Open Thread 50.75

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

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718 Responses to Open Thread 50.75

  1. Dan T. says:

    Well, LambdaConf seems to have gone off without serious incident last week. Searching Twitter for the conference name gives lots of chatter about functional-programming stuff and almost no politics.

    • Anon says:

      People who were interested in making it political either declined to attend or would not have attended in the first place. The controversy might even have been a net win for the quality of the thing.

      I recall reading that there was a chlorine gas scare which turned out to just be the chemistry department next door, but now cannot find a source.

      • Dan T. says:

        There was a tweet or two about that, with one attendee speculating about whether it was a “SJW disruption” (and copied some right/libertarian political handles in the tweet, apparently in an attempt to stir up political controversy, which didn’t happen anyway); this was about the only exception to the actual attendees’ tweets not getting political.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:


  2. Le Maistre Chat says:

    What do y’all think is the central conservative insight, the idea with the most explanatory power that an autonomous rational person could easily overlook and be left with a bad map of the world?
    Is it “a culture is a cult”? Chesteron’s fence? I’m going to say it’s not “heredity matters” as A) neither Burke nor Maistre espoused racism and B) that’s a question for science, which rationalists are predisposed to regardless of politics.

    • Changing things carries more risk than you might think. However, I’m not sure whether this is a belief of modern American conservatism.

      • O’Rourke, quoting Oakshot:

        “To be conservative is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the impossible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, the present laughter to the utopian bliss.”

    • Jaskologist says:

      The central American conservative insight is found in Federalist 51:

      If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

      The government is just as fallible as all other organizations. Most people, when imagining solving some problem through “regulation,” are basically imagining the government as God, an all-knowing, omnibenevolent entity.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        I would say that this is the central Libertarian/Minarchist insight. Not necessarily the conservative one.

        • Also a central libertarian anarchist insight.

          • Julie K says:

            Wouldn’t an anarchist disagree with the claim that since men are not angels, they need a government to control them?

          • anon says:

            Not necessarily, Julie. They might just believe that no effort to to “oblige the government to control itself” will succeed, and that therefore anarchy is preferable. In other words, they might have preferences ordered in the manner: angelic state > no state > any feasible state.

          • I was thinking of “The government is just as fallible as all other organizations. …”

            Strictly speaking, the “if men were angels, no government would be necessary” isn’t inconsistent with anarchism, although the obvious implied “since they are not, government is necessary” is.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        You seem to be ignoring the first sentence in order to come to your conclusion.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Most people, when imagining solving some problem through “regulation,” are basically imagining…” that men are not angels and the problem will not miraculously fix itself.

            Don’t assume evil or stupidity on the part of your ideological foes, right?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Recognizing that men are not angels seems to come easily to both sides. But obliging the government to control itself, that is often forgotten.

          • Outis says:

            I once read an article by a communist journalist (by which I mean a journalist who was a member of an actual self-described Communist Party) about how to explain historical communism to children, after her little boy had asked her about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her explanation to the child was “they tried to force people to be good, but people wouldn’t be”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The average person doesn’t think in terms of trade-offs. They get hurt by something, get mad about it and want that thing gone. They gain benefit from something and don’t want that something to go away. This applies just as much to the average conservative as it does to the average liberal.

            But I don’t think you would agree with the statement:
            Most people, when imagining that a government regulation will hurt them, think of the government as a devil that seeks only to destroy.

            Undoubtedly there are people who think like this, but most are capable of more self-reflection.

            Honestly, I doubt that the “most people” in these sentences even comprises a majority of the population. Most people just accept that the world is as it is, and don’t think about these things at all. But this is the “most people who spend time thinking about regulations” cohort.

            And by the time we get down to the people actually creating regulations, we are way, way, way into the segment of the population that thinks in a more nuanced fashion.

            That doesn’t mean that the right solution is always arrived at (hah!), but it’s quite a bit different than these people thinking of the government as God or the Devil.

        • ana says:

          HBC, ever feel like the Alan Colmes to the SSC Commentariat’s 50-headed Hannity? Maybe you should just let it roll?

          • Dahlen says:

            I’ve never seen you before and didn’t read the discussion, just wanted to say that your gravatar is pure beautiful harmony while the rest of us are just sitting here looking vaguely like swastikas. Some people are just so lucky. *stares dreamily*

          • youzicha says:


            Clearly the thing to do is to experiment with the gravatar hashes for different email addresses until you get a picture you like, then take a screenshot of it and register it as a custom avatar picture.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not sure if this is meant to insult me or the composition of the SSC commentariat.

            So, I guess I’ll have to just let it roll.

          • Sivaas says:

            In case it was intended as an insult to HeelBearCub, let me counterbalance it by saying that despite the fact that HeelBearCub and I tend to have different beliefs, I feel I greatly benefit from his posts and hope he continues to post frequently on SSC in the future.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I’m not American, but I think Hannity is the go-to pundit comparison when you want to insult conservatives, the whole hydra analogy seems to point in that direction as well.

            To which I guess the only answer is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (apologies to brad)

            I’ve never seen you before and didn’t read the discussion, just wanted to say that your gravatar is pure beautiful harmony while the rest of us are just sitting here looking vaguely like swastikas. Some people are just so lucky. *stares dreamily*

            The best gravatar was from that one post with the gigantic name a few threads ago, I can’t seem to recall in which post it was.

            Clearly the thing to do is to experiment with the gravatar hashes for different email addresses until you get a picture you like, then take a screenshot of it and register it as a custom avatar picture.

            That’s cheating.

      • alkatyn says:

        > Most people, when imagining solving some problem through “regulation,” are basically imagining the government as God, an all-knowing, omnibenevolent entity.

        Thats is a colossal fucking strawman. Almost all liberal political discussions in the real wotld are about making government work better, or make it more accountable, the liberals who think passing a regulation magically fixes things only exist in Randian fantasies.

        • John Schilling says:

          Where can I see one of these debates among liberals trying to “make government work better, or make it more accountable” in the area of, e.g., gun control? Because all I’m seeing there is the pretty clear belief that regulation, implemented by the omniscient and omnibenevolent government, will Make Things Better.

          If by “make government better/more accountable” you mean making sure the regulations are omnipresent and loophole-free and we can see where The Bad Guys are trying to corrupt or subvert the enforcers, that only reinforces the Regulation Makes Things Better argument. Otherwise, show me.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            Making regulations loophole-free is one of the main ways we constrain state power. The power to choose how and when the rules are enforced is comparable to the power to choose the rules.

            You can’t demand examples of people wanting to “make government better / more accountable” and then forbid anything that smacks of believing that Regulation Makes Things Better. Government *is* regulations. If you don’t allow anything that would improve the way the rules are enforced, and you don’t allow adding new rules, the only thing left is taking rules away. In other words, you’ve assumed your conclusion as a premise.

          • Nornagest says:

            I would be happier with more evidence of reflection on the part of the regulatory state and its boosters: research directed towards making sure that regulations are effective toward their ultimate (not just proximate) goals, and willingness to modify or eliminate them if they don’t seem to be working out. It’s reasonable to try regulatory approaches to a particular problem. It’s a lot less reasonable to assume that they always work out as billed, or, if they’re clearly not, that the proper response to that failure is always more or tighter regulation.

            Right now, I see that kind of scrutiny sometimes, but quite rarely and usually in the context of partisan mudslinging. Even that isn’t a guarantee.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @John Shilling

            Possibly relevant:

            H. Taylor Buckner, “ Zweckrationalität versus Wertrationalität: an Examination of Rationalities in the Gun Control Debate.” (Presented at the Canadian Law and Society Association Meetings, Brock University, June 3, 1996).

          • John Schilling says:

            Making regulations loophole-free is one of the main ways we constrain state power. The power to choose how and when the rules are enforced is comparable to the power to choose the rules.

            That is indeed a key insight. Going back to the example of gun control, we would then expect that the paragons of efficient, accountable government that are liberals would be in favor of laws where there are specific, objective requirements about who can carry a gun where, while the evil conservatives would be the ones who want their local sheriff to be able to arbitrarily give concealed-carry permits to the Right People and disarm Those Other Sorts.

            I call bullshit. In this area, as many others, the only way the average liberal doesn’t “think passing a regulation magically fixes things” is that they recognize the government isn’t sufficiently omnipotent yet. But not for lack of trying, and with “give arbitrary discretionary power to mid-level bureaucrats” as one of the approved tools.

          • The Nybbler says:

            But in the gun control case, passing a regulation giving mid-level officials arbitrary power actually mostly fixes things from their perspective — the officials hand out gun permits only to a very small number of people (the politically connected), thus implementing the desired ban.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Gun control has worked outside the US. It hasnt failed in the US so much as never been tried,

          • Skivverus says:

            Er. No, I’m pretty sure it has been tried in the US, repeatedly – just at the state or city level, rather than at the country level. The results have not been conclusive (citation: the fact that there’s still arguments going on about it).

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            The Dutch call hillocks mountains.

            Things called gun control have been tried, but they were along the lines of “No more than 17 handguns per person, and a three day wait for a bazooka”.

            What I mean by gun control is “guns are banned”.

          • eh says:

            TheAncientGreek: what are your criteria for success regarding gun control? Statistically significant drop in murder rate? In suicide rate? In accidental shootings? No dictators coming to power? A drop in a cherry-picked statistic like firearm-related deaths or mass shootings? A decrease in the number of hunters?

            You can’t say something is successful without knowing how to tell a success from a failure. In the case of Australia, for example, the drop in homicides was either minor or nonexistent, but suicides fell dramatically. As such, the initiative failed in its stated aims, despite having unforeseen positive effects.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            I’d suggest looking closer at the actual data about Australia, as the impact on suicide is apparently negligible. Between substitution effects, and overall suicide decreases, the reduction in firearm suicides is not statistically significant. Similarly, the UK’s ban on firearms was actually followed by a spike in homicides. Taken with everything else, the evidence seems to mostly be “murders gonna murder”, so banning guns is a waste of resources and putting draconian restrictions on law abiding gun owners is just plain mean.

          • John Schilling says:

            What I mean by gun control is “guns are banned”.

            That hasn’t been tried anywhere. “Guns are banned, except for the Right Sort of People” has been tried in many places including parts of the United States, and doesn’t seem to make much difference anywhere.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            @Kevin C. your link appears to lead right back here.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            The number of gun murders per capita in the US in 2012 – the most recent year for comparable statistics – was nearly 30 times that in the UK, at 2.9 per 100,000 compared with just 0.1.
            Of all the murders in the US in 2012, 60% were by firearm compared with 31% in Canada, 18.2% in Australia, and just 10% in the UK

          • eh says:

            InferentialDistance: the BJC study concluded that suicides may have been impacted, the Chapman study found a stronger effect for suicides than homicides, and the Neill + Leigh study found a huge drop in suicides. Some others find no effect. Happily, we’re both wrong here, and there’s apparently no scientific consensus.

            However, the initial point still stands, which is that it’s best to define success and failure before a law is put in place.

          • John Schilling says:

            Of all the murders in the US in 2012, 60% were by firearm compared with 31% in Canada, 18.2% in Australia, and just 10% in the UK

            Hmm, so the hypothesis is that gun control causes murders to be committed with cricket bats instead? Well, if that’s what you were going for…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            As someone roughly on the pro gun control side, I’ve never understood why people (at least people who understand statistics) trot out that argument.

            I want to know what the murder rate per capita is, and how many of those crimes are solved. Arguably, a successful ban on (say) handguns should see some marginal effect on murder rate, as clearly it is easier to be successful killing someone with a gun than other methods, and a lack of handguns should cut down on murders that aren’t planned. Perhaps we would see that in statistics in a proper study, but I don’t think there is any knock down data available. There are too many confounders.

            Suicide also has the same issue. The only category where it really makes sense to just count raw deaths per capita are those which are accidental.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            You all know the poor guy can’t stop doing this. There’s no need to egg him on.

          • Jiro says:

            Not only does the “30 times” figure ignore the overall greater per capita murder rate, it also ignores the fact that those murders aren’t evenly distributed. A lot of those murders happen in inner city areas that
            1) have high percentages of minorities, making it questionable whether conclusions about them apply to the population in general, and
            2) tend to have the stricest gun control laws in the country

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            The overall over capita murder rate is lower.,.about a third of the US’s.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ InferentialDistance:

            Similarly, the UK’s ban on firearms was actually followed by a spike in homicides.

            Only if by “spike” you mean “exact continuation of previous historical trend”, or by “followed” you mean “five years later” (the actual peak homicide rate, around 2002, could be described as a spike if you really wanted to stretch the point, but has nothing to do with guns).

            The trend for UK homicides 1997-2001 followed the existing rising trend that had been more or less linear since the mid-60s. Sometime around 2002 was a noticable peak caused by a recording artifact*, but ever since then the rate has been largely declining.

            The obvious conclusion to draw is that the handgun ban had no effect (either positive or negative) on homicide rate (and this is unsurprising since there would be no plausible mechanism for it to do so). Attempts to blame either the post-1997 increase or credit the post-2002 decrease to the handgun ban are utterly foolish.

            Word of warning when looking at graphs of this: in many cases you’ll see graphs which start at 1990, which hides the extent of the 1960-2000 trend.

            * – the artifact being the recording of 172 victims of Dr. Harold Shipman, who had actually died over previous years but had not been recorded as homicides at the time.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            The UK did not go from free for all to ban in 1997, it went from a control regime much stricter than the US to an even stricter one.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            The obvious conclusion to draw is that the handgun ban had no effect (either positive or negative) on homicide rate

            That was my point.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            We need a version of Godwin’s law to the effect the when people appeal to the racial composition of the US to rescue an argument, they have lost,

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Andrew G

            the existing rising trend that had been more or less linear since the mid-60s.

            I can find some graphs matching that description, but Kieran Healy (ar) seems to me a much more reliable source. His graph shows identical trends in all of Western Europe: doubling from 1960 to 1980 and returning since then. (The date of the peak varies from country to country.)

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @ Nornagest: I pretty much totally agree with your first paragraph. I think the second paragraph is a little unfair because public debates are pretty much entirely mud-slinging contests. If you want to see people seriously discuss the pros and cons of different options, you need either very SSC-ish participants or ideologically similar participants. (And even then, a lot of people aren’t equipped for or interested in that kind of debate, because politics is not about policy.)

            @ John Schilling: I’m in favour of gun control and I think the obvious compromise is to make specific, objective requirements about who can carry what kind of weapon where. I think the absolute first step is to close the loophole about gun fairs.

            Conservatives frequently talk about “good gun culture”. The divide between “nobody should have guns” and “good gun culture” is really obvious and the people who want to differentiate The Right People and Those Other Sorts are really obviously not the liberals.

            They might not even be totally wrong about culture! I assign significant probability mass to there being such a thing as “good gun culture”, and if it’s real, I favour exploiting it. A sensible compromise would be to allow any group (business, household, whatever) to declare itself a gun-free zone, to require liability insurance (with some constraint to prevent court damages ballooning), and to make gun-holding a Big Important Thing: close all loopholes that make it easy to acquire a gun, restrict it to over-21s when not on private land, invent an impressive oath you have to swear when acquiring a gun licence, require guarantors of your good conduct and otherwise make “good gun culture” do as much work as possible. If the private sector prices insurance out of people’s willingness to pay, we have politics-independent evidence that guns are too dangerous to be allowed.

            alkatyn is wrong to say that there aren’t any liberals who think passing a rule magically fixes things. There are 7 billion of us, which means there’s more than enough idiots to go round. But there are also plenty of conservatives who make the same mistake, so your vehemence and snark are not justified, and I think you’re conflating “demanding laws” with “seriously expecting them to work”. Politics is not about policy. When the *average* X demands a law about Y, they’re actually saying “I love Y!” or “I hate Y!”. The average *serious policy discussion* involves a rather higher quality of participant, and yes, those do involve serious consideration about whether policies will work properly.

            Have you actually personally listened to a conversation between smart liberals about policy design? I think it rather likely that your sample is biased because you are so personally hostile. Remember that arguments are soldiers!

            I note that you did not respond to my second paragraph, in which I pointed out that you had defined “making government work better” in a way that tacitly assumed that this can only be done by making government work less.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            I think the absolute first step is to close the loophole about gun fairs.

            In the interest of good policy debate, and not being sure whether you actually know what this entails, there is only something called the gunshow loophole. What actually exists is a private sale exception. With some wiggle room involving “epistemic status”, I’m in favor of closing the private sale exception, and I’m in favor of strong registration requirements, including ballistic test registration.

            But calling it the “gunshow loophole” seems to be a way to avoid arguing about the actual policy, because (presumably) one doesn’t want to argue about whether someone can sell their gun to their brother or cousin. One wants to restrict the argument to one about people making a profit by selling guns to strangers.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mark Atwood:
            Thank you. (and I wish it would happen more often).

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @ HeelBearCub: I agree with Mark Atwood. Good job!

            I was aware that it wasn’t a specific exception for gun fairs but wasn’t sure precisely what it did cover. (I’ve now looked it up and updated: gun fairs are much less important than other Brady Act exemptions as a source of guns to convicts.) In any case, I’m not much interested in stopping people selling guns to their brothers per se. I’m interested in stopping people selling guns to people who haven’t had a relatively recent background check – within the last five years, say.

            Ending the Brady exception might not do very much because the background checks this wopuld cause might not be very effective. (If they can be outsourced effectively and cheaply, they definitely should be.) I would like to have a national gun registry, but the compromise I outlined above seems to handle this problem: if you have a national gun-user registry, with licences that require thorough background checks, competence accreditation and regular renewal, the sources of the guns in question doesn’t matter much. If we live in the possible world where “good gun culture” is a thing and it’s easy to screen out future murderers, the compromise should allow responsible gun-wielders to keep their guns while drastically reducing the risks to everybody (although it wouldn’t do much for suicide). The primary failure mode here is if guns are just plain dangerous and private citizens can’t be relied on not to use them in anger, in which case we can move towards greater restrictions like requiring that they be stored at a range or gunsmith when not in use.

          • keranih says:

            I will second those who appreciate the civil corrections that let us get more quickly to the meat of the issue.

            Some of the anti-gun proposals here have some substance to them, while others are irrelevant and/or not thinking through the implications.

            A sensible compromise would be to allow any group (business, household, whatever) to declare itself a gun-free zone

            I myself would stamp this “stupid but constitutional” so long as that business was not housing, food production, or any other place which was subject to having civil rights enforcement on how they did business.

            to require liability insurance (with some constraint to prevent court damages ballooning)

            So we have three kinds of people who are damaged by firearms: the victims of criminals, who would not be compensated by liability coverage, because liability doesn’t protect you when you do a crime; the victims of suicide, which is also a crime and how that could pay out is something a lawyer would have to explain to me, and the victims of accidents. I can see this last, smallest, and hardest to control group being affected by liability insurance, at the cost of pricing firearms out of the average citizen.

            As for

            If the private sector prices insurance out of people’s willingness to pay, we have politics-independent evidence that guns are too dangerous to be allowed.

            Then by this standard both cars and health are too dangerous to be allowed. (Not to mention pitbulls, german shepherds, and the like.)

            and to make gun-holding a Big Important Thing: close all loopholes that make it easy to acquire a gun

            Do you mean to close them *legally*, or with bricks and mortar? Because it’s already illegal to steal someone’s firearms, and that happens quite a lot of the time. Also – if we restrict acsess so much, we must also restrict the ability of the government to take away the firearms as well. In particular, this must be a Big Deal that can not be taken away on the sole word of a pissed-off spouse.

            restrict it to over-21s when not on private land

            I am curious about how you feel about military soldiers in this context.

            invent an impressive oath you have to swear when acquiring a gun licence,

            Amusing, but not relevant, in this day when oaths and promises are regarded as “well, no one should have thought I *meant* it.”

            require guarantors of your good conduct

            And what shall we do to those guarantors, when the individual commits a crime? Are they to be executed as well? Or perhaps just thrown in jail for a crime they did not commit?

            However – this has more strength, I think –

            if you have a national gun-user registry,

            I am not entirely okay with this, except if it was so ubiquitous to have a firearms license that being on such a list would not subject one to extra scrutiny. Some sort of joint db with drivers licenses, health records, employment listing and voting records, perhaps?

            with licences that require thorough background checks

            Again, linked to other forms of id, and I could work with this.

            competence accreditation and regular renewal

            On the same level as we do drivers licenses, I should think. And at the same level of expense.

            In particular, I think firearms safety classes in high schools should be a regular required thing.

            The advantage to me of the gunuser license (without a firearms registry) is that it keeps it illegal for people-who-have-proven-untrustworthiness to possess firearms, *and* doesn’t make it any easier for the government to seize firearms. Furthermore, it puts the emphasis on the government to exclude by exception people who aren’t trust worthy, and all the private seller of a firearm has to do is check the license the buyer is carrying.

            Transactions and physical location of the firearm is still obscured, but a level of confidence can be provided. And if neither the criminal nor the government knows who has what firearms, both will be on their best behavior.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @ keranih:

            Regarding gun-free zones, allowing places to declare themselves smoke-free seems to be working out pretty well as a public health measure. Why is it stupid to do the same for guns? I see no reason why I should be required to associate with people carrying deadly weapons, simply because they have a right to own those weapons – and I honestly don’t think people should have that right. The utilitarian calculation, AFAICT, simply cannot permit private guns. I’m only flexible on this to the degree that I don’t know enough to be really certain.

            Regarding liability insurance, I meant that in the colloquial sense, not the US legal sense. The idea in my mind is that guns are a really obvious negative externality and externalities should be internalised. It doesn’t have to be personal insurance, except that gun advocates hate the idea of the government knowing about their guns; it could just as easily be handled through a tax paid into a compensation scheme for victims of gun violence.

            Regarding pricing things out of people’s WTP: car insurance is compulsory. This is because cars are bloody dangerous. You don’t have a right to put me in lethal danger in order to make your life convenient. If you can’t afford car insurance, you shouldn’t have a car. Similarly, if you can’t afford to insure your pet, you should go without a pet, not complain about how your right to own a dangerous animal is being infringed.

            I also note that most people *do* afford car insurance, and we would be a lot less happy to have cars on the roads if they were dangerous enough that the average person couldn’t afford the insurance. I further note that saying that my argument implies that “health is too dangerous to be allowed” is disingenuous; the most charitable interpretation I can find is that that was a brain-fart.

            Regarding loopholes: I meant close them legally, but mandatory gun safes sound like a pretty good idea.

            >Also – if we restrict acsess so much, we must also restrict the ability of the government to take away the firearms as well. In particular, this must be a Big Deal that can not be taken away on the sole word of a pissed-off spouse.

            The first part seems like a total non-sequitur. We restrict access to diplomatic immunity very tightly indeed, but nobody objects to the government being able to take it away whenever it pleases. I presume this is driven by seeing gun ownership as a basic right rather than a special privilege granted because the culture isn’t politically sane enough to have an intellectually honest debate.

            >I am curious about how you feel about military soldiers in this context.

            Don’t be disingenous. Obviously the military needs weapons. If you mean giving soldiers special rights to guns when not acting as soldiers, I see no reason to do that.

            >Amusing, but not relevant, in this day when oaths and promises are regarded as “well, no one should have thought I *meant* it.”

            Read Cialdini. Oaths and promises work just fine if you understand how to make them work.

            Regarding guarantors: I request again that you not be disingenuous. Obviously I am not in favour of executing or imprisoning people for crimes they didn’t commit. This is because I am not an Evil Mutant. I am in favour of requiring that you can’t have a weapon unless you can find two respectable people willing to swear that they know you to be a responsible citizen. If you can’t get your local range owner to attest that you’re safe, you shouldn’t be armed. If we’re talking about guns for young people, I’d also like your parents to put up a bond for $500 that they lose if you commit a crime with a gun, but I imagine you feel this restricts gun access too much.

            Regarding a national registry: I can see a point that having a gun licence might cause employment difficulties or something, and scaled up that would be a problem, but I’m not sure how this hurts you unless you plan to carry the weapon to work. (Also, protected categories are a thing.) I really don’t see why you should have a right to carry a deadly weapon to work. This seems to me like demanding the legal right to commit assault on a significant fraction of your colleagues, every day. If I have to be careful about frightening people because I’m a tall man with a loud voice, you should be a lot more careful about frightening me with your *lethal weapon*. The right to not be around guns seems much more fundamental to me than the right to own a weapon, because it’s just one more form of the rights to life, freedom from violence and freedom from fear.

            Competence accreditation the first time round should probably be something like a test on the relevant theory and law, a practical exam from a range owner and some number of hours of practice. Renewal should be something along the lines of a signed form from a firearms instructor saying that he’s seen you handle a weapon and he’s confident you can do it safely. If he’s wrong too often, he loses his instructor’s credential.

            I really don’t get why pro-gun people are so worried about the government seizing their guns. (Aside: what’s the appropriate term for these people? “Gun-lovers” sounds perjorative.) Is this just another Bravery Debate, or what? It’s really obviously not politically viable. It can’t happen unless a supermajority of the population is in favour of it. Please explain what’s going on here, because Google is getting me nothing but ranting journalists.

            I’m also confused by obscured gun ownership putting the government “on its best behaviour”. The US government treats its citizens a *lot* worse than, say, the UK government. It’s also much less stable, both in terms of political gridlock and in terms of how normal it is to discuss violent rebellion. Privately owned guns are totally useless against state violence and have been for a very long time. What keeps democracy stable is a combination of the coordination problems that support all states (everyone thinks most people won’t oppose the current regime) and a very constrained, civilised, hard-to-fake way to acquire legitimacy. In fact, guns make things worse: the more likely you are to be armed, the more violent the police will be in self-defence, and aggressive armed police are antithetical to preventing tyranny!

          • “The idea in my mind is that guns are a really obvious negative externality ”

            A gun in the hands of someone who will use it to kill you or rob you imposes a negative externality, dealt with by criminal law. A gun belonging to a person who owns it for self-defense or target practice or hunting–which is what almost all guns are owned for–imposes almost no negative externality. It may provide a positive externality, if it ends up being used against someone committing a crime.

            With a little googling, I find (on a page of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence):

            “In 2010, unintentional firearm injuries caused the deaths of 606 people”

            People accidentally killed by their own guns don’t count as an externality. Let me guess that half of those were the owners of the guns. It follows that the chance a random American will be killed in a gun accident due to someone else’s gun is about one in a million. To put it differently, if we assume a hundred million gun owners, the chance that a gun belonging to one of them will kill someone is about one in three hundred thousand. Do you regard that as a negative externality of significant size? If so, would you recommend similar rules for everything that causes at least that high a risk of death?

            I agree, of course, that a property owner should be allowed to make his property gun free.

          • @Chrysophylax

            I agree with you that gun ownership doesn’t do much in the modern world to constrain governments via the threat of revolt. I’ve long argued that the modern equivalent would be a legal rule guaranteeing the right to unregulated encryption, since modern conflicts between state and citizens are more likely to involve information warfare than military warfare.

            But I think there is a different way in which widespread gun ownership reduces government power. If ordinary citizens are disarmed, they depend for protection against criminals on the police. The more dependent they are on police, the more willing they will be to put up with abuses of police power, whether the NSA keeping track of all phone calls or local police smashing down doors and shooting dogs. The more people feel as though they can mostly defend themselves and the police are there only as a backup, the more willing they will be to support restrictions on what law enforcement can do.

          • Anonymous says:

            I see no reason why I should be required to associate with people carrying deadly weapons

            If you’re imprisoned with a group of terrifying armed men, fair point. Otherwise, you’re welcome to leave.

            I am not an Evil Mutant. I am in favour of requiring that you can’t have a weapon unless you can find two respectable people willing to swear that they know you to be a responsible citizen.

            Res ipsa loquitur.

            The right to not be around guns seems much more fundamental to me than the right to own a weapon

            Yeah, to you. And whatever happened to cold-blooded utilitarian calculus?

            a special privilege granted because the culture isn’t politically sane enough to have an intellectually honest debate.

            “Politically sane” and “intellectually honest” meaning “within my personal Overton window”, evidently.

            I really don’t get why pro-gun people are so worried about the government seizing their guns.

            The left constantly says that’s what they want to do, successfully accomplished it in Australia and the UK, and is giving a pretty good account of itself in California.

            The US government treats its citizens a *lot* worse than, say, the UK government.


            It’s also much less stable, both in terms of political gridlock and in terms of how normal it is to discuss violent rebellion.

            >implying that’s a bad thing

            Privately owned guns are totally useless against state violence and have been for a very long time.


          • Chrysophylax says:

            @ David Friedman:

            Sources: primarily http://gun-control.procon.org/, http://people.howstuffworks.com/how-firearm-background-checks-work5.htm and links from those.

            I tentatively agree that encryption should be protected. I’m tentative because I’ve never seen an unbiased impact assessment. I’m also in favour because encryption protects civil liberties, not because I expect warfare between state and citizens to occur or ever go in the citizenry’s favour. If the armed forces are against you in a modern democracy, you’re screwed and I’m probably happy about that. I expect that if the state becomes tyrannous enough that I want you to resist it by force, the state’s minions will mutiny.

            >A gun in the hands of someone who will use it to kill you or rob you imposes a negative externality, dealt with by criminal law. A gun belonging to a person who owns it for self-defense or target practice or hunting–which is what almost all guns are owned for–imposes almost no negative externality. It may provide a positive externality, if it ends up being used against someone committing a crime.

            Firstly, being near an armed person is unpleasant. There are a heck of a lot of people with various traumas that make them not want to be around threatening people, and carrying a lethal weapon *screams* “I am dangerous”. Even mentally healthy people can be very averse to hanging around someone who is prepared for violence. I’m not sure how a long-time SSC reader can think that people will not be stressed by a small probability of violent death.

            More than this, it distorts relationships. As I said to keranih, I have to take deliberate care not to frighten people just by wearing my body. This is not something I decided for myself; this is something I know because people told me I was frightening to be around, and I could see why. You might well not have the personal experience to grok that, but I assure you that it’s very easy to make people afraid for their personal safety. The social costs of having some people be drastically better equipped for violence than others are not pretty.

            Secondly, you’re implicitly assuming that we can say in advance which guns will and will not be used for violence. We can’t. The externality is spread pretty much evenly across all guns. If you want your guns to carry less of that, you have to take extra precautions, such as keeping them in a locked safe. Most guns used for crime are acquired from street sales, theft or other criminals. Obviously, some of those might have been stolen by the seller. I’m not sure how many are ultimately stolen, but I’d guess at least 20%. I know anecdotally that Scotland had a gang feud in which every victim was shot with the same pistol, because both gangs were renting a gun from the same person; evidently, cutting off the gun supply does result in near-gunless criminals fairly rapidly, since pistols were everywhere after WWII.

            Guns are very, very rarely used to prevent a crime. Any given gun is far more likely to be used for murder than for self-defence. We also have a evidence showing that people with guns won’t willingly use them in self-defence – including soldiers on active duty. You could make a claim that the possibility of a gun makes criminals more cautious about attacking, but I see no convincing evidence, whereas there is plenty of evidence (e.g. official police procedures) showing that it makes criminals and police more violent. I am pretty confident the self-defence argument holds no water. You are in more danger when you have a gun than when you’re unarmed.

            You’re also ignoring suicide. Guns increase suicide (see our host’s essays on guns), they don’t just substitute for other means of suicide (presumably partly because they’re so very effective at killing people). This is clearly a large cost and probably a negative externality, since it’s easier to shoot myself when friends and family own guns.

            I don’t accept the argument about restrictions on law enforcement. I think the opposite is true. The police shooting harmless dogs is routine in the USA. It’s *unheard of* in the UK. This is because the UK has so few guns that most UK police don’t have guns either. I was 20 the first time I saw an armed policeman in the UK, and he was guarding a bullion shipment. When you take away the weapons, you take away the reason for the police to be armed, and so you make them a lot less threatening and powerful, which reduces their abusiveness. You also reduce the selection effect for violent police officers and make use of power less prominent in police culture. We get news stories about police being fired for things like misusing access to an ex’s data. In the USA, the police get away with torture, murder, beating prisoners, wrongful arrest and a host of other crimes that would literally cause riots in the UK. (http://www.policestateusa.com/tag/police-brutality/)

            Criminals are more dangerous in the USA because criminals are armed. Note all the people clamouring for weapons to protect themselves! We don’t have that here. We’re also culturally unused to violence, partly because *nobody is armed*. A knife murder between London gangs is front-page news. Your mechanism actually works backwards!

          • Anonanon says:

            > I have to take deliberate care not to frighten people just by wearing my body.

            That’s sad. You should move to a better society where people don’t try to shame you for the way you look.

        • InferentialDistance says:

          It’s really not a strawman. People pushing for regulation almost universally assume that regulatory agencies are more competent and less corrupt than they empirically are. Which is how you end up with FDA killing more people by delaying life-saving medication than it saves by stopping dangerous medication. Or regulatory capture in general.

          • Corey says:

            Ooh ooh! I can strawman too! Conservatives reject every possible proposed regulation without thought based on econ-101ist arguments, and feel the solution to regulatory capture is to end government!

            Glad we cleared that up.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            The word you’re looking for is “libertarians”, possibly “anarcho-libertarians”, not “conservatives”. Conservatives love regulations, just different ones than you; they regulate the hell out of abortions, for example. Furthermore, the phrase I used was “people pushing for regulation”, not “liberals”, so the tribal warfare is uncalled for.

            I am technically wrong, in the sense that people pushing for regulations that benefit them by regulatory capture know exactly how incompetent and corrupt regulatory agencies are, but somehow I don’t think that’s a tack you want to follow.

            Finally, I am neither a libertarian nor a conservative.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            and feel the solution to regulatory capture is to end government!

            Well, it’s a solution.

          • Luke the CIA stooge says:

            Guys, guys.

            Has American hyper partisanship really gotten to the point that where the minutia of regulation is a third rail undiscusable issue?

            Oh fuck I’ve already answered my question…..

        • DrBeat says:

          It’s not really a strawman. Of the people saying “this certain thing should not happen, so let’s pass a law saying you aren’t allowed to do that, and we’ll all be better off!” almost all of them are liberal.

          For most of my lifetime, the most common failure mode of liberal policies was “we assumed that because the government said to do X, then X would happen, and we didn’t think about the actual incentives this created for people to respond to”, and that’s pretty close to “imagining the government as omnicompetent”

          Like how the Endangered Species Act was supposed to protect endangered species but actually was responsible for a lot more deaths of endangered species, because the behavior it incentivized was “if you find an endangered species on your land, kill it before anyone finds out or else the land will be taken away from you.”

          Or how Title IX was supposed to provide our precious girls with more opportunities to engage in sports at schools, and instead resulted in boys’ programs being shut down, because operating a girls’ program for a sport no girls want to play is too expensive and not worth the hassle just to keep the boys’ sport open.

          • Anonymous says:

            As a percentage of students attending schools affiliated with the NCAA both male and female participation rates were higher in 2015 than they were in 1971.

            Despite the caterwauling of entitled wrestlers and baseball players there are more opportunities not fewer. Just less interest in their particular sports.

          • DrBeat says:

            How dare they, those contemptible entitled men, want to play a sport that the school wants to offer and be upset that the government told them they are not allowed to without paying a prohibitive amount for a similar program very few people want to use? Let’s punish them, because punishing people we decided should be unpopular is inherently rewarding, and anyone whose experience is politically inconvenient to us deserves to be unpopular!

          • Anonymous says:

            The idea that not getting a scholarship is punishment is an entitled attitude, yes.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            The idea that not getting a scholarship is punishment is an entitled attitude, yes.

            Is the idea that not getting a scholarship is sexism is also an entitled attitude?

          • James Picone says:

            It’s not really a strawman. Of the people saying “this certain thing should not happen, so let’s pass a law saying you aren’t allowed to do that, and we’ll all be better off!” almost all of them are liberal.

            Abortion. Illegal immigration (well, ‘enforce the law we’ve already got’, but very similar). Gay sex. Trans people going into the bathroom they prefer. Laws against welfare cheating.

          • Anonymous says:

            Inasmuch as the reasoning starts from the position that one is entitled to a scholarship in the first place, yes. Rather reminds me of Abigail Fisher.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        The conception of this I like is Mike Munger’s Unicorn:

        “Problem: “the State” is a unicorn

        When I am discussing the State with my colleagues at Duke, it’s not long before I realize that, for them, almost without exception, the State is a unicorn. I come from the Public Choice tradition, which tends to emphasize consequentialist arguments more than natural rights, and so the distinction is particularly important for me. My friends generally dislike politicians, find democracy messy and distasteful, and object to the brutality and coercive excesses of foreign wars, the war on drugs, and the spying of the NSA.

        But their solution is, without exception, to expand the power of “the State.” That seems literally insane to me—a non sequitur of such monstrous proportions that I had trouble taking it seriously.

        Then I realized that they want a kind of unicorn, a State that has the properties, motivations, knowledge, and abilities that they can imagine for it. When I finally realized that we were talking past each other, I felt kind of dumb. Because essentially this very realization—that people who favor expansion of government imagine a State different from the one possible in the physical world—has been a core part of the argument made by classical liberals for at least 300 years.”


      • Agronomous says:

        Most people, when imagining solving some problem through “regulation,” are basically imagining the government as God, an all-knowing, omnibenevolent entity.

        I don’t think that’s how it works, internally.

        All models include some things and leave other things out. When people act as if they think the government is all-knowing and omnibenevolent, I think what they really think is “lots of complicated stuff going on over here; or we could hand the problem to the government, which is that simple stylized box over there.” That is, their model for solving social problems is just way too simple over in the part that deals with government.

        The appropriate remedy is to ask the Central Question of Public Choice: how exactly does taking fallible and self-interested people and sticking them in government positions make them infallible and omnibenevolent? The effect is to refine the mental model by taking a lot of ugly squiggles from the not-government box and recreating them inside the government box. This makes the model somewhat more complicated, but much less biased.

    • Salem says:

      “Conservative” as opposed to what?

      My wife is an intelligent, rational and successful person, but before I met her, she’d never been exposed to a right-wing idea in her life. She simply wasn’t politically engaged, and you have to seek out conservatism to find it, so she just wandered in the normal fog of unconsidered leftism. An autonomous rational person can have a terrible map of the world in political terms, because having undeveloped ideas won’t hurt you, whereas having unpopular ones might. The ideas that have most transformed her politics are the standard ones – that incentives matter, that secure property rights matter, that supply and demand aren’t optional, that decisions involve trade-offs, etc – ideas so obvious that we can’t deny them in our everyday lives. So I encouraged her to apply them to politics, and of course she felt like the scales were falling from her eyes and quickly became a Conservative. Let’s sum up this insight as “free markets.”

      But although this is the central insight of the political right as opposed to the political left, would a user named “Le Maistre Chat” call such a politics particularly conservative? Maybe we’re assuming that the “autonomous rational(ist?) person” is already familiar with libertarianism. Well, the central insight of conservatives as opposed to libertarians is that “each new generation is a fresh invasion of savages.”

      • Dan T. says:

        “each new generation is a fresh invasion of savages.”

        Sort of like what geeks refer to as “The September that Never Ended”?

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve have a cousin that all growing up wasn’t into sports at all. It just wasn’t her thing. Even when she went to a big football school she still never got into it. Then several years back she met her now husband and as of today she is a gigantic fan of the Chicago Cubs.

        It must be that the scales fell off of her eyes, right?

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Quite possible, Anonymous — that’s an astute observation! The Cubs are a fun team for even a non-sports fan to follow because they have so much entertaining history. They’d be a great gateway drug to get someone into baseball.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Well, the central insight of conservatives as opposed to libertarians is that “each new generation is a fresh invasion of savages.”

        That sounds plausible!

      • Agronomous says:

        having undeveloped ideas won’t hurt you, whereas having unpopular ones might

        This is one of those insights I wish I had come up with. It’s especially interesting in combination with Caplan’s rational voter thesis.

    • Deiseach says:

      My own personal view is “Things – like laws – happened for a reason”, though I’m not sure if that comes under the ambit of Chesterton’s Fence.

      The simple idea that it’s highly unlikely someone woke up one morning and thought “Yeah, today I think I’ll write a law about [thing] just to piss everyone off!”

      There is usually a reason. You may think it a bad reason. It may even be a bad reason. But laws and rules don’t fall out of the sky or leap up full-blown like the Spartoi; somebody, indeed several somebodies, had to make them. And usually they were made in response to what was perceived as a need, a lack, or a danger.

      That’s something I’d like to see appreciated: “Aw, why do we have these dumb ol’ rules? The only possible reason is because old people hate fun (or it may be, white people/white men hate love/equality/niceness)!” And everyone applauds and agrees that indeed, the only reason for this is mean-spirited trying to stop people enjoying themselves.

      No, it’s because there was deemed a need for such a law for the general good.

      • Nita says:

        My own personal view is “Things – like laws – happened for a reason”

        Whoa! What are you, some kind of Marxist? 🙂

      • LHN says:

        @Deiseach To be fair, Chesterton’s Fence says that it’s there for a reason and that you should be able to evaluate whether that reason currently applies or not. The original reason for a fence, or a law, could as easily have been a private good as the general.

        Though it’s true that in a democracy, it’s more likely that someone will have had to advocate for a law on the basis of there being some general good, with greater or lesser degrees of plausibility depending.

      • Nornagest says:

        “Aw, why do we have these dumb ol’ rules? The only possible reason is because old people hate fun (or it may be, white people/white men hate love/equality/niceness)!”

        That seems a bit… straw.

        The way I’d put it is, laws are usually passed in response to present or anticipated crises. Some of those don’t go away, and so the laws passed to handle them remain useful (assuming they do what they’re supposed to, which isn’t guaranteed). But sometimes they do, because changing culture or technology has erased the preconditions for the crisis, or because it came out of a moral panic (not uncommon) and was overbilled in the first place. If the shelf life on the average crisis is much shorter than the shelf life on the average law, then that means that a lot of the laws on the books no longer serve a useful purpose. The tricky part, of course, is figuring out which are which.

        Traditionally this is dealt with through selective enforcement, but it seems to me that we could use a better mechanism.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          Traditionally this is dealt with through selective enforcement, but it seems to me that we could use a better mechanism.

          I prefer sunset clauses on every law, so that after X years a law expires unless actively voted for again. I also like Heinlein’s idea to have a branch of government whose sole purpose is to vote on repealing laws.

          • Sunset clauses on all laws has a scaling problem because there are so many laws. I assume the result would be for laws to be renewed in large bunches.

            I also like Heinlein’s notion that there should be a legislative body which specializes in repealing laws. As I recall, it would only take a third of the body to repeal a law.

            I don’t know whether that could lead to ping pong where the main legislature keeps passing a law and the repeal body keeps repealing it.

          • LHN says:

            Lawmakers being lazy, I suspect a universal sunset clause would almost certainly result in omnibus renewal bills being voted every term. It might help a little around the edges with laws that are actually controversial, but it also might be that they’d decide that anything that important couldn’t practically be debated in the context of renewing 20% of the US Code or whatever and would have to be taken up separately.

            (The Constitution allows Congress to maintain a Navy indefinitely, but not to fund an army for more than two years at a time. At this point, how much practical difference does that make?)

        • Agronomous says:

          laws are usually passed in response to present or anticipated crises.

          Well-known laws may fit this description, but the federal code is full of much more obscure stuff. And every sub-sub-section that nobody feels like reading is one more place one can tuck an unclear yet financially-significant-to-somebody provision or proviso or redefinition or limitation.

          And (as is the case with software) after a certain number of edits, it’s not clear you can even ascribe a reason to the way things currently read. It’s just a thing that’s there, waiting for a prosecutor or regulator or judge to breathe life into it by imposing some interpretation on it….

          (I kind of wish laws could throw exceptions and log errors.)

          As for automatic sunsetting: even if lawmakers batched things up into unreadable masses, they would at least have to worry that they missed something in the Ag Bill renewal, leading to attack ads along the lines of, “Congressman McMurphy voted to ban pet pot-bellied pigs!”

          (@Deiseach: I could use some help coming up with a funnier-yet-authentic example at the end there.)

      • 1angelette says:

        Laws always emerge for reasons, of course, they don’t come down from the clouds. However, “white men hate fun” would be more accurately rendered as “white men are willing to orchestrate the suffering of others in exchange for some benefit”. Not everyone is so naive as to assume there’s no practical benefit from these practices. American chattel slavery was not some sadistic game, it existed for a reason and produced profits. This reason just isn’t “the general good”. It’s for the good of the ruling class. (Though I’d be open to an argument that the overall productivity of the chattel slavery environment was better than some alternatives even for the lower classes, such as through increased productivity.)

        Therefore, I feel that it’s too generous to say that all laws were invented to serve “the general good”.

        • “This reason just isn’t “the general good”. It’s for the good of the ruling class.”

          I think that’s almost as naive a picture as the “for the general good” version.

          Consider a steel company executive traveling by air a few decades back. With regard to steel tariffs, he is part of your ruling class, using the government to benefit himself at a greater cost to others. With regard to airline tickets he is part of the ruled class, paying considerably more than the market price would be because the airlines have used the CAB to enforce a cartel that benefits them at a greater cost to others, including him.

          To quote myself:

          “It seems more reasonable to suppose that there is no ruling class, that we are ruled, rather, by a myriad of quarreling gangs, constantly engaged in stealing from each other to the great impoverishment of their own members as well as the rest of us.” (“The Economics of Theft or the Nonexistence of the Ruling Class)

          • 1angelette says:

            I agree that a broad division of all modern humans into a ruling or ruled class would be very silly. I essentially agree with your concept of several overlapping special interest groups. I apologize for reading your initial mention of a general good in such a broad, naive manner.

          • Agronomous says:

            So “the ruling class” is just another unfounded conspiracy theory, which we cling to because it perversely makes us feel better than the real out-of-anyone’s-control reality?

            Stupid Litany of Tarski….

        • There seems to be a mixture of “people do bigotry because it’s to their advantage” and “bigotry is a luxury people buy if they can afford it”.

        • Deiseach says:

          However, “white men hate fun” would be more accurately rendered as “white men are willing to orchestrate the suffering of others in exchange for some benefit”

          And black, brown, yellow and red men never did so themselves in their own native cultures?

          Perhaps I should propose as a conservative notion the idea that what is outside your door this o’clock is not the universal experience through all time and the geography of this globe.

          “White men the oppressors” is true, of course; but they have also oppressed other white men. And brown men have oppressed brown men, and black men (e.g. Arab slavers selling black Africans to white traders) and so have all humanity in all times and places.

          Maybe “it’s not local, it’s human” or “Original Sin – the explanation” would be what I’m trying to get at here 🙂

          • 1angelette says:

            It’s completely true that the world cannot be accurately divided into “white men, who oppress” and “everyone else”. I didn’t mean to attribute this type of original sin to all white men who have ever existed. This was taking for granted a society where the majority of people in power are white men (though by limited distribution of power, most white men don’t have this degree of responsibility). I made this assumption because that is the type of place where a lot of people are posting “white men hate fun”. I think it would be more accurate to quote the critics as correctly identifying these lawmakers to be deriving a benefit from this state of affairs, to the detriment of other people. This is a brute human trait, and I agree with you that it’s a trait that has been exhibited by people of all colors.

            As I’ve said above, I feel that this trait doesn’t benefit “the general good”, but rather the people who are in power at that time and place, though of course there are many competitive players involved and each law affects them in several different ways. Therefore, even within the cynical screaming kyriarchy of “all cis white able bodied men should be in prison” (not my personal position), I think it is possible to acknowledge that laws exist for a reason, despite knee-jerk reactions of skepticism about the quality of the reason generated by those people.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            “though by limited distribution of power, most white men don’t have this degree of responsibility”

            Gosh, been a while since I was let off that easy. Thanks!

    • keranih says:

      “Actions have consequences.”

      With the corollary that “Consequences can’t be wished away because they are unpleasant or make people sad.”

    • keranih says:

      And I’ll turn the question around – what is the central *progressive* insight that could explain how the world is, and yet could be over looked?

      (Is this even a good question? The conservative default is to leave the world as it is, and so describing the current world is central. The progressive default is to embrace change, so the central issue is to describe the new thing. Am I right?)

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m not a very good progressive if I even am one, but if I had to take a whack at it, I’d probably say something along the lines of “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

        • “Humans can make the world better.”

          • Eggoeggo says:

            “Humans can make humans better” is probably the best way of saying it.

            The Progressive New Man is both their ultimate goal and single greatest source of disagreement with conservatives. The progressive answer to Federalist 51 is “we will mould men into angels, and then live in perfect freedom/anarchy/communism/deep-green-topia”.

            It’s also the greatest division between enlightenment thinkers and people who think the enlightenment was a terrible mistake, imo.
            It’s why a lot of “classical liberals” have no answer to progressives except “I agree with your goals, but please stop shoving us into that furnace where you keep trying to forge the New Soviet Man”.

          • John Schilling says:

            “Humans can make humans better” is probably the best way of saying it.

            Didn’t Malcolm Reynolds have something to say about that theory?

          • Anon says:

            @John Schilling

            Malcom Reynolds was fictional; you mean Joss Whedon, who I wouldn’t take as an authority. The Soviets might be a better anecdote.

          • keranih says:


            So we have Mal as the…libertarian, Inara as the liberal, and Janye “let’s be bad guys” Cobb as the anarchist?

            Who is the conservative? Zoe or Simon? or Book?

            (Yes, yes, mapping way too hard, and I’m happy enough that liberal JW was able to write a convincing, compelling libertarian sort of character. Not everyone can do that.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Zoe’s the conservative, complete with stand-by-your-man family values. Book is probably now a religious liberal; his backstory may have been something very different. Simon is too devoted to River to have a political identity of his own.

            River Tam may be another libertarian in her lucid moments:

            “People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome”

            Also, she’s read the minds of too many congressmen to be anything else.

          • gbdub says:

            “Humans can make the world better – and I know how!”

            (That’s half-joke, but also half-serious – the Progressive isn’t just optimistic that things can get better, they Have a Plan to make it so. The question of whether such a plan is truly knowable and/or implementable is their primary point of disagreement with conservatives).

          • A saint said “Let the perfect city rise.
            Here needs no long debate on subtleties,
            Means, end,
            Let us intend
            That all be clothed and fed; while one remains
            Hungry our quarreling but mocks his pains.
            So all will labor to the good
            In one phalanx of brotherhood.”

            A man cried out “I know the truth, I, I,
            Perfect and whole. He who denies
            My vision is a madman or a fool
            Or seeks some base advantage in his lies.
            All peoples are a tool that fits my hand
            Cutting you each and all
            Into my plan.”

            They were one man.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          if I had to take a whack at it, I’d probably say something along the lines of “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

          Socrates: What is justice?

          I think progressives would define it as “equality”, which has been decreasing in a long arc since the Neolithic Revolution, with a possible reversal in the last two centuries accompanied by massive amounts of what other people would call injustice.

          There are other worldviews that include a long arc toward justice in the time dimension, but would define it differently.

        • nydwracu says:

          If that’s the central insight of progressivism, I don’t see how any remotely intelligent person with basic knowledge in the relevant domains could go on without writing off the whole memeplex.

      • Nita says:

        Even if not every problem has a solution, we don’t know which ones do, so we have to keep trying.

        “If something bad happens to someone else, they must have deserved it” is a comforting lie.

        • The Nybbler says:

          “If something bad happens to someone else, they must have deserved it” is a comforting lie.

          That’s the Just World fallacy, which I don’t think is at all central to conservatism. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is an old question/lament.

          • Corey says:

            It seems to come up a lot, in the foreground or the background. It’s necessary for anything resembling social Darwinism, for example.

          • keranih says:

            Is it “people deserved to have this happen to them?”

            Or is it “This is a predictable outcome from the actions and patterns of these people?”

            I mean, when a baby crawls off the bed, gravity takes hold, they fall, and break their noggin. This is a consequence of that action, and not because of a moral failing for which they must be punished.

            (I’m curious, though, how “people deserve what they get” is supposedly on the conservative side, and “the arc of the universe is towards justice” is on the liberal side. Dueling saws, it seems.)

      • Salem says:

        “People, institutions, cultures and societies are more plastic, and more able to thrive in changed circumstances, than you give them credit for. The world will not end if we tinker with them a bit.”

        That is not the key insight of progressive thought, but it is the one that most helps to explain the world around us. Most progressive ideas, like those of Nita above, are more moral injunctions about how to react to the world, than methods to describe it.

      • HircumSaeculorum says:

        Probably something like, “justice doesn’t happen on its own” or “existing institutions are sometimes the results of bias, ignorance, or selfishness.”

        Better yet, “human lives have value which must be preserved and respected, even when it is more convenient to ignore it; if this value is ignored, social unrest and decay follow.”

    • John Schilling says:

      Not central, but close to it, is “incentives matter, even when you don’t want them to”. A great deal of conservative thought is based around avoiding moral hazards due to incentivizing undesired behavior, and on not disincentivizing desired behavior. And the reflexive “that’s stupid and won’t work” to just about every new progressive idea is often based on looking at the unintended incentives being offered.

      It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

    • Hlynkacg says:

      What do y’all think is the central conservative insight?

      If we are talking specifically about the Anglo-American brand of “right wing” conservatism I would say that the key insight is Hobbes, Burke, Kipling, et al’s concept of natural law. As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn, The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!.

      However, in the general case I think Chesteron’s Fence has the stronger claim.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      In the middle you ask for the best conservative insight. But in the beginning you ask for the central insight, which sounds like the thing that all conservatives have in common. And by demanding that Burke and Maistre endorse the insight, you seem to reiterate that version.

      Why do you believe that conservatism is a coherent concept? The question is a little circular: if you can identify a central insight, sure, that would be pretty convincing. But don’t just define conservatives as people who follow whatever you decide is central; it’s important to defend the claim that this matches the common usage of conservative. Maybe the conservatives of a single place and time form a coherent body, but do the conservatives have continuity going back a few hundred years?

      A century ago Chesterton rejected the label conservative (and liberal). Moreover, two centuries ago, Burke was a Whig. It’s great that Conservatives can learn from Whigs. Maybe you really should define modern conservatives as the followers of Burke. But that seems to me to concede that the concept is not coherent that far in the past. And thus you should not hold Burke up as a litmus test.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        In the middle you ask for the best conservative insight. But in the beginning you ask for the central insight, which sounds like the thing that all conservatives have in common. And by demanding that Burke and Maistre endorse the insight, you seem to reiterate that version.
        Why do you believe that conservatism is a coherent concept?

        It very possibly is not. “Right” can be defined as anything, ahem, reactionary: people were traditional, then the Left was invented, and Right is the grab-bag of everyone who opposes it. Mussolini identified as “the Right”, and Fascism has very little in common with throne and altar conservatism or American right-liberalism.
        OTOH, it’s possibly that social conservatism and right-liberalism have a shared kernel. If so, Fascism could be excluded as a vision of social progress that doesn’t care about equality.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          If conservatism is skepticism of change, then most conservatives do it by instinct and are unable to articulate a central insight (even if they can argue against specific changes). A central insight ought to be a meta principle arguing for skepticism in general. And, indeed, most of the answers are variations on Chesterton’s fence, which tells you to be skeptical of change, but not change in any particular direction or any systematic error to look for (I think Burke, too).

          But other people have given more object-level principles, indicating specific blind spots one might have. Specifically: incentives matter and men are not angels. They are more immediately applicable for understanding the world.

          Not going anywhere with that distinction, just thought I should point it out.

    • Anonymous says:

      “You are not smarter than the entire past.”

    • gbdub says:

      I think the central insight of conservatism is “Better than Nothing is a high standard” (as stated by Ann Althouse). Combined with “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. Or perhaps more generally, a belief in the value of a status quo bias – Chesterton’s fence is a corollary.

      The conservative is suspicious of monkeying with systems that seem to have been chugging along pretty well. They are cautious of progressive schemes and utopian plans. They believe in unintended consequences and Murphy’s Law. In some sense this is a cynical pessimism, but I’d prefer to call it an optimism about the present – things aren’t perfect, but they’re as good as we have any right to expect them. Leave it alone unless you’re damn sure what you’re doing.

      • “Conservative” has at least two quite different meanings in this context. One is the literal meaning of the word. The other is the label for a current political coalition–in particular one in the U.S.

        gbdub’s description fits the literal meaning. But that meaning applies more accurately to someone who supports the changes made under the New Deal than to someone, like at least the more ideological current conservatives (and libertarians, sometimes part of the coalition), who is critical of them.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The literal meaning vs. the coalition isn’t a fine enough distinction.

          The word “conservative” can be used with multiple literal meanings, and many of them apply to political conservatism.

          – “Cautious” might best describe conservatism. Chesterton’s fence seems like the go to example. The phrase “first, do no harm” might also apply. This seems to have gone by the board in the modern coalition.

          – “Concerned about risks” could also be described as conservative. This is similar to the first, but when applied to foreign policy, terrorism, the judicial system, etc. this inference of conservative leads to far more activist policies.

          – “Traditional” (as in social values, habits or mores) could also be described as “conservative”. One could see this arriving out of the other two, but in many ways this is simply deontology at work. People aren’t traditional (by an large) because they worry about risk or are duly cautious, but rather because they think that to be otherwise is a moral wrong. They may assess that moral turpitude carries risk, but the assessment of right and wrong most frequently) comes first.

          – “Restrained” is also conservative. This might be also seen, ironically, as classically liberal or libertarian, because holding that we should be restrained in our interference with others is obviously the common libertarian position.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      The thought that someone, somwehere is getting is getting something for
      free is intolerable. My tax “efficiency” is fine, though.

      There is no such thing as a legitimate protest or strike. Protesting is
      always wrong just because it is protesting.

      No-one has a right to a job except workers in the arms industry. Their
      right is so strongly established that it overrides all other considerations.
      It is OK to sell weapons to tyrannies, sell weapons to both sides in a war,
      and sell weapons to countries that may use them against us so long as it
      keeps arms industry workers employed.

      The enemy of my enemy IS my friend, dammit!

      Organisations like Amnesty International are nothing but a bunch of
      subvesive scumbags. However, if we want to start a “just war” with some
      tyranny or other, we will quote their reports as fact.

      Anyone who is arrested or otherwise come to the attention of the police
      is a criminal scumbag (a trial isn’t necessary to establish this) who
      deserves the harshest possible treatment. My occasional breaches of the
      speed limit obviously do not count. I am not a criminal, just an honest
      citizen who breaks the law occasionally. Completely different.

      Apportioning blame is more important than solving problems.

      Anyone who seeks to explain something in order to prevent it happening again is
      really trying to justify it morally. Even if they say they are are not.

      If a tyrant kills some his own population, we can use that to
      justify war against him. However, the people whom we would kill
      in pursuance of the war don’t matter — they are justifiable
      colateral damage.

      Heterosexuality is right because it is a deeply-seated and intrinsic feature of human nature. Homosexuality
      should not be referred to or portrayed in public because people would become instantly
      converted to it. 5 minutes of Brokeback Mountain is all it takes.

      Freedom is valuable — so valuable that it must be deferred until the final
      defeat of all our enemies.

      The mere existence of someone with a different way of life to mine threatens my way of

      Further immigration to This Great Nation of Ours became undesirable five seconds after
      my grandfather first set foot on its blessed soil.

      Nothing is permitted unless it can be specifically justified.

      Adults aren’t adults: they are naughty children who neeed to be kept in line by authority figures.

      Conservatism is the best system for the poor. Well, it isn’t really. But who cares ?

      The poor are always with us. We shouldn’t try to do anything about poverty. Crime, though..
      crime started when I was twenty. The was no crime in the old days. Crime is caused by Them. What we need
      to do is find out who They are and get rid of Them.

      Darwinism is a dreadful theory that drags man down to the level of a mere beast with no purpose in life except to reproduce. On the other hand, we need to breed as much as possible so we don’t get swamped by Them.

      There is no such thing as society. But there *is* such a thing as a nation

      • Nornagest says:

        You’re not helping.

      • Anonymous says:

        Remind me how much The Dividualist got banned for, again?

        • Eggoeggo says:

          But Scott was looking for an excuse to ban him, so it’s different.

          • Frog Do says:

            Old LW people get enormous amounts of slack, newbies don’t. The delusion is pretending people have principles when they only ever have tribes.

        • Anonymous says:

          The last straw was attacking Scott’s masculinity. What about this comment reminded you of that?

          • Anonymous says:

            Scott was explicit that he found it regrettable that Dividualist’s crack was aimed at him personally since people would mistake it for a ban for attacking him, Scott, personally. I can only interpret that to mean that the crack itself was banworthy and would have been if aimed at another. I see ~20 cracks of pretty much the same grade in the post above, but aimed at others; nevertheless Ancient Geek doesn’t seem to be at all banned.

            That strikes me as a logical discontinuity. You might say the standard seems doubled.

          • Nita says:

            Lavender anon, there is a difference between mocking the ideas espoused by a group and mocking a particular person’s hormone levels.

            “You’re not a Real Man, your brain must be defective” doesn’t pass even for cheap satire, it’s an outright personal insult.

      • onyomi says:

        “Adults aren’t adults: they are naughty children who neeed to be kept in line by authority figures.”

        You see this as a feature of conservatism?

        Conservatives just want to be your dad, while liberals want to be your mom.

        Libertarians will let you be an adult.

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’s more subtle than that. “Some adults are adults; they’ll follow our rules without enforcement, so they won’t find our enforcement to be a problem. Other adults are naughty children who need to be kept in line by authority figures; they will find our enforcement to be a problem but they’re just naughty children so why pay attention to their complaints? Thus, anyone who finds our enforcement to be a problem is actually a child to be ignored.”

          That’s a feature of authoritarianism, whether of the left or of the right or some other sort entirely.

      • DrBeat says:

        Is the central insight of progressivism “you will die if you ever stop lying about your political opponents for even a single second, much less treat them as human beings who are alive and have an experience of the world?”

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          I’d love to reply, but I am too busy forging the new progressive man in the white heat of my Stalinist furnace.

      • Jiro says:

        Organisations like Amnesty International are nothing but a bunch of
        subvesive scumbags. However, if we want to start a “just war” with some
        tyranny or other, we will quote their reports as fact.

        I don’t see what’s wrong with this. If a group admits something that’s against their own interest, it’s probably true. So we should be much more trusting of Amnesty International when they say things that justify war than when they say things that oppose war.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Forgot to add:

        “The left force their dogma down people throats, engage in witch hunts, and persecute heresy.
        The way to avoid all that is to embrace traditional religious values.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          As someone firmly on “the left”, both on SSC and in general, I’ll just that I don’t find snark particularly helpful.

          It’s possible to make the point that there is hypocrisy in some common conservative ideas without using snark. If you want a productive discussion, which seems to be the point of this space, then snark is almost always contra-indicated.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ HBC

            I don’t see TAG’s (imo quite valuable) snark as accusing his targets of hypocrisy so much as of cognitive dissonance.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          The argument isn’t that embracing traditional religious values avoids all that. It’s that if all that is going to happen anyway, you might as choose the best set of values to do the oppressing, and traditional religious values are better than degenerate leftist values.

    • Agronomous says:

      No matter how bad things are, you can always make them worse.

      • Agronomous says:

        Corollary: Politics is an excellent way to do so.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          What exactly do you think politics is?

          Saying, politics is bad is a bit like saying water is bad.

          • “What exactly do you think politics is?”

            A good question.

            I think in contexts like this, the answer is, at least roughly, that politics is trying to achieve your objectives by getting control of state power to do so.

            Obviously there are much broader senses of “politics” to which your point would apply better.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:

            politics is trying to achieve your objectives by getting control of state power to do so

            Politics is trying to achieve your objectives by convincing a group of people to act in concert. This applies to governments, but also Anarcho-Capitalism, or inside corporations or even the local VFW.

            In other words, if you define politics as the bad thing that governments do, then sure, only governments get bad results from politics.

    • nydwracu says:

      In a better world, I’d say selection processes operating on social technologies, but the obvious answer is functionalism. For example:

      Last semester, a student in the masculinity course I teach showed a video clip she had found online of a toddler getting what appeared to be his first vaccinations. Off camera, we hear his father’s voice. “I’ll hold your hand, O.K.?” Then, as his son becomes increasingly agitated: “Don’t cry!… Aw, big boy! High five, high five! Say you’re a man: ‘I’m a man!’ ” The video ends with the whimpering toddler screwing up his face in anger and pounding his chest. “I’m a man!” he barks through tears and gritted teeth.

      The home video was right on point, illustrating the takeaway for the course: how boys are taught, sometimes with the best of intentions, to mutate their emotional suffering into anger. More immediately, it captured, in profound concision, the earliest stirrings of a male identity at war with itself.

      Apparently, it didn’t occur to this shitstain, the college administration, or the New York Times that the masculine suppression of physical pain might not be completely evil, and might even have some useful purpose.

      (Bonus: read someone like Roissy with this in mind.)

      • Nornagest says:

        I doubt the college administration knows or cares about the details, although they would of course be aware that anything labeled a masculinity course will spend most of its time shitting on masculinity.

  3. Anonymous says:

    On the gorilla thing: http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2016/05/31/boy-falls-into-gorilla-enclosure-harambe-cincinnati-zoo-timeline-orig-mss.cnn

    From a rationalist perspective: Which side of the activity / inactivity line does the zookeepers’ choice fall on? Is not shooting the gorilla and letting nature take its course similar to not buying bednets?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The zookeeper is an active participant by nature of being a zookeeper. Part of his job description includes taking down animals.

      • keranih says:

        Agreed with Edward S. There are too many interventions already at play here to rationally pick shoot/don’t shoot as the place to “let nature take its course.”

        To me, this situation seemed far closer to a perfect storm of intersecting actions producing inadvertent tragedy than most incidents I’ve seen publicized. Most of the time you could lay some blame on they-shoulda-known negligence on *someone* – but I’m not finding that here.

        Just bad all around.

        • Anonymous says:

          Sure maybe it’s a tragedy either way, but why pick the kid over the gorilla? Isn’t the gorilla more valuable? What if the choice had been the Mona Lisa or the kid?

          Given where we are I don’t expect anyone to claim that lives of human beings have infinite value.

          • keranih says:

            No, the kid’s life does not have infinite value.

            Just more than the gorilla’s. (And the Mona Lisa, for that matter.)

            I betcha that by now, someone has run the cost of fending off lawsuits from the parents of the now dead child, plus the negative press, against the cost of replacing the gorilla, plus the negative press, and that’s why the zoo directors are still standing firm and saying “If we had to do it over again, we would have done the same thing.”

          • bluto says:

            In the first case, they would likely still need to replace the “killer” gorilla if the child had been injured.

          • onyomi says:

            Actually, this incident got me thinking about just this, and I had to come to the conclusion that most people do, in fact, value the marginal endangered animal over the marginal stranger’s child. The former are, in fact, much rarer, and give us more pleasure. Stranger’s children are mostly a nuisance. This is not something anyone would admit, but I think it may actually be true at a gut level.

            This also seems to me a possible answer to what sometimes seems misanthropic about the environmental movement more generally. Though they won’t put it this way, most people really do care more about the preservation of the climate, of pristine environments, of endangered species than they do about the marginal complete stranger’s child (and certainly more than the marginal complete stranger’s job).

            Morally, this is indefensible. Because if it were your kid, you’d want the gorilla shot. And the zookeepers did the right thing. And I think all but the most extreme environmental-ish types would agree that human>animal in the moral calculus. But on a gut level, we don’t actually feel that way about people we don’t know.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Most human beings may not have infinite value, but the life of my child does. I’m willing to let other parents push the fiction that their kids are also infinitely worthy in case my kid ever needs to take advantage of that norm.

          • Same Anonymous says:

            Morally, this is indefensible. Because if it were your kid, you’d want the gorilla shot. And the zookeepers did the right thing. And I think all but the most extreme environmental-ish types would agree that human>animal in the moral calculus. But on a gut level, we don’t actually feel that way about people we don’t know.

            Why is it morally indefensible? We have a baseline for the value of a random child saved somewhere in the world based on EA research. Given that many of us are unwilling to forgo $3.5k to save a random child’s life, why is it immoral for a zoo to refuse to destroy an animal worth millions to save a random child’s life? Even if we use the government’s rather inflated ~$9M value of life used in cost benefit analysis, that still puts the Mona Lisa on the far side of the line along with endangered species in general, if not necessarily one gorilla.

            It seems like this is one of those things like anti-gouging rules where intuition isn’t very good and you need to use system 2 instead.

          • onyomi says:

            “Indefensible” might not be the right word, but I’m not comfortable defending it, at least, and this is one reason why I’m not a utilitarian: the gorilla may provide the world more utils than this child is likely to, but human child>animal life is also a principle I can totally endorse.

            Though we do it all the time implicitly, I think there’s a strong moral revulsion to putting a price tag on human life, and like Jaskologist said, I think most people are willing to entertain the illusion that a stranger’s child ‘s life has infinite value since they themselves like the social norm which would protect their children under a similar circumstance.

            Of course this doesn’t mean we are morally obligated to always spare no expense if it might save one marginal child’s life–that would basically cripple the world economy in favor of safety–but when it comes down to a simple calculus of “animal or child,” it seems very hard for me to justify picking the animal, even if he’s more valuable in probable dollar terms.

          • John Schilling says:

            Morally, this is indefensible. Because if it were your kid, you’d want the gorilla shot.

            Yeah, but if it was my gorilla I’d want to leave him and the kid be and maybe shoot the mother as a nuisance; self-interest and morality aren’t always on the same page.

            I’m not exactly an extreme environmentalist, but I might weigh a viable breeding member of a potentially sapient endangered genus above a random human child. But, in this case, it’s not my call to make so I’m not even going to bother with the ethical calculus.

            Economic calculus, hmm. The market value of a gorilla is apparently $400,000. At $129,000/QALY, a three-year-old child is worth just under $10 million. So if there’s more than a 4% chance that the gorilla kills the kid, shoot the gorilla. If there were a species anywhere with a market value of $10 million per, we’d probably want to consider the reason for that.

          • Jiro says:

            Given that many of us are unwilling to forgo $3.5k to save a random child’s life, why is it immoral for a zoo to refuse to destroy an animal worth millions to save a random child’s life?

            For the same reason that even though most of us would be unwilling to pay thousands of dollars to fix a stranger’s car, buying auto insurance is considered the moral thing to do (also required by law, but libertarians can dispute that part). Operating a car or owning a gorilla makes it your responsibility to mitigate the direct damage caused when they malfunction.

            (If you can prove the damage is caused by the parent’s negligence, you shoot the gorilla, then sue the negligent parent for the cost of the gorilla.)

          • Same Anonymous says:

            I agree the situation would be morally different if the gorilla had escaped rather than the child trespassed. But given that it wasn’t, I don’t see how the analogy holds. Nor do I see what a possible civil remedy* has to do with the morality of inaction on the part of the zookeepers.

            *though as it happens in this case likely unavailing due to a judgment proof plaintiff

          • onyomi says:

            If we want to be utilitarian about it, don’t we also have to take into account the benefit to society of thinking that, when *my* kid is in danger, people are going to automatically prioritize him, rather than taking out a calculator?

            Does this introduce the possibility that widespread, explicit adoption of utilitarianism could, ironically, net negative utils?

          • Skivverus says:

            Does this introduce the possibility that widespread, explicit adoption of utilitarianism could, ironically, net negative utils?

            I at least am inclined to say it’s possible. Likely, even, considering that what would get adopted would most likely not include accounting for “time spent weighing the alternatives” or similar, and we have current examples of the headline versions of nuanced ideologies working counter to the goals of their originators.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Does this introduce the possibility that widespread, explicit adoption of utilitarianism could, ironically, net negative utils?

            My inexpert understanding is that this tends to be more of an issue for naive utilitarianism or act utilitarianism.

            Rule utilitarianism, in contrast, seems like it should be able to handle the fact that we may need to “take into account the benefit to society of thinking that, when *my* kid is in danger, people are going to automatically prioritize him, rather than taking out a calculator?”

            My (shaky) memory is that Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons discusses how a theory might be indirectly self-defeating. It’s similar to how you can set up game-theoretic scenarios where the rational thing to do is behave irrationally.

          • Same Anonymous says:

            I agree that rule utilitarianism would have no problem with such a rule, though I’m unconvinced, at least as of yet, that such a rule is utility maximizing.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @ Jaskologist: You don’t actually assign infinite value to your child’s life. If you did, you’d be indifferent between all outcomes in which your child is alive, and indifferent between all outcomes in which your child is dead.

          • Jiro says:

            You don’t actually assign infinite value to your child’s life. If you did, you’d be indifferent between all outcomes in which your child is alive, and indifferent between all outcomes in which your child is dead.

            This is only true if you are a total utilitarian. If you are not a total utilitarian, the fact that a universe with your child + 1 has the same total utility as a universe with your child + 2 is irrelevant.

            Also, that assumes you’re even utilitartian at all. You know, lots of people aren’t.

          • Skivverus says:

            @Chrysophylax, Jiro
            Scalar versus vector utilitarianism?
            Or, similarly, dictionary-sorting utilitarianism: “outcomes beginning with a-e are preferable to ones beginning with f-z; repeat for each subsequent letter”.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @ Jiro: no, I’m not assuming utilitarianism. It’s true in general. If you have preferences over world-states and there is one particular feature of a world-state that has infinite value to you, your preferences reduce to a binary over worlds with and without that feature (unless there’s some other feature with infinite value, potentially a larger infinity). This is true for any preferences for which “the life of my child has infinite value” is meaningful, including preferences that are otherwise not consequentialist, because it’s a feature of infinity.

            @ Skiverrus: the term you’re looking for is “lexicographic preferences”.

      • Anonymous says:

        That seems a little question begging. That it is in his job description just means that the decision has been made at an earlier point. But it doesn’t get to whether or not the answer was correct in the first place. Would it have been immoral to have a policy that in circumstances like this you don’t intervene?

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      “From a rationalist perspective”

      1. Tranquilize the gorilla
      1.1 Gorilla passes out in 10-15 minutes of dragging the kid around
      1.1.1 Kid dies/is seriously injured in that 10-15 minutes, have to kill the gorilla, possible lawsuit
      1.1.2 Kid lives, gorilla lives, happy situation for all
      1.1.3 Gorilla gets angry at getting hit with a tranquilizer before succumbing to its effects in 10-15 minutes, kid dies/is seriously injured, have to kill the gorilla, possible lawsuit
      1.2 Use large does of tranquilizer on gorilla to increase speed at which it takes effect
      1.2.1 Gorilla has respiratory failure, kid lives (should have just used a bullet)
      1.3.2 Gorilla lives, kid lives, happy situation for all
      1.4 ????

      2. Use deadly force on gorilla
      2.1 Certain segments of public are offended, kid lives
      2.2 ???

      It seems to me that attempting to tranquilize the gorilla had too many more unknowns than using a bullet, so I think the zookeeper made the right choice

      • tcd says:

        Change one key detail in the scenario and reevaluate, instead of a 3 year old make the human who enters the exhibit a 20 year old.

        In this case I do not see the zoo shooting the gorilla, or a real public outrage if the gorilla happens to kill the intruder.

      • NL says:

        2.2 Bullet hits kid instead of Gorilla
        2.3 Bullet hits Gorilla in non-fatal spot, gets angry before being shot again, kid dies/is seriously injured

  4. Slow Tuesday Night by R. A. Lafferty– people have learned to live so quickly that they have two or three careers in eight hours. A silly utopia of abundance.

    It *almost* fits on the em book review discussion, but not quite.

    • Deiseach says:

      Lafferty is always good for a sideways look. This bit hit me in the eye:

      Basil acquired title to the Trend Indication Complex and had certain falsifications set into it. He caused to collapse certain industrial empires that had grown up within the last two hours, and made a good thing of recombining their wreckage.

      That’s why I don’t trust prediction markets; if they ever do become a thing, someone will find a way to manipulate them. So I don’t think they are the cool new tool for setting public policy, nor should they be; let them be like the stock market or an online bookies, and let those who can profit by them, but for the love of Hermes Trismegistus don’t use them to make political decisions.

      • Anon. says:

        Even if they are manipulated and used for malicious purposes, it is still possible for them to improve the status quo if the upside is large enough.

      • Skivverus says:

        The same incentives for seeking plausibility rather than truth show up in any institution ostensibly devoted to the latter: it takes less research effort, and promotes one’s other interests in the short term.

        In the long term, the ones that have avoided that trap gain reputation, but also become more likely to be taken on faith because of that same reputation – and the incentive to be plausible rather than honest remains.

        So, yes, prediction markets can be manipulated – but so can any institution with similar goals.

        • Aegeus says:

          It seems like prediction markets have less of that incentive, since the person running the market exerts no research effort either way (the people playing the market do that). Straight-up lying about the probability the market gives is possible, but it would require them to spend real money (if shares are selling for $0.50 and the marketeer wants to claim it’s $0.90, then when someone tries to sell the marketeer needs to pay the $0.40 difference).

      • Obviously there are reasons why people would want to manipulate prediction markets, but there may be ways of making it difficult.

        During one of the recent presidential elections, there was a brief blip in a real money political prediction market–I no longer remember what it was called, but I’m pretty sure it was in Europe. I interpreted that as someone on the currently losing side buying enough bets on his candidate to push the odds up above 50%, in the hope that the perception that he was now winning would prove self-fulfilling. If so, it didn’t work–the odds rapidly came back down. In effect, he was offering people on the other side a bet at much better than actuarial odds, and there were presumably lots of people willing to take the free money.

        Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem of somebody who somehow gets control over running the market and simply lies about what the equilibrium price is–planning to reneg at the end.

      • JayT says:

        Deiseach, you kind of make it sounds like you think the stock market doesn’t set public policy. That’s obviously false.

  5. Frog Do says:

    Does anyone here have any good cyberpunk novel recommendations? I want to read some trashy pulp. I’ve already read William Gibson and Neal Stephenson.

    • keranih says:

      Daniel Keyes Moran – The Continuing Time series.

      Also, if you like Charles Stross, Saturn’s Children. Just…come up with a better explanation than “It’s about the adventures of a sexbot” if you read it in public.

      Walter John Williams, Hardwired.

      • Nornagest says:

        If you have the first edition of Saturn’s Children, no amount of excuses will make up for the cover — it manages to be NSFW while shelved. Good book, though.

        • LHN says:

          My first thought was “that looks like someone was taking off the cover of Heinlein’s Friday with worse art”. Evidently Google Image search thinks so too (or I guessed right), since the Friday cover is the ninth hit on a search for Saturn’s Children.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m pretty sure that was deliberate, on Stross’s part. Maybe not the NSFW part, though the original Friday was a bit risqué itself.

          • LHN says:

            Yeah. It didn’t strike me as that out of line for SF paperbacks of the time when I read it in high school. (Compare, e.g., the even less SFW cover for Poul Anderson’s A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows: https://www.flickr.com/photos/56781833@N06/11468267156 ) But my dad made fun of it incessantly when I was reading it.

            (Speaking of Anderson, Baen’s rerelease of the Flandry books a few years back was, I think, an attempt to hark back to that era, and/or Bond movie posters, but wound up missing in the direction of late-night Cinemax: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51TZ-A92SvL._OU01_AC_UL320_SR240,320_.jpg Let’s just say that was one time I was glad to be reading on a Kindle.)

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Saturn’s Children was indeed a deliberate riff on late period Heinlein; Stross commented about that extensively on his blog at the time.

            (My personal view: we have too much late period Heinlein in this world already without people wasting their time and talent making even more of it.)

            To answer the original question, I would not consider this book to be cyberpunk or fun, though it is definitely trashy. It’s more on the space opera end of things. The sequel, Neptune’s Pride, is maybe more “economypunk” than cyberpunk and might be of interest given the recent discussions on the Ascended Economy here.

        • chaosbunt says:

          after a quick image search i want to convey my european sympathy laugh about what is NSFW. Here: Hehehe…

    • I don’t know what you mean by trashy fun, but Delany’s Nova is cyberpunkish– space opera with cyberpunk elements and without the noir.

      • Frog Do says:

        Thanks!. By trashy fun I mean the greatest category of fiction, that is to say, light reading, which is also frustratingly vague. I’ve been reading too much good non-fiction lately, need to cleanse the palate.

        • Nornagest says:

          It’s hard to square that with literary cyberpunk — most of the authors working in the genre saw dense, highly stylized prose as an explicit objective, and it didn’t last long enough for there to be many outliers. Post-cyberpunk would be easier.

          • Frog Do says:

            I do think Gibson’s prose style is underrated, but I also think it works best outside of explicit cyberpunk (imo his best work was the Blue Ant trilogy). Post-cyberpunk and cyberpunk inspired sci-fi is also fine.

    • Urstoff says:

      Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan is praised pretty widely, although I’ve never read it. Also, check out Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology .

    • Anonymous says:

      I enjoyed The Nexus Trilogy.

    • anonymous poster says:

      Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon trilogy is essential reading. Skip Black Man and Market Forces as these are shallower retellings of the same story.

      • Robert says:

        Not sure I agree that Black Man is a shallower retelling – it’s similar in many ways, but I definitely think there was a lot of emotional punch there that wasn’t present in Altered Carbon and sequels.

        Market Forces is pretty weak, though, agreed.

  6. Siah Sargus says:

    Hey rationalists and adjacents! I have a simple question, what’s your workout routine look like? In term of fitness, what do you focus on?

    • Frog Do says:

      My workout routine is mostly power cleans, overhead press, and deadlifts with various accessories depending on my mood. My bench is heavy enough that I’m worried about my shoulders and I’m also worried about my flexibility for squats, if I were more flexible I’d incorporate more snatches and clean-and-press. Bodyweight stuff is also good, pullups and pushups. I prefer exercise bikes for cardio, but that’s mostly cause I hate swimming.

      One particular thing I enjoy is that power cleans, overhead press, and deadlifts have made my posture a lot better, especially since I sit way too much. A good workout also helps with my chronic cluster headaches, something about the blood flow to the brain I guess.

      Edit: Though I don’t self-identify as a rationalist, more adjacent, for what that’s worth. The whole Less Wrong thing is more of a weird internet fandom to me than anything else.

      • Corey says:

        Back when I went to a few meetups in the 00s, upon describing LW to my wife she said “sounds like a cult.” My (unserious) reply of “oh, it totally is” was not well met. (I learned many useful things but didn’t have much to contribute and once hitting my limit on things I could learn, disengaged).

        • Nornagest says:

          Honestly, I think I liked LW better when it was more culty than it is now.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            Were the cuddlepiles better or something?

          • Nornagest says:

            It still had all the same flaws, but there was less annoying rationalization floating around. And probably more importantly, the main site was a better community — there was a sense of it working towards something, rather than being a hub for people to sit around and be smug at each other on.

            SSC isn’t a bad community either, but in different ways.

          • Frog Do says:

            The econ blogosphere as a whole was better before Twitter, and sci-fi fandom stuff was more fun when it was all on LiveJournal. But maybe I’m just being grumpy and old.

    • Anonymous says:

      I walk back and forth to the train station on both ends of my daily commute (~1.5 miles total). On weekends I tend to walk even more just getting around the city. That’s about it in terms of exercise.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      450 minutes of walking a week, preferably divided into 7 equal walks. Running makes me physically miserable, but I could conceivably condition myself for it if I felt crunched for exercise time.
      Also 2 hours of karate a week and 3 days a week 8 sets on free weights. I’m not passionate about weights, even though I have a girlfriend who’s a powerlifter: I just do it for health.

      • Dahlen says:

        Walking is also probably better for your knees, and in case you’re not very young anymore this is all the more important. About 3 years ago I ruined my knees running long distances and have since switched my treadmill workout to walking at a fast pace and high elevation, to get about a similar workout intensity through a method that wasn’t so taxing on my joints. I’m only just beginning to recover.

        Swimming is another way to get some cardio without risk of joint injury, but is also (at least around here) less accessible and more high-maintenance.

    • Nornagest says:

      About six hours of martial arts a week, divided between sword and jujitsu (I’ve studied several other arts, but those are what I’m working on right now), and three of lifting. The latter’s pretty standard powerlifting stuff: squat, bench, deadlift, press, clean. I also do some bodyweight stuff and add arms when I can, but my schedule’s tight enough that that’s not too often.

      I used to run more often, but it tends to lead to shin splints, knee problems, and other annoying minor injuries. Maybe I’ll give it a try again in a couple of months, and we can see if my posture’s improved enough to fix that.

    • zz says:

      Strength training as described for healthy adults in ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. The LW post Optimal Exercise describes largely the same thing in fewer words, freely.

      I also do Tabata burpees.

      I also play ultimate and bike everywhere, but that’s not exercise so much as incidental physical activity.

    • Andrew says:

      I use a standing desk at work, which burns a surprising amount of calories and improves my posture and general health. In addition, I walk about 2 miles a day to and from classes, offices, etc. I have a straight pull-up bar hanging over my bedroom door at home, and thus do ~5 pullups a day in sets of 1 as I pass through for various reasons.

      6 hours kayaking every weekend during the summer, 3-6 hours hiking every weekend during other seasons. Mostly control weight via diet.

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Just the very basics. 5 sets of each of a bunch of standard lifts, 3 times a week. Plus a few dumbbell sets for warmup, fun, and ’cause I want Chris Cheng’s forearms in so many ways.
      Pullups on days off—only just getting back into that after poor form screwed up my elbow. Very slowly working my way back up to my old max of 19.
      Running at night when I have time/can’t sleep. Who has time for loads of cardio?

      Closest thing to a non-shooting martial art is wrestling a bloody great monster ram as few times a year as I can get away with.

    • I try to do half an hour of some sort of work, usually yard work, three times a week. No deliberate exercise beyond that.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I beeminder myself on two 45-minute weights sessions a week (and try to fit in a third as well, if I can), based on what I can do with a few sets of dumbbells, a couple of push-up stands and a multi-position exercise bench; I don’t have space in my bedroom for anything more fancy than that. Only started a few weeks ago; yet to see if it proves to be an amazing lifehack, but I do seem to be gradually working my way upwards in terms of how much I can lift.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I can’t stand the gym, so I pretty much stick to biking, 20-30 miles a week at as hard a pace as I can manage. Also a few push-ups to prevent the T-rex effect. Except when I’m injured, as is happening with distressing frequency.

    • Matt C says:

      Bodyweight workout video (Mark Lauren) 3x a week. This has largely replaced the yoga videos my wife and I used to do.

      I walk about a mile after lunch most days. (Or before breakfast, once it starts to get too hot.)

      If I could somehow make it happen magically, I’d do a little more, maybe lift weights with a buddy a couple times a week, but this is what we seem to be able to stick with, and it ain’t bad.

    • Anonymous says:

      Just fencing, at least 4 hours a week but as much as I can manage. It’s decent cardio, and it gives the body an elegant shape.

      I don’t even lift.

    • Anonymous says:

      Biking to work every day (well, biking everywhere within 15km, really), occasional lifting on a machine, daily push-ups, martial arts three times a week.

    • Yehoshua K says:

      For whatever it’s worth to you, my workout is burpees (each one with a divebomber pushup) intermixed with running in place. I’m gradually decreasing the time between burpees, looking to eventually get them continual.

    • Qigong: Eight Brocades from Lam Kam Chuen’s The Way of Energy. Makes hot flashes less intense and less frequent. I have no idea why this happens. I don’t know whether this eight brocades (there are many different exercise sets with that name) has a surprising good effect is Bayesian evidence that it’s worth exploring for people who don’t have hot flashes.

      Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong (book of the same name by Bruce Franztis)– first 4 of 7 exercises because that’s how much I’ve learned. I’ll be learning the rest of them. Shuts down almost all of obsessive self-hatred. I’ve tried a bunch of things, and getting to the third exercise is the thing that worked.

      I have some hope of loosening my shoulders a lot and of getting more energy.

      IntuFlow (joint mobility exercises) by Scott Sonnon. Beginner level. I may or may not work on the more advanced levels– the beginner level is very good. The principle is to move all your joints through their range of motion. Includes a little work on strength and balance.

      It’s kind of obvious that I’m more interested in mobility and proprioception than in strength and endurance.

      This may be a matter of temperament (low pain tolerance and not naturally good at some kinds of effort), but it may also make strategic sense– or at least, I’m 63 and not in chronic pain. I shudder to think what my lower back would be like if I didn’t do this sort of stuff. I’ve got some information about how my lower back tightens up if I neglect mobility work for a couple of months.

      In re not hurting yourself– Frantzis recommends making a 70% effort, and Sonnon (I think) says 80%. At least one of them says much less if you’re sick or injured. This both to prevent injury and (Frantzis) also to prevent mental burnout. In my experience, 70% is harder than it sounds because it takes self-monitoring.

      Sonnon is very emphatic about not setting your will in opposition to your body. Work on doing the thing which is good for you now. Do not expect yourself to be able to do what you could do yesterday. Do not expect that what you can do on one side of your body is what you can do on the other side. (I tell you, this made me blink, even though it’s completely obvious.) I will note that “competing with yourself” is completely off the table as a general policy, though you can expect improvement on the average from intelligently designed challenges. I’m working with the part I like from Sonnon– his system includes a lot of work on strength.

      I seem to have a preference for obscure things. I’m not sure how much of this is temperament and how much is policy built up because mainstream society and I aren’t a good match.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Brazilian jiu-jitsu 3 times a week, weights (focusing on compound lifts, 3 sets each of 3-5 exercises with a dynamic warmup and some static stretching at the end*) 3 times a week. On a week when I don’t skip anything, and weights take an average amount of time, probably about 12 hours total.

      BJJ is mostly a skill thing, but it does provide a cardiovascular workout. The weights are for strength and to prevent muscle loss while on a caloric deficit. When I’m no longer on a caloric deficit I’m going to aim to put some muscle mass on.

      *Can anybody agree on static stretching? As far as I can tell, it’s neutral-to-good if done after a workout. Dynamic stretching beforehand seems to be the recommendation now, instead of stretching.

    • John Schilling says:

      Mostly cardio. At least half an hour of bicycling every day, preferably in the form of my daily commute but if weather or schedule intervene there’s a stationary bicycle at home. Ultimate Frisbee with friends once a week, hiking in the mountains once a month.

      There’s a forty-pound dumbbell in the living room; 100 reps at intervals is the price for sitting down and watching television. I don’t watch a lot of television.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      I play ultimate, usually 3 times a week for ~90 minutes. I also go climbing, though not regularly. Hoping to get more regular about it in the future.

    • in all but good taste says:

      I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but if you feel up to it and have a place to engage, mountain biking. I wouldn’t call my level of involvement a routine, but if you want to train for cardio and all around muscular fitness (plus a good deal of neat balance, spatial awareness and risk assessment skills) you would be hard pressed to find a more balanced activity.

    • Agronomous says:

      I wake up at 5:30 AM 3 (sometimes 4) days a week for a 30-60 minute run.

      Not mine: my wife’s. I have to make sure our four-year-old doesn’t decide to go wandering around the neighborhood at 6 AM or build a chair-and-stool tower to get to the sugar or whatever other dangerous/destructive thing she gets into her head.

    • James Picone says:

      ~3 to 4 hours of hanging around a rock climbing gym weekly, actually climbing for maybe a third of that, and the rest of that belaying/figuring out what to climb next, etc..

      Very recently I’ve started doing some bicep curls, bent over rows, and a handful of other dumbbell things I don’t know the actual name of with not-particularly-heavy weights, and also some crunches on a fitball and a few other fitball exercise things. I’m still very new to doing strength-building exercise; I only started because I slightly sprained a shoulder climbing and the physio I talked to about it was very “Jesus Christ do some actual exercises or you will hurt yourself really badly!”. I was actually intending to ask whether people around here know of any good empirically-verified information on exercise effectiveness. The LW link above should be useful, thanks!

  7. TheSilverHammer says:

    I’ve been seeing the phrase “virtue signaling” quite a bit this past week (outside of the places I’d expect to see it, like SSC). Has anyone else noticed this? Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? Or am I witnessing this concept entering mainstream discourse?

    • Frog Do says:

      I thought it happened as one of the results of the semantic drift of signaling (in the economic sense) to what “signaling” seems to mean now, which is “cheap talk”.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        [Stuff in square brackets is skippable economics stuff for people who are interested.]

        Signalling and cheap talk are related but *not opposites*. Cheap talk is a kind of signalling. Signalling does not have to be costly to be effective. Cheap talk can be effective, even though it’s cheap. (I recommend Macho-Stadler and Perez-Castrillo as a textbook on the economics of information.)

        Signalling occurs when one party has information that another lacks and chooses to act in a way that reveals some of this information. Education is the standard example here: becoming educated is more costly for low-ability students than for high-ability ones, and so people will study useless things in order to send a convincing signal. This is why there are so many jobs that require a degree but don’t specify the subject studied.

        The key point is not the costliness but the *incentive compatibility*. The signal is convincing because only high-ability students want to become educated. The fact that they want this because of a cost difference is irrelevant. All that we require is that the possible types of the agent with hidden information will make observably different choices in a way that reveals some or all of the information. [Another standard form of signalling is a labour contract in which the principal designs a contract which is only optimal if the work to be performed is easy, thereby convincing the agent to accept a lower wage.]

        A signal is cheap talk if it is costless, non-binding and unverifiable (that is, the signaller is not obliged to fulfil what he announces and the content of the signal cannot be proven to a third party). Cheap talk may be useful if the types of the informed player do not all have the same preferences about the actions of the uninformed player, and if the preferences of the informed and uninformed players are not totally opposed.

        [Cheap talk comes up a lot in political economy because voting procedures often involve cheap talk (and frequently work better when cheap talk is permitted, because often no agent has an incentive to lie). Cheap talk is also key to the Revelation Principle, possibly the most important idea in the whole field of mechanism design: if there is some complex mechanism that implements a social choice rule in dominant strategy equilibrium, the same rule can be implemented by simply asking people to reveal their private information (because the rules are functionally equivalent given DSE, so if you don’t want to manipulate one you don’t want to manipulate the other).]

        Virtue signalling really is signalling because it reveals hidden information about the signaller. While there are manipulative people who deliberately fake the signals, the vast majority of people signalling virtue believe (or believe they believe) the signals they’re sending. If a stranger starts yelling at you in public about your sinful outgroup beliefs, you can be pretty sure that the person in question really hates the outgroup. This is also not cheap talk. Even the cheapest kinds of virtue signalling aren’t truly cheap talk – writing anonymous comments still takes time – and they can still act as signals (amongst other reasons, because huamns love signalling to *themselves* – which is only bending the terminology slightly to fit the cognitive psychology meaning).

        As an example, you have no idea who I am IRL, but you may now associate the name “Chrysophylax” with a professional economist, which will be useful to me if I later want to convince people on SSC about economic arguments (or even just show I’m not fifteen).

        • Frog Do says:

          Now this is a quality comment!

          I do have some follow-up questions: on Amazon, the Macho-Stadler and Perez-Castrillo book is advertised as an introductory graduate textbook. Is the book readable to people who aren’t academic economists? Do you know of good work on this subject outside of economics that is broadly in line with the insights discussed by economics? You did mention cognitive psychology.

          • Chrysophylax says:


            It’s pretty good in terms of readability. I was given it as an undergraduate, admittedly by a hardass of a professor, but I found it very clear and helpful. It requires that you can read maths notation, but you could get most of the value out of it even if you understood none of the maths. If you can solve a Lagrangian, you should be able to handle all of the maths it uses, I think. (I presume you already have some knowledge of game theory, which should help.)

            Sorry, I don’t know any such book. I may be able to get a recommendation from a specialist in economics of information (which I’ll put in the next open thread if comments close here), but I doubt any such book exists. Cognitive psychology doesn’t really discuss stuff like optimal contract design. If you want something on signalling specifically, you might be able to get something from the evolutionary biology literature, and of course there’s always blogs. (Robin Hanson is particularly big on signalling games.) Cogntive psychology does have a fair amount on bounded rationality and how people don’t use information properly.

            Everything below here is an *exceedingly abridged* summary of the basics of the economics of information.

            People don’t all have the same information. This is generally a cause of inefficiency, because people will try to exploit their private information, and the optimal solution when you don’t know all relevant information is generally not the same as when you do.

            We talk in particular about two kinds of information problem: moral hazard, where I take an action you can’t directly observe and you want to control the action I choose to take, and adverse selection, where I know some relevant fact and your preferences depend on my information. Making employees work hard and insured drivers drive carefully are moral hazard problems. Hiring workers of unknown quality and selling to consumers with unknown preferences are adverse selection problems.

            We also have signalling games, where one party has private information and prefers *not* to keep it secret. Trying to prove that you are highly productive and worth a large salary is a signalling problem. Similarly, trying to prove that you are an excellent potential father by having a giant fancy tail is a signal (specifically, a handicapping strategy). (It is quite difficult to find an aspect of human social behaviour that is *not* signalling. While depressing, this insight is very useful in everyday life.)

            Moral hazard causes problems whenever the agent’s most preferred action (e.g. minimal effort) is not the same as the principal’s (e.g. maximum effort). Very roughly speaking, the solution to moral hazard problems is to make the agent bear all variance in outcome that is due to the hidden action. For example, a franchising contract, where the agent pays a flat fee for the right to use a production facility, eliminates moral hazard because the agent bears all the risk of low output. These solutions are limited by risk preferences. When you have to solve a risk-sharing problem and an incentive problem, the optimal contract will usually be inefficient.

            Adverse selection is dealt with using self-selection. As I said above, the key is that “the possible types of the agent with hidden information will make observably different choices in a way that reveals some or all of the information”.

            In a contract design problem, e.g. hiring or price discrimination, the party without hidden information creates a menu of contracts such that the choice of contract reveals the hidden information. The key results here are “non-distortion at the top” – that the only contract that isn’t distorted is the one for the type nobody else wants to claim to be (e.g. the highest-productivity worker), while everyone else generally gets “less stuff” (e.g. fewer working hours, lower quantity/quality of the good) – and that the opposite type gets the reservation utility (the lowest benefit such that they’re still happy to take part). The results get messy and sometimes even reverse when you add in things like competition between different potential employers; read the book to see how.

            There are an enormous number of different adverse selection problems. For example, a great many kinds of regulation involve adverse selection. (This is why tradable permits are useful: they remove much of the need to find out the hidden information in order to find a good solution.) Public good provision also involves adverse selection, because you need to make people reveal how much they value the good in order to work out whether you should provide it and who should pay for it. There are some very clever solutions to this kind of problem – for example, Vickrey (second-price sealded-bid) auctions, like on eBay, are an ingenious solution to an adverse selection problem because they ensure that the best strategy is always to bid exactly the value you place on the good. (They therefore employ the Revelation Principle, discussed above.)

    • Corey says:

      Someone introduced into, I think it was the manosphere, the idea that leftists don’t value diversity, equality, etc. for “normal” reasons, but because they want to “virtue-signal” goodness and/or tribal affiliation.

      It fits well with rightist perceptions of “SJWs” so it’s spread quickly.

      • Zorgon says:

        It’s an ant thing, in particular from 8chan, and for the most part I see it getting applied to people who seem to spend a great deal of their time loudly declaring their allegiance to SJ; particularly journalists and pundits. I have to say I agree with them, although of course I don’t ascribe their targets’ motives to Malice so much as Moloch.

        The ants have picked up on “motte and bailey” too. It’s occasionally frustrating how rationality-adjacent they can get and then rush straight back to treating arguments as soldiers and engaging in a spectacular case of Halo Effect with Milo.

      • Dahlen says:

        Well then, what do they call people who like diversity and equality for “normal” reasons? Do they call them something other than leftists?

        Also, I think it’s a cause for concern when some faction starts observing a (sincere or not) moralistic tendency in the enemy faction and adds that to the list of reasons why they find the other guys despicable, because that marks the beginning of aversive conditioning to morality in general. This is what these days gets called the “edgelord” mentality. Spend enough time sneering at virtue signaling (and then virtue in general) and soon enough you’ll find yourself wanting to side with vice in all things. To come to say that bad is good and good is bad is a reversal people are entirely capable of making.

        (I’m a bit of an old-school moral universalist, so I treat good and bad as real things with definite meanings and am very much not fooled if you try to call one by the name of the other…)

        It happens with teens everywhere who just want to do what their parents forbid them, it happens with countercultures everywhere who want to put the lie to that idyllic picture of happy and productive members of society on their manicured lawn with their dog and their 2.3 kids, it happened with 4chan (or should I say, 4chan is the high-purity, distilled essence of this), it happened with Satanists, and now this. This is the danger in wanting to become everything your opponent isn’t.

        The thing with virtue signaling is, well yes, it’s a failure mode, but it’s by definition a failure mode of people who at least care about this whole morality thing, enough so that they want to signal it. Wander on the opposite side, and you get stuff like Aurini’s laughable act with the cigarettes and liquor (because everybody knows that tobacco and alcohol are bad for you, and we’re in the frame of mind where Bad is Good), and the psychopath apologia and the fake skulls and… well, just everything about Aurini. And stuff like this. And people who find all kinds of swear words, old and new, to be an integral part of civilised discourse. And the tendency to like and to want to believe a theory the more cynical and the more soul-deadening it is, in another one of these reversals, this turn on the human tendency of wishful thinking.

        Anybody who finds their opponents to be a bit like the worst caricature of the Inquisition-Era Catholic Church should spend as much time on ensuring they don’t become the Satanists to their sanctimony in response as on speaking against that sanctimony.

        • Eggoeggo says:

          “it’s by definition a failure mode of people who at least care about this whole morality thing, enough so that they want to signal it.”

          Replace the word “morality” with “trend”. The End.

          • Dahlen says:

            Eggo, how do I put this, not everything is interchangeable with everything else just because they share a form, and the content at hand sometimes really does matter…

        • The Nybbler says:

          Well then, what do they call people who like diversity and equality for “normal” reasons? Do they call them something other than leftists?

          They call them racists and sexists. I know, that’s flip, but it’s also often true.

          On edgelordism: Sometimes that failure mode is success. An edgelord in Nazi Germany might smuggle Jews out, not because they believed it was right, but because they wanted to do “wrong”.

          You’re right that virtue signalers care enough about morality that they want to signal it, but this really isn’t a positive; their conception of morality can be what you’d call plain evil. Edgelords care just as much about morality; they want to signal the opposite. That leaves them with basically similar failure modes; signalling vice with “Why Blacks Fail”, signalling virtue with “Kill All Men”.

          The true opposite to both is the moral nihilist.

          • Dahlen says:

            I’m sorry, but this is just too much relativist pomo for me to take, and also I’m fairly certain that the Nazi comparison doesn’t work for a whole bunch of reasons, from the basic human psychology of costly/risky altruistic behaviour to the specific historical context of that era that doesn’t allow for straightforward cut-and-paste analogies to the contemporary era. I wasn’t expecting the discussion to go back to “but maybe bad really is good and good really is bad” square one.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            On edgelordism: Sometimes that failure mode is success. An edgelord in Nazi Germany might smuggle Jews out, not because they believed it was right, but because they wanted to do “wrong”.

            This sounds like the Edelweiss Pirates (They were not horribly effective, but they did fight the Nazis)

          • Cord Shirt says:

            It was a close place. I took [the letter] up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll GO to hell”–and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.

            (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)

            I do mostly agree with you, though, Dahlen.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s not a matter of “maybe bad really is good and good really is bad”. It’s a matter of “maybe what those signalling virtue are calling virtue is actually bad, and what those signalling vice are calling vice is actually good.

            This is demonstrably the case; you have both sincere people and edgelords signalling the same thing, from time to time.

        • Julie K says:

          “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

        • Anonymous says:

          Sneering at moralism isn’t the same thing as sneering at morality. In fact, the main reason to sneer at moralism is because you have sound morals. Conflating anti-moralism with edgelord mentality is… how do I put this… the exact sort of thing a moralist would do to try and thwart his “enemies”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Calling out moralism masquerading as morality is noble.

            Sneering at moralism is, well, moralism. It’s possibly even worse, in that it’s meta-moralism.

            There are some who flip from edgy-left to edgy-right, or vice versa. I think part of it is that they get a certain satisfaction from being able to condemn others.

        • I agree.

          From memory of something Ayn Rand wrote: When what is needed for life is called evil, people will embrace actual evils.

          Anyone remember the actual quote?

        • Corey says:

          Well then, what do they call people who like diversity and equality for “normal” reasons? Do they call them something other than leftists?

          I assume they don’t think such people exist, because leftists are evil mutants. But I can’t speak for them.

        • keranih says:

          What are “normal reasons” for liking diversity?

          I like stories from far off lands about people I’ve never heard of before – because they’re interesting and exotic, and I’m told by a certain section of the world that this is exploitative and I should feel bad about this.

          I dislike stories about people from far off lands that make my sort of people to be mean and stupid, and I’m told that is a sign of my racism and I should feel bad about this.

          How about ‘normal reasons’ for liking equality?

          I like one set of rules for all people because that makes it easy to see that we are being fair – and I get told I am continuing a pattern of oppression and I should feel bad.

          I like separate sports rules for men and women because men are physically stronger than women, and I get told I’m perpetuating the patriarchy and I should feel bad.

          And then I say sod this for a game of soldiers and give up on liking diversity or equality at all.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            Well said!

          • The Nybbler says:

            I continue to like equality for the same reason Office Space’s Michael Bolton kept his name: Why should I change? They’re the ones who suck!

            So I’ll continue to like equality in terms of one set of rules for all people.

            The term “diversity” by itself covers far too much ground to say it’s “good”. Diversity of ability is something you typically don’t want in a competitive environment, for instance. Diversity of race is usually irrelevant (see “equality”). The euphemism “diversity” meaning “consisting largely of women and members of recognized minorities” I reject and laugh at.

            I’m not going to let other people’s misuse and redefinition of terms make me reject the concepts behind the original definitions, even if I have to yield the term.

          • Corey says:

            You could ignore people calling for co-ed sports; they’re a fringe.

            You could try engaging actual arguments about race-blindness vs. fairness, but that would be crazy or something. Or it might make you feel bad, which makes the arguments invalid because… why?

            (Don’t know the referent of your stories bit)

          • dndnrsn says:


            A weird paradox:

            People calling for, say, co-ed professional sports (there are amateur leagues and intramural sports with co-ed rules – they generally involve each team having to have a certain composition, alterations to the rules, etc) are a fringe. However, it’s not fringe to consider it, at the very least, impolite to point out the reasons why co-ed professional sports is a fringe position.

          • keranih says:

            You could ignore people calling for co-ed sports; they’re a fringe.

            …so were the people saying that men should be able to marry men, in 1985.

            I don’t trust you guys any more. You’ve taken your half-inch and run clear ’round the globe too many times.

          • Sweeneyrod says:

            I think the big difference between a lack of gay marriage, and a lack of co-ed professional sports is that the latter has a lot more money involved. The government loses nothing from making gay marriage legal, lots of people lose a lot of money from making Man U co-ed, and that’s why I don’t think the second one will happen any time soon.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            @Corey “You could ignore people calling for co-ed sports; they’re a fringe.”

            That doesn’t mean it’s safe to ignore them. Most college protesters aren’t just a fringe, they’re the fringe of a fringe. Yet college administration permit them to carry out acts of violence and rush to give in to their demands, even when the result is mass public ridicule of their institution and enormous financial damages. In way too many places the fringe sets the agenda, these days.

            @Sweeneyrod “I think the big difference between a lack of gay marriage, and a lack of co-ed professional sports is that the latter has a lot more money involved.”

            We’ve seen enough examples over the past several years of organizations being willing to take massive financial and PR damage in order to pander to fringe views or people who are not their audience that I’m unwilling to believe financial incentives work any more.

          • Sweeneyrod says:


            Examples? I think any companies that genuinely do that will be swiftly outcompeted.

    • keranih says:

      This blog post is recent and high up on google’s hits.

      • Jiro says:

        I think Alastair’s response is a good one. Sam thinks that virtue signalling isn’t real because the people who do it are not creating a hard-to-fake indicator of virtue.

        Which is true, but that doesn’t mean it’s not signalling–rather, it means that virtue signalling isn’t really about virtue.

        If you think of it as ingroup signalling, with “virtue” being a euphemism, you can see that it can be a real phenomenon.

        • Nornagest says:

          I went into that article expecting to disagree with it, but it’s fair to say that a lot of what goes on under that name is not a costly signal of virtue, whether you choose to use tribe-local definitions of virtue or not. Some is — what our gracious host calls “toxoplasmosa” would be a good example — but a lot’s just your standard outrage and posturing.

          • Zorgon says:

            Bear in mind that many of those accused of virtue signalling are journalists, critics and creators. These are a somewhat special case, as a strong argument could be made that they are in effect attacking their own potential audience in order to display their tribal bona fides. I can’t see how that isn’t a clear case of virtue signalling.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m also unconvinced that there’s much signaling in the economic sense because of the expensive part. Either in terms of general offensiveness (a la prison tattoos) or in terms of cost to learn. Picking up and mirroring these sorts of attitudes, lingo, etc is natural for most people, not expensive. I think maybe some people that have difficulty understanding and interacting with others are letting the typical mind fallacy lead them to bad theories.

          • Jiro says:

            Even if doing it is easy, it’s expensive in the sense that it requires committing yourself to an ideology and burning any bridges with its opponents, thus limiting your future options (short of recanting).

          • Eggoeggo says:

            “cost to learn” is the big one, isn’t it? When the jargon changes every week, being the one who knows whether we spell “Woman” with a y, x, or * today becomes a significant social investment and tribal signifier.

            Not only that, demonstrating through costly infighting and purging that you are the one who decides how we spell wom!n this week is another important signal.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s the prison tattoo argument. It works occasionally but nearly as often as people seem to want to say virtue signaling lately.

            If you are a college student you can get forgiven for almost anything. Even the shrieking Yale girl will probably be okay even if she ends up wanting to go work at a white shoe law firm or I-bank.

            Even for older people a lot of the SJW stuff is pseudo-anonymous or at least not easily googlable. And if it’s not super extreme you probably haven’t burned too many bridges. Though you probably shouldn’t apply to Fox News.

            No. It’s just like keeping up with any subculture. Easy as pie for most people. Not any more costly than figuring out whether you are supposed to be wearing square toed shoes this week.

          • A cost of associating with mean people is that you’re associating with mean people.

          • Nornagest says:

            The SJ scene strikes me as the kind of community that’d have a self-image of itself as the nicest and most accepting place in the world even as it eats its young. A lot of communities are like that.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: In the Golden Age, everyone was equal, did good without being forced, and didn’t oppress cows. Also there was chronic baby-eating.

          • Nornagest says:

            All must do their share in the service of the populace. The bullock draws the plow and the dog herds the sheep, but the cat catches mice in the granary. Thus men, women, and even children can serve the populace.

          • Agronomous says:

            even as it eats its young

            The Social Justice movement is a little unusual in that it eats its old.

            I continue to find myself unable to muster up any sympathy for those that constitute the main course: every liberal professor at every college, every diversity-mouthing dean, every lefty comedian, every journalist who still has a place in her heart for the First Amendment.

            Is this a character flaw I should worry about, or a sign of sound judgement?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Sound judgment is a character flaw you should worry about.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      How about inventing a name for virtue signalling’s evil twin, the idea that ts OK to be mean so long as you are honest.

      • The Nybbler says:

        How about inventing a name for virtue signalling’s evil twin, the idea that ts OK to be mean so long as you are honest.

        That’s called “rationality”.

      • DrBeat says:

        I think that wouldn’t be “the idea that it’s OK to be mean so long as you are honest”, it would be “the idea that being cruel MEANS that you are being honest, and that therefore being maximally cruel all the time means you are the most honest and intelligent and insightful”.

        I mean, with “it’s OK to be mean so long as you are honest”, at least we have the net positive of people being honest.

        • Frog Do says:

          That TheAncientGeek genuinely can’t tell the difference between “mean implies truth” and “truth implies mean” is a feature of their politics. Though someone blindly advocate for civility politics is always amusing.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Yes, that is the fully metastised version. So what are we calling it? Inverted hypocrisy?

  8. onyomi says:

    Reading a list of cognitive biases, I saw this one I’d never heard of before: “The Cheerleader Effect: the tendency for people to appear more attractive in groups than in isolation.”

    Why would this be?

    It reminds me of the joke: “if there’s more than one person in your [Facebook, OKCupid…] profile picture, you’re the ugly one.”

    This does seem to be true in my experience, and is kind of the opposite of what I’d expect behind a veil of ignorance. Absent experience, I’d imagine people would prefer to surround themselves by ugly people, especially for such purposes as a dating site, in order thereby to look more attractive by comparison.

    But that seems not to be the case. The effect instead seems to be that if you’re surrounded by beautiful people, people may slightly discount their own judgment of your attractiveness and just kind of round up to something closer to the average of the group in which you appear, among which you must, on some level, belong, given your appearance looking chummy there.

    Though this still doesn’t answer the question of why, in general, the same person would look more attractive in a group (presumably regardless of the attractiveness of its members?) than alone? Maybe it’s just that being in a group signals something good about you–that you have friends and allies?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Because we are animals of social hierarchy, not actually individual loners?

      In other words, I rate you based on whether I think your social network is powerful/attractive/good. I’m fairly certain you can see this kind of thing come up in chimp studies all the time.

      And, to a certain extent it’s not a fallacy, depending on what/why I am deciding.

      • onyomi says:

        It makes a certain amount of sense, but it’s weird to think that something could seemingly work both ways: if you take a picture with friends more attractive than you, people find you more attractive because you have attractive friends. If you take a picture with people less attractive than you then you look more attractive by comparison, or at least, more attractive than you alone, since being with friends proves you have friends?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The trick is, like with anything, balance and moderation. If you see a picture of people who are mismatched, then you react with “huh, why are they in the same circle?” But if they are all relatively similar, then they all look “better”.

          I mean, if you were assessing the threat of an opposing military force, numbers count, right? Two or three of just about anything are more formadible than one. I think that is all that’s really going on.

        • JayT says:

          I wonder if you look better in an attractive group because the viewer gets primed by all of the attractive people. Or maybe it’s because the viewer subconsciously judges the entire photo, and not just you.

          • Anonymous says:

            Priming would work the opposite way. If you look at a supermodel and then a plain girl, that’s worse for the plain girl than if you hadn’t looked at the supermodel. If you’ve just looked at $1 000 000, $10 000 doesn’t look like that much money, etc.

  9. Corey says:

    Randomly, lately I was thinking of my favorite example of “spin”. I saw it on Snopes several years ago when I had a job boring enough to surf Snopes randomly.

    The spin: The U-in-a-circle symbol you see on some food packaging is the mark of a secret Jewish tax. Food producers have to pay it, to get the symbol, or face a Jewish boycott.

    The reality: it’s a kosher certification (oukosher.org for this particular one), which costs money as any certification does, and people who keep kosher won’t buy your product if they can’t *somehow* verify it meets the requirements. (And the requirements can get pretty hairy, see their site for details, it’s not just a matter of “hey, quit boiling that goat in its mother’s milk over there!”)

    Nothing in the spun version is *technically* false, but it sounds a lot more sinister.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      (And the requirements can get pretty hairy, see their site for details, it’s not just a matter of “hey, quit boiling that goat in its mother’s milk over there!”)

      Now I’m wondering if synagogues could get good publicity by hiring a guy to go around in a cape saying things like “Stop torturing that goat, evildoer!”

    • suntzuanime says:

      Well, the “secret” part sounds definitely false. But yeah, now that you mention it, kosher certification is a little bit uncomfortably close to a protection racket.

      • Yehoshua K says:

        Protection racket? I’m not quite seeing it. As far as I know, a protection racket is “pay me money or else I break your store/burn your house/shoot your family.”

        Kosher certification is “for a fee, we’ll send experts around regularly to verify that the food you produce is kosher and therefore fit for consumption by religious Jews.”

        How are those the same, aside from both of them involving money and businesses?

        • Corey says:

          Technically a protection racket would be to extract payment from someone to fix a problem *that you cause*. If Judaism was monolithic and a significant proportion of food companies’ markets, then it would look like one if you squinted right.

          OTOH there’s nothing particularly wrong about catering to customer demand even if it has costs. On the third hand we can point and laugh at sale signs of “Delicious for Chanukah: Spiral Sliced Ham” so not everyone knows their customers that well.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            As you say, even in that world where the religious Jewish market was tremendously large and influential (the Israeli food market might actually be this), it’s only a protection racket if you squint just right.

            Customer demand is what it is; it is not unethical for customers to want what they want, and it is not unethical for organizations to exist that help customers ascertain that they are getting what they want.

          • Julie K says:

            Technically a protection racket would be to extract payment from someone to fix a problem *that you cause*.

            I would say a protection racket is demanding money in order to refrain from an illegal act, like arson. Deciding not to buy something isn’t illegal.*

            [*You in the back, put your hand down. This isn’t Megan McArdle’s blog.]

      • Julie K says:

        Can you suggest a way for those who wish to eat only kosher foods (as Jews were doing for millennia before mass-produced packaged food existed) to do so, that would not resemble a protection racket?

        • keranih says:

          If they grow and prep the food themselves, then they don’t have to worry about it. But it does take extra effort (and materials – a second set of dishes/pots/serving spoons for the most observant) and cost to do so.

          It is an error, imo, to set a personal/different/higher standard on anything, and then expect that higher/different standard to not come with an added cost.

          Edit: @ Yehoshua K ‘s objection below – I was perhaps not clear enough. The certification is not a racket, because to my thinking a racket is designed to extract money from differentiating between undifferentiated things. However, if the certification adds value – as it does – then the fee for certification is an exchange, not extortion.

          You will see people calling everything from government inspections to union memberships to retail mark ups “a racket.” Some, I think, could be, but most are not.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            Of course it comes with a cost. Who said that it doesn’t? I just don’t see how there’s anything unethical about kosher certification, and certainly don’t see how it resembles a protection racket.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            Edit: This is a response to Keranih’s edit above.

            In that case, I agree, except that I think the pertinent criterion for defining “racket” is that it seeks to force people to surrender some form of value, or swindle people into surrendering some form of value for no value or insignificant value, not that it seeks to differentiate between undifferentiated things. (Does this definition make it very easy to see taxes as a racket? Yes, it does. I think that most taxes are indeed a racket, government-as-mafia.)

          • JayT says:

            I think it depends on what the local laws are. is it legal to mark your food as kosher without paying for one of the third party certification companies to certify you? If not, then it could definitely be considered a protection racket.
            On the other hand, if you could just go out and hire a rabbi to make sure everything is kosher and market your food as such, then it isn’t a protection racket.

          • Anonymous says:

            You can call your food kosher and provide whatever independent evidence you like which may or may not be considered sufficient by various communities. However the specific symbols (ou, circle k, etc) are trademarks and can only be used by authorization of the trademark owners.

          • keranih says:

            I think you could run afoul of truth in advertising laws if you could not demonstrate some degree of attempting to certify the Kosherness of your kosher-labeled products, but as with so many religious things, the government has a (very wise) stance of “if you say you’re kosher, we’re not going to say that what you are is not kosher.”

            Which leads to a thought…

            There are aspects of common culture which are described as secular religion – such as, for instance, the rules against eating horsemeat. These rules are enforced free of charge, because the majority has decided that they need to be obeyed. Likewise, up until now, one man one woman marriage. (And marriage is still, for now, binary.)

            But other religious groups, smaller in size, are not prohibited from making their own rules, but do have to expend effort and their own money to enforce them. Another example – he GMO labeling, which is at the behest of a small group for whom this is very important. The effort is being made to make this a universal rule, not just for the anti-GMO sorts, to make the lives of the antiGMOs easier.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            JayT, sorry, still not seeing it. Of course you can mark your food with the word “kosher.” It’s not trademarked, it’s just a word. I, as a kosher consumer, might or might not choose to believe you. (If you put the word “kosher” on pork ribs, I will laugh at you.)

            If you want to put the trademarked symbol of some particular certification organization on your product, then you are telling me “This organization regularly inspects my plant and ensures that the product is kosher.” Again, I can believe you (and them) or not believe you (and them), but that organization is providing you a product–namely, their reputation among the kosher community.

            How is this a protection racket?

          • JayT says:

            Yehoshua, my point was that if it isn’t legal to mark your food kosher without the third party, then I could see it as a form of protection. Especially if the certification companies were the ones that pushed these hypothetical laws.

            Rent seeking of this type is not uncommon (I have no idea what the laws are with regards to kosher, however), and it is essentially a protection racket.

          • Anonymous says:

            New York State at one point had a truth-in-advertising rule about kosher food, but it was struck down as a violation of the first amendment religion clauses.

        • Yaqob says:

          Have a look at kashrut.org . It is run by Rabbi Abadi (an orthodox rabbi, although not all Rabbis agree with all of his views). He holds that one can rely on ingredients for many aspects of kashrut.

      • Deiseach says:

        Is it any more a protection racket than the vegan certification on food? Or organic? Or “made right here in Ireland and certainly not chicken from Thailand only packaged in Ireland no this is real Irish buy Irish chicken” country of origin labelling?

      • Corey says:

        Not really, because the laws are actually complicated. For example, you have to find out of any of the colorings you use are insect-derived (some common ones are). Is there dairy (say, butter) in the wonton wrappers you’re using to wrap meat dumplings? Maybe! And you have to recursively apply the criteria back to farms.

        It may hinge on how competitive the certification market is. I know there are multiple (or at least multiple symbols on packaging). Though I can guess network effects are in play, so they might slide into oligopoly.

      • brad says:

        I vaguely remember accusations in the Jewish press 20 years ago that there were mashgichim soliciting bribes to look the other way at violations. I don’t think that I’d say the existence of corrupt inspectors means the whole enterprise is a racket though.

        • Yehoshua K says:

          Sure, there have been allegations of corrupt and/or incompetent mashgichim (overseers). Kosher certification organizations are composed of humans, and it would be surprising and wonderful if they were somehow immune to the general condition of humanity, which includes a certain amount of corruption and ignorance.

          That doesn’t make have kosher certification a corrupt thing, any more than the fact that there are corrupt hoteliers and taxi drivers makes running a hotel or a taxi service a corrupt thing.

      • multiheaded says:

        You are such a wacky troll and everyone’s falling for it.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      This reminds me of reading (I think it was) Benjamin Freedman, a noted ex-Jewish anti-Semite who made a big deal about how Jews have a ritual that allows them to lie to gentiles with impunity. It turns out, he meant Kol Nidrei.

      As with the conspiracy theory about kashrut certification, if you are hyper-literal, you can see where that interpretation comes from, and I suppose there is a sense in which it is “technically correct”, but that point of view was so alien to me that I had to seriously stop and think to understand how he could possibly have made such a huge mistake as to the purpose of Kol Nidrei.

      It was pretty eye-opening, actually, to see how easy it can be to put a nefarious spin on something completely benign.

      • caethan says:


        It’s not that hard of a mistake to make, really.

      • Virbie says:

        I don’t think it requires hyper literalism, it just requires learning about it cursorily instead of trying to dig deeper. At the risk of sounding like an edgy teenager, this is how most people learn about everything. It hardly takes a conspiracy or motivated reasoning to interpret “day where you can renounce all vows” to mean “day where you can break promises without feeling guilty”.

        Hell, if I had even given a one sentence summary instead of reading Scott’s description (linked in this comment thread), it wouldn’t even occur to me that that interpretation was incorrect (though I would probably read more about it and then discover the nuances).

  10. Ruprect says:

    Let’s say that there are two forms of intelligence: reactive and creative. Reactive intelligence remembers certain experiences (and associations of experiences) and uses this knowledge to avoid danger/ unpleasant events, and to seek pleasant ones. It’s essentially the same thing as instinctual behaviour, but with the adaption operating on the level of the individual. Conditioned responses.
    On the other hand, creative intelligence creates internal representations of the world, and uses memory of past experience to devise ways in which to create preferred environments.
    If reactive intelligence is selection of individual behaviour based on past experience, creative intelligence is selection of individual behaviour based upon imagined experience (and in humans they are then mixed back together (into groups) with culture, which is perhaps another, separate selective process).

    Anyway, if for humans selective processes are operating on multiple levels, is there any sense in which an AI – which I take to be a highly effective process akin to creative intelligence (selection of ideas through some process) will be fragile?
    Is the fear that other selective processes will be replaced (or created) by pure creative intelligence?
    My gut feeling is that a pure creative intelligence would not mutate into reactive intelligence/ natural selection mechanisms – at least not spontaneously – unless that was the specific criteria by which ideas were selected. There is no fundamental reason why these ideas must be selected for – in nature, selection of ideas is built upon the mechanism of having individual reactions, which is built upon biological selection… not the other way around.
    So, keep the really clever AI separate from the bits that are doing physical things. Problem solved. Don’t point it in that direction.

  11. Psmith says:

    Any recommended materials for learning SQL?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      A little too broad a question, maybe. What do you want to know?

      If you just want to understand how to write a select statement, most of the devil is in the details of the data, not the SQL itself.

      Select column names,
      From table name
      Join table name On Boolean evaluator
      Where Boolean evaluator

      Add in grouping and group operators and you have a huge chunk of most SQL ever written.

      I picked up a short ANSI standard SQL reference many years ago, and just walking through something like that will get you mostly up to speed.

      I say this as someone who spends 50% of my time writing ad-hoc SQL and stored procedures. I write some very complex stuff, but most people don’t need to, especially if they just want to select things or do CRUD operations.

      • Psmith says:

        A little too broad a question, maybe. What do you want to know?

        How to get jobs that list “experience with relational databases (knowledge of SQL required)” or similar in the ad. From what you say, that should be pretty manageable. Thanks!

        • Corey says:

          Oh, don’t get me started on job hunting. Learning a bit on your own, then lying about having been paid to do it in the past, appears to be the optimal strategy.

          You may have to tailor it to, as someone else said, “which SQL”, as tech jobs are prone to “You have experience using Milwaukee sawzalls, but we use DeWalt sawzalls here, thanks for your time.”

          • Psmith says:

            Learning a bit on your own, then lying about having been paid to do it in the past, appears to be the optimal strategy.

            I know that feel bro.

        • Anonymous says:

          After covering the basics, concentrate on the various types of joins and the aggregate functions. Those are the two most likely places for interview questions.

          Iff you have a strong math background you may want to read an overview of relational algebra before diving into the ANSI reference.

        • HeelBearCub says:


          How to get jobs that list “experience with relational databases (knowledge of SQL required)” or similar in the ad.

          I am assuming you are already a programmer, but just have no relational DB experience.

          Pick a technology stack you already have experience with and add in the common relational DB for that stack. Create a “side project” application that attempts to solve some real problem using that stack.

          So, if you have experience with Linux, Apache and PHP, but don’t every use MySql, write an website that uses the whole LAMP stack. If you can work a relational DB into your current job (assuming you have one), even better.

          What tech stack do you have the most experience with?

          • Psmith says:

            I am assuming you are already a programmer, but just have no relational DB experience.

            “Programmer” would be stretching it. I’m looking at data analysis jobs that mention SQL; my experience is mostly with R and Python. Will definitely see if I can find a use for relational databases in my current job though. Thanks.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            So what you really need is a DB preloaded with data that you can practice writing queries on.

            Also, you may need to be familiar with the more complex queries.

            If you are a Windows user, getting sqlserver express is free (I believe), and you can get the sSample AdventureWorks, Northwind and pubs databases.

            Those align with various MS training materials.

    • Anonymous says:

      Any recommended materials for learning SQL?

      *Which* SQL?

      • Psmith says:

        I didn’t know there was more than one, but going by HeelBearCub’s post it sounds like the ANSI reference will probably get me where I need to be regardless.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Personally, I learn better with a problem to solve than by just reading documentation, so here’s (roughly) the test I use to evaluate candidates for SQL experience. I think it’s fairly basic, but apparently not, and there are some subtle catches involved. I assume data analysis would involve much more complex stuff than this, but it should get you on the right track and introduce you to the most common concepts.


      | ID | Name | Age | Hours_Burned | |
      | 1 | Scott | 60 | 140000 | |
      | 2 | Eliezer | 34 | 44000 | |
      | 5 | Nick | 34 | 40000 | |
      | 7 | Leah | 44 | 52000 | |
      | 8 | nydwracu | 57 | 115000 | |
      | 11 | NULL | 39 | 38000 | |

      | ID | Name | Industry Type |
      | 4 | The Cathedral | W |
      | 6 | Trolleys, Inc | T |
      | 7 | Omega | B |
      | 9 | Utility Monster | T |

      | ID | cust_id | rationalist_id | QALYS |
      | 10 | 4 | 2 | 540 |
      | 20 | 4 | 8 | 1800 |
      | 30 | 9 | 1 | 460 |
      | 40 | 7 | 2 | 2400 |
      | 50 | 6 | 7 | 600 |
      | 60 | 6 | 7 | 720 |
      | 70 | 9 | 7 | 150 |

      (I really hope that formatting worked out.)

      Anyway, write the following queries. Post your answers in the latest OT with a link back here for reference, and I’ll tell you where you went wrong:

      a) Write a query to list each alliance and the name of the rationalist involved.
      b) Write a query to list each rationalist and their largest order amount.
      c) Write a query to find the 3 worst performing rationalists.
      d) Write a query to list all rationalists that have aligned with The Cathedral.
      e) Write a query to list all rationalists that have not aligned with The Cathedral.
      f) Write a SQL statement to insert rows into a table called TooAddictive(Name, Age), where a rationalist must have burned 100,000 hours of my life to be included in the table. Then tell me why that approach is dumb and what I should do instead.
      g) Which columns should probably have indexes on them, and why?

    • Chalid says:

      A friend of mine in a similar situation gave the “Stanford Online” courses high reviews when he was learning SQL:


  12. Alex says:

    Scott, will you ever reconsider your political alignment? Every time you discuss your beliefs, they sound like something a Libertarian might say. I recognize that you grew up in a time when conservatives were the unreasonable ones and liberals were the people who sought to be rational, but surely you can see how both sides have changed gradually on many issues. For example, when was the last time you personally met a conservative who was against gay marriage? Speaking as a former liberal myself, at this point I have to wonder if maybe your liberal political alignment is a bit vestigial.

    Not that identifications matter when we seem to agree on most of the same ideas – I’m simply curious.

    • Eggoeggo says:

      There were a bunch of conservatives (well, “conservatives”) arguing against gay marriage in the last open thread, weren’t there?
      It’s probably best to say “there’s a conservative platform you can join that’s sullenly accepted it doesn’t have the power to do anything about gay marriage, just like they’ve rolled over on everything else in the last hundred years”.

      And really, who would want to join that unless they were forced to? That’s why Scott’s so desperate to avoid being exiled by the left.

    • ana says:

      Scott is more useful to conservatism right where he is.

      • Anonymous says:

        How so?

        • keranih says:

          Rational, questioning, science based reasoning about people and why they do the things they do that is not based on the (unquestioned) assumption that his preferences are to be declared superior to all others.

          It’s not common anywhere, and Scott’s is the most left wing I’ve seen outside of a group of Jesuits.

          • Deiseach says:

            Scott’s is the most left wing I’ve seen outside of a group of Jesuits

            You have no idea how hard I’m laughing at this (or maybe you do) 🙂

            South American Jesuit pope – more or less conservative than Scott? The people decide!

          • Corey says:

            There’s a reason Bernie Sanders quoted Pope Francis a lot in ads. (I just thought it amusing that the Jewish socialist candidate seemed better-aligned with Francis’s stated values than the actually-Catholic candidates like Santorum).

          • Anonymous says:

            I just thought it amusing that the Jewish socialist candidate seemed better-aligned with Francis’s stated values than the actually-Catholic candidates like Santorum

            I’d quibble with “actually Catholic”. Being against gay marriage but pro-unrestrained-capitalism seems to be more like an American fantasia of Catholicism than anything related to the words of Jesus “give all your stuff to the poor like yesterday and live in communal simplicity” Christ.

          • Virbie says:


            “Actually Catholic” in this context easily parses as “actually identifies as Catholic (and further, considers it a central part of his identity)”. It’s still pretty amusing with this interpretation and it doesn’t require even dabbling in no true Scotsman arguments

    • blacktrance says:

      Scott seems to me to be a moderate progressive, albeit one who’s unusually unconcerned with signaling adherence to progressive cultural orthodoxy and is open about his interests in the thoughts of other ideologies.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        How exactly do we classify people who focus on effective policy guided by looking at cost/benefit analysis?

        • Yehoshua K says:

          Samuel Skinner says:
          June 2, 2016 at 3:00 am
          “How exactly do we classify people who focus on effective policy guided by looking at cost/benefit analysis?”

          I would divide them into two categories.

          A) The ones who think they do this, while not actually succeeding, due to limitations including, but not limited to, perceived self-interest and lack of knowledge. I call them “deluded.”

          B) The ones who actually do this. I call them “fictional characters.”

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            At the risk of pointing out the obvious, there are degrees of failure. For example I think the EPA guys do a decent job since they have to openly kludge the results because they get the ‘wrong’ answer (specifically related to the value of the lives of old people).

          • Yehoshua K says:

            Yes, of course there are degrees of error, and of course there are those who do a better or worse job on a relative scale. My point is that it does not seem possible for humans, limited in intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, and decency, to actually consistently make policy decisions on a cost/benefit analysis.

            Furthermore, this still ignores the prior problem of deciding what is a desired outcome and what is an undesired outcome, and how heavily to weight them. That is to say, we can’t even decide what is a cost and what is a benefit until we settle on some prior system of value-commitments, also known as an ideology.

      • suntzuanime says:

        He’s extremely concerned with signaling adherence to progressive cultural orthodoxy, he’s just also extremely scrupulous about the truth. Which is a rough time, and he deserves our sympathy.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        albeit one who’s unusually unconcerned with signaling adherence to progressive cultural orthodoxy

        Lmao, tell that to all the banned Nuevo-Reaccionarios.

        I think what makes Scott different, and confuses people, is his willingness to accept conservative/libertarian/reactionary premises, while mantaining his progressive morals and ideals. Basically, you can see him do a lot of “You might be right, but…”.

      • Nita says:

        What part of “we should genetically engineer a sufficient number of IQ 400 individuals to build a godlike AI that will completely transform human society for the Greater Good” seems moderate to you?

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Making people smart is bog standard transhumanism. Being cautious about AI seems pretty moderate.

    • Anonymous says:

      For example, when was the last time you personally met a conservative who was against gay marriage?

      Are you suggesting that someone like that is an actual conservative?

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Given that same sex marriage wasn’t federally recognized until last year in the US and only 35 states had it legal before the supreme court case, I’d say there exist plenty of American conservatives against gay marriage.

        • Anonymous says:

          Just because they have tribal membership and namespace rights doesn’t make them actually conservative, any more than North Korea is actually democratic.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            So “no true conservative” is against Gay marriage?

            Socially conservative, evangelical Christians have been a very powerful part of the Republican coalition for a long time. 1980 marked a sharp rise in their power within the coalition. This cycle marks a diminution of power, but not a purging from the ranks

            More to the point, social conservatives are, in fact, conservative. Whether or not they have a political coalition which bows to their will.

          • keranih says:

            Furthermore, it’s not accurate to assume that people who don’t equate SSM with traditional man-woman marriage are all evangelicals, or even all Christian.

            And until just recently, that group included a lot of left-leaning people as well.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            All true.

            One of the reasons I get frustrated with the tenor of comments here about the supposed dominance of “the left” is the failure to recognize how socially conservative the Democratic coalition has been. America as a whole is far more socially conservative on most items than other developed countries.

            Our successful multi-ethnic composition probably makes us less socially conservative on some of the axes, though. Although that probably cuts both ways.

          • keranih says:

            @ HBC –


            Is this a measuring problem, then? Do we-the-people/we-the-commentariant not have good metrics for deciding what is left, and what is right, and what portion of the commentariant/nation/West/world is represented by each?

            (I am reminded of the old saw about a Brit explaining American party divisions – “Well, they have the Republican party, which is rather like the Tories. And then they have the Democrat party…which is rather like the Tories.”)

            If it is a measurement problem, how do we fix that? If it’s not a measurement problem, then what is the twist?

          • Anonymous says:

            OK, I think there’s a mix-up here.

            In my response to OP, I implied that someone who is NOT against gay marriage is NOT conservative.

            (Edited. Crap. I can’t handle negations today.)

            Samuel then apparently stated the obvious that there are plenty of conservatives against gay marriage… which is either a non-sequitur, or he thinko’d “for” and “against”, swapping them.

            And then I apparently error-corrected that to mean the opposite of what he said.

            Let’s clear this up – I’m suggesting that a proper conservative, rather than one in name only, would be against gay marriage. I hope this is clear enough, because I’m not 100% sure what happened here.

          • Salem says:

            Let’s clear this up – I’m suggesting that a proper conservative, rather than one in name only, would be against gay marriage.

            I would suggest conservatism is better thought of as an approach than a litmus test of specific policy positions. As such, it’s more about why you support or oppose gay marriage than the final answer.

            In my view, marriage will be a civilising influence on gay culture, that will help them live responsible lives and support one another, and society more widely. To put it more provocatively, it will help make homosexuality boring. Conversely, the introduction of gay marriage will have minimal impact on the institution of marriage as a whole. The cultural vector will go from bourgeois norms to gays, not vice-versa. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a conservative.

            There are also conservative reasons to oppose gay marriage, of course.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            My apologies then. That said, attempting to define a True Conservative or a True Liberal is not like a True Libertarian; they are coalitions that shift over time so don’t appear to have a constant meaning.

          • Deiseach says:

            Conversely, the introduction of gay marriage will have minimal impact on the institution of marriage as a whole.

            Salem, what about monogamish? Or the selling point for liberal churches, such as The Episcopal Church, that it’s all about “lifelong, committed, monogamous unions so we should permit same-sex marriage ceremonies in our denomination” when for a (unknown, I have no figures) percentage of gay couples in committed unions, they see no reason not to have threesomes or for either partner to sleep with someone they fancy – sexual fidelity is not part of the picture.

            I think some people are arguing that yes, gay marriage will have an effect on marriage in the broader society and hurrah for that, it needs to be either destroyed or radically changed.

            I do know some gay activists were against gay marriage for the very reason you give: assimilationism, looking for respectability, changing the lifestyle to copy straights, presenting all LGBT persons as the acceptable nice, white, middle-class couple who just want to get married and adopt a couple of cute kids and settle down in the suburbs with a dog (and so throwing all the non-white, poor, or not in ‘respectable’ relationships LGBT people under the bus).

          • Salem says:


            I was merely demonstrating that it was possible to support gay marriage out of conservative principles (a position shared by such little-known figures as David Cameron…). You are of course right that my sketch argument isn’t a watertight proof of desirability.

            If I believed that the cultural vector would mostly run the other way, that state recognition of gay marriage will normalise libertinism within society at large, then yes, I’d oppose it. I respect those who take that view, yet I sometimes detect a note of paranoia. Sure, gay culture has plenty of pathologies, but are we really claiming that broader society is immune from them? There are probably more heterosexuals with open marriages, even if the rate is higher for gays, so what does more damage? And is the institution of marriage so feeble that it will inevitably be beaten down by degenerates, rather than taming them?

            Besides which, the cat is out of the bag. There already exists a gay culture, influenced by and influencing the mainstream one, and it is far too late to pretend that we can evade that influence. We have to decide how to deal with the situation, and how to preserve and spread the best values of our society. As we allow gay people to make lasting commitments to one another and normalise their conduct, we help break the vicious cycle where gays feel rejected and react in opposition to mainstream norms. Leftists psychoanalysts are going to be pushing “monogamishness” either way, but this way they may find less fertile ground.

          • Deiseach says:

            it was possible to support gay marriage out of conservative principles (a position shared by such little-known figures as David Cameron

            Salem, the only principles being followed there are “Will this get me and my party a bump in the ratings? Will it get us votes? Is this the way the wind is blowing?”

            Not to pick on Cameron and his odious band of oiks; my own government (that is, the parties involved in the last one who are not quite the same as the current minority government) were falling over themselves to be all Happy Happy Marriage Equality! and the only principles I attribute to that shower of gombeen gobdaw sleeveens is “me féinism”.

            Obama and Hillary both saw the light on gay marriage and I am completely sure it had nothing to do with focus groups or polling data *sarcasm off*

            All of which is to say, when a politician starts speaking about their principles, the Browning quote irresistibly leaps to my mind:

            The louder he talked of his honour
            The faster we counted the spoons

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Have you read the non libertarian FAQ?

  13. anon says:

    Here is a Kickstarter people should donate to, for the sake of humanity, related to getting more information on KIC 8462852.

    Edited to add: Here is podcast episode which features an interview with Brad Schaefer, the astronomer who identified a statistically significant (he estimates 4sigma) long-term dimming of the star. In the interview he explains some aspects of how telescope funding works, and why using a crowdfunding approach makes sense in this particular case.

  14. James Bond says:

    I dont understand how the concept of a “Nerd” has developed. Since intelligence is correlated with a whole host of positive things ( height, attractiveness, testosterone), it should be that the smart people in a school are also the most popular. However there is something special that makes some of the most hardcore STEM type people in my school seem like nerds. Any explanations?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Nerdiness isn’t just intelligence, it’s intelligence mixed with autism. Autism makes you unpopular.

      • Frog Do says:

        I thought nerdiness was just autism.

      • James Bond says:

        Wait, that would mean that a far greater population is autistic than was previously thought, about 1 in 42 boys have autism. I think more than 2% of a school is nerdy guys.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Subclinical autism. We’re all aware that psychological diagnoses are rough and don’t reflect a sharp division in the underlying reality, right?

          • John Nerst says:

            Is it a new thing to refer to personality traits as mild forms of whatever disorder results when they go to extremes?

            Pathologically extreme nerdiness => autism

            Normal nerdiness => ‘mild’ autism?

            Aren’t we turning things upside down? I mean, knowing how words tend to develop this sort of thing is going to be standard use in the future, but I want to register some discomfort and annoyance.

          • NN says:

            Speaking as someone who was diagnosed as a “high-functioning” autistic (technically with aspergers, but that doesn’t exist anymore) in childhood, had a lot of nerdy friends in high school, and was part of an autism support group in college (all members were out of state students, so they were all “high functioning” too), I really, really wish people would stop conflating autism with general nerdiness. Nerds and people with autism often do hang together because they get along better than either with “normies,” but there are significant qualitative differences. How many of the following behaviors do you associate with nerds:

            Ticks such as chewing on your sleeve or picking at your skin?

            Being overwhelmed by noise or other sensory overload to the point that you have to cover your ears and grit your teeth?

            Freaking out from frustration, anguish, or sensory overload to the point that you start crying, screaming, and hitting things?

            I had issues with all of the above well into Middle School at least, and some of them I still have issues with. And again, I’m a relatively “high functioning” individual who has been pretty successful in adulthood. A few years ago, I talked to one of my nerdy high school friends, and she told me that they could all tell that I was “different” somehow, and she had personally guessed asperger’s.

            I’ve heard the difference between autism and nerdiness in regards to high school social politics described as follows: nerds suffer from low social status. Autistic people tend to have low social status but not care or even notice, because social politics tends to completely mystify them, and they tend to focus on their “aspie interests” to the exclusion of everything else. That certainly rings true for me; I never “got” the standard teen movie nerds vs. popular kids thing at all.

          • James Bond says:

            Well yes, but i just thought that there was line of distinction between average nerdy people and autistic people, like with people who like to clean and those with OCD.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Do those correlations still hold 3 SD above the mean? I’ve certainly never noticed any exceptional height advantage among nerds. I know correlations have been found with nearsightedness, left-handedness, and hay fever, none of which really help with popularity.

      • James Bond says:

        I doubt that most nerds are 3 SD above the mean. The means only 0.15% of the population can be nerdy. There are more than 3 nerds in an average school of 2000 people. And im not sure how far the height correlation holds, however the average handsome man has a 10 IQ boost along with the good looks, that must mean something towards the lower ends ( I assume most nerds are more around 120 than 145, I know lots of “nerds” who are around my intelligence or lower and Im as far away from 145 as I am from being in the NBA).

        • The Nybbler says:

          Intelligence isn’t evenly distributed in the population; there’s your “thank god for Missouri” effect among others. And most high-intelligence people will be in schools with a greater than average number of high-intelligence people.

          Also, I think the nerd stereotype evolved at a time when nerdiness was a more exclusive club than it is now.

          • alaska3636 says:

            The earliest nerd trope that I can think of is the Audio Visual Club. Or maybe Dungeons and Dragons.

          • Anonymous says:

            Alaska: the MIT model train society? Or just model trains in general? Model trains as a hobby for weird introverts significantly predates D&D.

          • keranih says:

            Stamp collecting?

      • Anonymous says:

        Do those correlations still hold 3 SD above the mean?

        If most of the people 3 sd above the mean in intelligence when considering the entire population are members of a subgroups (e.g. Ashkenazim and East Asians) and those subgroups have lower average height than the population as a whole but the 3 sd cohort within those subgroups is taller than the subgroup average, is the answer to your question yes or no?

    • 1angelette says:

      This comment owes a great deal to the formulation by suntzuanime that the combination of intelligence and autism creates nerdiness.

      First, I agree that the degree of autism seen in these groups will inevitably be mild or subclinical by certain standards. After all, these aren’t people confined to a residential facility or a special education program. These are the people met by you yourself in secondary education.

      Second, consider the specific traits that go into attractiveness. In my experience in predominantly white American secondary school communities, there are several prerequisites. These include things like makeup, exercise, diet, and a suntan. Autistic people are often bad at these things – hate using products on their skin, hate the sunlight, etc.

      Third, height alone is insufficient for attractiveness. An upper middle class teenager may easily be 5’11 due to adequate parental nourishment. However, given the above issues like lack of muscle definition and acne covered face, this person is still probably not going to be considered truly unattractive.

      Fourth, you describe the “most hardcore” students as the ones giving you this nerdy impression. Therefore, these dedicated students are much less likely to be involved in athletic extracurricular activities, they may also have stunted social lives. Again, areas often avoided by autistic people, because that’s overwhelming. Furthermore, these most hardcore students may be pursuing a Special Interest.

      Fifth, I will discuss the investment in media. The majority of completely non nerdy media involves interpersonal drama, like relationships or violence. Autistic people can’t always relate to these social dynamics and seek out safe ways to watch people interacting. This leads to watching shows with fantastical elements. Furthermore, it’s nerdier to read a book alone than watch a movie with a group of friends, which is an activity that autistic people may find overwhelming.

      Finally, intelligence isn’t completely absent among the non nerd population. Cheerleaders can become business managers, football players can become statisticians.

      Therefore, I believe that nerdiness results from having some preferences about social activities. Preferring the internet and fantasy over being around loud people and talking about real life. Most of these preferences can be traced back to symptoms of autism.

      Note: I just deal in broad stereotypes here. E.g. There are some autistic people who like sports.

      • NN says:

        No. Most nerds are not autistic, not even in the “high-functioning” sense of the word. I would know, seeing as how I’m a “high-functioning” autistic person who had plenty of nerdy friends in both high school and college. I found them easier to get along with than most people, but there were and are very clear qualitative differences (just one example: none of my nerdy non-autistic friends ever had any issues with noise or other sensory integration). Autism is not just nerdiness squared, and I really wish people would stop saying things like this.

        See my comment above for more detail.

        • Corey says:

          I feel your pain. I have a daughter who’s well into the classical autism end of the spectrum, and when I mention an autistic child people picture young Sheldon Cooper. I have to tell them it’s someone who’s locked in a shell out of which she can only communicate via scripting, and who cries whenever a car honks or phone vibrates.

        • 1angelette says:

          I apologize for unintentionally rubbing salt in a wound. Having read both your comments, I completely agree that the majority of the “nerd” population is not autistic even by generous definitions. I acknowledge that it may have been irreverent to dramatically describe these slight tendencies as autistic.

          However, from your comments, I am not sure about your constructive definition of “nerdiness”. You do mention that nerds have “low social status”. This doesn’t answer the initial question, the claim that nerds as intelligent people should be attractive and popular. The question is, why do nerds have low social status? Perhaps it’s because they don’t care about conforming to social norms, like Alaska says. However, this wouldn’t dovetail well with your description of nerds who “suffer” from ostracism while autistics don’t “notice or care”. (Though for the record most people I know in both groups have been acutely aware they’re lonely and hate it.) Are nerds all the people who are interested in specific “uncool” subject areas? Or are they people who eschew a certain spectrum of socially encouraged behaviors, such as exercise and makeup? Because that type of tendency is what leads me to see the nerdy archetype as linked to other issues, like sensory processing disorders. (Though I don’t have links about this, Scott has mentioned in a post that intelligence alone is correlated with sensory processing disorders.) I’ll admit that I’ve known tall, handsome, long-haired nerds who play ultimate frisbee and laser tag and run cross-country and watch Battlestar Galactica without captions while talking on the phone with their siblings, answering questions with questions and being passive-aggressive in a cloaked manner, people who are not autistic by the slightest stretch of the imagination.

          (I literally do chew my sleeves until they have holes, and I’ve never been able to wear makeup on my facial skin more than thirty seconds at a time; once a friend had to spend several minutes to physically hold me back from hitting another long-time friend who confessed to “cheating” (in a trivial manner that everybody else socially approves). Another guy in the group twirls his hair around his finger for hours at a time and sometimes slinks off to the bathroom to type out instant messages instead (sent to people in the same house). I’ll admit I have a biased interest in these topics as a twenty-year-old who’s almost gotten diagnosed with autism several separate times only for the process to always be interrupted by external circumstances.)

          In short, to me there has to be some kind of reason that nerds have low social status. While it’s entirely possible to have low social status without autism, in my experience there are many low social status traits (such as disinterest in sports) that can be correlated with autistic traits.

    • I read it as the schools failing to get the loyalty of the students. When that loyalty is lost, students who are good at school and/or academic subjects are seen as collaborating with the enemy.

      This means that socially adept people are less likely to pursue academic subjects or show that sort of intelligence. This is a local (if large and horrifying) problem, but it’s not something about the human race in general.

      Anyone have a history of anti-intellectualism in American schools?

    • Corey says:

      Paul Graham’s essay on why nerds are unpopular is illuminating. The short version:

      – High school is a brutal social popularity game, brought on by confining everyone together
      – Trying to be serious about academics while playing this game is like trying to balance a glass of water on your head while playing soccer; you won’t do well at either
      – So the most successful at academics have to drop out of the popularity game

      • Anonymous says:

        In the schools I attended sitting next to the overachievers was a privilege, and nerds weren’t particularly unpopular. In our country cheating is socially acceptable (most teachers turn a blind eye to an extent, and punishment isn’t very harsh), so sitting next to the guy with the all the answers has objective benefits. Although, because cheating isn’t very risky, the answers would usually get to you even if you’re on the other end of the classroom. I guess you could get a unpopular if you started actively working with the system by reporting people who try to mooch off you or by trying to prevent people from peeking at your test, but I was pretty hesitant to answer people’s whispered questions in the middle of tests and suffered no ill effects for it.

        I don’t know if this lack of nerd stigma generalizes to all schools across the country or if it was indeed caused by the rampant cheating though.

    • alaska3636 says:

      Nerdiness and coolness are a conformism thing. If you’re finger is on the pulse of what is conform-worthy, and you lead the way, your coolness will appear elevated.

      Nerdiness tends to be defined by an unwillingness to conform to contemporary norms, which is unsurprising given that high, rather than above-average, intelligence is better at assessing idea quality and is predisposed to disregarding contemporary noise.

      • Nornagest says:

        Lots of subcultures like to see themselves as nonconformist. Very few actually are.

        • CatCube says:

          I always thought that it was interesting when the members of a “nonconformist” group all dressed alike.

        • alaska3636 says:

          Conforming to the dominant culture is “cool”, especially if you can predict where it is going. The dominant culture could be seen as local, regional, national and global. Being cool is a full-time gig. Being a nerd just requires having a continuing interest in something regardless of whether it is currently fashionable. That’s why “nerd” things can become cool like Game of Thrones, which is typically a domain for geeky nerdom and was for years before somebody picked up it’s filming rights. While GoT has mainlined, it is probably still nerdy to like The Wheel of Time.

        • NN says:

          A truly nonconformist subculture wouldn’t be a coherent subculture for very long.

  15. onyomi says:


    Will Gary Johnson have any impact on the election this time, and if so, what?

    Though as a libertarian myself I’d love to imagine him capturing a bunch of former Bernie voters, I just can’t really see it. All the Bernie voters I know mostly think of libertarianism as Republicanism on steroids. If they won’t vote for HRC, my guess is they’ll stay home or vote Green or something.

    There are also supposed to be a lot of disgruntled Republicans this year who just can’t stomach Trump. But I’m not sure if they’re the sort of Republican who wants to legalize weed. Is that something Charles Murray would get behind?

    I want to think Johnson will have an impact and will probably vote for him myself, but I’m not super optimistic. I feel like most of the dems and repubs who claim to hate their presumptive nominee are going to just fall in line. But if they don’t, where will their votes go?

    • LHN says:

      @onyomi I’d love to think so– the LP has nominated a ticket with infinitely more experience as political executives than either of the majors, and if there were any justice would get credit for nominating the most plausible candidates in its history at a time that the GOP and almost half the Democrats are swinging for the fringes. And I absolutely appreciate having a candidate I can vote for thinking that if by some miracle he became President, he’d actually be able to handle the job, rather than a pure protest vote based on “at least he’s not either of them“.

      But it would take that miracle. I’d say there’s an excellent chance the LP will get its best showing ever. But probably not enough to actually alter the outcome in a state, let alone win an electoral vote. The outcomes of both primaries strike me as pretty conclusive indications that this isn’t a year of waxing interest in libertarian principle among the electorate.

      (I may have private fantasies about one electoral vote and a squeaker of a race throwing the election to the House and thence to Johnson via grand compromise. But that’s only slightly more likely than Aragorn son of Arathorn showing up with a document proving conclusively that North America is legally Númenor, and taking executive power on that basis.)

      • onyomi says:

        “the LP has nominated a ticket with infinitely more experience as political executives than either of the majors”

        I didn’t think about this, but you’re right. Maybe the GOP will have more trouble calling us “fringe” and “unserious” now that they’ve nominated an oompa loompa.

        • LHN says:

          I suspect that’s made tougher by the fact that the two majors don’t especially want to legitimize a third. They’ll be easily able to point to downticket candidates and rank-and-file LP members who are vocally outside the Overton Window to make the case that it’s still a fringe movement.

          That might change if enough disaffected Republicans (or, less likely, Democrats) crossed over. But thus far I’ve seen more Republicans talking about a separate third party run of some mainstream GOP figure like Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney, even though that’s equally hopeless as far as winning goes, and has a lot more ballot access problems than the ticket of two ex-Republican governors already on the ballot in 50 states.

          (Though anecdotally, I do know at least one lifelong and heretofore intensely loyal Republican who’s planning to vote for Johnson this time around.)

          • John Schilling says:

            But thus far I’ve seen more Republicans talking about a separate third party run of some mainstream GOP figure like Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney

            That only matters if the Republicans doing the talking are Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney, or are out gathering signatures to put Ryan/Romney on the ballot. Which they aren’t.

            The window for a #NeverTrump independent-republican candidate is pretty much closed. Ballot access deadlines and related logistical issues make that an intrinsically marginal proposition, and the psychological effects of running a marginalized campaign make it even more marginal. There are lots of GOP figures the average #NeverTrump Republican would rather vote for than Johnson/Weld, but little reason for any of those people to actually run and so they probably won’t.

            For the people who won’t vote Trump or Hillary, the options are going basically going to be Johnson or staying home. But it will hurt Johnson a bit that some of those voters are going to be spending the next month or two vainly hoping that Paul Ryan makes a bid.

          • LHN says:

            There’s also the Constitution Party, which I only know about because I started following a local Cruz delegate on Twitter and that’s where his vote’s going, but which is on the ballot in a fair number of states.

            (Not including my state, as it happens, but he’s planning on writing in. Which is even more ineffectual than usual hereabouts since write-in votes without a declaration of intent by the candidate aren’t even counted.)

            But I hope you’re right. Nothing would make me happier than a politically signficant block of libertarian-leaning votes that politicians are looking to capture.

          • Corey says:

            My understanding was that the US two-party system was guaranteed by game theory somehow (not that a party can’t dwindle and get replaced by a new one, or just go and realign). Is that correct?

          • John Schilling says:

            The Constitution Party only has ballot access in states covering 26% of the US population. Three-quarters of #NeverTrump Republicans will basically not be able to vote for him, and a fair number of those who theoretically could will be dissuaded by the inevitably dismal outcome.

            Ideologically, yes, it’s a good fit. But I thing we are very close to, if not past, the point where any dark-horse conservative would come in behind the Libertarian candidate, and who wants to be a part of that fiasco?

          • brad says:

            Duverger’s law but guaranteed is a bit strong.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @brad @Corey:
            And note that the US is not only first past the post, single winner per district, but also has a directly elected (first past the post) chief executive, which makes it even more likely that coalitions form before elections, rather than after.

          • Corey says:

            @brad, @HeelBearCub: thanks!
            I know Vox has a spate of articles on how having a separately-elected executive branch is a possible cause of gridlock that parliamentary systems lack.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        I’d love to think so– the LP has nominated a ticket with infinitely more experience as political executives than either of the majors,

        It is fairly insane that you are comparing the qualifications of tickets before the major parties have even selected vice presidential candidates.

        Regardless: twelve years first lady of Arkansas, eight years first lady of the US, eight years a senator, and four years Secretary of State makes for an imposing resume. It is true that much of this does not fall in the (obviously gerrymandered) category of “experience as [a] political executive”. But you might want to steer away from this claim, as Clinton’s sex probably debarred her from all executive offices until recently. Neither Arkansas nor New York has ever had a female governor.

        • keranih says:

          twelve years first lady of Arkansas, eight years first lady of the US, eight years a senator, and four years Secretary of State makes for an imposing resume.

          Um. It might just be me, but “first lady” isn’t qualification for squat. For the love of Mary, mother of God, can we not emphasize what she did, not her husband?

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s an interesting choice of a person to swear by given the content of the comment.

          • keranih says:

            Made my point, did it not?

            And it’s not like Hilary birthed Bill, or raised him to be the president he was.

          • Being First Lady might be worth something in terms of building up connections, but it would be hard to evaluate.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            can we not emphasize what she did,

            Here’s an abbreviated list of what Clinton accomplished during her years as first lady, taken shamelessly from wikipedia:

            –Chaired the Rural Health Advisory Comittee and the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, where she ushered through education reform over the objections of the teacher’s unions
            –Chaired the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession
            –Served on the boards of numerous corporations and charities, including Wal-Mart, apparently

            –Spearheaded the failed health care reform initiative
            –Shepherded SCHIP and the Adoption and Safe Families Act through congress
            –Helped create the Office on Violence Against Women at the justice department

            Also, as I alluded to earlier, being first lady was probably the closest any woman in Arkansas could come to acquiring “executive experience” during Clinton’s time there. The state has never had a female governor or lieutenant governor, and just elected its first female attorney general last year. So it is probably not altogether kosher to play up Clinton’s lack of “executive experience”, this being a very direct result of sexism.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think birthing is much of an accomplishment and a wife can influence a person too. Not just parents.

            If First Lady doesn’t mean squat than mother of God isn’t terribly impressive either. It’s not like she preached any sermons, healed the sick, walked on water, or died for anyone’s sins.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            If only it had been Todd Palin who was governor of Alaska, Sarah’s qualifications for the Presidency would never have been in doubt.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            It’s amusing that you say that, given that “executive experience” was planted in the zeitgeist by republican political operatives back in 2008 as a way to burnish Palin’s meager credentials. Let me put it a different way: Clinton has substantially more of the experience relevant to being president than either of the names on the Libertarian ticket. This is true even if you set aside her time as first lady, where she evidently did a bit more than putter around the garden.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            It’s amusing that you say that, given that “executive experience” was planted in the zeitgeist by republican political operatives back in 2008 as a way to burnish Palin’s meager credentials.

            That’s news to me, I get most of my American news from Vox and they seem to make a pretty big deal of it.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Set a custom date range for t<2009 in google and search for the term in quotes. You'll get a few articles about literal business executives and a few scattered political uses from before the McCain campaign picked it up, but the bulk of the results are republicans comparing Obama's "executive experience" unfavorably to Palin's. The McCain campaign realized early on that it couldn't go after Obama's experience once he made Palin his running mate, so they decided that "executive experience" was what had really mattered all along (nevermind that McCain spent his entire political career in congress!), and their surrogates in the media followed suit.

            I remember the time well, and the looniness of hearing people use a term that had scarcely existed a year before as though it self-evidently carved nature at her joints. I've seen it pop up occasionally since then, mostly in republican attacks on Obama, but its etiology seems to have been largely forgotten.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            And here I thought “executive experience” was planted in the zeitgeist sometime during the three decades we spent sending practically no one except governors to the White House.

        • John Schilling says:

          But you might want to steer away from this claim, as Clinton’s sex probably debarred her from all executive offices until recently

          And nurses should have been allowed to perform surgery for at least a decade after the medical schools were opened to women – anything else wouldn’t be fair.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      “Though as a libertarian myself I’d love to imagine him capturing a bunch of former Bernie voters, ”
      How do Bernie’s preferred policies map onto Libertarian at all. Free college, universal healthcare and an intrusive government process forcing banks to break up?

      • Frog Do says:

        He mostly agrees with libertarians on foreign policy, drug war issues, and the current corruption of the American financial system.

      • JayT says:

        I don’t think Johnson will get many Bernie supporters, but there are people out there that care most about social issues like legalizing weed, abortion, or gay marriage.

    • Frog Do says:

      If anything, I would expect the most important impact would be for libertarianism to serve as a rallying point for all the NeverTrump Republican intellectuals in the media/think-tank/establishment sense, which would be a major shakeup in party politics. If this happens, it would dilute libertarianism in a neoliberal/neoconservative direction, which I imagine current libertarians would not really like.

      I assume the Left will do what the Democratic party tells them to do, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Bernie already heavily influenced some backroom appointments for the direction of the party, but I doubt it will shift it out of the neoliberal/neoconservative direction it is firmly entrenched in.

      • “If this happens, it would dilute libertarianism in a neoliberal/neoconservative direction, which I imagine current libertarians would not really like.”

        I’ve argued for a very long time that the function of the LP isn’t to win elections, it’s to get enough attention for libertarian ideas so that one, or better both, parties will steal them. That tactic worked strikingly well for the Socialist Party.

        If the LP gets five or ten percent of the vote and the result is to convert one of the major parties to something that might be described as very dilute libertarianism in order to get those votes, that’s a win.

        • Frog Do says:

          A very dilute libertarianism describes the establishment Republican party over the past couple of decades, so it will be that, but just less influential. That’s what I was getting at, anyway, the transition from Ron Paul to Rand Paul continuing.

    • anon says:

      Rooting for him to qualify for a presidential debate, and move the overton window a bit on drugs and foreign policy. More impact than that seems extremely unlikely.

    • Salem says:

      Charles Murray? What?

      Murray opposes the War on Drugs and supports drug legalization as part of a more general freeing of economy and society.

      • onyomi says:

        I brought up Charles Murray because he is someone I might have expected to support Trump, but who has strongly opposed him. I think he’d prefer HRC to Trump, though I’m hoping maybe he’d prefer Johnson to either one. Though I’m not sure he represents any particular demographic besides the Charles Murray vote.

    • Psmith says:

      I’m pretty unimpressed with Johnson/Weld qua libertarians. (“Bake the cake”, Weld pushed for an AWB in Massachussetts and is still FuddLyfe.). They’re not terribly interesting or charismatic either. I would have supported McAfee if he’d gotten the nomination, and I hold out hope that Trump will make him Internet Czar or put him in charge of the DEA or ATF or something, but these guys, meh. So I don’t anticipate much of a net effect. I think they’ll pick up some of the #NeverTrump types, but not that many. The neocon hawks will want someone more hawkish, and I think the Mormons and Upper Midwest Dutch will probably plump for Trump in the end. Which leaves you with Steven Crowder, Charles Murray, and about three other guys. (I can totally see Murray going for a Johnson/Weld ticket, though, see Salem’s comment.).

      I think disgruntled Berners will go Hillary before Trump and Trump before Libertarian, with Green at about the same level as Libertarian or slightly higher.

      • Sweeneyrod says:

        Why would Bernie voters prefer Trump to Green or Libertarian?

        • Frog Do says:

          We might want to engage politically, instead of posturing.

          • onyomi says:

            Arguably voting for a third party candidate is more of an act of political engagement than voting for a major party candidate, whose loss or victory in most states is a foregone conclusion.

            Which story has more effect on politics? “Hillary wins New York” or “Johnson gets 20% in Colorado”?

          • BBA says:

            Perot got close to 20% nationwide in 1992. Were there any lasting effects on politics from his campaign?

          • keranih says:

            Depends on how you define Bill and Hilary Clinton.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            You can, in fact, prove counterfactuals. E.g.:

            “If I had hit a royal flush on the river, I would not have lost that hand.”

            Proof: the rules of poker.

          • onyomi says:

            I honestly don’t know whether Perot had a lasting effect. One could probably make a case either way. But Johnson getting 20% nationwide would be a bigger deal. He is not running as an independent. He is running as a party’s nominee–a party explicitly named after a particular ideology. The Libertarian Party getting 20% of the national vote would mean that, for that election at least, we had three competitive parties in the presidential election. That would be a huge deal.

            This also raises the question: if you’re a long-time Republican or Democrat voting for Johnson out of inability to accept Trump or Clinton, how likely are you to vote for a libertarian or other third-party candidate down-ticket? Do you blame the GOP for Trump, or does your fundamental allegiance remain unchanged?

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ BBA
            Exit polls from 1992 point to Clinton winning even if Perot wasn’t in the race.

            That link led to

            In 1992 and 1996, my impression was that Perot (like Wallace and now Trump) was mostly appealing to low class conservative voters, thus drawing from the GOP candidate.

            Later all I saw was the “drew equally from both sides” version, which surprised me. So thanks for better information.

        • Psmith says:

          I was thinking of whites with no college education in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. Union guys. Not a natural Green Party constituency, as far as I know. Probably not about to vote the Dude Weed LMAO ticket either.

          • Sweeneyrod says:

            I see, yes in that case I agree. But what proportion of Bernie voters are those guys?

          • Cord Shirt says:

            Anecdote time!

            Here in rural Yankeedom…

            I have seen:
            * many, many Bernie signs
            * several Trump signs
            * one Hillary sign
            * one “Hill No!” sign
            * one “Trump” sticker that some wag put on a stop sign (“Stop Trump”).

            Of the Bernie supporters I know (a mix of average Yankees and hippie-veneer Yankees with the occasional hippieish transplant):
            * most say they’ll jump to Trump
            * a few say they’ll vote Green
            * a few say they’ll stay home.

            “Not a natural Green Party constituency, as far as I know.”

            Those who see Hillary as “Mrs. Monsanto” may be.

            Other day had this conversation:

            Regular Customer: Oh, Lordy, Lordy, Lordy… :free-associating, thinks of the song: …pick a bale of cotton.

            Me: Don’t say that! You can’t mention picking cotton these days, it’s against our religion!

            Regular: :laughs: I know.

            Me: Or we’ll burn you as a witch!

            Regular: They can *all* go to hell. And I’ll help them get there.

            (By “they” I’m guessing she meant SJWs…though she’s not the type to have heard that term.)

            But, eh, “I don’t know anyone who voted for Nixon” and all that.

      • Corey says:

        I’m not sure putting libertarians in charge of government departments libertarians dislike would help libertarianism.

        Bruce Schneier taught me about this when people were saying he should be head of TSA. His position is that national security would be best served by disbanding TSA and using that money instead for intelligence and police work. But if you’re the head of the TSA, that’s not an option: your job is to get the TSA to execute their mission to the best of their ability.

        If you want to de-facto-eliminate a department by having it not do its job, if you don’t have a friendly Congress you will draw their ire, and if you do you can just get them to dissolve the department.

        • bluto says:

          What I’ve learned is that libertarians in charge of government agencies can have two very important roles.

          Appointing/promoting senior career staff who are very, very hard to replace who can serve as a thorn in the side of the agency for a long time, and much more effectively horse trade/advise congress from that position.

    • John Schilling says:

      Johnson/Weld is the most boring, moderate, technocratically competent ticket that could possibly run under the Libertarian banner. Normally, why bother? What matter is competence when you’re going to lose no matter what? If the only point is to make a stand on principle, what principle is best served by boring moderation? But this year, I think the LP lucked out.

      The true #NeverTrump Republicans are going to coalesce around whoever Isn’t Trump, Isn’t Hillary, and Isn’t A Whackjob Extremist. Well, OK, most of them are just going to stay home. But Johnson/Weld have a better chance of getting them to turn out than any of the other Libertarian contenders, and better than any black-horse independent conservative that could plausibly emerge at this late a date.

      Traditional swing voters are mostly going to swing to Hillary, because central to the swing-voter identity is the belief that one is Making a Difference with one’s carefully-thought independent vote, and voting for third-party candidates who can’t win doesn’t make a difference.

      BernieBros who aren’t totally repelled by the Libertarian label, will see a ticket that supports gay marriage and legal marijuana, and those issues have become essentially litmus tests for Acceptably Progressive Politics among the 21st-century left. They won’t see a socialist who proposes to bring down the capitalist Man, but they might see someone less likely to be actually in bed with Wall Street than either Hillary or Trump. And, again, moderate technocratic competence.

      Minority voters will almost certainly put Libertarians solidly in the SWPL category and stick with Hillary, though conservative Hispanics might give the LP a look and a few of them might like what they see in this particular ticket.

      On the other hand, the LP let one of their alleged Presidential contenders do a striptease on stage during the convention. A fat ugly male one, and yes, that matters. That’s going to hurt, both on the general disgust/ridicule axis and the perceived competence axis – sure, the GOP leadership couldn’t keep Trump off the stage, but Trump is a billionaire. The LP couldn’t even keep Fat Ugly Stripper Guy off the stage, and we’re supposed to trust them with the White House? Expect to see that video again and again if you’re following the LP; Johnson and Weld are going to have to sell themselves as the Grownups Chaperoning the Party to make this work.

      I’d wager Johnson/Weld will get 5-10% of the vote, with 15-20% being a long shot but not outside the bounds of possibility.

      The next question is, if an actual third party does get 15-20% of the vote this year, what does that mean going forward? That hasn’t happened since the Progressive party in 1912 and 1924; they never did go on to take the White House under their own banner but Progressive politics have certainly prospered.

      • onyomi says:

        I would be really pleasantly surprised if they got 5% of the vote and delighted if 10.

        Because to my mind >5% definitely moves into the realm of being a force to be contended with, as opposed to just a negligible fringe.

        Normally I’d agree: so long as you’re a fringe candidate running on principal, why bother being moderate and sensible? But in this case, there may be an almost unique opportunity to take the LP from 1% support, to say, 5 or even 10% support, which would be huge in terms of libertarianism’s public profile.

        If Johnson ends up being perceived as costing Trump the election, for example, then while there will be a lot teeth gnashing about libertarianism, I’d predict the GOP to nevertheless become more libertarianish in the future to prevent it happening again, a la David Friedman’s proposed mechanism.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I am not interested in a wager.

        Could you clarify your probability distribution? Is your over-under 5%? Or does your offer to wager mean that you put the odds at significantly above 50% that LP will crack 5%? What odds do you put that they will pass 10%?

        My over-under is 3%, with an interquartile range of 1-5%.

        Is there any prediction market that addresses this? In theory you can extract a third-party share from the Iowa predictions of R and D shares, but they each have 3 point bid-ask spreads.

        • John Schilling says:

          My over-under would be 6%, but with a fatter tail on the high end. I don’t think I’ve seen a prediction market on this yet, but it will happen.

          As a baseline, 1% is what Gary Johnson gets when he’s running for president against Mitt Romney and an incumbent Barack Obama with the media and punditry paying zero attention to third-party bids, so using that as the bottom quartile seems unduly pessimistic.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yes, it’s the same guy as last time running in more favorable circumstances. But the outside view says that we should look back more than one cycle, which was a doubling of the usual LP vote share. Maybe I’m putting too little weight on the inside view, but people don’t usually make that mistake.

          • John Schilling says:

            But if the Libertarians can double their usual vote share in one election cycle, that implies – even from the outside view – that either personalities or circumstances matter a lot more than they do for major parties. So how much weight is really appropriate for the record of a different, less prestigious candidate under different, less favorable circumstances?

      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        Does it really make sense to call it “luck” when Trump and Clinton had essentially locked up the nominations weeks before the convention?

        • John Schilling says:

          The Libertarians nominated Gary Johnson in 2012, and he was the clear favorite for 2016 even when Trump was a joke candidate.

          Weld, yes, you have a point. And we still need to see who the GOP and the Dems nominate for Veep.

          • onyomi says:

            Do you know what never made sense to me?

            In 2012, when people were urging Ron to seek the Libertarian Party nomination if he lost the Republican nomination, he cited some kind of “sore loser” laws which prevented him from doing so. Yet Gary Johnson did exactly that, so clearly that excuse didn’t hold water.

            My best guess as to the real reason is that he didn’t want to antagonize the GOP against the coming Rand 2016 run.

          • John Schilling says:

            Johnson withdrew from the 2012 Republican race well before the first primary. I think that makes a legal difference, but I don’t want to dive into that right now. It certainly makes a moral difference where any concept of “sore loser” is at issue.

      • E. Harding says:

        I predict Johnson/Weld gets the same percentage of the vote as the Gold Democrats in 1896. A lot of Republicans who would never vote for Romney are likely to go for the Donald.

    • Corey says:

      I just hope to see a “Feel The Johnson” slogan out of this *ducks*

      Actually, my guess is that Democrats will fall in line behind Clinton, and most Republicans will fall in line behind Trump (mostly because of hatred of Clinton – seriously Democrats, a golden opportunity to pick up disaffected NeverTrumpers and you nominate someone the right-wing noise machine has been harping on for 20 years? Ugh). The non-Trump Republican vote, that doesn’t just stay home, I think will indeed go to the LP, but that won’t be a lot.

      Down-ballot is where the interesting (in the Chinese curse sense) fallout will be.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      Sanders voter planning to vote SEP this year, but most of the ones I know are going Green or Dem. (not counting my /leftypol/ comrades but it’s not like they were voting dem in the first place)

  16. Kevin C. says:

    There’s this odd, logically-fallacious but common pattern I see in certain arguments for which I’ve not encountered a name, but which one might call the “alternate solution requirement”.

    This occurs in the discussion of some problem. One person, Alice, proposes a solution. Bob provides a criticism of Alice’s solution, saying it will fail to solve the problem due to reason X. The “alternate solution requirement” comes in here, when Alice, instead of addressing X, responds to Bob with a demand for an alternate solution to the problem, and acts as if this is a refutation of Bob’s critique if he lacks such; as if Bob’s argument requires and accompanying alternate solution to be valid.

    For example, suppose the problem is building a bridge across a body of water:
    Alice: [Displays bridge blueprints]
    Bob: Your “suspension” bridge design is lacking the cables that suspend the span. There’s nothing holding it up!
    Alice: Well, what’s your bridge design, Bob?

    Has anyone else here noticed this pattern? Is there a well-known name for it? Why do so many people seem to accept “what’s your solution, then?” as a valid rejoinder?

    • keranih says:

      I’ve seen this, and I’m not entirely sure it’s a fallicy, as I understand it. Or if it is, it’s part of the “We must do something! This is something! Ergo, we must do this!” package.

      To my mind, the issue is not at the bridge design point, but further upstream, where Alice and Bob discussed a need to build a new bridge, and came to an agreement on how bad they needed one and how much they could pay for one. The lack of actual consensus here could slide into the Abilene Paradox, where a plan was agreed upon even though no one really wanted it.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        To slightly re-phrase:

        Bob’s argument doesn’t say anything about the need for a bridge, one way or the other. Frequently, Bob is making the implied argument that because Alice has not produced a satisfactory bridge design, a bridge is not needed.

        That is a fallacious argument. Alice responds with another fallacious argument, designed to highlight the implied argument in Bob’s statement.

        This is not necessarily what is happening, but it frequently is.

        • Kevin C. says:

          Frequently, Bob is making the implied argument that because Alice has not produced a satisfactory bridge design, a bridge is not needed.

          Not in my experience. Usually, “Bob” is quite up-front about the problem being a problem (particularly when I’m “Bob”), but simply sees a fatal flaw in “Alice’s” proposal, while at the same time, the problem generally being much harder than “build a bridge” (more like “build a bridge for an urgently-needed, life-or-death-vital interstate highway between the 49th and 50th states”), having yet to come up with a viable alternative himself.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Usually, “Bob” is quite up-front about the problem being a problem

            more like “build a bridge for an urgently-needed, life-or-death-vital interstate highway between the 49th and 50th states”

            Yeah, clearly you admit that not having a bridge between Hawaii and Alaska is a problem. How could I have been so naive in my assumptions?

            [/snark off]

            Sorry for the snark. But can you see how those two sentences being in such proximity to one another strikes me as proving my point for me?

          • Kevin C. says:

            But can you see how those two sentences being in such proximity to one another strikes me as proving my point for me?

            No, I really can’t. There’s no logical contradiction in believing both:
            “we must solve this problem or we and everyone we love will die horribly”
            “we can’t solve this problem.”
            Consider a massive SMoD detected too late to deflect.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Kevin C:
            Your specifically chosen example of the kinds of problems you mean was “a bridge between the 49th and 50th states”.

            Are you saying that we actually need a bridge between the Hawaii and Alaska? No, you aren’t. You are saying that anyone who does think we need it is ridiculous.

            … and if we detect a SMoD to late to deflect, we should, put all of our resources into mitigation. Just sitting on our asses guarantees death. So the question, “What is your solution?” is perfectly legitimate.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Okay, HeelBearCub, what would your example be of a problem that simultaneously:
            1. has morally dire, or even outright existential consequences if unsolved,
            2. is insoluble, or nearly so.

            And by SMoD, I mean an impactor that, if it strikes, is big enough to guarantee human extinction, no matter what “mitigation” we attempt.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Kevin C:
            So, from the tenor of several comments, I see you have reached a certain Nietzschean level of fatalism, and that is where you are coming from. Hence the SMoD example, and your request for me to find a rock so large God cannot move it (so to speak). You are looking to find an example of something that feels like a logical impossibility, roughly.

            So I have a few observations. The first is that things like SMoD, where physics is just a bitch and there is nothing to be done, are really rare, and we don’t know we face anything like that currently, unless you want to count the death of the sun.

            (Side note, we all face death, and yet still we can have meaning in our lives. I don’t think you are really going for full Nietzsche, but I thought it was worth mentioning.)

            Second, even when you face a problem as bad as SMoD, there are things to be tried. There are slim possibilities that are probably wrong but worth a shot. Perhaps people can live off fungus in deep caves, perhaps an orbiting space craft can survive for a year and re-enter to repopulate, perhaps God really is real and prayers work, …

            If a problem really is as dire as SMoD, then you will really be trying anything and everything to do something. Yes, many people will not have anything that they can do personally, but that is different than “nothing to be done.”

            So, if a problem really is that dire, there are things to be tried.

            But I strongly doubt that the types of problems you are talking about are actually as dire as you feel they are. They certainly aren’t as dire as SMoD, and they almost certainly aren’t as acute. This means that you don’t need an approach to be perfect or even correct. Solutions can be attempted in an incremental way, many at a time.

            Take fossil fuel use. A large many of incremental solutions are being tried in parallel. Some are working, some aren’t. None of them get us all the way there. Most of them give us more time to get all the way to a needed solution.

            I drive a car that I fuel with biodiesel produced from restaurant waste oil. It gets 43-45 mpg. When my kids get out of college I will buy a Tesla or the like. I don’t think that is an entire solution to the entire problem, but I think it moves the ball.

      • Kevin C. says:

        I think you’re getting a little too caught up in the example here. In fact, most times I find myself in “Bob’s position”, it’s because I believe the problem in question is unsolvable, or I am at least skeptical of all proposed solutions (being the pessimistic sort).

        You’re right that “something must be done” seems to be the base of it, the idea that a “solution”, no matter how obviously stupid, wasteful, destructive, and patently doomed to utter failure at the start, is still always superior to doing nothing.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Kevin C.
          Starting with the presupposition that no solution can be found is also a fallacy.

          As to my being caught up in the example, I think you created the example in that form for a reason. It hides the complexity of the actual process that is occurring.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Starting with the presupposition that no solution can be found is also a fallacy.

            But what if it’s not a “presuposition”, but the product of seeing proposed fatally-flawed “solution” after fatally-flawed “solution”, with not a workable proposal in sight?

            “It hides the complexity of the actual process that is occurring.”

            Okay. So, let’s go to a real example of my experience.

            Politically, I generally find myself, shall we say, “Death Eater adjacent”. Namely, in that I generally agree with their criticisms of the modern world and the Left, and with the dire problems we face. However, I disagree with their every proposed “solution”; I generally agree with the techcomm and
            theonomist criticisms of ethnat proposals, the theonomist and ethnat criticisms of techcomm proposals, and the ethnat and techcomm criticisms of theonomist proposals. They’re all clearly unworkable, doomed to failure, and likely to cause more harm than good if tried.

            Nick Land once sarcastically called me a “source of perpetual sunshine“.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            And none of those examples is in any way as clear as “that bridge will fall down”. Implicit in most of that is differing on whether certain ends are even desirable, not just whether the means will reach the ends.

        • Anonymous says:

          You should argue outright that no solution is the best choice instead of nitpicking each proposed solution.

          The flip side of something-must-be-done bias is status quo bias. Both are problematic.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:
      • Kevin C. says:

        Yes, that’s definitely related.


        And a great bit in the comments there from lump1:

        This urgent compulsion to do *something* means that psychological forces push us towards action before we check whether that action would be effective. Our agenda isn’t simply to prevent the bad future. Even if we suspect that it’s inevitable, we want to make a show of fighting it anyway, so that we can’t be retrospectively blamed for having stood idly by as the (inevitable) bad stuff unfolded. That’s clearly irrational, but it’s how we think, and this kind of bias should have a name.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I don’t think it’s supposed to be a rejoinder, per se.

      I’ve seen situations analogous to that a lot, but the explanation is usually in the nuance. In your example, for instance, Alice’s plan is obviously and catastrophically wrong- but assuming that a mistake is subtle enough that reasonable people could disagree that it exists, the situation is a little different. If Alice proposes a bright pink bridge and Bob objects that the bridge is hideous and will lower property values, Alice’s ‘Well what kind of bridge do YOU propose?’ is actually an objection along the lines of ‘You’re telling me that my proposal is imperfect but you’re not offering a superior option which we could debate. I’m not willing to be constantly on the defensive.’

      That’s fallacious in that it doesn’t address Bob’s objection, but I think most people DO have a sense that a debate is ‘unfair’ if one party has to continually bring up detailed policy proposals and the other can just sit back and say ‘Pfft, that’s not perfect at all.’ Unless your objection to a policy proposal is that it’s actually worse than the status quo, there’s a common feeling that you’ve got some duty to address how it could be improved rather than why you don’t like it.

      This came up a lot in the wake of the Affordable Care Act passing, with a lot of Democrats accusing Republicans of ragging on Obama’s healthcare fix for being flawed without offering any superior proposal. Presumably the Republicans believed that the ACA was worse than the status quo, and therefore these accusations were a dodge; the Democrats believed that the ACA, while flawed, was better than the status quo, and therefore the Republicans were just angry that it was Obama who got it done.

      In the abstract, I have a lot of sympathy for this argument. In practice, it pretty much always comes down to-

      Alice: [Displays bridge blueprints]
      Bob: Your “suspension” bridge design is terrible and according to my estimates it won’t withstand the weather over the river!
      Alice: According to my estimates, it will! If you think this bridge design is so bad, where’s YOUR bridge design?
      Bob: Not having a bridge is better than having one which will collapse at the first storm!
      Alice: It won’t collapse and you’re just hating on it for reasons unrelated to bridge safety.
      Bob: Well you’re just trying to pretend that your bridge will work and endangering the lives of others for your own pride!

      Here we see that Bob thinks the bridge is worse than not having a bridge and Alice thinks it isn’t. My experience is that this is how it always goes.

    • Dirdle says:

      False dichotomy with “do nothing” as one of the two options? Hobson’s choice? Something like that.

      The strongest use of the objection is when doing nothing genuinely is unacceptable, or at least it is agreed that something should be done, and people are wasting time on criticizing a proposal for which there are no alternatives. In this case, the most critiquing the first proposed solution can do is imply that a different solution must be sought, which is exactly what the objection is asking you to do.

      The principal use of this objection is social. If you find yourself running into it frequently, ask whether you contribute anything except criticism to the discussions it’s used in. People don’t like that for reasons that have little to do with getting the best solution. You may as well draw chalk icons and chant over them at midnight of the full moon than expect blaming others to help, so checking to see what you can do instead is much better.

      The most common objection to the objection is that it’s often quite hard to say that you think doing nothing is best (if, say, the bridge will allow veterinary access to the Island of Extremely Cute Puppies with Rare Diseases). In such cases, well, there’s no sense just pattern-matching the original objection to such cases. Remember that the person making the objection thinks they’re working in the first discussed case, where obviously something must be done, and try to persuade them otherwise. Calling their form of argument inherently fallacious won’t work.

      tl;dr: either you agree with the objecter that something must be done, in which case they’re not exactly wrong to ask you to come up with one (because you’re clearly more intelligent, having found problems they didn’t with the first plan, or because there’s a social expectation of equal contribution to the discussion, or etc). Or you disagree, in which case dismiss the objection outright.

      • Kevin C. says:

        because you’re clearly more intelligent, having found problems they didn’t with the first plan,

        Except this assumes that being “smart enough” to see the flaw in a bad plan is also smart enough to make a good one. But if the problem is sufficiently hard, such that coming up with a workable solution is very, very hard, then there is a definite window where one can have enough “smarts” to shoot down clearly “bad” plans without coming up with a “good” one.

        And your dichotomy here misses a position: when one believes both:
        “Something must be done!”
        “Nothing can be done!”;
        that the problem is both dire and insoluble.

        • Dirdle says:

          Yes, it’s possible to be able to identify flaws but not propose solutions. Let me see if I can make sense of it quickly. In the bridge example, you can propose fixes as easily as you can find problems, e.g. add suspension cables. Fixes are “patchlike.” But take another example, say, a proposed reactionless spacecraft propulsion system for missions to Mars. Here the objection “that is physically impossible” is valid, but coming up with a better propulsion system for the mission is still beyond most people. The fix is “redesignlike.”

          So if you’re smart enough to find problems with patchlike fixes, you are definitely able to propose at least one better solution. Hence, a possible cause of the original objection is disagreement over whether the problems you’ve identified require patchlike or redesignlike solutions.

          But you’re still more able than the objecter. If the answer is really “I don’t know, it’s a hard problem” then clearly that information wasn’t available to them, seeing as they tried proposing a solution. I think a certain amount of sympathy goes a long way here.

          On the other hand, some people try to reason from “you don’t have a solution -> you’re not that smart -> your objection doesn’t matter,” which is obviously wrong (genetic fallacy, and as above, a disagreement over whether the fix is patchlike).

          As to the existence of dire insoluble problems: yes, if you convince yourself of such propositions, you’ll be in a right pickle. I think if you deconstruct the meaning of the phrases, it becomes more navigable. One who says “something must be done” usually means “the moral imperative is so striking that even the known bad courses of action are preferable to continuing to do nothing;” while one who says “nothing can be done” usually means “the practical constraints are so tight that all known courses of action are worse than doing nothing.” Clearly these can’t both be true.

          Are there problems where we have to hold our nose and pick a bad option like building a bridge we know won’t last, or accept doing nothing even though it means letting the really very endearing baby dogs die of horrible fatal afflictions? Yes. Should we feel bad and keep looking for better options? Maybe a little, and yes. But saying the problem is insoluble and solving it is imperative is just an inexhaustible misery-well. What use is that?

          • Kevin C. says:

            but saying the problem is insoluble and solving it is imperative is just an inexhaustible misery-well.

            And what’s wrong, logically, with the “misery-well”? Sometimes, things are truly hopeless. What’s wrong with openly acknowledging that things are utterly hopeless when they are utterly hopeless?

          • Anonymous says:

            And what’s wrong, logically, with the “misery-well”? Sometimes, things are truly hopeless. What’s wrong with openly acknowledging that things are utterly hopeless when they are utterly hopeless?

            Simple. If things are hopeless anyway, actually telling people they are won’t make a qualitative difference to the outcome and you’ll be making people miserable and despairing for no benefit. If you discover that things are hopeless, spend the rest of your time energizing others to fight: at least they’ll spend most of the pre-doom time happy and working toward a goal.

          • Anonymous says:

            Attempts must be made, even when there can be no hope.
            The alternative is despair.
            And betimes some wonder is wrought to redeem us.

          • Jiro says:

            If things are hopeless anyway, actually telling people they are won’t make a qualitative difference to the outcome and you’ll be making people miserable and despairing for no benefit.

            This is another example of utilitarianism not dealing well with blissful ignorance.

          • John Schilling says:

            Attempts must be made, even when there can be no hope.
            The alternative is despair

            “There can be no hope” is a remarkably high bar to clear, arguably impossible. But if there is truly no hope, or if you believe that to be so, then whatever you are doing is not properly characterized as an “attempt”. It is a morale-building exercise. Those may be worth doing, but of all the possible morale-building exercises shouldn’t you maybe pick one that isn’t divisive?

            And if, oops, there was a tiny bit of hope left after all, then there isn’t a thing that must be done, but many things that might be done. One of which, far from the worst, is “wait for a better opportunity”. All the plans that won’t work, fall well below that one. Particularly the ones that consume scarce resources and/or alienate potential allies you might need later when the workable plan is discovered.

            I’m not seeing how using ever using any variation of “something must be done” to dismiss or marginalize the guy saying “don’t do that; it won’t work” is a good idea. Unless the actual message is, “We’re all doomed, so this is our last chance to destroy the evil outgroup!” Which I suppose might fall under the morale-building category.

          • Kevin C. says:


            “The alternative is despair”

            And what’s wrong with despair, anyway? (A question I have often asked, to no satisfactory answer.)

            And consider Nietzsche’s take on the myth of Pandora’s Box:

            For he does not know that the jar which Pandora brought was the jar of evils, and he takes the remaining evil for the greatest worldly good—it is hope, for Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.

            Or these quotes from Martha Crawford, LCSW at “What A Shrink Thinks:

            Hope, misdirected, misplaced, can cement our attachments to people and places that are destructive to us. Hope can dangle, like bait, with a sharp hook embedded inside to keep us waiting for transformations that will never come. Hope gone haywire lurks at the root of all addictions – and we all know the “definition of insanity” is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results.

            Hope can block out necessary grief, forestalling or arresting entirely, the sweet release of necessary loss and healthy mourning. Hope can deceive us, obscuring realities that we need to face. Hope can keep us waiting for Godot, who will never come. Hope to “get out of” is the root of all denial.

            Hope is the ally of quacks and con-men, and the sidekick of all duplicity. We cannot be tricked if we do not hope for an easy solution or a free lunch. Hope helps Illusion disguise itself as Reality.

            And much maligned Hopelessness, always given short shrift, can bring sweet relief. Giving up, surrender, admitting defeat, hitting bottom, allows us to lay on the damp earth, face down, grounded, maybe bloodied, but on the earth, and of the earth for good, for ill.

            We can breathe again when Hope releases us from its clutches. When there is nothing left to lose, we are no longer afraid. We can rest, heal up, and when we have gathered our energies, face what is real squarely and without letting Hope deceive us. Without Hopelessness we cannot embrace our fate or face our destiny.

            The great gift of angelic Hopelessness is Acceptance.

            To write without hope is the very best way to write.

      • John Schilling says:

        The strongest use of the objection is when doing nothing genuinely is unacceptable, or at least it is agreed that something should be done, and people are wasting time on criticizing a proposal for which there are no alternatives.

        There is always the alternative of doing nothing. Yes, always – calling it “genuinely unacceptable” is empty moral posturing. Really, what does “unacceptable” even mean in the face of the inevitable? And there is no problem so bad, so desperately in need of a solution, that it cannot be made worse by squandering limited resources on a plan that cannot work.

        You are correct that most people will not, in time of great perceived crisis, be receptive to this advice. It is still sound advice, and its rejection ought not be defended.

        either you agree with the objector that something must be done [in which case figure out what] or you disagree, in which case dismiss the objection outright

        You are incorrectly treating the decisions, “must we do something” and “what is the best thing to do” as independent, with the latter following the former. “Something must be done” is properly contingent on their being something that can be done that may achieve a desirable outcome. If there is not, I do not “dismiss the objection outright”, I dismiss the objection conditionally on their not being an effective remedy available.

        TL,DR: Anyone who decides that something must be done without knowing what can be done, is a fool.

        • Dirdle says:

          Yes, if there exists no acceptable solution then it follows that !(something must be done). But conversely, if (something must be done) then it follows that at least one acceptable solution exists. This is the position, bizarre though it is, of the person making the original objection.

          Certainly you can’t actually infer the existence of a solution from any amount of desire-to-see-problem-solved. But there’s also merit to discussing things as though a solution exists*, and the rejoinder “why don’t you show us your solution” is intended to remove/expose people who aren’t working from this same position. Otherwise you just end up in the infinite misery well, or you lose the advantages of the constrained discussion to the tendency for everything to dissolve into political shouting broad questions of ethical principle.

          * – For instance, it gets round a whole bunch of arguing about whether Extremely Cute Puppies deserve to have Rare Diseases, or similar bickering. Sometimes you just want to talk about bridges, not metaethics.

          • John Schilling says:

            But conversely, if (something must be done) then it follows that at least one acceptable solution exists. This is the position, bizarre though it is, of the person making the original objection.

            You are treating “something must be done” as a factual proposition which may be either true or false, and reasoning logically from there.

            But “something must be done” is properly understood as a demand, not a fact. If it is a fact, it is unknowable except possibly in hindsight. The knowable proposition of fact is, “someone (possibly myself) has demanded that something must be done”, and nothing of substance follows logically from that. I see little value in pretending otherwise – even accepting it for the purposes of debate likely gets you boxed in to a corner far from the truth.

          • Kevin C. says:


            Yes, if there exists no acceptable solution then it follows that !(something must be done). But conversely, if (something must be done) then it follows that at least one acceptable solution exists.

            No, these do not follow. Because (something must be done) is a statement about results or morality; it equals “failure to solve this problem has highly negative consequences” or “failure to solve this problem is highly immoral” (for consequentialist moralities, these are pretty much equivalent, no?). Ultimately, it is more an “ought” statement, while (no acceptable solution exists) is a statement about physical possibilities, and so is an “is” statement.

            Consider these three propositions:
            1. Barring the extinction of humanity, the development of a superintelligent AGI is inevitable.
            2. If a superintelligent AGI is not “Friendly”, it will destroy us all (or worse) in pursuit of its inhuman goals/values.
            3.It’s impossible to create a “Friendly” AI.

            The truth of prop. #3 does not logically negate #1 or #2. It’s logically possible for all three to be true (and thus the logical conclusion from them that humanity is utterly doomed).

        • The Nybbler says:

          “And there is no problem so bad, so desperately in need of a solution, that it cannot be made worse by squandering limited resources on a plan that cannot work.”

          This is perhaps another good statement of conservative values.

        • Kevin C. says:

          @John Schilling

          And there is no problem so bad, so desperately in need of a solution, that it cannot be made worse by squandering limited resources on a plan that cannot work.

          Yes! This is a frequent rejoinder of mine in these situations.

    • Teal says:

      Here’s an example where my reaction was “what’s your idea then?” and I’m willing to defend it: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/06/why-the-education-departments-new-equity-rule-might-not-be-so-equal/485012/

      A brief summary of the article is that there is a longstanding program called Title I where federal money is given to schools that have a disproportionate number of poor kids going there. But the goal of the program would be thwarted if state governments cut funding to these title I schools in the same amount as the federal money. Then the federal government would just be giving money to the states rather than the poor schools. The federal law required that the money “supplement not supplant”. Under the existing rules this involves a complicated accounting exercise to show that federal dollars are going to pay for “supplementary” activities and costs. Everyone, including the article author, agrees that this system is broken, that states are cheating, and that the federal dollars are at least in part supplanting.

      So Congress changed the law and the department of education wrote is writing a new rule which requires non-federal spending in title I schools to be at least as high per capita as in non-federal I schools. This way they can be sure that federal spending is “on top” of state and local spending.

      The author of the article criticizes the new rules for various reasons which aren’t terribly germane to this discussion. But she doesn’t suggest what should happen instead. There are various possibilities that could stand in for “let’s not build a bridge”. She could argue that the old rules are broken but it isn’t possible to get a better rule. She could argue that “supplement not supplant” isn’t an important principle after all. She could say we should just get rid of title I funding altogether. I think it is fair to press her to say one of those things (or something else) rather than allow her to simply rest on “these rules aren’t perfect”.

    • InferentialDistance says:

      It’s not a fallacy. Bob’s objection implies that doing nothing is a superior choice, but Bob hasn’t actually demonstrated that. The demand that Bob specify his a solution is so that costs and benefits can be compared; this includes the solution “do nothing”. Bob accepts the rejoinder because even Bob agrees that doing nothing is worse than Alice’s solution.

      This crops up a lot because people don’t quantify costs and benefits, so everything (even doing nothing) has a “problem” that doesn’t get “addressed”. “What’s your solution?” breaks the cycle by challenging someone to compare their plan, which gets people thinking of comparative merits rather than some mythical plan that has the benefits of all choices with the drawbacks of none.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It gets worse. If Bob does provide an alternative, Alice will find something to criticize, and that criticism (even if it _also_ applies to Alice’s design) is proof that Alice’s solution is correct.

    • Dahlen says:

      Maybe Alice believes that P=NP

      (I know jack shit about this, but it rang a bell…)

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Whos supposed to be at fault? If there is an easy fix to Alice’s proposal, why can’t Bob engage in some mild steelmanning by assuming it?

      • Kevin C. says:

        Again, I probably should have omitted the example. Suppose that there isn’t an “easy fix” to Alice’s example, but its failure mode is still clear? Where, like in the np-complete problems Dahlen pointed toward, it’s incredibly difficult to come up with an (actual, workable) solution, but easy to test proposed solutions.

  17. stargirlprincesss says:

    The commenting volume seems to have slowed down alot. If so is the new Open thread policy a good idea?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      There are currently about 2400 comments on the combined open comment threads, which is far bigger than a typical OT.

      Maybe you mean there are less comments on the main posts?

    • Frog Do says:

      For those of us with older computers and slower internet it makes it much easier to read.

      • 1angelette says:

        This is also basically the reason I’ve finally started participating in these threads at all; finally something I can load on mobile. I also have an impression that the topic-by-topic proposition is better.

    • John Nerst says:

      I don’t really like it, the fact that they’re hidden makes it feel as if they’re happening “off stage”, ruining the sense of shared attention I got from SSC.

  18. Anonymous says:

    There was some talk in the last OT about the extent to which the votes of elected officials reflect the preferences of the voters. In the information age we already have the option of letting each citizen vote directly for each bill though. Because it is irrational for any individual citizen to vote, any such system will still have to allow for votes to be pooled.

    Would a system where you can vote on each bill yourself, or set your votes to automatically mirror whatever TotalBiscuit voted for, result in policy that better matches the electorate’s preference? Would that policy be better, or would making it harder for lobbyists aka informed industry people to influence decisions actually hurt outcomes?

    • keranih says:

      At the risk of being really annoying, I’m going to quibble at the basis of the whole question.

      Firstly, I don’t think we have the technology, much less the political will, to allow for each citizen to vote securely on each bill.

      Secondly, I think it is very possible for the preference of the electorate and the better outcome to be at loggerheads with each other. See: me here commenting on this thread, instead of doing other needful things.

      However, I’m going to suggest that just as I am not a tailor or mechanic, and so I outsource my sewing and car repair, I think there is large value in letting people focus on non-law making things, or only those law-making things they want to get involved in. And lawmaking includes a lot of education and compromise, not just voting.

      If I could wave a wand and make it happen, we would select representatives to handle most of the effort of law-making, with an option to cast a vote or introduce an amendment separately. In the case of exercising that option, for that vote only, my rep’s voting power would be reduced by the fraction that represented me.

      • Anonymous says:

        I envision such a system would still include a lot of outsourcing; but rather than changing your representative only once per four years, you can do so at any time. This would probably hurt compromise and give a lot of people with no political experience a lot of power, which was a big part of why I’m also wondering if it will hurt outcomes.

    • Salem says:

      Would a system where you can vote on each bill yourself, or set your votes to automatically mirror whatever TotalBiscuit voted for, result in policy that better matches the electorate’s preference?

      The electorate, taken as a group, doesn’t have coherent policy preferences, so there’s nothing to match. It wants to increase spending, reduce taxes, and balance the budget. This is partly due to rational ignorance, partly due to well-known problems of preference aggregation. Besides which, what makes you think most people care about policies as opposed to outcomes? I have no idea what our policy towards Burkina Faso should be, I just want it to be whatever encourages peaceful trade in the long-run. Sure, some policies will be more successful at that than others, but I don’t know what they are, and I don’t want to have to know.

      Would that policy be better, or would making it harder for lobbyists aka informed industry people to influence decisions actually hurt outcomes?

      What makes you think this would make it harder for insiders to influence decisions? If anything, it would be easier, because the amendment process would be crippled. True decision-making power would lie in which bills got presented to the public in the first place. Who would influence that?

      A good system delegates responsibility for methods to subject-matter experts, but holds them strictly accountable for results. Use whatever IDE you like, but the code had better be good. Bad systems focus rigidly on methods, and neglect results – no-one cares whether your code compiles, but you’d better write it in Eclipse, by God. Representative democracy isn’t perfect, but at least it gives potential mechanisms for holding governments responsible for failure. Because your system focuses entirely on policy and not on outcome, it would dissolve accountability. Worse, you would empower the small number of extremists for whom policy is the outcome.

    • chaosbunt says:

      The German Pirate Party, a political blip between 2009 and 2013, had in some Länder experimented with such a system.

      I think it definitely is a better mechanism. The crucial part is that you need the possibility to choose when to delegate your vote and when not. For example i would like to give my vote to representative X, except when it comes to foreign policy where i often disagree with her. In these cases i delegate to Y. And in matters of Agriculture i want to decide myself, since i am a farmer and dont want anyone to decide these matters for me.

      Would that policy be better, or would making it harder for lobbyists aka informed industry people to influence decisions actually hurt outcomes?

      Why do you think such a system would reduce contacts between lobbies and delegates?

      • Anonymous says:

        Because there would be more delegates. It’s harder to take 1000 holders of 10k votes each to dinner than to do the same with 200 holders of 50k votes each. Of course that depends on how people end up delegating, it might be that a small amount of superdelegates end up holding the majority and then that’s void.

        (OP here, cba to guess my email)

  19. Deiseach says:

    Exercise is supposed to be good for depression. But does anyone know if there are instances where exercise exacerbates depression, or brings it on?

    I’m asking for a friend because with the summer making an appearance in Ireland, I’ve been taking healthy exercise! out in the fresh air and sunshine! and the past three times, I’ve (a) once literally wanted to jump off a bridge (b) all three times sat down and started crying as soon as I got back home because I was feeling so miserable.

    Was not feeling particularly bad before the healthy! outdoors! exercise! in the sun and air! but definitely wretched afterwards.

    So is this a thing, or am I just crazy?

    • Frog Do says:

      Continuous low impact exercise over long periods of time would probably not help depression, given the increase in stress hormones. Of course, you could just be readjusting to exercise, which always sucks but only sucks for lie a week, week-and-a-half tops.

    • First thought– there is such a thing as people getting depressed in the summer rather than the winter. I’d experiment with walking after dark and see whether sunlight is an issue.

      Also, you have my sympathy for having such a rough time.

      General advice is, well, general advice. If we’re all lucky, it’s something which is actually good for most people, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone.

    • onyomi says:

      If I were to put on my new-agey Yogi hat I’d say that you are releasing pent-up blockages in your psyche and it’s a good thing that it’s all coming out.

      If I were to put on my biology hat (not that I’m an expert of any kind), I’d say that exercise releases neurotransmitters like epinephrine and, I think, dopamine, usually thought of as antidepressants, but that any change in neurochemistry like this can be experienced as subjectively positive depending on the person and where they are at a given time.

      I, for example, am probably mildly bipolar, and becoming overstimulated is a problem for me as much, or more than depression per se. Exercise is supposed to help you sleep, for example, but sometimes if I go from relative inactivity to doing a lot of cardio several days in a row, I become extremely wakeful and sleep very poorly. Sleeping poorly makes me feel crappy and depressed, but it actually means I’m overstimulated, and probably overdid it in terms of ramping up the exercise volume.

      • I’ve got some sympathy for the releasing pent-up blockages thing, but from a somatic experiencing angle. This is unheroic, I might even call it un-American.

        The idea is that PTSD is a result of blocked movements (it wasn’t feasible to fight and/or flee), so part of what keeps a memory stuck is lack of internal permission to make movements related to the memory.

        It’s really important to not re-traumatize the patient so instead of going for a big full-memory catharsis, the patient is taught to become familiar with the path into and out of the traumatic state. This is system one stuff.

        For practical purposes, I’d say do very short walks. If they set off depression, then I’m not sure what to do next except to not use walking as a strategy.

        I’m assuming that a somatic experiencing professional is not available, possibly none in the area and very likely to be expensive.

        At this point, I’m tempted to offer detailed advice, but I’m realizing that I’m very unsure that I know what I’m talking about.

      • onyomi says:

        I think catharsis is definitely a real thing and you can sometimes feel worse before you feel better.

        I also should note that a similar thing can happen to me with sun exposure, though: sun and vitamin D make you release dopamine and other happy things, but for me this can, again, result in overstimulation. Hence I tend to get a lot more insomnia during the summer than winter. A kind of reverse SAD. Since my tendency is toward overstimulation, I ironically often do better, mentally, during the darker, colder months.

        In summary, we Irish vampires can’t just emerge from our bogs and go running in the sun too much without risking overdoing it. Gradual build up does help. 🙂

      • chaosbunt says:

        i can kind of confirm this from experience. When i go running i get into a kind of meditative state that brings up alot of stuff that wouldnt come to consciousness otherwise. This can be hard when it confronts me with unpleasant feelings/ideas. But when can do this in not too long intervals (via sport, meditation or other means) i feel better in general and the single experience is less emotionaly exhausting.
        From Deiseachs account i derive to mind moderation and my present ability to cope and process.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exercise has a pretty decent halo effect going on. It helps get the chicks, but admitting you’re doing something for the chicks is counterproductive, so clearly everyone is doing it for the health benefits and all the fun they have doing it and the mood benefits and really I couldn’t live without doing twenty pushups a day.

      Some of those things are definitely true, but I’m sure part of it is the same as being a vegetarian for the health benefits.

      • More than that– exercise takes effort, most people don’t want to do it. Telling people to do things they don’t want to do (or refrain from what they do want to do) is a way of raising one’s own status. This doesn’t mean all such advice is bad, but it should be approached with caution.

    • InferentialDistance says:

      I’ve (a) once literally wanted to jump off a bridge (b) all three times sat down and started crying as soon as I got back home because I was feeling so miserable.

      How long does the depression persist after the exercise? Because it sounds like this is (a) during, and (b) immediately after exercise. And exercise is physically stressful, and for those of us who are particularly out of shape, painful, so I would be unsurpised if the act of exercising made you miserable in the short term.

      My understanding of the effects of exercise on depression is that they help in the long term. That you get very little the day you exercise, but if you keep it up for a couple weeks your mood improves. If I had to guess, it’d be some metabolism thing where the consistent exertion causes your body to adapt and that the increased metabolism has benefits for mood.

    • Deiseach says:

      Thank you to everyone for the advice. It is indeed helpful.

      I think the overstimulation may very well be at the root of it, as I am sleeping particularly badly recently, and I do think it’s to do with the increase in daylight hours and being exposed to sunshine.

      I knew there was a reason autumn is my favourite season 🙂

    • CatCube says:

      I’m in the Army, but also hate exercise. There are a fair number of people who hate exercise, but the dominant personality type by far are those who like it.

      I normally don’t bring up my views, because there’s a lot of people who’ll treat this admission as roughly equivalent to pissing in their coffee cup.

      However, it’s kind of interesting when you get somebody you can talk to. I had this conversation just last night (paraphrased). “Man, I’m always stoked after PT. I sleep better, eat better and work better.” “I’m none of those things. After morning PT, I’m pissed off until almost lunch. Being able to go get a scone and a cup of coffee from Blue Collar Bakery before going up to my desk is the only thing keeping me from committing a workplace violence incident.” I think the guy didn’t really believe me, or thought I was putting him on. Well, the workplace violence thing was hyperbole, but I really do feel terrible every time.

      A rather long-winded way of saying that you’re absolutely not alone.

      • Psmith says:

        In general, productive training (as opposed to frolicking in the sunshine or whatever) makes me feel like a bag of smashed assholes. Most serious athletes I know agree with this to varying degrees.

        That doesn’t mean they don’t like training for their sport, of course, but they like it for reasons other than feeling good.

        • CatCube says:

          Part of it is that I, internally, don’t actually care about how many pushups I can do or what my run time is. I do it purely, 100%, because it’s required for my job..

          So I get the “bag of smashed assholes” feeling, but get no psychic benefit of improvement in something I care about.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ Deiseach

      So how were you feeling during the exercise, and what kind of exercise was it?

      Anyway I think it was Screwtape who talked about the (human)animal body having what we’d call a ‘pendulum swing’ — either extreme (unaccustomed good mood or unaccustomed bad mood) tends to be followed by its opposite. Also, unaccustomed exercise, mood or no mood, tends to be followed by sore muscles, tiredness, hunger, etc. So a milder exercise, with milder emotional effects, might be better.

      • Deiseach says:

        The exercise was just walking, which is as mild as you can get 🙂

        I do definitely think the overstimulation idea has merit, as today I am finding that I am very anxious, nervous and fearful – and the only triggering thing I can think of is that it is warm (but not excessively hot), sunny and bright, a pleasant day in all respects.

        And the most strenuous thing I’ve been doing today is housework (laundry, vacuuming, washing floors) so there’s no reason for me to be this twitchy.

        Definitely the sunlight. No wonder I like the cooler, dimmer days and evenings of autumn better! 🙂

  20. If you are part of a group which is (to whatever extent) under attack, have you found methods for steadying your mind? If so, what are you doing?

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      Can you elaborate on “under attack?”

      • Everything from microaggressions to deadly violence.

        • arbitrary_greay says:

          To the extent that any groups I’m in have only experienced microaggressions, and were niche such that long-term defense was never required, my reaction is to re-contextualize the object level impacts, realize that there isn’t actually a danger to my desired lifestyle, realize that most spaces that might impact my desired lifestyle are optional participation and not critical to said lifestyle, and then withdraw from them, finding equivalent spaces elsewhere.

          Then again, I’m a pretty fair-weather fan. At any given point, I have 2-3 backup/filler fandoms I’m also partaking in between interactions with the primary fandom.
          To that end, my online media consumption is highly modular, to allow for relatively easy pruning of stressful regions. For example, I visit individual blogs instead of aggregating in a feed, and then if a certain blog has a few annoying hang-ups, I only browse a specific tag. On tumblr, I go straight to the blog’s archive page, and only load the posts that look promising. (an easier method might be to aggregate in feed, but blacklist tags and terms)

          Finally, I have some go-to activities that are primarily id-pleasing “garbage” fandoms. (usually others would call these guilty pleasures) And I brain-cleanse by shamelessly going primitive hedonist for a bit.
          You can never go wrong with blogs/meatspace-parks of nothing but the cute animals of your choice.

    • keranih says:

      1) Focus on remaining calm and effective. Use the need to avoid distressing the people around me as a means to avoid expressing the doubt/fear/irrational impulses that I am feeling. (IE, first do no harm.)

      2) Identify what most immediately needs doing – which includes identifying if something needs doing immediately. Sometimes standing still (ie, if the attack is bluster and words, and not actual physical action) is the best bet. If the attack is not physical, remaining still is almost certainly the best step.

      2.a) Get someone to do that immediate thing. Might be me, might be someone else. Very often this immediate thing is either remove a flashpoint source of strife (ie, de-escalate by getting the kids out of the room), or watch for attacks coming from elsewhere.

      2.b) Check to see what the effect is of having done the first thing. Does this change the attack? Is the change to my benefit?

      3) Examine the results of the attack. Was it sticks & stones? Do bones need to be splinted right now? Was it words, which can be dealt with in more leisure? Is it on going, and if so, can it be stopped? Does it need to be stopped?

      4) Construct an initial list of possible responses to the attack, and consider the possible impacts on my long term goals. Lying down and letting the enemy slay you with the jawbone of an ass is an option. Nuking the site from orbit is another. There are many options in between. Remember to remember to include humor and mockery as tools in your kit.

      5) Consult, as needed, with others in the group, on the best course of action. Revise list. Revaluate attack to determine if a response is still needed. Pick an action and act.

      6) Return to step 1.

      For me, personally, a brief manta along the lines of commending my soul to God is helpful to keep me from going off the deep end and over reacting.

    • chaosbunt says:

      today a friend told me a story of a silly group conflict and one group member calmed the other down with the words “you can be an asshole in a smarter way”

      i am bad at methods, but i found that the better i feel about myself the less get agitated from being under attack. To spin that into a method: if you can foresee a conflictual situation, sleep well, have a coffee, do your dishes and pet a kitten beforehand. (or whatever has the effect for you)

    • Flame says:

      I’m a heterosexual man. Sometimes I read people saying nasty uncharitable things about heterosexual men online. My solution is to go visit online communities where people like this are made fun of, or at least not taken seriously, like SlateStarCodex (and communities that are further to the right). I’m not proud of this, but it does seem to work pretty well for fixing negative thought spirals.

      BTW, relevant: https://srconstantin.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/values-affirmation-is-powerful/

  21. Could someone point me at the previous discussion of favorite puppy fiction?

  22. http://the-toast.net/2016/04/18/everyone-but-cis-men-creating-better-safe-spaces-for-lgbt-people/

    It turns out that excluding cis het men doesn’t work well for LGBTQ communities. Karma is fascinating.

    • Frog Do says:

      The event organizers know exactly what they’re doing: they’re creating an exclusionary space that excludes cis men and people who object to the exclusion of cis men. The LGBTs are very up front about this, the classic example being Grindr profiles that say “no blacks or Latinos”, “no Asians”, “no uggos”, or whatever. In addition to excluding the people you don’t want, you also get to exclude the people who are going to bitch about their preferences.

      Of course, this hurts the people who want everything to be all-inclusive, all-the-time. But those people never get invited to parties anyway.

      • Corey says:

        I thought conservatives were supposed to be the ones who believed that racism in dating was not a problem. And not wanting to hook up with the unattractive; fetch me my fainting couch!

        • Frog Do says:

          If your idea of racism is such that it is the fault of one side, then you don’t have a solid understanding of racism, from either a traditional leftist or neoliberal progressive perspective. Also don’t be dense, “no ugly people” obviously has connotations.

          • Corey says:

            I actually honestly don’t understand what’s Problematic with complaining about “no uggos” on a hookup app; can you enlighten me, seriously?

            Aside-ish: I didn’t used to get why liberals thought racism in dating was Problematic, since it’s just looks, and looks are an important part of dating. So I asked some, and the consensus response was that: assuming one isn’t an out-and-proud conscious racist, then if one, say, *never* finds black women attractive, then there are probably some “blacks are inferior” memes creeping into one’s worldview. It’s too hard to disentangle the cultural baggage from such things from “purely looks”.

          • Dr Dealgood says:


            I’m not Frog Do, obviously, but the most likely answer is that ableism ageism fatphobia racism sexism and homophobia / transphobia combined cover pretty much every possible aspect of someone’s appearance.

            The funny thing is that it’s often more acceptable to be ‘open to’ a relationship with someone with characteristic X, without ever actually having such a relationship, than to actively pursue one. Because the latter can be interpreted as fetishizing the characteristic, which is Problematic as well. In practice, the ideology can stigmatize the same relationships it intends to promote.

          • Frog Do says:

            Basically what Dr. Dealgood says. Imagine if every heterosexual guy openly said “women have no value past the age of 25, they’re expired goods”. Imagine the effects on other people, especially women with low self-esteem.

            Personally, I don’t see a problem with having preferences. The problem isn’t so much the thinking of it, the problem is the saying of it publically.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Even worse, imagine if nearly every man actually did think of women past the age of 25 as expired goods, and nobody told the women this!

          • Anonymous says:

            Imagine if every heterosexual guy openly said “women have no value past the age of 25, they’re expired goods”. Imagine the effects on other people, especially women with low self-esteem.

            But the whole point of writing “no uggos” in the profile is to weed out women who have generally low self-esteem, specifically low body confidence, or will get outraged/offended at the suggestion that the profiled cares about looks/is willing to admit that uggos exist. (Recall “all bodies are beautiful” type rubbish and its more mainstream cousin “all girls are beautiful and fierce”, a lie as obvious as it is forbidden to dispute.)

            If all men did generally feel 25 is the cutoff and any passing of that age was a real exception that spoke highly of the woman’s essential qualities, why shouldn’t they tell the women they date these things? Why shouldn’t they say it publicly? Surely it’s better that everyone knows the playing field and that that saddens some people, than that widespread mendacity be encouraged?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I’m not really the type to virtue signal, but that seems obviously false. Are we being hyperbolic here?

            I prefer women in the 18-22 range but it’s not as though you have to throw a woman out of bed the morning after her 25th birthday. They’re not Christmas trees…

          • Anonymous says:

            They’re not Christmas trees…

            Christmas cakes. The (originally Japanese) term is Christmas cake, because nobody wants it after the 25th. (Apparently the Japanese have a special cake. They’re not great at grasping Christmas. Not that we’re amazing at Windsock-shaped-like-a-carp Day, which I’ve probably grievously offended against just by calling it that.)

            But that aside, I think you can safely assume, as I assumed, that the part beginning “imagine if” was a hypothetical meant to illustrate a concept.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think maybe one of the things they should teach you guys in your special classes is that truth is not the ultimate good.

            This argument might impress people more favorably if you didn’t throw in a perfectly needless, mean-spirited (and untrue, natch) barb in there. I can’t really advise this type of rhetoric, not even for venting spleen, since somebody’s bound to point out the obvious hypocrisy pretty much right away.

          • Frog Do says:

            Human societies are run more on hypocrisy than truth in a lot of things, they need Noble Lies to make them work. The point is to have the cost of those Noble Lies be less than the gains from social cooperation. At least this is my view of humanity.

            This, incidentally, is where I part ways from the formalists and libertarians, who prefer everything be explicitly stated. That’s just not how humans work.

          • Anonymous says:

            Human societies are run more on hypocrisy than truth in a lot of things, they need Noble Lies to make them work.

            I find that hard to credit at least in this particular case, for the simple reason that from the beginning of history to maybe 30 years ago, it was completely uncontroversial to say that beauty was the main thing about a woman that mattered to a man. Given that fact, it’s pretty hard to argue that this is one of the Noble Lies That Society Needs.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not really the type to virtue signal, but that seems obviously false. Are we being hyperbolic here?

            I think we are merely simplifying for the sake of discussion. “women have no value past the age of 25, they’re expired goods” is presumably shorthand for “women’s sexual market value declines quite rapidly through their twenties, with some individual variation and with women having other values that might to some extent compensate for the sexual even in romantic interaction, but past about age 25 the odds are quite slim”. But Schelling points are useful things, so maybe somebody is using the 25th or 26th birthday for that purpose. Presumably other people would set the nominal age “limit” differently.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Is Grindr really something you can draw examples from for everyone who is in the LGBT umbrella? Its target audience is gay men, mostly younger (I think Scruff is targeted at older, hairier guys; anecdotally, I’ve heard a middle-aged gay man of my acquaintance mention Scruff, but not Grindr).

        The “no x, no y, no z” on Grindr, the fact that Grindr has entries for height and weight, which Tinder does not (and OKCupid, a full-featured website, has height but not weight, as I recall) would dovetail with the stereotype of gay men as more candid than the norm, especially regarding physical attractiveness and personal sexual preference.

        • Frog Do says:

          I choose Grindr because it was the most written about example, for all the obvious reasons. There are also the no transwomen, cis-only lesbians, the hatred of lipstick lesbians in the lesbian community, the hatred of butch lesbians in the lesbian community, the transwomen (and it is usually transwomen) who go on and on about gross chasers and are thoughly neurotic about the kinds of people who they are attracted to and the kinds of people who should be attracted to them.

          I’m not saying that these people are particularly evil or anything, lord knows everyone complains about sex and romance. But the intersection of social justice framing into people’s sexual preferences is definitely A Thing. Certain preferences are allowed to be expressed by certain groups, other groups will call out these preferences, and the ratking of LGBT dating drama continues.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            “the ratking of LGBT dataing drama”

            Thank you for that beautiful image. Right when I was eating lunch.

          • dndnrsn says:

            You’re right, hadn’t thought about that. Also, the lesbians who avoid bisexual women.

            “No spice, no rice” on Grindr and the cis-only lesbians are probably the two most written-about.

          • Frog Do says:

            I take no credit for that, but it is great, isn’t it? I forget where I read it originally, probably somewhere on Tumblr. Edit: argh, misspelled dating, cause of course I did.

            Oh man, even in my post I erased the bisexuals, lol. They also have it bad, nobody likes them.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Another probably-Tumblr-but-can’t-remember-where-exactly thing: I recall reading something where someone made the point that, if it’s bad and misogynistic and patriarchal when men avoid women who’ve had sex with lots of men, get angry when they find out their girlfriend’s “number”, etc … what is it when lesbians avoid bisexual women for similar reasons?

          • Cord Shirt says:

            A transgressive reversal. 😉

            (Hey, when you’re really REALLY sick and tired of something, seeing the tables turned *is* therapeutic for a while.)

          • Frog Do says:

            As a general rule I don’t think posing things as “gotcha” logic traps is very useful, either as a way of understanding people or as a strategy for convincing them of anything.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Cord Shirt

            How did you get that comment in between two earlier-dated comments?

          • Cord Shirt says:

            Copy any Reply link and replace the comment number in it with the number of the comment you want to reply to (from the link under the commenter’s name).

          • dndnrsn says:

            I can’t remember whether it was phrased as a “gotcha” question or if it was a complete argument, actually.

            I know that some bisexual women are incredibly insecure about being perceived as straight, and at least in part that’s gotta be because there’s a lot of lesbians out there who avoid them (or, in some cases, avoid other lesbians who aren’t “gold star”).

    • Eggoeggo says:

      “To the men complaining on this thread… If you want to use a shop on Sunday, take the LRT or ride your bike 20 minutes to the other location.”
      Heck, two separate water fountains just mean shorter lines for everybody!

      “A trans guy friend of mine recently related a story of being policed at a space for queer and/or trans folks. At the door he was IDed, and because his license read “male” and reflected his chosen name, the door person hassled him, then eventually security removed him — because, “obviously, you’re not a trans guy.”
      Funny how these incidents only make the paper when disgusting cishets want to police their safe spaces.

      “Are we actually punching up when we try to make these spaces, or are we creating new ways of attacking some of the same people often targeted by the patriarchal or heterosexual mainstream we declaim?”
      No bad tactics: only bad targets. But keep lashing out at supporters guys—that always works.

      “I try to avoid wording like “identifies as” or “preferred pronouns” because it can imply doubt.”
      Those poor egg shells all over the floor, crushed to atoms by the merest pico-aggression.

      As a vile cis-homo shitlord, I fully support these programs. A list of people who are welcome to an event makes it look inclusive, but a “No Homers” rule targeting a single group for exclusion makes it obvious to outsiders that their shared identify is based on nothing but hating “cis-ciety”.
      It creates a bright line between gays and the rest of “the community” that I hope gets developed into a massive, unscalable wall. For my own safety, as well as what fragmented remains of a sane society we have left.

      • Urstoff says:

        How soon until LGBT just becomes LT?

        • onyomi says:

          Hey, we’re up to LGBTQIAPK now. Get with the times.

        • Anonymous says:

          I think you’ll find that in practice, the lesbians won’t want to be left with the transsexuals.

          • CatCube says:

            Huh. Well, I guess there’s at least one thing I can agree with them on. I’m definitely not down with having a guy jerk me off with his inside-out penis, so I’m not sure why that would be controversial.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Calling it a penis is misgenitalling, which is illegal.

          • onyomi says:

            A vagina basically is an inside-out penis, to be fair. The clitoris is the analogue of the head, and the rest is internal.

          • CatCube says:


            I’m not speaking in analogy. I can’t exactly look it up at work, but I’m under the impression that a sex change surgery creates a “vagina” by literally turning the penis inside-out.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, I know that. I’m just saying that “inside-out penis” could also be a description of a “natural” vagina.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Not in any sort of normal speech anyway.

            Why the scare-quotes around natural vagina btw?

          • onyomi says:


            Quotes probably not needed. Just didn’t want to imply that being transgender is unnatural, though obviously the operation itself requires a lot of technique.

          • Anonymous says:

            It seems like counting things wrought by human hands as “natural” is really pushing the definition of that word, even into uselessness.

          • onyomi says:

            I didn’t call the transwoman’s vagina “natural.” I called the cis woman’s vagina “natural.” The quotes are all that’s being objected to. And like I said, I wouldn’t object to dropping them.

            Being transgender, however, may, in fact, be “natural,” in the sense of “probably mostly genetic.”

    • My point in posting this was give an example of someone in Social Justice seeing flaws in Social Justice–I have hope that enough people will see that the malicious aspects of Social Justice are counterproductive and the movement will change.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The article didn’t give the impression (to me at least) that the author is against barring cis men from things. She just thinks that it isn’t worth the collateral damage (gender policing falling especially hard on some trans men and some trans women, requiring people to out themselves if they want to participate, a focus on violence and other unwanted behaviour by cis men meaning that violence and other unwanted behaviour by others gets ignored, etc).

        Can unintended consequences really be considered “malicious”?

  23. alaska3636 says:

    Do commenters here feel like their interactions on these threads are representative of interactions in their non-virtual lives?

    It is not representative of my relationships in terms of average IQ or average open-mindedness.

    Things that I follow to facilitate relationships in my life that are rarely discussed here: current sports events, television and movies, local goings-on/gossip, recent health, recent weather, and the whole “what have you been up to” category of catching ups.

    • Teal says:

      I started discussing politics and philosophy on the internet a decade ago specifically because the people I’d be interacting with would be strangers. I almost never talk about these subjects face to face anymore. That change has improved my relationships immensely.

      • alaska3636 says:

        “I almost never talk about these subjects face to face anymore. That change has improved my relationships immensely.”

        I started doing that in the last few years. Too true.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Do commenters here feel like their interactions on these threads are representative of interactions in their non-virtual lives?

      No, thankfully. I would die if everyone around me talked about politics half as much.

      Things that I follow to facilitate relationships in my life that are rarely discussed here: current sports events, television and movies, local goings-on/gossip, recent health, recent weather, and the whole “what have you been up to” category of catching ups.

      Well Jaime did a SF book-of-the-week thing but now that he’s banned it’s on hiatus. As for the TV and Movies, we could always resurrect the old LW Media Thread concept. Maybe I’ll make one in the next fully-visible OT.

      For the local gossip and “what have you been up to,” that’s a bit harder since SSC readers are spread out over several continents. Back when rationalism was composed of Bay Aryans you saw a lot more of that local drama. Plus the brouhaha over that one single mother a while back means commenting on one another’s personal lives carries some risk of banning.

    • Urstoff says:

      Not even close. My behavior seems similar to yours: talk about sports, pop culture, family, etc. with people in person. Only talk about politics online with strangers.

      • alaska3636 says:

        “Only talk about politics online with strangers.”
        That is interesting.

        Do many people on this board feel like this is their strategy as well?

        It is occurring to me how lucky we are to have a forum like this to get our political/intellectual jones…

        • CatCube says:


          Online, if things start getting out of control, it’s easy to back away from the conversation. In person, not so much.

        • Flame says:

          I worry about the broad effects of people taking this strategy though, since it seems like the internet polarizes people.

    • Aegeus says:

      Well, we’ve had a few people talking about the latest video games and movies, but it makes sense that nobody talks about standard “small talk” subjects. The internet has no location, so there are no “local events” to talk about. Commentators are pseudonymous and we deliberately avoid linking those pseudonyms to real life, so nobody talks about “what have you been up to?”

      The only things we have in common to talk about are things this blog talks about (psychology, philosophy, weird internet trends), and things that are big enough that everyone cares about it (global politics, or at least US-sized politics).

      • We could talk about food and cooking.

        • alaska3636 says:

          Have you read Michael Pollan or seen his Netflix series? He is good at talking about food and cooking. I share many of his premises regarding the production and consumption of food.

        • Dahlen says:

          Mm-hmm! We just have to make sure not to let it devolve into a big argument about e.g. the moral imperative of veganism or somesuch.

          Does anybody want my garlic capellini recipe? It’s what I fall back on whenever I cannot think of anything else I want for lunch/dinner, and it’s pretty easy and quick, too.

          • I’d like your recipe.

            I only learned about mirepoix in the past few years, and it still surprises me that you can get so much savoriness out of a mixture of onion, carrot, and celery.

          • Dahlen says:

            Alright. Ingredients per serving:
            – 75g capellini (angel hair) pasta
            – 35g parmesan, finely grated
            – 15g butter
            – 2 tbsp chives, finely chopped
            – the juice of half a lemon
            – 1/2 tsp garlic powder
            – salt and pepper to taste

            – Cook pasta in boiling water, stirring occasionally, and drain. (Make sure to stir it well, for a few minutes, just after you add it in, until it softens. Those 3 minutes or so are like early childhood for pasta in terms of development. If you don’t stir well then, it’ll be all stuck together and awful.) Best not to rinse it with cold water just before draining, you need it hot. While the pasta is cooking, grate the parmesan and chop the chives.
            – Drop the cooked pasta unto a plate on which you have placed the butter. Stir it until the butter melts. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and stir again. I know garlic powder isn’t as popular with chefs as the real thing, but I’ve tried actual chopped garlic and it’s just not the same thing, because the garlic flavour isn’t distributed uniformly throughout.
            – Mix the parmesan and chives into the pasta and homogenize. Reserve some parmesan for sprinkling on top.
            – Lastly, squeeze the lemon juice on top of the pasta. (This comes at the end because it cools the pasta a fair bit and you need it warm so that it melts the butter and cheese). Serve warm and enjoy.
            – (Optional) It also works pretty fine with a handful of sauteed mushrooms (preferably in butter).

        • Loquat says:

          If we’re sharing recipes, I’ll post one for salami eggplant pasta (note: the following assumes you’re familiar with cooking basics and know how to assign an appropriate amount of food per serving)

          pasta (chunky shapes, such as bowties, recommended)
          eggplant, diced
          salami or similar cured meat, I recommend dicing small
          onion, diced
          garlic, minced
          parmesan cheese, grated
          salt to taste, pepper and/or hot pepper if desired
          olive oil for cooking

          1. Saute salami and onion together in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add some salt during this process as well. Pepper too if you want it, though the salami will probably contribute enough pepperiness on its own.
          2. Add garlic and saute briefly, then add eggplant and continue sauteeing. You may need to add more olive oil at this time, since eggplant is notorious for sucking up fat like a sponge.
          3. Once the eggplant is looking mostly done, cook the pasta. Err on the side of overcooking rather than undercooking the eggplant – when sauteed like this with plenty of fat it really doesn’t mind being kept on the heat longer. Unless your heat is too high, in which case turn it down.
          4. When pasta is done, mix everything together and add the parmesan cheese.

    • JayT says:

      I would say that the commentators here are similar in terms of IQ with the people that I spend time with on a normal day. In real life though, I have very few people to talk politics, philosophy, and social justice issues with, so that is why I read and occasionally comment. The reason I don’t discuss these issues much in real life is that I know a lot of people get very bent out of shape when their beliefs are challenged, and I don’t want to lose any friends over my desire to talk about these things.

    • zz says:

      The big difference is that here, I get to say things you can’t say. Part of it’s the pseudonym, part of it’s the culture that tries to debate ideas on their merit rather than how fashionable they are.

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Every leftist I know in real life does nothing but quote the Daily Kos and rant about how cell phones and wifi give you tumors.
      Look, I’m not even joking here. That is literally what I have to put up with if I don’t get them onto a different subject.
      The leftists here are a little bit more tolerable, and the people on my side much more interested in talking theory than the local lads are.

    • Dahlen says:

      Oh no. Fortunately not. They’re much more pleasant in real life.

      Like, most people I talk to barely even use the internet, and I sometimes tell them about stuff you folks say. They love my stories about Weird Internet People. And then we get to have a little laugh together about how normal we are.

  24. keranih says:

    Food topic –

    How many people here pick food according to some system other than “what I like to eat which I can afford” – either eating out or dining?

    I think for this, that choosing mealsquares or the like for convience (or, heck, drive through for conveince) would count as a deliberate system. Obviously, so would paleo/vegan/localvore/kosher…

    …but I’m not sure how to think about deliberately shopping at ethnic grocers – if I was living some place not in the USA and I was buying at a store that catered to ‘Murikans, rather than the closest local-generic store, that I would consider that to be a deliberate choice.


    I am a locavore of greater and lesser diligence, with a definite preference for cheap.

    • Anonymous says:

      The way I think about food is tasty, healthy, cheap — pick no more than two. (Where cost includes time.) I almost always pick tasty and I go back and forth between healthy and cheap.

      No system as such though.

    • alaska3636 says:

      My eating mantra is more like: fuel that tastes good.

      Good fuel is usually cheaper than pre-packaged things, but it requires more planning (and dishes). One exception is that I like certified human animal meat because Michael Pollan is very convincing on the subject. (If you haven’t read his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I recommend it as well as his Netflix series Cooked. He is a food nerd.) This meat costs more, but it is good fuel.

      I have a holistic bent to food as well where I am convinced that by a disciplined diet of simple food, simply prepared I will remove unnecessary low-level inflammation and stressors that cause large organs to fail over time. I have no evidence of this; it just seems prudent. Sort of like the positive thinking of eating 🙂

      • Eggoeggo says:

        “certified human animal meat”

        Oh, so that’s what the little hockey-mask-and-chainsaw symbol next to the jewish-conspiracy extortion thing means.

        • keranih says:

          @ alaska3636 –

          Yeah, you’re going to have to unpack that one a little.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            It’s an obvious typo, dropping the e in humane.

            That is, alaska3636 likes meat that has been certified to be humane. If you go to Michael Pollan’s website (alaska3636 mentioned him as the inspiration, but I don’t feel like reading yet another hippie book about agriculture) you can see that there’s a link to a website certifying humane treatment of food animals. Quite possibly the same rating service that alaska3636 uses.

          • keranih says:

            Quite possibly. I’m still interested in Alaska’s pov, but I’m trying to not get too deep into the pros/cons of the humane audit process/competing certifications.

          • alaska3636 says:

            @Dr Dealgood
            I’ve lost patience with the hippy POV years ago; I like Pollan for being more of a rationalist regarding food and its production.

            Certified humane is a relatively trustworthy criterion for raising food animals; if you have ever delved into the Concentrated Animal Farm Operations (CAFO), it is really awful. If they treated puppies like that, people would flip out. But food animals do not elicit the same kind of sympathy.

            Unfortunately, “organic” and “free range” among other labels are easy for Tyson meats to conform to while still producing meat from an animal whose living conditions are decrepit and who require GMOs and antibiotics to counteract negative aspects of its horrible living conditions.

            I’m not an animal rights activist; but, it is hard to ignore now that I know about it, unfortunately. My guess is that time will show that the quality of meat currently derived from a CAFO is deleterious to human health in the long run as well, either because of qualities of the meat or as a result of eating more meat than we should otherwise be able to afford.

            I hope that helps. Certified human meat is fine too; but only for special occasions.

          • keranih says:

            @ alaska –

            if you have ever delved into the Concentrated Animal Farm Operations (CAFO), it is really awful.

            I’ve probably delved deeper than anyone else on this board, and no, it’s not that awful – certainly not compared to what I’ve seen on family farms. And it is possible for CAFOs to be certified as well – its the husbandry and care of the animals that counts, and the outcome of that care, not the size of the farm or the number of animals. And don’t get me started on organic operations – esp any of them that are actually making money.

            My guess is that time will show that the quality of meat currently derived from a CAFO is deleterious to human health in the long run as well, either because of qualities of the meat or as a result of eating more meat than we should otherwise be able to afford.

            Always in motion the future is – there is no telling what further data will show.

            Right now, we know that substituting lots of carbs for protein and fat is really not good. And all the tests we run have not been able to show a meaningful difference between conventionally raised animal products and those raised in other systems – except that the ones raised in conventional systems grow better and die less. Which is why they can’t make “organic” labels any stricter than they are – too many dead and sick animals.

            Anyway – this was pretty much what I wasn’t planning on getting into for Nancy’s food thread. I’ll have to think of something better next time.

    • Loquat says:

      Semi-paleo here, also strong preference for convenience in shopping – I will not drive more than 15 minutes out of my way to buy food unless it’s a special occasion. (This is enabled by there being, within 5 miles of my house, 2 major chain supermarkets, 1 hippie grocery, and 1 weekly farmer’s market, plus assorted restaurants.)

      I used to shop at a nearby ethnic produce outlet, since they had both cheaper prices and an interesting array of fruits and vegetables the supermarkets don’t usually carry, but sadly they’ve gone out of business.

    • Yehoshua K says:

      I eat kosher, and usually try to eat healthy.

      • keranih says:

        When you say “eat healthy” what do you mean?

        • Yehoshua K says:

          Sharply limited sugary stuff, a lot of veggies and/or legumes, moderate amount of olive oil, maybe some fish, milk, eggs. What would you mean by the same term?

          • keranih says:

            Limit drive through, don’t over fill my plate/overcook for a meal, and don’t eat packaged snacks or sweets.

            I grew up to be one of those weirdos who likes most veggies (not common peas, for whatever reason) so those go on the “grab ’cause I like it” stack.

        • Dahlen says:

          4 pounds of freshly-picked, organic healthy per day.

          … I still don’t understand what excuse reason native English speakers have for using “eat healthy” in place of “eat healthily”.

          • Loquat says:

            If you’re speaking quickly or carelessly, the latter can very easily slide into the former. Also, the average English speaker probably has far fewer occasions to use “healthily” than to use “healthy”, and may well shunt the adverb out of active memory.
            There’s a similar phenomenon in the health insurance field, with “creditable coverage” becoming “credible coverage” all too frequently, and I blame the same factors.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      Variety within a single dish juxtaposed with cost. I try to get the thing with the widest variety of ingredients/sub-dishes, no matter what ethnicity I’m dining in. And if it’s in a collective eating setting, (and every group dining out should be a collective eating setting :3) I try to coordinate the group to order such that there’s a maximum total wide variety.

      When I cook, it’s a minimum of 2 or more different vegetables and preferably a form of meat. That’s for almost any recipe I try. If the recipe doesn’t have those requirements, I add those ingredients anyways.
      But cooking for one is hard. So prep time/convenience have become huge outweighing factors. I keep track of which grocery stores have discounts on the higher-end frozen dinners this week. (maintaining the “maximize for ingredient variety” preference)

      In certain cities, I deliberately shopped at ethnic grocers because they tended to have the cheapest produce via local sources.

  25. keeg says:

    When I see some emphasize that they aren’t against immigrants. Just illegal immigrants. I’ve started thinking that might fall into the category of motte-and-bailey. Not the typical segment I’ve seen M&B associated with.

    • Frog Do says:

      Saying “I think this particular political argument is insincere” is a bold claim. There are reasons to be against illegal immigration and pro-legal immigration, I hold that position generally. Here’s one good reason why: with the current system, we have legal immigration is very difficult but the border is generally poorly enforced. This means that businesses still get their cheap labor, with the added benefit of the ability to report failing workers to ICE (or their other national equivalents), which allows them to outsource worker punishment to the tax dollars of the legal population. It’s a pseudo-slavery which only works because immigration is mostly illegal.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t think it’s motte-and-bailey, though it’s often disingenuous. Legal immigration to the US is impossible or nearly so for most of those here illegally now, so unless you also want legal immigration expanded, opposing illegal immigrants means you want those people to stay out of the country, not that you wish they’d filled out the appropriate paperwork.

      • Anonymous says:

        Legal immigration to the US is impossible or nearly so for most of those here illegally now, so unless you also want legal immigration expanded, opposing illegal immigrants means you want those people to stay out of the country, not that you wish they’d filled out the appropriate paperwork.

        Sorry, but how’s that disingenuous? If they’re illegal immigrants, that sort of implies by definition that the current law is that those people should stay out. If that’s poorly enforced it seems like any conscientious public official’s duty would be to at least seriously consider the cost/benefit of better enforcement. Surely “upholding the law” can’t be inherently wrong for a government official merely because he doesn’t want to abolish the law?

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’s not that “upholding the law” is wrong, it’s that “upholding the law” means being against immigration (not just illegal immigation), because the current law is so restrictive of immigration.

          • Anonymous says:

            it’s that “upholding the law” means being against immigration (not just illegal immigation), because the current law is so restrictive of immigration.

            These are pretty separate issues. One can have all kinds of beliefs on how restrictive current law is (and to different groups) compared to what one thinks is optimal… and still hold either view on “upholding the law”.

            Your argument is about on par with right-wingers claiming that being pro-abortion is necessarily being pro-fetus-killing. You see, “upholding the Constitution” isn’t a defense, because the current law is so nonrestrictive of fetus-killing. In reality, one can be pro-abortion for reasons that are quite independent of what one thinks the optimal number/distribution is (it’s quite common for pro-choicers to say they want it to be safe, legal, and rare).

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Interesting question, that.
      Two proposals:
      “Change the law so it’s harder to get a work visa!”
      “Build a wall so it’s harder to enter the country illegally!”

      Which one seems targeted at illegal immigrants vs immigrants generally?
      For it to be motte and bailey, there’d have to be some evidence the group’s suggested policies weren’t directed towards the goal-as-publicly-stated-for-public-relations-purposes.

    • blacktrance says:

      Relatedly, is there anyone who supports both liberalizing legal immigration and stronger anti-illegal immigration measures?

      • Cord Shirt says:

        These days I’m more inclined to believe there is NO good solution for the USA on immigration. Most people who support *either* continuing to wink at, *and/or* liberalizing, immigration law are privileged people who cannot imagine ever losing their privilege even as it happens. Enforcing current immigration law OTOH can only take up more and more resources that I”m frankly not sure we have right now.

        I guess as a “just barely the best of a very bad bunch” I still do. But my position on immigration is really more accurately summarized as :headdesk:

      • Anonymous says:

        I think that’s conceivable – screening out those who would break the law in the first place to gain admission sounds like a pretty good filter for law-abiding immigration. I don’t really support such a thing myself, though. The US legal immigration policies might be a little schizophrenic, but they’re roughly the right size of immigration that should be permitted.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        A good chunk of movement conservative pundits support exactly that — it’s not uncommon among National Review types. You’ll especially find it at the point of overlap between conservatism and libertarianism.

        However, as is usually the case for sensible government policies from any point on the political spectrum, it’s not supported by any actual elected politicians I can think of.

      • keranih says:

        Yes. I want people with drive and appreciation for America to come here, I think it’s good for the country to have new immigrants and (down at the end of the list) I think it’s a bit hypocritical for a nation of migrants to lock out everyone else.

        But I don’t want people who don’t appreciate the rule of law and whose first action to come here is to break the law. They may have that attitude because of poorly representative governments where they come from, and I understand that. But this is not the old country, and they can’t act like they are in opposition to some wealthy patron who lives in the capital – they are breaking the laws made by their would-be fellow citizens, here.

        • “But I don’t want people who don’t appreciate the rule of law and whose first action to come here is to break the law. ”

          “I don’t like illegal immigration, but I’ll tell you something: I don’t run stop lights. But you put me out on the road at two o’clock in the morning on the way to the all-night drugstore to get medicine for my babies, and you give me a stop light that is stuck on red, and no traffic in sight, and I’m gonna go through that red light.”

          (Dick Armey, ex majority leader)

          • keranih says:

            Heh. Right.

            When a guy with A/C repair certification in MC can earn five times as much picking weeds from tomatoe fields at minimum wage as he can at home, I totally get why people *want* to come here.

            To me, this is a reason to build the wall fix the red light, not to turn a blind eye.

            Having said that – with the rate of AA unemployment that we have in this country, and the trickle down impacts it has on society, imo it’s inaccurate to talk as though the illegal immigrant isn’t at least scraping paint with other cars as he barrels through the intersection.

          • Jiro says:

            I would consider “fixing the red light” to be “improve the conditions of the guy’s home”. Unfortunately, his home is controlled by a foreign government.

      • Anonymous says:

        I support modifying legal immigration, expanding some categories (e.g. EB2), contracting or eliminating others (DV), and creating some entirely new catagories. I’m not sure whether or not that counts as liberalizing.

        I also support fairly tough enforcement measures for EWIs and long term overstayers, though I think trying to deport all the existing stock is unrealistic and I have some sympathy for the people brought here as infants.

      • John Schilling says:

        I do, though only marginally so on the enforcement side. And part of the enhanced enforcement would ideally be directed against employers who knowingly hire illegals, because the whole “we’ll pay you subminimum wage for working under abhorrent conditions and if you complain, ICE is on speed-dial” bit, strikes me as disturbingly close to involuntary servitude as well as being straight illegal.

        I also see value in the United States having a modest population of the sort of “criminals” who are willing and able to evade marginally-enhanced border controls, defeat any Trumpian walls, and make a decent living for their families while not getting themselves arrested for anything serious.

        • Anonymous says:

          If we could get over the hump of a paranoia about national ID cards it’d be pretty easy to lock down the pre-employment process so that there would be no such thing as non-knowingly hiring illegals. Then we could move to a much easier to enforce strict liability regime.

          Instead we allow workers to show a social security card which is easier to fake than my library card.

      • onyomi says:

        Barring libertopia or ancap world, that’s kind of what I favor.

        Problem is, right now, the GOP says, “okay, we’ll think about liberalizing the immigration laws and making it easier for those here to get a legitimate status, but FIRST we have to secure the border and prove we can enforce the existing laws.”

        The Democrats say, “okay, we’ll think about controlling the border more tightly and getting serious about enforcement, but FIRST we need to do something about the people who are already here and make it easier to get here legally.”

        Both sides say, “okay, sounds great. You first.”

        Also, they don’t seem to have much incentive, in either case, to do much, since both parties are served, in some ways, by the status quo: immigrants and their children tend to vote for Democrats. And Republicans get votes by demagoguing the immigration issue, not by solving it.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          That’s not really true.

          There were compromise bills, one of which even passed the senate, in 2013, IIRC. The house eventually killed it because the self described “Freedom Caucus” and others on the most conservative side of the issue wanted enforcement and “no amnesty” and wasn’t willing to compromise on the second part.

          John Boehner wasn’t willing to pass that bill with mostly democratic support, because you can only do that so many times before you lose the Speakership.

          • onyomi says:

            “There were compromise bills that got killed” sounds a lot like “no compromise has yet happened.” Unless your point is just that the Dems are willing to compromise and the GOP aren’t. But your idea of a good compromise depends on your priors.

            It does, however, seem to support my idea that both sides may be better served politically by the status quo, since the GOP definitely runs on demagoguing the issue.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            A compromise bill was passed in the Senate.

            So, yes, my statement is that the Republicans in the House were not willing to compromise. It was not a case of “you go first” it was a case of “I get my way, full complete stop, or nothing happens.”

            The Republican leadership, from Reince Priebus on down, really, really wanted to pass a compromise bill, but, a strong majority of the the rank and file in the house would not do it.

            While the Democrats can energize segments of their base on the status quo, they would have preferred to actually address the problem.

            If Boehner had let the Senate bill come up for a vote in the House, it would almost certainly have passed. Pelosi would have whipped the Dems and gotten it through with a small chunk of Republicans.

            So it just isn’t the case that Dems won’t compromise on the issue. They will.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, again, what constitutes a “fair” compromise all depends on your priors, and on certain issues, I think the right is justified in thinking they’ve already “compromised” enough, or that what the Dems consider to be a “compromise” is really just more losing ground for them.

            However, looking into the details of the 2013 bill, it does sound like it made some serious concessions to border security, so it may be that the House GOP was just straight-up demagoguing in this case.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Some of what the various House members did was playing to the perceived Republican primary voter. And they weren’t necessarily wrong, Eric Cantor lost his next primary, after all. I’m not sure that is really demagoguery, though. They weren’t trying whip up the base.

            I think you are downplaying the clear trend on the Republican side to cast compromise as evil, rather than the necessary mechanism by which a polity addresses issues that are complex.

            This is occurring on the left as well, but it does not hold nearly so much sway.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The view on right is basically that it doesn’t matter what the bill says about enforcement, because those parts will be ignored, while the amnesty will stick. They will specifically point to Reagan’s amnesty deal. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice-you can’t get fooled again.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            There are definitely some people who view the issue that way.

            They still don’t want compromise, whereas the Democrats are willing to do so. Onyomi was saying “a pox on both houses” for intransigence, which is not true.

          • E. Harding says:

            House Republicans opposed the 2013 bill because Eric Cantor was Cantored days before it came up for a vote.

    • Yehoshua K says:

      How about this–I’m not against all immigrants, but I do think that for any given country there are some immigrants that (for one reason or another) the country would be unwise to admit, and also that too large a number of individually unobjectionable immigrants can easily become a big problem.

    • John Schilling says:

      It is a perfectly consistent expression of the view that the nation (not necessarily the US) would be best off with exactly and only X high-quality immigrant citizens(*), to be invited from the Y>>X people who want to come. It is also an obvious consequence of any basically deontological ethical system, and those are quite common.

      If it is intended as, or misread as, “Everybody who is presently here illegally should instead be here legally, why won’t they just fill out the forms and wait in line?”, then yeah, that can start looking Motte-and-Bailey-ish, at least when real legal immigration rules are taken into account.

      * Or guest workers or whatnot, but legally integrated into civil society and not participating in criminal enterprises out of necessity.

    • Amanda says:

      I don’t talk about illegal immigration in real life (except to my poor husband, who’s a bit tired of being my only outlet), because I get the impression nobody would believe that I mean what I say I mean. I can’t tell if people actually think my position is a motte-and-bailey, or if it’s just easier to call me a racist and move on.

      It’s also one of those topics where what’s right seems so headsmackingly obvious to me (illegal things shouldn’t be done, and there should be punishments if you do them), and yet also not what anyone else thinks, that I distrust myself. I try not to talk about those. But here I go!

      1. I don’t dislike/distrust/hate Mexicans.

      2. I want laws to be followed, and enforced.

      3. I’m basically uncomfortably in favor deporting people who came here illegally. I can’t wrap my head around the logistics, and I admit that I would find it emotionally difficult to enforce, just because it feels (is?) mean, but we really can’t pretend we have immigration laws if they’re not enforced. On balance, I think I’d do it, to disincentivize the whole thing. If amnesty for everyone already here were necessary to make a deal with people politically, I could probably suck it up.

      4. I want the border secured. I’m willing to take pretty extreme measures to enforce it.

      5. I’m not honestly familiar with the details of current immigration law, except that it’s difficult to do. I’m completely open to increasing the number of immigrants we legally accept from Mexico and making it easier to immigrate.

      6. I’m really against companies luring illegal immigrants into the country and essentially treating them as slaves. I say shut that down hard.

      • Sweeneyrod says:

        So you’re saying it’s bad because it’s illegal? Why is it illegal then? Because it’s bad?

        • Amanda says:

          I’m not saying it’s necessarily morally wrong (is that what you mean by “bad”?) to break a law, just because it’s a law. I am saying that if you sneak into a country when it’s against the laws of that country to do so, it’s unreasonable to be surprised or upset that people don’t like that you did that and/or want to send you back. You don’t get to claim that it’s wrong for them to deport you.

          Why is it illegal? Because those are the laws on the books? Because we don’t have an open border? I’m not trying to be snarky; I don’t know how to answer that. If you’re asking if I think unrestricted-immigration-at-will is good, then no, I don’t. Especially not unrestricted-immigration-at-will-but-only-for-the-people-willing-to-break-the-law. I don’t think it’s bad to have laws about immigration. We can talk about having different laws, certainly. (I mean, I can’t talk about it; I’m too uninformed. But other people can talk about it, and I can listen.)

          Having an official (or de facto) position of non-enforcement of existing laws seems like a bad idea. You can get away with it in some circumstances, certainly. I drive 3-5 mph over the speed limit all the time, and I know I won’t get pulled over for it. But if I did, annoyed though I would be, I wouldn’t actually have a leg to stand on. And if, after decades of everyone safely driving a little bit over the speed limit, people start driving 15-20mph over, causing widespread public problems, tolerance of low-levels of benign law-breaking has ceased to work in this context, and we’d back to tickets for going 2mph over. Or speed limits slightly higher than before, but firmly enforced.

          • ” it’s unreasonable to be surprised or upset that people don’t like that you did that and/or want to send you back. You don’t get to claim that it’s wrong for them to deport you.”

            It’s unreasonable to be surprised, but not unreasonable to be upset, especially if getting into the country cost you lots of money and risk.

            I don’t see how you get your final conclusion. If you walk into a high crime neighborhood by yourself after dark and flash a big roll of bills, it’s unreasonable to be surprised when you get mugged. That doesn’t mean that mugging you isn’t wrong.

            You confess to sometimes driving above the speed limit (I do too). Since “illegal things shouldn’t be done, and there should be punishments if you do them,” do you believe not only that you shouldn’t be surprised if you got ticketed but that you ought to have gotten ticketed? If so, why didn’t you turn yourself in?

          • Amanda says:

            This reply might not land in the right spot in the comments. I’m replying @David Friedman

            I don’t think your analogy holds much. Entering a high crime neighborhood isn’t illegal.

            And, yes, normal people would be upset. I would be. I said that sloppily. I mean people ought to acknowledge that the root of their misery is their own failed attempt at illegal immigration, and not blame the people who enforce the law (I mean, blame them out loud to your friends and family because you’re upset, but don’t really think, deep down, it’s their fault.)

            I’m certainly sympathetic to anyone brought over as a child, and I understand feeling scared or frustrated that you’ve gotten away with your illegal status for 20 years, and now someone’s threatening to punish you for it. We can talk statute of limitations.

            I have no sympathy for claims that it would be wrong or inappropriate for a country to enforce it’s laws. “Yes, I broke the law, but don’t punish me, that’s mean.” It gets especially frustrating when we skip over the law-breaking entirely and just go straight to, “Why do you hate me? You can’t just kick me out of your country for no good reason!” but that’s a different topic.

            I do get the impression though that there are people who think it’s morally wrong to deport people, even if it’s legal. That’s a valid point of view, but since I see them as having committed a crime, I’m okay with it. I could consider a lesser punishment than deportation. That’s an interesting thought.

            As to the specifics, I don’t turn myself in for speeding, because I really don’t think they want me to, and because I’m not 100% consistent in my principles. I am, however, in the process of correcting a financial mistake a company made that’s $40 in my favor. I am, generally speaking, the turn-myself-in type.

          • “I don’t think your analogy holds much. Entering a high crime neighborhood isn’t illegal.”

            But it is, like illegal immigration, behavior that you know is quite likely to lead to something bad happening to you. My point was that the fact that you shouldn’t be surprised when it does doesn’t mean that the something bad is justified.

            “I mean people ought to acknowledge that the root of their misery is their own failed attempt at illegal immigration, and not blame the people who enforce the law”

            Why not? Surely you have to show some reason to believe either that the law is justified or that violating a law is bad even if the law isn’t justified before you can conclude that law breakers are at fault and so should not blame others for their punishment. Are right and wrong made by act of Congress?

            “I have no sympathy for claims that it would be wrong or inappropriate for a country to enforce it’s laws.”

            Any laws? Can’t you imagine laws that it is wrong and inappropriate to enforce? Capital punishment for gay sex was law in England not all that long ago. What about the laws that put American citizens of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps and deprived them of their property by putting it in the control of other people with no mechanism to prevent them from stealing it? The laws in Canada that took Amerind children away from their parents to be brought up in boarding schools on the other side of the country where they were forbidden to speak their own language?

            I’m curious. Are you aware that the open borders that you reject were, with the exception of some restraints on oriental immigration, U.S. policy until less than a century ago?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Surely you have to show some reason to believe either that the law is justified or that violating a law is bad.


            Stepping in front of a bus is generally a bad idea regardless of your position on the “justness” of traffic enforcement. You can decide that the benefits of breaking given law are worth associated risks of getting caught breaking that law. But you cant argue that you aren’t at fault unless you intend to argue that the concept of “law” itself is invalid.

          • The Nybbler says:

            But you cant argue that you aren’t at fault unless you intend to argue that the concept of “law” itself is invalid.

            If the particular law being violated is unjust, then why is it not the law (or the lawmakers, or the enforcers) who are at fault? Are they infallible by the nature of their position?

          • Amanda says:

            I certainly agree that legality and morality aren’t synonyms. There are definitely times when laws are unjust, and it’s permissible and sometimes necessary to break those laws.

            It’s unimaginative of me, but it hadn’t actually occurred to me that anyone thought it was inherently unjust for a country to place any restrictions on immigration. Maybe that’s so obvious to the people on “the other side” of immigration arguments that they never thought they had to say so. I thought the complaints were limited to the misery caused by deportation or border enforcement.

            So, update/clarification: Illegal things that are morally wrong or morally neutral shouldn’t be done, and there should be predictable, reasonable punishments for them.

          • “it hadn’t actually occurred to me that anyone thought it was inherently unjust for a country to place any restrictions on immigration. ”

            A lot of people think it is unjust to discriminate against people for characteristics they had no choice over, such as age or gender. Refusing to allow someone to work in the U.S. for any U.S. employer is a much stronger form of discrimination than one employer choosing not to hire you, and which side of the border you were born in is a characteristic you had no choice about.

            Does that make the position that had not occurred to you more understandable?

          • Jiro says:

            People have no choice over whether they are a member of my family. Yet it isn’t unjust every time I give a relative a gift.

            People have no choice over whether they are me, either. Does that make it unjust emrely to own property and exclude others from using it?

          • Eggoeggo says:

            Yet it isn’t unjust every time I give a relative a gift.

            That argument might be problematic now, Jiro. After all, “If You Read To Your Kids, You’re ‘Unfairly Disadvantaging’ Others”

            There’s a sick consistency to all these arguments—I’ll give them that much.

        • Anonymous says:

          Different States have different mixes of reasons for why and how they control immigration. Some standard reasons are to protect the nation’s population in terms of security, economic well-being, political stability, or cultural identity. We probably all know the standard arguments for how immigration can affect economic well-being (regardless of whether the host country is rich/poor), so I won’t belabor them.

          In the extreme, you could imagine that opening borders could lead to other countries taking advantage of the situation. Maybe they want a more homogeneous society – they can just expel their minorities to you. Maybe they want to dump whatever host of undesirables on you – unemployed, poor, political opponents of an authoritarian regime, criminals, mental patients, uncared-for elderly. Large countries could just transfer a large part of their population to small countries, effectively taking over their political system. Aggressive nations wouldn’t really need any tanks to invade. Aggressive non-state actors would find their goals easier, too.

        • onyomi says:

          I think all illegal immigration restrictions being prima facie unjust must be the default libertarian position, especially for ancaps.

          Most libertarians don’t accept the idea that the state is the “real” owner of all the land and simply “lets” private individuals take stewardship of it.

          If private individuals can “really” own land, then they can sell it to a Mexican or anyone else who can then, in turn, “really” own it.

          Some will argue this can’t work so long as we have a welfare state, and that may be; but I think “no restrictions” has to be the default position, unless your prior says that the state is the “real” owner of all the land.

          • John Schilling says:

            Most libertarians don’t accept the idea that the state is the “real” owner of all the land and simply “lets” private individuals take stewardship of it.

            I don’t think “most libertarians” have a coherent, consensus view on who properly owns or controls public land. Anarchists, yes, but those are a minority of libertarians – and by definition they oppose government restrictions on immigration because they oppose government anything.

            I do think that most libertarians have a coherent, consensus view that we start from where we are now and work towards libertopia, accepting that this will not happen immediately. This is likely to involve e.g. tolerating some immigration restrictions until we’ve abolished or drastically limited the welfare state, and that’s far enough in even the most optimistic future that it isn’t terribly urgent to achieve consensus on ideal end-state immigration policy.

          • onyomi says:

            But it does matter as a point of reference for debate. Is the moral default that immigration restrictions are illegitimate unless you have a really good reason? Or is it that you need a good reason to be allowed into a state’s sovereign territory?

            Maybe most libertarians don’t have a clear view on the nature of private property, but I think the former is the more defensible view, regardless, for reasons such as these.

            Most people, probably non anarchist libertarians included, however, seem to start with the latter prior assumption.

          • Anonymous says:

            Is the moral default that immigration restrictions are illegitimate unless you have a really good reason? Or is it that you need a good reason to be allowed into a state’s sovereign territory?

            I think you’re missing a position. Consider immigration law as state-based version of private trespass. We don’t default to requiring the property owner to have a “really good” reason for placing barriers to entering his property. At the same time, the default isn’t that you need a “good” reason to be allowed in, either.

            Instead, the property owner can put up fences and signs for basically no reason if he wants (maybe he just don’t like people). If he doesn’t, and it’s not marked, then it’s difficult to demand a reason from anyone who happens upon it. However, the owner can choose to do this later. If you set up a tent in the trees on the back half of his property, it’s probably fine for him to come out and say, “Hey, I’m Mr. X, and I actually own this area. I’d really like it if you left. Uh, because.” Or, he can not care. Then, no reason required.

          • Jiro says:

            Some will argue this can’t work so long as we have a welfare state

            It would have to be “as long as we have a welfare state and/or we let the immigrants vote”.

      • Skivverus says:

        Personally, I’m provisionally against illegal immigration (or, ‘for enforcement of immigration controls, alongside streamlining of legal immigration procedures’) not because I have an especially informed view on the matter, but because the people with the most relevant standing – the citizens of the states actually at the border – seem to be rather more against it than for it. Basically, they’re tired of acting as the informal southern immigrant-filter for the rest of the country and want a more formal one put in place.

      • “illegal things shouldn’t be done, and there should be punishments if you do them”

        How far are you willing to push that? Most drivers, by my casual observation, often drive a bit above the speed limit. Should they all be in jail?

        The Director of National Intelligence lied under oath to a congressional committee. Should he be in jail?

        Lots of people in the NSA a while back violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the penalty for which is up to five years in prison. Should they be there? How about President Bush, who also violated it (knowingly used information obtained by wiretaps not authorized by the FISA court under circumstances where such authorization was required). Should he be in prison?

        Our current president has confessed to having smoked marijuana, which was illegal. Should he be in prison?

        Your general rule sounds convincing, but I’m not sure anyone is willing to follow it.

        • suntzuanime says:

          “Every city in the world has the death penalty for stepping in front of a bus”. If you started actually enforcing speeding laws, you would cut down on speeding significantly. It’s hard to stop treasonous public officials this way, because they will tend to use their public offices to keep you from hanging them for treason, but in principle, it would be nice if you could.

          I have to imagine Obama’s drug use is past the statute of limitations, but he should certainly be in jail for e.g. war crimes.

        • InferentialDistance says:

          Jail is not the only punishment available, and as far as I know, speeding is punished by fines. Aggressively punished, not out of any sense of altruism, but because the money is an incentive. Unfortunately, has the side effect of incentivizing esoteric bullshit traffic laws that you can fine people for breaking.

        • Amanda says:

          Well, first, I don’t think the only punishment available is jail or prison. I mean, there are other options – fines, community service, etc. And I used to live in Illinois – all our former governors are in jail.

          Those specific examples? Some of them, yes. Probably I’m supposed to feel more compunction about sending the Director of National Intelligence or the President to prison than I do. Or maybe those examples are so removed from my life that it’s hard for me to accurately judge what I’d really think if I had some authority over their punishments.

          I mentioned the speed limit thing above. I mostly don’t mind low-level society-wide lawlessness on some things if it’s all working fine. I object to my own inconsistency, but I can’t actually make myself think it’s a huge problem in practice. I’ve tried. The immigration laws being unenforced seem to be causing a big problem.

          “Your general rule sounds convincing, but I’m not sure anyone is willing to follow it.”

          Yes, I know. I’m willing to follow it further than most people, and even I can’t hit 100%. I still think it’s a valid starting point, and that you can go pretty far down the path with it.

  26. Eggoeggo says:

    Booze & Stuff Thread

    Trying to split this off from the old discussion from 50.5, because it started on a maxed out reply chain.

    I had no idea you could make a fruit liqueur with an ABV of 10-15%—always thought that was too low to preserve the fruit. Interesting! Definitely worth trying, if you can get cheap liquor (or make it, if you’re going for an ATF trifecta).

    About the flow hive… it feels like someone selling $800 self-tying basketball shoes. Like, yes, it automates one part of the job, but only the easiest part!
    One of my hives has a one-day mite drop of 300+, and signs of twisted-wing. Another has a drop of 7, thanks to a triple-treatment of oxalic acid during winter. I’m going to have to try formic acid fumigation to save the one in trouble.
    That’s the kind of thing you have to do to keep colonies alive with varroa mites around, and a self-extracting frame really isn’t much of a timesaver compared to all of that. There’s just going to be a lot of hipsters buying swarms or bee packages, getting a scoop of honey, and then wondering why all their bees keep dying until they get bored (or it stops being trendy).

    Mr. Friedman, you’re probably one of the best/only people in the world to answer a question my father and I keep mulling over.
    It’s hard to understand the economics of making mead, back when they had to burn out the hives every year to extract the honey & wax. Considering the cost of setting up hives and the relatively skilled labour, it seems like mead would have been much more expensive than other alcohol.
    My dad’s theory is that mead was mostly a byproduct from the mashed & washed wax—a ready-made mix of honey and water that couldn’t be used for anything else. Do you think this is true, or was extracted+filtered honey actually cheap enough to use for alcohol?

    On a related note, how often would a non-landowning farm labourer circa 1100 AD get his hands on a mug of alcohol?

    • chaosbunt says:

      i cannot answer your question in its full specifity but this is what i can say: mead had a spiritual connotation in pre-christian northern europe as drink of gods.

      as to typical amounts of alcohol… imagine lots and then some.
      Charlemagne was praised by his biographer as practically abstinent for only drinking three glasses of alcoholic beverages with each meal. Every Holy Roman Emperor would be asked at his coronation to stay sober with gods help. Beer-soup was a common breakfast. Monks were assigned rations of five litres of beer a day. Paracelsus praises beer as a “divine medicine”. Also beer wasnt what we imagine. Hop wasnt widely used but all kinds of herbs that make you feel funny for example henbane that develops hallocinogenic alkaloids when brewed.

      different times…

      • Yehoshua K says:

        I really hope that what you’re describing isn’t actually historically accurate.

        • Anonymous says:

          It actually is! The missing link here is that most of the beer just wouldn’t be as strong as modern beer. Beer was the standard drink at the time because alcohol kills germs (I mean, that wasn’t the explicit reason, but they knew beer to be more healthful than water). So obviously most people couldn’t afford to brew it strong and rich, they had to make do.

          However, in the case of Charlemagne and his successors the Holy Roman Emperors, it could certainly have been strong; in the same way, the monks’ ration is a matter of public record (although it varied by rule) and you can try some Belgian Trappist beers today to see how strong they’d have brewed it. (Although there must have been some limit. Five liters of Trippel and nobody will be in a fit state to sing vespers.)

          • Yehoshua K says:

            I guess that that’s the reason that European Jewish stories and records from the period characterize non-Jews as being, by and large, drunks. It seems that they pretty much were.

          • brad says:

            There version of Trappist beer you buy today was for special occasions. There is a different version — patersbier (father’s beer) for everyday consumption and it is much weaker. The secular equivalent is called tafelbier (table beer).

          • Anonymous says:

            There is a different patersbier (father’s beer) for everyday consumption and it is much weaker. The secular equivalent is called tafelbier (table beer).

            Well, there you go, then! Thanks for clearing it up.

          • bluto says:

            Also yeast dies in the presence of many kinds of water pollutants that are bad for people.

          • Anonymous says:

            The very name “Trippel” refers to it being triple strength.

          • Anonymous says:

            Other Anon: That’s what I thought myself — it’s the same word in Swedish, which is why I misspelled it as Trippel instead of Tripel. That was my point in the first place, that obviously they didn’t drink this strength of beer on the regular. I suppose I expressed myself badly.

            In any case, now that I look into it, it seems it’s not at all the reason, though: the Wiki pages for Tripel Karmeliet in various laguages are pretty clear that it refers to the beer being brewed from three different grains. On reflection, this makes sense to me, because I’m not at all sure how a medieval monk would have determined the alcohol strength of a beer.

      • Psmith says:

        You guys have heard the theory that the Enlightenment kicked off when it did because people switched from beer to coffee and tea around then, right?

    • JayT says:

      Well, all you need to make beer is some grain and yeast. I would guess that those are things that the average farm hand had fairly normal access to.

    • keranih says:

      Recall that bees are native to Europe and tend to do better there than here in the Americas, and that England’s winters are much milder. I suspect they would have been supplementing the hive production with wild gathered honey.

    • Zorgon says:

      As a fervent mead drinker in the UK, there is a strong distinction between light table meads and dark, potent meads. The alcohol content and taste are exceedingly different, and though both are sweet and pleasant, the darker mead is far sweeter.

      If I were to hazard a guess (as a consumer rather than brewer) I would say that the wax wash you mention would make an excellent base for a cheap light mead, while dark meads would require vastly more honey, and probably purer.

    • Anonymous says:

      My dad’s theory is that mead was mostly a byproduct from the mashed & washed wax—a ready-made mix of honey and water that couldn’t be used for anything else. Do you think this is true, or was extracted+filtered honey actually cheap enough to use for alcohol?

      Wait, what else do you think they used it for? Viking Cakes? Raider bonbons?
      I’m Swedish and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a Viking-age use for honey other than mead and as an ingredient in herbal poultices and other “medical” cures.

      • Zorgon says:

        There are countless example of other honey use from less… hardcore nations, however.

        • Anonymous says:

          Did those nations produce and drink mead in any notable quantities?

          (Something else that occurred to me is that I’m not sure the Vikings had beekeeping, so there wouldn’t necessarily have been a cost or expense associated with producing it — Viking-age Sweden, even moreso than modern Sweden, had few people and a fuckload of trees, so honey production may have been mostly a question of going out in the woods with a bucket and cracking open trees before the bears could get to them.)

          • Zorgon says:

            I live in the UK. We were the source of a lot of the aforementioned mead, because the monks made it by the shedload.

            We also ate an awful lot of sweets, especially the nobility, for whom it pretty much comprised the only non-meat part of their diet during periods without famine.

          • Zorgon says:

            (I personally recommend Lindisfarne as a light mead, and Moniack Castle as a dark, btw.)

          • “We also ate an awful lot of sweets, especially the nobility, for whom it pretty much comprised the only non-meat part of their diet during periods without famine.”

            Would you like to offer some support for that claim, which strikes me as wildly false? Nobles ate bread. Nobles ate vegetables. We have hundreds of recipes from the fourteenth and fifteenth century, all of them from the upper class, and they are not limited to meat and honey.

          • Zorgon says:

            You’re quite right – I appear to have picked that up from pop culture sources. Still, though, there are numerous cake and sweet recipes from that time, which was kind of my point.

          • “Still, though, there are numerous cake and sweet recipes from that time, which was kind of my point.”

            I don’t know what sort of recipes you refer to as “cakes.” Modern cakes are usually made using chemical leavening (baking powder or baking soda), which doesn’t exist in European cooking, so far as I know, until about the 18th century.

            There exist some 14th century recipes for things sweetened with honey–I’m very fond of gingerbrede, which is not what we call gingerbread but a spiced honey and breadcrumbs confection with a texture rather like fudge. But I wouldn’t say that they make up a particularly large fraction of the surviving recipes.

            Just for curiosity, I looked through the first 25 recipes in Form of Cury, which is 14th c. English. One recipe with a sizable amount of sugar (Mawmenee). One for fowl with sugar in the list of ingredients and one for quinces with honey–in neither does it seem to be a major ingredient. No cakes. Lots of vegetables.

            Skimming the titles, out of about two hundred recipes there is nothing that appears to be a cake. A fair number of tarts, but they are typically meat or fish.

    • onyomi says:

      “On a related note, how often would a non-landowning farm labourer circa 1100 AD get his hands on a mug of alcohol?”

      I don’t know the answer to this and am curious to learn it. My guess is “a lot,” because when you’re a medieval day labourer, alcohol is high on your list of priorities, and making rudimentary alcohol isn’t that hard.

      I do seem to recall that the average city dweller around Shakespeare’s time, however, was walking around with a constant mild buzz, and that part of every housewife’s duty was to brew the weak beer which everyone imbibed throughout the day in lieu of potentially unsafe water.* Not sure if this applied to the farm population as well, but considering they probably had at least as good access to grain (though maybe better access to clean water?) as the city population, I don’t see why it wouldn’t.

      *The first time I visited China, in 2002, beer was literally cheaper than bottled water. This may still be true, though I think their tap water is better now than it was then.

      • keranih says:

        Pretty sure it got mentioned here at SSC before, that the primary alcohol of the common rural people of the Americas was cider, and that Johnny Appleseed was planting cider apples, not eating apples.

        Again, not as strong as common hard cider now, but they made up in quantity.

    • Honey was the relatively inexpensive sweetener (relative to sugar, which had to be imported and was expensive). My impression is that ale/beer was the relatively low cost alcoholic drink, and commonly drunk by ordinary people c. 1100, mead or wine more of a luxury.

      Your father’s theory makes sense as one source for mead. My casual impression is that, at least in Wales and Anglo-Saxon England, mead was common enough to require more honey than that. But I don’t have actual data.

      You might see if you can find a copy of Ann Hagen’s work on food in Anglo-Saxon England. I’m not an expert on the period–for one thing, we have no A-S cookbooks–but she seems to be generally reliable.

      • Eggoeggo says:

        Thanks—I’ve ordered her book, and the previews make it look very useful.

        It’s so hard to understand anything about the past, especially when anecdotes about Charlemagne’s mead habits are mixed in with the bits about him fighting the Apollo-worshiping Saracens at 200 years old, with a white beard down to his knees.

        The archeological evidence is fascinating though. Especially since they offer the potential for economic analysis using modern parallels for reference.
        If only more economics profs were interested in history, or fewer history profs were filthy communists 🙁

        • You might want to look at Peter Leeson’s work. He does interesting research on things like 18th century pirates and medieval ordeals.He’s contributing one chapter (on pirates) to the book I’m currently writing (the draft of which is on my web page if you’re interested).

          Skarbek’s book on prison gangs is also fascinating. He’s also contributing a chapter.

  27. onyomi says:

    Is there a specific term for this? I want to call it something like the “flexible definitional boundary fallacy.”

    You believe in philosophy x. Say “socialism” or “free market capitalism.”

    A news story comes out saying “[policy conceivably associated with philosophy x] seems to be a big success in [place that’s trying it]!” You say “see, x does work!”

    A few years later, a new story comes out seeming to show, uncontroversially, that [policy] was a big failure. Now you say “that wasn’t really x.”

    Of course I am thinking of left wingers first defending and then renouncing Venezuela. Or earlier, and more egregiously, the USSR. But I’m sure one could find example of free market hypocrisy: someone thinks a tax break or deregulation is a good idea, but when it later seems to fail says “that wasn’t a real free market.”

    This is related, of course, to motte and bailey, but seems to be more about definitions and inclusion/exclusion of certain ideas from an ideology. Or about whether or not to count some historical event as supporting or not supporting an ideology. It is also related to confirmation bias, and may not always be ill-intentioned. It could be that I hear about a plan to lower taxes, and, without waiting to hear the details, say “sounds like a good idea.” Later I realize if I’d looked carefully I might not have supported it. And there’s also the tendency to reinterpret evidence to avoid changing the priors.

    But anyway, maybe I’m just rephrasing motte and bailey, but this seems slightly different to me. It’s more about playing with definiti