have the same thing about Californians. And that seems to point to a race to the TOP in regulations.

          The stereotype seems to be that Californians made their own state unpleasant enough that they needed to move, and many are coming to TX. Once here, they’re still voting for the same kinds of policies that (we believe) caused the problems in CA.

          • Psmith says:

            Living in TX, we have the same thing about Californians.

            Pretty much everyone west of the Continental Divide does tbh.

            And that seems to point to a race to the TOP in regulations.

            Hell, maybe the political externalities balance out the economic externalities and the long-run equilibrium effect is nil.

          • Nornagest says:

            You will be assimilated. We will take your shitty policy and add it to our own.

    • Miriam says:

      I feel like you are conflating two different issues here. Corporations moving operations to locations where the prevailing wage is lower is generally considered a good thing, because it lowers the cost of their product and provides additional economic opportunities to those who need it most. It may harm the people who used to have those jobs, but as you suggest, this should be just a temporary thing until equilibrium is reached and everyone in the world has a similar level of access to good jobs.

      But corporations moving their operations to places with fewer regulations and taxes is not necessarily of benefit to anyone but the corporation. You seem to be assuming that all the regulations and taxes that these corporations are trying to avoid have only or mostly bad effects. While useless and harmful regulations are certainly quite common, many regulations exist for good reasons, such as mitigating externalities. If corporations can move completely freely, it becomes impossible to enact regulations like “don’t dump your sewage into the river” as long as there is at least one defector locality that doesn’t enact that regulation. If you are someone who thinks that taxes and regulations are always bad and only get in the way of economic advancement, then this could be seen as an extra bonus and not a problem at all. While I think the optimal level of regulation is a bit short of California, I would not want to live in a world where it didn’t exist at all.

      A further problem is that global capitalism gives a huge advantage to large multinational corporations, which are able to relatively easily shift their base of operations, over smaller local businesses. Local governments aren’t completely stupid, they know that the small local pizzeria that has been in the same family for generations isn’t going anywhere, while the big car factory that employs half the town and has just threatened to shut down if it doesn’t get a big tax break could absolutely fulfill its threat. Since they have to fund themselves somehow, they end up taxing the local businesses heavily, while carving out loopholes for the big companies. In the end, your “race to the bottom” ends up not with a world free of taxes and regulations, but a world free of taxes and regulations for a very small and privileged class with the leverage to effectively threaten to move.

      So basically, I support corporations being able to move to locations with lower prevailing wages (although I think this causes short term harms that governments need to address), but oppose them freely moving to places that are trying to entice them with special sweetheart deals, or which don’t enforce basic regulations about ie human safety and environmental protection. I don’t know how one would effectively allow the former and prohibit the latter, though.

      • RCF says:

        If it’s another country’s environment that’s being ruined, that’s not really an externality. And if that’s the concern, why not focus on that, rather than having blanket protectionist policies? Also, it’s e.g., not ie.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      If you have a race to the top, you may have to close your borders to prevent businesses from leaving, but if you have a race to the bottom you may have to close your borders to prevent people leaving, If you can’t close your borders, you are going to have to strike a balance.

    • Murphy says:

      For a moment forget the regulation part and lets look at only one element.

      Ireland is a tax haven. They provide low tax rates and a few easy tax loopholes and in exchange companies within the EU can base their legal HQ there, pay a tiny portion of their profits to ireland and provide a small revenue stream along with a handful of jobs within the country.

      Overall this works well for Ireland. They get lots of revenue which they would otherwise have never seen at all.
      It’s getting a bigger cut of a huge pie (company tax revenues within the EU).

      But Ireland isn’t actually creating wealth with these policies. None of these companies are actually doing more productive work thanks to having an irish HQ, indeed a small quantity of wealth is probably being destroyed setting up small pointless HQ offices.

      For the other states within the EU it’s all-lose. Ireland is making the tax income pie smaller in exchange for getting a bigger cut itself.

      For the companies it’s pretty neutral. They’re competing with other companies, most of which are also within the EU. Just as in natural competition rabbits aren’t competing with foxes, they’re competing with rabbits, companies are mainly competing with other companies. A shopping chain cares if they get taxed and their competitor does not. That’s a quick way to get wiped out. They care less if both experience the same burden.

      So while the tax haven exists companies are strongly incentivized to use it to protect their own existence in the face of competitors who would use it.

      If Ireland was strongarmed into actually setting their tax rates at the same level as other EU states then it each individual company doesn’t need to care much. It simplifies their buisness a little since they no longer need to legally base themselves in Ireland but their competitors and themselves end up with the same tax burden.

      The other option is for another state to pull the same trick but set their tax rate 1% lower. We now have a race to the bottom. The state which sets the lowest rate gets the majority of the pie in a negative sum game where tax revenue is steadily sacrificed.

      The only people who benefit marginally are some stockholders and everyone else loses.

      Pick any single item and often they’re pretty neutral for companies as long as their competitors suffer the same burden.

      If the states coordinate a reasonably flat system on the other hand then the companies can just get on with doing business rather than needing to chase the marginally better deal their competitor is getting over the border.

      Sometimes setting a hard floor can allow companies to simply start ignoring one area such as trying to chase the best tax haven or the lowest minimum wage.

      This is of course distinct from regulation complexity which may have unforeseeable and expensive consequences for companies and imposes a significant negative sum burden on companies which need to maintain teams of lawyers just to understand what’s required of them.

      • onyomi says:

        Not everyone else loses. Every other company in the EU which achieves profitability due to lower taxes, as well as their stockholders and employees, wins.

        The existence of tax havens acts as a ceiling on taxation for competing jurisdictions. Ireland being a tax haven indirectly works to make taxes lower in the rest of the EU.

      • “The only people who benefit marginally are some stockholders and everyone else loses.”

        And all of the customers of the companies which, since they all have a lower tax burden, compete their prices farther down.

        This looks like an argument for taxing people not firms. Firms ultimately don’t pay taxes–the money has to come from some person, whether customer, stockholder, or employee. So why not tax people where they live, since the people who live in a country are the ones who get whatever benefits are produced by the taxes that country produces, and stop pretending to tax corporations?

        Or in other words, if the result of countries competing for companies is to compete company taxes down to zero, isn’t that a feature rather than a bug?

        • TrivialGravitas says:

          Profit tax rates (this does not apply to sales or income or asinine permit fees meant to generate revenue on the sly, but neither does the Irish tax haven) cannot increase prices. The price is already set at the point the company believes will create the most profit. If selling a widget for 100$ results in a 1 million dollar a year pre-tax profit, and selling it for 110$ results in a 500,000 a year pre-tax profit, then the 100$ price point makes you more money regardless of if the tax rate is 0 or 40%.

          • John Schilling says:

            The price is already set at the point the company believes will create the most profit

            …at current levels of supply and demand. Assuming prices remain constant, a profit tax makes investments in the sector less profitable, meaning less investment will occur. In the long term, this results in a reduction in supply and thus an increase in equilibrium price.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            On the margin, taxing corporate profit should increase the cost of obtaining capital, so I don’t think this as entirely “free” as you seem to be trying to say.

            I’m not saying your argument is wrong, but I don’t think it’s quite so simple as either you or Friedman are trying to make it.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            @Schilling That’s the system we have now though. Companies which have obvious points of revenue generation are easy to tax, while companies that have scattered operations get to declare that they have a headquarters in Ireland, or are licensing IP from a shell corp in Ireland (THe US way of Irish tax havening). So some sectors are taxed more heavily than others, and thus investment into the former category is more attractive than the latter.

            @HeelBearCub Hmm, I hadn’t thought about the long term economic effects on prices, but those are real. But people also generate capital via government spending, so it’s more complicated than just more taxes=higher prices. There’s an ideal tax rate (easy in theory, hard to determine in reality) though that’s south of 40% according to every economist who I’ve ever heard give a number.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Trivial Gravitas:
            I think Schilling’s argument roughly reduces to mine. Investment less profitable = higher cost of capital.

          • RCF says:

            In an efficient market, there are no true profits; all apparent return on investment is due to opportunity cost, inflation, risk premium, labor, or other costs that haven’t been accounted for.

  3. Alex Trouble says:

    Reading some older posts on expert consensus reminded me that the IGM economic experts panel, a regular survey of top economists, might be of interest to some here: http://www.igmchicago.org/igm-economic-experts-panel

  4. Dahlen says:

    Whee, first comment! Fourth comment!

    So, some time ago I’ve discovered r/badphilosophy. And specifically how they like to mock, among others, the rationalist community. Here’s one of the instances of this that kinda rubbed me the wrong way: some guy on rationalist Tumblr argued in favour of taking a break from endlessly discussing the ideas of the same old Great Philosophers and giving new thinkers, new themes or approaches etc. a chance. Or that it’s not the case that everything Plato said was pure gold by virtue of him being Plato. Something among those lines. I don’t remember, it was some time ago. And this jumped out to the folks at r/badphilosophy as a particularly ignorant thing to say.

    Being from around here, never too sure which way to direct my agreement, I tried to see whether the Reddit Bad-Sphere has a point, and to withhold pronouncing them as dismissable until I knew what they were all about. Is this a professional clique clinging to relevance by turning up their noses at intruding outsiders? Is this a group of serious academics who have some very good reasons for warning you against not giving due consideration to your betters? At the end of the day, is it rude of one without serious philosophical background to not engage with the works of past philosophers and try to produce original content in the field as if it’s 475 BC and nobody’s even heard of these Greek fellas? Is it uppity? Is it anti-intellectual?

    I’m inclined to think it’s not so, and have some vague intuition that the Western tendency to feel quite cozy sitting on the shoulders of giants was a factor that contributed to gradual loss of originality in thought and that the same old memes get perpetuated well past their merit, but then again I’m not one of the learns, so what the heck do I know…

    I know there’s at least one commenter here (Philosophisticat?) who specialises in that, and probably a few more philosophy majors (Scott himself included), so maybe I was hoping to get a sample of what the field thinks of this, and whether the r/badphilosophy folks are representative for academia in general.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      All correct beliefs are consistent. Given how much disagreement there is amongst philosophers, I think we can fairly assume that most philosphers are totally wrong about most things. There’s clearly good stuff in there – universalisability, for example – but there’s also a hell of a lot of nonsense.

      I’d put a lot more trust in the ones who use propositional logic than the ones who write huge books about the Nature of Being. I suggest finding some philosopher you respect for other reasons than fame as a philosopher (e.g. being right about some difficult question) and then seeing what that philosopher takes seriously.

      • Dahlen says:

        You sound very certain of what’s right and what’s wrong. Are you a recent convert?

      • 57dimensions says:

        I don’t think whether past philosopher’s were “right” or “wrong” is what we should base the value of their ideas off of. Learning about the history of philosophy and how it evolved is valuable, and examining different methods of philosophical inquiry is valuable.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          You know what is even better to learn from? The history of science and politics/history. They tend to be much higher quality. Politics has the bonus of being still applicable as well as making you aware of the constraints on people’s actions that you tend not to be aware of in modern society.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Given how much disagreement thee us amongst humans, I think we can assume most humans are wrong about most things.

        • Corey says:

          Or arguing about thing that have no correct answer, like philosophy.

        • youzicha says:

          But it depends on what kind of thing. For instance, when it comes to questions in physics or math or computer science, anyone who expresses an opinion is likely to be right. That makes it more attractive to study these subjects: after going through the training, I can be confident that I too will be able to be right. By contrast, evidently even trained philosophers are not able to reliably find the right answers in philosophy, so the payoff of trying to study philosophy is smaller.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        All correct beliefs are consistent. Given how much disagreement there is amongst philosophers, I think we can fairly assume that most philosphers are totally wrong about most things.

        Are you talking about historical philosophers, or current ones?

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Ah, optimism. Let me crush it for you.
          http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/04/29/what-do-philosophers-believe/

          2013

          They targeted 1,972 philosophy faculty members at 99 different institutions, and received results from 931 of them. Most of the universities were in English-speaking countries, and the others were chosen for strength in analytic philosophy, so the survey has an acknowledged bias toward analytic/Anglocentric philosophy.

          1. A priori knowledge: yes 71.1%; no 18.4%; other 10.5%.
          2. Abstract objects: Platonism 39.3%; nominalism 37.7%; other 23.0%.
          3. Aesthetic value: objective 41.0%; subjective 34.5%; other 24.5%.
          4. Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes 64.9%; no 27.1%; other 8.1%.
          5. Epistemic justification: externalism 42.7%; internalism 26.4%; other 30.8%.
          6. External world: non-skeptical realism 81.6%; skepticism 4.8%; idealism 4.3%; other 9.2%.
          7. Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
          8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
          9. Knowledge claims: contextualism 40.1%; invariantism 31.1%; relativism 2.9%; other 25.9%.
          10. Knowledge: empiricism 35.0%; rationalism 27.8%; other 37.2%.
          11. Laws of nature: non-Humean 57.1%; Humean 24.7%; other 18.2%.
          12. Logic: classical 51.6%; non-classical 15.4%; other 33.1%.
          13. Mental content: externalism 51.1%; internalism 20.0%; other 28.9%.
          14. Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
          15. Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
          16. Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
          17. Moral judgment: cognitivism 65.7%; non-cognitivism 17.0%; other 17.3%.
          18. Moral motivation: internalism 34.9%; externalism 29.8%; other 35.3%.
          19. Newcomb’s problem: two boxes 31.4%; one box 21.3%; other 47.4%.
          20. Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
          21. Perceptual experience: representationalism 31.5%; qualia theory 12.2%; disjunctivism 11.0%; sense-datum theory 3.1%; other 42.2%.
          22. Personal identity: psychological view 33.6%; biological view 16.9%; further-fact view 12.2%; other 37.3%.
          23. Politics: egalitarianism 34.8%; communitarianism 14.3%; libertarianism 9.9%; other 41.0%.
          24. Proper names: Millian 34.5%; Fregean 28.7%; other 36.8%.
          25. Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%.
          26. Teletransporter: survival 36.2%; death 31.1%; other 32.7%.
          27. Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
          28. Trolley problem: switch 68.2%; don’t switch 7.6%; other 24.2%.
          29. Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.
          30. Zombies: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 35.6%; metaphysically possible 23.3%; inconceivable 16.0%; other 25.1%.

    • Psmith says:

      I stopped reading r/badphilosophy after they became overly invested in the Culture Wars, but their criticisms that weren’t pearl-clutching about political correctness were pretty typically on point. Trying to reinvent philosophy without having read philosophy is one of the more annoying central traits of this community, insofar as it is in fact a central trait of this community.

      • Dahlen says:

        Hmm. What do you see as the typical failure modes or rookie mistakes of wannabe philosophers who haven’t put in the hours necessary to study the field seriously? Lack of rigour? Unawareness of the typical counterarguments against their position? Hubris? Some other thing? You probably have a good reason for being annoyed by this, so it would be worth elaborating on it.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Not being able to formulate their ideas clearly. Failing to draw important conceptual distinctions that need to be drawn. Saying obviously false or dubious things while their untutored audience nods blithely along in agreement. Incorrectly interpreting the views they’re criticizing. Taking highly contentious premises for granted. Not understanding what makes for a good or bad argument. Drawing invalid inferences. And, yes, being oblivious to well-known arguments against their position.

          For whatever reason, a lot of people seem to think that philosophy is something that they must be great at without any training or background knowledge. But the difference between a competent philosopher and a layman is about as stark as the difference between a professional physicist and a guy who read A Brief History of Time in college. Take free will, for instance. The most powerful argument against the compatibility of determinism and free will is going to appear puzzling or incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t have some familiarty with modal logic.

          • Anon says:

            Out of curiosity, what is the argument you’ve characterized as the most powerful argument against the compatibility of determinism and free will? I have fairly strong modal logic background from grad school, though it’s been a while since it came up.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            The modal version of the consequence argument (there’s a truth-functional version, too, but for some reason everyone ignores that). Here’s Vihvelin’s presentation of it:

            “The modal argument uses a modal sentential operator which van Inwagen defines as follows: ‘Np’ abbreviates ‘p and no one has, or ever had, any choice about whether p’. Van Inwagen tells us that the logic of ‘N’ includes these two inference rules, where □p asserts that it is logically necessity that p:

            Alpha:
            From □p, we may infer Np.

            Beta:
            From Np and N(p ⊃ q), we may infer Nq.

            In the argument below, ‘L’ is an abbreviation for a sentence expressing a conjunction of all the laws of nature; ‘H’ is a sentence expressing a true proposition about the total state of the world at some time in the distant past before any agents existed; ‘□’ is ‘it is logically necessary that’; ‘⊃’ is the material conditional, and ‘P’ is a dummy for which we may substitute any sentence which expresses a true proposition.

            The argument is a conditional proof: Assume determinism and show that it follows that no one has, or ever had, a choice about any true proposition, including propositions about the apparently free actions of human beings.

            1. □((H & L) ⊃ P) definition of determinism
            2. □(H ⊃ (L ⊃ P) from 1, by modal and sentential logic
            3. N(H ⊃ (L ⊃ P)) from 2, by rule Alpha
            4. NH premise, fixity of past
            5. N(L ⊃ P) from 3, 4, by rule Beta
            6. NL premise, fixity of laws
            7. NP from 5, 6, by rule Beta”

          • Anon says:

            Ah, thanks very much.

            That’s a bit disappointing, though; it reads to me as basically the statement of the incompatibilist position, and I’d expect anyone advocating compatibilism to be familiar with at least the rough idea. It can also be communicated without pulling in modal logic, at least in my experience. Still, having a formal version certainly makes it much easier to talk about!

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I don’t think it was well-understood before the consequence argument came around that compatibilism carries a commitment to one of the following theses:

            (1) Free agents have the power to change the past.
            (2) Free agents have the power to break the laws of nature.

            The consequence argument made these commitments explicit, and thereby showed that there are steep costs to believing that agents in a deterministic universe could have free will. For how could it be that mere human beings have the power to change the past, or the power to break the laws of nature?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Earthly Knight:
            I’m definitely not any sort of philosopher other than “arm chair”, but I feel like that basically just boils down to “in order for free will to be considered free will, the ultimate cause must be unknown and unknowable”. This strikes me as an issue for non-deterministic beliefs as well.

            I mean, I can posit lots of names for the thing that is unknown and unknowable, but they are all BS made up names, because we already say we don’t know the cause, and can’t know it.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            The argument doesn’t really have anything to do with knowledge, or causes. Determinism is the thesis that the initial conditions of the universe and the laws of nature jointly logically necessitate all future states of the universe. Determinism could be true in a universe where there are no causes or effects, and it could be true in a universe where no intelligent life ever exists.

            To see this, it might be helpful to consider an extremely simple deterministic world. Imagine a computer program governed by the rule (analogous to a law of nature) that it cycles eternally through the numbers 1-10 at a fixed rate, say at one number per second. The state of the program at all future times will then be logically necessitated by the conjunction of its “law of nature” and the number it began with. For instance, if the program began at 5, then necessarily (assuming the program is not disrupted by some outside force) after one minute it will again be at 5. There is no causation internal to the program– it is not as if each number causes the next– and no intelligent life needs to know anything about it (maybe it was created by a cat tap dancing around on the keyboard). Determinism just describes a relationship between the laws, the initial conditions, the time, and the future states of the world, namely, that the function which takes as input the first three always spits out a unique output for the fourth.

            Now, take some future action you will perform, for concreteness, drinking orange juice tomorrow morning with breakfast. Are you free not to drink the orange juice tomorrow morning, that is, do you have the power not to drink it? Not, it seems, if the world is under the sway of determinism. For, if the world is deterministic, your drinking orange juice tomorrow morning is logically necessitated by the conjunction of the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the universe. But you do not have the power to change the initial conditions, and you do not have the power to break the laws of nature, therefore, you do not have the power to change anything which is logically necessitated by the laws and initial conditions, including your drinking the orange juice. So it is not within your power to do otherwise. Similarly for any other human action, past, present, or future. Thus, if the world is deterministic, none of our acts are free.

          • Anon says:

            Earthly Knight:

            compatibilism carries a commitment to one of the following theses:

            Only if you accept the premises of the argument. Beta has problems which people are attempting to patch, but even van Inwagen now rejects it; Alpha is pretty uncontroversial but I think a computationalist could make a argument against it (say: this thing is only logically true because that is how I choose).

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Beta (which is an inference rule, not a premise) is defective, but there are repaired versions which also seem quite compelling, e.g.:

            Beta*: From Np and □(p ⊃ q), we may infer Nq.

            To my eye, this formulation seems more plausible than the original, actually. (Notice that I invoked Beta* when glossing the argument in response to HeelBearCub). But maybe the lesson of Beta’s failure is that our intuitions about weird modal inference rules just aren’t trustworthy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Earthly Knight:
            All of which completely sidesteps my point.

            When you decide to drink the orange juice, what is the cause of that decision? Either you posit some irreducible unknowable force that makes the decision, or the decision is made by an entity governed by a set of rules that are predictable.

            Let’s flip this around a little and posit a world, that due to the butterfly effect of a near infinite number of quantum uncertainties is not deterministic from starting conditions, but is still ruled completely and only by the laws of physics. We may not be able to predict whether I will drink OJ in the morning, but under your formulation, I still don’t think you would say I had free will. And if you did say I had free will, it would be exceedingly odd to think that the “free-will” was just an essentially random collapsing of various quantum wave functions.

            I think the questions about what constitutes free-will usually ignore that they are reducing free-will to a kind of “God of the gaps”. I think a completely deterministic computer can still have free will, and if you don’t agree, then I think you are really just stuck with thinking of free will as a homunculus in your head.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Let’s flip this around a little and posit a world, that due to the butterfly effect of a near infinite number of quantum uncertainties is not deterministic from starting conditions, but is still ruled completely and only by the laws of physics. We may not be able to predict whether I will drink OJ in the morning, but under your formulation, I still don’t think would say I had free will.

            This depends on which is the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics. If quantum mechanical phenomena are irreducibly stochastic– if there is genuinely a 25% chance that an electron will be at position A and a 75% chance that it will be at position B when the wavefunction collapses– the world won’t be deterministic, because it will not then be the case that the laws of nature together with the initial conditions logically necessitate whether the electron is at A or B. But we’re setting aside the question of whether our own world is deterministic or not (which is ultimately for future physicists to decide) to see what follows if it is.

            Determinism is certainly compatible with extreme sensitivity to initial conditions, if that’s what you’re concerned about.

            The argument I presented above seems to show, given that we have no power to change the past and no power to break the laws of nature, that we do not have the power to do otherwise than we, in fact, do. You seem to reject this conclusion. Do you think this is because the argument is invalid, because we have the power to change the past, or because we have the power to break the laws of nature?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Earthly Knight:
            I think it’s wrong because I don’t accept your formulation of the definition of free will, partly because I find it under specified.

            The reason I brought up the QM hypothetical universe is to determine if, even in the event that the decision to drink OJ was not solely determined by starting position and laws, you still would reject that the person in that scenario had free will.

            In other words, if the universe was completely physical and governed by the laws of nature, but not predictable, would your objection still hold? I don’t think it’s the predictability that really drives your argument, but physicalism governed by laws of nature.

            I’m not sure if I am making my point clearly enough, as you aren’t really addressing the point I thought I raised.

            I am attempting to say that a) I think the free will you are talking about requires dualism or at least non-physicalism, b) that at the center of the dualism will be something ungovernable by anything, not even logic, c) given that, this thing at the center of the homunculus that isn’t governed even by logic or information won’t be any better than the QM wave function in my example, and d) I think free will can be defined in ways that are completely compatible with a deterministic physical universe.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I think it’s wrong because I don’t accept your formulation of the definition of free will, partly because I find it under specified.

            An action is free just in case the actor has the power or ability to do otherwise, an agent has free will just in case she at least sometimes has the power or ability to do otherwise than she actually does. (These are the standard definitions, you can find them going back to Locke, and Aristotle). If you like, you can ignore the words “free will” and just focus on the ability to do otherwise instead. Do you agree that the consequence argument shows that, in a deterministic world, no one has the ability to do otherwise than they actually do? If not, why not?

            In other words, if the universe was completely physical and governed by the laws of nature, but not predictable, would your objection still hold?

            I don’t know why you keep talking about predictability. Predictability is an epistemic notion, one which concerns what people are capable of knowing or understanding. It has nothing to do with determinism as I’ve formulated it here. Remember that determinism is a purely formal relationship between (a) the initial conditions of the universe, (b) the laws of nature, (c) a time, and (d) the state of the universe at that time: given (a) and (b), there is only one possible (d) associated with each (c). This has nothing to do with prediction, as you can plainly see!

            Some other clarifications:
            –A world which features genuine randomness is a world where determinism is false.
            –The fact that everything in the universe is governed by the laws of physics does NOT suffice to make the universe deterministic.
            –The consequence argument only applies on the condition that determinism is true.

            I am attempting to say that a) I think the free will you are talking about requires dualism or at least non-physicalism,

            I’m only addressing the question of whether free will, as it is usually understood, is compatible with determinism, as it is usually understood. If you mean something different or idiosyncratic by these terms, you’re not making contact with the argument I’ve presented. The consequence argument purports to show that freedom and determinism are incompatible. It certainly doesn’t show that free will is only possible in a world where dualism is true. If you think that we could have the ability to do otherwise only in a world where dualism is true, you would have to come up with some independent reasons to think so. I expect it will be a tough path to hew.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @

            I don’t know why you keep talking about predictability.

            Fine, determinability rather than predictability.

            I think if you were engaging with what I am trying to say, you would have already read my statement this way. Remember, I am pre-admitting that I have no formal training in philosophy and I am not sure I even rise to the level of “arm chair”.

            –A world which features genuine randomness is a world where determinism is false.

            Sure, but would you say the agent could “have done otherwise”? Remember, at no time is the agent making any choices that aren’t the result of randomness. If your agent’s “choice” is really just a randomly generated fork, is that compatible with free will as you are positing it?

            Because, if I, a person, a human being, am an agent, then I can show that I have free will by flipping a coin to determine some choice. Better yet, I can hand the coin to a coin flipping machine that I did not create and have no knowledge of.

            That system, that universe, may be deterministic. But, I, the agent, am not. You have to go outside my frame of reference.

            The consequence argument purports to show that freedom and determinism are incompatible.

            And I am saying that the consequence argument seems to apply to all conceivable non-deterministic worlds as well. Saying the world is non-deterministic doesn’t make “free will” not subject to the logic of cause and effect. Positing non-determinism is a statement about what the world is NOT, not a statement about what the world IS.

            Can you point me at something that posits a specific non-deterministic world that does not have this problem, and also doesn’t bring in dualism (or eliminate physicalism altogether?)

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Sure, but would you say the agent could “have done otherwise”? Remember, at no time is the agent making any choices that aren’t the result of randomness. If your agent’s “choice” is really just a randomly generated fork, is that compatible with free will as you are positing it?

            I don’t know. Certainly the existence of irreducibly stochastic phenomena doesn’t ensure that we have free will.

            Because, if I, a person, a human being, am an agent, then I can show that I have free will by flipping a coin to determine some choice.

            This is wrong– the outcome of a coin flip in a world where the laws of nature are deterministic will still be logically necessitated by those laws together with the antecedent conditions. The randomness of a coin flip might be merely apparent.

            And I am saying that the consequence argument seems to apply to all conceivable non-deterministic worlds as well.

            This is definitely false. The consequence argument proceeds from the premise that the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the world jointly necessitate all other states of the world. Where this premise is false, the conclusion doesn’t follow. It may be that the ability to do otherwise is incompatible with a world governed by indeterministic physical laws, too. But you would need some other argument to show that.

            Here are some claims that strike me as more or less obviously true. Maybe they will help:

            1. Determinism is compatible with dualism.
            2. Determinism is compatible with materialism.
            3. Indeterminism is compatible with dualism.
            4. Indeterminism is compatible with materialism.
            5. Indeterminism doesn’t guarantee free will.
            6. Given our current understanding of physics, the world probably isn’t deterministic.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            Let me make this simpler.

            Can you point me at some posited worlds that does have free will as you are defining it? And do all of these worlds world depend on something that is an “uncaused cause”?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I don’t know if it is possible for there to exist agents with free will, i.e. the ability to do otherwise. A world where agents aren’t fully governed by the laws of nature might be the best hope, as you suggest. (It’s not clear to me why this would require dualism, though).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Agents that can act on the world but aren’t governed by the laws of nature sounds like dualism to me. If they aren’t governed by the laws of nature, then they aren’t natural, are they?

            But let’s think about this agent, wherever it exists. Let’s assume I am an agent that has free will. If I make a choice that is free, can I know why I made it? Can I explain to myself the reason for my decision?

            I submit that in order for an agent to have free will as you are defining it, the answer to that question is going to have to ultimately be “no”.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If they aren’t governed by the laws of nature, then they aren’t natural, are they?

            Why couldn’t a world governed by no laws or only partially governed by laws still be a world where everything is composed of matter? The metaphysical composition of a world and the nature of the laws which govern it seem like orthogonal issues to me.

            If I make a choice that is free, can I know why I made it? Can I explain to myself the reason for my decision?

            I don’t see why not. Again, I have no idea whether the scenario I’ve described is possible. But I don’t think failures of self-knowledge pose a serious problem for it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Earthly Knight:
            It seems to that if you can explain your decision, then it is a deterministic causal chain. If it is not a deterministic causal chain, you will reach a step in the chain for which you have no actual explanation.

            “Because I felt like it” isn’t an explanation. It’s a stand in for “mystery for which I have no explanation.”

          • Anon says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            Beta (which is an inference rule, not a premise)

            This occurred to me a few seconds after I posted it, but I was already out the door. Ah well. A little more ironic in a thread about formulating ideas clearly.

            is defective, but there are repaired versions which also seem quite compelling, e.g.:

            Yes, agreed. I meant only to reject the statement “compatibilism carries a commitment to one of the following theses:” on the basis that the list did not include the rejection of the inference rules.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If it is not a deterministic causal chain, you will reach a step in the chain for which you have no actual explanation.

            It may be that libertarian free choices can’t be given an exhaustive causal explanation, at least not one of the kind we’re accustomed to. But that doesn’t preclude a libertarian agent from knowing what reasons she’s acting on.

            Here’s how I think it would have to go (and, again, I’m not at all confident that the scenario I’m about to describe is coherent). You are facing a Buridan’s-ass situation, where you must choose between mutually exclusive actions A and B but have equally strong reasons to perform both. You then– somehow– exercise your freedom to opt for A over B. The laws of nature do not necessitate or even make probable your choice, and a total physical duplicate of you under the same regime of laws might just as readily have opted for B over A.

            Several things to notice about this scenario:
            1. Your action will be unimpeachably rational. Under the standard decision-theoretical rules, if actions A and B have the same expected utility, it is permissible to perform either.
            2. By the same token, choosing B over A would also have been rational. You could have done otherwise, and, what’s more, doing otherwise would not have been senseless or self-injurious.
            3. You will be able to offer a perfectly good explanation for why you chose action A by citing the reasons in its favor (you won’t, however, be able to give a satisfying contrastive causal explanation for why you chose action A rather than action B.)
            4. Nothing in the scenario requires you to be composed of any kind of immaterial substance. Indeed, it’s hard to see how dualism would make the mechanism by which you choose any less mysterious.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Earthly Knight:
            I follow that, and it all flows from your premises.

            But the “free will” that decides between A and B? That agent that makes the actual choice that makes it free will as you (and perhaps all philosophy) define it? That is the “unknown and unknowable” thing I was talking about at the beginning. It’s unkowable even to yourself, by definition.

            This strikes me as a bizarre consequence of the definition. In order to have free will, we can’t know why we decided A instead of B? This seems like a problem that suggests we aren’t thinking correctly about the definition.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            That is the “unknown and unknowable” thing I was talking about at the beginning. It’s unkowable even to yourself, by definition.

            Maybe. But consider fundamental particles and their properties, say, the negative charge of an electron. In virtue of what does an electron have a negative charge? Either there is no answer, and negative charge is an irreducible causal power of electrons, or there is some mechanism, and the same question will recur for the components of that mechanism and their powers. We might be able to make libertarian freedom intelligible by analogy– the ability to choose between A and B is an irreducible causal power of libertarian agents, no different than the electron’s power to attract positive and repel negative charges. Then we could say: libertarian freedom is no more inscrutable or obscure than the fundamental properties of thisworldly physics.

            (I don’t really buy any of this, but it seems to me like the most promising line of reasoning available to the libertarian.)

            This strikes me as a bizarre consequence of the definition. In order to have free will, we can’t know why we decided A instead of B?

            Or we could just accept the consequence that free will is impossible.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Earthly Knight:
            Well, electrons are far to big to ascribe to them the property of “just is”. As I understand it, current physics holds that everything is just (very roughly) one big field of energy that has configured itself in stable patterns. Still, we can ask “whence comes the energy?” and your point holds.

            Or we could just accept the consequence that free will is impossible.

            Given that all of this flows merely from the definition, it strikes me that free will as defined may be impossible, but it probably means the definition does not fully capture the meaning. This is akin to Newton’s formulation of gravity being proved “wrong”. This didn’t prove that gravity did not exist, rather that it was incompletely specified.

            When free will was defined by the Greek philosophers, did they even conceive that it might not exist? Or were they trying to properly define something that was self evident? I’m not familiar enough with the literature and history.

          • Skivverus says:

            A compatibilist-ish take on the issue (not a formal argument), mostly hinging on the definition(s) of the term ‘free will’:
            Free will is a thought* process which affects behavior, most notably through mitigating other thought or body processes associated with habit, addiction, or duress.
            Regardless of whether or not this thought process is deterministic (between quantum amplitudes and the computational requirements of simulation, I’m pretty certain it isn’t), it nonetheless exists, though obviously there can be disagreement over whether or in what sense it merits the adjective “free”.

            *I considered calling this a brain process, but I’m fairly sure it’s software, not hardware.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Given that all of this flows merely from the definition, it strikes me that free will as defined may be impossible, but it probably means the definition does not fully capture the meaning.

            One of the main reason why the orthodox definition has endured is that it seems to capture very well our phenomenal experience of freedom. When I occupy the sofa rather than the rocking chair, I sure have the impression that I could have sat in the rocking chair instead if I had chosen to, i.e. that I had the ability to otherwise. Discovering that this phenomenal experience is belied by the physics would be important and valuable, even if we ultimately decide that some more restricted power we actually possess can fill many of the same roles.

            Folk and scientific concepts– simultaneity, phlogiston, witchcraft, sunrises and sunsets– frequently turn out to be defective for non-obvious reasons. When we find out that they’re defective, we’re stuck with a choice between charitably redefining the term and eliminating it and offering an account of the user’s error. We are eliminativists about witchcraft, charitable when it comes to the rotation of the earth. Neither option is ideal, charity because it often preserves no more than the word and so does great violence to the speaker’s intentions, eliminativism because it infects ordinary discourse with gratuitous falsehoods. For what it’s worth, I tend to be a bit trigger-happy with the error theories.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I sure have the impression that I could have sat in the rocking chair instead if I had chosen to, i.e. that I had the ability to otherwise.

            You did have the ability to do otherwise, even in a deterministic world. Except that you had reasons for choosing to do something other than sitting in the rocking chair. Sometimes you can’t fully explicate those reasons, but it isn’t only in the case where you can’t that we refer to this as free will. Even when you can fully explain “I choose to sit on the sofa because the rocking chair makes me feel a little queasy after I eat. I could choose to sit their, but I chose not to”, we will still think of that as free will.

            That’s both deterministic and free-will at the same time.

            It’s weird to think that we could look forward from yesterday and, given enough data, know that you will sit on the sofa tomorrow.

            But if you knew that I knew you were going to sit in the rocking chair, you might choose not to. This doesn’t actually make the system less deterministic, but I think it points at a certain “theory of incompleteness” applying to free will.

            The system may be deterministic, but it is unknowably deterministic. You can’t know the full events of the future, as that knowledge cannot be contained within the system itself. Looking back, we can see that everything was determined, but that doesn’t mean we can do the same thing looking forward. (I want to say Gödel had something to say about this, but I don’t know that he applied he idea of incompleteness philosophically).

          • Earthly Knight says:

            You did have the ability to do otherwise, even in a deterministic world.

            There seems to be some confusion here. The consequence argument purports to show that, if I did have the ability to sit in the rocking chair, it follows that I either had the ability to change the past or the ability to break the laws of nature. But no one has either of these abilities, ergo, I did not have the ability to sit in the rocking chair.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Earthly Knight:
            This is like the Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First” routine. We’re right back around to Third Base.

            If you look back, there is no free will. If you look forward there is. Free will isn’t the power to change the past, it’s the power to change the future.

            And this fits neatly with the idea that in physics the arrow of time is only one way. I think the fancy name for this is “entropic time”. So even looked at from a laws of nature perspective, not being able to change the past IS a law of nature.

            Looked at from a “many worlds” perspective, you could have chosen otherwise, and the version of you that did is just in another version of the “multiverse”.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I think you misunderstand the role the ability to change the past is playing in the consequence argument. Suppose that the world is deterministic and it is true that I will sit in the sofa tomorrow. For me to have the ability to sit in the rocking chair tomorrow, then, I must also have the ability to change the past, stretching all the way back to the big bang, or the ability to break the laws of nature. This is because deterministic laws allow only one possible future to be grafted onto the past and present, and that future (we are supposing) is one where I take the sofa.

            Earlier it sounded like you thought that defining free will as the ability or power to do otherwise was too strict, as it made free will impossible to come by. Now it sounds like you hold out hope for the ability or power to do otherwise even in a deterministic world. So I am deeply confused about what view you think you’re defending.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            My objection is still to the definition. Whatever fault you can find with free will under determinism, the “unknown even to the agent” problem still applies to non-determinism.

            So the question then becomes, what is the “free will” that we do actually have? Free will was certainly a phrase that was attempting to describe an observed phenomenon, yes?

            Suppose that the world is deterministic and it is true that I will sit in the sofa tomorrow.

            It may be true, but what if we cannot know it to be true? If the closed system cannot contain the knowledge of what will happen to the system, “God” may know what we will decide to have for breakfast in 2 years, but no one in the system can. Oh, and by the way, there can’t even be a god, because they would then be part of the system.

            Looked at another way, the agent is self-contained, but they operate within a much larger system. The agent cannot know what will happen to them, nor have control of it. The rest of the system cannot know what the agent will do, nor can the rest of the system control what happens inside the agent.

            The system outside the agent influences the agent, and the agent, by their decisions, influences the rest of the system. The net of it all may be deterministic, but the agent and the system outside the agent both see the agent as having free will, from their own frame of reference.

            I am grasping, weakly, at a what in my mind is a better definition of free will.

        • Psmith says:

          The typical philosophical output of someone with no academic background is something like “my philosophy [countable noun] is we should all just be, like, peace and love, man.”

          That’s not the usual problem in these circles, exactly, but Earthly Knight covers it pretty well. It often reads as though people mistake not wanting to talk about philosophy for having answers to philosophical questions. And to be clear, it’s perfectly reasonable to not want to talk about philosophy–plenty of working scientists and mathematicians take this approach and do just fine, and after all it’d be a boring old world if we all had the same interests. But “this is a question about definitions so it doesn’t interest me and I’m not going to talk about it” is one thing, “this is a question about definitions so it’s not a real question” quite another.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            But questions about definitions aren’t real questions. If it is defined as x, it is x, if it is defined as y, it is y. Moving something between different word boxes doesn’t change anything.

      • Held in Escrow says:

        Agreed; the sub went off the deep end sometime in the past year or so but I generally agree with them in regards to rationalists, although not in a “they are shitty people”way obviously

    • John Colanduoni says:

      I agree that in virtually all fields, assuming everyone who was there before was a complete idiot and produced nothing worth reading is going to be a losing bet the vast majority of the time (this is my least favorite thing about physicists, and I say that as someone whose formal training is in physics). However I do feel that a lot of philosophy has become pure literary review. I don’t think we should completely throw out the classics, but I do think the current balance between re-reading old philosopher’s thoughts and coming up with new ones is shifted way too far in the direction of the former.

      In particular, I think there is a lot more room for heavily science and math informed philosophy (though I think this is far from the only thing there is a lot more room for). One of my favorite examples is a paper by a former professor of mine When Good Theories Make Bad Predictions (paywalled, sorry) which contains a mathematical proof that even when armed with arbitrarily large computers, deterministic classical physics can give rise to effectively unpredictable systems (no quantum true randomness required). For what it’s worth, he had an even more extreme view of classic philosophy than I did; in his courses he ignored everybody before Descartes as simply making things up instead of even attempting to frame serious logical arguments.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        which contains a mathematical proof that even when armed with arbitrarily large computers, deterministic classical physics can give rise to effectively unpredictable systems

        Isn’t this just chaos theory?

        • Pku says:

          It probably counts as part of Chaos Theory. From the abstract:

          These challenges [of standard chaos theory] are incomplete in two respects: (a) they do not show that chaotic regimes are unpredictable in principle (i.e., with unbounded resources) and, as a result, that there is something conceptually wrong with idealized expectations of correct predictions from acceptable theories, and (b) they do not explore whether chaos-induced predictive failures of deterministic models can be remedied by stochastic modeling

    • Frog Do says:

      In math, the goal is usually to revise the work of old masters and write them in a new vernacular relevant for particular fields. For example, a number of times I’ve seen the same theorem written in different ways to emphasize certain aspects of an abstract concept, or that concept in new settings, and it gives new insights; since people don’t automatically see all the connections between these things immediately. These translations are nontrivial, most modern work done in pure math revolves around applying techniques from seemingly unrelated areas in new ways. But people usually don’t try to reinvent it from first principles, although that has also been useful sometimes too! But these reinventions that turn out to be useful are done by people with a strong “classical” background in the tradition (whatever was considered classical at the time).

      Tl;dr: Memes probably survive a long time for a good reason, but that does not mean they stop evolving.

      • Dahlen says:

        In math, yes. In philosophy there’s much more wiggle room in what you approach and how you approach it, and there’s no equivalent to the unsuccessful proof mocking you with the cold, hard glare of reality from your desk.

        • Frog Do says:

          Math has a lot more wiggle room than most people think, IMO.

          • Moebius Street says:

            When I was studying computer science, I was impressed by what some of my friends in engineering disciplines were doing, with higher math like differential equations, that I really struggled with.

            Then one day a friend of mine (she’s very smart EE, with a bunch of patents and other recognition), was describing a problem she was having at work, and commented, “so we just tried a bigger capacitor and it worked”.

            So yeah, even when they’re pretending it’s super precise and scientific, in practice there’s a lot of instinct and voodoo.

          • Mammon says:

            Why do you think that? I’m from the school of thought that math is essentially algorithmic, and so from my point of view math is probably the one field with the least wiggle room.

          • Frog Do says:

            Which school of thought?

      • Pku says:

        In math though, the “old masters” tend to be people from the last fifty years (with a refresh rate – Today’s quoted old masters are mostly from the generation after Grothendieck).

        • Frog Do says:

          Well yes, if the old masters are constantly engaged with and reinterpreted the reinterpreters do become the new old masters. But this is also true of philosophy. Just because undergrads only deal with Newton or Plato doesn’t mean actual work in the field is stagnant.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      Frog Do made a great point about the importance of application and audience. So much of the old philosophy is fucking horribly written. There are people who got all of their “background” from second-hand digests who can talk about philosophical concepts so much more usefully than the primary texts.

      Huh, I wonder if a music analogy could be reapplied to the question about philosophy:

      The majority of tricks of composition and arrangement have already been discovered and applied for decades and centuries in classical music. The majority of more recent genres “develop” by reinventing the wheel, compositions growing more and more complex, and moving more towards what has already been accomplished in classical music. Prog rock and baroque metal, rap operas, the album as symphonic tone poem, etc.

      But people continue to praise “innovation” in each genre, based on the music’s ability to evoke emotions in its audience. Great music isn’t evaluated as such for its technical density, but for having a great fundamental melody, or an undeniable core rhythm.

      Other innovations that actually aren’t reinventions are technology-based: how to play/utilize a new instrument/timbre, structures impractical for meatspace musicians made possible by sequencers.

      Now, imho the best songwriters/composers tend to have a strong classical background. (For example, George Martin elevating The Beatles into what they are. Burt Bacharach. Prince. Or The Funk Brothers defining the Motown sound by applying their jazz experimentations.)

      But at the same time, music composition seems fundamentally about the talent. You got that ear for that iconic melody, for that earworm hook, or you don’t. Someone can study all of the classical music and jazz all they want, and they still won’t be able to string together a beat or lyrics like the local MC. Conservatory musicians and concert masters today don’t necessarily have the ability to put together a cadenza like jazz improvisers today, much less the famous soloists of old. There are still Cinderella stories of bands who started in the garage, with no more inspiration than what they heard on the radio and saw on TV.

      Not having the background does not inherently discount their product. The background is just much much more likely to help prevent rookie mistakes, undercutting a great insight with poor execution. The background is for craft, not concept.

      See also this thread.

      • 57dimensions says:

        A lot of philosophy is definitely ‘badly written’. It might not have been badly written for its own time, but the evolving nature of language makes a big difference in ease of understanding. Like why people struggle to read Shakespeare today, to us the words and language don’t make immediate sense in modern language, but his material was in fact written for the enjoyment of the masses. While there is value in reading Shakespeare there is also value in reading some of the original philosophy texts, but it isn’t the only way to learn philosophy. The archaic language shouldn’t be a barrier to enjoying philosophy. Also, so many philosophers love to take somewhat common words and specially define them within their philosophy, which can make reading their work even more trying nowadays. My philosophy teacher did recommend reading Kierkegaard’s original work, his writing is more literary and accessible than most philosophers.

        • Furslid says:

          That’s true for language. However most of the bad writing isn’t archaic language. It’s poorly formed argument.

          Saying many old philosophy is badly written isn’t not saying that an ancient play is badly written because it uses old words. It’s saying that an ancient play is badly written because it ends with a trapdoor opening and a god showing up to set everything right at the climax.

          • Frog Do says:

            All arguments are bad when they start, then they get worked out more fully. Saying most academic philosophy is now garbage is true, but most academic anything is garbage, because the purpose of the current academic system is to produce mostly garbage. Thank goodness for the internet.

            And deus ex machina endings are not badly written, they just aren’t playing into the current expectation of what good plotting is. These current expectations are pure fashion.

          • Furslid says:

            The problem is that from my modern perspective on art, deus ex machina endings are bad. There are principles of art that they violate, like being true to life and not adding supernatural elements to a work without integrating them with the whole work. The ancient works that stand the test of time are those that use (and often are the base of) these principles.

            Similarly, some ancient philosophers violate principles of modern reasoning. For instance, avoiding equivocation (God=Good=Truth=Beauty) and explaining by metaphors between things that are wildly dissimilar (Castes in society = the faculties of a man).

            Yes, I know I am applying modern standards to pre-modern works. This is partially because I believe that these standards are better than other standards. I believe that some philosophy can arrive at good standards, and these standards should be used. I admit that this is also because I am a modern man, and this limits the standards I can use. I can’t switch and apply other standards easily, and am limited this way.

            There is a problem in telling when I am using standards that are better, and when I am using standards that are just modern. It’s a problem that I try to resolve. Not having any standards to evaluate an ancient argument would be a worse problem.

          • Mary says:

            The amazing thing is that there is a play of Euripides where he introduced a problem in the last moment exactly so a god could show up and save the day. . . it leaves you wondering whether those audiences liked them.

      • There are people who got all of their “background” from second-hand digests who can talk about philosophical concepts so much more usefully than the primary texts.

        This is true in many fields. While the work of the discoverer(s) is crucial to any field, it is also true that very often the impact depends greatly on the presence of someone who can translate their insights into the vernacular of the age, and show everyone else how this works in their life.

        Socrates had Plato.
        Jesus inspired Paul.
        Newton needed Hooke to stir him up to publication.
        Hutton’s geology would have sunk like a rock if not for Playfair and Lyell.
        Darwin and Wallace came up with natural selection, but Huxley was the one who convinced Victorian England.

        Other examples no doubt will come to mind.

    • J Quenff says:

      /r/badphilosophy is a good example of ingroup/outgroup dynamics, as is pretty much every circlejerk-style subreddit*. While they’re good at finding instances of /r/atheism types being ignorant about philosophy, they’re happy to turn a blind eye to the likes of /r/catholicism because of some enemy-of-my-enemy silliness. In general I don’t think communities based about superciliousness are very healthy to be a part of.

      *It reminds be of that comment a while back on the influence of the somethingawful forums on the internet, with the circlejerk subreddits being a bad version of the FYAD-lites that propagated on SA.

      • Anonymous says:

        circlejerk-style subreddit

        Is there any other style of subreddit? Semi-serious question. (On a completely unrelated note, hello /r/slatestarcodex !)

        I am quite surprised how charitable the readers here can be to /r/badphilosophy/. Because the more I look into that subreddit, the more I am convinced that they are simply a group of haters (I’ve seen this word overused lately, and yet it seems quite fitting here). Posters never explain what is so bad about their submissions that they deserved to be classified as “bad philosophy”; which oftentimes is relatively obvious (egregiously sloppy thinking, total ignorance about philosophical topics), but just as often isn’t, and yet they never explain their submissions and treat everything as self-evident. In either case, they aren’t of much help in identifying “bad philosophy”.

        Their submission criteria seem to be basically “anything departing from a nebulously defined mainstream orthodoxy” (of which examples I can also often see in /r/badmathematics ; seems fitting here because their communities overlap noticeably) or maybe even just “anything from our list of designated targets” — find a target first, and excuses later. And they are really quite open about it: I recall a thread being made some time ago (can’t find a link right now) asking them what do they consider “good” philosophy; there were hardly any answers, and the few that were there pretty much matched the previous description. I still don’t get what’s their actual problem with Sam Harris. As far as I can tell, they are probably hating him for being an outspoken atheist. People making threads with (what at least to me seems like) honest questions get swiftly banned. For a long while, I honestly wondered whether it’s some Colbert-style deep cover act. No. That’s seriously all there is to it. They are children pretending to be adults pretending to be children.*

        I’ve recently had a somewhat similar realisation about Nassim Taleb after months of pondering whether he’s an actual insufferable genius or an obscurantist crackpot whose ideas divide neatly into proofiness nonsense and opaquely put obvious observations. I find this new-found tendency of mine — a strong reluctance to dismiss a viewpoint as not worth spending time on — rather worrying; I’d rather not expend my (not particularly great) mental resources on some idea only to find out that it’s unsalvageable. I’m not sure what I should do about it. Or whether I should. (I believe the standard LW-rationalist answer is “nothing short of epistemic paranoia can save you”?)

        Or maybe I am actually missing something after all?

        * I wish I had come up with this phrase myself. I’ve read 4chan described the same way, but I can’t find where it was now.

        • James says:

          I’ve read 4chan described the same way, but I can’t find where it was now.

          Encyclopedia Dramatica used a somewhat more colourful version of the phrase in their 4chan article. I don’t know whether it originated there (I doubt it did).

        • Psmith says:

          they aren’t of much help in identifying “bad philosophy”.

          It’s a humor/shitpost subreddit. (Or at least was.). Hence the silly themes and flairs and memeing and so on. Serious answers are not in the mission statement. If you want to learn about philosophy, and for some reason you can’t use Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, that’s what r/askphilosophy is for.

          (Not all the bad_ subreddits are like this. r/badeconomics, for instance, is quite serious and substantive. But really, the “Socrates bust with marijuana leaves for eyes and speech bubble saying ‘420 blaze it yolo'” aesthetic didn’t tip you off? Lurk moar, etc.)

          I still don’t get what’s their actual problem with Sam Harris.

          1. He pretends that questions he doesn’t want to answer aren’t real questions. He produces a lot of very public bad philosophy.
          2. They think he’s racist.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            1. He pretends that questions he doesn’t want to answer aren’t real questions. He produces a lot of very public bad philosophy.

            Specifically The Moral Landscape.

        • Corey says:

          I am quite surprised how charitable the readers here can be to /r/badphilosophy/.

          People here are charitable to *everything*, it’s what sets the community apart. We can hear the arguments of HBDers without flaming them to death with “FOAD nazi” or hear the arguments of feminists without flaming them to death with “FOAD SJW beta cuck”.

          ETA: Not that anyone’s minds get changed, but that approximately never happens anywhere.

    • Flame says:

      Paul Graham has a Cornell philosophy degree and millions of self made dollars, here’s his take http://www.paulgraham.com/philosophy.html Short version is he thinks you’re basically fine ignoring dead thinkers.

  5. Douglas Knight says:

    Scott,

    Would you change the “open thread” link in the header from
    http://slatestarcodex.com/tag/open/
    to
    /tag/open/?latest

    That is, two changes: ?latest and make it relative.

    • dx says:

      BTW, in the recent posts list of the sidebar, hidden open threads are only hidden in the index page, not in post pages like this one

  6. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    I recently applied to a job I’m really interested in 3 weeks ago. During the interview they were concerned that I was a bit overqualified (i.e., I make a lot more at my current job than what they were offering but money’s not a an issue for me). When would be a good time to check back in with them, and what should I say if I do check in?

    • Nita says:

      Did you tell them that you’re super passionate about the job, or something along those lines? They might have been worried that you would feel a little too free to leave, and ‘money is not an issue for me’ would not have been very reassuring in that case.

      • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

        Yes, in response to their concern about the pay difference, I did say that I would look forward to working for them based on how they described the position.

    • Poxie says:

      When was your interview? 3 weeks ago, or more recently than that?

      I would say 1 week after interview is a good time to check back in, and say just that: “just checking in.” Keep it low-key; imagine what the person/people making the hiring decision has to deal with, and don’t add to their stress by being a pest. But keeping visible can’t hurt.

      Disclaimer: not in tech.

      • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

        It was three weeks ago (ok, it’ll be three weeks ago exactly tomorrow).

        I know I want to check in, but I don’t want something too verbose but also not something unprofessional like “So… how ’bout that job? *wink wink nudge nudge*”.

        Something short that expresses I’m still interested in the position and whether I should ask something like “When can I hear back?” (or is that too forward?)

        I have enough trouble with the correct social protocols in real life and normal work, I have no clue about contacting the HR of an organization I’m not even part of yet. It’s like dating, except worse.

        • I’ve always went with the route of checking with them to see if they needed anything from me, if they had any follow-up questions, and to ask about a time to talk about some follow-up questions I thought of after the interview.

          This might work better a week or two after the interview, but better late than never. What’s the worst that can happen?
          …They send an assassin to track you down and exterminate you and everyone you’ve ever known… Wait, drop that phone! Don’t call them!

        • keranih says:

          “Good morning. I’m Ms Boaty McBoatface, I interviewed for the position of Forward Search Cruiser on April X. I was wondering if you had come to a decision on that position.”

          “Ummm, ah, yes. Yes, this is Ms HR Manager, I was the one conducting the interviews. No, we are still interviewing candidates.”

          “Ah. I see. Very good to speak to you again, Ms Manager. Do you know when you think you will have made a decision?”

          “No, as I said, we’re still interviewing candidates. The process can take some time. Let me make sure the contact information we have for you is up to date…*reads stuff from card* Is that correct?”

          “Yes, that’s correct. Thank you for your time. If it’s okay, I’ll check back next week.”

          “Two weeks would be better. Give us some time to complete the hiring process. Good luck on your job search. Thanks. *hangs up*”

          That’s about how it has gone for me. In my non-universal experience, they can also immediately respond with “that position has been filled” AND THEN CALL YOU BACK AND OFFER YOU THE JOB after another three weeks when the first mofo fails to show up for a drug screen. Or they can say “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

          Or they can keep on saying “We’re still reviewing applications” until the sun goes nova and they’ve obviously hired someone else.

          If they want to confirm your contact info it is a good sign – they either really are interested in you, or they have the mother-wit to keep you interested in them.

        • Deiseach says:

          If it’s been three weeks and you’ve heard nothing, I think it’s perfectly okay to try calling and explaining you went for interview, are checking in, and then asking politely if there’s been any decision made yet or do they need anything else from you.

          If they come back with “We’ll let you know”, just something along the lines of you’re really interested, the job fit well with your passion and you’d love the opportunity – restate your interest but no too pushy, then say thanks, you look forward to hearing from them, and end it.

  7. onyomi says:

    Someone recently posted something about Japanese archaeology revealing their ancient hunter-gatherers were pretty peaceful. Which brings to mind Steven Pinker’s contention that now is the most peaceful time; that the 20th was less violent than the 19th, the 19th less violent than the 18th, and civilization, generally, way less violent than hunter-gatherer life.

    On the one hand, it makes sense you were more likely to die by another man’s hand in medieval times, and certainly in hunter-gatherer societies where head-hunting raids and pre-emptive strikes were common or seen as necessary and most adult men were expected to be “warriors.” Even with WWI and WWII and Korea and Vietnam, our society seems better at keeping war somewhat separate from the rest of life.

    Yet, something also seems fishy to me about this in a manner similar to the Flynn Effect. It just doesn’t ring true to me that the 20th c. was less violent than the 19th, for example; and while I’m sure there have been hunter-gatherer societies that were very violent, there probably others which were quite peaceful for long stretches.

    Is Pinker trying to prove too much?

    • Nornagest says:

      I think Pinker’s more right than wrong, but he might be overreaching when he says violence was a universal among ancestral humans. Our data there is quite sparse, but we have a good bit of information about more modern foragers with presumably similar lifestyles, and those guys are incredibly diverse: their diets, religions, time budgets, ideas about the world cover a huge range, way bigger than we see among e.g. early agriculturalists (whose leavings tend to show lots of weird parallels even if they’re across the world from each other).

      Stands to reason that violence might be similar.

    • Anonymous says:

      1) You can absolutely not trust Japanese archæologists. They’re almost as biased as the Chinese in trying to forge a proud or at least palatable prehistory for their own nation. It’s easy to forget it over here in the west, but most nations and cultures are not actually interested in the unvarnished truth at the expense of making themselves look bad. (In the case of Japanese history and prehistory, “bad” in practice often means “Korean”.)

      2) No, Pinker is correct. The 19th century only seems less violent to you because you’re mentally editing out, or possibly just unaware of, the incredible amounts of brutality that were just common, accepted way-of-life stuff. The number of regular old civilian murders; the muggings that got that touch too aggressive; the duels over slights of honor, the constant, incessant war in Europe between at least half the countries. And outside Europe, Thuggees, suttees, war between Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, the Sepoy uprising, the Crimean War, the Taiping rebellion, the Boxer rebellion, the Eight Trigram rebellion, the opium war. Unrelenting, unstoppable, continuous violence.

      But much nicer than the 18th century, though!

      (I remember one estimate based on analysis of remains, that upwards of 60% of pre-agricultural males died of inter-human violence — as demonstrable by artificial weapon wounds to the bones indicating gross, paleolithically unsurvivable injury. 60%.)

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The Japanese are replicating the study you mention in parentheses at the end. It seems to me that if you want to reject their results you have to accuse them not of bias, but of fraud. Maybe, but why bother? Why not just not do the study? Perhaps quietly stop after a preliminary study goes the wrong way.

        • Pku says:

          They might go ahead with it anyway, since they’re already halfway through and need results for the grant committee.

        • Anonymous says:

          You are not accusing them of bias, but of fraud.

          If you like. I don’t think “fraudulent” would make as much sense as “biased” in that sentence, that’s all. I just see “bias” in this context as the personality or group trait that leads to the action of fraud. (Obviously it’s not biased in the geometric sense that a ruler or a tie fabric might be biased.) I’m not hung up on word choice, though, as long as the message comes across, and it seems like it did.

          Edit: Oh yeah, I forgot at first —

          Why not just not do the study?

          Because then everybody would know it was left undone, and some radical might come along and God forbid do it correctly.

          Instead, what you do is replicate the study, but “reinterpret” all the weapon-inflicted violence as being not that at all, but the product of accidents, or of long-postmortem damage to the bones. Then immediately you have “proof” of what you want to be true, something to put in textbooks, and an authority that has to be called an outright liar if someone wants to challenge the narrative of superior enlightened peacemen. This is much more useful in any number of ways.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            OK, maybe I would call such missclassification of broken bones as bias. I thought that this would require classifying broken bones as whole, but I looked at the paper and it does not report a total rate of death with broken bones. The authors don’t seem to have looked at any bones at all. I can’t tell if they are just translating and summarizing a older work, or whether there is room for a game of telephone where they, for example, turn a lower bound into an upper bound.

      • Frog Do says:

        The unvarnished truth that the present is totally better to the terrible past is, of course, completely free of bias because our Superior Western Culture.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t believe anybody said anything about totally better. I personally think our Western Culture went to hell in many ways post-WWI. But there’s no getting around that in terms of violence, we’re absolutely living in an unprecedented golden age. Some time has to be that time, and being skeptical that it’s ours just because that means saying something nice about Western culture seems to me to be more obviously biased than crediting the evidence.

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        “the constant, incessant war in Europe between at least half the countries”
        Actually, after the end of the napoleonic wars, wars in Europe were short and local without any generalized conflict like the 18th and 20th century had.
        The 19th century had long periods of peace in Europe, one between the napoleonic wars and the Crimean War and the other between the franco-prussian war and the end of the century (actually until the Balkan Wars or WW1).

      • Yakimi says:

        The theory that Japan was initially populated by a race of peaceful agrarian communists isn’t a Japanese nationalist myth, Anonymous. It’s a Japanese leftist myth. For example, that these agrarians were wiped out by an invading militaristic race that became the modern Japanese is at the heart of Anti-Japaneseism. Hayao Miyazaki, a leftist, strongly subscribes to it, saying that until he discovered this theory he hated being Japanese. You see it in his race war epic, Princess Mononoke.

        • Anonymous says:

          I gratefully accept the correction.

          It’s interesting that the fail-state of leftism always seems to be convoluted justifications for self-hatred, while the corresponding fail-state for the right is liking yourself way, way too much. I don’t know what conclusion I should draw from that, but I feel like it’s telling.

          • Yakimi says:

            I like to think of the political spectrum in terms of autoimmune disorders: at the extremes, rightism is allergies, leftism is AIDS.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “Anti-Japaneseism”

          blink, blink

          “The so-called ‘final solution’ of Anti-Japaneseism is to wipe the nation called ‘Japan’ from the face of the earth and exterminate the Japanese race.”
          “Since the eclipse of New Left influence this group has been thought of as a bizarre cult.”

          That is objectively bizarre, and it’s very hopeful to hear that Leftist influence on society can sometimes be eclipsed, causing the die-hards to be seen as a bizarre cult. It’s like the reverse of Moldbug’s argument that if you brought a mid-Victorian English-speaker to the present, he’d think he was in a Quaker theocracy.

          “The activist who came up with the name ‘Anti-Japaneseism’ has since left the group and describes it as ‘Satanic’.”

          Oh my.

    • Frog Do says:

      A quick summary article in the general interest magazine Significance criticizing Pinker is here, a longer article is referenced in Physica: http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/significance.pdf

  8. Joel says:

    I expect this question has come up before, but a question for my fellow academics, especially in the humanities and social sciences: how cautious should I be about publishing politically incorrect papers or promoting politically incorrect views publicly (e.g., on Facebook)? Context: I am a philosophy Ph.D. student with broad interests, which include such politically incorrect topics as the ethics of racial profiling, the negative influence of progressive bias on social science, and the importance of IQ for understanding inequality between groups. I’m interested in lots of other stuff too, so I’m hardly at a loss for research projects without publishing on these kinds of things, but they are closely enough related to my other work and I think they’re important enough that I’d like to write about them at some point.

    I’m almost certainly not going to publish on any of these things until I get a tenure-track job, and I try to tread lightly on politicized topics on Facebook right now, but the thought of muzzling myself for five years after that (until I get tenure), or worse, for the rest of my career, really annoys me. How worried should I be about getting fired/protested/harassed/etc.? Can I go ahead and write about this stuff as a junior professor (with the sensitivity and care called for by such topics, obviously)? Or is this a really bad idea?

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Freddie deBoer post all the time about people trying to threaten him and the risks he takes, and he is really pretty tame.

      I would be careful, if you look like a kook before you get hired, they will be wary of what you will become after you get hired.

      • Poxie says:

        Freddie deBoer post all the time about people trying to threaten him and the risks he takes

        Well, yes, he does post about those things a whole lot.

        I’m sorry, but I can’t help seeing DeBoer as a drama-seeker and shit-starter first and foremost. But I have a strong irrational reaction against what I see as his shtick, so take my take with some salt.

        • Protagoras says:

          I think Poxie is right. DeBoer does seek out drama. So unless Joel is a similar drama-seeker, DeBoer’s problems may not be the most instructive example.

          • Joel says:

            I’m not particularly interested in seeking drama per se, but I do have the prospect of landing a fairly prestigious research position (I’m coming out of a top-10 Ph.D. program, and I will have at least two and possibly more publications in top-10 journals when going on the market), which would bring with it some visibility (at least within the philosophy world). I’m also interested in “public philosophy” and in doing things like writing editorials, participating in debates, and so on.

    • Frog Do says:

      The trend in academia is strongly against tenure, so the competition is going to be fierce, I’m guessing it will only get worse. If you must become a tenured professor, either muzzle yourself or seek work in an anti-establishment philosophy department that will actually defend you.

    • grort says:

      It’s so easy to create a fake internet identity — I’m not sure why anyone would post anything even remotely dangerous under their real one.

      I switch my handle every once in a while just to prevent identity leakage, and if I’m going to say something that touches on a controversial topic I’ll create a new handle for specifically that post.

      I guess some people want their IRL friends to read their blog, and if you’re into pseudonyms you do lose that ability. My own experience has led me to believe there’s a good reason why political discusssions are taboo among friends — even if you’re opinions aren’t controversial, there’s too much chance that someone who disagrees with you will decide you’re a bad person, and it’s just not worth it.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m not sure why anyone would post anything even remotely dangerous under their real one.

        Status. A lot of people are interested in building a name for themselves, and see dropping their wisdoms on random people online as a means to this end. It rarely works, but when has that ever stopped anyone?

        You could do that and still try to avoid saying anything controversial, but people notice if you’re not willing to stick your neck out every once in a while.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          That’s why you only post progressive things under your real name. Because progressives think their tribe is the underdog, they’ll think you are sticking your neck out, and you get a (very small, as you note) chance to gain status points.

          You’d think the fact that you can’t do that if you have centrist or conservative ideas would clue them in about hegemony and underdogs, but nope.

          • Anonymous says:

            You’d think the fact that you can’t do that if you have centrist or conservative ideas would clue them in about hegemony and underdogs, but nope.

            It’s not a cluing-in issue, though; the problem isn’t that they’re unaware. These are gestures, not beliefs. What happened is that rooting for the underdog became virtue, therefore hegemony now speaks as underdog.

            (Compare hegemony speaking piety when piety was virtue, in the Renaissance Papacy. It’s rare that hegemony becomes this blatantly mendacious, but it does happen.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            (Compare hegemony speaking piety when piety was virtue, in the Renaissance Papacy. It’s rare that hegemony becomes this blatantly mendacious, but it does happen.)

            Seriously, what was the deal with the Renaissance Papacy? The moral corruption seems to have come on quickly, after a hiatus of 400+ years. The previous nadir of the Papacy occurred in the interregnum between an era of Caesaropapism and the creation of the College of Cardinals, when corrupt Roman nobles controlled the popular election of popes. Then suddenly the cardinals cease to perform their gatekeeper function and the Papacy doesn’t recover its moral authority until losing most of the Germanic-speaking countries to the Reformation.

            Ecclesiology makes interesting sociology.

      • Joel says:

        It’s so easy to create a fake internet identity — I’m not sure why anyone would post anything even remotely dangerous under their real one.

        Because I actually care about advancing the discussions on these topics and I can do that better by publishing in Ethics than by commenting on Slate Star Codex under a pseudonym.

    • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

      Razib Khan seems to do fine with a new job at a company in Texas and a continuing career.
      He was selected as an occasional op-ed writer by the NYT, then quickly dropped when leftists brought up that he commented on VDare.
      He didn’t seemed to care about this flip-flop and he probably wouldn’t have been considered by the NYT in the first place if he didn’t made a name for himself with his blog that is sometimes non-PC, so I’m not sure if there is a clear lesson here. Being non-PC gives you both visibility and enemies.
      On the other hand he is a POC and a professional geneticist two things that give him a bit of leeway from the thought police. His livelihood relies on other geneticists and biotech investors, not on ultra leftist academics.

    • Miriam says:

      Have you read this New York Times article?

      Perhaps not directly applicable since I doubt you identify as a Republican or evangelical, but I thought some of the statistics were pretty shocking. Getting tenure is pretty tricky as it is, and you may want to think carefully about putting up any additional potential roadblocks.

      • Corey says:

        I can understand some of this depending on field – in the US if you’re evangelical you’re likely to be young-Earth creationist, and so anything in the biological sciences should be right out (trying to make all your classes compatible with baraminology is bound to be a losing endeavor). In the hard sciences it wouldn’t matter so much, as, say, creationism wouldn’t cause problems with structural engineering. (Don’t use dogwood for construction because of the curse of the cross?)

        I can also see US Republicanism being incompatible with some of the humanities fields like sociology. Others like history, there’s probably no good reason to keep them out.

        • caethan says:

          OK. Let’s take as a given your assumption that young-Earth creationists are unsuitable as biologists.

          The breakdown for evangelical protestants is that 23% think evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life, 70% disagree, and 6% don’t answer (Pew 2008 poll, for those who won’t click on it). Do you think it’s reasonable to exclude someone from a profession based on a group characteristic which less than 3/4 of that group shares?

        • Frog Do says:

          Then, like explicitly religious universities, you should have a formal Doctrinal Statement that you have all professors contractually agree to. Pretending not to have one and then discriminating is terrible practice.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I can understand some of this depending on field – in the US if you’re evangelical you’re likely to be young-Earth creationist, and so anything in the biological sciences should be right out (trying to make all your classes compatible with baraminology is bound to be a losing endeavor).

          Actually, the PI at my old lab was a YEC. He was a solid experimenter and very skilled in computational biology, so his research was always high quality. I think a fair amount of compartmentalization was involved, since we used sequence and structural homology quite a bit and that makes little sense outside of an evolutionary perspective, but that just speaks to how little his faith mattered in the lab.

          I never took any of his classes but there weren’t any complaints from my friends that had. It certainly wasn’t anything from the Creation Institute or whatever.

    • Agronomous says:

      Admittedly, I’m not an academic, but: Your comment made me face-palm so hard I nearly broke my nose.

      Really? You’re going to hide what you really think until you get a tenure-track position? The tenure track is so awesome you want to be on it until you retire, having changed university and city every five years until then?

      Some advice: shut the fuck up until you have actual tenure; find a non-PC tenured professor in your field and ask for career advice (anonymously, if possible); publish a lot of shit you don’t believe in—you can always demolish any of it that turns out to be significant after you get tenure.

      (If you were in some other humanities or social-science field, I’d say “just quit and enjoy watching the field continue to burn to the ground”, but I have a possibly-irrational affection for philosophy.)

      • Joel says:

        You and several other posters are very pessimistic, but it’s hard to distinguish reasonable concern from unreasonable paranoia here. There’s obviously a taboo against defending non-PC hypotheses, but (a) it’s not clear how strong it is, and (b) the only way to get rid of the taboo is by enough people being open about their non-PC views. 40 years ago philosophy was a very hostile place for religious viewpoints, but today there are very successful, very prestigious, openly Christian philosophers, and while religious hypotheses are still unpopular, they are taken more seriously in philosophy today than in probably any other humanities or social science. If by “coming out” I could help make non-PC viewpoints in philosophy enjoy the same status, I’d like to do so.

        • onyomi says:

          My experience is that in academia, and in the business world as well, erring on the side of playing your cards close to your chest is almost always more advantageous than letting it all hang out, at least career-wise.

          In 99% of cases you might worry about probably no negative repercussions will result if you talk about your political views with your boss or confide in a coworker that you’re applying for another job. But the problem is you can’t reliably predict when that 1% of cases will be which will come back to bite you.

          Of course, you also have to make a cost-benefit analysis at some point. I worry occasionally that things I post on SSC might somehow connect to me professionally, but I’ve mostly judged that the risk of that is slight enough, and the enjoyment I get from posting on SSC great enough, as to be worth it.

          In the case of posting about politics or any charged cultural issue on Facebook, however, I’ve made the opposite determination.

    • Deiseach says:

      the importance of IQ for understanding inequality between groups

      “Just go throw yourself off a bridge now, you racist” is about the mildest level of interaction I’d expect to see if you dip a toe into that pond. Given that there is admitted bias in publications in the social sciences and given that you expect to have a career in academia, I imagine that non-majority opinions (to put it at its most charitable) will have a knock-on effect on your career.

  9. Sweeneyrod says:

    Any thoughts on the upcoming UK referendum on the EU?

    • Pku says:

      I thought this was pretty interesting. (Basically he says that the economic effects would be negative, but probably not nearly as much as some people are saying, and his main objection is influence on government).
      It deserves epistemic credit for pointing out that a lot of the people on his side are being somewhat dishonest in their objections, and separating out his main objection (EU government vs. local government).

    • Ruprect says:

      I don’t feel that I can trust the figures that the economists are pulling out of their asses on this one.
      I’m normally quite irritated by political tribalism (mainly because it’s like trying to get excited over whether Pepsi is healthier than Coke) – but in this case, it really does seem to be a matter of who you think you are, what kind of world you dream of living in. The arguments and issues are so abstract, there isn’t really any other way to judge it.

      Anyway, personally, I’m going to vote for remain, because I hate democracy, and don’t trust the British people to run their own affairs.

    • HircuSaeculorum says:

      I really hope there’s no Brexit. The short-term economic consequences for Britain and the social/political consequences mentioned by Krugman in the article Pku linked are bad enough.

      However, there are more abstract/less immediate concerns. A united Europe would be a superpower, and a democratic one. We need more of those, and a British exit from the EU would ensure against the existence of such an entity.

      And, of course, there’s my burning desire to see Strasbourg become the Fourth Rome.

      • Yakimi says:

        A united Europe would be a superpower, and a democratic one. We need more of those

        …why? And how is the European Union, the Parliament and Commission of which resemble nothing so much as the Supreme Soviet and Politburo, “democratic”? Is it more democratic than a patchwork of sovereign parliamentary governments that are not beholden to unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels?

        • onyomi says:

          Yeah, look at all the good the US has done since becoming a “superpower.”

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            And that can’t be undone, but can be balanced by other superpowers.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I mean, as opposed to a hypothetical situation without superpowers, or one with such more obviously benevolent ones, like Spain, the UK, the URSS and now China.

    • onyomi says:

      I would always vote decentralize, personally. And for anything Krugman claims will be a disaster.

    • Sweeneyrod says:

      I’m undecided. I like the potential the EU has to undertake large projects, and I think its political influence is probably good. I think the impact of the EU on the creation of peace in Europe might be underestimated. I also like the single market and freedom of movement, and I think the collapse of the EU (although that isn’t an inevitable consequence of Brexit) could have significant negative effects on poorer European countries that benefit more than us from free trade.

      On the other hand, I like diversity of culture and policies between European countries that the EU is slowly reducing, I dislike the tariffs the EU imposes on foreign imports, and I worry about how democratic it is, in comparison to how much power it could have in the future. So I’m not sure.

  10. BBA says:

    Commentary on the Thiel/Gawker situation, as I mentioned in the previous open thread.

    Other commentators have taken a similar stance. Part of this is the press closing ranks, but I do find the secrecy and vindictiveness unsettling. And for Thiel, a well-known libertarian and major donor to the Committee to Protect Journalists, to use money he made from (among other things) selling data-mining software to the NSA to shut down a press outlet for invading his privacy…well that’s chutzpah or hypocrisy or something.

    On the other hand, it’s Gawker. Yes I know, supporting freedom of the press means defending people you don’t like or agree with but…it’s Gawker.

    So I continue to root for injuries.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I don’t know why Thiel did it, but I doubt it was because Gawker was invading his privacy. (Do you mean outing him in, what, 2007?)

      • Thiel recently made the news for advising people to think as if they’d live forever and act to maintain reputations over long timescales: you might make more money now by lying, but honest stationary banditry pays out in the long run.

        Take him at his word, and this lawsuit has an obvious cause: he openly warned Nick Denton not to try to smear him in the press at the risk of Nick’s destruction. When Nick ignores this threat, Thiel is essentially required to make it good: now everyone knows to take his threats seriously.

        • LHN says:

          The secrecy would seem to point against that hypothesis. Maybe the plan was always for it to come out, perhaps while Thiel chanted Nemo me impune lacessit and bricked Denton alive into a crypt, but that’s pretty speculative.

          • Pku says:

            Another thing that points against it is that the threat wasn’t really brought up here. Even if he can easily make the connection, most people wouldn’t (I didn’t think of it until Andrew brought it up), and if this is him making good on a threat, it’s worth signalling that that’s what he’s doing.

          • keranih says:

            I suspect that the people who were supposed to get the message, did.

            (The flip side is that in the day of the blogosphere, anyone could be the next exposa-journalist. So, in that case, yes, everyone needs to learn the lesson that one doesn’t fuck with Thessaly.)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Denton wrote in NYT yesterday that he didn’t get the message. So why would anyone else?

            The timeline is: 2007 outing; 2009 Thiel calls Gawker terrorists; 2013 lawsuit. It seems to take years for people to figure out that the suit isn’t going to settle.

          • Frog Do says:

            Are we supposed to trust Denton when he says that? Both sides goal is to claim that they are the victim of a coordinated campaign against them.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            See, here’s where it all falls down: Denton can complain that there’s a “coordinated campaign” against him, and he’s right, there is. And… so what? How is it a bad thing for there to be a coordinated campaign against Denton and his awful Frankenstein’s monster creation? Dude deserves it.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Sure, I’d be happy to believe these things, if I knew what they were. Where did he warn Denton? And which coverage since the warning constitutes smearing?

          • “He was so paranoid that, when I was looking into the story, a year ago, I got a series of messages relaying the destruction that would rain down on me, and various innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, if a story ever ran.” – Nick Denton, in the comments here: http://gawker.com/335894/peter-thiel-is-totally-gay-people

            As keranih says, I’m pretty sure the people who were supposed to know this knew it.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Thanks!

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, I knew nothing about Thiel and Gawker but reading that story I can see why he got mad about it, and Denton puts it right up at the top:

            Venture capital is a business about risk — but only the right kinds of risk. Unproven technology? Fine. A host of rivals? No problem. A gay founder? Oh, hey, wait a second. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But someone else, somewhere else, might take issue with it. That’s VC thinking.

            And then he goes on about how you can’t be sure a venture capital company turned down a start-up because of LGBT -phobia, but you can’t rule it out either.

            And finishes with “That’s why I think it’s important to say this: Peter Thiel, the smartest VC in the world, is gay.”

            So I don’t think it’s taking it too far to read between the lines here that Denton is insinuating Thiel hid the fact he was gay so he could get his companies funded, is now in a position to help out LGBT people looking for venture capital, but probably won’t because he’s too cosy in the closet and gets along much too nicely with his homophobic pals in the venture capital business to rock the boat.

            I don’t know if Denton had a score to settle with Thiel or was simply showing off his power, but if I were Thiel, I’d be spitting feathers too. First, Denton outs Thiel in what he admits is probably a homophobic or at least not favourable to LGBT people business, which sounds like a spiteful thing to do, then he gives a pious little lecture about helping the LGBT people looking for venture capital and how Thiel should be using his position to make changes single-handedly.

            Does anyone know if Denton had a grudge against Thiel? Because that piece reads like score-settling to me, and unless Thiel was making homophobic statements in public while hiring rent boys in private, there’s not much public interest being served (the tiny shred about the venture capital world being hostile to lending to LGBT is public interest, but Denton very carefully names no names about straight venture capitalists who he knows turned down gay businesses simply because the would-be entrepreneurs were gay).

      • Anon says:

        In fact it was, and for similar offenses against other people.

    • piercedmind says:

      The article is extremely dishonest in failing to mention why on earth Thiel would decide to sue Gawker. It implies through the lines that he somehow wants to control Gawker’s critical reporting. In reality, Gawker outed Thiel as gay in 2010, which, in reddit parlance, gives me a justice boner.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is like the Iran-Iraq War, whoever loses we win.

      • multiheaded says:

        More like, “it’s a pity they can’t both lose”.

        • Winfried says:

          They can, but only if it stays in court forever and eats up all their money in court fees.

          Then the lawyers win.

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s Gawker. I hope those guys contract a flesh-eating disease off of dirty cash. I hope they catch fire the next time they’re exposed to a camera flash.

    • Gawker, besides being Gawker (odiously immoral to a fault) is another example of modern journalism being not a public service but a power bloc. People come to (tepid) defense of Gawker because they still have an internalized image of journalism as a near-charitable endeavour: disinterested reporters improving everyone’s access to information. That age is over.

      Journalists by and large realized this reputation, and their access to mindshare, gives them a dominant position in controlling society’s beliefs. As modern nobles, they tell us what to think and we obey. This neatly explains various outlets’ outrage and disbelief when (e.g.) Thiel or Trump actively combats them: they’re being treated just like everyone else, and that’s unacceptable for holy men like them.

      Seriously: If I applied every dollar I have and every relationship I’ve cultivated to damaging any particular billionaire of my choice, I’d regret it: he’d see himself being attacked, respond, and defeat me with his superior resources. Journalists these days think this rule simply doesn’t apply to them, and that the only response their target should conceive is a groveling surrender. When someone like Thiel decides that no, he can treat a journalist who attacks him just like anyone else, the journalist is flabbergasted that the rules apply to him and starts to panic.

      So good for Thiel. Hell, good for Trump even; I don’t agree with Trump on most things (or even like him very much as a person) but I love that he has openly defied the media’s belief that the rules for everyone else don’t apply to the media.

      • Pku says:

        I agree with that about gawker, but there is a sense in which a good society should have media that can feel free to attack the powerful. Just because large parts of today’s media aren’t filling that role doesn’t mean it’s not a role that should be filled, and attacking it indiscriminately may have problems of its own.

        • Frog Do says:

          Elites managed to be mostly accountable before the invention of mass media and the internet. The primacy of the media in elite accountability is their version of legitimizing myth, the media has never, is never, and will never be impartial.

          • Pku says:

            Corruption does seem to be effected by freedom of the press. All social science is somewhat suspect, but intuitive idea + at least some research backing it up mean I’d want to see some strong counter evidence before throwing away the idea that press freedom is important.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “Freedom of the press doesn’t mean freedom from the consequences of the press” or something.

            Seriously though, it would be one thing if Gawker had revealed a male billionaire’s shady business practices and he started funding frivolous lawsuits against them. But in this case, they outed him as gay, and he started funding meritorious ones. The facts on the ground matter, he’s right to be pissed, and Hulk Hogan is a deserving plaintiff and I’m glad he found funding for his case.

        • Deiseach says:

          I agree about the necessity for a body in society that feels free to attack the powerful, but the media has to keep up its end of the bargain.

          They can’t abuse their power, they can’t behave like Peeping Toms and justify scandal sheet stories by invoking “freedom of the press” and “public interest”.

          How was it in anyone’s interest to publish a sex tape? Unless we’re talking rape or coercion or abuse, or someone who has public influence that can affect others, the only interest here was prurience. The public may have an interest in a school teacher who hires seventeen year old hookers, because that reflects on a possible risk to the seventeen year old pupils subject to that teacher’s authority. The public has no interest other than titillation in “entertainment industry figure has sex”.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      See, here’s the thing: Gawker can, should, and must immediately go straight to hell. I’ll happily sacrifice every single achievement of mankind since the Stone Age if it means I get to watch them burn.

      Well, okay, that’s hyperbole. You’d have to also throw in Vice and the Daily Dot and all the rest of them. Then you’ve got a deal.

    • BBA says:

      Clearly nobody here knows Felix Salmon. As to whether he’s in a filter bubble because he’s a journalist who only talks to other journalists, or this comment section is extremely out of touch with the rest of the world, I leave to you.

      • Frog Do says:

        He’s a hack establishment journalist who tried to make a Vox-style new media site while Ezra Klein was still at WashPo and Matt Yglesias was at ThinkProgress, his bubble will be smaller and more rigidly policed than any of us plebs who actually post blog comments.

    • Salem says:

      I’m not sure I understand the complaint.

      Despite what Josh Marshall says in that article, the suit was clearly not frivolous – Bollea won.

      There is a long history of individuals and organisations making legal contributions to support lawsuits. This is basically what the ACLU do, along with plenty of other advocacy groups. Are we saying that, for example, Brown v Board of Education was a threat to freedom because the NAACP was funding the challenge? And note that the NAACP didn’t want to settle in that case either – they wanted a precedent in court.

      If the complaint is merely about the possibility of future funding of frivolous lawsuits, then that’s just another reason why the US needs tort reform, but something tells me I needn’t hold my breath waiting for Marshall to support that. And why attack Thiel for supporting a wholly meritorious one? I think we all know the real reason why illiberals are freaking out about this – free speech and access to the courts are only supposed to be for good people like journalists, not filthy businessmen.

      EDIT: An analogy.

      • Alex Trouble says:

        Yeah, the problem with lawsuits is (in my opinion) the fact that you can ruin almost anyone because defending yourself from accusations, no matter how absurd, is much more expensive than those accusations are to make. It’s very difficult to recover costs from someone who makes frivolous accusations.

        But this likely wasn’t a frivolous lawsuit, since as everyone is pointing out, Hogan won.

        • BBA says:

          Lots of people consider Liebeck v. McDonald’s (the hot coffee case) frivolous, and that plaintiff won too.

          (I don’t think either case was frivolous, but I think the damages in both cases were excessive.)

          • Pku says:

            Yeah. This doesn’t seem frivolous and Gawker was clearly in the wrong here, but 140 million dollars? The QALY equivalent is about 20-30 human lives. And this is bad, but not thirty murders bad.

          • Anonymous says:

            this is bad, but not thirty murders bad.

            I strenuously disagree. The Gawker case is unlike the Mcdonalds case in that the ill it seeks to deter (breach of privacy visavi too hot coffee) is grave, serious and definitely, in summa, far more than thirty murders bad. Since not every breach is caught (far from it), each individual case of conviction must be made to sting commensurately more in order for the deterrent to be effective.

          • Anon says:

            Pku, that’s not a reasonable comparison for a good number of reasons. Besides, Gawker is an organization, and unless you’re going to start charging individuals with crimes committed on its behalf, the only way to punish it is financially. (Note that in fact individual members of Gawker have been charged, but that’s not quite what’s being discussed here, and damages sought there are much, much lower.)

          • JayT says:

            The fact that Hogan lost his very lucrative profession solely because of Gawker makes me think that $140 million isn’t completely out of line.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            I did say “likely,” but I’ve also heard the case was a lot less frivolous than it’s often made out to be.

            Also, sometimes even highly frivolous lawsuits will win, just because of a dumb judge or jury or sympathetic plaintiff or bad luck. Americans file a lot of lawsuits.

          • @Alex
            The mcdonald’s lawsuit was not really that frivolous. Mcdonalds kept its coffee at 185 (about 15-20 degrees hotter than anywhere else keeps their coffee) so it would stay hot for customers for longer. You can get 3rd degree burns at that temp in seconds. They were repeatedly warned to either put a warning label on or stop making coffee so hot. The lady that ended up suing them had to get skin grafts she was burned so bad, and she stated she wouldn’t have sued if mcdonalds had just covered her medical costs.

            But I do understand the sentiment of the frivolous lawsuit, that case isn’t one.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Mcdonalds kept its coffee at 185 (about 15-20 degrees hotter than anywhere else keeps their coffee) so it would stay hot for customers for longer.

            …which was a valuable service for their customers who want hot coffee.

            They were repeatedly warned to either put a warning label on or stop making coffee so hot.

            How much would a label “warning: hot coffee is hot!” have helped somebody inclined to try to pop the top off while holding the coffee between their thighs? What the lady did does not constitute using the product as expected. Her situation was sad, but is it reasonable to make the coffee-consuming experience worse for the other hundred-million customers based on the bad experience of relatively few?

            But then, this seems like a literal “dust specks vs torture” kind of tradeoff, so I suppose it’s not surprising people have different intuitions about it.

          • Jiro says:

            The warning label would not be “hot coffee is hot”, the warning label would be “this hot coffee is a lot more dangerous than normal hot coffee is”.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Alex Zavoluk
            I did say “likely,” but I’ve also heard the case was a lot less frivolous than it’s often made out to be.

            The way I’ve heard, the large settlement case was not the first time they had lost such a case and been warned — for using cups that were not rated for such a high temperature.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            using cups that were not rated for such a high temperature.

            My impression was that part of the problem was these cups were too good at their job. There’s a small spout for drinking (so if the cup falls over it doesn’t spill in great volume) and the top is on very tightly to (a) ensure the top doesn’t pop off if the cup falls over and (b) discourage customers from popping the top.

            The fact that the top is attached really well to the cup means if you insist on separating the two anyway you have to apply lots of force, which means coffee goes everywhere once it releases.

            If they’d made the top easier to remove it would have helped this one woman more safely do what she was trying to do, but at the expense of (a) more bad burns when cups fall over, (b) more people try to do what she was trying to do.

            the large settlement case was not the first time they had lost such a case

            In the context of McDonald’s, it’d be really surprising if it were! Google says McDonald’s serves (worldwide) 68 million customers PER DAY, which means if something like this happening to a customer is a literal one-in-a-million event it happens 68 times a day. Which means there could be hundreds or even thousands of such cases and it still wouldn’t constitute strong evidence of McD doing something particularly dangerous or wrong.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Wait, elderly people buying cups of coffee at McDonald’s and then taking the top off to add cream and sugar is not expected use of the product?

            I can’t think of a use I would expect more.

            Saying “Hot Coffee” wouldn’t have protected them either, because the coffee was abnormally hot. Heating normally hot things even hotter seems like it puts even more of a burden on the maker of the product to be very specific.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Elderly people sitting in a car with the cup between their legs and pulling the top off is not expected use of the product

            Coffee is best brewed at about 200F; while most places hold it at a temperature lower than that, if you get it right after it’s brewed it will be hotter than their holding temperature, perhaps even as hot as 185F. 185F is not an unconscionably high temperature for coffee.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @TheNybbler:
            Actually, I believe that is expected use. I mean, McDonald’s clearly expected you to use the product like that. They sold it to the customer at a drive through with cream and sugar intended to be added to the coffee with no means of adding it without taking the top off.

            But you don’t even have to go that far. A golfer wrapping their nine iron around a tree trunk after hitting a bad shot is also expected use. What can we reasonably expect the customer might do with the product is, I think, the standard. IANAL, but I do hang out with a bunch of them and that specific example has come up before.

            Edit:
            The “coffee is served at a standard temperature” argument is far potentially far more fruitful, as it gets at whether the product can be considered defective under strict liability. I’m not sure how much water that necessarily holds though. For instance, according Wikipedia, Starbucks servers their coffee at 175 to 185, rather than the 176 to 194 of McDonald’s, and I note that they serve their coffee in paper cups, rather than insulating foam cups.

          • onyomi says:

            It’s interesting how the McDonald’s coffee example seems to fit the pattern Scott noticed (which I also noticed a while ago, though I didn’t have a theory to explain it) whereby the public latches onto bad examples of a real problem to get outraged about in order to signal virtue: i. e. Michael Brown as a bad example of the real problem of police brutality. (A less ambiguous case of police brutality would not serve the function of sorting people into sides).

            Here, the real problem was frivolous lawsuits. But as it turns out, this wasn’t a good example of a frivolous lawsuit. The simple explanation is that the non-detailed account pattern-matches very well to the stereotype: we assume the lady got merely scalded and everybody knows coffee’s supposed to be hot and the settlement she got seemed ridiculously huge. (In reality, the lady nearly died, they were saving money by making it too hot, had previously failed to change policy after several other incidents, and the judgment was based on the amount of money they make off coffee per day).

            But I’m not sure if there are other reasons people latched onto this bad example: does not feeling sympathetic even when the victim is a burned old lady signal tough, fair-mindedness of the caveat emptor variety?

            Re. the reasonableness of serving coffee at 185 degrees: yes, you can brew coffee at that temperature or even higher, but it would be irresponsible to pour water of that temperature into a flimsy cup and immediately hand it to someone in a car. It was a dangerous time saver for the restaurant.

          • Anonymous says:

            The word you are looking for is foreseeable. Here’s a good overview of product liability law in the US: http://nationalparalegal.edu/public_documents/courseware_asp_files/torts2/ProductsLiability/LiabilityAndDefensesToProductsLiability.asp

            FWIW coffee is supposed to be brewed at 195-205 degrees and most people like to drink it at 130-150 degrees. At the time of the case McDonalds policy was to keep to go coffee at 180-190 degrees. The idea was that if you going to drive somewhere and then drink the coffee it wouldn’t be tepid by the time you got there.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            Wait, elderly people buying cups of coffee at McDonald’s and then taking the top off to add cream and sugar is not expected use of the product?

            I can’t think of a use I would expect more.

            My impression was that this lady had her own cream and sugar in her car. Normal drive-through customers who want cream and sugar in their coffee to drink while driving say “I’ll have a coffee with one cream and two sugars” at the drive-through speaker, and that’s what arrives already in their cup.

            (At least I gather that’s how it works now and I think that’s how it worked back then, but I could be wrong.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            onyomi:

            It WAS a very good example of a frivolous lawsuit. Unsympathetic defendant, very sympathetic plaintiff. What happened is that the American Trial Lawyers Association put out a “fact sheet” opposing this claim which for some reason got picked up by the intelligentsia, who will now tell you that McDonalds really did do something horrible by serving hot coffee. But they’re wrong; this was still a frivolous lawsuit. The product was not “defective”. The cup did not fail, the lid did not fail, the coffee was not accidentally replaced with sulfuric acid or anything like that. The idea that there is some standard temperature as low as 155 degrees that coffee is supposed to be served at, and higher is “defective”, is simply a rationalization used to punish an unsympathetic defendant because a sympathetic plaintiff injured her unusually fragile self by removing the lid and spilling the coffee

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Glen Raphael:
            I have literally never had the experience you describe at a chain fast food drive through. In NYC at a bodega of some sort? Yes. Anywhere else? No. I could see Starbuck’s offering it and maybe that forced the market that way in some locations? But, I doubt it was at all common back when the case occurred.

            Now, I won’t say it never happens, but you would need to come up with some sort of evidence to get me to believe it happened in this case.

            Even if it did happen, I’m not sure the effect it has on the defense. On the one hand, you could say she shouldn’t be expected to take the lid off (actually, I still think that would be legally foreseeable), but if they try and raise that as a defense, it weakens the case that McDonald’s would be making that the coffee wasn’t dangerously/abnormally hot.

            If I want to add vanilla, non-dairy creamer to my bought-at-McD’s coffee, that is pretty damn foreseeable. If when I do that your product gives me third degree burns, and your defense is that you were protecting me from taking the lid off by offering to add the cream and sugar for me, well, you probably don’t want to make that argument in front of a jury. You are basically admitting your product was dangerous enough that you didn’t think customers should take the lid off.

          • onyomi says:

            “It WAS a very good example of a frivolous lawsuit. Unsympathetic defendant, very sympathetic plaintiff.”

            If the media wanted to run a story about a frivolous lawsuit with the goal of proving frivolous lawsuits are a problem the ideal case would have an unsympathetic plaintiff and a sympathetic defendant.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Unsympathetic plaintiffs rarely win frivolous cases against sympathetic defendants, though. The McDonalds case was not won by showing that McDonalds did anything wrong, but by playing on the sympathies of the jury. The “wrongdoing” of keeping the coffee at 185 degrees was strictly a fig-leaf.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            People on the “there are too may frivolous lawsuits” side of things thought (and you apparently still think) that this case was a slam dunk on facts and on perception. That’s why it got so much pub at the time.

            Then people actually went and looked at the facts of the case and decided that, no, it’s not really that great a case for showing that lawsuits are frivolous. She did not merely have some red skin and discomfort. Have you actually looked at the pictures? I guarantee that if you ended up with that kind of injury, you wouldn’t think it was the normal result of spilling a cup of coffee on your pants.

            Mildly NSFW/NSFL picture.
            (Edit: That was just the first google image result for the picture I wanted. I’m not endorsing anything else on that page.)

            Regardless of whether one thinks the award was proper, I don’t see how you can say a lawsuit over injuries that serious is merely frivolous.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s exactly what made it a winnable lawsuit — the plaintiff can just point to the injuries and a jury will have sympathy. But the seriousness of the injury doesn’t demonstrate McDonalds did anything wrong in the first place.

            The perception didn’t change because people looked at the facts of the case. The perception changed because the ATLA put out a “fact sheet” explaining their side of the case very well.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            But, what, in your mind makes the lawsuit “frivolous”?

            Perhaps you have a very different definition of frivolous from mine.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s frivolous because McDonalds was sued not because they did anything wrong, but because the customer spilled coffee on herself.

            Coffee is supposed to be hot, and the temperature McDonalds kept it at (and still keeps it at) is perfectly reasonable for its intended use. But because the temperature of the coffee was the only thing they could point to that wasn’t obviously the customer’s own fault, that’s what they pointed to.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            Until you go through discovery, how do you know what temperature McDonald’s keeps their coffee at?

          • The Nybbler says:

            How do you know it wasn’t acid in the cup instead of coffee without discovery? The mere possibility doesn’t save the lawsuit from frivolity.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            If I, my doctor and my lawyer all believed that the injuries I had sustained were consistent with McDonald’s having stored concentrated acid of some sort (not merely coffee, haha) in their coffee urns, how would I go about getting relief from McDonald’s for recovery of damages due to said acid burns?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Then it would be reasonable to sue. But if the burns were actually quite consistent with burns from hot coffee, a suit on the theory that “burns so horrible must result from battery acid” would be frivolous.

            Liebeck’s burns were consistent with burns from coffee kept at a perfectly reasonable temperature. There was no need for discovery to find that out.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:

            Liebeck’s burns were consistent with burns from coffee kept at a perfectly reasonable temperature.

            Ahhhh, well there you go.

            First off, “consistent with” is doing work there that isn’t supportable with “frivolous”. Her burns are consistent with even hotter liquids, and more likely to have come from hotter liquids.

            What if they kept their coffee at 210, would that have made the lawsuit OK?

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ HBC

            My impression was that the cup (ie cup/lid combination) was not rated for use at that temperature. Previous verdicts against McD had said McD should have bought more expensive items.

      • Corey says:

        I agree that the problem’s with the legal system – anyone who can bring a lawsuit that can survive the summary-judgement phase can extort large amounts of money from anyone. (Patent trolls, for example, have this as their entire business model).

        But patent trolls have limitations – they tend to not have a lot of assets themselves, so they can’t actually fight lawsuits, only extort settlements – see Newegg for successful exploitation of this weakness. And businesses are limited in these strategies, because they need to spend less than it brings in to remain profitable.

        The scary bit is an irrational actor with deep pockets – such as a billionaire with a grudge. He may decide to lose more money than anyone can raise in order to ruin you, and there’s jack you can do about it.

        • Anonymous says:

          How scary is it if the grudge is entirely reasonable? Which is why I thought Wired’s response was unreasonable. They have nothing to worry about because they don’t go around outing people and publishing their sex tapes. On the contrary one of their parent company’s executives was one of gawker’s victims.

          Basically the playground bully picked on the wrong guy. It’s hard not to cheer that.

          • Corey says:

            True, for this one Thiel isn’t obviously wrong (also evidenced by eventually winning the suit). And Adelson’s strategy is certainly more problematic (buy your hometown paper; assign reporters to investigate judge hearing a trial against you).

        • John Schilling says:

          The scary bit is an irrational actor with deep pockets – such as a billionaire with a grudge. He may decide to lose more money than anyone can raise in order to ruin you, and there’s jack you can do about it

          The scary bit is an irrational actor with media access – such as a managing editor with a grudge. He may decide to make a hefty profit while ruining you, and there’s jack you can do about it.

          So Thiel is looking a bit Stalinesque today. Good thing for him we’re fighting Hitler this week.

          • Deiseach says:

            an irrational actor with media access – such as a managing editor with a grudge

            Exactly. Denton can decide to assign a reporter to dig up dirt, any dirt, on Susie Sunshine the new star of the latest blockbuster movie, because that will get readers visiting his site. Reporter finds out that when she was thirteen, Susie was part of a group of girls that hung around together, some of whom bullied another girl at school. Story runs making Susie look like a hypocritical monster who gets her kicks ruining people’s lives while posing as the new America’s Sweetheart after Meg Ryan.

            Then defend it on the grounds of “public interest” and “freedom of the press” and mention how you revealed Hillary Clinton’s secret emails and Bob Cosby’s way with women so you are a crusading organ on behalf of the little guy against the Establishment (never mind that you are part of the Establishment now).

      • Anonymous says:

        This is my take on it as well. the Wired article positively reeks of

        free speech and access to the courts are only supposed to be for good people like journalists, not filthy businessmen.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Filthy GAY businessmen at that. Homosexuals are supposed to be political props that good people use to annoy conservatives. Not individual agents with their own agendas.

          Edit: Just to be clear, that was sarcasm.

    • anonymous says:

      You dislike Gawker. Do you fear Palantir?

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        You can cheer Thiel on as he destroys Gawker and boo him as he invests in Palantir. It’s totally okay to have both of those opinions!

    • tinduck says:

      Gawker broke the law. Freedom of Speech does not give you the permission to violate a persons privacy by releasing a sex tape without their permission. He wasn’t in public, he was in a friend’s private home. The lawsuit isn’t frivolous. Thiel has the legal right to fund whatever lawsuit he wants and he doesn’t have to tell anyone.

      Palantir sells data mining software. They aren’t invading anyone’s privacy. Our government allows the NSA and CIA to violate our privacy. If Palantir didn’t sell them the software, Digital Reasoning would, or they would do it in house.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        I’d take the protests of modern journalists about the First Amendment more seriously if they’d been in a habit of speaking up about things like no-platforming, or violent rioters shutting down political rallies, or the Mohammed cartoons, or the Justice Department spying on reporters, or the government ignoring FOIA requests.

        It’s pretty clear what’s going on. Journalists as a group can’t picture themselves wanting to stand up against politicians of their own party, or violent left-wing protesters, or Islamists, or the Justice Department. But they can picture themselves wanting to torment a gay person for having the wrong political views. So Gawker is the hill they’re choosing to die on.

        • Corey says:

          I’d take the protests of modern journalists about the First Amendment more seriously if they’d been in a habit of speaking up about things like no-platforming, or violent rioters shutting down political rallies, or the Mohammed cartoons, or the Justice Department spying on reporters, or the government ignoring FOIA requests.

          Huh? All those things got *lots* of coverage (among other things, how is it that you and I and probably everyone reading this knows exactly what you’re talking about)?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Gawker is so committed to the ideals of freedom of speech that one of their writers, in a Gawker publication, attempted to have a co-worker of mine fired for exercising it.

          So, Nick Denton, maybe Thiel’s a monster. Maybe we ought to do something about it. Maybe we ought to do it right after he finishes destroying you.

    • grort says:

      I’m so confused. Why would Thiel admit he was doing that? That’s going to bias judges/juries against his future lawsuits. Gloating like that seems, frankly, really stupid.

      • John Schilling says:

        I would assume because he couldn’t keep it a secret if he wanted to. He’s going up against people whose expertise is in digging up people’s dirty secrets, after all. If it’s going to come out, best it come out on his terms.

    • BBA says:

      I’m wondering how much of the anti-Gawker sentiment here is pure tribalism. Suppose it were a left-wing billionaire activist, let’s say Herbert Sandler, who was financing lawsuits against a right-wing news website with lax ethical standards, let’s say Breitbart. Would you still feel the same way?

      (As a left-winger myself, I admit I’d be slightly more sympathetic towards Sandler in this scenario than I am towards Thiel in real life. But I recognize this as tribalism and bias on my part.)

      • suntzuanime says:

        In the hypothetical case where Breitbart is publishing celebrity sex tapes without their consent? Absolutely, let ’em burn. The problem for this analogy is, nobody has ethical standards as lax as Gawker.

        • Anonymous says:

          That’s the one!

          Milo’s absolutely a person I’d classify as a journalist with lax ethical standards; I’d go so far as to call him a sleaze I’m embarrassed to have even in the vaguest sense “on my side”, but Denton’s a whole other class of bastard. He makes Milo look like a unblemished saint, too pure for his feet to touch the earth. Neither Milo nor any of his cohorts has, to my knowledge, come close to doing something actually illegal. (His biggest crimes in the eyes of the left generally also seem to be not the things that make me consider him sleazy, but the fact that he has the gall to be articulate and oppose feminists at the same time.)

          • BBA says:

            Not only did I not mention Milo, I wasn’t even referring to Milo. Breitbart was getting people fired using deceptively edited videos long before anyone knew who Milo was.

          • keranih says:

            to get people fired

            Did you mean Shirley Sherrod, or did you have someone else in mind?

      • Eggoeggo says:

        You mean like all those times left-wing billionaire activists funded greenpeace and the Sierra Cub to sue conservative businesses, or tried to organize a RICO prosecution against conservative climatology bloggers, or put conservative bakers out of business, or–

        Sometimes it’s just nice to see that the boot can fit a different foot for once.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m a left wing guy, though not far left, and I’m anti-gawker and pro Thiel on this one. I’m not sure the Hulk Hogan decision was correct but it wasn’t so clearly wrong as to be frivolous. You can support the first amendment and still think defamation and invasion of privacy torts should exist. Gawker constantly crosses that line. They deserve to go down.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I’d be interested to hear what it is that people despise about Gawker so much. I understand there’s some ant-related stuff with them, but my impression is that a lot of the folks here who are glad to see them burn aren’t particularly ant-adjacent.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          Speaking for myself as a left-leaning techie, Valleywag pissed me off pretty hard the one time I read it. In particular, thisunassuming, non-hot-button-pushing post was the one that convinced me they were a blob of unreasoning sneer that would sieze any excuse to disparage.

          I’ve also heard from people left of myself something about them publishing a rape video against the victim’s wishes. Not winning a ton of friends there…

      • JayT says:

        On the flip side, BBA, if Breitbart had posted a revenge porn of some Hollywood actress and Sandler paid for her legal fees, how many articles do you think would have been written about the attack on the first amendment? Or would Sandler be held up as a hero against the big bad corporation that was hurting the poor actress?

        Personally, I’m about as big a free speech advocate as there is, but I think that Hogan’s case was definitely with merit, and I’m glad that Gawker is not going to walk away unscathed. Since I think the outcome was a good one, then why should it bother me who paid for it?

        • Anonymous says:

          On the flip side, BBA, if Breitbart had posted a revenge porn of some Hollywood actress and Sandler paid for her legal fees, how many articles do you think would have been written about the attack on the first amendment? Or would Sandler be held up as a hero against the big bad corporation that was hurting the poor actress?

          The media reaction to The Fappening serves as a good guidepost here, I think. Not least Gawker Media’s reaction.

      • tinduck says:

        I’m rather left-wing, but I guess I’m more center-right on the internet. I have a couple issues with the standard way the press has been covering this.

        1. I don’t think corporations should have more rights than a individual. If the ACLU can file a bunch of lawsuits against whoever they want I should have the same rights.

        2. I really hope New York Times Co. v. Sullivan doesn’t give the media the right to release private personal photographs of me without my consent if I am determine to be a public figure. But that’s for the courts to decide, Hogan and Thiel are probably going to lose on appeal, but they absolutely have a right to their day in court.

        3. The press has tried to make this about SLAPP when there isn’t really evidence that this is a SLAPP issue. Thiel has been looking for valid cases. anti-SLAPP laws shouldn’t prevent valid cases. Gawker needs to stop violating the law when it comes to defamation and invasion of privacy torts.

      • Deiseach says:

        BBA, ever hear of a newspaper called The News of the World? It obtained the nickname ‘The News of the Screws’ because it specialised right from the start in those kind of ‘bonking vicar/randy headteacher/politician caught with their trousers down’ stories and justified them with the same “public interest” defence. It eventually ended up in Rupert Murdoch’s ownership, and all I can say is that they deserved each other.

        Fate finally caught up with it, thanks to a particularly nasty and tangled court case about phone hacking (that is, it hired private detectives and got its reporters to hack into the phone calls of celebrities and others). Okay, so celebs are fair targets, being in the public eye.

        But they hacked into the phone of a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered. There was nothing public interest there, only pure titillation and looking for attention-grabbing headlines.

        I rehash all this ancient history because looking at Gawker, that is what it makes me think of: not a crusading voice against the rich and powerful, but a scandal sheet looking for the juiciest headlines.

    • HircumSaeculorum says:

      Here’s Gawker’s response, if anyone wants to hear their side of the story. I don’t think this is quite as one-sided as many people here are making it out to be, though I can’t say I like Gawker very much.

      • suntzuanime says:

        You say that Gawker is not a legitimate news source. Do you take the same view of the other properties—Gizmodo, Deadspin, Jezebel, Kotaku, Jalopnik and Lifehacker?

        won’t somebody think of the fine reporting done by Jezebel

      • Anon says:

        That response does not paint Gawker in a particularly good light, I’ve got to say.

      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        Let’s see, the article: openly antagonizes and mocks Thiel; attempts to attract sympathy without explaining why we should feel sympathetic; raises a bunch of completely irrelevant “questions” (actually thinly disguised accusations and attempts at misdirection); is poorly written; and doesn’t actually provide any defense of the things they’re being sued for.

        Yeah, Gawker, great fucking job.

        • hlynkacg says:

          openly antagonizes and mocks [opponent]; attempts to attract sympathy without explaining why we should feel sympathetic; raises a bunch of completely irrelevant “questions” (actually thinly disguised accusations and attempts at misdirection); is poorly written; and doesn’t actually provide any defense of [subject].

          …so basically Gawker’s standard output.

    • the ssc line says:

      If this was Soros suing Breitbart people here would feel exactly the same. This blog is mostly read by democrats who enjoy silently watching conservatives agree with eachother on all the different ways liberals are to blame. Scott is a blue state liberal.
      No one here is auditioning for peter thiel. No one.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      American defamation law is not weighted towards victims, and fact-free smears are what Gawker *does*.

      I’m as left as it gets, but I don’t believe in press freedom to print malicious lies about people – let alone revenge porn ala Hogan. (In fairness, I’m definitely an ant – but seeing the threads firsthand on 4chan and 8chan and the dishonesty in the press coverage of said threads played an immense role in making me one.)

      Most of the “journalists” defending Gawker write for sites with only marginally more integrity than Gawker. And if Gawker’s victims need a billionaire to gain access to the legal system, it’s an indictment of said legal system, but I’m still very glad they have it!

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      You know you’ve been reading Unsong too long when you keep misreading “Thiel” as “Thamiel”.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s a hard case. It’s certainly not in the public interest for the wealthy and well-connected to be able to shut down media coverage they deem unfavourable.

      On the other hand, what is Gawker doing? Looking at two cases, they seem to be a scandal sheet. The Hulk Hogan thing boils down essentially to “Man has sex”. Are they claiming it was rape, harassment or some other crime? So far as I’ve seen, no. It was simply an appeal to public prurience.

      If they’ve exposed real wrongdoing in any story, it seems to me that that is a side-effect and not their main aim, which is to get hits and revenue by printing gossip and scurrilous stories and so getting as much public attention as they can.

      I’m sure some of the Gawker execs or the high-ups in the company that owns them have a few sex’n’drugs’n’booze skeletons in their closets; any chance Gawker is going to ferret those out and publish them ‘in the public interest’? No chance!

  11. Fella says:

    Anyone familiar with Aristotle’s Metaphysics? If so, can you take a shot at making it interesting for a rationalist who is interested in the history of ideas but whose interest in this particular area is fading? Possible by drawing connections with other rationalist preoccupations?
    Edit:didn’t see the philosophy stuff upthread, but my question is distinct/more specific.

    • Frog Do says:

      If your interested in the philosophy and thought of other cultures, he will have been pretty foundational for Europe, North Africa, and all-but-Far-East Asia. And you should be interested in other cultures, to increase the size of your possible solution space.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Aristotle’s metaphysics, or metaphysics general?

      Metaphysics in general is useful to science orientated people for getting a deeper understanding of scientific truth. For instance, instead of stopping at ‘charge is a property of electrons’, you can understand what properties are, or at least the profusion of theories on the subject.

      At the level of granularity of ‘ghosts versus no ghosts’, scientific metaphysics has won out. At finer granularities, there are plenty of open questions. For instance Tegmarks, Mathematical Universe Hypothesis could be considered a form of Platonism.

  12. tcd says:

    There was some brief discussion of the Alaska Permanent Fund in the poverty thread, which paid out $1,335,426,792 to Alaska residents in 2015 (coming out to $2,072 per eligible resident).

    A Global Permanent Fund using Earth’s resources is a fun idea, but not workable since most of those resources are nominally spoken for *waves hands*. Yes, you could nationalize resources and work through the ensuing mess. It would be one hell of a mess. This got me thinking of alternative sources for the fund to draw from.

    Why not establish a Global Permanent Fund sustained on the mineral wealth in the asteroid belt and other space objects? We still have time to work this one out, but probably not as much time as we think.

    • Nicholas says:

      The primary knock against is that if commodities prices rise high enough to make asteroid-mining-and-returning-to-Earth make sense, then nothing will be cheap enough to actually buy with any UBI it could produce.

  13. Selerax says:

    Propublica.org analyzed an algorithm that predicts recidivism risk for defendants. Apparently this thing is actually used by judges and police departments across the country. They found that the algorithm is biased against Blacks.

    https://www.propublica.org/article/how-we-analyzed-the-compas-recidivism-algorithm

    There is a curious paradox in the last table of that analysis.

    – If you read it “horizontally”, you see that Black non-recidivists are much more likely to be classed “high-risk”, compared to White non-recidivists: “false positive” errors are much more likely for Blacks than for Whites.

    This suggests that a random Black guy who will *not* relapse is more likely to be classified “high risk” (and suffer very real consequences) than a White guy, which seems to be the textbook definition of bias.

    – However, if you read it “vertically”, the system is not biased at all. People classified as “High-risk” had largely similar recidivism rate regardless of their race (~1/4 to 1/5). Similarly, people classified as “Low-risk” had almost the same (lower) recidivism rate (~10%) regardless of race.

    If anything, read that way, the system was slightly biased *against* Whites (Whites classified as either low-risk or high-risk were less likely to relapse, though I’m not sure the difference is significant)

    I’m not sure how to interpret this table and I don’t know if the system is anti-black or not, or what the source of the discrepancy is.

    • 3rdMoment says:

      This is an example of the principal from statistics that E[Y|X] is not what you get by inverting E[X|Y]. In other words, if you fit a regression of Y on X, you get a different line than if you regress X on Y. If you want to predict Y, you need to use E[Y|X], not E[X|Y].

      The goal of the algorithm was to create a ranking that can be used to estimate of recidivism, given the answers to the questions. It turns out that, even though the questions did not ask about race, the actual rates of recidivism was about the same between blacks and whites who had the same ranking. Thus the algorithm was unbiased for what it was trying to predict.

      What ProPublica did was turn it around, and see what happens if we predict the *ranking* by looking at the *recidivism outcome*. But this isn’t what the system was designed to do, and there is no reason we would want or expect it to be “unbiased” if we do it this way.

      The statistic about “false positives” and “false negatives” that ProPublica thinks is a smoking gun is just exactly what you would expect to see if you have an *unbiased* ranking applied to two populations with different base rates of recidivism. In effect, there are more black “false positives” because there are (correctly) more black positives overall.

      I had a little back and forth with one of the authors on Twitter. It seemed he didn’t understand the point very well, as far as I could tell. But of course it’s hard to get someone to understand something when he is getting all sorts of positive attention for not understanding it.

      https://twitter.com/JuliaAngwin/status/735562163893489664

      • Anon says:

        This is one of the best examples I’ve seen of the importance of statistical literacy and careful reading when approaching news.

        That chart completely dissolves the article, but from reading the article it’s hard to conceive of that chart.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Haven’t looked through the whole article yet, but just like there are false positives, there are false negatives: a low-risk person who commits more crime. Blacks could have more false positives and false negatives (ie lower overall accuracy) because there are fewer of them and the algorithm is biased towards the patterns seen in whites. If they “balance out” you get the latter result you mentioned.

      • 3rdMoment says:

        But the algorithm *doesn’t* have lower overall accuracy for blacks. It has pretty much the same accuracy for blacks as for whites, as can be seen in this figure made by Robert VerBruggen from the ProPublica data set:

        https://twitter.com/RAVerBruggen/status/734897573434167300

        Blacks have a *lower* rate of false positives, and a higher rate of false negatives, relative to whites, which is simply a consequence of an unbiased predictor and along with higher base recidivism rates.

  14. onyomi says:

    I’ve recently been feeling mildly annoyed about the tendency to joke (or even talk seriously!) about how every close male friendship in media is secretly gay (witness the minor controversy over Captain America and his friend in the movie I didn’t see because superhero movies are being overdone).

    I think this is harmful because it encourages heterosexual men to think of close friendship with other men as “gay,” and since we still haven’t succeeded in making heterosexual men be okay with being thought homosexual, that makes close male friendship suspect.

    But men have higher rates of suicide in part because they have fewer close friends. When their wife dies or divorces them they don’t have as many male friends to look to for support, on average, as women have female friends in the analogous situation.

    On the one hand, I’m glad homosexuality is more out in the open and being more accepted. On the other, I think this other trend is bad.

    I can sort of think of two (three?) ways out of this: one is extreme acceptance of sexuality: homosexuality and homosexual acts have no negative connotation whatsoever; therefore, there is no fear of being mistaken for gay, or even of accidentally sending or receiving the wrong message. Two is return to very conservative mores and attitudes; all men assumed straight; therefore, until we actually see them having buttsex, we assume two close male friends are just two close male friends.

    Third I guess might be some weird combination of the above two, though I’m not sure what? One seems more do-able and desirable in the current climate, though it doesn’t entirely solve the problem of people mistakenly assuming any two close male friends must be having sex; it just makes us okay with that. Can’t we just somehow be more okay with and aware of the fact that close male, non-sexual friendship is a thing at the same time we continue to be more accepting of actual homosexuality?

    • Anonymous says:

      >Can’t we just somehow be more okay with and aware of the fact that close male, non-sexual friendship is a thing at the same time we continue to be more accepting of actual homosexuality?

      Doubtful. Even in Greco-Roman – “it’s not gay if I’m doing the penetrating” – times, being an obligate homosexual was seen negatively. (Hell, contemporary prisons work the same way – you’re a woman-substitute if you get penetrated, but not if you’re doing the penetrating.)

      I think it’s basically the same thing as with “misgendering” transsexuals. Suggesting that a heterosexual is actually homosexual is an insult and contradiction of one of the core aspects of their being. Presumption of straightness, given that the vast majority of men are, until contradicted by evidence, seems entirely wise.

    • Frog Do says:

      I have always been irritated by this, I had thought of it mostly as a general fandom thing that has since spiraled out of control. The complete inability to talk about relationships outside the language of sexuality is also why I’m pretty strongly biased against the whole pro-polygamy mindset.

      Edit: Meant pro-polyamory.

      • Anon says:

        The complete inability to talk about relationships outside the language of sexuality is also why I’m pretty strongly biased against the whole pro-polygamy mindset.

        … What gives you the idea that polyamory and “the complete inability to talk about relationships outside the language of sexuality” have anything to do with each other, other than maybe “polyamory encourages people to talk about relationships outside the language of sexuality”?

        • Frog Do says:

          Observation of how pro-polyamory people act in public.

          • Anon says:

            Do you mean on the internet or in person? If the first, I think your sample may be biased, but I’d be interested if you could dig up an example. If the second, all I can really say is that my experience differs.

          • Frog Do says:

            Offline I’ve personally seen a lot of very skeevy behavior and online I am distinctly unimpressed by the discourse, but this probably comes down to “our experiences differ”.

    • Nita says:

      1. Shippers gonna ship. Many viewers will see romantic or sexual undercurrents between major characters regardless of their sex (see The X-Files or Zootopia fandoms for het examples). Hey, at least no one’s made a movie that explicitly tries to prove that men can’t be friends with each other.

      2. ‘Some weird combination’ is what we have for mixed-gender friendships right now. Attitudes range from “why would your wife have a male friend? they must be fucking” to “why would you be attracted to a friend? are you some sort of weirdo creep?”. The two extremes are mostly kept apart by self-segregation, but they do occasionally cause awkwardness and hurt.

      3. Ideally, we would eventually accept the fact that there’s no One Right Way To Be, and become individually and culturally flexible enough to accommodate different individuals and various relationships.

      • tmk says:

        That’s a very good point. The problem onyomi sees is really the same as society’s issue with male-female friendship. It gets transferred onto male-male friendship when homosexuality is a thinkable. But why does it not happen with female-female friendship? It feels related to how some people don’t believe lesbianism really exists.

        • Nita says:

          Apparently, the bias goes the other way for relationships between women?

          Maybe it’s the good old “all real men always want to fuck everything that moves, no good woman is ever interested in sex”.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, maybe it is, rather, women who are “special” in being able to have non-sexualized friendships with other women. Any relationship involving a man, be it MW or MM is inherently sexual because everyone knows men are hopeless horndogs. Yet it used to be believed that that horniness was basically always aimed exclusively at women, so MM friendship was possible. Now that it is known that male horniness is also aimed at men in some cases, the result is that men seemingly can’t have any non-sexualized relationships.

            Re shippers gonna ship: I’m totally the kind of nerd who wants to read doujinshi about my favorite anime characters getting it on, so I’m sort of a pot calling the kettle black here, but I do think this can have a harmful side effect, though seemingly all in good fun? Especially, I think, when taken to extremes with no evidence in the canon. Then again, this has been happening since Kirk/Spock, at least, so maybe it’s not so recent… but more mainstream now?

            That is, once it’s mainstream to joke about how Sam wants it in the butt from Frodo, then the fact that Sam and Frodo are a classic example of a close master-servant MM friendship, which is something which used to exist, gets obscured (also by the fact, now, that not many people have footmen, butlers, etc.)

          • Jiro says:

            It may have been around since Kirk/Spock, but the idea that you’re all homophobes if you refuse to think it’s real seems to be new.

          • keranih says:

            RE: Shipping shippers who ship –

            The Steve/Bucky thing is, for me, a bit difficult because I’m not really opposed to that ‘ship. To me, it makes intellectual and emotional sense. However, one of the traditional excuses for slash shipping has been the text – the on-screen (and on-page) relationships between Our Hero and His BFF have had more weight and consistency than those between Our Hero and His Twu Luv.

            This lack of development of het relationships has been coupled (again historically) with a lack of depth in female characters. The intent (so much as a broad group of writers over decades could be said to have a single intent) was, I think, to create non-romantic action adventures, with a side dressing of low-drama celibate romantic attraction. There already were stories with porn and stories focused on romance and literary stories about more ‘real’ relationships.

            The SFF/action genre was trying to deliver something different than these.

            Along the lines of shipping obscuring other aspects of specific relationships – my long-time go to on this is the Legolas-Gimli relationship. Focusing on the ‘forbidden’ homosexual aspect tends to nearly completely obscure the racial-ethnic conflict between dwarves and elves that endures long past the end of the books.

            Another ship worth considering – this one more recent in the MCU – Barton/Romanoff (Hawkeye/Black Widow). This was a m-f pairing that was assumed by many fans to be absolutely romantic, only to turn out to be the traditional sort of buddy relationship with a low-attention romantic relationship on the side.

            And then there’s Starbuck & Apollo in the new BSG…

            I’m not really sure what to think about the rise of competent female heroes as partners to male heroes at the same time as normalization of homosexuality. I’ve seen people jumping to conclusions about ‘the right side of history’ but I don’t think this is the whole of the story.

      • keranih says:

        Ideally, we would eventually accept the fact that there’s no One Right Way To Be, and become individually and culturally flexible enough to accommodate different individuals and various relationships.

        There are a variety of different ways to do heterosexual relationships – it’s not “One Way” just because it’s all one male/one female.

        On the other side of the table, there are a multitude of relationships that I feel should remain outside social acceptance, and I hope that most people who are promoting ‘accommodation’ are just not thinking about all the possible variations.

        • Nita says:

          I’m not talking about who you sleep with. I’m talking about things like ‘it’s OK to hold hands with your friends’ and ‘it’s OK not to hold hands with your friends’.

      • Mary says:

        “Shippers gonna ship.”

        And they deserve scorn for it.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think this is harmful because it encourages heterosexual men to think of close friendship with other men as “gay,” and since we still haven’t succeeded in making heterosexual men be okay with being thought homosexual, that makes close male friendship suspect.

      Absolutely. But it’s not just recently. In 19th century literature (including letters, so I think we can safely assume also in the real 19th century), men said they loved each other, hugged, kissed each other, &c., routinely — especially outside England, which was always very restrained about physical contact generally. This has been dissipating gradually since at least the 1880s, as homosexuals started to be more present in the average person’s thinking — Wilde, for instance.

      we still haven’t succeeded in making heterosexual men be okay with being thought homosexual

      No, and we never will. Heterosexual men by definition want to sleep with women and not with men, so being thought gay is fatal to their ambitions. This not only isn’t an “acceptance of sexualities” issue, it’s inversely proportional to acceptance of sexualities.

      Two is return to very conservative mores and attitudes; all men assumed straight; therefore, until we actually see them having buttsex, we assume two close male friends are just two close male friends.

      Firstly that isn’t a very conservative more at all. It’s just a sensible heuristic; of course you should assume any given man is what 98% of men are until you see a solid reason to reevaluate.
      Secondly it’s not sufficient. As long as it’s even tolerable to be gay, straight men have a rational vested interest in signalling that they’re not, which is what leads into this death spiral of distance and lack of displayed affection. The only thing which will suffice if you want to reverse this is to actually stigmatize the living shit out of homosexuality again. And by the way, this is one of the subtle, hard-to-sloganize reasons why there was a massive stigma to begin with — the freedom of nearly all men was evaluated as more important than the arguably deeper freedom of just a few. Making homosexuality acceptable was a case of violating Chesterton’s Fence. Which isn’t to say that I endorse restigmatizing it, it’s just perfectly clear to me that you can’t have your cake and eat it.

      • Nita says:

        Heterosexual men by definition want to sleep with women and not with men, so being thought gay is fatal to their ambitions.

        It’s not like women swarm around a man if and only if they consider him straight, while men passively accept their advances. So, that is not a very plausible justification.

        In many subcultures, men are at risk of alienation and status loss among other men, and sometimes even violence, if they are thought to be gay. (E.g., that poor kid who was murdered by his roommates after they discovered that his girlfriend was trans.) That kind of thing might have something to do with it.

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s not like women swarm around a man if and only if they consider him straight, while men passively accept their advances. So, that is not a very plausible justification.

          Maybe this is a culture clash. Where I’m from, and especially during the “pairing-off age” when people meet their future long-term spouses, women will just dismiss a man out of hand if they think he’s gay, moreso the more attractive the woman is. Think about it this way: whether man or woman, one knows pretty much instantly whether one is attracted to someone, right? That’s a computation performed at an instinctual level and very quickly. But, somebody could then do something that grosses you out with them permanently even if they never repeat this behavior. To a lot of women, hearing that a guy’s supposedly gay is like that.

          Maybe your culture doesn’t have this feature. Personally, though, I suspect this also is instinctual, not a stigma thing — why would women need to decide that a homosexual man shouldn’t be allowed to sleep with them in the first place? It doesn’t seem to make any sense as a stigma.

          • Nita says:

            Most people are very sensitive to status and easily affected by social norms. So, in subcultures where being gay is seen as wrong/pathetic/disgusting/unnatural/etc. it makes you less attractive to such people.

            In subcultures where acceptance of different sexualities is the norm, you will see women flirting with gay men and playfully complaining if an especially attractive guy happens to be gay.

          • Anonymous says:

            No, it’s just your culture. Eastern Europe?

          • Anonymous says:

            Eastern Europe?

            Depends on your definitions. Sweden.

            (Before the inevitable avalanche of incredulity, let me make it clear that the attractive, cheerful women worth dating work this way practically uniformly. Sure, you can find women’s rights activist/gender studies types who will loudly disclaim it, but A, most of them are various subtypes of queer anyway so what do they know, and B, they have to say that; it’s not like they could admit the opposite unpunished. These women are loud and powerful enough that the others will just grumble in private, but that doesn’t mean their attitude is the commonplace one among straight women.)

          • onyomi says:

            I tend to agree that it’s in the more traditional culture where being incorrectly thought gay is more likely to harm a man’s pairing prospects. Not just because traditional Western cultures stigmatize homosexuality, but also because pairing, since entered into with more seriousness, is a matter for more careful deliberation.

            If you’re in a society where everyone has sex and usually cohabits for a while before contemplating marriage then the risk of marrying a gay guy seems lower than in traditional culture.

        • John Schilling says:

          It’s not like women swarm around a man if and only if they consider him straight, while men passively accept their advances. So, that is not a very plausible justification.

          What is your model of how male courtship is actually done? Because I think you are working from some serious misconceptions here.

          First, while we mostly don’t do arranged marriages here, new relationships are often at least informally facilitated by third parties. If your friends and her friends think you’re gay, that’s not happening. And what happens in its place, might be a tad creepy.

          Second, on the subject of creepy – when a man has to make an explicit solo introduction to a prospective partner, doing so without some prior non-verbal indication of interest on her part is generally considered creepy and results in at best dismissal and rejection. If she thinks you’re gay, she’s not going to signal that she is interested in your romantic approaches.

          There’s more, but that should do for a start. Really, how do you think it works for guys who want to date women, that these things wouldn’t be major factors?

          • Nita says:

            I haven’t seen the friends-setting-you-up thing work out well. On the other hand, I don’t know all that many people.

            IME, there are two processes, which often happen in parallel:
            – non-verbal: eye contact, smiling, ‘checking out’, various charming/seductive looks, blushing and so on;
            – verbal: one person asking the other out, flirting, hinting at their feelings via compliments or in personal conversations, explicit declarations of love.

            Either way, when a guy keeps glancing back and forth between your eyes and lips, or proposes a date, you’re going to adjust your P(gay) way down.

          • John Schilling says:

            Either way, when a guy keeps glancing back and forth between your eyes and lips, or proposes a date, you’re going to adjust your P(gay) way down.

            If you wait until the guy proposes a date before you decide he’s not gay, you’re probably not going to signal that you want him to invite you on a date. In which case he won’t, and you’ll never know.

          • James Picone says:

            @Nita:
            While I’m not sure I agree that ‘being thought to be gay’ is a significant barrier here, the processes you list are absolutely not the kind of thing you do unless you have some level of confidence that the woman you’re flirting with is going to appreciate it. The level of confidence fluctuates depending on a million subtle factors (Girl on public transport: if she grabs and kisses you, consider talking to her. Laughing girl in bar obviously checking out men around her: probably safe).

            John is saying that the things you use to establish confidence (Is she looking at me a lot? Is she smiling? Is she standing closer to me than strictly necessary?) won’t happen if the guy is thought to be gay.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Nita,

            Being seen as gay means most women will pre-emptively write you off as a romantic partner. I’ve seen that happen a lot with some of my more metrosexual friends, where women literally won’t look at them because they don’t see a point.

            That said, if you’re a hot enough guy there is literally nothing you could do to stop women from wanting you. Wearing a wedding ring and an orange jumpsuit isn’t enough for some guys. That doesn’t mean those traits will make an average guy more attractive.

            @James Picone,

            (Girl on public transport: if she grabs and kisses you, consider talking to her. Laughing girl in bar obviously checking out men around her: probably safe)

            Seriously?

            Talking to girls on the bus / train / queue is a great way to meet them as long as you take care not to look and sound like a rapist. Every woman in the western hemisphere has seen dozens to hundreds of romantic comedies that start with chance encounters in public places, there’s a readily available cultural script there.

            Start with an innocuous semi-plausible question or request, then draw her out into a conversation. At that point you can flirt and see her reaction, the same way as you would talking to a woman anywhere else. As long as you’re not eyeing her hungrily or nervously avoiding eye contact you have better chances picking up girls on public transit than in a club IME.

          • Nita says:

            the processes you list are absolutely not the kind of thing you do unless you have some level of confidence that the woman you’re flirting with is going to appreciate it. The level of confidence fluctuates depending on a million subtle factors

            Her level of confidence also fluctuates depending on a million factors. And whether you’re sitting really close to your guy friend is just one of those factors, leaving a lot of room for the rest of your behavior to make an impact.

          • John Schilling says:

            John is saying that the things you use to establish confidence […] won’t happen if the guy is thought to be gay.

            Or, worse, that they will happen but that the message being sent was actually “I am NOT looking for a romantic partner, but since you’re gay I can safely signal that I’d like to get to know you better”. Less likely to happen, more damaging when it does.

          • James Picone says:

            @Dr Dealgood:
            I may have slightly exaggerated for comic effect. Also I think there’s a bit of a cultural thing there re: exactly how acceptable talking to strangers on public transport is.

      • Peter says:

        Another useful thing would be to diminish the stigma and denial of bisexuality. In a society where there’s thought to be a strict straight/gay dichotomy, then giving off signs that you’re a man interested in men suggests that you’re either off the market, or only in the market for sham marriages. If bisexuality is accepted as very much a thing, and is destigmatised, then getting mistaken for bi is much less harmful to a straight guy’s prospects than getting mistaken for gay.

        • Anonymous says:

          This solution would work visavi women, but it seems like it wouldn’t fix men’s discomfort with being mistaken for gay by one another. Even in the best-case scenario of this, it seems like too much affection would result in a friendly “sorry man, I’m not interested in you that way”.

          As long as men’s interrelations are potentially sexual, men’s interrelations are sexualized. I don’t think there’s an essential fix for this, I think it’s intractable.

          • onyomi says:

            Seeing this a while back was another thing that made me think on how stark the difference has become.

            I do wonder, though: of the people in these pictures, I’m guessing most never did anything sexual with one another, but probably some did, either because actually gay, or else of the South Park “everyone’s a little gay” variety.

            It just seems that if this level of physical closeness was typical, misunderstandings of the variety where one friend goes farther than the other is comfortable with must necessarily, sometimes, have resulted? And how were they handled back then? Was it “get off me you goddamn queer!” or was there some gentle 19th c. way of saying “dude, I love you, but not like that”?

          • Anonymous says:

            I do wonder, though: of the people in these pictures, I’m guessing most never did anything sexual with one another, but probably some did, either because actually gay, or else of the South Park “everyone’s a little gay” variety.

            But you only guess that because you’re already saturated in a culture that , e.g., can output something like “everyone’s a little gay” and have it not be seen as ridiculous, absurd and disgusting.

            It just seems that if this level of physical closeness was typical, misunderstandings of the variety where one friend goes farther than the other is comfortable with must necessarily, sometimes, have resulted?

            Most likely no in that being homosexual was completely unthinkable, they wouldn’t have interpreted almost anything short of a handjob that way. Besides, we have a very evolved capacity for fine distinctions in physical interaction. Think of how meticulously delimited something like the proper distance to stand from someone depending on who they are is in our culture, without anybody ever teaching it or making it explicit (a classic difficulty for autism-spectrum people IIRC). Most likely a 19th century person would have a similarly fine comprehension of how far is too far (in continental 1810s-1830s Europe, seemingly kissing a friend on the mouth was not too far, incidentally), unless he was an autist. Which I think must have been a huge asspain in the 19th century, but that’s beside the point.

          • onyomi says:

            I think you may have a slightly unrealistic idea of the prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality, which, being largely genetic, I’m sure was about the same back then.

            If say, 5% of men are gay or bi, then that means at least 1 in 20 of the men in these photos has had some desire to do more than hug his best friend. Maybe, because it was largely unthinkable, he never acted on it, but I would be very surprised if no one in any of these photos ever went beyond this level of closeness.

            Re. “everyone’s a little gay,” I don’t think this is some new perversion. “Circle jerk” is a phrase for a reason, and has probably always been fairly common among adolescent boys, the vast majority of whom probably grow up to have fulfilling sexual relationships with women.

            We should recall there are lots of non-Christian world cultures where certain activities we’d label “homosexual” are extremely widespread, even though participating in those in no way created an expectation that a man would not have a wife and kids: the ancient Greek, of course, but many others as well.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Don’t your first and last paragraphs contradict?

          • Anonymous says:

            I think you may have a slightly unrealistic idea of the prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality, which, being largely genetic, I’m sure was about the same back then.

            If say, 5% of men are gay or bi, then that means at least 1 in 20 of the men in these photos has had some desire to do more than hug his best friend.

            I apologize if I’ve been expressing myself poorly. I’m sure the prevalence per se was largely identical. What I’ve been trying to say is just that the lack of awareness at that time of the prevalence, together with the severity of the penalties for transgressing the straightness norm, would have restrained any particular homosexual man from crossing the line (and probably convinced him that he was a solitary degenerate pervert in a world of men who would hate him if the truth came out, although of course there were exceptions to that as well, c.f. Burton’s investigation of the brothels used by the British Army in Karachi which found that many officers were clients of one which trafficked only in young boys. But then, that report was quashed and pared down to “Burton’s been visiting a lot of boy brothels” in order to destroy his reputation and thus discredit his findings).

            Same with “everyone’s a little gay”: what’s new is the ability to express that sentiment and so to speak get away with it.

          • onyomi says:

            “Don’t your first and last paragraphs contradict?”

            I don’t think so. While I doubt the prevalence of actual homosexuality (as in, men who strongly prefer, throughout life, to have sex with other men) varies much worldwide, the degree of acceptance of and way of looking at homosexual activity (including activity among men who are genetically “straight,” in the sense of “prefer sex with women”) varies widely.

            Supposedly 6% of UK men admit to having done this, for example. Some people who do this surely are gay. But I’m sure many, probably most, are not. This activity is definitely “sexual” in that sex organs and fluids are involved, but that’s arguably not what it’s really “about,” as with, for example, this fraternity hazing tradition, and possibly also the aforementioned tribal pederasty.

            Acceptance and prevalence of this kind of thing may be unrelated, possibly even inversely correlated to acceptance of homosexuality as a lifestyle or identity. That is, the number of people born predisposed to a “homosexual lifestyle” is probably about equal across cultures. The degree and nature of acceptance not only of that, but of other types of sexual contact among men, however, varies widely.

          • HircuSaeculorum says:

            >Supposedly 6% of UK men admit to having done this, for example.

            Lizardman’s constant?

          • onyomi says:

            “Lizardman’s constant?”

            As I understand it, the questions which gets Lizardman’s constant is “do you believe in lizardmen?” Asking people whether they believe in something is fundamentally different than asking someone whether they’ve personally done something. And for something this embarrassing, we’d expect people to vastly underreport. It would be difficult (though maybe not impossible) to frame this question in such a way as to make the respondents think “yes” was the expected/desired answer.

            That said, how many people really do this sort of thing? No idea, honestly. I never witnessed such a thing myself, though I heard people talking about it a few times in high school; though mostly in a “did you hear what some people do? Isn’t that disgusting?” sort of way which gives it something of the air of urban myth (maybe everybody hears it happens but no one actually does it). But considering I also know at least two straight friends of mine who experimented with fellating one another, I would say underestimating the horniness of teenage boys is a losing bet.

          • Nornagest says:

            I dunno. Part of Lizardman’s constant is the people who misparsed the question, or who got bored halfway through and answered A to everything, or who were trolling. None of that would give us different results if we ask about stuff you’ve done.

          • onyomi says:

            Have they ever tried it with say, “have you ever committed a murder”? or, since that would potentially get you in legal trouble, something almost everyone thinks of as taboo, such as incest?

            And if it’s true you can get 4% of people to say yes to any question, is there any way to tell the difference between a thing 4% of people really do/believe and 0%?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Re. “everyone’s a little gay,” I don’t think this is some new perversion. “Circle jerk” is a phrase for a reason, and has probably always been fairly common among adolescent boys, the vast majority of whom probably grow up to have fulfilling sexual relationships with women.

            We should recall there are lots of non-Christian world cultures where certain activities we’d label “homosexual” are extremely widespread, even though participating in those in no way created an expectation that a man would not have a wife and kids: the ancient Greek, of course, but many others as well.

            Pederasty is very different from homosexual acts between two adult males, and probably the only reason they get conflated as much as they are is because it helps to push the gay agenda by normalizing homosexuality as historically widespread and accepted.

          • onyomi says:

            “Pederasty is very different from homosexual acts between two adult males.”

            Yes, this is really a big part of what I’m saying: I think the correct thing now is to stop trying to expand “gayness” until “everyone’s a little bit gay” and instead emphasize the identity part, which every gay person I’ve known agrees is key, anyway.

            Adult men who have a lifelong preference for romance and sex with other adult men is a very different thing from teenage games, hazing, and even historical, Greek-style pederasty. Distinguishing these clearly might make it easier for straight men to be close without being wrongly categorized.

            And in this sense, the “everyone’s a little bi” push which seems to be popular lately might be detrimental, as it erodes the edges of actual gay identity. (Though it might help in a different way by making straight men worry less about being mistakenly considered gay).

          • onyomi says:

            And so long as were talking about historical pederasty: what’s the deal with historical pederasty? While not universal, it seems common enough throughout the world as to be more than just a peculiar practice of one or two cultures.

            In the Chinese and Arab case it seems more like richer older men just taking a prurient interest in the budding sexuality of adolescent boys of lower classes whom they basically used as playthings of sorts, but then there’s the Greek case and that tribe I linked earlier and probably others, I’d guess, where it’s presented as a kind of “mentoring” relationship.

            But what exactly are they supposed to be teaching? How to masturbate? Don’t people figure that out on their own, pretty much? Do they show the adolescent boy how to please a woman? Or is it more like, the older man mentors the younger man in other, non-sexual ways, incidentally also taking a prurient interest in his budding adolescent sexuality?

            Is there some adaptive reason this would come up cross-culturally? Maybe a way of older generation men simultaneously getting closer to and signalling dominance over the younger?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            My understanding is that young boys look a lot like young girls, due to the lack of developed secondary sexual characteristics, so a lot of men who would never be attracted to adult men are nevertheless attracted to young boys.

            As you say, in the Chinese and Arab cases the relationship is purely exploitative. In the Greek case, the idea was something like a mentorship or an apprenticeship, in which the older male would use his superior experience, resources, and connections to the benefit of the younger male.

          • NN says:

            I think you may have a slightly unrealistic idea of the prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality, which, being largely genetic, I’m sure was about the same back then.

            First, homosexuality and bisexuality are not largely genetic. Twin studies tend to find about 20% genetic heritability for homosexuality, which is extremely low by twin study standards. This doesn’t rule out nongenetic biological causes (and indeed, the Older Brother Effect seems to provide very strong evidence of prenatal environmental influences on homosexuality), but it does seem to rule out genetics playing any more than a minor role.

            Second, I’m not so sure about the idea that prevalence of homosexual behavior is unaffected by social environment. I recently came across a US military commissioned report that seems to indicate that among Pashtuns in Southern Afghanistan both Ancient Greek style pederasty (the Taliban was reportedly originally formed in response to two Pashtun warlords getting into a fight over a teenage boy) and consensual relationships between adult men are far more common than they are in the modern West. Or at least, I have a hard time explaining anecdotes like these any other way:

            The article titled “Startled Marines Find Afghan Men All Made Up to See Them,” by Chris Stephen ran in the national newspaper The Scotsman on May 24, 2002. Not even in reference to the more heavily Pashtun southern areas of Afghanistan, it read:

            “In Baghram, British Marines returning from an operation deep in the Afghan mountains spoke last night of an alarming new threat—being propositioned by swarms of gay local farmers. An Arbroath Marine, James Fletcher, said: ‘They were more terrifying than the al-Qaeda. One bloke who had painted toenails was offering to paint ours. They go about hand in hand, mincing around the village.’ While the Marines failed to find any al-Qaeda during the seven-day Operation Condor, they were propositioned by dozens of men in villages the troops were ordered to search.”

            Another interviewee in the article, a Marine in his 20’s, stated, “It was hell… Every village we went into we got a group of men wearing make-up coming up, stroking our hair and cheeks and making kissing noises.” Beyond reacting to the unusual sight of made-up men, which one can readily accept as a style unique to a different culture, these Marines appear to have no doubt that they were being sexually propositioned.

            In his 29 years, Mohammed Daud has seen the faces of perhaps 200 women. A few dozen were family members. The rest were glimpses stolen when he should not have been looking and the women were caught without their face-shrouding burkas. “How can you fall in love with a girl if you can’t see her face?” he asks. Daud is unmarried and has sex only with men and boys. But he does not consider himself homosexual, at least not in the Western sense. “I like boys, but I like girls better,” he says. “It’s just that we can’t see the women to see if they are beautiful. But we can see the boys, and so we can tell which of them is beautiful.”

            Another example of cultural misinterpretations of Islamic tenants, bent to support homosexuality over heterosexuality, comes from a U.S. Army medic completing a year-long tour in a rural area of Kandahar province. She and her male colleagues were approached by a local gentleman seeking advice on how his wife could become pregnant. When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked “How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean? Surely this must be wrong.”

            Interestingly, the same medics treated an outbreak of gonorrhea among the local national interpreters on their camp. Approximately 12 of the nearly 20 young male interpreters present in the camp had contracted the disease, and most had done so anally. This is a merely anecdotal observation and far too small of a sample size to make any generalizations regarding the actual prevalence of homosexual activity region-wide. However, given the difficulty in procuring such data, it may serve as some indicator.

            Of greatest interest here, however, is the way the men reacted to the education offered them so as to avoid the disease in the future. They insisted that they could not have caught the disease sexually because they were not homosexuals—important evidence of the rejection of the label regardless of the actual activities in which a man engages. Instead, they concluded that it was the result of mixing green and black tea, which became a running joke throughout the camp.

            They also continued to return for treatment after re-contracting the condition, having not believed or heeded the instruction they received.

            There’s also the fact that the reported rate of same sex activity among women seems to have significantly increased in the West in the last few decades. One UK survey found that in 1991, 4% of British women reported at least one sexual encounter with another women, and that this number had increased to 10% when the survey was conducted in 2001 and then to 16% when it was conducted in 2011. The same survey found an increase in the reported prevalence of male homosexual activity from 1991-2001 but not from 2001-2011.

            Some people have interpreted results like this as indicative of simply more willingness to admit this kind of thing, or alternatively that women are just innately more “sexually fluid” than men are. But when the above reports from Afghanistan are taken into account, I think that a more likely explanation is that social norms really do impact the prevalence of homosexual behavior, in the West the stigma on female homosexuality has diminished to a much greater degree than the stigma on male homosexuality, and people’s behavior has been influenced by the changing norms.

            A caveat: pretty much all of the above discussion is about same sex activity among people who also engage in heterosexual relationships, so it still may be the case that exclusive homosexual attraction is largely biologically determined and insensitive to social environment. But on the broader question of homosexual activity in general, there seems to be good evidence that the “born this way” idea is at least partially wrong.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I suppose I am more optimistic about the first method than some people here, based entirely on personal anecdotal experience. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal if people don’t make it.

      In the social circles I travel in, two men hanging out – even if one of them is known to be gay – is not viewed the same as a man and a woman hanging out.

      This is true even in circumstances involving a high deal of physical intimacy – I do BJJ, which involves some fairly close contact. There’s a few openly gay men at the gym I go to. It doesn’t seem to be an issue on the mats or in the change room.

      • Anonymous says:

        This is true even in circumstances involving a high deal of physical intimacy – I do BJJ, which involves some fairly close contact.

        But that’s combative close contact, one step up from even just competitive close contact. It’s not at all the same thing as affectionate close contact. Fighting is probably the one activity so strongly coded masculine that it’ll never become seen as inherently gay under any circumstances.

        Although that said, there are plenty of people who like to go “sweaty largely-naked mangroping, huuurrrrrrrrr”, even now. It just doesn’t seem to take the same way it does with affectonate hugging.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It’s true that it’s hardly the same as spooning, but it’s not as though men don’t hug each other. They just gotta do it all manly-like. Obviously, degrees and types of intimacy vary – but this is true outside of men trying to signal “not gay”. Few guys kiss their mother the same way they’d kiss someone they were dating.

          Still, some guys do have a real problem with that sort of contact with someone they know to be gay. I’ve heard stories about gyms with unofficial “no gays” rules, and so forth. So there’s a difference there.

          • Nita says:

            but it’s not as though men don’t hug each other. They just gotta do it all manly-like.

            Ooh, you’re right. Actually, ‘hug culture’ is already developing features that differentiate romantic and non-romantic hugs:

            Slowly sliding hands down their body – romantic.
            Patting them on the back – non-romantic.

            (Note that patting can be omitted or even replaced with light stroking in situations when flirting would be inappropriate — e.g., if you’re comforting a grieving person.)

            I even do the back pat thing myself when I hug my brother — and I only noticed it after seeing a post about it on the internet.

            Another signal guys seem to use is calling each other ‘bro’. It’s like the shorter cousin of the infamous “I love you like a brother” 🙂

      • onyomi says:

        Yet it’s telling that the place we have to look to to find acceptable, non-sexualized MM physical closeness is, essentially, in mock combat. Men can be close to each other–so long as they’re trying to hurt each other (I understand you’re not actually out to hurt your training partner in BJJ, but it is a kind of mock combat).

        Reminds me of a comment I heard recently about how there are a few areas which seem to be simultaneously the straightest and also the gayest areas of life imaginable.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This is true, but it’s a level of physical contact a lot of guys might feel uncomfortable having with another guy they knew to be gay. It’s not the level of contact that’s any surprise.

    • Jaskologist says:

      This idea has been circulating around the reactosphere for a while now. I found the original (2005!) article it brought to mind here, but see also this and very recently this.

      Imagine a world wherein the taboo has been broken and incest is loudly and defiantly celebrated. Your wife’s unmarried brother puts his hand on your daughter’s shoulder. That gesture, once innocent, must now mean something, or at least suggest something. If the uncle were wise and considerate, he would not make it in the first place. You see a father hugging his teenage daughter as she leaves the car to go to school. The possibility flits before your mind. The language has changed, and the individual can do nothing about it.

      • onyomi says:

        That is a disturbing though about incest, certainly, and an interesting analogue, given that the level of physical closeness I can have right now with, for example, my mother and sister without arousing suspicion, is probably fairly similar to that depicted in the pictures of male friends. If incest were common and out in the open then maybe that would change too.

        Though I feel a bit uncomfortable, for obvious reasons, telling the gay community what they “ought” to do, it seems to me like maybe now is the time for them to stop focusing on proving that gay people exist and start focusing on what they aren’t. Like, in recent decades, there’s been a lot of effort to gain acceptance for homosexuality by showing, for example, that maybe great historical figure x was gay.

        But I also think actual gay people have an interest in not having their inborn lifestyle preference/identity confused with adolescent games, fraternity hazing, and so on. Maybe it would be good at this point to actually more jealously guard the “gay” label, so that instead of winking and nodding when someone implies Frodo and Sam or Kirk and Spock are gay, we would do better to say, “being gay is a lifetime identity, not just having a really close male buddy. Please don’t confuse the two.”

        • Eggoeggo says:

          “Like, in recent decades, there’s been a lot of effort to gain acceptance for homosexuality by showing, for example, that maybe great historical figure x was gay.”

          Did you read the part of the SM essay that covered that?
          “Lincoln must have been gay because sharing a bed with a man makes you gaaa~aaaay AF!”

          That is not a sign of a healthy culture, and I’d be happy to get back in the closet to fix it.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I saw that. I agree that, in most cases, these efforts are barking up the wrong tree due to differing mores at the time. Yet I’m sure some major historical figures really were gay. Michelangelo springs to mind.

            My point was just that maybe that’s the wrong way to go about it at this point. We know gay people exist. We know they’ve always existed. Now let’s stop defining it so broadly, precisely because we want to respect the identity of those who really are gay.

            Example: there are probably straight, horny, desperate people in prison who have more gay sex than certain old, low sex-drive, or single gay people. Doesn’t make those prisoners “gay,” anymore than failing to actually have homosexual sex makes a gay person “straight.” Because it’s an identity, not a choice or activity.

      • onyomi says:

        I have to say, though, the idea that gays should not be allowed to be openly gay because it interferes with straight men’s security in not being thought gay seems analogous to the idea that women should not show their skin or hair in public since it makes it impossible to tell good women from whores.

        Like, yeah, gay people could be forced to hide who they truly are in order that straight people don’t have to worry about the consequences of being mistaken for gay… or people could stop making so many assumptions and/or seeing gayness as an inherent negative.

        Though I myself am straight and would like it if men in our culture could be more comfortable with physical closeness without making assumptions, I am also very not comfortable with essentially oppressing a minority’s right to openly express their identity for the sake of the majority’s ability to not feel awkward.

        • Nornagest says:

          If gay dudes are forced to stay in the closet, doesn’t that make it more plausible that a given dude who isn’t doing any obvious signaling is gay, not less?

          Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            Yes. It’s not about the existence, but the “appropriation” of the cultural language–hence the essay’s main metaphor.
            I’d be happy using hanky codes, personally.

        • Anonymous says:

          I have to say, though, the idea that gays should not be allowed to be openly gay because it interferes with straight men’s security in not being thought gay seems analogous to the idea that women should not show their skin or hair in public since it makes it impossible to tell good women from whores.

          Right, it’s always unthinkable to roll acceptance back for the last group, just as it’s unthinkable to extend it to the next group in line. This is a recognized stage in that treadmill.

          …And then you’re an old person going “yeah well when I was young they told us it was unthinkable that giving rights to homosexuals would ever extend them to transsexuals!” and your grandkids go “graaaaandmaaaa, God, stop being such a stupid bigot, of course the incestuous aren’t going to get rights just because we confer them on transgenders!”.

          The raw fact is that this slope is slippery as shit, and there’s no really good reason to think you’re going to stop sliding right where you want to, because that didn’t happen for the three or four generations that came before you.

          • onyomi says:

            But what’s at the bottom of this awful slope? Not being judgy about sexuality at all? Would that be so awful? The only kinds of sexuality I don’t think should ever be accepted are those which are wrong for reasons other than the sex part: cannibalism, necrophilia, pedophilia, rape, etc.

          • keranih says:

            @ onyomi

            You’re okay with incest?

            And I would quibble that there is more to issues with misandry and homosexuality than just the sex.

          • Anonymous says:

            But what’s at the bottom of this awful slope?

            At the bottom? God only knows. There’s no shortage of suggestions that the next step after incest would be kids or animals, though.

            The only kinds of sexuality I don’t think should ever be accepted are those which are wrong for reasons other than the sex part

            But we’d already established that many people think there are reasons other than the sex part that accepting homosexuality’s wrong? I’m not saying your practical line’s drawn in the wrong place, but surely the heuristic you propose here’s very arbitrary and based on already agreeing with you?

          • Eggoeggo says:

            Remind me to check back in with you on that when the being-turned-into-a-balloon-dragon-fetish-people boycott your company for not taking their transitions seriously.

            It’s never a good idea to ask “how deep can human depravity go, anyway?”

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t think I’m drawing an arbitrary line. My line, as with other acts, is coercion. Rape is coercive by definition. Children and animals can’t give meaningful consent. Incest kind of grosses me out, but I don’t think it’s morally wrong unless it began when someone was a child.

            Re. the problem of balloon dragon fetish people boycotting my company–I think anyone can boycott for anyone reason, but let’s assume they’re suing me for discriminating against them bringing their balloon dragon with them to work. That, indeed, would be a problem, but he problem is that we already opened the stupid, wrong can of worms which says you can sue employers for discrimination in the first place. Once you’ve accepted that, the line between discriminating against fat people and balloon dragon fetishists is arbitrary.

            This brings us back to another situation akin to the one Scott described recently where we could do all kinds of great things for humanity but self-righteous jerks will protest, so we can’t. And we could be accepting of homosexuality and also not assume men who are close to other men are gay, but since people are jerks who make assumptions, we can’t.

            I’m not utopian, but I am constitutionally opposed to saying “well, that is the right thing to do, but it won’t work out since we have this deeply entrenched, illogical system/set of behaviors, so we have to keep doing the wrong thing.” Examples being all the government programs we need to fix all the terrible problems caused by all the bad government programs. Mores and institutions should change to fit what is right; not the other way around.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Onyomi,

            The idea of the presence of consent / absence of coercion being the primary or only criterion for sexual morality is extraordinarily new. It was, in the literal sense of the term, a radical idea within living memory.

            Regardless of whether that constitutes an arbitrary line, it’s absolutely a weak one.

            The Affirmative Consent push has successfully demonstrated that nobody has any firm idea what the words ‘consent’ or ‘coercion’ actually mean in regards to sex today. And there are plenty of arguments for expanding or contracting who can be considered to be consenting and under what circumstances. The idea of ‘rape by fraud’ suddenly went out of fashion, mysteriously right around the time Trans* acceptance started gaining momentum. On the other hand, pedophile apologists like NAMBLA have been pushing the line that children as young as toddlers can consent to sex since the beginning of the sexual revolution.

            There is no reason to believe that what we in 2016 consider to be consensual or coercive will still be considered that in 2026, much less 2116. And, extrapolating out, that’s not good news by any stretch.

          • onyomi says:

            Views on morality change, but as a moral realist, I also think there are right answers to be found. Female circumcision (and, frankly, unnecessary infant male circumcision) is wrong. Laws against sodomy are wrong. Giving gay men crap for holding hands or kissing (discretely, tastefully, to the same standard we’d apply for straight couples) in public is wrong. Giving straight men crap for holding hands in public, for that matter, is wrong.

            Really, most of the ways we try to police sexuality traditionally are just none of our business. We’ve just gotten better at realizing that lately, since the practical exigencies have greatly weakened since birth control and effective VD prevention.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ onyomi
            animals can’t give meaningful consent

            I think there are practices that could be done with animals, some very nice for the animal and visably consented to. Such as drawing banned words on one’s own skin for the animal to lick off.

            This could have good consequences for the human, and for humans who would otherwise be pestered for that service.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            The fact that paedophiles failed to get acceptance on the back of gay rights is evidence against the slipperiness of the slope,

          • Peter says:

            @TheAncientGeek: I was going to make that point, you beat me to it.

            There was some scandal in UK politics a while back when it turned out that someone had had links to some old pro-pedophilia organisation back in the 60s or so, and people found that the pro-pedophilia movement had been rather more active and had rather more support back then than today. Somewhere along the line people realised that those organisations were in fact terrible and quietly shuffled away from them, hoping that people wouldn’t notice that they’d been naive dupes.

            If I could for the life of me remember where I read an article about it, that would be great.

            Anyway, there are some “momentum effects”, but it shows that the “slippery slope” thing is at best a gross oversimplification and that things don’t always keep going in the same direction.

          • Psmith says:

            The fact that paedophiles failed to get acceptance on the back of gay rights is evidence against the slipperiness of the slope,

            For now.

            But now you mention it, we may have been in an honest-to-God reaction, a crawl up the slope, since the eighties or so. It’s not immediately recognizable as a reaction–we call things “problematic” instead of “wicked”, we twist and turn to make “consensual” mean “moral” as Dr. Dealgood discusses upthread. (Think about the hip, progressive attitudes in the sixties about pedophilia and rape, for instance.). And perhaps this hidden reaction isn’t as effective or efficient as it could be, since we have to pretend it’s all about consent and equality, and that HBD don’t real, and so we end up with a bunch of unprincipled exceptions in which All Good People Must Believe. But this may nevertheless offset the slide down the slope.

          • Sweeneyrod says:

            @Peter
            You are probably thinking of Harriet Harman who worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties at the time when the Paedophile Information Exchange was affiliated to it. Or possibly Patricia Hewitt, who was in the same position.

          • Anonymous says:

            And perhaps this hidden reaction isn’t as effective or efficient as it could be, since we have to pretend it’s all about consent and equality, and that HBD don’t real, and so we end up with a bunch of unprincipled exceptions in which All Good People Must Believe

            Isn’t there some connection between pedophilia advocates and the alt right via the chans? Now that I think about it kind of odd bedfellows.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            So is there any possible evidence against a slippery slope claim?

          • Jiro says:

            The fact that paedophiles failed to get acceptance on the back of gay rights is evidence against the slipperiness of the slope,

            30 years ago you could have said that the fact that gays failed to get acceptance on the back of women’s rights or civil rights proves there’s no slippery slope. 15 years ago you could say that about, oh, trans rights to use bathrooms not matching their genitals.

            Just because the slippery slope hasn’t reached something yet, doesn’t mean we aren’t rolling down there. I imagine that in 40 years from now people will be saying “look, we managed to legalize incest and that didn’t lead to pedophila. Obviously there’s no slippery slope.”

          • Sweeneyrod says:

            @Jiro
            But gays weren’t trying to piggyback the women’s rights movement, whereas the paedophile acceptance movement claimed (and for a period, was) part of the gay rights movement.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            “If we admit 2+2=4, they’ll make us admit 2+2=5 and then 6 and 7 and so on. Better make a final stand at 2+2=3.”

            — Steven Kaas

            This whole discussion is ridiculous. The mere fact that, hypothetically, one justified change might be used improperly as an argumentative point in favor of making another, unjustified, change is not a reason to stop the first change.

            The proper use of the slippery slope argument is like this: “You support A for reason X, but reason X also would seem to support B…Z, and Z is very bad. Therefore, reason X should not be used to argue for A, unless it’s combined with some principle Y that distinguishes A from B and the rest.”

            But the use here is more like: “You support A for reason X. And even though this doesn’t support B…Z, someone could come up with a reason that justified both A and all the rest. So we’d better oppose A.”

            One could just as well make the following argument by this means: “Enslavement of blacks by whites is very bad, I agree. But the principle of abolitionism leads to egalitarianism, and that leads to affirmative action in favor of blacks, and pretty soon that means second-class citizenship for whites and then eventually enslavement of whites by blacks. Therefore, we’d better make a final stand at supporting slavery.”

            I don’t know, maybe that’s the train of thought of some “novo-regressives”, but it’s fallacious. There’s nothing about the first steps that inherently imply the others, and if there’s some law of history that says the latter outcomes are predestined, there’s nothing to be done anyway.

            If we’re going to fight our doomed holding action, we might as well fight it at the point that’s actually correct.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The proper use of the slippery slope argument is like this: “You support A for reason X, but reason X also would seem to support B…Z, and Z is very bad. Therefore, reason X should not be used to argue for A, unless it’s combined with some principle Y that distinguishes A from B and the rest.”

            But that is exactly how it’s being used. The whole point is that the typical arguments used, namely that “squeamishness about sex is evil” and “consent trumps everything” can be used to justify incest and pedophilia just as well as they can be used to justify polyamory or gay/trans rights.

            We have “Principle X” but “Principle Y” is notably absent and that is why so many people are talking about slippery slopes.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hylnkacg:

            The whole point is that the typical arguments used, namely that “squeamishness about sex is evil” and “consent trumps everything” can be used to justify incest and pedophilia just as well as they can be used to justify polyamory or gay/trans rights.

            The principle of consent can be used to justify incest among…consenting adults…but it doesn’t work for pedophilia.

            If there’s any kind of “slippery slope” in the meaning of consent, it’s certainly not toward its becoming more broadly interpreted. I’m not seeing the progression from “some feminists are skeptical that drunk college girls can consent to sex” to “they agree that a three-year-old girl can consent to be raped by her father”.

            So the issue here isn’t that consent doesn’t work as a principle.

          • Jiro says:

            If there’s any kind of “slippery slope” in the meaning of consent, it’s certainly not toward its becoming more broadly interpreted.

            Then why do the campus rules about such things not lead to lots of women being kicked out of college for not getting affirmative consent from men?

            It’s being interpreted in favor of the ingroup and against the outgroup, not broadly or narrowly.

            Also, remember the controversy over the original version of the Vagina Monologues, with the “good rape” line involving a 13 year old?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Children can consent, unless you think that every pair of 12 year olds fooling around together are engaged in mutual rape.

            Does any of us even believe that a 16 year old can’t consent with a 20 year old? We ban it for reasons beyond that.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Sweeneyrod:
            It’s not about the movement, it’s about the gradually increasing porousness of the moral standards of society. Although I guess you could say it’s about the broader progressive movement, on which all these submovements are piggybacking.

            @Vox:
            The slippery slope isn’t about using justified changes to defend unjustified ones. It’s a slipperly slope in morals. How do you know that your particular line is where justified stops? How do you prove that outside your own moral structures? The only thing that seems objectively clear in this treadmill is that each generation argues just the way you do and believes the slope stops just where they stop being comfortable. So far they’ve been wrong.

            @Jaskologist:

            Does any of us even believe that a 16 year old can’t consent with a 20 year old? We ban it for reasons beyond that.

            This is one of the fun parts of talking to anglos. In Sweden age of consent’s 15. In Germany, last I heard it was 14. From here, it seems obvious that screwing a 15-year-old doesn’t make you a pedophile in any sane way; the line has to be drawn somewhere and that’s fine, but the idea that a guy who sleeps with a 15-year-old is immoral in any way beyond wilful law-breaking is hilarious.

            Do you guys correspondingly assume that we and the Germans just shelter a ton of pedophiles and are cool with it due to depravity?

          • onyomi says:

            “Does any of us even believe that a 16 year old can’t consent with a 20 year old? We ban it for reasons beyond that.”

            What are those reasons?

            Sex between a 20 year-old and a 16 year-old isn’t pedophilia, btw. It’s statutory rape. Whether that should even exist as a category or a crime, I’m not sure, but there’s a big difference between that and sex with an 8 year-old.

            Really, consent has to be judged, at least to some extent, on an individual basis; sex with a severely developmentally disabled 21 year-old might, in some cases, be more abusive than sex with a mature 15 year-old. But, we don’t like admitting that law is all about precedent and individual judgment, of course.

          • Anonymous says:

            We have to draw the line somewhere. Once we’ve drawn that line, how can we get people to obey it? We could aggressively investigate and prosecute every case of illegal sex. Then most people would obey out of fear. Or we could develop a norm that sleeping with someone that’s 16 when you are 18 or older is wrong, disgusting, evil, etc. Then we don’t need to put quite so many resources into enforcement.

            Course you always going to get some compulsive types that are going to jump up and down and proclaim how bright and enlightened they are, unlike you sheeple, and they see through society’s tricks to the real truth man. And so on and so forth at great length. Feel free to ignore them.

          • onyomi says:

            “We have to draw the line somewhere.”

            Why?

            This is part of my general preference for more discretion in personal behavior and the law.

            Arguably it could be stricter in practice, since you’d you know it’s dangerous to sleep with anyone who might be proven, in court, to be unable to give consent, even if you adhered to the letter of the law. Conversely, if you can prove your 14 year-old girlfriend is mature and informed, go nuts.

          • Anonymous says:

            In theory very broad discretion in the legal system is great. In practice it’s fucking awful. There’s a reason the federal system had to put in sentencing guidelines.

          • onyomi says:

            “In practice it’s fucking awful. There’s a reason the federal system had to put in sentencing guidelines.”

            Evidence? I mean, I’m sure there are some cases of injustice as a result of discretion, but mandatory minimums and the like cause a lot of injustice, too. Are you sure discretion results in more injustice, on net?

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Isn’t there some connection between pedophilia advocates and the alt right via the chans? Now that I think about it kind of odd bedfellows.

            >He fell for the “alt-right” meme

            Alt-right is the “SJW” of the internet left, it may have a “proper” definition but, in practice, it just means “person that disagrees with lefties on the internet, and likes memes”.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure, but there’s a big difference between that and sex with an 8 year-old.

            OK, so let’s look at that difference.

            Eight-year-old Alice and Bobby are caught “playing doctor” as they giggle and laugh. We may disapprove and try to stop it happening again, but we don’t call it rape or impose any harsh punishments.

            Alice is crying and screaming as Bobby pulls off her clothes. Now we very much do start imposing harsh punishments, and Bobby won’t be going to school with Alice any more.

            Eight-year-old Alice and forty-eight-year-old Bob are caught “playing doctor” as they giggle and laugh. Bob is going to prison and he’s never getting out.

            Alice’s mental state and perceived experience are identical in the first and third cases. Quite possibly so are Bob/Bobby’s. Our response isn’t. And our response in the second case is different than the first, even though the only change is Alice’s mental state – which should be irrelevant if eight-year-olds can’t “consent” in any event.

            Eight-year-olds can absolutely have a mental state that we would unambiguously call “consent” in almost any other context. But because we have defined “consent” as the One True Standard for distinguishing Good Sex from Bad Sex and take pride in championing all forms of Consensual Sex, we have to engage in blatant linguistic sophistry to pretend that what is actually Bad Consensual Sex is now “nonconsensual”.

            Which leaves you with dangerously little moral authority to argue against any sort of bad sex, consensual or otherwise.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            And our response in the second case is different than the first, even though the only change is Alice’s mental state – which should be irrelevant if eight-year-olds can’t “consent” in any event.

            Yes, Bob has the exact same mental state. Oh wait, no that is totally retarded. Doing something to another person when they tell you to stop is really different from doing something to another person and they encourage you. Like, if you don’t know the difference you should probably not be interacting with other human beings.

            Eight-year-olds can absolutely have a mental state that we would unambiguously call “consent” in almost any other context. But because we have defined “consent” as the One True Standard for distinguishing Good Sex from Bad Sex and take pride in championing all forms of Consensual Sex, we have to engage in blatant linguistic sophistry to pretend that what is actually Bad Consensual Sex is now “nonconsensual”.

            I would love to see how you deal with the line between ‘had a drink’ and ‘too drunk to consent’. Do fuzzy categories simply not exist?

          • Anonymous says:

            But because we have defined “consent” as the One True Standard for distinguishing Good Sex from Bad Sex and take pride in championing all forms of Consensual Sex, we have to engage in blatant linguistic sophistry to pretend that what is actually Bad Consensual Sex is now “nonconsensual”.

            It’s noteworthy that nobody ever pushed consent as the One True Standard before they wanted to normalize homosexuality and promiscuity.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Or legalizing interracial marriage. Or banning marital rape. But yes, lets declare our opponents are pure evil.

          • Nita says:

            It’s noteworthy that nobody ever pushed consent as the One True Standard before they wanted to normalize homosexuality and promiscuity.

            Well, it makes sense for these positions to go hand-in-hand, because there’s nothing wrong with those behaviors under that standard.

            Is there a particular reason why you think it must be a nefarious plot?

          • Anonymous says:

            But yes, lets declare our opponents are pure evil.

            Given how large a misrepresentation of the opposing position this is, I’d have to call this the pot calling the kettle black.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nita:

            Is there a particular reason why you think it must be a nefarious plot?

            I don’t think it’s a nefarious plot at all, I just think it’s a pretext. They started with wanting to make their particular preferred thing okay for egotistical (if understandable) reasons, and then made up a philosophy that permitted it in order to legitimize it. The point being that the Sola Consente idea is a bad argument. As for the behavior per se, people do that sort of thing all the time. It’s notoriously hard to get people to use reason-reason as opposed to using reason-as-defense-of-preexisting-personal-desires.

            This all seems to me to be obviously relevant to whether there are any rigorous reasons to allow any particular sexual behavior, without either being or asserting anyone else is vile evil.

          • Nita says:

            Yeah, maybe some people were motivated by a desire to be intimate with someone they loved. Or by a desire not to be raped by their husband. Or a desire not to be complicit in a system that fails to condemn acts like marital rape. Or a desire to ground their moral beliefs in something else than ‘God said so’, which would make them feel more comfortable.

            Anyway, what’s the point of having a society if it’s torturous for the people involved?

          • Anonymous says:

            Nita, I’m not sure anyone’s denying the good sides of moving down the slope. The subthread is about acknowledging a certain bad side, if it indeed exists.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            If there is a good side, there is no need to appeal to selfish motives; helping others works fine.

          • NN says:

            On the subject of pedophilia and slippery slopes: it seems pretty clear to me that modern Western society has been moving in the opposite direction of acceptance of pedophilia for quite some time. Nowadays, we’ve gotten to the point where teenagers can get placed on the Sex Offender Registry and have their lives ruined if they get caught sending each other naked pictures of themselves, and a few people have very reluctantly come forward and suggested that maybe things have gone a teensy bit too far.

            In fact, I think this trend goes back further than many people are aware of. Child marriage was common in many pre-modern societies, including Europe. A number of adult kings from the Middle Ages onward married girls as young as their early teens: for example, in 1625 the 25 year old Charles I married the 13 year old Henrietta Maria of France.

            So if reactionaries want to argue that the Ancients knew best and that Progressives are leading us to a disaster because they keep tearing down Chesterton’s Fence, then the subject of sexual relationships between adults and underage girls/boys may not be the best hill for them to fight on, unless they want to argue in favor of the acceptability of such relationships.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            Desperate attempts to retreat and establish a new norm will look like that. You pull back to one thing 90% of people can agree on, dig in hard, and hope it sticks. (It never does)

            Right now paedophilia is in roughly the stage that homosexuality was in, ohhh, the 1890s? Lots of conspicuous preaching about its inherent evil, but with trendy, forward-thinking progressives like Salon starting to dally in acceptability.
            You know, the “well certainly it’s wrong, but they are quite dapper, and make very respectable and safe companions for ladies.” business.

            I’d bet on a Stonewall-equivalent event for paedophiles perhaps 30-40 years from now.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            … why? We already have a marginal movement that can piggy back on the success of gay rights and is trying to get support through the media even though historically it has been regarded with repulsion by the mainstream.

            You know, polygamy?

            The idea that pedos are going to be the next big thing because homosexual rights were the next big thing fundamentally misunderstands how progressive issues work. There actually has to be something for the movement to latch onto; “it is horrible” isn’t something that gets liberals to fight for a cause.

          • NN says:

            Right now paedophilia is in roughly the stage that homosexuality was in, ohhh, the 1890s?

            No it isn’t, unless during the 1890s same sex friends who were caught living together were threatened with jail time and lifelong social ostracism, while it was not unheard for people who were merely suspected of being actual homosexuals to be burned to death by lynch mobs.

            Incidentally, in my research I found out that in 1885, the British Parliament raised the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16. So again, if you are opposed to relationships between adults and underage boys and girls, then at least in this particular area past centuries were a significantly more immoral time than the present.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            I never said paedophiles were next. Dear god, no. The puppy fetishists are first in line https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdXAC-B3e7o

            Followed by the goat people.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            … that is legal right now and relatively socially acceptable (no one thinks it should be made illegal and the gear is available for sale). It isn’t going to be mainstreamed in the US because talking about weird human sex isn’t something the US mainstream does. Well, aside from CSI.

          • On the issue of age limits for sex …

            Adulthood in traditional Rabbinic law, going back more than two thousand years, was 12 1/2 for women, 13 1/2 for men. In the case of men, perhaps also women, it also required some evidence of puberty. (By memory–I’m not sure of the 1/2).

            Women could be married off earlier than that, but got to cancel the marriage when they became adult if they wished to.

            As of 1880, most U.S. states had an age of consent of 10 or 12.

            Mencken mentions somewhere losing his virginity at 14 with a girl of the same age.

            I haven’t seen long term historical data on average age of first intercourse. I wouldn’t be surprised if modern societies have both unusually high age limits on legal sex and unusually low actual average age for first sex. I’m pretty sure there are U.S. states in which the median age for loss of virginity is below the age at which intercourse is legal.

          • anon says:

            @David Friedman, I haven’t been following the issue that closely, but my understanding is that there is survey evidence of declining rates of teen pregnancy, which *might* also mean declining rates of teen sex. As a Millennial, I’m struck by various accounts of ways in which the following generation seems to be culturally quite different. (They play a lot of Minecraft, have even more fluid gender identities, etc.)

      • onyomi says:

        Maybe once these people start agitating for people to respect them displaying their kink in public we can all chill out and not worry about being thought gay anymore?

    • Nita says:

      Three additional hypotheses:

      1. Nonverbal language has changed. There’s no more friendly hand-holding between men, but there’s still the arm-over-neck embrace, which doesn’t seem objectively less intimate. (example)

      2. Conservation of PDAs: due to romantic gestures becoming more socially acceptable in public, and marriage based on love and friendship becoming more common, men have shifted some of their public touching from platonic friends to romantic partners.

      3. The ideal of masculinity has become less ‘gentlemanly’ and more ‘rugged’.

      • onyomi says:

        I think 3 is an interesting point. The homogenization of cultures, I think, has allowed what might originally have been a working class and/or “Borderer” style of masculinity to become the only style of masculinity.

        • Anonymous says:

          I think it’s totally true that the homogenization of cultures has caused (as it almost certainly must) a homogenization of masculinity, but a lot of what we see now was clearly at work already centuries ago in a decidedly non-Borderer context. Just for example, it’s trivial to observe that it used to be much more okay for men to wear bombastic, elaborate outfits, jewelry, floral perfumes and suchlike, but this didn’t stop because rugged working Borderers thought fruity diamond necklaces made you look gay, it stopped because the peak of English aristocracy (like, including the Prince of Wales/subsequent king himself), influenced by Beau Brummell, decided that restraint was a better expression of masculinity in dress than opulence was, and the English upper class retained its influence and wealth more than long enough to set the trend on that point. The half-uniformish style of modern menswear is a direct derivative of that aristocratic stoicism, not of fear of looking like a homosexual to the farmhands.

          • onyomi says:

            Completely different aspect of culture, but reminds me of this.

          • Peter says:

            I was reading a book about the middle ages, it was talking about how tight, form-fitting clothing and ridiculously impractical shoes were worn by the men (well, those that a) could afford it and b) weren’t clergy), and women wore more sober, restrained stuff.

            I wonder if the Beau Brummell era was the time when codpieces went out of style, or whether it happened earlier. Certainly they were still in style when Henry VIII was on the throne.

          • Anonymous says:

            I wonder if the Beau Brummell era was the time when codpieces went out of style, or whether it happened earlier.

            It happened earlier. There’s a controversy over whether Brummell himself was the one who introduced the wearing of full-length trousers in high society, but the codpiece had fallen out of use long before that in favor of what we might call “trouser-cut breeches”, that is, the knee-length breeches worn with hose and buttoned at the knee had either a sort of front flap buttoned vertically along both sides, or a pretty modern-looking fly, or sometimes just a drawstring at the top. If you think back to various costume dramas, paintings of the Founding Fathers of America, and the like, I’m sure you’ll recognize this.

            I’m not sure exactly when the codpiece fell out of fashion, but spontaneously I’d guess around the turn of the 16th/17th century.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      How do gay friends of each other differentiate between what is a platonic act and what is a sexual/romantic come-on? Why can’t that apply to relationships in general?

      Secondly, the desire for subtext ships may stem from a lack of representation. In femmeslash, some f/f friendships that formerly would have been leapt upon as a subtext ship, are now relatively ignored, because there are good quality canon ships. For a good portion of the femmeslash community, subtext isn’t enough anymore. Ergo, there have also been a rise of good female friendships in media that people aren’t really talking about as romance subtext. Especially, if there’s a canon ship, the members of that couple interacting with other members of the same gender are generally parsed as platonic. The lady has a girlfriend and a best friend, and few read that as a romance love triangle.

      Trying have more representations of platonic male relationships won’t work if there aren’t enough representations of male homosexual romance, because the underrepresented population will take to subtext to find themselves on screen.

      As for the tidbit that the majority of slashers are straight ladies, there’s been plenty of discourse about how this tendency stems from, again, a lack of representation:
      More ladies on the screen. More good complex lady characters, romantic interests or not. Some shippers use slash to hypothesize about certain relationship dynamics within a romance context, because social mores look down on exploring those same dynamics for a female character. Some slashers have abandoned their former preoccupation with male characters, once they found quality female characters and femmeslash.

      • onyomi says:

        “How do gay friends of each other differentiate between what is a platonic act and what is a sexual/romantic come-on? Why can’t that apply to relationships in general?”

        I actually have heard from gay friends that they find it hard to be “friends” with other gay men for the same reason straight men sometimes find it hard to be “just friends” with women.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yep, same. If anything my impression is that it’s even more difficult because a lot of gay men have the attitude that sex is basically no big deal, so if we’re buddies and he’s gay, why would he ever not be up for it?

          Straight men at least have a cultural understanding that women won’t stand for that shit.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            But at that point, the issue isn’t with any sort of shipping tendencies, but society’s overall attitude towards how it handles romance vs. friendship. Singling out slash seems like a bizarre focus point. It’s not even a particularly convincing symptom of the problem.

          • 57dimensions says:

            @arbitrary_greay ^^^^^
            Yeah, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to say as well.

      • NN says:

        Trying have more representations of platonic male relationships won’t work if there aren’t enough representations of male homosexual romance, because the underrepresented population will take to subtext to find themselves on screen.

        But that doesn’t really make sense for m/m slash because, as you admit in the very next paragraph, the overwhelming majority of m/m slash is created by and for straight women. Saying that straight women are looking for romantic subtext between men in order to find themselves on screen seems…odd, to say the least. Unless you’re trying to say that the representation that they are after is “well written character who is attracted to men”? Even if you are, that still leaves a lot of the behavior that I’ve seen from slash fans unexplained.

        Also, male LGBT characters are more common on television than female LGBT characters (55% of LGBT characters are male and 45% are female). So I have a hard time seeing why canon f/f relationships would placate the desire for femslash subtext but canon m/m relationships would not do the same for slash subtext, seeing as how the latter are presumably more common.

        • arbitrary_greay says:

          It’s dual-pronged. AfterElton’s Slash Tournament is a thing that exists, and the last time I looked at it a few years ago, Sterek was such a heavyweight that it beat out AfterEllen’s femmeslash champ in the post-finals battle.

          Your second paragraph points out that there is indeed greater canon representation for male homosexuality. And this might point to why subtext ships aren’t as much of a priority for gay fans. So increase representation of canon m/m ships to sate the need for subtext ships from gay men, and also increase representation of well-written female characters to sate the need for subtext ships from straight women. Examine/avoid some of the romantic conventions that make straight women less prone to latch onto het ships.

          Address the various motivations listed here, basically. Provide the material to sate those desires from non-slash outlets.

    • 57dimensions says:

      I think there is very little overlap between the fan culture that promotes “fanon” sexual relationships between “canon” male friends and American (or other country’s) culture. The amount of influence that ‘shippers’ have on our views of male friendship is negligible compared to every other force in our culture promoting homophobia. So basically, why do you think a mostly underground fan culture has such a great influence on gender roles in our society? Being on the internet it is easy to think that everyone is aware of the sizable fanbase for slash fic, but I think that it is much too big a leap to scale that to all ‘real life’ norms and interactions. While young women may be able to get #GiveCapABoyfriend on twitter, and some news sources have picked it up, that is less than a blip on the radar in the average person’s life.

      Also, you have to remember, slash fiction is created almost entirely by women and for women. There certainly are men that participate, but it has been a female (and feminist) enterprise from Kirk/Spock to Stucky. So why have so many women been so passionate about the sexual relationships of fictional men? Because they wanted to escape the prescribed gendered interactions that dictate male/female relationships in fiction and in real life. They were not happy with the model of relationships that their attraction to men said they should desire, they didn’t want to see sexual interaction in the context of gender differences, they wanted to see sexual attraction between ‘equals’. Also, in most slash fic the men are not typically cast as ‘gay’, there isn’t usually a denial of attraction to women, it is usually that their relationship with this particular guy is so intimate that it becomes romantic.

      I do think slash fic is a natural outgrowth of developing male friendships in fiction, but throwing in random one dimensional women as love interests. Perfect example is Captain America making out with Peggy Carter’s niece in Civil War, they barely had any screen time together and 0 chemistry, while the whole premise of the movie is that Cap will do literally anything to protect Bucky, including committing treason and attacking his close friends. Which of those relationships is more interesting to explore? Which has more depth and passion?

      So as you can probably tell I’m pretty fond of my slash fiction.

      • Jiro says:

        ‘Shippers’ don’t always have much influence on the culture, but there are a bunch of cases in which they do, particularly cases involving creators who listen to Internet fans, which includes large portions of the comic book and science fiction industry (and which also happens to overlap a lot with the biggest areas of influence of social justice).

        Also, you fail to account for

        — Slash in fandoms which have female characters, such as Harry Potter
        — Slash fangirls who actively hate on female characters because the female characters’ relationships with the male characters get in the way of the slash
        — Slash in situations where the fans see a homosexual relationship in an interation which, if it were used for a heterosexual relationship, would lead to the fans screaming about misogyny, such as “if the characters hate each other, they have strong emotions, so this means they must secretly want to bone each other”.

        It’s easy to rationalize away “Oh, yeah, it would be really hot, but honestly, that’s not why I’m shipping the characters. I have good reasons for it.” Especially when you have social justice on your side.

        • 57dimensions says:

          I wasn’t intending to rationalize away anything really, just trying to give further background to WHY slash has been so appealing to women. Yes it is hot, I don’t think many shippers would deny that, and I don’t either. It’s definitely hot. It’s hot and there are various other reasons for why shipping might be appealing, those aren’t mutually exclusive and I wasn’t trying to say they were.

          I can only speak from my own experience in fandoms, and although I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter, I was never involved in the online fandom for it, so I can’t speak with any kind of authority on the culture in that fandom. What I haven’t experienced directly I learned from posts and pages on the history of fandoms and shipping, and I’ve never looked into HP.

          I would say I’m part of many fandoms, but Supernatural is the only one in which I am actively passionate about slash, so that’s what I can speak most directly about. SPN focuses almost entirely on male characters, so there isn’t a huge issue with people hating on the female characters. The fandom is actually quite passionate about its female characters and is critical of the show’s history of killing them off. So I’ve never been in a fandom where there was tension between slash ships and canon straight ships, I mean in SPN it’s just slash ship vs slash ship.

          • keranih says:

            SPN focuses almost entirely on male characters, so there isn’t a huge issue with people hating on the female characters. The fandom is actually quite passionate about its female characters and is critical of the show’s history of killing them off.

            This is probably YMMV. My experience of SPN fandom was that they were very critical of female characters who were romantic interests of the boys and quite unwilling to explore the stories of the women in fic. So any “passion” of the fandom was pretty much limited to using female characters as a way to beat up on the showrunners.

            So I’ve never been in a fandom where there was tension between slash ships and canon straight ships, I mean in SPN it’s just slash ship vs slash ship.

            Firstly, for the record, you would be far more accurate to say that the largest ‘ship in SPN is not slash, but incest, between the brothers. The second largest is slash stories about the actors. So neither of those is a “traditional” slash ship. And between the two of them, they pretty much ran out of the fandom the traditional fans who objected to fetisizing incest or writing porn about real people.

            I don’t know when you got into SPN, but there was a time when it wasn’t considered normal or socially acceptable to openly embrace stories about two brothers bonking each other. Using SPN to justify slash literary theories is missing the point.

          • 57dimensions says:

            @keranih
            By two largest ships I meant Destiel and yes, Wincest. Idk what your involvement or knowledge in the fandom is, but Destiel is by far the more popular ship, and it is definitely “traditional” slash. Were you not in the fandom after season 4 when Castiel was introduced? Because seriously, Destiel is unbelievably huge. While there are definitely Wincest shippers, they stay off in their own corner because, yeah, most people aren’t that accepting of incest.

            As far as female characters, they were all so short lived there really wasn’t much to explore. Ruby was around for awhile and she is definitely present in fics. The other female love interests averaged one episode of screen time, which doesn’t give you much material or make for an interesting character.

            Also, I’m not sure why it being incest makes it not slash? It’s still two same sex fictional characters who aren’t in a canon relationship. And I wasn’t even talking about J2 or other RPF, but I don’t think it’s that unacceptable to write porn about real people, I mean, it seems very common for people to have celebrity crushes, think they’re hot, and fantasize about/imagine them in sexual situations. So I’m not sure exactly what point I’m missing except that incest is gross.

      • Bland says:

        Perfect example is Captain America making out with Peggy Carter’s niece in Civil War, they barely had any screen time together and 0 chemistry, while the whole premise of the movie is that Cap will do literally anything to protect Bucky, including committing treason and attacking his close friends.

        I agree with the general point, but I wanted to point out that Cap had a preexisting relationship with Sharon Carter from the previous movie.

        That said, the Sharon Carter kiss may have actually done more to develop the relationship with Bucky than the relationship with Carter, since the film cuts away from the kiss to show Bucky grinning and looking so genuinely happy for Cap. It’s like he’s thinking, “Finally skinny Steve from Brooklyn is getting some action.”

        Certainly, the relationship between Cap and Bucky is more interesting. But can’t it be interesting as a platonic relationship without the need to think it’s somehow secretly romantic?

        (The last question is rhetorical. I have no problem with people who enjoy slash fiction. However, I do agree with the general point of this thread that it’s kind of a shame that it seems harder for people to appreciate male/male platonic relationships for what they are as compared to female/female relationships.)

        • 57dimensions says:

          Cap had somewhat of a preexisting connection with Sharon Carter, a fairly forgettable and uninteresting one.

          To your rhetorical question, I think the premise is somewhat wrong because most people aren’t slash shippers and don’t prefer gay relationships over male friendship. I do think society has a problem with appreciating and accepting men’s non-romantic relationships and emotional needs, but I think focusing on slash fiction as a cause is misguided.

    • Peter says:

      From you list of ways out: ways 1 and 2 suggests the problem is partial stigma, with a bit of thinking and reading I think the problem is uneven stigma.

      If the stigma is strong and pervasive, then people are likely to assume that people aren’t doing the stigmatised thing – a strong stigma suggests the thing is really “not normal” and therefore weak evidence of the thing should be explained away (and strong evidence will be kept well hidden). People who grow up in such an age but who then find the stigma weaken around them may end up saying things like “I thought I was the only one” – a phrase I’ve heard far far far too often in relation to various trans* stuff.

      With an uneven stigma – in particular, a relatively newly uneven stigma – strong stigmatisers will have to worry constantly about those other parts of the culture that defy the stigma, about their enemies in the culture war sneaking under the radar. You get all sorts of people being semi-closet or semi-stealth, things being open secrets in some circles but some care being taken that things not get too widely known. Non-stigmatisers who have to live in stigmatiser country will have to sneak under the radar to get by. Some other non-stigmatisers will want to re-examine the “weak evidence” discussed above to defeat the “not normal” assumption that contributed to the stigma; some will be tempted to go beyond what the evidence reasonably suggests, especially if egged on by postmodernists who think that good epistemic norms are just another tool of the evil oppressors. Some non-stigmatisers are just rebellious and want to do stuff that’s edgy and transgressive to spite the stigmatisers; others find that doing that stuff is a way of building a group identity in a situation when banding together for mutual protection seems necessary. Some weak stigmatisers will find the stigmatised thing “spicy” and “naughty” and go for it on those grounds. Moderately strong stigmatisers will find that the thing no longer seems unspeakably horrid to them and instead makes a great subject for salacious gossip, name-calling and all the rest.

      It’s all a bit less than ideal, but considering the alternative of strong universal stigmatisation is terrible and that moving on to the nice relaxed time when the stigma has largely faded takes time, it’s something we’re going to have to live with. Telling people, “yes OK, the stigma is evil bad and wrong so feel free to ignore it but don’t do the annoying pathological stuff” is alas likely to be met with “go away you privileged person” by some.

      • John Schilling says:

        It’s all a bit less than ideal, but considering the alternative of strong universal stigmatization is terrible…

        Counterpoint: Western civilization has a strong and nigh-universal stigmatization of public urination. And yes, it’s a stigma, not a sanitary issue – we let dogs piddle on suburban trees and bushes, we can certainly develop appropriately sanitary rules for public urination by humans. Might as well argue for banning homosexuality on the grounds of child-molesting pedophiles as for banning public urination on sanitary grounds.

        Is this strong, universal stigmatization “terrible”, and if so why?

        Almost every society stigmatizes, often strongly, the consumption of certain foods that others find tasty – cat meat in the United States, for example. This is a harm in that it reduces the range of pleasant sensory experiences people may experience, and it may be a net harm in that I can’t see much of any countervailing advantage. But “terrible”? That seems to be an overstatement.

        Strong stigmas associated with dress, likewise. Togas can be comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, but try wearing one to work. Net harm? Probably. Terrible? Not seeing it.

        Some cultures stigmatize left-handedness. And here there are pragmatic advantages to e.g. having all of your tooling standardized for right-handed operation. But while most people seem to have adapted, learning to be right-handed while their brain architecture was still reasonably plastic, the discomfort during the transition period and the ones who never did make the transition maybe push this one over into the “terrible” category. Maybe it’s best we decided to suck it up and produce specialized lines of left-handed scissors, rifles, and whatnot rather than trying to standardize people.

        And in the cases like food choice where I can’t see any good reasons for the stigma, it doesn’t seem to be a terrible harm and Chesterton’s fence applies. So, at a minimum, we should probably think about where exactly the line between terrible stigmatization and tolerable stigmatization really lies. The left-handedness example might suggest genetics as the key point, we shouldn’t stigmatize people for what they can’t control, but taste in foods is also at least partially genetic and rarely subject to conscious control.

        • onyomi says:

          I personally feel much aggrieved by the toga going out of fashion. Maybe in a few years the hipsters will get around to it.

          • Agronomous says:

            You damn toga-lovers are why a guy can’t get a reasonably-priced chiton anymore.

        • Anonymous says:

          Counterpoint: Western civilization has a strong and nigh-universal stigmatization of public urination.

          I think you mean the United States, and maybe not even all of it. Australians, in my experience, tend to have few qualms about finding a dark spot on the street and peeing in public.

          Doesn’t really detract from your larger point, but it’s just one of those eye opening things.

          • Person says:

            What part of Australia do you have experience with? In my experience this would be stigmatised behaviour.

          • Anonymous says:

            Australians visiting / working the US. Admittedly not a representative group.

          • onyomi says:

            I feel like we’re using “stigmatized” too broadly here. There are things people don’t do because they’re viewed as uncouth or gross; “stigma” carries a much stronger moral judgment in my view.

          • James Picone says:

            @Anonymous:
            I would be somewhat surprised by a friend or acquaintance urinating in public in an urban environment, and maybe a bit weirded out. There are laws against it, and you occasionally see something in a paper about a footballer getting picked up for it after a night on the town. Expected punishment would be a small fine, a good behaviour bond, or some minor community service.

            It’s the sort of thing you expect a drunken 20-year-old to get up, basically. Light stigma.

            (In a rural environment though, sure go piss on a tree).

        • Nita says:

          There’s a huge gap between “produce left-handed versions of everything” and “beat/shame kids for writing with their left hand”. And also between “piss in the middle of the street if you feel like it” and “let’s put men who don’t manage to find a toilet in time on the sex offender registry and ruin their life”.

          (The latter gap contains this like this, which shorten the porta-potty lines during public events without making the whole place smell like piss. Yay!)

        • Peter says:

          Stigma strength: what I’ll grant is that the “no public urination” thing is fairly even. In the UK there’s a certain amount of “going behind the bushes”, I’m told that the mores are more relaxed in France, and it seems from what Anonymous says that things are more relaxed in Australia.

          Thing about public urination: you don’t get people finding it unspeakable, and only being able to say things like “the detestable crime against nature”. You don’t get harsh legal penalties. You don’t hear stories of people being disowned or even killed by their parents for urinating in public, or being beaten up by vigilantes. I say “terrible” because that’s the strength of the current stigma in places and even there it only partially sticks.

          The sanctions against public urination are fairly mild, and yet they’re enough to make it stick. Evidently the need for public urination is fairly mild.

          There’s a semantic question as to whether there can be a strong stigma with mild sanctions, or whether the strength of the stigma pretty much is the strength of the sanctions.

          • John Schilling says:

            As Nita just pointed out, the sanctions for public urination in can be quite ruinous. At least in the United States, though I suspect elsewhere as well. But the point about regional and contextual differences is valid, and it is valid even within nations. There are rules, which most people understand, about when urinating in public gets you glared at and when it gets you locked up.

            But I’d be surprised if there’s anyplace in the west where it doesn’t at least get you glared at, on account of one of the unwritten rules being to find a place where there is nobody who could see to glare at you and you obviously didn’t obey that rule, did you?

            And now this is sounding even more like the sort of stigma faced by homosexuals in the bad old days, where it could get you locked up but there were (sometimes oppressive) rules which if you followed would usually keep it at the occasional-glares level.

            Not my intent; I was looking for an example diametrically opposed to the treatment of homosexuals. Let’s reclassify this one as an intermediate case, and go with the food stigmas as the opposing extreme.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t think Nita was saying that the sanctions for public urination are currently ruinous, just that there would be a big difference between mild sanction and severe condemnation.

            I don’t think public urination is currently considered a very big deal; as Peter says, no one’s parents disowned them, no one suffered severe beatings, no one’s church cast them out for public urination.

            And it’s also not arbitrary: if everyone peed wherever they felt like it, all public spaces would smell like sewers in short order, as they do in some third-world countries I’ve been to.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The penalty Nita named, sex offender registration, is the real penalty in many states. I don’t think that the public really endorses it and maybe that was her point. (Edited after Peter’s comment.)

          • Peter says:

            The complicating factor with public urination seems to be the possibility of indecent exposure. I did some web research on the UK situation. It seems that public urination in and of itself is not against UK law but is against local byelaws more or less everywhere. Apparently there was a case of a Scottish councillor who got caught publicly urinating – with the added irony that it hadn’t been long ago that he’d closed a bunch of public toilets to save money. On the one hand, his name got into the national newspapers, and some senior politician called on him to resign his position as deputy council leader. On the other hand, he got a mere £40 fine and still appears to be deputy leader.

            The prospect of getting done indecent exposure is potentially a much larger problem (another interesting taboo: public nudity – things seem to be pretty inconsistent in the UK) – apparently though to be prosecuted they need to prove intent to be seen, and that you caused “harassment, alarm or distress”.

            So things seem to vary. The UK position seems to be “a minor matter, unless you get taken for a sex offender, in which case, could get serious”.

          • Anonymous says:

            Apparently there was a case of a Scottish councillor who got caught publicly urinating – with the added irony that it hadn’t been long ago that he’d closed a bunch of public toilets to save money.

            How’s that ironic? Isn’t it merely logical that a man who thinks you can just piss about anywhere is more likely to consider public toilets a useless vanity expense that can be harmlessly cut?

          • Peter says:

            Irony: not necessarily. People will sometimes do things they think bad for selfish reasons, especially if they think they can get away with it, and/or have an inflated opinion of their own importance, and a full bladder makes for a big (and urgent) temptation. The irony is of a guy saying “we don’t need them” and then proving that we do.

            If the councillor is to be believed (he’s a politician, so quite possibly not), he’s embarrased by it, and considered it something to apologise for.

      • Jiro says:

        I don’t think “stigma” is the right idea here. Even without anyone thinking that homosexuality is wrong, it still will be the case that being falsely thought of as homosexual will have bad effects on your prospects with women, will lead to misunderstandings and affect a lot of social interactions, and will be objectionable for the same reason that misgendering is (it has to do with a core part of one’s identity). The “stigma” for non-homosexuals not wanting to be thought of as homosexual is never going to fade.

        • Peter says:

          To some extent, but to what extent?

          Misgendering covers a lot of things; there’s occasionally getting it wrong by accident, then there’s wilful, persistent and stubborn misgendering. The latter mixes in a lot of disrespect into the primary hurt, and if someone has had bad experiences with people who have misgendered them, then it will drag up some of that hurt as well. I certainly know people who can deal with the occasional accidental misgendering quite gracefully but who nevertheless get hurt by the wilful, persistent and stubborn sort.

          With being mistaken for gay; there’s wanting to have people know your true orientation, and there’s being absolutely paranoid about not wanting people to get the wrong idea. The latter could be considered rational in cases where there’s a strong stigma. I think stigma’s are “sticky” and once a stigma has got stuck to someone it’s hard to shake off.

        • onyomi says:

          Since we can’t go back to thinking gay people don’t exist, maybe the solution is just to be so accepting of it that no one would be in the closet, and, therefore, you could take anyone’s word for it that they weren’t gay, even if they liked to hold hands with their best male friend.

          After all, I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a “closet heterosexual” because society doesn’t shame you for being heterosexual.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s the lesbian-until-graduation phenomenon, but that doesn’t seem to have much to do with shame.

          • Peter says:

            There was the time David Bowie said he’d been a closet heterosexual. It seems he’d experimented with men a bit back in the day, publicly come out as bisexual, and then later reconsidered. Thing is, being known as bi really fitted his image (which had been described as “as camp as a row of tents”) and once you get recognised as an LGBT icon lots of people will feel betrayed if you go back on that. That said, it’s a bit of a strange set of circumstances, and lots of people don’t believe the whole “closet heterosexual” thing.

            Whichever way, it didn’t seem to harm his chances with women. Not by a long way.

          • Jiro says:

            Whichever way, it didn’t seem to harm his chances with women.

            That’s like saying that Bill Gates was overcharged for a pair of shoes and it didn’t seem to hurt his budget.

          • Jiro says:

            maybe the solution is just to be so accepting of it that no one would be in the closet, and, therefore, you could take anyone’s word for it that they weren’t gay, even if they liked to hold hands with their best male friend.

            Fails to account for
            — members of the opposite sex (or gay members of the same sex) who are predisposed to see gayness everywhere because it’s really hot
            — members of the opposite sex (or gay members of the same sex) who keep typical-minding by thinking “If I was hugging that person, it would certainly be because I was turned on”
            — anyone who wants to exaggerate the prevalence of homosexuality for political reasons (And don’t tell me that if it loses stigma, it will also become nonpolitical)
            — deliberate use of accusations of gayness as a weapon that makes it more difficult for the accused to have relations with the opposite sex (or with members of the same sex who will now see non-advances as advances)

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nornagest: what does drive the LUG phenomenon? If you know, I’d love an explanation; you could post a new root comment if you don’t want to clog this subthread.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s not one singular reason. So here’s a reason, rather than the reason: for the same reason straight guys have gay sex in prison, that’s what’s available. As between going on the frat hook up scene and exploring their bi side for a few years many women opt for the latter. Once they graduate college and their options are richer they revert to their stronger preference.

          • Anonymous says:

            for the same reason straight guys have gay sex in prison, that’s what’s available.

            What? Is there any time or place where a larger variety of potential boyfriends is available to a woman than her college years? I was always given to understand that a majority of college graduates meet their future spouses in college; saying there’s a dearth during or that options are richer afterward appears baffling to me.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s outdated. When there are more men than women the situation is ripe for romantic dating. When there are more women than you get hookup culture. We now have significantly more women than men going to college.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I think we may be starting to run into a conceptual gap. Elsewhere you said that homosexuality is “an identity, not a choice or activity,” and my reaction was “wait, what? Says who?”

            I don’t think there’s been a time in the west when we thought people who wanted same-sex didn’t exist. But who cares about that? It’s your choices and activities that matter and make you what you are and impact those around you. People inveighing against adultery didn’t think the married stop desiring other people (quite the opposite), but they do expect them not to act on those urges.

          • onyomi says:

            “People inveighing against adultery didn’t think the married stop desiring other people (quite the opposite), but they do expect them not to act on those urges.”

            Adulterer and homosexual are not analogous. Adultery is an act which inherently involves promise-breaking and almost all adulterers are also capable of enjoying non-adulterous sex. They are not born adulterers (though I’m sure some have a greater inborn propensity to promiscuity, they should not make promises of monogamy if they can’t keep them).

            Homosexuals can’t have fulfilling heterosexual sex. If they could, they’d be bi. That is part of their identity, and isn’t chosen, even if they do chose never to actually act on their preferences.

            Demanding a subgroup of people never enjoy fulfilling sexual relationships even though they can do so without hurting anyone is unreasonable and cruel.

            At the same time, I do think there is something to the idea that open recognition of homosexuality makes heterosexual male intimacy harder. But I don’t think that’s a good enough justification for stigmatizing homosexuality. I don’t know if there’s a truly ideal solution, but maybe we can start stigmatizing people who jump to conclusions about peoples’ sexuality based on superficial behavior?

          • Jaskologist says:

            You can substitute “fornication” for adultery if you want. The typical anti-adultery package has usually not allowed for pre-marital sex either, or negotiation of open-marriages, and generally considered life-long celibacy a very viable option.

            I know we’re getting off your original topic, but the fact that we can turn your comment into an argument for pedophilia or bestiality with a mere find/replace is why so many people think there’s a slippery slope at work here. Especially since you’re elsewhere arguing against the age-of-consent laws that we use to keep pedophiles at bay (which I agree ban a lot of consensual cases). All the more so because the people who think slippery-slope accusations are ridiculous are not the ones pushing back at you.

          • onyomi says:

            “the fact that we can turn your comment into an argument for pedophilia or bestiality with a mere find/replace”

            No, because, as I said before, children and animals can’t give meaningful consent. Note I said that gays can have fulfilling consensual relationships.

            Is it sad that pedophiles may be born (though I think many are traumatized as well) with a predisposition to desire sex with people who can’t consent? Yes, I think it is very sad. Pedophiles are generally hated as the lowest of the low because they harm children, but I think they deserve sympathy too for being born with such an unfortunate sexuality.

            I have seen stories about pedophiles having a tendency to, for example, marry adults who look very child-like. For them, there may only be such second-best solutions (though I’ll be fine with them using the child robot sex doll when it’s invented).

            The right to be able to pursue a fulfilling sex life is important, but it’s not as important as the right not to be molested and traumatized. Gay people can have fulfilling sex lives without violating the principle of consent. Pedophiles cannot. There is no slippery slope.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            >Yes, I think it is very sad.

            You seem to have a strange block when it comes to imagining the social attitudes of, say, 2050. Almost all of your language here is a repeat of the empathetic-liberal position on homosexuality circa 1920.

            Can you imagine a future in which activists… don’t put much weight on our archaic, conservative opinions and moral theories? Knowing a number of paedophiles, I can already predict a lot of the arguments that will be used against you (and agree with many of them).
            But regardless, our personal feelings and judgements will be completely irrelevant in the face of a massive social movement–just as Kim Davis’ beliefs did nothing to hold back the most recent wave.

            Promising to enforce your personal moral standards on the future is just proposing to be Chesterton’s one man who “promises to be about a thousand policemen”.

            (Re. animals-not-being-able-to-consent, have you ever looked up how they artificially inseminate horses? I’m pretty sure those stallions don’t consent to being jerked off, but there’s already a social norm permitting it.)

          • Anonymous says:

            Knowing a number of paedophiles, I can already predict a lot of the arguments that will be used against you (and agree with many of them).

            Why am I not surprised? You were saying Whatever Happened to Anonymous.

          • onyomi says:

            Bestiality is really a different issue because we also obviously apply different moral standards to animals. We do eat them, after all. I think it would be pretty hypocritical for someone who eats pigs to morally condemn someone who gets his dog to lick peanut butter off his penis. The condemnation would be all about disgust toward the person’s weirdness than about actual concern for the dog.

            Re. pedophilia: still no one’s explaining to me why consent is slippery here. And it’s still not analogous to the 20th c. fight for gay rights, which was about the right for consenting adults to live a lifestyle they found fulfilling and which directly hurt no one.

            But if I’m just being dense about how things will go down between now and 2050 if we go ahead and accept trans people like we have gay people, then please explain to me the sequence of cultural events which leads to us being okay with adults having sex with prepubescent children. I see no connection between these. It’s not only not a slippery slope; it’s not even on the same mountain.

            The reason the abortive attempt for acceptance of pedophilia in the 60s and 70s got so totally walked back in a way acceptance of say, women voting and black people using water fountains never did is precisely because it wasn’t the same. They tried to piggy back on the civil rights movement and claim it was the same, but it was quickly realized that it wasn’t. Because to accept it would obviously hurt children.

          • Jiro says:

            Everyone who wants rights tried to piggyback on any successful-appearing movement that wants rights. We just remember the ones that succeeded and forget the ones that failed.

            The Stonewall riots sung “We Shall Overcome” in 1969.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >Why am I not surprised? You were saying Whatever Happened to Anonymous.

            Pure coincidence!

            Seriously, though, that has little to do with my point. Why do you think Eggox2 is “alt-right”? What subgroup of them does he belong to? How does the idea that this “group” has links to pedophiles square with this? (context: the image is from “Counter-Signal Memes for Fashy Goys”, a Facebook page that’s the prime source of “alt-right” memes).

            “Alt-right” is not a cohesive group, it’s not a front, it’s not anything, it’s just outgroup homogeneity bias by (a specific type of) leftists on the internet (and Milo, who just wants to have his own personal army). I mean, they group the goddamn ants within the “alt-right” and those are overwhelmingly Bern Victims, it makes no goddamn sense.

          • onyomi says:

            “Everyone who wants rights tried to piggyback on any successful-appearing movement that wants rights. We just remember the ones that succeeded and forget the ones that failed.”

            True. But I don’t think it’s just an historical accident that gay rights successfully piggybacked where pedophilia didn’t.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            Over the course of this conversation the slope has slipped from “No, because children and animals can’t give meaningful consent” to “ok, maybe we don’t care about animals’ consent, but there’s definitely a line at children!”
            After all, “the condemnation would be all about disgust toward the person’s weirdness”, and we’ve already established that a disgust reaction to deviant sexual practices has no moral weight.
            In fact, it’s now a sign that there’s something wrong with you, no? That’s certainly the lesson we’re taught in Very Special Episodes about dealing with our reactionary, terminally un-hip prejudices.

            The entire consent-based theory of sexual morality that’s so popular right now has been cobbled together out of a mix of tribal prejudices and the transitory social dominance of a peculiar academic clique. It will fall from grace with them, and be replaced by something equally weird and unnatural by their replacements.

            If you want an idea of what it might look like, read the latest progressive literature on teaching children to have “healthy sexual attitudes” though hands-on education practices. And then the first chapter of Brave New World.

            You take great pride in “having a reasonable opinion”, but your opinion is only reasonable within a very specific and ephemeral social context. One that wouldn’t remain constant in the face of international travel, let alone the passage of time.

            You’re trying to build a castle on shifting sand, and it’s not going to work.

            >You were saying Whatever Happened to Anonymous.
            I don’t understand this post, but it seems pretty devoid of content.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I don’t understand this post, but it seems pretty devoid of content.

            Refer to.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Over the course of this conversation the slope has slipped from “No, because children and animals can’t give meaningful consent” to “ok, maybe we don’t care about animals’ consent, but there’s definitely a line at children!”

            Given we eat animals, I’m pretty sure the rejection of bestiality is an ad hoc justification possibly related to fear of disease. I’m not sure how that applies to children.

            The entire consent-based theory of sexual morality that’s so popular right now has been cobbled together out of a mix of tribal prejudices and the transitory social dominance of a peculiar academic clique. It will fall from grace with them, and be replaced by something equally weird and unnatural by their replacements.

            I’m struggling to see how consent based rules are weird and unnatural. They are an inevitable outgrowth of atomic individualism.

            If you want an idea of what it might look like, read the latest progressive literature on teaching children to have “healthy sexual attitudes” though hands-on education practices. And then the first chapter of Brave New World.

            The chapter where the kids are encouraged to have sex play with each other? I’m not seeing how this relates to adults sleeping with kids; BNW is the sort of place where there aren’t any homosexuals or deviance of any kind after all.

            As for new trends, you are going to need to show that.

            You take great pride in “having a reasonable opinion”, but your opinion is only reasonable within a very specific and ephemeral social context. One that wouldn’t remain constant in the face of international travel, let alone the passage of time.

            Yes, if we eliminate the downsides to pedophilia, it will be morally acceptable. I’m not seeing how that makes having an opinion on the current practice unreasonable.

          • onyomi says:

            I never said having disgust reactions means there’s something wrong with you. But disgust reactions, by themselves, are not sufficient justification for moral condemnation. In fact, pace Haidt, I don’t think they belong in the same realm at all; it’s “orthogonal” in SSC parlance. Otherwise, putting ketchup on eggs would be morally wrong.

          • Jiro says:

            I don’t think it’s just an historical accident that gay rights successfully piggybacked where pedophilia didn’t.

            Back 20 or 30 years ago, you could have easily said you thought it wasn’t just a historical accident that gay rights didn’t successfully piggyback either.

            They’re all unsuccessful, until they become successful.

          • onyomi says:

            Gay rights didn’t try then disappear for forty years. Similarly, black rights may have taken decades of gradual improvement, but there was never a forty year period when we went back to slavery or Jim Crow for a while. It was pretty much unidirectional.

          • Jiro says:

            But “well, it didn’t go away and come back” is an ad-hoc criterion. There’s no reason why a cause that hitches itself to another cause can’t go out of favor and back in favor again, and then eventually succeed. (I could even give examples such as drug laws. A lot of hippies wanted legal drugs. They got older and stopped wanting legal drugs. Now it seems like at least marijuana legalization is on the upsurge.)

          • NN says:

            What? Is there any time or place where a larger variety of potential boyfriends is available to a woman than her college years? I was always given to understand that a majority of college graduates meet their future spouses in college; saying there’s a dearth during or that options are richer afterward appears baffling to me.

            The other Anonymous’s claims about college hookup culture are exaggerated. Studies have consistently found that college-age members of this generation are no more promiscuous than members of the previous generation were at that age, and in fact some find them to be less promiscuous than the previous generation.

            However, the general point about “Is there any time or place where a larger variety of potential boyfriends is available to a woman than her college years?” being outdated is absolutely correct. You may not have heard about it, but due to a growing academic achievement gap between men and women (in favor of women), the average Western college is now one of the worst places for a woman to look for a boyfriend outside of a women’s prison or a retirement home. Currently, in the US, 57% of college students are female, and that number is rising.

            Though, that being said, I’m very skeptical about this being the reason behind LUG, since studies have found that women with only a high school education are more likely to have had a sexual experience with another women than women who have graduated from college.

      • Anonymous says:

        moving on to the nice relaxed time when the stigma has largely faded takes time

        This is my problem with your whole type of reasoning. How do you know such a time even exists? You seem to take it for granted, or at any rate seem very sure of yourself for someone discussing what’s only a hypothetical, yet I’m virtually certain that you have no example or proof that what you want is even possible.

        Something that’s always attracted me to conservatism, even though I don’t share many of their ideals or values, is that they’re at least broadly prepared to consider the possibility that there’s no possible solution that leaves everyone happy, and that “politics” is to a great extent the process of deciding who should be miserable. Both progressives and rationalists have a strong tendency to just scoff at the “stupid traditional society with its past people” and just assume they can solve things much better, and at least the progressives also have a track record of failing spectacularly and with an unexampled magnitude (which they then decide doesn’t count). To me, this seems woefully naive and hubristic, not to mention destructive.

        That last paragraph’s a tangent, I guess. But I’ve been thinking of it repeatedly while reading this discussion.

        • Peter says:

          I’m virtually certain that you have no example or proof that what you want is even possible

          My social circles in Cambridge.

          There’s a question of course as to how well all of this scales; you’ve got a self-selected subset of a self-selected group – Cambridge seems to select for high Openness to Experience, and in my circles we seem to get a lot of bisexuals (but hardly any gays or lesbians).

          I’ll admit that on first coming to Cambridge I was only theoretically OK with that sort of thing; school was the sort of place where I didn’t knowingly know any LGBT people (if I’d had understood myself better back then, I could have tried looking in the mirror) and it was common to insult people and things by calling them gay. Also I’m an Aspie and a bit uncomfortable with various sorts of physical contact and emotional stuff. So it took a little getting used to, and even I managed to stay infected with the “you have to prove how heterosexual you are” thing for quite a while. Thank goodness I’ve blown my chances at that, it really takes the pressure off.

          (Random perk of IDing as bi: having “Bisexual” on your OkCupid profile can make you more attractive to bi women, and they tend to be more keen on making the first move than straight women.)

          Anyway, yeah, I’ll admit I’ve got no proof that everything will be perfect in a supposed bright new future. I have seen variable levels of LGBT stigma and I’ll take lower-stigma cultures any day of the week, even if those places are as good as it’s going to get.

          You say about politics; a lot of things aren’t utopian dreams, they’re the designated ones to be miserable deciding that they aren’t going to take it anymore.

          I’m centre-left – I don’t really identify as a progressive, there are at least two types of rationalist I don’t identify as, I identify as liberal – but with a British, rather than American, understanding of the term. I’m a gradualist. Try some stuff out, see how it goes, if the sky doesn’t fall in, try some more stuff out. You don’t need to have a utopian vision that you’d chase off a cliff to know which direction you want to be moving in.

          • Anonymous says:

            You say about politics; a lot of things aren’t utopian dreams, they’re the designated ones to be miserable deciding that they aren’t going to take it anymore.

            But in that case the question becomes, why should anybody care? If you remove the claim that everybody can have everything and live in a marvelous land of dreams, a tiny subpopulation squalling that they aren’t going to take it anymore and that they’re ready to immiserate everybody else if that’s what it takes seems like…

            I mean, just for one thing, isn’t that exactly the sort of thing democracy was created to quash? It seems to me that a conscientious state would have to come down on that type of defector like a ton of bricks, for its own legitimacy.

            And even if not, it seems like “we’re mad as hell and we’re going to make you all miserable for selfish reasons!” is not only unlikely to get any real traction among the populace in general, but it rightfully won’t.

          • Peter says:

            why should anybody care?

            Numerous reasons. Conscience. Empathy. Memory of your people being the downtrodden ones. “First they came for the…”. Alliances with other downtrodden subpopulations. Members of the subpopulations having friends and families. Not wanting blood on the streets.

            There’s a big difference between “everybody can have everything and live in a marvellous land of dreams” and “no-one’s so miserable that they seriously feel the need not to be taking it anymore” which you seem remarkably keen to gloss over. Tyranny by majority is still tyranny.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s a big difference between “everybody can have everything and live in a marvellous land of dreams” and “no-one’s so miserable that they seriously feel the need not to be taking it anymore” which you seem remarkably keen to gloss over.

            It’s not a question of glossing over. It genuinely didn’t occur to me that you could possibly regard the awareness of one’s situation to be the key fact. The idea that a tiny group being sufficiently dissatisfied to speak up about their grievances (which, without knowing the facts on the ground, might as well be a case of spoiled loudmouths kvetching about nothing as of genuinely tormented people) necessarily and for that reason trumps the milder or perhaps just more stoically withstood dissatisfaction of the vast majority strikes me as absurd on the face of it.

            What if the vast majority are in such an unhappy position that they don’t even realize that they could be in a happier one? That they can’t adequately conceptualize what’s been taken from them? Is the minority which can point to its grievance still superior simply by that token?

            It takes two to tango; if you don’t want blood on the streets, maybe you shouldn’t fill them with barricades, red flags and slogans first? It’s neither fair nor reasonable to complain that the majority shoots back, nor that the army’s on their side.

            Tyranny by majority is still tyranny.

            No it isn’t. This is just a glib attempt by people who don’t like the outcome of democracy to avoid democracy. A verdict of the majority of the people is by definition not tyranny; deciding that there are things outside the purview of the majority is nothing more than trying to decide that your own values should be exempt from change.

          • Nita says:

            This is just a glib attempt by people who don’t like the outcome of democracy to avoid democracy.

            Since most modern democracies limit the power of the majority over individuals and minority groups, it seems that the majority wants to avoid [pure] democracy. And since you believe in subordinating one’s will to the will of the majority, you should get with the program and support these limitations.

          • Anonymous says:

            it seems that the majority wants to avoid [pure] democracy.

            I don’t think that’s true. Quite the contrary, actually. I’d say those limits were installed by the framers of the democracies, men who (almost necessarily) had a great deal of power and interests they wanted to protect from the masses. The Swiss don’t seem to suffer too awfully from their surfeit of direct democracy relative to other countries, for instance.

            Besides, there are questions to be raised anyway over whether today’s majority should be allowed to restrain tomorrow’s. I like the British principles of parliamentary sovereignty.

          • Peter says:

            Legal issues or not, there’s also the thing about people themselves not wanting to act like petty tyrants – like I said in my list of responses to “why should anybody care?”, conscience. Well, most of them. There’s always a few people whose reaction to each and every protest is to treat is as a threat to their authority and to want to react with maximum force, but most people aren’t wannabe tyrants. It’s an important part in making sure that the worst-system-of-government-except-for-all-the-others can lay claim to the “except for all the others” bit.

            There’s long history of important stuff being won by protest, even here in the UK where we have parliamentary supremacy (but less so in practise these days due to the ECHR, which opinions seem to be divided on). I think the median position on protest is to sit back and see how it plays out, to judge case-by-case who are the spoiled loudmouths and who are the genuinely tormented ones. There’s plenty of both. One case in point is May 1968 in France – it seems that there were student strikes that initially had public support, but who lost that support after appearing on television and coming across as “irresponsible utopianists”.

          • onyomi says:

            “Tyranny by majority is still tyranny.

            No it isn’t. This is just a glib attempt by people who don’t like the outcome of democracy to avoid democracy. A verdict of the majority of the people is by definition not tyranny; deciding that there are things outside the purview of the majority is nothing more than trying to decide that your own values should be exempt from change.”

            A verdict by the majority of the people is not tyranny? Maybe tell that to German Jews in the 30s? Hitler was the product of a democracy you know. This isn’t Godwin’s Law in action, by the way. What you are saying actually justifies the Holocaust.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @onyomi: You know who came to power in a democracy by offering the voters economic benefits and then committed genocide? CLEON.

          • onyomi says:

            Huh? If this is a joke about ancient Greek politics I’m not erudite enough to get it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @onyomi: Cleon was the man who succeeded Pericles as de facto chief executive of Athens (remember that the de jure chief executive had a term limit of one day) after his death from plague in 429 BC.
            The primary sources portray him as a genocidal demagogue who secured his power through lawfare and instituting a living wage for jury duty (a kind of proto-Social Security, as most jurors were old or disabled men). In The Wasps by Aristophanes, the main characters are a populist named Philocleon and his conservative son Anticleon. In Thucydides, he’s most infamous for the Melian Dialogue that takes place just before Athenian forces commit genocide on the island of Melos. He also used his oratory skill to get the Assembly to vote for the genocide of another island, Mytilene. The decree was revisited in the Assembly the next day by his opponents, which was claimed to be unconstitional, and all but 1,000 people of Mytilene was spared when his party was defeated.
            In the Before Hitler era, Cleon would have been perhaps the central example educated people were thinking of when they used the word “demagogue.”

          • John Schilling says:

            and all but 1,000 people of Mytilene was spared when his party was defeated

            As an aside, the order to depopulate Mytilene was sent immediately, before the marathon debating session. For the people to be saved, the “wait, just kidding…” message had to be sent three over three hundred kilometers in twenty-one hours.

            By Trireme.

            Sometimes people are just plain awesome. Cleon, not so much, but a hundred seventy anonymous oarsmen, hell yes.

          • Agronomous says:

            In the Before Hitler era, Cleon would have been perhaps the central example educated people were thinking of when they used the word “demagogue.”

            Indeed. And by the then-controlling Lex Goduinus, you hereby lose the argument simply for bringing up Cleon.

    • NN says:

      Perhaps looking at cultures that have less stigma about close male friendships might provide some insight.

      One example that I know a bit about is most Middle Eastern cultures, where it is very common to see male friends holding hands, kissing each other on the cheek, etc. This may be an example of what you describe as conservative social mores allowing for that sort of thing, given the dismal state of gay rights in most of the Middle East.

      However, Pashtun culture in Southern Afghanistan is…weird. As I discussed in another comment, there not only is physical affection between males widely accepted and extremely common, but sexual relationships between males are also very common, in both the Ancient Greek style pederasty and consensual relationships between adult men varieties. However, even Pashtun men who freely admit to having sex with men and/or boys will adamantly insist that they are not “homosexuals,” throwing out excuses like, “I’m not in love with the boy, so it doesn’t count,” or, “I’m only doing this because all the women are covered up and I can’t see how beautiful they are, so it doesn’t count.” The only people around who don’t seem to buy these excuses are the Taliban, and even with them there are rumors that their private behavior differs substantially from their public statements of disapproval…

      But then even the Taliban seem to have little problem with physical affection between men. For example, they like to share group hugs before missions, which can be a problem when suicide bombers decide to put on their vests before the pre-battle hugs. Similarly, even ISIS seems to place less stigma on physical affection between men and male display of emotions other than anger than most conventionally “macho” Western cultures.

      So, in conclusion, I’m not sure what the solution is, but it seems like for some people the issue may lie in the association between certain behaviors and a separate “gay/homosexual” identity, and not with the behaviors themselves.

  15. Vitor says:

    Next sunday (June 5th), we will be voting on unconditional basic income in Switzerland.

    The important thing to note here is that the initiative doesn’t specify any implementation details, just that the state would be responsible for implementing UBI in some manner. In case of acceptance, a committee would be formed to work out the details.

    The time for this idea has obviously not yet come, so this vote will just be about shifting the overton window. Still important, I guess.

  16. Salem says:

    Are mercenaries a good idea?

    Organisations need to be able to scale up and down flexibly, in response to prevailing conditions. For a specific project, a financial institution might want to take on more resource, without committing itself to a permanent increase in headcount, or the costs of training someone up. As a result, it might take on contractors, normally experienced people who do not expect to be there permanently, and who will most likely, at the end of the contract, look for another contracting position elsewhere. This is especially important for organisations whose work is particularly “clumpy.”

    But surely the organisation with the most “clumpy” work is the military, so why doesn’t it scale up in times of conflict by hiring experienced contractors (mercenaries) then scale down in times of peace? This isn’t a far-fetched idea either, this was exactly how the British military operated in the 18th century; it retained a small core organisation in peacetime, then employed mercenaries (normally German) to scale up when wars occurred. This worked well – it was a time of British military dominance. The most technologically advanced and specialised equipment (which in those days meant warships) were of course kept permanently, as they are harder to scale up.

    However, this stopped working due to mass-mobilisation and the French Revolutionary Wars; you needed conscription to generate sufficient numbers. Britain abandoned such a policy after struggling to get enough recruits to fill out the army for the Crimean War.

    Now, however, times have changed. Firstly, the majority of wars that are fought are relatively small (no Western country has fought a war of mass mobilisation since Korea), and secondly, the technological balance has shifted away from mass armies to highly trained ones. Now, you may argue that Western countries do have small, professional armies, which they could presumably scale up by conscription in a war of mass mobilisation, but these armies are still too large, in the sense that these countries have peacetime complements that are large enough to fight the ordinary course of small wars that come along (such as Iraq, Kosovo, etc). Instead we could have a situation where:

    1. The military retains its most technologically advanced and specialised equipment (such as aircraft carriers, jets, etc) permanently.
    2. The military retains a logistical, training and organisational corps permanently.
    3. Ordinary soldiers are outside contractors, hired only when there is a specific need. Many would likely be foreign.

    The obvious advantages are that this would be much cheaper than the current system, and would reduce the military’s lobbying clout over the rest of the system.

    Some possible objections:

    1. You wouldn’t be able to scale up when you need to, because the other side would hire the available mercenaries. But I think this is unlikely, because we are only talking about small wars, and for large wars countries are likely to engage in conscription anyway.
    2. Other countries would object to their citizens being hired into foreign militaries. But I think this is unlikely, provided they were recruited from culturally sympathetic countries. This doesn’t seem to affect the viability of the Gurkhas, for example.
    3. Foreign mercenaries are disfavoured under Article 47(1) Geneva Convention. But as long as they were made members of the armed forces for the duration of their contract, they would be OK under clause 47(1)(e) or (f).
    4. Foreign mercenaries would be dangerous and liable to stage a coup. But this is only a danger when you are hiring armies wholesale, as with the Italian Renaissance city-states. The mercenaries would not be a free-standing force, but would be integrated into an existing command structure. Certainly, this was never a worry for the British military in the 18th century.

    What do people think?

    • Anonymous says:

      But surely the organisation with the most “clumpy” work is the military, so why doesn’t it scale up in times of conflict by hiring experienced contractors (mercenaries) then scale down in times of peace?

      Mercenary forces still exist, and are still used by the United States, at least.

      • Salem says:

        Organisations like Blackwater are not true mercenaries, they carry out a very restricted set of roles. It is of course true that Western militaries use contractors in logistics, transportation, as security guards, and in all kinds of ancillary services, but I’m talking about the front line troops.

        • ReluctantEngineer says:

          Blackwater-like groups have sometimes acted more like true mercenaries (although not in the service of Western militaries), e.g. Executive Outcomes during the Angolan Civil War.

        • Psmith says:

          I’d say it’s more the other way around. Front-line combat is a very restricted role in first-world militaries and logistics, security, transportation, and so on make up the bulk of what the military does. And contractors do get hired for all that stuff. A lot of guys whose experience was limited to two years as sheriff’s deputies in rural counties or something like that got plush contracting gigs around 2007, I’m told, and there are correspondingly fewer of those jobs now.

    • dndnrsn says:

      With regards to Britain: Britain’s a special case compared to continental Europe, because it’s got the Channel in the way. You can’t say “this is how Britain, historically, dealt with their army” without considering their navy. Even in the age of mass conscription, the Anglo countries (all of which have geography protecting them, save Canada, which has geography protecting it from everyone except the US) tended not to adopt the continental model of conscription.

      I suppose the question is, where do the mercenaries come from? When European armies had a lot of mercenaries, you had areas without enough farmland and excess young men, you had a patchwork of minor German states, etc.

      Today, the sort of men who made up mercenary armies in the past – young men without prospects at home – would be coming from places where there’s a shortage of farmland, places hard-hit by climate change, places with conflicts causing people to leave as refugees, some combination, etc.

      Would it be worth the savings for the US or another major power to have to set about recruiting and training a force made up of young men from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, parts of Africa, etc in a hurry if a situation comes up requiring more than a skeleton force? How well is that force going to perform, vs. a force made up of Americans – surely patriotism is a stronger motivating force than “we’re cheaper for them than paying their own guys to do it, but the wages are still better than starving”? By many accounts, the US-trained forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are not doing as well as one might expect, given the resources put into them – would the US be able to better train foreigners to defend the US, than their own countries?

      It seems like this would just be the same problem that Britain had at the beginning of WWI, or the US had in WWI and at the beginning of WWII, that of how to expand a small professional force to a continental-sized force, with added difficulties in recruiting, training, and motivation.

      • Anonymous says:

        the Anglo countries (all of which have geography protecting them, save Canada, which has geography protecting it from everyone except the US)

        I like the implication here that Canada doesn’t even count as something the US needs protection from. It’s funny because it’s true, as they say.

      • Salem says:

        You are right that this model was never as applicable for continental countries. Let’s limit it to countries that do not need a large standing army for purely defensive reasons; Britain, the rest of the Anglosphere, countries like the UAE, etc.

        I suppose the question is, where do the mercenaries come from?… Would it be worth the savings for the US or another major power to have to set about recruiting and training a force made up of young men from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, parts of Africa, etc in a hurry if a situation comes up requiring more than a skeleton force?

        Perhaps I was insufficiently clear. I am not suggesting that the British military should train up inexperienced Syrians on the cheap to replace the regular army. I agree this would be a disaster. Instead, I am suggesting that they hire experienced soldiers who require minimal training (but perhaps might have to make some adjustments to their normal operating procedures), in the same way that when HSBC wants to hire a contractor for a 6 month project, they do not want to have to train up a new graduate. These experienced soldiers would cost more on a daily basis than regular troops, just as contractors cost more than employees, but because you would not need to hold them on standby, the overall cost would be less.

        At the moment the UK has an army of 90k, the UAE has an army of 65k, Australia has an army of 30k, Canada 23k, etc, all based on their projected requirements. But most of the time those soldiers are sitting around doing nothing, and they’re not all going to need to all use those armies at the same time. So Worldwide Mercenaries Ltd (and its competitors) would only have a total of, say, 50% of that under arms. Those soldiers will spend more of their time fighting, and so have more combat experience and deliver a better service to whoever is using them. It’s a pure efficiency gain, which will allow the taxpayers to make cost savings, Worldwide Mercenaries Ltd to make a profit, and the unneeded soldiers to seek alternative employment.

        OK, so where are these experienced professionals going to come from? The same places our current armed forces come from, of course. But instead of signing up for the army, they’d sign up for Worldwide Mercenaries Ltd, which would train them up and pay them a salary, and then send them to work for Britain or the UAE or wherever as required.

        It seems like this would just be the same problem that Britain had at the beginning of WWI, or the US had in WWI and at the beginning of WWII, that of how to expand a small professional force to a continental-sized force, with added difficulties in recruiting, training, and motivation.

        In the case of a serious war, Britain and the US would have to do the exact same thing today – scale up their present, small professional forces to be continentally sized. My proposal does not affect this; if WW3 breaks out, both the current system and my proposal assume that conscription is going to be re-introduced. My proposal is about small wars that nevertheless require ground troops – Kosovo, Iraq, etc. In time of peace, you have a skeleton staff. In time of (small) war, you expand to a small professional army. In time of major war, you conscript, which would be no more (or less) painful under my system than at present.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m guessing a main reason this wouldn’t work is moral. Most men who sign up for the British Army probably would not want to fight for the UAE, especially against the enemies and in the ways the UAE requires.

          One signs up for the army out of patrotism and a desire to protect something one sees as valuable, in most cases — not primarily to get a salary.

        • dndnrsn says:

          So, instead of the US, UK, Canada, etc having their own military, WWM Ltd. would hire Americans, Brits, Canadians, etc then rent them out to the US, UK, Canada, etc as needed?

          This kind of defeats the advantage of price that comes from recruiting from impoverished foreigners, as was the case with, say, Swiss mercenaries in Europe: not enough land, lots of second and third sons with no other means of support…

          In contrast, a Canadian recruited to work for WWM would probably demand more money than a Canadian recruited by the Canadian military would get paid: no “I want to serve my country” motivation, probably even more moving from place to place, etc.

          • Salem says:

            You are right that further cost savings could be made if WMM hired impoverished Syrians. I do not think this would be the first step, due to concerns over quality of service. In time, however, entrepreneurs and innovators will step into this space, and if they are able to deliver a comparable service at a lower price by using Syrians, they will do so. That is the joy of opening up a new market.

            I agree that a Canadian might want more money to work for WMM than his own armed forces. However, a Gurkha might not care either way. I have never posited that the saving is in employing people at a cheaper daily rate.

            However, you are wrong about the historical price advantage. In the 18th century too, the mercenaries from Hesse, Brunswick, etc that Britain relied on were more expensive than local recruits. They were hired anyway, for the same reason that HSBC prefers to hire (more expensive) contractors for temporary work.

        • CatCube says:

          Sounds like the Core from S.S.D.D. (N.B.: a “furry” sci-fi comic)

          Of course, that organization was founded to protect an alliance of countries from a nominally anarchist state that might have been founded and run by a psychotic A.I.

    • John Schilling says:

      What do you imagine the mercenaries are going to be doing when you aren’t hiring them? If the model is that there is a collection of friendly nations with a relatively constant collective rate of warfighting but with each individual nation fighting its wars out of synch with the others, sure, you could get a sort of migratory soldier workforce. But when, e.g. the whole of the Free World unites against the Nazis 1941-1945, then stands down for five years, then unites against the Commies 1950-1953, well, there’s five years there when all the mercenaries either starved or took up new careers, and then not enough mercenaries when you need them. And that’s just as true if you use today’s smaller but still episodic and nonuniform wars.

      Also, if you’re looking for soldiers who will stand and fight when victory is not assured and fighting is not safe, esprit de corps matters. Your mercenaries will fight longer and harder, and work better as a team, if they are organized into a more or less permanent force. See e.g. the French Foreign Legion. This can work out well if you have a community with a relatively constant base demand for warfighting -see e.g. the French Empire. Otherwise, the “what do you do with the mercenaries when there aren’t any Good Wars for them to fight?” has to encompass actual standing armies. And the coup risk starts to come back in to play.

      Finally, per Rumsfeld, you go to war with the army you have. The days when you could say “Oops, we’re at war, better institute a draft / offer huge enlistment bonuses” are over; the training required to make a real positive contribution in a modern war no longer allows that sort of rapid mass mobilization. So, no, for large wars nations won’t “engage in conscription anyway”, or if they do it won’t help them. Only their standing army, their ready reserve, and the mercenaries they can reliably hire in a crunch, will count.

      There’s certainly enough consistent demand to keep a small number of mercenaries consistently and profitably employed, and there are efficiency gains to using mercenaries rather than standing armies for some of that. But not to the extent of replacing even half of anyone’s regular army.

      • Salem says:

        What do you imagine the mercenaries are going to be doing when you aren’t hiring them? If the model is that there is a collection of friendly nations with a relatively constant collective rate of warfighting but with each individual nation fighting its wars out of synch with the others, sure, you could get a sort of migratory soldier workforce.

        Yes, that’s the implicit model.

        But when, e.g. the whole of the Free World unites against the Nazis 1941-1945, then stands down for five years, then unites against the Commies 1950-1953, well, there’s five years there when all the mercenaries either starved or took up new careers, and then not enough mercenaries when you need them.

        There were still some wars for mercenaries to fight in 1945-50, but I take your point; the demand for soldiers in WW2 was so high that mercenaries wouldn’t be able to meet it. This is true, but the demand for soldiers in WW2 was so high that professional soldiers weren’t able to meet it either. Every major combatant power with a professional army switched to conscription for the duration of the war. Therefore I do not see how “you couldn’t cope with WW2” is an argument for professional armies over mercenary ones.

        And that’s just as true if you use today’s smaller but still episodic and nonuniform wars.

        It’s still true to an extent, but it’s not “just as” true. The degree of variance in the number of soldiers in combat worldwide is far lower in the past 25 years than in the 25 years surrounding WW2. Sure, there’s still a degree of lumpiness, but is it more or less than in the 18th century? The War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War were also huge deals with mostly peace in between. This is a quantitative question.

        Also, if you’re looking for soldiers who will stand and fight when victory is not assured and fighting is not safe, esprit de corps matters. Your mercenaries will fight longer and harder, and work better as a team, if they are organized into a more or less permanent force.

        This is a good point, but maybe it’s a trade-off worth making. I don’t imagine my idea has zero downsides, I’m looking for a fair accounting of the pros and the cons.

        The days when you could say “Oops, we’re at war, better institute a draft / offer huge enlistment bonuses” are over; the training required to make a real positive contribution in a modern war no longer allows that sort of rapid mass mobilization.

        This is an interesting point. What would you say has changed since WW2 in that regard? Mass mobilisation wasn’t particularly rapid then, at least for Britain (obviously, things were different on the continent).

        I find it hard to believe that conscription wouldn’t be re-introduced in a major war. A country that did would have to train up the troops, sure, but after a year or so it would have a huge numerical advantage over an enemy that didn’t. You’d have to be awfully confident of a quick victory not to go down that route. What am I missing?

        • bean says:

          What would you say has changed since WW2 in that regard?
          Nuclear weapons. If it’s a war that would generate the kind of support necessary for conscription to be reintroduced, it’s either going to be between nuclear powers (so it won’t happen, or will be over very quickly) or it’s going to be the US beating up on someone else with airpower, which will destroy their army as a fighting machine to a degree sufficient to remove the need for conscription in the first place.

          The War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War were also huge deals with mostly peace in between. This is a quantitative question.
          My guess would be that in a lot of cases, those wars created their own mercenaries. If the alternative to becoming a mercenary is trying to farm in the middle of rampaging armies, then mercenary service sounds pretty attractive. (Also, some mercenary bands had a tendency to conscript the locals.) I know this was the case during the 30 years war, although I admit that my history is somewhat better there than during the 18th century.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It’s incorrect to say all powers in WWII “switched” to conscription. The continental countries that had conscription had it on the continental model: men being called up for service, doing their service, after which they generally remained in the reserve. The goal was to have as many men as possible available as quickly as possible, and having men who were either already in uniform or in civilian life but already trained accomplished that.

          Even this didn’t produce enough soldiers – during WWI and WWII the continental combatants had to do things like call up men otherwise exempt, call up men earlier than would be the case in peacetime, etc.

          A major world conflict now would probably involve nuclear weapons; conversely, the existence of nuclear weapons is one of the reasons there haven’t been any major world conflicts since 1945. If, say, the Cold War had gone hot and the US and USSR had hurled everything they had at each other, would there be any combatants left in a year?

          • Salem says:

            It’s incorrect to say all powers in WWII “switched” to conscription.

            I said all of those with a professional army switched. Naturally, those who already had conscript armies didn’t need to switch.

            A major world conflict now would probably involve nuclear weapons; conversely, the existence of nuclear weapons is one of the reasons there haven’t been any major world conflicts since 1945. If, say, the Cold War had gone hot and the US and USSR had hurled everything they had at each other, would there be any combatants left in a year?

            I am extremely sceptical of the notion that had the Cold War gone “hot” necessarily involves the US and USSR hurling everything at each other. That’s a flawed model of IR. Limited war isn’t just possible, it’s the norm. If WW2 didn’t involve both sides hurling everything at each other (and it didn’t; neither side used chemical or biological weapons, for example) then we shouldn’t assume WW3 would.

            Indeed, if we believed in this (flawed) model, then nuclear deterrence would be the only defence a country needs. Sadly this isn’t true. Suppose Russia occupied the Shetland Islands – would we nuke Moscow? What if they then took the Isle of Man? And so on. Having only one, hefty, defensive measure that you are reluctant to use is a good recipe for being salami-sliced.

            Suppose Obama decides to intervene to save Ukraine. I can imagine that turning extremely hot, extremely fast. I also predict that, as long as the Russian border was respected, neither side would even consider using nuclear weapons.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Well, the Anglo countries did what the Anglo countries have generally done in the past 2 wars: start with a small professional military, realize “oh shit we need a bigger military”, rely on volunteers early on, and bring in conscription (sometimes too-little-too-late). I suppose the issue is that “conscription” can mean either a wartime draft or a continental universal peacetime service system. With the peacetime draft in the US coming in somewhere in between.

            As for nuclear weapons and deterrence and all that, a lot of ink has been spilled. Of course there’s a need for lighter deterrents than “launch everything right now”. Still, a war significant to require conscription at a WWII level would almost certainly see nuclear weapons involved.

          • bean says:

            I am extremely sceptical of the notion that had the Cold War gone “hot” necessarily involves the US and USSR hurling everything at each other. That’s a flawed model of IR. Limited war isn’t just possible, it’s the norm.
            Not really. Up until the 80s, the US (rightly) believed that we couldn’t hold Germany against the Soviets without nuclear weapons. Trying to build an army that could would have been ruinously expensive. So instead, we decided to make it so that they couldn’t invade Germany without it turning into a full-scale nuclear war. This worked quite well.

            Indeed, if we believed in this (flawed) model, then nuclear deterrence would be the only defence a country needs. Sadly this isn’t true. Suppose Russia occupied the Shetland Islands – would we nuke Moscow? What if they then took the Isle of Man? And so on. Having only one, hefty, defensive measure that you are reluctant to use is a good recipe for being salami-sliced.
            Only if you’re not willing to draw firm lines and stick to them. When we stropped drawing those lines in the early 60s, we ran into exactly that problem.
            This also ignores the problem that limited wars are inherently unstable. How do the Russians go about occupying the Shetlands without threatening the larger British strategic position? Do they leave the British bases in Scotland and the Orkneys alone? That’s going to be a significant handicap. Also, are the British obliged to respect Soviet bases in the same way? If they are, how do both sides agree on this? Why would the British agree to such a handicap? And how do the Soviets convince the British to stop bombing anything that comes close to the Shetlands? Unless there’s someone more powerful than either sitting on the sidelines making sure that they play nice with each other, it doesn’t really work.
            Vietnam is the obvious example. The US was in the position of the Soviets in the above example, and imposed massive handicaps on itself to try to convince the Soviets and Chinese that our objectives were limited. And we ended up getting run out of the country when we got tired of being shot at before the NVA got tired of shooting at us.

          • Anonymous says:

            So instead, we decided to make it so that they couldn’t invade Germany without it turning into a full-scale nuclear war. This worked quite well.

            I thought (I’m no historian so I may be thinking wrongly) that the massive tank buildup of the USSR was a defensive strategy anyway? If they never intended to attack Germany, the fact that they didn’t attack doesn’t indicate anything about the effectiveness of purely nuclear deterrence.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I’m not sure how much you can separate out the two for the USSR. They believed the capitalist world was inherently opposed to them and would crush them if they let their guard down. So offensive actions could serve a defensive purpose because in the event of the inevitable war, it allowed you to fight in the territory of your enemies.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s how it works for every nation that isn’t the USSR. Biting off a piece of Germany to make a buffer is a big deal if you’re France, but for the USSR?

          • bean says:

            I thought (I’m no historian so I may be thinking wrongly) that the massive tank buildup of the USSR was a defensive strategy anyway? If they never intended to attack Germany, the fact that they didn’t attack doesn’t indicate anything about the effectiveness of purely nuclear deterrence.
            Defense against what? NATO? They had way too many tanks for that to make much sense. The Soviets were opportunists, sure, but if they had had that opening, they would probably have taken it.

        • John Schilling says:

          I find it hard to believe that conscription wouldn’t be re-introduced in a major war. A country that did would have to train up the troops, sure, but after a year or so it would have a huge numerical advantage over an enemy that didn’t. You’d have to be awfully confident of a quick victory not to go down that route. What am I missing?

          Mostly that the high-intensity conflict phase of any modern war is going to be over in well under a year, and requires skills that take more than a year to instill. Even in WWII, the only parts that lasted more than a year were the two land-war-in-Asia bits and the ones where evenly-matched enemies were staring at each other over oceans. And the Germans came pretty close to taking Moscow in six months.

          Modern weapons are more deadly, modern logistics support more intensive operational tempos, satellites etc greatly facilitate finding the best place to match your strength against the enemy’s weakness today, and then there’s the fallback option of “fuck it, one way or another this war is over in thirty minutes”. I don’t see much chance of a high-intensity conflict lasting for years. Certainly I don’t see hoping your small standing army will hold off the enemy for a year while you train up the conscripts to be anything more than a desperation play.

          A long, grinding occupation against a persistent insurgency afterwards, sure, but that’s the sort of thing where conscription costs you the public support that you need more than you need the conscripts.

          • Salem says:

            Even in WWII, the only parts that lasted more than a year were the two land-war-in-Asia bits and the ones where evenly-matched enemies were staring at each other over oceans… Certainly I don’t see hoping your small standing army will hold off the enemy for a year while you train up the conscripts to be anything more than a desperation play.

            Maybe we’re talking at cross purposes. WW2 had a 2 year-long phase of wildly unmatched enemies staring at each other over a narrow sea. If the Wehrmacht had been able to get to Kent, that would have ended the war; but of course they couldn’t. I certainly don’t see a small standing army holding off the enemy for a year, any more than Asquith thought the BEF would be able to hold off the Deutches Heer for a year. The idea is you hold off the enemy for a year (or indefinitely!) using the high-tech, permanent parts of your military (ships and planes), while you build up.

            Obviously this doesn’t work if your permanent defences require large amounts of manpower to stave off sneak attacks. Clearly, Ukraine needs a sizeable standing army.

          • John Schilling says:

            The British Empire had a small standing army and the largest navy on the planet. The Third Reich had a small navy and, if not the largest, arguably the most powerful army on the planet. The two had comparable air forces. That, in my book, is a roughly even match. You don’t get to ignore the navy, ignore the ocean, and say “look, you can get by with a small army!”

            The idea is you hold off the enemy … using the high-tech, permanent parts of your military (ships and planes), while you build up

            And if the geography says that the way to do that is with a huge navy, then the huge navy is what matters and the army isn’t. So what is the benefit from replacing (part of) the army with mercenaries? Get back to me when you’ve got a plan for a mercenary navy – and note that nobody has ever used privateers to stop an invasion fleet.

            More generally, if you want to draw a line around some small part of your military that doesn’t play a critical role in your particular defense strategy and say, “see, we can replace this with mercenaries!”, then yeah, sure, but so what?

          • Salem says:

            I am baffled by this response. Let me try and meet you half way.

            I entirely agree that critical matters of national defence cannot be left to scale-up mercenaries; they need to be “always-on.” Will you then agree that much of military spending is not purposed on these matters? Certainly, my government agrees, because if you look at the Strategic Defence Review they want to be able to take part in all kinds of operations that may be very worthwhile, but aren’t remotely defence of the realm. I’m not saying Britain should give up its ability to pursue pirates in the Indian Ocean, or intervene in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone or wherever (that’s another debate) – I’m taking these policies as a given, and asking how they can be achieved more cheaply. And I freely admit I’m looking at this from a British perspective, and the military needs of other countries may be different. But I would note that the US (where I believe you’re from) is in a similar position. America doesn’t need remotely that level of military purely to defend its own shores, it has it to intervene abroad – which policy I do not criticise.

            For Britain (and many other countries), the defence-critical part of the military is the navy and air force. This is likely to become ever more the case, because they are the most technologically and capital-intensive parts of the military. However, the army is the largest part of the military in both the US and UK (our army has more people than the RAF and Royal Navy put together) yet it is mostly needed for foreign expeditions.

            I pointed out that there was a time when the Royal Navy hung around in peacetime, but the army scaled back, and was supplemented by mercenaries when we needed a foreign expedition. I am asking whether that model would be appropriate in modern times. How you should take that as me suggesting we should have a mercenary navy is beyond me. I’ve only ever talked about a mercenary army.

            And if the geography says that the way to do that is with a huge navy, then the huge navy is what matters and the army isn’t. So what is the benefit from replacing (part of) the army with mercenaries?

            Right, we defend ourselves with the navy (and air force) but right now we have an army larger than either one. The benefit of replacing (part of) the army is to… save… money… I’m really struggling here, because you’re easily the most insightful poster on this board, and I feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall here, which makes me feel I must be missing some obvious point, and yet I don’t see it. Please enlighten me…

          • bean says:

            I entirely agree that critical matters of national defence cannot be left to scale-up mercenaries; they need to be “always-on.” Will you then agree that much of military spending is not purposed on these matters?
            Define ‘critical matters of national defense’. You could make a good argument that Afghanistan isn’t critical, but Britain is a maritime nation that depends on freedom of the seas. So is being able to chase pirates off the Horn of Africa critical or not? Someone has to do it, and while it might be interesting to see a world where governments pay mercenaries to do that, this isn’t that world.

            I pointed out that there was a time when the Royal Navy hung around in peacetime,
            Only partially. I dealt with this at length below. Short version is that in the era under discussion, the navy scaled back significantly, too, but in a way that allowed it to expand rapidly again.

            but the army scaled back, and was supplemented by mercenaries when we needed a foreign expedition. I am asking whether that model would be appropriate in modern times.
            The problem is that there are quite a few definitions of the word ‘mercenary’:
            1. A private company that basically has its own private army, which it rents out to states. Think of the Condottieri, Targon’s Toughs, or Hammer’s Slammers.
            2. A unit which is essentially part of a regular military, but which is made up of soldiers from a country that isn’t the military’s own. The Gurkhas and the French Foreign Legion are the most prominent modern examples.
            3. A unit that belongs to one country, and is sold to another. (The Hessians of the American revolution.) Arguably includes a lot of the current UN peacekeeping forces.
            4. A unit that is raised by a country in wartime, and contains whoever is willing to show up and fight. (I think this is what most of the British mercenaries were.)
            5. (Modern) A company that is technically private, but that is employed by a government to provide armed force. Usually staffed by citizens of the country. Distinguished from 1 by the fact that they’re very closely tied to a given government. Blackwater.

            1 would need something to do in peacetime (problem). 2 and 3 don’t really make sense for your criteria, as they need to be supported in peacetime anyway. 4 is risky these days, and 5 is already in use. So which type are you talking about?

          • Salem says:

            So is being able to chase pirates off the Horn of Africa critical or not?

            Unless they have very large galoshes, it’s unlikely to be a job for the army, so I can’t see how it’s relevant.

            [I]n the era under discussion, the navy scaled back significantly, too, but in a way that allowed it to expand rapidly again.

            We are all well aware that the navy laid up ships. Indeed, sometimes it went too far in doing so, most famously in the disaster of 1667. I am not proposing a repeat of that, either. How this has any relevance to our current discussion, you have not explained.

            In terms of your criteria, it should be pretty clear I’m talking about (4).

          • John Schilling says:

            @Salem: I think part of the disagreement is that you see “critical matters of national defense” as being just “repelling invasion”.

            From an American perspective, that doesn’t work. If we want to live in a world not characterized by e.g. regular wars of territorial conquest, policing the world is critical. And if the United States of America doesn’t do that, nobody else will. So that’s a “critical matter of national defense” for us. And for you, but we’ve got your back.

            To take just one of many possible examples, if things go south on the Korean peninsula, that’s going to require an immediate, massive response involving a hundred thousand or so highly trained soldiers, sailors, and airmen(*) with probably a trillion dollars of equipment and supporting infrastructure, working together seamlessly, and doing so in a matter of days or maybe weeks. That’s not going to be done by any plausible sort of mercenary force. Well, maybe bean’s Type 2 (nice taxonomy, BTW), but at that point it’s close enough to being a regular army as makes no difference.

            It may or may not be necessary that the United States actually do this. It absolutely is necessary that the United States be seen as reliably ready to do this. Because if we aren’t, then A: the odds that it will become necessary will go up, and B: the South Koreans and Japanese will likely prepare for that necessity by acquiring modest arsenals of nuclear missiles.

            Care to guess how the People’s Republic of China will feel about South Korean or Japanese nuclear missiles? About how the South Koreans and Japanese will feel about each other’s nuclear missiles?

            Our critical national defense needs go well beyond defending North America from invasion. And our foreign interventions have the potential to go well beyond anything a mercenary force can provide more than a niche contribution to. As others have noted, we’re already filling many of those niches with mercenaries of a sort, but given our unique market position they aren’t going to be free-market mercenaries.

            Certainly, my government agrees, because if you look at the Strategic Defence Review they want to be able to take part in all kinds of operations that may be very worthwhile, but aren’t remotely defence of the realm

            Not “defense of the realm”, but maybe necessary all the same. From what I gather, one of the UK’s critical national defense priorities is to be seen as a reliable partner to the US’s world policing efforts. Particularly if the UK isn’t going to commit to the EU, it’s going to need a broad partnership with someone, and joint military operations are a strong foundation for international partnerships.

            But if the extent of the UK’s involvement is, “If it comes up, we’ll see if we can hire some mercenaries and send them over”, that’s kind of weak and not at all reliable.

            The benefit of replacing (part of) the army is to… save… money… I’m really struggling here, because you’re easily the most insightful poster on this board, and I feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall here, which makes me feel I must be missing some obvious point, and yet I don’t see it.

            Thanks for the compliment; I appreciate it. And yes, you’re saving money. But you’re saving money by losing capability. There’s a class of problems that can’t plausibly be handled by mercenaries because they are too big or come up too fast – and if you’ve got a regular army that can handle them then it can in its spare time do most of what you’d want mercenaries to do. Give up on that and settle for invasion defense plus occasional small interventions, and you can still only do the small interventions if the mercenaries aren’t otherwise on the day that you need them, and if the enemy propagandists can’t use the Extra Special Evilness of mercenaries to undo your good works, etc.

            Spending less money on less capability is sometimes the way to go. But you can do that with a smaller, less capable standing army + ready reserve. And that way, it will be obvious what you are giving up.

            * Or it could be done with a few thousand people and a few hundred billion dollars worth of satellites and thermonuclear ICBMs, but I think everyone would prefer it not be done that way.

          • bean says:

            @Salem:
            Unless they have very large galoshes, it’s unlikely to be a job for the army, so I can’t see how it’s relevant.
            It was one of the examples you used of ‘not necessary’. I was pointing out (significantly less eloquently than John) how complicated this sort of thing is.

            We are all well aware that the navy laid up ships. Indeed, sometimes it went too far in doing so, most famously in the disaster of 1667. I am not proposing a repeat of that, either. How this has any relevance to our current discussion, you have not explained.
            I was pointing out that navies have also become significantly less mobilizable than they used to be. Previously, you could run a small navy in peacetime, and then dramatically expand it during war with laid-up ships. You really can’t do that now.

            In terms of your criteria, it should be pretty clear I’m talking about (4).
            It wasn’t, although I will admit to having not read every post in the entire thread. The problem with 4 is that in the cases I’m familiar with, most of the people recruited were from the area where the war is going on. Fighting the Iraq war with mercenaries recruited mostly from Iraq doesn’t seem like a good idea at all. Nationalism probably had as much as anything to do with killing that kind of mercenary off. Also, the fact that these days, it’s very difficult to raise any unit from scratch, even when you don’t have to worry that 90% of your soldiers are going to just take their weapons and run.
            Even if you decide to exclude the locals, where do the soldiers come from? And how much do you trust them?
            Formed units are very important, and while recruiting third-country nationals can work, it only works when they’re Type 2, military units that happen to be made up of third-country nationals. Which are as close to being regulars as makes no difference.
            Elsewhere, you propose to use ‘experienced soldiers’, but where do these soldiers come from? There’s a very finite supply of people who are out of uniform who are willing, able, and suitable for further service. I suspect that many of them already work for Blackwater. Cutting the Army means that there are fewer of these people down the line, exacerbating the problem. Sure, you could hire a core of experienced soldiers, and then have them train up others, but…
            Oh, wait. That’s pretty much how it works now. Except we keep the trainers sharp by having them in service and constantly training people as they come in.
            The problem with the ‘contractor’ analogy is that the core skills of a military are pretty much unique, and don’t have good analogues in the civilian world. Sure, 80% of what a military does is similar to civilian jobs, but ultimately, that 80% exists only to support the 20% that are actually doing violence. And military units depend heavily on teamwork and formed units for effectiveness, which isn’t something that can be created ex nihlo. You’d have to subsidize the mercenaries to keep those skills sharp during peacetime. Congratulations, you’ve just reinvented the standing Army.

          • John Schilling says:

            Salem: In terms of your criteria, it should be pretty clear I’m talking about (4) [unit raised by a government from whichever individuals will hire on at the time]

            bean: It wasn’t, although I will admit to having not read every post in the entire thread. The problem with 4 is that in the cases I’m familiar with, most of the people recruited were from the area where the war is going on.

            It occurs to me that there’s a version of #4 that might work, specifically, for the UK.

            The general problem is that to make it work you need a bunch of veteran soldiers (because you won’t have time to train them), specifically trained with your weapons, tactics, and doctrine, who all speak the same language, preferably that of your own officer corps, and who share a common military culture. Where do you expect to find such a select group on demand and why aren’t they already gainfully employed as someone else’s soldiers?

            The answer, if you happen to be the United Kingdom MOD, might be that nation across the pond that has an army an order of magnitude larger than yours filled with English-speaking, NATO-standardized soldiers some fraction of whom are discharged every year but might be induced to serve for another tour if the price was right. There would still be a delay while you form up organized units, but I can see ways the UK might be able to arrange things to minimize that impact.

            But it would be fairly specific to the UK and a few other nations; it obviously can’t work for the US itself. And it doesn’t work for the UK if the mission is “be a reliable military partner of the United States”, because in a crisis they’d just bidding up the price of the same people we would be trying to steer into e.g. Blackwater, and offering us the “support” of our own mercenaries with no moral significance.

            To augment the regular British Army for occasional operations the US isn’t part of but doesn’t object to, it would probably be workable. I just doubt there’s enough of a mission meeting those criteria to be worth the bother.

          • bean says:

            To augment the regular British Army for occasional operations the US isn’t part of but doesn’t object to, it would probably be workable. I just doubt there’s enough of a mission meeting those criteria to be worth the bother.
            That’s an interesting thought, although the only example of such an operation I can think of was the Falklands, and I believe the limit on their strength was due to sealift, not lack of troops.

    • bean says:

      As a replacement for a regular army? No. Armies these days are massively complicated, and can’t be fabricated quickly. The typical soldier today has technical skills equal to or above the specialists of a century ago. As a way to bulk out the force and free the regular army for the front lines? Absolutely. That’s what Blackwater and co do. (I think most of their people are ex-military, and using them as contractors means they can evade problems like up-or-out.)
      As for your example of the RN, it’s not that simple. Up until the age of steam, most of their ships were ‘in ordinary’, basically laid up and in reserve, in peacetime. The first set of figures I can lay hands on shows that in 1833, they had 20 liners in commission, 58 in ordinary, and 15 building. (Building could stretch for decades, too, with ships being completed in radically different configurations than they were started in.) The percentage of frigates in ordinary was even higher. The reason they could do this was that they had a huge merchant marine which meant that they could quickly find sailors if they put ships back in commission. Officers were placed on half-pay, and told to go do something else until needed. As time went on and warships got more and more complicated, the amount of time ships spent ‘in reserve’ dropped. I don’t have good figures for immediately pre-WWI (and a bit of research suggests that the answer is very complicated), but it appears that quite a few of the RN’s per-dreadnoughts were in reserve. The postwar situation was complicated by the naval treaties, which basically destroyed the reserve fleets (although the US did mothball a lot of our destroyers). After WWII, the US did put a number of ships into reserve, with varying results. The only case I know of when the US pulled a bunch of ships out of reserve because of a war (as opposed to pulling them because it was cheaper than new-build ships) was during Korea. The only ships I’m aware of that spent significant (15+ years) time in reserve and then came back into service were the Iowa-class battleships.
      (No, this wasn’t a strictly necessary diversion. The stuff about the RN in the 19th century may have been, but then I just couldn’t stop.)

    • dndnrsn says:

      Thinking more about this:

      One area where I could see a private, international setup working is for two related areas. Note that I have no idea as to the international legality of this, or anything like that.

      The first is counterinsurgency. One thing we’ve seen in the 20th century is the difficulties conventional armies trained to fight other conventional armies have in dealing with local insurgents in places where they don’t speak the language, don’t know the culture, etc. It wasn’t really feasible to, say, teach all American soldiers going to Iraq fluent Arabic. A private outfit could specialize in these sorts of things, instead of demanding that conventional militaries do something they’re not built for. It could offer a better service, a lower price, or both.

      The other is training local forces. Again, language skills, the culture, etc. Trying to train a military for a third-world country with, say, major sectarian issues is probably a bit different from training for a first-world country without them. Again, could a specialist outfit provide a better service and/or a lower price?

      • bean says:

        The other is training local forces. Again, language skills, the culture, etc. Trying to train a military for a third-world country with, say, major sectarian issues is probably a bit different from training for a first-world country without them. Again, could a specialist outfit provide a better service and/or a lower price?
        Contractors did/do a lot of this. And there’s some use of contractors in train our military forces, too. (Almost all of the boots on the ground in these cases are ex-military, and basically doing what they did while they were in the military. Hiring them back makes a lot of sense, given how the military runs. We could fix the military, but it’s easier to do it this way.)

  17. John Schilling says:

    If Megan McArdle is going to link to SSC, we might as well return the favor. Her take on the Inspector General’s report on Hillary Clinton’s private server. No smoking guns, but a good overall assessment and particular emphasis on Colin Powell’s vaguely-similar (but not really) practices ca. 2000. McArdle having been a corporate IT worker before taking up blogging, she brings more insight to the issue than most.

    One thing I had missed – aside from Powell and Clinton, the only high-level State Department official to use a private email server was a US ambassador to Kenya who was essentially fired during Clinton’s tenure for using a private email server. So the “It’s no big deal…” and “Maybe she didn’t know…” defenses are looking pretty thin.

    And, FWIW, count me among the “conservative intelligence types” she collectively quotes at the end.

    • Corey says:

      I remember when she thought it implausible that the IRS had a 250MB email quota for Lois Lerner; I cleaned out my (private sector day job) Exchange mailbox a few days ago after hitting my 100MB quota. Like Lerner, I have a bunch of local-disk archives floating around.

      We have to temper any reading of McArdle with knowledge of the derangement syndromes she’s picked up – just recently she asserted that the Southern Strategy was only incidentally about race.

      I think she used to be reasonably fact-based (like the time a book review of hers got spiked by a conservative publication because she included that the Laffer Curve doesn’t bite at US levels of taxation). But a hazard of buying into part of the US right-wing memeplex is that it’s very easy to get sucked into the right-wing reality bubble. Next thing you know you’re ranting about Benghazi and no-go zones, and dismiss the Wall Street Journal as liberally-biased.

      I’ve lost some good discussion partners to that bubble in recent years, like a former co-worker who went from “reasonable libertarian-ish” to “love child of Hannity and Limbaugh” over a couple of years.

    • Held in Escrow says:

      As I said before, everyone did shit like this, it’s just that the only people who cares were the General Counsels and IT departments

    • HircuSaeculorum says:

      >…aside from Powell and Clinton, the only high-level State Department official to use a private email server was a US ambassador to Kenya who was essentially fired during Clinton’s tenure for using a private email server. So the “It’s no big deal…” and “Maybe she didn’t know…” defenses are looking pretty thin.

      It occurs to me that the Kenya ambassador’s firing could have been only nominally for e-mail-related issues. Perhaps someone wanted to get rid of him for political reasons, and this seemed convenient – a breach in protocol that’s not a big deal until someone wants to make it one. I’m not saying that this is certainly true, just that there are other possibilities to consider.

        • HircumSaeculorum says:

          Sure does. The use of a private e-mail service/server seems to have been only a small part of a general falling-out with superiors and inferiors alike.

          The New Republic, in 2012:

          A former State Department official with a long service record in the Africa bureau and a former ambassador told me that Gration’s tenure in Kenya was marked by constant friction with his superiors and a refusal to abide by State Department protocol and security measures. For instance, in a move that upset officials in the Department of Defense and White House, Gration complicated U.S. diplomacy to Somalia by demanding oversight of the Somalia Embassy’s actions. And because Gration insisted on using his personal computer to conduct State Department business, he set up an office in one of the few places in Embassy Nairobi authorized for an unsecured network—a bathroom. (When a staffer had a meeting with him, he or she would sit on the toilet.)

          The Washington Post, 2012:

          [an official report] also portrayed him as a bit of a freelancer who did not read classified front channel messages, used commercial e-mail systems instead of secure government ones for official business (including work that included the use of sensitive materials) and ignored U.S. government policy. “The Ambassador’s greatest weakness is his reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions,” the report found, citing “his disagreement with Washington policy decisions and directives concerning the safe-havening in Nairobi of families of Department employees who volunteered to serve in extreme hardship posts.”

          It’s clear that, while e-mail/server issues were components of his general disagreeableness, there was way more to this than an ambassador being fired purely for using the wrong e-mail server. It wasn’t the sole, or even the most important, reason for his dismissal. A narrative in which “a US ambassador to Kenya … was essentially fired during Clinton’s tenure for using a private email server” is absolutely not supported.

          Edit: to be quite frank, the fact that an ambassador was kept on for *that long* while using a private e-mail server *as well as all that other disagreeable stuff* suggests that high-level officials using private e-mail servers isn’t generally considered a vital threat to the security of the United States. If it had been, it wouldn’t be one part of a longer, comprehensively damning indictment – he would have been removed for it much sooner. Sure, an ambassador isn’t equivalent to the Secretary of State in national security terms, but I don’t think that this anecdote proves anything about Secretary Clinton’s alleged misdeeds, certainly not in the direction John Schilling suggested.

  18. Alex says:

    Lately I’ve been thinking that nothing is really known about your personal marginal impact on whether threats like global warming or nuclear war ultimately destroy the human race because this mostly depends on far future technological and social developments. So these causes are for most people dubious.

  19. J says:

    This comment over on hacker news really struck me as insightful:

    I have no great love of conservative politics, but there’s a convincing argument to be made that their ideas and views are routinely suppressed by media outside of explicitly partisan media outlets (i.e. Fox News or talk radio).
    There are a number of studies that back up this claim. A 2008 study[0] found that 88% of journalists donate to the Democratic party. Jonathan Haidt has shown[1] that non-economics social sciences skew more than 14-1 liberal to conservative (and that universities have not always been so skewed).
    For anyone who believes these statistics are not based on overt discrimination based on political viewpoint, a recent study[2] showed that discrimination by party is stronger than that of race. The study did so by reproducing a landmark study that demonstrated the existence of unconscious racial bias (the implicit association test), but instead using political indicators. They found that partisan political positions triggered implicit associations 50% stronger than that of racial biases. There is also a recent book called “Passing on the Right”[3] which provides some personal narratives of conservative academics.
    If you’re relying on academic knowledge to provide you a sense of reality, you’re viewing reality through a lens that is biased to a 93% degree towards one political pole, and then receiving that knowledge through a media system which is biased to an 88% degree towards that same political pole.
    Even if you, like me, generally believe that the liberal political position is correct, ideological conformity of this magnitude should frighten you.

    • Eggoeggo says:

      I’ll be interested to see how the media reports on Katie Couric’s latest little deceptive editing incident .

      Because so far the New York Time’s response was to link to the promotional trailer.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend this book:

      It’s got a lot of research behind it. Interestingly, IIRC (don’t have my copy on hand), Fox News isn’t actually that conservative–maybe 45 on a scale from 0 (conservative) to 100 (liberal), while outlets like the NYT, CNN, etc. are often in the 65-85 range.

    • Corey says:

      In the US Republicans went post-truth epistemically closed long ago, and there really isn’t symmetry between the sides there. Whatever liberal echo chambers anyone can name have tiny audiences and influence next to Fox & talk radio. Sandersnistas (disclosure: I voted for him) have been trying to create their own reality, but it’s not working very well. Total epistemic closure is an undesirable trait in both academics and journalists.

      You’d think this would be a popular discussion amongst rationalists, *especially* those with conservative sympathies, because they now no longer have a political voice. (Maybe it is and I’ve just missed it).

      Also, I don’t know if you can really call not-Republican “ideologically conformist” since you’re looking at a spread from e.g. Kay Hagan to Sherrod Brown, while in the GOP you’re looking at e.g. Lindsey Graham to Ted Cruz (anyone have more representative endpoints?) Given a two-party system (isn’t that guaranteed in the US by game theory?) one party by necessity has a big tent, currently that’s the Democrats.

      • Jiro says:

        Whatever liberal echo chambers anyone can name have tiny audiences and influence next to Fox & talk radio.

        Yeah, that Internet. It has such a tiny audience.

        Also Hollywood. No audience for that.

      • suntzuanime says:

        The tiny liberal echo chambers mostly serve the same purpose as April Fool’s Day; they make it exaggerated and obvious to distract from the fact that the other 364 days of the year are also celebrations of lies and folly.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Fox News isn’t just the conservative alternative to NPR. Fox News is the conservative alternative to CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN. And NPR too.

        • Nicholas says:

          ABC and CNN always struck me as pretty conservative news voices, but I stopped watching ABC a few years ago. Have things changed so much in 4 years?

  20. Anonymous says:

    What would it take for CRISPR to develop to the point where it would be so commonplace that it could be used for pranks?