Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

OT53: Pel-open-esian War

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. There are hidden threads every few days here. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. Thanks to Arvin (arvinja on Reddit) for creating the ad randomizer I was looking for. The ads on the side of the blog should now appear in a random order every time you load the page.

2. Comments of the week are in reponse to the book on chronic pain. George Dawson MD DFAPA talks about his experience as a psychiatrist treating the condition; Arnold Layne talks about his experience as a radiologist; Bram Cohen talks about his experience with massage and ergononomics; and Steve B and Matt H talk about their experience as patients. A lot of people say they’ve had good success with Dr. Sarno’s course which is very similar to the book I reviewed.

3. Thanks to everyone who emailed me saying they were willing to try the pain book as an experiment. If you didn’t say that you needed me to buy you the book, I’m assuming you’re buying it yourself. If you did say that you needed me to buy you the book, I’ve either responded with a request for more information (in the first three cases), or said that I’m going to limit this to three people to save on my own budget (in the next few cases). If you want the book, can’t afford it, and weren’t one of the first three people, it looks like John Sarno’s very similar book The Mind-Body Prescription is less than $1 on Amazon. Once again, I can’t actually recommend any of these.

4. This will probably go on the next links post, but it’s neat enough to deserve mention here too: Emil Kierkegaard has made an app type thing that demonstrates the problems with comparing discordant groups that I mentioned here.

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1,039 Responses to OT53: Pel-open-esian War

  1. Allan53 says:

    It’s your blog and thus your rules, but why would the popularity or unpopularity matter to whether the rules apply or not?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This was my not-so-fluent way of bringing up concerns like the ones suntzuanime mentions here and here, but after some thought I agree and this probably isn’t the best way to do it.

    • Alraune says:

      Because popularity is a sort of holistic value measure.

      • Mark Z. says:

        “Holistic” as in “taking the whole system into account including higher-order behavior”, or “holistic” as in “totally fake and useless”?

  2. Katja Grace says:

    I want to know how important thinking of ideas is to innovation, relative to putting in the work to actually try out the ideas. e.g. if I want better institutions, am I better off spending marginal effort theorizing about ones that don’t exist, or trying to get prediction markets or something implemented somewhere? It might just differ a lot between cases, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one was consistently a bottleneck.

    A way I can think of to investigate this empirically: think of a bunch of valuable innovations whose history is likely to be known, then check how long the idea for them was around before anyone did it. If it was done almost as soon as someone thought of it, the idea would seem to be the bottleneck.

    Are there other good ways to look into this?

    • A Person says:

      Don’t forget theorizing about implementation details, e.g. searching for a “killer app” for prediction markets wherein some vested interest will be incentivized to lobby for their legality. (Example: I believe this company would benefit financially if prediction markets were legalized. Or what if you found a country where prediction markets *were* legal, and built a business around them there, then tried to expand internationally through lobbying for their legality?)

      Searching for things described as “killer apps” will give you lots of historical examples to look at.

      • albatross says:

        Don’t most of the legal problems with running prediction markets come down to the fact that they also work as gambling operations? It seems like you might have a big practical impact (though perhaps not an interesting theoretical one) if you could work out a way to run a prediction market that worked like we want them to work (creating the right incentives for good predictions and weighting your predictions based on your confidence), but somehow didn’t trigger the “this is gambling” interrupt in the US legal system.

        Or maybe this has already been done and I just don’t know about it.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          Can they be run from Las Vegas or some other place that allows gambling?

          There is a Simpsons episode where Homer is in debt, calls someone on the phone and says “Hello, Las Vegas. 50 bucks on red, please” (and then of course “d’oh!”). I realize that was obviously a joke but can a gambling operation be run that way? Or would the laws of whatever state Springfield is located in get in the way?

          • Aapje says:

            Anti-gambling laws generally make it illegal to do business with people who are in the place where the law applies, regardless of where the business is operating from.

    • anonymous says:

      Figuring out the actual prevalence of the same idea being invented in multiple places at roughly the same time. If it is high, it implies ideas are thought right about when they become possible/conceivable and implementation is likely more important.

    • Adam says:

      I have no idea how to even begin investigating something like this, especially since it involves counterfactuals, but I suspect you may see just as good if not better return to preventing bad ideas from ever being implemented.

    • While my intuition tells me that good ideas are very valuable (definitely bottleneck), their trading value is much lower than their eventual economic value, basically because it’s difficult for most people to assess an idea’s worth prior to implementation, and because it’s fairly easy for ideas to be stolen, adapted without compensation etc (intellectual property rules are pretty broken, especially for small players with limited legal resources). So not only do they not get to market immediately, I think many must simply die quietly because of essentially a coordination/incentive problem in correctly rewarding the person that constructed the idea. So an idea might appear as a bottleneck, but only because all the failed instances of the ideas before never came to light.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Another way to state this is that ideas, even novel ones, are fairly common. But “good” ideas are much more rare and there isn’t any easy to distinguish between good ideas and bad ones besides doing the work to prove them out.

        That means that good ideas and work are both bottlenecks. Especially when you consider that ideas are almost never conceived blank slate, but rather as offshoots of other work.

        *”Good” here just means that the idea actually ends up being born out.

      • Aapje says:

        I actually think that a lot more value is in the implementation than you think (but then again, I’m an engineer). A lot of ideas that get born out only come to fruition because there is a person who puts blood and tears into actually making the idea work in practice. For example, it was easy to come up with the idea of the self-driving car. The hard part is creating the technology that makes it work.

    • onyomi says:

      Another factor to consider is that better ideas are often generated in the process of attempting to implement more half-baked ideas.

      • Winfried says:

        That’s an incredibly frustrating experience.

        It seems like in half the projects I start, I come up with a much better design about halfway through and abandon my original.

        • onyomi says:

          I no longer find that frustrating because I now think of it as part of the process. The best possible version of your idea is almost never the one you start out with, but there’s probably no way you could have arrived at the better idea without doing the work and thought that went in to trying the inferior idea.

          This is my way of saying that I think doing the work to implement is the bigger bottleneck, but partially because it’s doing the work that generates the better ideas.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I find this frustrating when I am doing anything that is a one off (like most around-the-house projects).

            Work or something that I do consistently over and over is different.

        • Jill says:

          I’ve read that famous inventors often try 100s of things before something works. They must have, or have developed, a high tolerance for frustration.

          Or they must do what Scott Adams– the Dilbert cartoon guy who’s smart, although kind of emotionally immature such that he’s crazy about Trump– calls having a system rather than having goals. E.g. a system of learning about what interests you and a system of eventually coming up with good inventions for certain purposes or in certain areas of endeavor.

          If you have that kind of long term thinking that goes with such a system, then you don’t get frustrated as easily as you do if your focus is on short-term goals. And you appreciate your incremental efforts and learnings because they are small successes really. Finding out what does not work, or does not work smoothly, and why, is even a small success in one’s learnings and knowledge about one’s subject.

          • Soumynona says:

            FYI, I stopped reading your post at the mention of Trump. Inserting random political potshots isn’t the way to be heard.

          • CatCube says:

            I actually think that you’re almost on the right track about Adams*. In one of his books, he makes the point that people tend to remember good ideas that succeed, rather than bad ideas that go nowhere. He stated that he tries to come into a meeting once a month with 10 new ideas. At least 9 of those 10 are bad (and most months all of them are) but occasionally he has one with legs.

            I think this is what’s responsible for his Trump predictions: he made a wild prediction that Trump would do well and by happenstance it worked, and now he’s just riding that horse until it drops.

            *Your “emotional immaturity” is kind of a cheap shot, and I think a product of poor reading, as well. AFAICT, Adams’ writings on Trump have always been that Trump is good at convincing others and that this means he will do very well in the media and the election. He’s never seemed all that enthused about Trump’s policies. Don’t confuse the two.

          • Nuclear Lab Rat says:

            I actually think that you’re almost on the right track about Adams*. In one of his books, he makes the point that people tend to remember good ideas that succeed, rather than bad ideas that go nowhere.

            I would submit that the majority of the population recognizes this, but that some innate (or conditioned) feeling of shame for being wrong stops more people from employing the technique. Personally, I recognize that, in general, it would likely be better for me to be loud and correct ~51% of the time rather than quiet, restrained and correct ~90% of the time, but I simply can’t bear the thought of being wrong any more often than I already am.

          • Jill says:

            No, Adams is not enthused about Trump’s policies. And Adams says himself that policies don’t matter to voters. Emotions do.

            As far as immaturity, I enjoy the Dilbert comics myself, and they make good points about workplace dysfunction. But they’re not emotionally mature. They are adolescent sounding, as are many of Adams’ blog posts.

          • Luke Somers says:

            Point is, that didn’t need to be said right there – it was a digression in a digression – and it was polarizing and rude. Save roughness for when it’s the thesis; as a throwaway side-note, it mainly causes trouble.

    • Partisan says:

      I heard an EconTalk podcast (I couldn’t find which one it was) that had Roberts talking to a panel of people at a conference about alternate monetary policy regimes. At one point someone asks something like “Why go so deeply on this stuff? There’s not a way for the current system to evolve into the system you’re proposing.”

      One of the panelists answered something like “When the current system breaks down, as it inevitably will, people will look for alternatives. The ones that are best developed are what people will reach for, and I’d prefer they reach for mine.”

      This idea seems under-appreciated to me, so perhaps it suggests “think of a lot of ideas, but make sure they’re in a state that someone could see how to use them.”

    • brad says:

      In the startup world, which is perhaps analogous though certainly not identical, it is “common knowledge” that an idea on its own is completely worthless. The first time founder with an obsession with preventing his idea being stolen and insistence that anyone and everyone sign an NDA is a figure of fun (the reputation of the idea man just looking for a technical co-founder is a bit darker). Paul Graham probably has an essay on the subject. Not only is implementation the hard part, but it is through implementation that the idea is tested and refined.

  3. A Person says:

    There’s a common belief we’ve come across that you need to be some kind of super-genius to even consider doing AI safety research. Our recent conversations suggest this is misleading – you may need to have exceptional technical ability for some parts of AI safety research, but the number of people for whom AI safety research is worth exploring in general is much broader.

    This has been a public service announcement.

  4. Tsnom Eroc says:

    This post is inspired by the One Time Pad discussions earlier. Not link spamming, but all relevant to some observations.

    I guess the discussion is, if these trends continue, who cares about future quantum cryptography methods. Plenty of big banks are freaking out about quantum computing in the next 20-30 years and where to go from there, but if some other tech takes off who cares?

    Relevant quote

    “A single gram of DNA can store almost a zettabyte (one trillion gigabytes) of digital data.”

    I have no way of confirming this, but its the most critical one.

    A back of the envelope calculation is that the entirity of data produced by mankind so far is around 100 Zettabytes. That’s including everything anyone has ever said for the past 10,000 years, and the additional absurd amount of data on *everyones* harddrives and scientific computers.

    Lastly, this little link.

    What I get from this, that its hard to distinguish 1080p and 4k, and going beyond 4k resolution, and the observation that humans can’t really distinguish 120 HZ video from higher framerate video is that we are starting to reach certain fundamental human limits where while we *can* make higher density video, its a waste.

    While quite a few people fear quantum computing and it wrecking banks, why would they? If its really possible to store 100+ zettabytes, (that’s a hundred billion terabytes) in 100 grams, and it may well be so in 30 years with a few breakthrougs along the way, and we are reaching certain human limits of useful data density for human understanding and visual/mental processing, then why will we need or even care about these quantum Cryptography if we can simply one time pad it all?

    If that is the case, then will research once again go back to finding ways to make security for simple methods like variants of known ciphers and matrix manipulations that one can do by hand and are usually not recommended? Since if one had access to that genetic density tech, why care about other methods at all, when an entire zettabyte could be stored in a gram hidable under ones fingernails? Or hidden anywhere in the world a gram could be hidden, which is everywhere.

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      Want do you want use 1-time pads for exactly? AFAIK The hardest part isn’t storing the key, it’s distributing it to the right people.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Right, quantum computers don’t break private-key cryptography, but they still leave you with the problem of key distribution.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        Part of this is trying to see just how much of the news of encryption schemes and what’s published is propoganda. I mean, the NSA and every world government really tried to suppress public key cryptography knowledge. The makers of RSA wrote of being really really disliked by security agencies.

        Heck, there’s no commercial technology that can tell what someone once had on their harddrives or SSD cards if it has been overwritten simply once. I have, at best seen 60% accuracy in academic papers trying to read what has been overwritten merely once. That gives a 2% chance of recovering a single letter in a byte, which is useless.

        Murphy posted a bunch of schemes using problems that are based on NP Hardness in the average case, and possible to construct. Even if a public key is 1 GB in todays world, if it gives 500 bits worth of encryption its *never* getting cracked with any technology that has proposed. And if it *can* get cracked with brute force, the vast societal changes coming from such computational powers make anything we worry about today seem silly.
        With memory costs going down, having a GB public key just isn’t that big of a deal if one wants to store 10 TB of info.

        The government really really wants you to believe any algorithm can be broken by its super duper quantum computer, when that’s very likely not to be the case.

        And if all public-key encryption schemes are broken, I actually don’t think it will be that horrible. Banks and places like amazon will just mail really really cheap OTP flash drives. So the most important places will still be secure. And I am sure something would be found for the embarassing websites people visit.Or society will just decide not to care. Most of soceity dosen’t already.

        • John Colanduoni says:

          With memory costs going down, having a GB public key just isn’t that big of a deal if one wants to store 10 TB of info.

          If all that needed to scale up was storage, sure. All asymmetric encryption algorithms are extremely slow (relative so symmetric algorithms), and a 1GB public key for any of them would take incredible amounts of time to encrypt anything. Even 4KB keys for RSA can make session negotiation quite slow (relatively speaking).

          The barrier used by asymmetric encryption is all based off of an asymptotic advantage: working within the bounds of the system (i.e. only encrypting and decrypting what you are supposed to given the keys shared with you) scales much better than breaking the system, as a function of key size. This way, even if computers get much faster and breaking your existing key length is now feasible you can just make the key size bigger, and once again your adversary’s job is infeasible while your task is about as hard as it was before.

          Quantum computing (more specifically Shor’s algorithm) breaks this asymmetry for most asymmetric encryption algorithms. Now both playing by the rules and breaking them scale at similar rates. As a result, if your computer can routinely do the encryption, a quantum computer of similar size can routinely break it.

          In theory, if we saw some dramatic increase in conventional computing power that was widely distributed at the right time, and quantum computers got stuck in the same place for long enough after becoming practical (both of which are extremely unlikely) you could continue to extend the key size and use the existing algorithms. Quantum computers have a built in scaling issue (usually decoherence), but we also need small, weak computers to be able to perform the encryption (e.g. a smartphone) without big ones (e.g. supercomputers) being able to break it, so this will likely not save these algorithms.

          In any case, it seems more prudent to design algorithms to be specifically resistant to quantum computers and use them than pray that no muse speaks in a scientist’s ear and pushes the classical/quantum computer power ratio in the wrong direction.

    • Murphy says:

      Quantum cryptography isn’t such a big deal.

      Quantum comptuters have an advantage in a class of problems called BQP. (bounded error quantum polynomial time)

      Some public key crypto systems use BQP problems but there’s a number of quantum-resistant systems:

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Quantum cryptography and quantum computers are distinct (apologies if you know this, it’s not clear from your comment). Quantum computers are important to cryptography because they can break e.g. cryptosystems based on prime factorisation. Quantum cryptography (specifically quantum key distribution) uses quantum mechanics to transmit a key in a way such that any malicious third party eavesdropping on the communication is detected, and any part of the key they have information about is ignored.

        • Murphy says:

          Sorry if I wasn’t clear, I was talking about quantum computing applications for cryptanalysis which while effective against a number of current cryptosystems isn’t such a big deal because we can just switch to different algorithms.

          Quantum cryptography does allow some neat new possibilities for secure communication.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        Seeing these algorithms, the jist of them seems to be a large increase in key size for the same level of security with classical computing. While these were prohibitive in the 70’s and 80’s, that dosen’t seem to be that big of an issue today. Having a 1 MB key size isn’t that large of a deal if terabytes of information rely on it. Heck, having a 1GB key isn’t that big of a deal anymore if its also immune to known-plaintext attacks and what you need to hide is important.

      • John Colanduoni says:

        It is, in that an unexpected advance could render the majority of the world’s non-military communication readable and forgeable with little time to react. Propagation of new standards takes forever, especially for the institutions which are most likely to be affected by this (banks, governments, etc.). There are known, glaring flaws in some older versions of SSL/TLS that were outed a long time ago, but there are still implementations in the wild which have not upgraded.

        Even if doomsday is 20 years from now or more, we need to get started adding support for quantum-resistant cryptography now if we want every computer, smartphone, server, and mainframe to support it by the time it becomes necessary.

    • Zakharov says:

      One of the big advantages of public-key cryptography is that it allows secure communication over an insecure channel. OTP crypto requires the use of a secure channel to transmit the pad.

    • Nornagest says:

      “A single gram of DNA can store almost a zettabyte (one trillion gigabytes) of digital data.”

      I have no way of confirming this, but its the most critical one.

      It’s true, but to actually encode that kind of data into a gram of DNA — as opposed to the much more redundant and much more informationally modest format of actual chromosomes — and then pull it back out, both in a reasonable timeframe, you need molecular nanotechnology. Not a particularly advanced form of it, but molecular nanotech nonetheless.

      At which point you have bigger problems.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is utter nonsense. Let me clear this up:

      Alice and Bob want to communicate confidentially, with Eve listening in on their channel. They want Eve to be unable to understand their communication. For this post, we will assume that Eve is unable to tamper with messages, she can only read them.

      Now how secure do they want the crypto on their communication to be? (1) Secure against current tech and for five years, against nation state Eve, (2a) make that fifty years, not using quantum computers, (2b) fifty years, using quantum computers if possible, (3) fuck it, against future superintelligent Eve, using one future light-cone of computronium until heat-death.

      Setting A “symmetric”: Alice and Bob have securely exchanged a shared secret before, maybe when they met in a bar.

      Solution: Use current symmetric algorithms (also called “cyphers”). Maybe take 256bit keys, that can be easily written on a piece of paper. The scientific community is pretty sure that current algorithms like AES are secure against (2b). We are pretty sure that current hardware can, without perceptible performance problems, secure against (3). We are medium-sure that trivial modifications (longer keys) of modern algorithms are secure against (3). Quantum does not meaningfully help against symmetric crypto.

      Stupid approach, because strictly worse: Use one-time pads, exchange gigabytes of shared secret. Note: If you want to be better than AES/symmetric crypto, then you cannot use pseudorandom numbers, but need physical random numbers. This is expensive.

      Setting B “asymmetric”: Alice and Bob have both printed their public keys on their business cards. They exchanged cards once, when meeting in a bar (note: for this very purpose infosec people always have their public keys printed on their business cards).

      Answer: Against (1) and (2a), use current standard algos, like RSA or your favorite elliptic curve. We are pretty sure that this is secure.

      Against (2b), we may have a problem. Read about post-quantum cryptography. There are various proposals, primarily lattice-based. We are, at best, not-quite-sure that these are secure against (2b), not to speak of (3). This is a very active field of research, and it is urgent to deploy something if we want to ensure confidentiality for 50 years against nation states, which is actually a reasonable demand for e.g. diplomatic communications or dissidents.

      By the way, it is enormously cool that we can get “secure for 50 years, assuming forseeable technological progress”.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        Symmetric keys were the only way to do things in the 70’s and 80’s when people still had to transmit Megabytes of information over time and memory was expensive. Its a very very different story today where a TB is 20 bucks.

        Let me phrase it this way. Do you think that if, in an alternate timeline, made an invention in the 1940’s where a Yottabyte of information could be easily stored and filled with random OTP data academics would have even bothered with clever NP-Hard symmetric private key encryption? The only research deemed worthy would be trying to make non-tech solutions better.

        Or, even public key encryption if it was on the cheap. Its no longer an issue managing trillions of datapoints and keeping track of the keys. We have the hardware and algorithms to handle that much managing now quickly.

        Its not expensive to generate 1 Gb a second of random data. And considering how quantum theory has shown that literally everything down to a certain decimal point is considered random, I highly doubt that the random number generators with research will fail at the task of producing data fast enough, especially with statistical smoothing techniques. Even if you have a source that is 95% biased to heads, all you need are 40 machines/measurements to get near 50/50 odds with the dumb statistical smoothing tech of simply having a 0/1 for heads/tails and couting evens as the final heads and odds for the final tails.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          No spy is going to care about private key encryption in a few years when you can just store everything you need in a few cells in your body, which is going to be literally untrackable without killing the entire organism.

        • Anonymous says:

          >clever NP-Hard symmetric private key encryption?

          This is so wrong that it is not even funny.

          Firstly, “symmetric public key encryption” is an oxymoron. There is a distinction between “symmetric encryption”, aka ciphers, aka the stuff where you share a secret, which dates back to e.g. Ceasar cipher. “Public key encryption” is the modern stuff involving prime numbers or elliptic curves. The words “symmetric encryption”, aka ciphers, and “public key encryption”, aka asymmetric crypto, are, by definition, antonym: These words only exist in order to mean opposite things.

          Secondly, our known public key algorithms are NOT believed to be NP-hard (see Informally, NP-hard means “at least NP-complete”. Breaking public key crypto is believed to not be as easy as P, but much, much easier than e.g. SAT, the quintessential NP-complete problem.

          >Let me phrase it this way. Do you think that if, in an alternate timeline, made an invention in the 40’s where a Yottabyte of information could be easily stored and filled with random OTP data academics would have even bothered with clever [stuff]?

          YES. Before we go to wonderland, lets restrict to a single class of ciphers: steam-ciphers, like e.g. AES-CTR. A stream-cipher is like a random number generator: It takes in a secret key and outputs an effectively infinite sequence of bits, the stream. It is possible to quickly query “give me one Megabyte of the stream, starting at position 10^30”. The cipher is secure, if the following property holds: Without knowledge of the secret key, it is computationally infeasible to distinguish between a cipher-stream and a random sequence.

          A stream-cipher is then used just like a one-time-pad, with the advantage that we can get away with storing and exchanging much less key data. So a stream-cipher can be viewed as a compressed one-time-pad.

          Modern stream-ciphers are believed to be secure against opponents that are computationally ridiculously powerful, including quantum computers. Your wifi-encryption uses a stream cipher; however, for stupid reasons, the protocol and chosen stream-ciphers in wifi suck. The people who wrote the specs for WEP and WPA should have known better.

          Now, let’s go to wonderland: Digital storage and physical distribution of data is cheap since the 30s. Public key encryption, and all asymmetric crypto, is invented in 2010.

          What changes to the better?

          Well, the enigma machine is obsolete, because one-time-pads are used. Certain attacks, i.e. stealing codebooks from sunk submarines, still work.

          At some point in the 70s, 80s or 90s stream ciphers become “good enough” to replace one-time-pads in certain niche situations. Their biggest advantage is that the key material fits into a persons brain. This is awesome for spies, diplomats and dissidents: The police can grab or covertly copy your stash of OTPs, but it is much harder to extract it from your brain, especially if they don’t know beforehand whether you really are a spy/dissident, or cannot torture you because you are a diplomat.

          What changes to the worse?
          Symmetric crypto is an administrative and opsec nightmare: You have to know, beforehand, with whom you want to communicate, and securely exchange OTP/symmetric keys. This simply does not scale: The number of out-of-band secured transaction is quadratic in the size of the network of people who want to exchange messages. Did you read “out-of-band”? Out-of-band means, by definition, that you cannot use cryptographic methods to secure the transaction: You have to meet up in person, verify that you are really talking with the right person, and exchange OTP/symmetric keys. Then you have to keep all the OTP/symmetric keys secure. If you want to get rid of the quadratic scaling, then you can either go for a restrictive network topology (you cannot talk to everybody anymore), or you open yourself up to the “somebody stole the codebook from the submarine”-attacks. The expensive part is not “exchange OTP/symmetric keys” but rather “meet up in person”.

          Now, in 2010, finally, asymmetric, aka public key, crypto is invented. Public key crypro is SLOW, meaning you can only encrypt very small messages. Luckily, this doesn’t matter. People use public key crypto only for encrypting one specific type of data: Symmetric keys, aka compressed OTPs. This is sometimes called “hybrid encryption”, and is the only kind of encryption in real-world use.

          Suddenly the administrative and OPSEC nightmares go away: The number of required out-of-band transactions only scales (log-) linearly with the number of participants in the network. This is awesome. Because of hybrid schemes, OTPs go the way of the Dodo: asymmetrically encrypting a OTP is too slow, but you can cheaply asymmetrically encrypt symmetric keys, aka compressed OTPs.

          You see, the difference between “public key” vs “symmetric” is not about security, but about administrative and OPSEC overhead. And it is a world of difference.

          The price we currently pay is that public key crypto is slower and less secure than symmetric crypto, especially versus future opponents with access to quantum computers. Slower is solved by using hybrid schemes and cheap microprocessors. Less secure against classical computers is solved by longer keys, i.e. throwing cycles and bytes at the problem. Less secure against quantum is harder; people are working on this.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            “Now, in 2010, finally, asymmetric, aka public key, crypto is invented.”

            2010? Don’t you mean 1977? (Or 1973 if you count the version concealed by GCHQ until 1997).

          • Anonymous says:

            >2010? Don’t you mean 1977?
            In the real world, yes.
            I was refering to Tsnom Eroc’s alternate timeline, aka wonderland, where ultra-cheap data storage and physical transmission is invented before public key crypto.

      • brad says:

        I was banging my head against the wall in the last open thread on this issue. Even though it drives me up a wall, I guess we should be grateful for a naturally occurring anti-shibboleth.

    • albatross says:

      One-time pads don’t solve any of the problems raised by quantum computers.

      Quantum computers will leave symmetric algorithms like AES intact. (Using Grover’s algorithm, you can search a 256-bit keyspace in 2^{128} steps, but that’s plenty to make it impossible in practice.) So once you and I share a 256-bit key, we can communicate securely even in a world full of quantum-computers-wielding attackers.

      The thing quantum computers threaten is public key algorithms, which let you establish a shared key with me, when we’ve never met before and don’t start out sharing any information. When you use https to go to a website you’ve never visited before, you are using public key crypto (RSA or EC Diffie-Hellman, mostly) to agree on a symmetric key, and then using that key to encrypt your communications using some algorithm like AES. There’s an algorithm on quantum computers that can break all the commonly-used public key algorithms. So what this threatens is the ability to establish a shared secret key with someone with whom you have never had any arrangements before. (Worse, an attacker who’s recording encrypted traffic now can wait until he has a sufficiently powerful quantum computer, and then break your public key algorithms and read today’s traffic.)

      A one-time pad solves the wrong problem–I don’t need to share terabytes of random data with you, just 256 bits, and then we can communicate securely from then forward. But sharing that 256 bits with every single person with whom you might ever want to communicate is a huge practical problem. That’s why people are working on public key algorithms that are quantum-resistant. There are several proposed algorithms out there that aren’t vulnerable to Shor’s algorithm or any other known quantum attack, but they generally have bad performance–huge keys, slow encryption or decryption, huge ciphertexts, limited numbers of uses per key, not all ciphertexts can be decrypted, etc.

      But one-time pads don’t do anything for that problem. Nor, for the same reason, does quantum key distribution.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Why doesn’t quantum key distribution solve the problem of key distribution?

        • brad says:

          QKD is not secure against an active man in the middle attack, only a passive one. You still need a shared secret to authenticate the channel. On top of that I’m not sure if the entanglement necessary survives optical switches, but at the very least it requires an all optical path.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            What’s the difference? As I understand it (I’m not a cryptographic expert at all) the point of QKD (at least BB84) is that it is physically impossible for a third party to record the information sent without changing it.

          • brad says:

            The man in the middle (Mallory) cuts the fiber optic connection and terminates both sides to his own machines. He talks to Alice, and Alice doesn’t notice anything is wrong because she is communicating securely with Mallory, no one is eavesdropping on the connection which would collapse it. Same thing with Bob. Alice and Bob have no way of knowing that they are both talking to Mallory instead of each other. All they know is that they are communicating securely with someone (i.e. only one person has read the messages they are sending.)

            In order to avoid this problem they either need a shared secret to authenticate each other (proof of which Mallory can’t fake) or they need to use public key cryptography. If they use public key cryptography they need a way to get each other’s public keys which is nearly as hard a problem as obtaining each others private keys in the presence of Mallory.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            OK, thanks.

          • John Colanduoni says:

            There are some proposals for QKD with authentication schemes that are at the very least resistant to Shor’s algorithm (if not quantum adversaries in general). There’s an example here.

          • brad says:

            From that link: “Assuming A and B have access to an
            insecure quantum channel and share a secret, classical
            random key”.

            I remain puzzled as to what problem QKD solves.

        • Moshe Zadka says:

          Assume quantum computers are super-expensive. The mob can probably afford one (rob enough banks), but I can’t. We need anti-quantum-technology, not quantum technology 🙂

  5. Curious says:

    I notice several commenters here recommending psychedelic drugs, both for fun and pseudo-therapeutically. What would you suggest as the best online resources to find out more about these substances? Things like dosages, sourcing & verification, side-effects and so on.

    • Virbie says:

      Erowid is pretty good. I have a pretty big social network of people who use different kinds of drugs though, so I don’t know whether Erowid is good as a sole source of information.

    • Octapode says:

      My three personal reccomendations are Erowid, Bluelight and Tripsit. I personally rely on all three for my own safety when taking drugs, and have found them to be very valuable for them. A brief description of each:

      Erowid is a repository for drug information, including dosage, effects, legal and health matters, links to external articles or hosted detailed articles on topics relevant to the particular drug, as well as a selection of personal experiences with each drug. In my experience, it’s very accurate for established drugs, but deliberately does not cover relatively unkown “research chemicals”.

      Bluelight is a forum dedicated to harm reduction related to drug use. It has dedicated subforums for different classes of drugs, as well as for regional topics. In addition, it has a large number of archived guides to detailed explanations of various aspects of drug use. In my experience, the users are extremely friendly, knowledgable about all varieties of drugs, and there are a fair number of users with detailed pharmacological knowledge, if that sort of thing interests you. The forum also has a fairly healthy social side, though discussion does tend to fairly heavily revolve around drug use, as would be expected. Bluelight is great for general advice, asking specific questions, checking for warnings on things such as bad batches that may be going around near you (less relevant for psychedelics usually, although things like NBOMe’s or 2C-B-FLY sold as 2C-B do happen from time to time) and just general information in the archived FAQs.

      Tripsit is another general drugs information repository, though it is a lot cleaner than Erowid and just gives a keyword based effects profile, dose, duration, and a little mention towards risks such as addictiveness. Tripsit also has a mobile app, and a chat service including a channel specifically for people having bad drug experiences. In my experience it’s a good place to quickly check something like dosage or timing, and their massive chart on drug interactions is very handy.

      Hope that helps.

  6. Rachael says:

    Opinions on adrenal fatigue? Nonexistent condition made up to sell books and supplements, or real condition deserving more research?
    How about candida overgrowth?

    • Finger says:

      I’ve done a fair amount of reading on candida overgrowth and I seen no reason why it should not be legit. It only makes sense that with the proliferation of antibiotics we’d see people’s gut get filled with fungi instead. We know Candida can overgrow on your tongue, on your ass, or in your pussy so why not in your digestive system? I had resistant jock itch that was not clearing up with standard Dr prescribed treatments. I spent several days following a candida diet book and consuming garlic, coconut oil, and peppermint oil (all antifungals if the interwebs are to be trusted) plus probiotics. Result: jock itch got better, and I think I noticed less bloated digestion, improved mood, and improved sleep. And that was only with a ~3 day candida fast.

      I think for a lot of this alternative medicine stuff, you have to realize that there’s very little incentive for the mainstream medical community to look in to it. First, it’s bad for your career because alternative medicine is “woo” in the mind of other academics and doesn’t look good on your resume. And second, drug companies don’t have a clear opportunity to make money off of it. It’s hard to write a commercial for “change your diet to starve the fungus in your gut over a multi month period in order to reduce chronic inflammation and live a little longer”.

      Sometimes I wonder if the real damage done by homeopathy has not been ripping people off but discrediting the field of alternative medicine in general. The idea that diluting substances more makes them stronger is obviously bunk, but every other alternative medicine thing I’ve looked in to has seemed way more plausible than homeopathy to me once you keep in mind that “no studies support it” often means it simply hasn’t been investigated through official channels.

      I see alternative medicine vs mainstream medicine as being a tribal situation very similar to the red vs blue one in politics–each tribe has valid points and also major flaws. It’s possible I’m biased here though, because I’ve solved multiple chronic health problems that know-it-all, domineering doctors totally failed to make progress on through diligent internet research–I kinda have it out for the medical establishment a bit.

      • Murphy says:

        Drug companies aren’t the only ones running research trials, there’s a lot of academics.

        All the standard arguments about not being able to monetize it also apply to lots of other things which never the less get proper RCT’s.

        There does appear to be some RCT’s related to candida and peppermint

        and garlic:


        There was no evidence of a difference between the proportion of cases in the garlic and placebo groups (76 versus 90%; relative risk, RR 0.85; 95% confidence interval, 95% CI 0.67-1.08), in the mean colony counts in both groups (ratio of geometric means of candidal colony counts 0.63; 95% CI 0.39-10.03; P = 0.74), or difference in the number of women reporting abnormal vaginal symptoms during the 2 weeks before menstruation (RR 1.03; 95% CI 0.67-1.58; P = 0.91). The garlic group reported more adverse effects (83% compared 43% in the placebo group; difference in proportions 39%; 95% CI 17-%; P < 0.01).

        • Finger says:

          Sure, I wasn’t claiming there were 0 RCTs, and I applaud those researchers who do the work of investigating alternative medicine claims. I’m warning against prematurely dismissing alternative medicine on account of “alternative medicine seems hokey”, or being unwilling to do simple safe self-experiments like cutting sugar from your diet and eating lots of coconut oil to see if it improves whatever symptoms you’re experiencing because the Cochrane review isn’t 100% sure this will solve your problem.

          The garlic study kinda illustrates my point. I’m not a statistician so please tell me if I’m getting this wrong. Looks like the data suggests the possibility that oral garlic decreases the geometric means of vaginal colony counts by as much as 37% (decently big effect size), but there weren’t enough participants in the study to rule out this occurring by chance, so the researchers say there is “no evidence” because their result is not statistically significant. This supports my point in that there was not funding available to get enough participants in order to find anything statistically significant. Also, I never claimed that oral garlic might help your vagina, only your gut. I think if anything I consider these effect sizes surprisingly large given the indirect method of action. The peppermint link also works with my point as it seems you didn’t find a study that investigated peppermint ingestion (note that Amazon sells many peppermint-containing products sold to help digestion with many more reviews on them–but reading Amazon reviews is “not scientific” so why waste your time?)

          • Murphy says:

            Where is your 37% figure coming from?
            The sample size doesn’t seem too bad and the results aren’t even vaguely in the direction of significance.

            It’s all coin-flip level p values.

            Reviews have the problem that they’re as likely to be marketing as anything else and long experience has shown that self-selected testimonials tend to provide really really awful data that doesn’t tend to correspond to reality.

            If you went off testimonials/reviews then it would be easy to support claims that faith healers can make the blind see and the deaf hear.

            part of the problem is that there’s an infinite number of vaguely plausible hypothesis to test, not enough time/people to test them all and an endless horde of snake-oil salesmen screaming that while of course *that* snake oil sold by their competitor is fake, BIG PHARMA has suppressed research into their amazing brand spanking new oil which everyone should buy today before anyone can get around to testing it.

          • Finger says:

            I’m not saying trust amazon reviews blindly, I’m saying treat amazon reviews for an alternative medicine product as bayesian evidence same as you would do for any other product. “self-selected testimonials tend to provide really really awful data that doesn’t tend to correspond to reality.” – so I guess you generally ignore Amazon reviews when buying products on Amazon then?

            Check out the Amazon reviews for ouija boards, there aren’t really sincere testimonials that they actually work. Find something that we KNOW FOR SURE is complete bunk, that smart seeming people on Amazon are giving credible sounding positive reviews to, and maybe I’ll reconsider.

            “ratio of geometric means of candidal colony counts 0.63”: 1 – 0.63 = 0.37

            “It’s all coin-flip level p values.” – which means either a small effect size or a small sample size. Looking at the effect sizes you can see that they are decently large, hence the sample must have been small.

            “part of the problem is that there’s an infinite number of vaguely plausible hypothesis to test” – yes, but gaining popularity within the alternative medicine community constitutes some level of filtering. The same way bad restaurants go out of business and good restaurants stay in business.

    • Jill says:

      I think they are both real conditions but they are frequently over-diagnosed. I like and use alternative medicine more than I use traditional medicine. However, some of it is just incorrect and without any research evidence to back it up. Candida overgrowth especially.

      If you look at the list of symptoms that are said to be symptoms of candida overgrowth, the list is miles long, and all of the symptoms could easily be caused by some other condition. It’s as if the herb companies are determined to sell herbal remedies for candida to every person on earth, because everyone has some of these symptoms.

      Naturopaths and holistic M.D.’s vary widely, from one to another, on what treatments they know about and recommend. So it can be challenging to find someone competent.

      • Cadie says:

        Diet changes sometimes help people with various minor ailments even if they’re wrong about what was causing it in the first place. I talked about this on my blog once, in regards to people who claim a gluten-free diet makes them feel better even when they have no diagnosed problem with gluten. In this case, eliminating wheat foods means a lot of junk foods are off-limits unless you buy special versions which are expensive, so there’s less mindless donut snacking and such. Most people on GF diets eat more vegetables than before, because vegetables are naturally gluten-free and help bulk up a meal in the place of bread and noodles. You eliminate a big source of mostly empty carbs – all that cheap white flour stuff is gone – and diet variation is encouraged. Etc. The usual case is that one’s diet ends up being more nutritious for the same number of calories, so the people with vague complaints that say gluten-free helped them aren’t all helped through placebo effect. It’s also that some of them are eating more nutritious diet with more vegetables and fruits and either less low-nutrient starches or at least a greater variety of them with different trace nutrients. I actually do have celiac disease diagnosed by a doctor so a gluten-free diet is mandatory for me; in place of wheat I eat rice, corn, potatoes, and extra vegetables. More variety, more veggies, overall healthier. Even for someone without CD it’s a likely improvement, though they can get that improvement more simply by deliberately replacing only some of their wheat breads and such with other things. Gluten-free simplifies this and removes some temptation not to bother by forcing the choice.

        I’m very skeptical about “candida overgrowth” articles and similar stuff that’s written so that almost everyone has enough symptoms to qualify as having the problem. Still, following a special diet cutting out certain kinds of junk foods and processed foods might help anyway, if it’s one that’s safe and nutritious enough and ED development/relapse isn’t a high risk, by making one think about what one is eating and encouraging consumption of a variety of more nutritious foods. It won’t fix most serious health problems – no, you’re not going to cure cancer with lemons – but for “I’m more tired than I’d like to be and get annoying indigestion, and the doctor said there’s nothing wrong” modified diets are worth trying.

      • Finger says:

        “If you look at the list of symptoms that are said to be symptoms of candida overgrowth, the list is miles long”

        Note mainstream medicine seems to agree that the gut microbiota are actually super important for lots of stuff. And common use of antibiotics means many people’s gut should be overpopulated by fungi like candida.

        You can find candida diagnosis quizes online. Generally they only say you have overgrowth for sure if you have a lot of the symptoms, not just a few.

      • E. Harding says:

        I like and use alternative medicine more than I use traditional medicine.


        I suggest you read Respectful Insolence.

        • Jill says:

          Just like herbal salespeople who want to sell you stuff that doesn’t work, there are plenty of “Quackwatch” type Internet sites that claim that everything alternative in medicine is a hoax. There are snake oil salesmen, and adolescent sounding angry sarcastic critiques to be read on both sides of the aisle, if that interests you. It doesn’t interest me.

          I’m not going to read a site called Respectful Insolence. That’s an oxymoron and a ridiculous title. I can’t take seriously a web site with such a title. It sounds adolescent and silly. Respectful Reporting of Data would be the kind of title of a web site I would be willing to look at.

          I go to natural health practitioners because their treatments work for me more often than regular medical treatments work for me. I live near the famous Tahoma Clinic. Not everything they have done for me has been helpful. But they have at least a 10X better hit rate for me, than my regular M.D. does. they’ve gotten rid of a lot of fatigue problems and gastrointestinal problems that my regular M.D.’s could do nothing about.

          So this is not a theoretical matter for me at all. My health is much much better than before I began going to natural health doctors. That being said, most natural health practitioners are not knowledgeable in anything that is useful for me. And I choose very carefully which natural practitioners I see.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            If you want a good critique of alternative medicine, I’d recommend Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            “I go to natural health practitioners because their treatments work for me more often than regular medical treatments work for me.”

            Welp, when the official doctors consistently “Try a different antidepressant” after another one dosen’t work based on no other evidence other then how many people dropped out, pharm companies blatantly and fraduently try to get good results by letting children enter only a week after getting off another one(thus hoping the withdrawal effect helps them), and and entire paradigm of medicine gets started on a study that suddenly moves people off their meds to placebo and still dosen’t work well, its not surprising alternative meds don’t work any worse without the bad sides.

          • Rauwyn says:

            Tsnom, are you complaining that they had the study participants discontinue their previous drugs too quickly, or that they did it at all? If there’s supposed to be some kind of withdrawal effect isn’t that what the controls are for? And you can’t really test a drug while people are on random other things to treat the same condition… I admit I don’t know much about this but I’m confused what you’re arguing.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:


            Well, its a two part critique. One, patients who were initially on depakote or lithium were withdrawn over a period of two weeks to placebo. A two weeks tapering period is generally considered too quick by many in practice. Here is a nice link.

            Effects of the rate of discontinuing lithium maintenance treatment in bipolar disorders.

            14 days is the tail of being considered to abruptly go off the meds in discontinuation. Its better than a day or three days, but still in the “bad” category. As far as I can tell, 6 weeks is considered the best standard for tapering the drug, and if at all possible reducing the dosage in three day intervals. What was the interval of dosage reduction in the study I linked? I have no idea, since it was not stated, and why not? Can’t spare two sentences? Tapering can effectively be two intervals of sudden minor withdrawal when done poorly.

            They didn’t even decide to taper in three weeks, which should probably be the minimum of a normal tapering schedule. It seems designed to give better results to the drug being tested.

            Also, there was no mention of the tapering schedule for patients initially not given lithium or depakote. As depakote is an anti-manic with a side-effect profile more similar to known anti-psychotics then lithium, if there is no good tapering schedule for the other drugs, that’s another way to boost depakote’s results with poor study design.

            As for the paxil study, letting in participants in after only a week off a different antidepressant, the most common are SSRI’s with again no information on tapering, is an obvious way to boost results yet again. Someone suddenly goes off a different one to join this study, and quickly has withdrawal relief if done poorly. Something that serious needs to be specifically accounted for, but that info is hard to find, if done at all.

            The big problem is these are not one off faults in studies. These really basic flaws in the studies are commonplace.

  7. Seth says:

    Amusing article, apparently serious:
    “As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession.”

    “Is it possible to be a sophisticated psychiatrist and believe that evil spirits are, however seldom, assailing humans? … But careful observation of the evidence presented to me in my career has led me to believe that certain extremely uncommon cases can be explained no other way.”

    It reminded me of an old SSC post where a psychiatric patient complained about being possessed by a demon, the treating doctor took it in stride, and expounded on how to detect real vs fake demon possession (fakers don’t want to hurt themselves).

    It would violate medical privacy rules to disclose, but I’ve wondered about “weirdest cases”, where someone comes in with a wild story about demons or aliens that doesn’t seem, well, pathetic. The evil spirits always seem overly melodramatic, babbling in ancient tongues or ranting like a bad movie villain, instead of being willing to have a quiet chat in standard conversational language.

    Nobody ever seems to investigate analytically either – “The subject might also exhibit enormous strength or even the extraordinarily rare phenomenon of levitation . (I have not witnessed a levitation myself, but half a dozen people I work with vow that they’ve seen it in the course of their exorcisms.)”. If someone’s levitating, applaud, cool, do it again. How high can you go? Just vertical take-off, or can you do horizontal motion? Pull out a camera. The article says: “One cannot force these creatures to undergo lab studies or submit to scientific manipulation; they will also hardly allow themselves to be easily recorded by video equipment, as skeptics sometimes demand. “. Doesn’t that make an Internet livestreaming camera into an anti-demon talisman? (and a very cheap possession remission treatment).

    • anonymous says:

      Some aspects of mental illness are culturally mediated. It is unsuprising that some deeply religious people would experience demonic possession as the narrative around their problem.

    • Seth says:

      anonymous – The article acknowledges that: “I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. … aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions.”

      But even taking attacks by evil spirits, err, on faith, the exorcists don’t ever seem to try to systematize it. For example, do the evil spirits react to Holy Water? If so, how difficult is it to make Holy Water? My understanding is a priest just recites a blessing over regular water. How far does this go? Can the priest bless a whole pallet of water jugs at once? If the priest blesses twice, is it twice as holy? (is there a limit?). If the blessing gets diluted by the amount, does it work to get a bunch of priests all blessing at once? It seems you should be able to at least make a large enough supply of Holy Water so you can start running tests once you get a supposed demon-possessed patient. Or even having one priest and one patient could answer some of the above.

      And it would be very easy to do double-blind tests with Holy Water versus regular water, that’d be scientific in, err, spirit.

      But they don’t do stuff like this.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Doesn’t that make an Internet livestreaming camera into an anti-demon talisman?


      • Anon says:

        On one hand, dangit, now we can’t help these people.

        On the other hand, levitating possessed people videos when?

        • Mary says:

          The problem — from the diabolical point of view — was discussed in The Screwtape Letters

          I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism, and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics.
          At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect. a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the enemy. The “Life Force,” the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work—the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits”—then the end of the war will be in sight. But in the meantime we must obey our orders. I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

          Levitating possessed people videos would probably indicate that the diabolical forces found them useful 0:)

          • MugaSofer says:

            While this is is true, we can limit their options to “allow the world to know about you” and “stop this levitating nonsense”, both of which are hopefully bad.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      Doesn’t that make an Internet livestreaming camera into an anti-demon talisman? (and a very cheap possession remission treatment).

      Presumably, this means that when possessed people are captured by recording equipment, the demons revert to the usual (i.e. physically plausible) symptoms of mental disease. So no, you can’t use a camera to make an anti-demon talisman, but you can use it to make an anti-levitation talisman.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m not a Christian, and certainly not a demonologist, but aren’t demons not supposed to be able to perform miracles? I thought that was an important distinction, that a demon can only create illusions. So that a possessed person might seem to levitate but actually isn’t since that sort of thing is in God’s wheelhouse.

      Anyway, it would have been interesting if he had actually tried to document evidence from some of the possessions he claims to have witnessed. Sure, the Church doesn’t want to violate anyone’s privacy, but if the victim signs off on releasing information collected then it should be fine. No different from if they had chosen to tell people about their experience after the fact, except that it can be examined scientifically.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        aren’t demons not supposed to be able to perform miracles? I thought that was an important distinction, that a demon can only create illusions.

        I’ve not heard that idea before, but I’d have thought that ‘supernaturally comandeerding someone’s body’ would count as a miracle by any reasonable definition of ‘miracle’. Do the people who make that claim also concede that demons cannot actually possess people, merely generate the illusion of possession?

        • Nicholas says:

          The things is that Demonic Philosophy uses the metaphysics of Separate Magisterium. SM puts human minds in one bucket, and the material world in another bucket. Any supernatural force that affects the things in the material world bucket is miraculous, but demons’ powers of telepathy and illusion are not considered to affect the material world, because they affect minds which are in the “objects that aren’t actually physical” bucket.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Depends on the definition of “miracle,” I suppose. To my dog, seeing me operate the can opener is a miracle; one assumes angels/demons would similarly have capabilities we don’t.

        Off the top of my head, the Gerasene Demoniac displayed superhuman strength. Peter casts out a spirit which predicted the future, presumably with some accuracy. Simon Magus was some kind of sorcerer prior to conversion, of sufficient power to dazzle the local populace, though not on the level of what the Apostles were doing. (One could interpret his attempt to buy that power from the Apostles as one magician trying to buy the secret to some great trick from another; we are given no details on what kind of stuff he was up to pre-conversion.) Pharaoh’s magicians were also able to replicate a few of Moses’ tricks.

        Levitation and head-spinning, on the other hand, make no appearances.

        • Jiro says:

          To your dog, using a can opener is a miracle because your dog lacks the tools to understand the world in the way that humans do. In order for angels to be similarly miraculous, there would have to be some kind of super-logic which human beings can’t understand, but which angels can.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            Isn’t that just, like, God’s design? There’s that entire shtick about how it is inconceivable to mortals or whatever.

          • I don’t know why you feel like there hos to be “super-logic”. It’s merely required that they have access to physics we don’t yet understand, or even something something akin to ~superior technology~.

          • Jiro says:

            “Super-physics” would break the analogy. The dog would “think of” the can opener as miraculous because the dog doesn’t have the mental capability to understand it, which is a much more severe lack than just lacking the knowledge.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            That’s what was historically considered the difference between the occult and the supernatural.

            The occult, or natural magic, was essentially anything where people didn’t understand how it worked. This could be what we now call “magic”, or it could be something like magnetism or herbal medicine. Either way, the occult still operated according to a set of rules/laws of nature, just “hidden” ones which weren’t understood. Demons (and angels) were believed to have a superior understanding of the occult, so “spiritual magic” dealt with summoning them to act either as superior natural magicians or as teachers of natural magic.

            The supernatural, which involved breaking the laws of Nature, was the province of God and God alone.

          • Jaskologist says:

            You’re being over-literal about the analogy. All that is needed is for angelic beings to have greater capabilities/technology than us. Sufficiently advanced technology and all that (similarly, see the Mothman take).

    • Andrew G. says:

      It reminded me of an old SSC post where a psychiatric patient complained about being possessed by a demon, the treating doctor took it in stride, and expounded on how to detect real vs fake demon possession (fakers don’t want to hurt themselves).

      link to described post

    • Jill says:

      I don’t think you need to investigate these things on a group experiment type basis– only on an individual basis, since what is relevant to cure are the individual’s beliefs about who or what the demon is, what it is doing there, how to get rid of it etc. Once the therapist understands the meaning and context of the alleged demon possession to that individual, they may see their way toward being of help– or getting a priest to cast it out, or whatever the person will accept or thinks is needed.

      Beliefs and the placebo effect– these are very strong, even in physical illnesses like back injuries, as per Scott’s recent post on that.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Eliezer once defined the supernatural as “ontologically basic mental entities”. I think he’s wrong (one reason being that the class of hypothetical supernatural beings that humans have believed in includes many things that would not be ontologically basic), and that a better definition is “things that cannot be exploited”.

      What I mean is- one of the most important features of everyday reality is that it operates by rules, and we can discover those rules and use them for things. This is why I have the internet and a computer to type on. Supernatural realities, by contrast, would not follow any kind of rules that humans can understand or discover. Even if you had a thing that for all intents and purposes seemed like an Exocism-style demon, if it responded to holy water… well, once there are rules, you can apply the scientific method, and anything you can apply the scientific method to can hardly be called supernatural. It might be some strange and previously undiscovered phenomena, of course. But if you can grasp it and use it and make it do things, I hesitate to call it supernatural.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        That doesn’t sound right to me. Lots of religious people ‘exploit’ gods by praying to them and expecting a better-than-randomness probability of their prayers being answered. Or else they ‘exploit’ the gods by trying to systematically do whatever it takes to attain heaven / nirvana / whatever, and avoid hell / reincarnation as something it sucks to be, etc… Heck, the Catholics even exploit their god by getting it to transform wafers into Jesus flesh, on a weekly basis, with, as far as I can tell, full confidence that this reliably happens every time, provided the priest has been validly inaugurated.

        [Edit – and aren’t there things that go the other way round – dark matter and dark energy spring to mind – where no one is seriously claiming them to be supernatural, yet we have no idea how or even if they can be turned to our use? Though someone with some actual knowledge of physics can hopefully correct me on this.]

        The ‘ontologically basic mental elements’ idea seems like it comes closer to carving reality at the joints than anything else I’ve come across – can you give a few examples of where you think it fails?

        • Two McMillion says:

          I think my reply would be that if your god always answers prayers exactly as you want them answered, or lets you into heaven because you did these specific rituals correctly, or anything of that sort, then your god isn’t supernatural at all- your god is a (possibly unknown) perfectly natural process in the universe. I know, with about as close to certainty as I am ever likely to know anything, that gasoline will explode when I put a match to it. My argument that you’re not dealing with anything supernatural if you can deal with it with that kind of certainty. I don’t know if you’ve read Saga of Soul, but there’s a part in there where the main character is asked about her magic and replies, “Well, I don’t think of it as magic; I just think of it as part of the world we don’t understand.” The difference between that kind of magic and something supernatural is that you could eventually study and understand that kind of magic, if you tried hard enough.

          To give an example of where the idea of ontologically basic mental entities idea fails, consider the greek gods. It seems like they should be supernatural. But they are quite clearly not ontologically basic. They are the offspring of the Titans, who themselves came from other gods. They are things that are made of other things. Prometheus had a liver that could be eaten by an eagle every day; Cronus had a stomach to swallow Zeus into. On the other hand, they fit the idea of “inexploitable realities” fairly well: do your sacrifices, yes, follow the rituals, but there really aren’t any promises; Zeus will do what he feels like doing regardless. Zeus might answer your prayers, but he doesn’t answer your prayers because you prayed; he answers them because he felt like doing that.

        • Jiro says:

          People think in terms of humanoids as a thing. Any details, such as having livers, got automatically imported into the idea based on the belief that the gods are humanoids, just like the idea that the gods can get jealous, which is mental complexity similar to the physical complexity of having livers. They don’t claim the gods have additional organs, for instance.

          “Ontologically basic” may not be the best way to describe it, but I think there’s a valid point here.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Okay, but I think it sounds like we’re just talking about two completely different concepts, both of which are useful ideas to have, and our only dispute is which one gets the label ‘supernatural’ if we can’t apply it to both.

          Note that in the Richard Carrier definition it is enough that an explanation of a phenomenon have ontologically basic mental elements – that is, some aspect of it that has irreducibly mind-like properties, even if other parts don’t. Thus, if someone believes that human beings have souls, and that an important aspect of what it means to be human depends on them having this non-reducible spirit aspect, and cannot in principle be accounted for by the physical processes happening in the neurons that make up their brains, then that person has a supernatural worldview even if they agree that other functions like digestion, respiration, blood circulation etc are purely physical.

          I don’t know what the ancient Greeks thought about these things, but if they held that there was a comparable spirit element to their gods, that their behaviour was not in principle reducible to the non-mental interactions of simpler units akin to brain cells (and I don’t think they had a coherent reductionist explanation for how humans operated, so I wouldn’t have expected them to have one for gods either), then they still had a supernatural worldview even if their gods were partly physical.

          I suspect that there may also be a clash between folk theology and official doctrine here – regardless of whatever the official church rationale for praying is, I suspect that a lot of religious people actually believe that praying raises the probability, relative to total randomness, of their god or gods doing whatever it is they are asking for, including getting into heaven. That would make it not-supernatural by your definition (in the sense that you know that if you roll a die, there’s a chance that it’ll come up 6, relative to what happens if you don’t roll it, and just leave it showing 2). There is in neither case total unpredictability. And you still have the issue of Catholics who think that the transubstantiation reliably works (Deiseach, thou shouldst be unbanned at this hour), yet I wouldn’t expect them to consider it non-supernatural for that reason.

          But perhaps I am mistaken; perhaps the overwhelming majority of people who pray do so in full confidence that it will not affect any conceivable real-world outcomes.

          Anyway, both are useful concepts: things can conceivably be supernatural in Carrier’s sense (I want to call it Supercarrierfragilisticexpialidocious), or in your super-unpredictable sense, or both or neither. What set of terms would you prefer to attach to the distinction that Carrier is trying to make?

          • Two McMillion says:

            I’d have to think about it.

          • Sonny DE says:

            Carrier’s article where he defines what he means by “supernatural” was interesting, but I want to point out that he wasn’t defining the word to be useful for referring to anything he thinks exists or can exist, he was defining the word “supernatural” in a way that contrasts with his own sort of naturalism, better to argue his sort of naturalism and to argue that the supernatural does not exist. Carrier makes extremely clear in the comments there, in his response to a comment from a Christian claiming Carrier wasn’t following a traditional definition of supernatural or a definition from theologians, that Carrier believes definitions and usage of terms from the 19th century or earlier are laughably irrevelant (to the subject of the “supernatural” that he was discussing) and that any statements by theologians would also be irrelevant or unnecessary distractions (from the sort of “supernatural” that he was discussing.)

            A more practical definition of “supernatural,” to cover its various uses, historical and modern, rather than limiting it to Carrier’s definition as events or processes that must involve an irreducible mental element, would be that supernatural is what is considered superior to nature or supervening on nature, where nature is whatever is born (according to the etymology) in matter or arises or exists in matter and whatever the rules or laws of that matter are that can be discovered by studying that matter in the absence of supernatural interference. For instance, in a simulation hypothesis, if the simulation has system administrators who occasionally interfere with the otherwise applicable laws of nature to change the course of events, that would be supernatural activity. There’s no need to define the supernatural as having certain metaphysical properties other than that it somehow goes beyond or overrides ordinary physical properties.

        • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

          Are prayers really like physics? Does anyone believe that there are Laws Of Prayer that determine whether your prayers will be obeyed in the same sense that there are Laws Of Physics that determine whether your car will start?

          Or are prayers *asking* God to help you, to which he will listen according to his Plan?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Well, I’m still hoping one of the resident Catholics can confirm for me whether they hold that the transubstantiation hypothesis is that it works consistently every time if the ritual is validly performed, or whether they are merely asking their god to transform the wafers into the flesh of Jesus, and it is up to the whim of the god whether that actually happens.

            But more generally, Two McMillion was suggesting that we ought to distinguish between ‘supernatural’ and ‘natural’ thing by classifying as ‘supernatural’ everything that is completely beyond any prediction, everything that “would not follow any kind of rules that humans can understand or discover”.

            If you think that praying to a god raises the probability of that god doing what you ask, relative to not praying, then even if they are not reliable as clockwork, they are still somewhat predictable in a statistical sense – and not in principle different for a mercurial human who will sometimes do what you ask them, but not always, according to a random schedule you can’t predict.

            Which would make a god no more supernatural than a human if that is the distinction we are drawing.

          • keranih says:


            IANAP, but this is a miracle, but of the “ordinary” common place sorts, like forgiving sins. We have figured out how to come to God and ask for this grace – which we have been assured will happen by Scripture – in the correct manner so that He will grant it.


            This is a communication with God. Like all communication, it takes a speaker and a listener. God as allknowing knows what the mess of wants and needs and deep lackings and petty desires are in our hearts. A proper done prayer is us (me) sorting through all that and actually coherently, with intent, asking for assistance with the things I am facing.

            God heard me when I was ten and wanted a flying horse, but His answer was “*snort* No, for that is not how I have made this world.” He heard me when I was 17 and wanted someone dead – but He also refused to indulge my anger. Now, I mostly ask for wisdom and humility to know what is the right thing to do, and the strength to do it, and that He gives in great heaping measures.

          • Jiro says:

            I don’t think supernatural is defined by not having any rules that can be discovered. That’s just a side effect of the fact that it doesn’t really exist, so anyone who claims it’s real and doesn’t want to get laughed out of the room is forced to say that there is no way to test it or discover anything.

            If there was such a thing as vampires, it wouldn’t be hard to put one in front of a mirror and get no reflection every single time.

            God heard me when I was ten and wanted a flying horse, but His answer was “*snort* No, for that is not how I have made this world.”

            How could you tell the difference between this and either no God at all+hallucination, or the Devil playing at God?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Surely you recognize this argument isn’t engaging with the actual difficult issues that can be considered when contemplating the efficacy of prayer?

            Natural disasters of various kinds, and the fact that they still exist, is probably the most difficult one.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think supernatural is defined by not having any rules that can be discovered.

            Indeed, there’s a whole cottage industry devoted to coming up with rituals that will bind supernatural agents to your will according to some more or less well-defined set of rules. It used to be easy to find people advertising spells or curses on eBay; probably still is with the right search terms, although they might have cracked down.

            I think a better definition would involve attributing agency to non-biological systems.

          • Jiro says:

            I think we can work with the ontologically basic definition, even though it isn’t quite correct. For instance, magic may have a way to turn people into frogs. A frog is a complicated creature, made up of organs, which contain cells and DNA, but spells to turn people into frogs can’t be adapted for medicine. In Harry Potter, magic can’t make food or valuables, but they can make things that are molecularly very similar to food or valuables.

            The reason is that human beings think of “food” or “frog” as basic, low-level concepts, even though they really aren’t. And magic treats these human concepts as actually determining how the universe works.

            Magic is not about agency. It’s just that magic is based around ideas that match the way humans think, and humans have agency. The spell is not using its intelligence to decide that something is food–the spell just exists under the (false) assumption that “food” is a basic property of things and doesn’t need any intelligence to determine in the first place.

          • Winter Shaker says:


            IANAP, but this is a miracle, but of the “ordinary” common place sorts, like forgiving sins. We have figured out how to come to God and ask for this grace – which we have been assured will happen by Scripture – in the correct manner so that He will grant it.

            Thanks; that confirms that at least the Catholics disagree with Two McMillion’s definition of the supernatural, though I’m not sure whether theirs is closer to Carrier’s or to Sonny DE’s upthread – Carrier’s would entail a god that was truely indivisible; its personality being not at all dependent on the interaction of smaller subunits that were not themselves personish or agenty, whereas Sunny DE’s would entail a god that could be as omnipotent and laws-of-physics-defying as you like in this universe, but is in the grander metaverse still made of ordinary ‘physics’, for whatever value ‘physics’ would have one level up from our own universe.

      • Nicholas says:

        The magical practice of astrology is commonly referred to as supernatural, and there are traditionally no mental components attributed to the stars. It is by a naturalistic procession of supernatural forces that star-magic works.

        • Jiro says:

          There are no mental components attributed to the stars, but on the other hand, the stars don’t work by some kind of mechanism which is analyzed in terms of “astrological rays” that can be focussed with “astrological telescopes”. It’s just… there.

    • Two McMillion says:

      The evil spirits always seem overly melodramatic, babbling in ancient tongues or ranting like a bad movie villain, instead of being willing to have a quiet chat in standard conversational language.

      That’s because, in the end, there’s no difference between logical coherence and moral coherence. Doing evil eats away at your epistemic rationality (but not your instrumental rationality, or at least not to the same degree). In humans, because we die after 80 years, there’s only time for this process to go so far. It is not surprising to me in the slightest that a thousands-of-years-old evil spirit is unable to hold a coherent conversation.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      I never understood why evil spirits speak in Latin. Seems kinda suspicious that they would speak the language of the Catholic church and not, you know, their own “demonic” language. Hell, why don’t they speak in Hindi or some dead Native American language or some language that the possessed has never heard of or had any interaction with? At least if they spoke Hebrew, they’d be speaking a language that’s a bit older than Latin and is implied to be the “original” language if Christianity is true.

      • Emily says:

        Maybe they just speak in Latin (or appear to be speaking in Latin) to Catholics.

      • Seth says:

        I’ve wondered about the Latin part also. But it might be that the evil spirits spend a good portion of their human-world time trolling priests and other Catholic Church officials, and the latter group are heavily into using Latin when dealing with the evil spirits. So from the spirit’s perspective, Latin seems much more an active language than it actually is. It’s their “filter bubble”, in a sense. Not that they can’t grasp the concept. But from their perspective, the human who has the most “interesting” thing to say to them, is much more likely to be saying it in Latin, than any other individual language.

        Update: i.e. from their perspective, the “fun” humans tend to be speaking Latin.

        • Winfried says:

          So, Latin is their attempt to dogwhistle the Catholics?

          • Seth says:

            More along the lines of cultural snobbery / status signalling than dogwhistle. They don’t think of Latin as “That ancient stuff almost nobody understands”. But more like “The jargon used by a subculture of humans who are our outgroup/opponents”.

            If you’re a demon, and want to start cursing at a priest, doing it in Latin is actually probably the best all-around choice of language. You don’t need to worry about whether you’ve gotten the nuances of the local language down pat enough to deliver a really blistering obscenity. The priest will likely get it, and everyone else doesn’t matter so much.

      • Nicholas says:

        I think it’s because when European folk beliefs about christian demons were being formed, they largely drew of a body of Premium Spells from The Before Time that came from Roman Empire authors, and were thus in Latin.
        If spells are the language of talking to demons, and every written spell you can get your hands on is in Latin, it stands to reason that Latin is the language of demons.
        (I’m told that in cultures with a modern language and an older, mostly unused language, that folk belief will often be that local magic gribblies use the latter as their native language.)

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Maybe they do speak in really obscure languages as well, it’s just that nobody recognises it and everybody just assumes that the possessed person is speaking gibberish like a madman. So the times when demons speak dead Amerindian languages don’t get recognised and recorded, and/or demons don’t bother speaking dead Amerindian languages, because the whole point is to scare people with their demonic power, and having your possession dismissed as an ordinary case of mental illness won’t help with that.

        • Jiro says:

          Languages have certain characteristics to them. It’s implausible that an entity is speaking an actual dead language when his “language” consists solely of sounds ommon to English, put together in a way resembling English. “Speaking in tongues” is subject to the same criticism.

          • Agronomous says:

            Hey, they’re trying to speak Enochian, it’s just that my vocal tract overlays a heavy American accent on it!

            …is what a possessed person who isn’t me might say.

            (Or maybe they’re trying to speak LISP: we all know lots of parentheses signal Bad People.)

  8. Anonymous says:

    So Curtis Yarvin’s project Urbit had a public crowdsale on Thursday that raised $200,000 and sold out in only a few hours (it was supposed to last 30 days).

    This Popehat article is the clearest non-technical explanation I’ve found so far, and at least convinced me that the idea is not totally crazy. Also of interest is that Andreessen Horowitz is apparently an investor, which seems like a good signal for the project’s quality especially given the political/reputational risks a16z is taking just by associating itself with Yarvin at all.

    Did anyone here buy a star? Any other thoughts on the project from someone more knowledgeable?

    • Anon. says:

      I thought the video they made for the crowdsale was pretty clear.

    • Murphy says:

      I find it bizarre that they made the address space so small after watching the problems it’s caused for those before them.

      otherwise I’m not really seeing the appeal.

      Some kind of virtual network with VM’s being sold as “digital land” with a very limited address space. I am curious to hear from anyone who bought a star.

      • Jugemu Chousuke says:

        I think the idea with the small address space is to help with the value and reputation issues – basically fewer addresses makes each one more expensive which makes burning addresses for spam not worth it.

        Personally I find the project interesting but considering I run Windows at home I doubt I’ll be able to participate any time soon if ever. (They talk about Grandma but they seem to consider using a Unix a bare minimum to be considered a responsible adult :P).

        • Murphy says:

          If that’s the reason then they still made the space far far far too large. We’ve been living with the existing internet and spammers haven’t been stopped by the limit of 4 billion addresses.

          • Jugemu Chousuke says:

            Well, I think the idea is that spam can be more quickly and globally linked to originating from a given fixed, non-reused address than it can in IP. But I’m not sure how well that’s likely to work out in practice (if Urbit even gets far enough to be a spam target).

          • Murphy says:

            Think of how much spam comes from innocent people with crappy security. Your blacklist is going to end up hella-long if every overly trusting grandma ends up on it.

      • Anonymous says:

        I find it bizarre that they made the address space so small

        What do you mean by this? A planet is 32 bits so there will be ~4 billion of them.

        • Murphy says:

          they made it the same as IP4

          on a planet with 7 billion humans and huge numbers of net enabled devices they limited their address space to the exact number that

          1: has proven awkwardly small for the existing internet requiring a slow, painful and expensive move towards IP6.

          2: has proven too large for any of the “trust” they use to justify not using a larger address space since spammers exist and flourish on the existing internet.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well to be fair I think Urbit is different than IPv4 because it also has 64-bit moons, which are intended for connected devices.

            So really the issue is just that there are 7 billion people but 4 billion planets. But I feel like if it gets to the point where *billions* of people are clamoring for their Urbit address spaces, then there should be enough incentive for someone to come up with some sort of acceptable fix / workaround. And, I mean, the entire internet doesn’t even have 4 billion users yet. Like if this actually becomes an issue, I think Urbit would still be considered a success…

          • wanderer2323 says:

            Urbit planet is not an IPv4 address, it’s a social network account.

          • Tik Tok says:

            That’s because urbit is a blatant scam that anyone with even a casual understanding of math or security should not care about.

            It brags about being able to stream an OS which is no different then network booting, says magical things about some math based OS(all of them are), and claims its super duper secure due to always using encryption (the government has long ago focused on social engineering/network injections, other methods).

        • Anon. says:

          There are more than 4 billion people, so by design not everyone can own a planet.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        The point is to destroy anonymity, to which ends, you need identity to be too valuable to be able to discard.

        The Internet is already making mincemeat of privacy; Yarvin wants to destroy anonymity as well. Why? Short explanation – because of his political beliefs.

    • Finger says:

      “There seems to be a long period of initial obscurity for any new language. Then after that comes a long period of semi-obscurity, followed by total obscurity.”

      He’s already cleared the toughest hurdle–the SJWs did his marketing for him.

    • Matthias says:

      Urbit doesn’t really do anything about types, as far as I remember. Who wants another non-statically typed language?

    • Tik Tok says:

      How does this make any sense whatsoever?

      It sounds like Urbit makes no sense at all and is totally and utterly useless in every way besides mashing together networking words and some freedom words and some private/public property words together, topping in a feeling of persecution to a certain brand of alt-politics people, and just….

      This makes no sense. Why is this being made?

      I feel the urge to make some new second-life game and add some tech hocus pocus words to make it sound cool in honory of Urbit.

      • Jugemu Chousuke says:

        I think the ultimate idea is to build a new platform to make it easy to build and use decentralized software – for example a decentralized social network. To try to make this happen they decided to build a whole new stack where computation and networking would have much tighter integration, and which would have more of a solid decentralized reputation/account type system than the internet has now.

        Anyway, I think it’s a cool idea (from what I understand of it), but I dunno if they’ll be able to sort out the inevitable issues with bugs, performance, usability, etc, well enough to get it to catch on.

      • fubarobfusco says:

        It appears to be a plain old pyramid scheme dressed up as a sort of electronic feudalism where the early adopters get to be the lords.

      • MereComments says:

        I don’t know if you’re being intentionally obtuse, but that is an extremely ungenerous description of Urbit as described here:

        • Tik Tok says:

          Have you read the whole thing? Holy crap its horrible. Now, i’m convinced its a blatant scam. Thanks for posting that.

          “One advantage of a math-based OS is that Urbit is perfectly portable. It can’t tell whether it’s in a cloud data center or on your home PC.”

          That’s completely meaningless. For starters, saying something is math-based is dumb in CS, because CS is math and all it takes is brilliance to “convert” something to math. What does it mean, in a cloud data center or in your pc? One way or another its running on hardware. No person in their daily life can tell if a general PC/social network is running on “their” hardware or streamed from somewhere else. The statement does not make any sense from a computer hardware perspective.

          “(Urbit is actually a single mathematical function.)”

          So is the entire universe. It all depends on how you write down the function. Small example. y1=x1+x2. y2 = 2*x1 + 3*x2. Is that two functions, or one matrix function? You can repeat the above and ask is it one group of matrix functions, which is one function on a different scale. Saying something is one function is meaningless in the world of math.

          “Concerned about mass surveillance? Download your urbit and restart it on your laptop, or move to a new host in Iceland. Urbit’s formal simplicity makes managing it as easy as managing an iPhone: all you have to decide is what apps to add.”

          What what what? So, does Urbit beat American, Russian, and Chinese intelligence teams? How does it do that? Does it just remember to always use encryption? The algorithms you use are secure in the first place so that’s never the method of attack. Does it beat code injections or network direction detectors(where you send your data?) My bet is a very small minority of research is directed towards beating the known secure algorithms, so if they want to spy on you they use techniques like that. Urbit can do absolutely nothing to combat that.

          Scam out of 10.

    • Jacob says:

      I didn’t know this sale was happening. From what I gather it’s a decentralized social network, which I’m very much in favor of. I thought about installing it on my own machine a few months ago; the fact that it’s written in three programming languages I’ve never heard of (I’m not sure whether Yarvin invented them or if they’re just very niche) dissuaded me.

    • MereComments says:

      Whoa. This just dawned on me, but… did Moldbug ghostwrite this Clark post? Having now read it again years later, it sounds WAY more like MM than Clark.

      • Franz_Panzer says:

        Took me less than an hour to read it.
        Can’t be Moldbug.

        • MereComments says:

          The cadence, the vocabulary, the sense of humor. Clark isn’t that entertaining, or that technical. The rhetorical devices make it obvious, and they occur throughout the post:

          “You can build a shoddy foundation and build a one bedroom house on top of it and no one will get hurt.

          You can maybe build a second story on top of that first house.

          You probably shouldn’t build a third.”

          ..and that’s just the first obvious example. There are link bombs embedded in that post (stylistically UR asides) that are subtle attacks on Patrick and Ken (“By “type” I mean something akin to “schools of thought”. Keynesianism vs Free Market. East Coast Rap vs. West Coast. Etc.”). Clark didn’t think of that. Meanwhile, Yarvin was complaining about a couple of months before this post was made.

          And come on! The gratuitous use of the second person plural? The Moldbuggian sense of rhythm and repetition? The fact that somebody completely understood the intent of Urbit in 2013?!. Yarvin wrote that post. Re-read it. It’s clear as crystal.

    • anon says:

      I bought a star. I don’t think it will work or that my star will be worth much, but you never know. (I also don’t think Augur or Ethereum will work in the long run, but I bought some REP and flipped it for a profit. Who knows, maybe there will be some intermediate stage at which I can do that with Urbit too.)

      BTW, written by an Urbit skeptic who nonetheless shares some of Yarvin’s ideas about computing, here is the clearest *technical* explanation of Urbit I have read:

  9. Joe says:

    Scott I’m not sure if you’ve seen the Washington Post article by the psychiatrist helping priests with exorcisms but just in case you’re interested in this kind of thing here’s a great book.

  10. Julie K says:

    Imagine that you are at an event where various small prizes are being raffled off. There are four prizes that you like, in order of your preference A, B, C, D. You have 10 raffle tickets.
    What would you be more likely to do:
    1) Put all the tickets in for prize A, your favorite
    2) Put in 4 tickets for A, 3 for B, 2 for C and one for D.

    When this happened to me* I went with option 2 in order to enjoy the anticipation of having various prizes to win, but I have this feeling that #1 is the “rational” choice.

    * I’ve simplified the numbers slightly for this example. p.s. I won prize A! 🙂

    • sweeneyrod says:

      But what if Omega says you will win nothing if you choose option 1, and B if you choose option 2. Furthermore, if everyone chooses option 2, Omega will kill you. What is the correct choice now?

      • Anon says:

        You give your raffle tickets to your friend and tell him to go for option 2.

        Then you use all your 0 raffle tickets in an attempt to go for option 1.

        Failing that, you’d take the one ticket that’d go towards D and give the other 9 to your friend to put towards A/B/C. Then use your 1 ticket on option 1.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      You can’t know the rational answer when all you know is the cardinality of your choices. You need to know the weight of your preference and, ideally, how popular the choices are with your competition.

      If D is almost as good as A to you, but half as popular as the other choices, you might be better off putting all your tickets in D.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:


        Julie, how many B’s would you trade for one A? How many C’s? We need to know their relative worth to you. And do you think your preferences are typical? Otherwise we might have to use a simplified model to think about the other players.

    • Jacob says:

      Can you win multiple prizes but not the same prize twice (or if there are many of prize A you only want one and any additional ones are useless)? If so it’s somewhat “rational” to spread out your tickets as it increases the probability of winning multiple prizes. However, given the usual raffle, where P(winning) << 1, then P(winning more than once) is essentially negligible, and it makes sense to put all your eggs in your favorite raffle.

      So yeah I would guess #1 is in some sense more "rational", by trying to maximize utility of prizes won. But since you were doing the raffle to have fun, why not just do what is the most fun? My armchair psych eval is that people tend to be risk seeking when it comes to rewards, so the uncertainty of not knowing *which* prize you might win adds to the uncertainty of not knowing whether you'll win at all, making it more fun to pick #2

    • Paul Goodman says:

      I think the best choice is to go all in on the prize that has the highest ratio of how much you want it to how much everyone else wants it.

      That said I’m going to try to solve for the game theory in a situation where everyone has the same preferences as you do.

      Suppose the value of the prizes are $4, $3, $2, and $1 respectively. I suspect that in this case the 4, 3, 2, 1 ticket distribution on those prizes will prove to be a Nash Equilibrium so let’s see if that’s right. If there are N total people in the raffle each with the same preferences and number of tickets as you, your chance of winning each prize is 1/N (for A it’s 4/4N, since you put in 4 tickets and so did everyone else, for B it’s 3/3N, etc.). The marginal value of adding an extra ticket to a prize is $4 * 1/(4N+1) for A, $3 * 1/(3N+1) for B, $2 * 1/(2N+1) for C, and $1 * 1/(N+1) for D. These are all basically the same if N is large but let’s take the $4 * 1/(4N+1) for putting an extra ticket on A as our best bet (the actual value is a little lower since I didn’t account for it making all your other tickets already on A less likely to win).

      However to get an extra ticket to put on A, you’d have to take a ticket away from another prize. The cost of taking one (again rounding slightly to make the math prettier) is $3 * 1/3N if you take it from B, $2 *1/2N from C, and $1 * 1/N if you take it from D. All of these just come out to $1/N, which is more than the $4/(4N+1) you gain from putting an extra on A. Therefore the 4, 3, 2, 1 distribution is a Nash equilibrium because no player can benefit by doing something different.

      I thus conclude that in the special case where prize D is half as desirable as C, a third as desirable as B, and a quarter as desirable as A and everybody else is both perfectly rational and agrees with you entirely on the values of the prizes, the 4, 3, 2, 1 distribution you went with is the best one.

      (Note: I flubbed the numbers somewhat to keep the math from being too gnarly but the correct ones should only make my case stronger if I didn’t seriously mess up.)

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      In real life, Expected Utility is the wrong way to frame this. {Lotteries, raffles, etc} are not Financial Instruments, but Entertainment. Their utility derives from the dopamine hit you receive while you fantasize about winning the prizes.

      The brain is a disambiguation engine. Dopamine hits are most intense with a Goldilocks amount of uncertainty. Too little uncertainty feels boringly predictable; too much uncertainty feels like noise. The uncertainty one can handle depends on cognitive ability, which is why Dick & Jane is less exciting to 40 year olds than to 4 year olds.

      Distributing the Probability Mass over prizes {A, B, C, D} instead of just prize {A} adds a healthy dose of uncertainty to the fantasy. Which makes it more entertaining to fantasize about.

  11. Wrong Species says:

    Happy Independence Day from the greatest goddamn country in the world!

  12. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #19
    This week we are discussing “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin.
    Next time we will discuss “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I have a mixed opinion on ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,’ in that I love the thought experiment it presents but reading it as a story it seems very weak.

      Especially the parts where Le Guin directly addresses the reader, that bugs the hell out of me. The whole “your Omelas could be different!” point especially could have been much more elegantly handled by being vague about those questions, letting the reader’s imagination fill in the details. There’s not even any frame story or other way of justifying directing comments at the reader, just Le Guin thumbing her nose at us.

      For the inevitable question: I wouldn’t walk walk away, or at least not for that reason. The whole ‘no priests, no soldiers’ deal pushes the whole thing into hippie territory for me and makes me feel like I’d get sick of the people there fast.

    • Vitor says:

      I disliked this story a lot, and I usually love Le Guin’s work.

      The whole thing is basically a poetically written trolley problem. It asks us to think about the morality of a situation so far-fetched that the correct answer (IMO) is to shrug and not give a damn.

      The story does highlight the human tendency to either rationalize or choose ideological purity. Note that those who opt for purity don’t actually prevent any suffering, they just choose not being personally tainted. You’d have to be a very strong proponent of virtue ethics to find this anything but futile. The vague nature of the narration makes it impossible to know if there even was any other option, though.

      • “Omelas” is supposed to be Salem, O[regon] backwards. I’ve never been to Oregon, but it has been described by its admirers in ways that evoke this story.

        The story does highlight the human tendency to either rationalize or choose ideological purity. Note that those who opt for purity don’t actually prevent any suffering, they just choose not being personally tainted. You’d have to be a very strong proponent of virtue ethics to find this anything but futile.

        This is the best summary yet. Strongly agreed!

        • Nornagest says:

          I’ve never been to Oregon, but it has been described by its admirers in ways that evoke this story.

          Who’s the kid in this metaphor?

        • Thomas Eliot says:

          I have lived in Salem, Oregon. It is a miserable, meth ridden town.

          • I have lived in Salem, Oregon. It is a miserable, meth ridden town.

            * The story was written more than four decades ago.

            * The popularity of crystal meth has arisen in the meantime.

            * A mild, damp climate accelerates mold and rot; if building maintenance is neglected, obvious deterioration would set in rapidly.

            * The flattening of regional and local variation in the U.S. has probably wiped out much of what made Salem distinctive and appealing.

            All that said, subjective experience with specific towns and cities varies radically from one person to the next. And the more distinctive a place is, the wider the divergence of opinions about it.

          • Elephant says:

            Portland, Bend, Eugene are great, and the state overall is gorgeous.(There are certainly miserable, meth ridden parts, but still…)

      • Peter says:

        It’s interesting that the story isn’t quite written as a dilemma. It has a bit of a “made up as she went along” feel, starting with a desire, prompted by “Salem, O…” backwards, to write a story about a place called Omelas.

        Before the sting the author says: “Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.”

        And after:

        “Now do you believe in them? Are they not more credible?”

        She’s perpetually worried about the believability of the story that’s being told, perpetually saying variants on “I wish I could convince you”.

        If fictional cities are like Pratchett’s Gods, in that they exist if and only if people believe in them, and if Le Guin’s ideas about the believability of the story are true, then the existence and happiness of the city does depend on the little boy. Except… the bit that people remember is the dilemma, the boy, and the details of the rest of Omelas tend to get forgotten.

        If you don’t want to take my Pratchettian speculation (I myself don’t), then you’re still left with a story which reads more as a meditation on stories and believability and a strange aversion to fictional happiness than something that is about a dilemma as such.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I always read it as two stories (fairly sharply divided by narrative voice), one about believability and the other about the moral dilemma. I thought it was a pity that the first story was given short shrift by readers, but never thought that delegitimized the discussion of the second story. But that’s a good point that first story blames the reader for the existence of the second story.

        • Vitor says:

          > the bit that people remember is the dilemma, the boy, and the details of the rest of Omelas tend to get forgotten.

          It’s been a while since I read the story, that’s exactly me.

          Thinking about it some more, maybe my criticism of the story has it exactly the wrong way around: If the central theme is believability, then the artificiality of the moral dilemma, arising from a conspicuously unspecified mechanism, is actually deliberate and meant to provoke. The correct choice is neither to leave nor to stay, but to fill in the gaps until the picture we see is believable, and only then render judgement. In other words it is a deconstruction of abstract moral reasoning, trolley problems, etc.

          But then again it’s late and judging by the other comments, the story really entices people to see what is not there, so I have very low confidence that I’m not just bullshitting 🙂

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Peter, Vitor

            @ Peter

            Before the sting the author says: “Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.”

            And after:

            “Now do you believe in them? Are they not more credible?”

            She’s perpetually worried about the believability of the story

            I wouldn’t say ‘worried’…

            that’s being told, perpetually saying variants on “I wish I could convince you”.

            …more like ‘What would it take to ease your attitude here? Is it possible you have a bias?”

            If fictional cities are like Pratchett’s Gods, in that they exist if and only if people believe in them, and if Le Guin’s ideas about the believability of the story are true, then the existence and happiness of the city does depend on the little boy. Except… the bit that people remember is the dilemma, the boy, and the details of the rest of Omelas tend to get forgotten.

            Cool, but….

            If you don’t want to take my Pratchettian speculation (I myself don’t), then you’re still left with a story which reads more as a meditation on stories and believability and a strange aversion to fictional happiness than something that is about a dilemma as such.

            A meditation … or a thought-feeling experiment about industy tropes and what they have taught the readers to expect. Which makes it part of a meta-conversation along with ‘The Cold Equations’.

            @ Vitor

            Thinking about it some more, maybe my criticism of the story has it exactly the wrong way around: If the central theme is believability, then the artificiality of the moral dilemma, arising from a conspicuously unspecified mechanism, is actually deliberate and meant to provoke. The correct choice is neither to leave nor to stay, but to fill in the gaps until the picture we see is believable [….]

            That was my way of fighting the hypothetical, by invoking a common, mundane SF trope: any conclusion too weird, will turn out to be a scam. In this case, a scam by the leaders of the city; if any citizen could so easily bring the whole city down, they’d scarcely tell everyone about it and allow the chance. So I outlined a fan fiction where your person filling in the gaps discovers that the scam is a test to sort out the sheeple who stay, the ones who flee in outrage, and the sceptics who find a believable explanation.

      • Ruprect says:

        I feel as if it’s missing the point to look at this as a trolley problem – the reason why they walk away (rather than talk to the child) is to clearly demonstrate (in a narrative sense) that the problem is with a consequentialist ethical system – that making decisions within this framework might make us unhappy.
        Those of us who reject consequentialism must take a leap of faith, and it perhaps isn’t possible to coherently describe what we are doing, but the alternative is deeply unsatisfactory, and the hope is that you are heading towards something better.

    • Jiro says:

      The child is a taxpayer. The tax rate is somewhat more uneven than most taxes (all the tax paid by one person), but that’s only a difference in degree, not in kind, between it and most taxes.

      Or more generally, a subversive interpretation of the story is to identify with the child. If you are the person who has to decide whether to walk away from Omelas, the story is about how we are all oppressors and we’re benefitting from unearned privilege that lets us get fat off the backs of hard-working peasants. But if you are the child, the story is about how being asked to sacrifice your own money, your own freedom, and your own personal happiness “for the good of society” is absolutely the wrong thing to demand.

      • Murphy says:

        that’s a mighty weird tax system with only one tax payer in the entire nation and a weird tax rate that leaves it poorer than everyone else.

        I think your comparison is a little strained.

        I read it more as a slightly stilted ethical problem, utilitarianism vs deontology.

        Notably it talks about happiness and prosperity but it mentions very little in the way of sacred values and then balances all those mentioned material gains against one sacred value (don’t abuse/neglect/harm a child) to make it a taboo tradeoff.

        you’re basically being presented with the taboo version of this:

        a hospital administrator who had to chose either between
        saving the life of one boy or another boy (a tragic trade-off),
        or between saving the life of a boy and saving the hospital
        $1 million (a taboo trade-off).

        If I was going to try to convince more people to accept it I’d probably throw in more positive sacred values on the other side like the Omelas children hospital that can keep magically regrowing the skin of child burn victims. (make it a tragic tradeoff)

        • Jiro says:

          that’s a mighty weird tax system with only one tax payer in the entire nation and a weird tax rate that leaves it poorer than everyone else.

          Of course it is; think of it as a thought experiment just like the usual interpretation of it is a thought experiment: We’re distilling taxation down to its essence. Taking from one person to benefit society. Doing this is always going to make some people worse off; but usually, you can rationalize it by saying that the people made worse off are “greedy capitalists” or “parasites”. Well, in this case we’re asking you the question of whether it’s okay to take from one person to benefit society, without clouding the issue by letting you rationalize it away.

          You could answer “of course, just taking is wrong, but taxation is different because we’re taking from greedy capitalists”, but a similar objection could be made to the standard interpretation–of course making a kid suffer is wrong, but being a factory owner is different from that because (insert difference here)”.

          • Murphy says:

            But that’s would be true for any utilitarianism vs deontology problem that involved any level of harm being inflicted on anyone in exchange for some gain.

            It’s taking the “do no harm” deontological position and then pointing to that while loading up the positive side of the equation. Objections to tax often do the same only while trying to downplay the positive side of the equation.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I don’t think that quite works, because the argument for taxation includes not just that you are taking money from the rich to benefit everyone else; you are taking money from the rich and using it to solve coordination problems you couldn’t have otherwise solved, in a way that benefits everyone including the rich, so you should not be comparing ‘rich person who gets taxed’ vs ‘rich person who doesn’t get taxed’; you should be comparing ‘rich person who gets taxed’ vs ‘person (who may or may not still be able to accumulate wealth’ in a different society that is less able to provide all the same societal benefits’.

            That’s not to say that it necessarily does work like that in practice, of course, but that’s the idealised version of the argument, under which, the One Child would have to also be getting some benefit that they would not be able to get in a society that opted not to torment the One Child.

          • Jiro says:

            The argument “society benefits, so everyone benefits, even the rich who are taxed” and “the rich benefit” are not the same thing. “The rich benefit” means that the net effect of the taxation benefits the rich. It is possible that the society benefits, and the rich share in this, but the rich’s net benefit is still less.

            And I don’t see that as a typical argument for taxing the rich. Someone throws it out every so often, but “they are greedy exploiters” and “how could you let them have all that money while poor people are suffering” seem much more common justifications. At best, “the rich benefit” is used to justify taxing the rich for police, courts, etc., not social services.

          • Murphy says:

            “benefit” is not necessarily a scalar value.

            Imagine a market capitalist state which uses tax revenue for defending itself from a neighbor who’s less friendly to billionaires. it’s taxes on a set of 100 billionaires may provide benefits which no single billionaire or even modest collection of them could provide themselves. Without the state those 100 billionaires end up all dead, with it they end up all alive grumbling about tax rates.

            In this hypothetical their effective net benefits from paying their taxes can be 100% of their remaining assets and 100% of their remaining lifespan.

            “The rich benefit” isn’t commonly used because most of the time it isn’t being justified *to* the rich, it’s being justified to the people who keep the billionaires factories running and everyone else.

          • Loyle says:

            Playing Devil’s Advocate;
            Isn’t there an argument for rich people simply having the means to pay more of a percentage without harm coming to themselves than is is for a poorer person? Without even touching the “the rich are evil and greedy, and don’t deserve their money” argument?

          • Aegeus says:

            I’m not going to say “Taxation is different because we’re taking from greedy capitalists.”

            I’m going to say “Taxation is different because the typical tax system does not leave the taxpayer writhing in filth and misery and abuse the way the child in Omelas is.” The amount of suffering involved is not at all comparable.

            The idea of progressive taxation is that money has diminishing marginal utility, so the person who pays taxes suffers very little (they buy a slightly smaller yacht), while the person who gets welfare has a very large gain in utility (they don’t starve to death).

          • Jiro says:

            Imagine a market capitalist state which uses tax revenue for defending itself from a neighbor who’s less friendly to billionaires.

            That falls under “At best, “the rich benefit” is used to justify taxing the rich for police, courts, etc., not social services.” And even then, you seldom see this argument. When was the last time you heard someone saying “the rich aren’t paying their fair share, we need to get rid of tax loopholes so we can have a strong military”?

            I’m going to say “Taxation is different because the typical tax system does not leave the taxpayer writhing in filth and misery and abuse the way the child in Omelas is.”

            And I could say the same thing about typical cases of the rich exploiting the poor. Even the people in sweatshops aren’t worse off than they would be without the intervention of the rich.

            The idea of progressive taxation is that money has diminishing marginal utility

            And the entire rest of society in Omelas gains more utility than the child loses.

          • Aegeus says:

            You’re missing the point. It’s not that society benefits a lot, it’s that the rich do not suffer too much. The goal of most social programs is to put a “floor” on how badly off anyone can be. If the rich are being reduced to the state of the child in Omelas, then the social program is not doing its job.

            Put another way, even if you taxed someone at 100%, they would just end up collecting welfare themselves. There is a limit to how badly off redistributive taxes can make someone, and it is well above the level of the child in Omelas.

          • Jiro says:

            If the rich are being reduced to the state of the child in Omelas, then the social program is not doing its job.

            And if capitalism has victims who are reduced to the state of the child in Omelas, capitalism is malfunctioning.

            My point isn’t that taxation is a perfect fit for Omelas. Obviously it isn’t. But the same can be said for the conventional interpretation.

          • Aegeus says:

            I didn’t think “Omelas is capitalism” was the standard interpretation. It’s a “needs of the many vs needs of the few” dilemma, you can find those everywhere.

          • Jiro says:

            It isn’t necessarily capitalism per se; that’s just one case. But it does seem to be saying that our way of life is exploiting others and causing them suffering.

            And sayng that our way of life is causing suffering like the child in Omelas is about as accurate as saying that taxes cause suffering like the child in Omelas. In either case they are causing some suffering, but not to such an extreme degree.

      • Peter says:

        Oh, it’s very different in kind from most taxes. (I mean, the difference in degree is so shocking that it’s all a bit “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the theatre?”, there comes a point where you stop sympathising with someone and instead start ridiculing them for their selfishness, but for the sake of argument let’s answer the question here).

        I think most taxes, by amount raised, are things like income tax, and sales tax or VAT. Some money changes hands, a proportion – but not all – of that goes to the government. If you participate in the formal economy, then as you do so you participate in the tax system. Very different from our Omelas setup. There are poll taxes (there were two occasions they were tried in England/the UK and were found to be unworkably unpopular both times), and similar things (UK council tax) springs to mind, where a demand for a certain amount of money isn’t coupled to a transaction, but there’s a rebate (up to 100%) based on ability to pay. If there was no “ability to pay” provision, like I think taxes in the ancient world, then in effect it might be a form of forced labour, but a remarkably unsupervised one at that.

        It’s notable that tax is all about money, all about those little pieces of metal and paper decorated with symbols of the nation and the state, on one side H. M. The Queen, on the other side Charles Darwin. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and all that. The value of the money is pretty much inherently tied into its role as part of a larger society – leave someone stranded on a desert island and they maybe could use some notes as tinder and make arrowheads from coins, but really they’d not be getting full value. They’d not be getting full value from gold coins either. Money is about society.

        If someone doesn’t want the greater good, let the greater good be taken from them. Start with the ground beneath their feet; without their nation to fight for that land (often to unjustly conquer it) that would be gone. Next, the lives of their ancestors, and the fruits of those lives. Let they who wish to opt out of the greater good have lives free from it: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and mercifully short.

        The child’s circumstances are very odd, it’s hard to find a parallel. The child never engages in financial transactions, draws no income, buys no goods, does not participate in the economy. If there are taxes in Omelas (there’s a farmer’s market, so there’s at least trade) then it’s quite possible that the child is one of the few Omelasians of its age not to pay any sort of tax (if you count buying goods subject to sales tax as a tax). No-one seems to demand labour from it (that’s the pronoun the text uses), apart maybe from the occasional kick to make it stand up, and that’s stretching things a bit. The child isn’t controlled by commands or prohibitions – the child is kept in place by walls. The child does nothing for the community; not in the sense of active doing, nothing that the child must be told to do, or told it must do if it wants to do something else. The child looks much less like a taxpayer, a participant in society, the economy and the state, and more like a victim of neglect (to me, like one neglected because there weren’t enough taxes to pay for the services to prevent the neglect). Living a life of unknown length, but one that is, well, solitary, poor, nasty and brutish.

        • Jiro says:

          I mean, the difference in degree is so shocking that it’s all a bit “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the theatre?”,

          Yes, but that’s an objection to the standard interpretation too: having everything depend on a child’s suffering is so different in degree from being an ordinary person who buys shoes made in a sweatshop, or an oil baron, or a landlord, that it may as well be a difference in kind.

          The child never engages in financial transactions, draws no income, buys no goods, does not participate in the economy.

          The child owned stuff (some utils, or however you want to phrase it). This stuff was taken away because taking it away could provide more good for other people than it provided to the child. Taxing people on stuff they have rather than stuff they purchase is still a tax.

          Anyway, there’s still the question of not taxes specifically, but the more generalized “if you identify with the child, that flips the moral around, and the story is now about how we shouldn’t ask people to sacrifice for the good of society”.

          • Peter says:

            Comparing being taxed with sweatshop labour is a bit Mrs. Lincoln too.

            I wasn’t aware there was a standard interpretation – there seem to be lots of them about, in a previous thread someone mentioned that in some English Lit class the standard interpretation was that the happiness of Omelas was comparative; the city isn’t really a semi-miraculous paradise, the citizens just go and see the child to make the city seem semi-miraculous in comparison and this was taken as read and people in those circles were surprised there were any other interpretations.

            Sacrifice: there are quite a lot of “we shouldn’t ask…” morals that one could try to draw, sensible ones would probably include the word “excessive” somewhere. Unless you subscribe to the principle that if a huge amount of something is terrible then any amount is unacceptable, a sort-of corollary to “if some is good then more must be better”.

          • Jiro says:

            Comparing being taxed with sweatshop labour is a bit Mrs. Lincoln too.

            I’m not comparing being taxed to sweatshop labor; I’m comparing an argument against being taxed with an argument against sweatshop labor. Actually, I’m not even doing that. I’m comparing an argument against being taxed with an argument against having a small percentage of responsibility for sweatshop labor.

            And you’ll also find that SSC has one of the highest percentages of supporters of sweatshop labor on the Internet. It’s not a nice thing, but it’s still a voluntary transaction, and if the sweatshop wasn’t there, the laborers would be no better off than they are now.

            I wasn’t aware there was a standard interpretation

            English lit classes who don’t understand SF don’t count. You could watch Star Wars and say “since there is no such thing as a spaceship, the whole movie is obviously about hallucinations”, but despite the fact that Star Wars contains a lot of non-sci-fi tropes dressed up as sci-fi, that would still be stupid.

    • sconzey says:

      I heard that this story was supposed to be interpreted a little more literally– Omelas is SF fandom and the child represents the allegations of child abuse made as part of the Breendoggle amongst other things.

      • Interesting idea, but that’s only valid if you accept the notion that expelling Walter Breen from the San Francisco Worldcon was going to fatally undermine the whole edifice of fandom. Obviously that didn’t happen. And Breen eventually died in prison.

        • sconzey says:

          Reading some of the stuff written by e.g. Heinlein at the time, it seems like that was an argument which was being made in seriousness.

          Also remember that the Breendoggle was ’63, Omelas won the Hugo in ’73, but Breen wasn’t actually imprisoned until 1993, so when Omelas was written there was at least one sexual predator active in SF fandom. Breen’s daughter, Moira Greyland claims there were more than one.

          • Reading Heinlein’s letter to MZB, I don’t think the implication is that keeping Walter out of the Worldcon would destroy fandom. It’s rather that the whole controversy over Walter is, along with other things, evidence of things wrong with fandom which make Heinlein unwilling to participate in it.

            It sounds as though Heinlein thought Walter innocent of the things he was accused of, although it’s possible, given Heinlein’s views of sex as shown in his books, that he thought Walter was guilty of things that were but should not be illegal.

          • sconzey says:

            @David: Yes, you’re right. It was a while since I read it and I mis-remembered the tone.

            The third possibility, raised by Mark Eddy and quoted here is that Heinlein only knew about the Breendoggle via MZB, and so wasn’t aware of the details of what had actually occurred.

      • Have a different literal interpretation– children have to be raised by adults. Some of those adults are very abusive, and no one is willing to do the level of surveilance and interference to guarantee that all children are raised under at least adequate circumstances, not to mention children who are in horrible circumstances as a result of war, natural disasters, and vicious government.

        In that sense, we’re living a worse deal than Omelas– more than one abused child, and we don’t get utopia in exchange.

    • suntzuanime says:

      You don’t have to walk away from Omelas, but if you don’t, you can’t complain when you turn out to be the child. That’s fair.

      • Montfort says:

        You don’t have to walk away from the Soviet Union, but if you don’t, you don’t get to complain about being sent to the Uranium mines. That’s… contrary to most peoples’ senses of “fair”.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I feel like people were not permitted to walk away from the Soviet Union.

          • Montfort says:

            Is that really the difference you see as relevant? There’s some threshold for difficulty of leaving, and if it’s exceeded, you just say “eh, don’t even try, no big deal”? And that threshold is somewhere between “no border controls” and “low possibility of legal emigration allowed”?

            Not all people were permitted to leave the Soviet Union, but many had the opportunity to do so. If a Soviet ballerina misses his chance to defect on a tour of Europe, do we no longer find his complaints of unfair treatment moving? How about the East Berliners who didn’t move west before the wall was finished?

          • suntzuanime says:

            That is kind of the difference I see as relevant, yes. When people with automatic rifles are preventing you from doing a thing, the moral responsibility for your failure to do that thing is transferred from you to them.

            In the Omelas example, the reason you don’t walk away is so that you can enjoy the suffering-powered utopia. Adding other reasons not to walk away makes the thought experiment impure.

          • Montfort says:

            I disagree. In the story, it is not made clear whether one even really can walk away from Omelas – other places may not even exist. If possible, the cost of doing so may be nothing, or it may be your life, or anything else (it may even end up being a net positive). It is implied that the cost is irrelevant.

            (As a historical note, there were indeed many citizens of the Soviet Union who were able to defect quite peaceably, sometimes even to emigrate legally. Not everyone could do it by a longshot, but I think even those who could have but did not, or could have attempted at low risk but did not, are entitled to complain if they end up in a labor camp.)

          • “but I think even those who could have but did not, or could have attempted at low risk but did not, are entitled to complain if they end up in a labor camp.”

            I think the impact of the story depends on the assumption that the wonderful life of the inhabitants is somehow causally related to the misery of the child. If you are willing to benefit by his misery, you can’t complain if it becomes your misery.

            That wouldn’t apply to the Soviet case.

          • Montfort says:

            David Friedman,

            I would contend (and am not alone in contending) that the living conditions of citizens in the Soviet Union did depend, most especially from its birth to the conclusion of the second World War, on the mobilization of forced labor. Perhaps there were other, better ways to achieve the living standards they had, but if the prisoners in the GULAG, etc. were freed, the existing system would not have worked.

            Similarly, perhaps there is a better way to run Omelas, even a Pareto improvement. But that is not how Omelas is run, and the power of an individual Soviet citizen or denizen of Omelas to change these facts approaches zero.

          • “but if the prisoners in the GULAG, etc. were freed, the existing system would not have worked.”

            Did the prison labor produce much? I assumed it was mainly a way of dealing with people Stalin wanted to punish.

          • Montfort says:

            Concerning natural resources specifically (mostly GULAG):

            Up until World War II, the Gulag system expanded dramatically to create a Soviet “camp economy”. Right before the war, forced labor provided 46.5% of the nation’s nickel, 76% of its tin, 40% of its cobalt, 40.5% of its chrome-iron ore, 60% of its gold, and 25.3% of its timber

            (from wiki, citing Ivanova, Labor Camp Socialism: The Gulag in the Soviet Totalitarian System)

            There were a number of big, flashy projects they completed, e.g canals and railways, and did some construction (see Ivan Denisovitch) and other assorted labor. I don’t know how to easily determine the significance of these operations, though.

            Depending on the specific criteria we’re looking at, GUPVI, kolkhozy, etc, might also be included. GUPVI was similar to GULAG in focus, kolkhozy for food, other forced labor for manufactured products.

            It is also true that labor camps and mass imprisonment served important political purposes in the Soviet system, I think there’s a fair bit of historiography arguing about which consideration was “more important.”

            [Edit: described quote a bit more accurately]

      • Julian R. says:

        I’d accept that.

    • Mary says:

      The whole edifice of Omelas could be brought crashing down the instant anyone thought, “This is intolerable” and went and said a kind word to the child. Instead of purely and uselessly walking away.

      • Julian R. says:

        Yeah, that’s what struck me most – the uselessness of walking away. It seemed strictly dominated by either, as you said, being nice to the child, or chilling out and making the most of your life of bliss.

        • Ruprect says:

          It isn’t always possible to effect positive change, but you can (almost ?) always refuse to be complicit in evil.

          I feel there is some value to that – to refuse to engage with or profit from something that you find appalling but cannot stop – social signalling to the universe, or to yourself, – I will not take *that* cucumber.
          There is something admirable about that, I think.

          • Julian R. says:

            Yes, I do agree that that is admirable, but it seems to me that in real life it almost never happens that there is literally nothing you can do apart from refuse to take part.
            The sense of satisfaction you get from taking a stand might counteract your desire to actually try and fix things.
            What if, say, you tried to organize a mass walkaway, like a significant percentage of the city’s population. That, I’d consider a lot more admirable.

      • No, it’s explicit in the story that the child has taken so much damage that its life can only be made a tiny bit better.

        I haven’t seen any discussion of strategies which involve not imprisoning the next child.

        • Mary says:

          No? What’s “no” about it?

          The person doesn’t even have make the child’s life just a tiny bit better; he can conclude that such a rotten edifice should be destroyed regardless.

          Also, please note that the claim that the child’s life can only be made a bit better is something we are explicitly told that people tell themselves while reconciling themselves with sticking around to enjoy the fruits.

    • BBA says:

      The reading I’ve seen from various lefty-aligned people is that Omelas is Western civilization and the child is the Third World. The message is that our high standard of living is impossible without other people’s suffering.

      Yes, I know, dependency theory has been proven false. It still feels morally true.

      • onyomi says:

        How does it feel morally true? It doesn’t feel intuitive at all to me that 1st world riches are predicated on 3rd world poverty.* The key point to me is that poverty, not wealth, is the default state of humanity.

        *Edited to add: one way in which this feels sort of true to me today is with immigration debates. A major effect of 1st world immigration restrictions is to keep first world wages from plummeting to the benefit of 3rd world workers. Ultimately I think everyone would be better off with more freedom of movement, but it might take a generation or two.

        • One argument for it, from the standpoint of people who don’t believe in a moral link between producing things and being entitled to consume them, is that the developed world is rich only because it does not choose to share its wealth with the poor parts of the world.

          That argument may well be wrong, given the difficulty of making people in poor countries better off–in practice, “foreign aid” largely consists of transfers to the not-poor elite ruling poor countries, and it isn’t clear how one avoids that. But that point isn’t obvious.

    • onyomi says:

      Haven’t read Omelas, but the premise reminds me a great deal of the movie Snowpiercer, in which a little child is forced to sit in a cramped space to replace a part that is key to running a train which is humanity’s last refuge.

      In that film, I did not feel a lot of sympathy for the rebels because it seemed to me that they would sooner all humans die than that some of them live in misery while others lived well.

      Conversely, my intuition for the Omelas case (which, again, I haven’t read) is that enjoying the utopia is wrong. I think it’s because my understanding of the case is that the alternative to utopia at the child’s expense is not extinction, but just less-than-utopia. Making one person miserable to save humanity seems justified in a way that making one person miserable to make humanity comfortable does not (and I think this relates to my intuition that government force is justifiable to the extent, but only to the extent that it is necessary to avert a catastrophe).

      Though this to me raises a question about utilitarian value calculations, which I think I’ll raise in a new thread.

    • Ruprect says:

      Questions about this story:

      1)Does suffering add a richness to life?

      2)She writes that the story cannot be believable until we include the suffering child. Is this somehow related to the first question?

      • Aegeus says:

        I think it’s just pointing out a general SF trope – nobody ever writes a story set in a perfect utopia, so as soon as we hear a description of a perfect utopia we immediately start looking for the dark secret. Indeed, if the utopia didn’t have a dark secret we’d probably feel that the story had wasted our time.

        This does seem related to the first question, though. It seems like, if a good utopia is ever built, it should be a world that you can tell stories about. That’s basically the criticism of lotus-eater/wireheading utopias – they would be boring. They just sit there and rack up the utils. There’s no story. But to tell a story, you need a conflict.

        That said, while you can’t tell a story without conflict, I think you could tell a story without suffering. Think about a sports drama. There’s risk – the heroes don’t win every game. There’s something at stake – they could lose the championship! But, not counting the occasional dramatic injury right before the finals, do they really suffer? Or are they just not maximally happy?

        • Jiro says:

          I think it’s just pointing out a general SF trope

          I don’t think so. The story is social commentary about the real world. It wouldn’t point out a SF trope unless this is somehow useful for that purpose, so it must mean “realistic stories have to have a dark side because the real world has a dark side”, not “stories have to have a dark side because that makes for a better story”.

        • Urstoff says:

          They don’t call it “the agony of defeat” for nothing.

        • LHN says:

          [N]obody ever writes a story set in a perfect utopia, so as soon as we hear a description of a perfect utopia we immediately start looking for the dark secret. Indeed, if the utopia didn’t have a dark secret we’d probably feel that the story had wasted our time.

          Somtow Sucharitkul (who later switched to horror as S.P. Somtow, and then to opera under his original name) made this explicit in his Utopia Hunters stories. An interstellar organization took it as a given that any supposed utopia had a fatal flaw, and dispatched agents to identify it and bring down the utopia.

          IIRC– it’s been twenty-plus years since I read them– in most cases they were correct, but there was one where an Inquisitor found an apparently flawless utopia and joined it.

    • multiheaded says:

      I’ve said words about it here before, and now will just say: “walking away” – a seemingly pointless act in isolation, but done in hope that others would join one and shift the balance – represents timeless decision theory of some sort. And Le Guin makes explicit references to… a kind of timeless decision-making and how it figures into ethics in The Dispossessed.

      Also, no, it’s magic, you can’t just disrupt the spell, and you can’t go for political options rather than acquiesce/leave, which probably has to be the case seeing as it’s already a philosophical exploration of some specific corner of politics/ethics. idk.

      • Mary says:

        How would more people leaving “shift the balance”?

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          More people leaving the city means more people seriously looking for alternative power sources that are morally greener than the suffering of a forsaken child.

    • Anonymous says:

      Everyone wants to talk about the moral dilemma in the story, but I’m more interested in LeGuin’s complaint that we are too sophisticated to read about happiness. The reaction to the story bears her out. In the story, all anyone talks about is the suffering child.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Nah. I watch slice-of-life anime. It’s easier to enjoy the happiness there, because there isn’t so much narrative focus on a suffering child. It’s not a deep point she’s making, just a cheap trick, like demanding your readers not think about an elephant and claiming this proves everyone is obsessed with elephants.

        • Anonymous says:

          If writing a story about an elephant makes people find your story very interesting, maybe people really are obsessed with elephants.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I guess it’s more like deliberately sabotaging the public schools and claiming that as proof that we need to privatize. There is a way to make happiness engaging, LeGuin has not learned it, and she blames me for her failings.

    • keranih says:

      I have been looking forward to the discussion of TOWWAfO. I read a lot of early Le Guin and TOWWAfO is one of her better known and accessible works.

      I recently re-read it, after having read it first nearly thirty years ago, and was surprised (and to some extent, devastated) by how much I *loathed* this trite piece of agit prop. The story is bullshit – it is a made up fairy tale about a made up place, with made up people (“who don’t have to use many drugs because they live in such a happy place” – it’s another version of ‘oh, people only use addictive substances to escape the heart-breaking misery of their lives’ please, bitch, that’s not why people use drugs or drink or the like, and quit saying so) who enjoy made up weather and made-up ponies who never break a leg racing(*) –

      – and of course it has a made up evil secret at its heart.

      I am even more disappointed because while I wasn’t ever *crazy* about this short story, I have always really liked The Dispossessed (**) and thought it a wonderful exploration of how difficult it can be to build a better world (and better people). I love this book – as I do much of Four Ways to Forgiveness – because it was about flawed people muddling through the shards of a mirror of their ideals towards the Real World. The Dispossessed is explicitly an answer to the issue of how to deal with Omelas, and so TOWWAfO has had a special place in my heart, even when much of Le Guin’s short fiction has been leftist fairytales.

      (She can’t write a rightwing fairy tale, and that’s actually okay.)

      But on re-read, I got smacked in the face again with just how poorly Le Guin can parse the ideals of her outgroup – all the nuance that is present in The Dispossessed is just not there. Of course, a lot of that has to with the format – TD and this short are entirely different things, and part of the fault is on me for not wanting what TOWWAfO is.

      Regarding the choice and the child, though…

      I am inclined to hold that just as the beauty of Omelas is overstated and unrealistic, so is the pitiable misery of the child. I don’t think it’s possible for a life to be untouchable, nonredeemable, unable to be modified by human decency, much less Grace. The assumption that someone else’s life is so miserable that it is not worth attempting to improve their life if that effort risks degrading the lives of others is used to justify a number of things – the abortion of Downs syndrome children, for starters. But considering that would require nuance to enter the equation.

      I was disapointed enough in this that I think I will hold off on rereading more Le Guin. I don’t want to find that I actually dislike “The Wife’s Tale”, for instance, or Tehanu.

      (*) Or die of colic, if one wants to use a Mongolian template instead of American TB racing

      (**)Leaving aside the stupid and hamfisted “a side arm is just like a penis” anti-firearm analogy made in the first three pages, which even in the 1980’s was eye-rolling, it was a really good book.

    • Dr Jekyll says:

      I agree with several commentators that the moral dilemma in Omelas is far-fetched, but I think that’s the point. Le Guin keeps highlighting the fact that the story is fiction, with her refrain of “Do you believe,” etc. The only reason there’s a moral dilemma at all, by her own admission, is to give the story more interest: “Now do you believe in them? Are they not more credible?”

      But when we actually look at the presentation of the dilemma, it isn’t credible. The central premise — that Omelas’ happiness depends on torturing the child — has no explanation, no justification beyond ancient tradition, and makes no concrete sense. Le Guin presents it only to prove a point: that we’ll remember it and talk about it. It’s an illustration of the accusation that we think “only evil is interesting.”

      The way Le Guin depicts the townspeople’s feelings bears out the point. They don’t, in good consequentialist fashion, consider their situation a necessary evil. They convince themselves it’s good. The child wouldn’t really need its freedom anyway. It teaches them compassion and nobility and gentleness. It is “perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives.” The citizens of Omelas don’t illustrate rational consequentialism so much as rationalized complacency. To them, unmitigated good wouldn’t actually be good, in line with that “rather bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid.” Le Guin accuses her readers of wanting a catch, and then uses the townspeople to demonstrate that desire.

      So in my view, the moral of the story is that evil is not in some ultimate sense sophisticated or necessary for happiness. And that we tend to pretend it is, to the point of liking an extreme thought experiment with that premise. We’re complacent. The end of the story shows another way. I don’t think leaving is supposed to show a certain response to the dilemma — if you objected to the city wouldn’t just free the child? Rather, it represents declining the terms. Le Guin wants the reader to walk away, to find Omelas uninteresting, to keep searching and trying for an ideal rather than rationalizing.

    • stargirlprincess says:

      I don’t see anything seriously wrong with omelas. The city is getting an incredible deal.

      Imagine the following deal is offered to 1 million people:

      “The deal is only on if at least 500K of you accept. If the deal is one 499,999 get to live magically great lives in a wonderful city. The remaining one person has to endure the horrible treatment the Omealas child endured. The torture victim will be chosen randomly. ”

      I personally would sign up. If the city is larger then the deal gets even better. And many cities are larger than 500K. However the Omelas story doesn’t say how big Omelas is. If Omelas is sufficiently small then the deal might not be worth it.

      Omelas is slightly less moral since not everyone has to risk being the one to take the torture. But it doesn’t seem that much less moral to me. My ideal situation would be to replace omalas with “lottery Omelas”. But If I can’t do that I would gladly rather have Omelas than a normal city.

      • anonymous says:

        If I sign up to play some violent sport like rugby or boxing, I am taking on a low risk that I’ll get horrendously injured and suffer terribly, -somewhat like the child in omelas, and in return I get to be fitter, healthier and happier, somewhat like the rest of the citizens in omelas.

        That’s what your analogy is like, -it illustrates a completely normal accepted, and near universally accepted part of our society.

        In Omelas the child *doesn’t sign up* (and is also, somewhat notably, a child).

        Why are boxers not prosecuted for second degree murder, when someone (very rarely) dies in the ring?

        -*Because they signed up for it*

    • Omelas could also be an allegory of the pre-Civil-War American South, where lives of comfort and luxury were supported by brutal slavery.

      Look at the writings of and about the leaders of the South during the age of slavery. They saw themselves as part of a highly advanced civilization, and slavery not as a necessary or temporary evil, or even as just a longstanding custom, but as a positive good in the world.

      If someone like John C. Calhoun were brought back to life, it would be difficult to manage a civil conversation with him.

      • keranih says:

        If so, it’s a particularly hamfisted and misleading allegory, even for Le Guin. (*)

        For the very few elite wealthy land owners of the antebellum, whose continued wealth depended on competent management not just of their slaves but also of their overseers, their livestock, their fields and the merchantizing of their raw and worked goods – we now have a whole city whose life is more one of ease than of industry. (To be sure, they still race horses.)

        There is no mention of the huge middle class of yeomen farmers, of small traders with one or three slaves who shared the same space as the master and his family, the free blacks who owned slaves and the impoverished day workers of any race who did not.

        And for the wide variety of experiences of enslaved blacks – from the aforementioned tradesmen’s assistants, house keepers, child minders, and farm managers who lived and worked with white customers, traders, children, who were skilled and planning on buying their way out of slavery; through field crew leaders and uneducated, illiterate field hands – some of whom had seen their families sold away, some of whom were effective hard workers and some of whom spent half the day shirking work and the other half distracted by schemes for running off or avoiding a beating – for all of that, we have one brain-damaged child kept in worse conditions than even the most abused field hand ever had to endure.

        Despite my issues with the story, at least Le Guin did better than tell *that* fairy tale.

        (*) Who did write one of the better responses to “Go Set A Watchman”, in which she criticized the non-Southern progressives as trying to pretend that only bad people living somewhere else were ever racist.

  13. Daniel says:

    Has anyone ever done any research into sunscreen/tanning/risk of the sun?

    For such an important issue that interacts with such a large percentage of the Western world, I was shocked at how little information I could find online that summarizes these issues effectively.

    What SPF should we be using? Absent a sunburn, how dangerous is sun exposure with and without sunscreen?

    • Dahlen says:

      What SPF should we be using?

      Well, that depends upon how white you are to begin with.

      Absent a sunburn, how dangerous is sun exposure with and without sunscreen?

      Sunscreen allows UV radiation to reach you in a proportion of 1/SPF compared to how much exposure you’d get without sunscreen. So a person wearing sunscreen with SPF 50 receives only 2% of the UV exposure they’d get otherwise.

      Generally one single unprotected exposure to powerful UV radiation isn’t enough to cause any noticeable damage, but don’t make it a habit. Aside from increasing your risk of skin cancer, UV radiation also ages the skin quite a lot. (Probably that’s why vampires are said to look ageless. 😛 )

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Sun exposure is net good in the northern hemisphere.

      • Daniel says:

        A few points of response:

        How does one know what their base rate is. Most people seem to base it on how quickly they sunburn, but this seems wildly flawed as many just tan/get darker.

        There are also issues about things like UV A vs UV B, and why SPF 50+ isn’t recommended.

        Additionally, some argue that getting initial sun exposure is a good thing because it helps mitigate future risk – how can one assess these tradeoffs.

        What is the risk of sun exposure/tanning in practical terms. Is it like driving a car for 10 hours, or 10,000 hours?

        Can you explain why “Sun exposure is net good in the northern hemisphere”?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          In practical terms, the risk of sun exposure is negative, even taking into account sunburns. Yes, it’s better not to burn, but almost everyone errs on the side of too much sunscreen.

      • walpolo says:

        Why is it a net good?

        • Mary says:

          Vitamin D, I suspect.

          • Jill says:

            You can take Vitamin D from a bottle. I take Biotics Bio D Mulsion Forte because I live in the Northwest. You can get your Vitamin D level tested by a blood test. Here in the Northwest, I was the first person my doctor ever tested who had adequate Vitamin D. Almost everyone here is low in it. And almost everyone here seems to have Seasonal Affective Disorder and not know it.

            You can buy high quality sun screen type clothing from Solumbra, either on line or in the stores they have.

          • onyomi says:

            Apparently some tests have shown benefits of sun exposure besides just vitamin D, though vitamin D is probably the most important one. Just saying it may not be fully replaceable with a pill.

          • Mary says:

            It could be just vitamin D, if you absorb it better or something when you make it.

      • LaochCailiuil says:

        Except if you have vitiligo like me 🙁

    • onyomi says:

      I don’t know if this is true or woo, but I’ve read that chemicals in regular sun blocking formulations may affect one’s hormones as some plastics supposedly do. They also unambiguously irritate my skin. Also, I always found that they seemed, for me, to block the good effects of the sun without the bad–that is, they prevent me getting a tan, but don’t seem to prevent my skin getting more wrinkly or freckly looking. Also, they block vitamin D, of course.

      My solution has been to use a flesh-colored zinc oxide-based (zinc oxide physically deflects the rays but is not absorbed by your skin) block like this on my face, and nothing else on the rest of my body, where I figure the skin is mostly tough enough to handle the sun and absorb some vitamin D.

    • This is a strange question from an Australia perspective, where skin cancer is a big killer and extensive public awareness campaigns based on fairly extensive research go on. Off the top of my head risk is extremely variant depending on your skin color and the intensity of the UV exposure. It’s influenced by exposure amount and the angle of sun, but also on where you are relative to the ozone holes/coverage. Here weather forecasts often include UV information, because risk levels vary.

    • Error says:

      Tangent: How did pre-industrial civilization deal with sun exposure? I gather most people spent most of their days outside. Were they just perpetually sunburned and in crippling pain? Does the skin somehow get used to it and start tanning instead of burning? (were childhoods made up mostly of sunburn until then?) Were we sufficiently genetically different that it wasn’t an issue? (that seems plausible in prehistoric Africa but not so much in, say, middle-ages Europe)

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        What for do you think the Mediterraneans like their olive oil so much?

        Aaaaaaanyhow, the answer is a combination of staying dressed and just toughing it out. It’s a bit like wondering how people have lived with malaria and other diseases for this long; the human race is much more resilient than some give it credit for.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          The comparison between sunburn and pathogens is ill-chosen. Pathogens are locked in perpetual evolutionary arms races with their hosts, while ultra-violet radiation is a problem that only needs to be solved once.

      • onyomi says:

        I think a big part of it is just genetic diversity. As someone of Irish heritage I could probably live an outdoorsy life today in Ireland without sunscreen (of course, premodern people used clothing, umbrellas, and other barriers). Could I live an outdoorsy life in Hawai’i with no suncreen? No, but there were no Irish people in premodern Hawai’i. Conversely, there is some problem with people of, for example, Ethiopian heritage living in places like Detroit. It is very hard for them to produce enough vitamin D there.

        There’s also the fact that most of the world is fundamentally unsuitable for humans to live in without clothing and shelter. Northern climes are obvious, but I have a hard time imagining anybody ever living naked in Saudi Arabia, either. Humans being able to exist there has probably always been predicated on use of clothes to protect the skin and keep one from drying out immediately (I am interested in the point where hotter weather=more clothes, rather than the reverse; it seems to happen in hot+dry. I also wonder about the etiology of prudishness: it seems to have a high correlation with places where being naked isn’t a good idea to begin with).

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          This is very true, yes. Where humans leave the equator, they invent clothes; not doing so makes the digestive tract grind to a halt and is generally not a pleasant experience.

      • Mary says:

        Skin cancer takes long enough to develop that they probably considered dying of it to be a normal part of old age. Odds were that something else would take you off first.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Yes. Even with widespread use of tanning salons, only about 1 in 250 people get melanoma before turning 50, and the average age of diagnosis is 63. Natural selection cares only a little about what happens to you once you’ve run through your childbearing years, and not at all about what happens to you once you’ve hit 65, when your children are grown and all of your organ systems failing. So the selection pressures for sunburn resistance are weak enough, especially at higher latitudes, to be overcome by selection for improved vitamin D synthesis, or sexual selection for fairer skin.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Not quite true to say it doesn’t care at all after 65, as you still can provide value to your grandchildren. Also, men are capable of having children still at 65, and many biological systems are similar between men and women, so old women can end up free-riding on old men’s sexual capacity.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Humanity’s long lifespan seems to be one advantage it had over neanderthals, in fact.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            1. Men’s fertility declines with age, too, although not so sharply as women’s. Embryos fertilized by 65-year-old men have an extremely high rate of spontaneous abortion and birth defects. Men’s fertility is also constrained by age-assortative mating, as few 65-year-old men will have partners more than 25 years their junior.

            2. Caretaking for grandchildren after 65 has negligible value, because grandchildren contribute less to inclusive fitness than children, because by the time a hunter-gatherer reaches that age most of her grandchildren will be old enough to fend for themselves, and because most child care will be handled by the mother in any case. It will be worth sacrificing your golden years for even small improvements in survival or reproductive abilities earlier on.

      • keranih says:

        Tangent: How did pre-industrial civilization deal with sun exposure? I gather most people spent most of their days outside. Were they just perpetually sunburned and in crippling pain? Does the skin somehow get used to it and start tanning instead of burning?

        Google some older photos. Most European people doing field work were in long pants, long sleeved shirts, and big floppy hats. A loosely fitting tunic and trousers/skirt is about as cool as shorts if the material is made of linen or cotton, because the material wicks sweat and helps with evaporative cooling.

        A caveat on this – photos only go back to the Victorian era, which had interesting ideas on modest wear for both sexes.

        There has been a long standing beauty standard in both Caucasian and Asian cultures that a paler, more “fair” person was more beautiful – because that was what rich women (and men) who didn’t do field work looked like. (This is covered at length in Jane Austin’s Persuasion.)

        But yes, people of all ethnic groups do tan when exposed to sunlight. The Irish and related British Isles groups are notorious for how *little* they tan, but they do change color a little. In some very dark African groups, for individuals who live in temperate regions, winter will see a “flattening” of their skin, and active sports in the summer will darken the skin and bring out blue highlights, which is perfectly obvious once you know what to look for.

      • Cadie says:

        Genetics and use of clothing when needed, I imagine. Dark skin is a lot less prone to sunburn than light skin, and I can’t think of any pre-industrial places where most people had pale skin and little clothing.

        I almost never used sunscreen as a child (bad idea, I know, but read on) and also almost never had a sunburn. When I did, it was something along the lines of staying out all day for the first time that summer, my shoulders turning a little pink but not hurting, and by the next day they’d be tanned darker and not pink at all anymore. Then for the rest of summer I’d just darken more, no more mild sunburn. Greeks are usually darker-complected than others of “white European” descent, no doubt, but we’re mostly not deep, dark brown either, and I’m pretty sure a girl in the USA in summer 1987 has a lot more skin exposed to the sun than a girl in France in 1287.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        That’s what siesta is for. You start working very early in the morning, sleep at noon for a couple of hours, then work until it’s too dark.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          Translator’s note: siesta means nap.

          Depending on the context, it means more specifically a nap taken at noon.

          It’s actually still a common practice in lots of paces in Latin America.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            Especially in rural areas. In cities where people can work indoors, in the shade, with fans and air conditioning, siesta is a lifestyle choice. For farmers it is a necessity.

    • Cadie says:

      The SPF question has a different answer for different people, as is the “how dangerous is sun exposure with and without sunscreen.” You have to consider how much skin is exposed (if you’re wearing long sleeves and pants you’re getting a lot less sun than if you’re wearing shorts and a tank top), how long you’re outside, the potency of the sun’s rays (midday near the equator is going to be stronger than just after dawn much farther north or south), and your personal tolerance.

      If sun-derived aging of skin is a strong worry, there’s the option of using high-SPF sunscreen on the face and neck and medium, low, or maybe even none on the rest of your skin depending on how long you’re outside and your personal needs.

    • Chalid says:

      I’ve been wondering this too, especially as my toddler spends more and more time outside.

      It seems to me that if burns are the problem, then you should aim to go outside unprotected frequently, so that you build up a tan, and save the sunscreen for only those days when you’re going to get especially heavy exposure. I feel like the “always sunscreen everywhere” attitude leads to people getting severe burns when they inevitably forget or miss a spot or what have you.

    • Insufficient sunlight may contribute to heart disease— sunlight leads to release of nitric oxide, which lowers blood pressure.

  14. Daniel says:

    Considering that the empirical evidence shows that:
    1) 90%~ of academics are leftwing, that their political views shape their academic findings, and that academic journals are reluctant and often unwilling to publish conservative ideas.

    2) Most of the cultural and news media is overwhelmingly liberal, and has a tendency to mock/shame anyone who has views outside of “their” overton window.

    3) 50% of the American population (and a similar story exists in many other parts of the world, IE the UK) has views that are counter to the mainstream liberal ideology and culture

    Based on this, I am not surprised that a huge segment of the American population has pretty much ignored and/or rejected what academia and the mainstream media says.
    I feel like the sentiment against experts and new age populism can be greatly explained by this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: 3), I wonder how many would have those ideas if the academia, media and politicians weren’t constantly indoctrinating them in liberalism.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Liberal media do appear higher in volume, but I doubt they are larger in terms of viewership. There seems to be a pattern in many countries of left-wing news sources being scattered among a few newspapers/channels/whatever, and the right being more concentrated and large in that regard.

    • Stezinech says:

      You often hear the counter-argument from liberals though that mainstream media is “establishment” media. Journalists who toe the line with established political powers (which tend to be conservative in nature), stick around more.

      For example, you criticize the Iraq war too much, and you get kicked off NBC:

      There are both forces operating in the media. Certainly you could make a good argument for social liberalism among journalists. But again, you didn’t see too many journalists pushing for gay marriage in 1995. Media tends to follow the political current, rather than swim against it too strongly.

      • Maytag Repairman says:

        Can you come up with a better example of a journalist getting fired for not toeing the “conservative establishment” line than “criticizing the Iraq war too much”?

        Going to war all the time is more of a neocon thing than a conservative thing.

        • Julie K says:

          Back in 2003 the Iraq war was a bipartisan thing.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Republicans representatives were full throated in favor of it.

            Democrats did not want to be hammered for being insufficiently against stopping a nuclear armed terrorist attack. Nor did they want a vote against the war to be used against them in the next general election.

            But there was fairly substantial opposition to the war from the left. Hence fairly sizable and numerous protest events.

            The “liberal” media is mostly centrist in nature. They don’t lead in any direction, they read the zeitgeist.

          • Civilis says:

            While most of the opposition to the Iraq war was from the left, the establishment Democrats of the time, such as Bill Clinton (former president) and Al Gore (2000 Democratic presidential candidate) were supportive of the war, at least at first.

            Republicans also like to suggest that the increased size and visibility of protests against war during Republican administrations indicates that at least some of the ‘anti-war’ sentiment is ‘anti-Republican’ sentiment hidden under a less political veneer.

            I think that whether the media leads or follows popular opinion depends most on the exact issues involved, with foreign policy heavily on the ‘follows’ end. Thinking about it, it might be that, rather than looking at it as following popular opinion, it’s whether or not the media follows an elite group of cultural gatekeepers that are overwhelmingly liberal.

            Because so many celebrities that make up human interest stories care about climate change or LGBT issues, the media has a ready made story, plus they get to interview celebrities. Meanwhile, very few celebrities care about what’s going on in the Ukraine, and when they do, it’s based on the same media reports the rest of us get. 9/11 was one case where celebrities initially had the same shocked reaction as the rest of us, and then the change to more of a stock liberal and anti-Republican position was hampered by the realization that making the American military the bad guys was going to alienate a massive section of the public.

          • Maytag Repairman says:


            You can’t really judge the media based on what they explicitly support, which of course will average out to something rather safe and centrist. They need their plausible deniability after all.

            Instead, look at how the media honor the Overton Window, and in which direction they have allowed that window to shift over the years.

            For example, open hostility to straight white Christians is now pretty much OK in mainstream media outlets. The slightest criticism of diversity, on the other hand, is highly controversial and often results in firing, blacklisting, and/or an extensive smear campaign.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            For example, open hostility to straight white Christians is now pretty much OK in mainstream media outlets.

            Citation definitely needed.

          • Maytag Repairman says:


            Do you want examples of mainstream media content that illustrate explicit anti-white/Christian/male sentiment, or links to other people saying what I’m saying?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Maytag Repairman:
            I am looking for examples of a mainstream media outlets that are
            openly hostile to white, male, Christians.

            I’m not looking for left-leaning opinion columns. I am sure you can find those. If that is all you meant, it is a weaker claim than I thought you were making.

          • Maytag Repairman says:


            I did not claim that mainstream media outlets were themselves openly anti-white/male/Christian. I said this sentiment is treated as OK by mainstream media outlets. (And by the way, I said that as an example of how mainstream media outlets have allowed the Overton Window to shift leftward.)

            (PS. This is not a weaker claim. It is strong claim, strong like bear! Will crush you like bug!)

            I’m not sure what form evidence for my claim could take other than examples of it, or other people saying the same thing (and presumably doing more work than I’m willing to put in to argue their point or provide more examples).

        • Tatu Ahponen says:

          So if you polled, at any stage of the conflict, liberals and conservatives on which were more likely to support the Iraq war, which ones would you think would be more supportive?

          Quick googling turned up this poll from 2008, where people defining themselves as “Conservative Republicans” opposed setting a timetable for Iraq withdrawal by a 73-24% margin, so at least on that basis continuing the war enjoyed wide support in those circles.

          • Maytag Repairman says:

            This gets a little messy…

            If you’re on the Red Team and everyone on the Blue Team says “Going to war is wrooonnng, maaaan” then your natural inclination will be to say “What a bunch of sissy hippies. Let’s bomb the crap out of the bad guys!”

            When the Blue Team stops whining about war (maybe because, let’s say, their Nobel Peace Prizewinning leader goes to war all over the place, eliciting mostly cricket chirps from his Blue Team supporters) then the Red Team has a moment to express their true feelings about war: they’re not such big fans of it either.

            It’s true that between the Red and Blue teams, the Red Team is more easily persuaded to favor war, maybe because they are also more nationalistic, less apologetic toward their country’s enemies, and let’s not forget that Red Team members also tend to have higher testosterone levels.

            There’s indeed a big gulf between what “conservative Republicans” in the pundit class (i.e. mostly neocons–the ones who have been barking “Never Trump”) think of war and what everyday “conservative Republicans” (i.e. everyday people you meet in flyover states–the ones who will elect Trump president) think of war. It’s just that when the Blue Team whines loudly about war it tends to make the pundit class and everyday Red Team members band together.

          • Civilis says:

            Maytag Repairman: It’s true that between the Red and Blue teams, the Red Team is more easily persuaded to favor war, maybe because they are also more nationalistic, less apologetic toward their country’s enemies, and let’s not forget that Red Team members also tend to have higher testosterone levels.

            Although a bit simplistic, it’s worth looking at things from the perspective of the American foreign policy traditions. Neoconservatives tend to be Hamiltonian, believing America has a duty as the Great Power to preserve an America-friendly world order. Traditional conservatives tend to be Jacksonian, not favoring foreign military adventurism except in defense of the US and it’s allies, at which point the duty of the American government is to win as decisively as possible. 9/11 caused both to come into agreement with each other in general: the US was attacked, foreign terrorism was a threat, something had to be done.

            If the Jacksonians had their way exclusively, the US would have bombed the crap out of Saddam and the Taliban as a lesson in ‘why you don’t piss off America’, then gone home. The countries left behind would have been wrecked, but there would have been fewer US casualties.

            Enter the international community and the Democratic Party Establishment. They tend to be Wilsonian, believing America has a duty as part of the world community to build democracy and human rights, and just leaving Iraq and Afghanistan as bombed-out wreckage was unacceptable, so the Hamiltonians and Wilsonians insisted the US stay and build a stable democracy out of Iraq. Until it got too expensive, and then the Jeffersonian (the last tradition, America should just stay home), representing the other half of the left, got more powerful as the quagmire grew between the Hamiltonians (keep bombing terrorists) and Wilsonians (rebuild Iraq while being as nice as possible).

            It’s simplistic, but it fits your narrative:
            Jeffersonian: “Going to war is wrooonnng, maaaan”
            Jacksonian: “Let’s bomb the crap out of the bad guys!”
            Wilsonian: Nobel Peace Prizewinning leader goes to war all over the place
            Hamiltonian: The neo-cons

          • Maytag Repairman says:


            Yes, that’s a good summary.

            My original point was, a journalist being fired for speaking out against a war is not evidence of a mainstream media counter-bias to its liberal bias.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            It’s evidence. Not sufficient evidence, but it’s evidence.

          • Maytag Repairman says:

            @Stefan Drinic:

            It’s evidence of the phenomenon Civilis described (Hamiltonians, Wilsonians, and Jacksonians occasionally agreeing, e.g. after 9/11), but not of Stezinech’s claim that there is a conservative counterbias [of any real significance] to the existing liberal bias in the mainstream media.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            I’m not going to continue the ‘nuh uh yeah huh’ style of debate after this post, but sure it’s evidence. If conservatives are people in support of a certain war, and people get fired for speaking out against it, that’s evidence in support for the conservative viewpoint having power.

          • Civilis says:

            It’s potentially evidence; it’s always possible she was fired for office politics or other reasons unrelated to her war reporting. It’s also difficult to determine in cases like these whether the firing was for the substance or the tone of the arguments. We can also cite major media figures going back to Walter Cronkite that were anti-war, although not so obvious about it (Johnson’s possible quote “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”) as evidence that the media tolerates anti-war politics.

            It also could be that the media is biased in a left-pro-war direction, which would correspond with the Wilsonian tradition. We can certainly point to the media overlooking or downplaying allegations against UN peacekeepers and the uncritical treatment given to ‘international’ or ‘human rights’ interventions like Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Nigeria, and Syria when compared to Hamiltonian / Jacksonian interventions like Iraq as evidence for this supposition. It’s hard to deny the media is less anti-war under Obama than it was under Bush.

          • Stezinech says:

            Nice outline Civilis. It’s very Albion-Seedish.

            I agree with your assessment that the media predominantly takes a Wilsonian (left-interventionist) view on war. I think this has increased under Obama though, and was less the case under Bush, where it was more aligned to the Hamiltonians (neocons).

          • Anonymous says:

            let’s not forget that Red Team members also tend to have higher testosterone levels.

            Is this an overly obscure way of describing the gender gap?

          • let’s not forget that Red Team members also tend to have higher testosterone levels.

            Comparing “Red Team” men with “Blue Team” men, I bet this is untrue. See

          • Maytag Repairman says:


            9/11 might be a confounding factor here, since support for the Iraq War afterwards could be found among people of all political stripes for quite a long time. This is yet another good reason why someone being fired for speaking out too much against the Iraq War is not good evidence of significant conservative counter-bias in the mainstream media.


            Uh…no. Or at least not intended. I just think having more testosterone probably means you’re more likely to support a given war, since war is a pretty aggressive concept and testosterone is linked to aggressive behavior. I have only a layman’s understanding of physiology though so if an informed person explains why I’m totally wrong then I’ll probably shrug and say OK.

            @Larry Kestenbaum:

            You just linked to a 7100+ word Wikipedia article and told me to “see” it for evidence for your bet that Blue Team men have higher (or equal?) testosterone levels than Red Team men. Care to specify what exactly in that article you were referring to?

        • BBA says:

          The media tends to have a pro-war bias regardless of what the war is. It’s good for business, both in the media itself and among the retired generals, foreign policy thinktank types, etc. that reporters hobnob with at those Georgetown cocktail parties.

          • The media, regardless of political coloration, also has a tendency to favor executives and executive authority over legislatures.

            Quick, decisive action, like vetoes, invasions, firing people, etc., is generally favored over the drawn-out and usually public wrangling over options that is seen in a legislature.

            A couple of examples:

            * In 1981, when President Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers, cutting short their strike and breaking their union, he got much more support and praise from the media than criticism, let alone denunciations.

            * Ithaca, New York elected a Socialist mayor who was hated by the Gannett-owned daily paper there. But when he started issuing vetoes, cutting short the city council’s wrangling over road projects, etc., suddenly the editorial page saw him as a hero.

      • Paul Torek says:

        Certainly you could make a good argument for social liberalism among journalists. But again, you didn’t see too many journalists pushing for gay marriage in 1995.

        And don’t forget the old saying, he who is the piper calls the tune.

        Um, wait, that’s not how it goes.

    • Sir Gawain says:

      Considering that the empirical evidence shows that:
      1) 90%~ of academics are leftwing, that their political views shape their academic findings, and that academic journals are reluctant and often unwilling to publish conservative ideas.

      It wouldn’t surprise me, but…citation needed. This seems like an overly broad claim; it doesn’t seem like the natural sciences are at all affected by this, economics only very marginally so, political science also only somewhat marginally and maybe anthropology, sociology and [identity] studies strongly. It seems like there’s an inverse correlation: the more explicitly political (and less quantitative/testable) a field is, the less anyone cares about what its practitioners have to say.

      Are conservative ideas developed with the same analytical rigor as liberal ones really rejected from academic journals?

      • SJ says:

        1) 90%~ of academics are leftwing…

        Followed by

        It wouldn’t surprise me, but…citation needed.

        Not sure if this counts as a citation.

        Jonathon Haidt has been studying and speaking about this the most. Every once in a while Megan McArdle publishes an article on Haidt, and on this subject.

        Neither is a carefully-researched paper, but both cite good research.

        In my own experience…when I attended grad school in a former-mining-town in the Great Lakes region, I found far more liberals among the faculty than among the townspeople.

        However, I was attending a school full of hard-sciences and engineers. And I didn’t see a 9-to-1 ratio among the faculty. (By my guess, the ratio was closer to 3-to-1 in favor of social-liberals/economic-liberals.)

    • TomFL says:

      I think there has been a long term slow degradation in trust of the knowledge class that is a bit inexplicable, but a symptom of why it has happened is evident in their reactions to the Brexit, and the Trump phenomenon.

      Megan McArdle sums it up:

      “A lot of my professional colleagues seemed to, and the dominant tone framed this as a blow against the enlightened “us” and the beautiful world we are building, struck by a plague of morlocks who had crawled out of their hellish subterranean world to attack our impending utopia.”

      I have been a bit taken aback by what can only be described as a unanimous temper tantrum by the media, academia, and political classes. Although “out of touch” is an overused term, it applies here. The Stay side called for the referendum and seems baffled by the loss. Regardless of the root cause, what is clear is they do not have an understanding of what their own voters think.

      This very same knowledge class are allegedly (self assured) experts in communication and the social sciences. What is curious is how few of them have taken this opportunity to look inward instead of thrashing about because Mommy won’t buy them candy. It’s been a bit of a spectacle, and not a good one at that. I would say the reaction reinforces why people now distrust a perceived “dictatorship of experts”.

      The most introspective review I read actually came from Glenn Greenwald, not my typical go to place for opinions I agree with.

      • Zorgon says:

        The Stay side called for the referendum

        Only true in the most literal sense in that David Cameron is a Remainer and called for the referendum. It was called in response to threats by anti-EU Tory party members that threatened to form a breakaway bloc in the lead-up to last years elections. The polls were extremely close and everyone expected at best a majority of one or two MPs, so to preempt this Cameron offered the own Leave faction a referendum (as part of the Tory Manifesto).

        As it turned out, the Tories took maximum advantage of the electoral collapse of the Liberal Democrats and Labour were so severely damaged by the post-independence-rejection Scottish results that the Tories won outright with a significant majority. But the deal was struck and the pledge made and the Tory party’s Leave faction is quite large, so the referendum went ahead to enable the rest of the Tory agenda to proceed smoothly. The Establishment, of course, fully expected an easy Remain win.

        Then Leave won and now Cameron has quit, since this is literally all the fault of the Tory Party leadership.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I don’t see the degradation in trust as inexplicable at all. IMO the Brexit vote and ensuing tantrum has only thrown into stark relief what was already there.

        In short the cosmopolitan knowledge class doesn’t seem to think that it owes any sort of allegiance to those ignorant rubes in “the flyover states” (or Sunderland) so the question has to be asked why should the rubes feel any sense of allegiance in return?

        • Anonymous says:

          You can’t eat spite. Spite won’t pay NHS doctors. Spite won’t make repairs to your council flat. Spite won’t fund your pension credit.

          When London sneezes the rest of England gets the flu. The rest of the England just deliberately gave London the flu. What do you think is going to happen now?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Interesting. The disdain often said to be held by American right-wingers towards welfare recipients turns out to be held by British urbanites toward more-rural populations.

        • TomFL says:

          It’s inexplicable in the sense that the knowledge class is allegedly smart enough to avoid this problem in the first place. Throw enough bones to the rubes to keep them from burning down your gated community.

          I want to believe the knowledge class isn’t just another tribe who zealously protects their own interests, as they like to present themselves. This is getting harder and harder to believe.

    • Outis says:

      I would love to read something about how 90% of academia came to be left-wing. It wasn’t always that way, was it?

      • No. As recently as 1960, pretty much every non-Southern college town was Republican, usually more Republican than the surrounding area.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          That doesn’t mean they were Conservative.

          • That doesn’t mean they were Conservative.

            True. But it does tend to show they weren’t “90% left wing”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            As in actual card carrying communists? No, I’m guessing that, while more popular among professors than the general public, actual communist professors were rare. Just as they are today.

            But there weren’t many of those in the Democratic Party either.

            I imagine that Republican affiliation among professors in the 1950s through the 1970s looks a lot like the changes in the affiliation of black people.

          • I imagine that Republican affiliation among professors in the 1950s through the 1970s looks a lot like the changes in the affiliation of black people.

            In the same direction, sure, but not at exactly the same time.

            For example, though Republican Party identification was widespread in the black community until 1964, every Democratic presidential nominee since 1936 has won among black voters.

            By contrast, Franklin Roosevelt, in four landslide elections, never carried the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, or East Lansing, and I believe the same applies to all of Michigan’s other college towns (I mean, places where academics and their families were a substantial part of the voting population).

            To me, that implies significant disapproval of the New Deal among Midwestern academics.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum:

            Well, not carrying a college town is different than knowing how the professors themselves vote. I don’t know what student voting patterns looked like then vs. now, and there are of course, the town residents who aren’t the professors, and should greatly outnumber them once the town has existed for some length of time.

            I also think you are discounting how party politics worked in an age where there were very significant regional differences within each party. Voting (R) in the Midwest was just what you did, much like voting (D) in the south.

            Can you point to any evidence, besides the normative support for Republicans, that professors were conservative?

            I also don’t understand your point about the timing. When do you think it happened?

          • A couple of thoughts on the idea that academia used to be conservative:

            1. A college town has a lot more students than professors, and before 1960 college students were likely to be from relatively well off families likely to vote Republican (I think). On the other hand, prior to the early seventies the usual voting age was 21, so only a minority of students could have voted.

            2. I get the impression reading Mencken that in the early 20th century, visibly left wing or otherwise heterodox professors were at some risk of being treated badly by their colleges or universities and most professors were, if not Republican, at least more generally conservative.

          • Can you point to any evidence, besides the normative support for Republicans, that professors were conservative?

            Again, I never said they were “conservative”. I thought this was an easy question. The original contention (see above) was about academics being ninety percent left-wing. Whether or not that’s true today, it was absolutely untrue as recently as 1960.

            I don’t know what student voting patterns looked like then vs. now

            I am sorry to have to tell you that, except briefly during the 1970s, college students have had a negligible impact on the partisanship of college towns. Before 1971, very few were allowed to vote at all; since 1980, relatively few choose to vote, and those that do are not very different from non-students.

            and there are of course, the town residents who aren’t the professors, and should greatly outnumber them once the town has existed for some length of time.

            My father was a professor. I was born in 1955 and have lived around major universities all my life. I have been politically active since I was 14. In towns where the university is the major industry and #1 employer, I don’t believe there is any significant difference between the partisanship of professors and the partisanship of other voters of similar social status.

            I think your subtext is that academics are unique and special, that they know more, or think more deeply, and therefore differ from other voters who share their demographics and location. I reject that idea. Professors are pretty much like everyone else, they are embedded in their communities, and few of them have any special insight into politics or economics.

            I also don’t understand your point about the timing. When do you think it happened?

            Before 1932, essentially every black voter in America was a Republican. Since 1964, roughly 90% are Democrats. That shift happened in response to a number of specific events, and long preceded the shift among professors.

            Not so very long ago, at least among Midwestern white voters, your income predicted your partisanship, full stop. The more money you had, the more Republican you were.

            In 1981, a professor of statistics was hired by a county Democratic Party organization to model partisanship for redistricting purposes. He was just astonished at how well income predicted partisanship. “This is not like social science,” he said, “this is like physics!”

            That’s not true any more, or at least, the relationship is far more complex.

            Not so very long ago, during my lifetime, the professional-technical occupational group, that is, doctors, lawyers, teachers, writers, scientists, computer programmers, professors, etc., was more Republican in voting habits than any other category. Now, after decades of gradual movement, that same group is one of the most Democratic.

            I think it’s fair to say that “the academy” (generally, the faculty of U.S. colleges and universities) is more politically liberal now than ever before, but that’s just a subset of the larger shift to the left among highly educated professionals generally.

          • 1. A college town has a lot more students than professors, and before 1960 college students were likely to be from relatively well off families likely to vote Republican (I think). On the other hand, prior to the early seventies the usual voting age was 21, so only a minority of students could have voted.

            It wasn’t just the voting age. Most states had laws which severely restricted the ability of college students to register and vote in college towns.

            2. I get the impression reading Mencken that in the early 20th century, visibly left wing or otherwise heterodox professors were at some risk of being treated badly by their colleges or universities and most professors were, if not Republican, at least more generally conservative.


          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum:

            You never said they were conservative, but you are strongly implying that being Republican means they weren’t left-wing, which I am interpreting as meaning liberal. But, there were many liberal Republicans. Knowing they were in the Republican party doesn’t mean that they weren’t liberal.

            I mean left-wing/right-wing was a statement about coalitions more than ideology at one point, so maybe that is what you meant? That by definition “left-wing” means the Democratic party regardless of ideology?

          • “I think it’s fair to say that “the academy” (generally, the faculty of U.S. colleges and universities) is more politically liberal now than ever before, but that’s just a subset of the larger shift to the left among highly educated professionals generally.”

            One obvious explanation is that highly educated people are people who have been influenced by academics for a substantial part of their lives. The test of that explanation would be the timing. Did the shift among academics precede the shift among other educated groups?

          • you are strongly implying that being Republican means they weren’t left-wing

            Maybe I should have said I didn’t much care for the descriptor “left wing” in this context. To me, it implies being further left than just being liberal. A Marxist, perhaps. So, yeah, there were liberal Republicans, but not “left-wing” Republicans.

            I think, too, you are underestimating the extent to which standard Republican rhetoric, from Warren G. Harding onward through the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, was anti-liberal, enough so that a person of liberal or progressive views might not be comfortable.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum:
            The Rockefeller Republicans were the controlling piece of the party coalition from the end of WWII to 1964.

            Your point about Harding is well taken, but I think the rise to prominence of the Rockefeller Republicans shows how diverse the party coalitions were until the advent of the great sorting that starts in 1964 (and has its final denouement in 2010).

            Now, society as a whole moves the Overton window a ton starting in, I don’t know, 1954 with Brown v. Board. So a liberal in 1950 is going to look different than a liberal in 1980.

            Plus the fracturing of the party coalitions (and reformation into more ideological coherent national coalitions) means that liberals are more and more concentrated in one party, and I think that probably has an effect on the liberal Overton window.

          • One obvious explanation is that highly educated people are people who have been influenced by academics for a substantial part of their lives. The test of that explanation would be the timing. Did the shift among academics precede the shift among other educated groups?

            I don’t have data on this. I’d be interested to see it.

            When I was in my second year of law school, following the 1980 election, there was a survey of the first-year class, asking (among other things) who they supported in the presidential election.

            Now, normally, post-election surveys about voting behavior have a huge bias: people like to report that they voted for the winner. But in this case, only 14% said they voted for Ronald Reagan!

            This was a startling number, given how politically conservative and Republican the legal profession was at the time, a state of affairs I foolishly regarded as permanent.

            I reasoned that most of these liberal law students would realign their politics when they started working for corporate law firms and prosecutor’s offices.

            But I was wrong. These new arrivals helped change the political balance among lawyers. Nowadays, no one is surprised to hear that the majority of lawyers are Democrats.

          • E. Harding says:

            There’s zero doubt the college-educated were generally (excluding Jews) more Republican and more conservative in the 1960s than they are today. College-educated Whites voted heavier for Goldwater in 1964 than Bush 2000:


            The correlation between income and partisanship peaked in 1984.

            If you guys haven’t noticed, I wrote a ten-thousand word post on the origin of today’s party system and linked to it in this comment section:


            You might want to read it.

          • In 1964, 19% of Harvard students supported Goldwater according to a Crimson poll. The number was first published as 14 or 15 percent, I forget which, but that was because they couldn’t add.

            I was surprised it was that high. I would have said that about twenty students supported Goldwater and I knew all of them. Which suggests that, even that early, being conservative was seen as the unpopular position, hence not very ideological conservatives didn’t make a point of their position.

          • E. Harding says:

            @David Friedman

            -Goldwater was really unpopular in the Northeast. He got a solid 23% of the vote in Massachusetts.

          • Outis says:

            E. Harding: your post has a lot of useful data, but it doesn’t do much in the way of analysis, and doesn’t do enough to help keep track of things. As a non-American, I tended to get lost amongst the names of politicians, locales and organizations. You went out of the way to highlight who was Jewish, which didn’t seem very relevant at all, while almost never mentioning who is (D) and who is (R).

          • E. Harding says:

            “it doesn’t do much in the way of analysis”

            -You might be right, and this is a legitimate point. The issue is analysis would add hundreds more words.

            This post is definitely not written for non-Americans. A basic understanding of the Civil War, history of U.S. immigration patterns, and the New Deal/Fair Deal and 1980s-1990s is presumed.

            “and doesn’t do enough to help keep track of things”

            -It’s not supposed to. But, if you care, what kind of things should have been kept track of more?

            “while almost never mentioning who is (D) and who is (R).”

            -Thought it was obvious, so I didn’t notice that omission. Fine -I’ll add such descriptions in.

            If I wrote the post for non-Americans, it would be twice as long.

            Usually I have a bunch of links to click on if you want to learn more.

            I’ve also added a table of the party systems at the end for reference.

      • suntzuanime says:

        There was a Communist coup.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        Just gotta wait for the postwar-raised aging hippie ladies to die off/retire. It may take another decade or two, but it’ll happen.

      • Anonymous says:

        Prior to WWII the chief qualification needed to become a college professor was coming from a good (read WASP) family.

    • Kevin C. says:

      As to the leftward skew in U.S. academia, Sam Abrams at Heterodox Academy has a post with some graphs and data examining the regional breakdown of this phenomenon: The Blue Shift of the New England Professoriate.

  15. Odoacer says:

    Slated, an online movie financing company, recently did some analyses on how profitable women vs men filmmakers (directors, producers, writers and lead actors) were for almost all movies released from 2010-2015. They found that for all filmmakers, save directors, women had a higher ROI (return on investment) then men.

    Other key findings:

    -Female writers had the best ROI on both low budget and high budget films ( $25 million)
    –Men filmmakers had higher ROI on almost all films w/budgets < $25 million.

    -With a few exceptions, male directors have a higher ROI across all genres than female directors.

    -Female directors have the lowest ROI on films w/budgets under $25 million.

    Slated claims this is due to the number of screens that male vs female films play on. They conclude that this indicates there is bias against women filmmakers.

    However, I have a few questions/comments that some of you might be able to answer/address:

    1) Is the article's ROI calculation standard for the film industry? I thought ROI was calculated as:

    (Gain – Cost)/Cost.

    Slated calculates it as:

    (Worldwide box office revenue – estimated marketing cost as % of production budget + estimated tax credits & soft money)/production budget

    *If they used the gain- cost equation the ROIs listed for specific movies in the article would be higher, e.g. 13.28 for Fifty Shades of Grey vs the stated 12.14.

    2) There were no margins or error or indication of statistical significance, so I'm not certain if some of the budget numbers are significant.

    3) What would cause movie companies to release female driven films to far fewer screens? The last infographic I assume means female directors.

    • Murphy says:

      The problem is that they didn’t pre-commit to any analysis format as far as I can find. Why do the calculation methods look a little weird? notably if it’s as you describe then the actual cost of the production other than marketing is ignored.

      If you have a dataset and shuffle things around a little you can often dig the results you want out of it.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I’m confused about your question about definition of ROI. It looks to me that the difference between your two formulas is that marketing is included as a cost in the numerator but not the denominator. That should raise the ROI, but you claim that it lowers it. The rest of my comment is about that decision, but if I missed something else, this may be irrelevant. Are you concerned that they are looking at box office and not DVD sales? Yes, it is common to omit them, partly because it is hard to get the information and partly because they can be spread out over time, making comparison of films of different ages unfair.

      The standard in press coverage of the film industry is to report gross revenue and production costs. Mentioning marketing at all is a big step up. The decision to put marketing in the numerator but not the denominator may be an oversight. But I can defend it if you like.

      Film-making can be idealized as a two step process. First, the producers hire (dis)staff and invest money into creating a film. Then the distributors buy the completed film and invest money into distribution and marketing. So the first investment is much more risky and should have its ROI calculated separately. If the producers outright sold the film to the distributors, their return on investment would be about that sale price and their production budget. But they don’t, and even if they did, that figure might be secret. So this calculation assumes that the second stage is risk-free and defines the value of the completed film as the gross minus the assumed optimal marketing and distribution costs.

      • Odoacer says:

        The Slated numbers don’t include DVD sales or rentals.

        I calculated 50 Shades of Grey ROI* based upon wikipedia’s numbers: Budget $40 million and Box Office Revenue $571 million. This gives an ROI of 13.28 compared to Slated’s ROI of 12.14. The same is true for Your Sister’s Sister (another example named in the article). Budget: $125,000 Box Office: $3.2 million, ROI 24.6 compared to Slated’s ROI of 12.34

        I don’t know if Wikipedia’s budget numbers include distribution and marketing; I’m doubtful that it does from what you wrote. I had naively assumed that production budget would include marketing. Regardless, my knowledge of showbiz business practices is quite lacking and the reported numbers are murkier than I thought. So, I’m going to do a little more reading on this subject.


        • Douglas Knight says:

          When you compute from different sources, discrepancy is almost always the input numbers disagree, not the formula.

          Slated claims that the box office of YSS was 2.2 million, citing Baseline, while wikipedia gets 3.2 out of Box Office Mojo. They agree on the production cost of $125k. So that might represent $600k of marketing costs. Or perhaps, Slated is lying about subtracting marketing costs and is just using the domestic box office, because that’s what’s available at IMDB (and also at Box Office Mojo, which is failing, just for this one film, to add up the foreign figures that it publishes).

    • The Nybbler says:

      For #3, the films probably aren’t the same genre. A film like “Winter’s Bone” is going to be released to far fewer theaters than something like “The Hunger Games”, so if women are making proportionally more specialty films than blockbusters (which is my impression), than women’s films will not be as widely distributed.

      As for the accounting… it’s Hollywood accounting. Figures could mean anything or nothing.

      • Zorgon says:

        But, you see, the specialty genres are devalued because women are more likely to make them!

        (Please ignore any inconvenient data which might counter this blatant shoehorning attempt like specialty genre performance during male-dominated periods in cinema)

  16. There’s a lot of predictions about what employment will and won’t be around in 20 years as a result of technological change. These predictions vary. Any suggestions on what sort of things I should think about in determining good skill-sets/jobs to aim for in the medium to long term? I have skills in several technology-related areas but feel uncertain about what direction to specialize in, if any, in the long term, or if tech is even a good area to be in. Any ideas on how I might narrow down reading/research in this area?

    • Murphy says:

      What are your preferences?

      becoming a driver would probably be a poor move but most tech/science jobs are likely to stick around for a while yet.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Well I make no claims of being able to predict the future, but why not add some non-tech skills on top of whatever your specialty ends up being? Having a better grasp of the business / management side of your work will help you if you want to rise to the level of your incompetence, so to speak, and also leaves you with generally applicable skills in the event that your technological skills becomes obsolete. Plus being able to work with the suits and speak to them in their own language will probably make your job a lot easier.

      That’s not totally idle speculation, I’m getting an MBA alongside my PhD for somewhat similar reasons. I can’t fully endorse that plan, since I naturally haven’t tested it yet, but it seems like a sound idea.

    • SUT says:

      I’d recommend a charitable reading of Rich Dad, Poor Dad for an outside the box perspective of how not to expose yourself to the vagaries of javascript framework employment options.

      To take an efficient market hypotheses view: the ability to speculate on most marketable skills in the technology sector decades down the line “if and only if” the ability to speculate on tech stocks decades down the line. In other words, there is a great range of contradictory opinions, most wrong, and anyone who did know the answer would do much better to just invest and make billions, instead of just positioning themselves for a nice raise.

      To apply to Kiyosaki’s view: “Poor Dad” is characterized by having degrees, which forces him into a working in a system of rigid rules, with no substitutes, preventing true bargaining and making him a wage taker. I don’t want to propose that STEM worker is a long term loser, just that it’s been observed for generation after generation that better men than myself, who have done all the right things, have ended up out to pasture.

      The alternative offered, the “Rich Dad” is a little hard to stomach for most technology types. A harsh take would call it basically flipping houses in marginal areas and waiting for a big real estate bubble to inflate there – hey it happened to the author in ’85(?), it can happen to you! Anyways the book is vague as to means, fluffy on the accounting, but I think it plants a seed for what a “Rich Dad” type play for financial security might look like with your skills and personality.

    • Tok Nok says:

      How old are you?

      But the best answer is always become a doctor. Even if its utterly proven by outside parties that computer Watson is a better doctor, there are still plenty of nurses and other underlings to fire who still have a necessary physical job to do.

    • Anonymous says:

      The things I speculate will still be in demand in twenty years:
      – Housing (especially with the current trend of building not-to-last). Going into real-estate, construction and related fields is typically a good choice.
      – Food (though currently pressed down by our transmutation of oil into crops). Not the most lucrative thing, but could be pretty sweet. If you can obtain some farmland, you can typically get some subsidies to keep you afloat, even if you can’t make a profit without them. Further, you could become largely self-sufficient, growing your own food and making your own necessities.
      – Energy. Fossil fuels will probably keep going for another lifetime – a petrochemical engineer is always in demand while exploitation lasts. Other than that, I would suggest nuclear power as the surest alternative. Could do worse than be a nuclear engineer!
      – Transportation. While driving will probably be automated eventually, I don’t think it’ll be this soon. Related fields – such as automobile and aeroplane repair and maintenance are also decently sure to be around.
      – Computing. If you’ve got an ounce of talent, you could do much, much worse than becoming a programmer or some other technician; particularly if you’re interfacing between normal people who can’t use computers and their devices that they ineptly try to use.

      (Tok Nok already mentioned doctoring. It’s a very good deal, since the prevalence of old sickly people is on the rise.)

      • keranih says:

        – Food (though currently pressed down by our transmutation of oil into crops). Not the most lucrative thing, but could be pretty sweet. If you can obtain some farmland, you can typically get some subsidies to keep you afloat, even if you can’t make a profit without them. Further, you could become largely self-sufficient, growing your own food and making your own necessities.

        No. Stay out of the food business unless you are serious, and have either a chunk of capital and experience, or a separate income and lots of time.

        Subsistence farming is hard, unprofitable, and not something that most people can subside on. Certainly they struggle to educate their children while doing so. Most people have neither the skills nor the tools to fashion their own hoe, much less drill a well, construct a tractor, train a mule to harness, gene-type an bull or concoct a (legal and/or effective) anti-parasitic.

        Commercial-scale farming requires a *lot* of land/infrastructure, money, and labor to stay afloat. Even with subsidies, which are not built into stone (even in France, where you won’t be able to *start* a farm if you don’t have one now anyway) and can go away as fast as they came on. It is possible to find management/plant worker jobs – and jobs in sales – but that’s just another variation on worker management and salesmanship.

        If by food one means niche marketing of local foods, that is better, but still one is riding fads and pensive customer prefs, which will be exploited by larger, more efficient (and safer) farms as soon as the fickler purchaser develops a buying pattern.

        Just ask anyone who owned a cupcake franchise.

  17. Muad'Dib says:

    Related to your dog-whistling post a couple of weeks ago. A couple of days ago, Trump tweeted an image saying Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt candidate ever. Unfortunately, the message was on a six-pointed star, placed on a pile of money. Apparently, the image originated on 8ch /pol/. There was a massive uproar, and Trump deleted the tweet and tweeted another image with a circle instead of a star (a slapdash affair: a couple of star-points are peeking out from underneath the circle). See this for the sordid details.

    My view is that this is a matter of Trump campaign’s incompetence and laziness rather than any dog-whistling. I know that Trump has a lot of Nazi and white-supremacist followers, but nobody really has given a reasonable-sounding story as to why he would engage in dog-whistling in this manner. Since Trump openly insults so many minorities, why would he make an exception here? It also doesn’t make sense from a personal or political point of view, since Trump is himself from New York, has a Jewish son-in-law and daughter (converted) and has Jewish backers like Sheldon Adelson. There have been no Trump broadsides against Jewish immigrants etc. like the ones against Syrian refugees. Besides, his alt-right followers probably won’t be happy with this double quick backtracking on the issue.

    • The Nybbler says:

      He’s done this before (retweeting nonsense figures from Stormfront), so at this point I’m suspecting he’s doing it on purpose. Whether he’s courting the neo-Nazi vote, letting the /pol/acks think they’re putting one over on him, or just stirring up some free publicity I don’t know. He’s proven pretty much immune (or more than immune) to accusations of being a neo-Nazi in the past, so it could be a working tactic.

      • Outis says:

        Scott Adams says Trump is actually going to lose if he doesn’t shake the “racist” label, so going for free publicity with that would be a bad choice.

        • Anonymous says:

          He’s already hedging on his original master persuader prediction? Can’t say I’m surprised.

      • Agronomous says:

        courting the neo-Nazi vote

        In all seriousness, how many neo-Nazis do you think we have in the U.S.? If it’s more than 100,000 (out of 320,000,000) I’ll be shocked. That’s one for every ten New Yorker subscribers, which now makes me want to move my shock limit down to 50,000.

        Given their likely, um, education level, that’s 50,000 (or 25,000) votes. The only place that’d swing anything is in Idaho.

        This is like accusing Hillary Clinton of courting the New Black Panther Party vote. (Except that’s totally cool.)

    • Jacob says:

      I agree. I’m a big believer in Hanlons razor, so I don’t think this was supposed to anti-semitic. Especially since the Jewish undertone is pretty subtle. I mean honestly, if it had been 5 points instead of 6 nobody would have thought twice, and 1 additional star point shouldn’t matter. Plus the Star of David is usually presented as two hollow triangles.

      I do think it’s reasonable to point out that if a presidential candidate is being trolled by /pol/, that throws into question whether that candidate will be a good president. Part of the presidents job is being able to separate fact from fiction and Trump sucks at it. When he retweeted some completely made-up and false statistics on race and crime awhile back was his defense was “what, am I supposed to check every statistic?”. YES, YES YOU ARE!

      • Winfried says:

        What do you make of Obama’s usage of misleading at best stats about gender issues?

        I’ll take incorrect numbers on a Tweet 10 times over incorrect numbers in a state of the union address.

        Hillary can’t even keep her own past straight on events as notable as sniper fire and yet the number of points on a star is important?

        • Nornagest says:

          Almost certainly not malicious.

          Your average guy with a college education and no particular reason to question what his sociology classes said is going to be unaware of misleading gender-studies statistics in roughly the same way that a fish is unaware of water.

          Obama’s a step above that, and he’s certainly heard the rebuttals, but why would he bother to fact-check them? He’s not going to make any friends across the aisle by doing so. And we’re dealing with something that “everyone knows” is misogynistic propaganda — even entertaining the possibility will make him less credible to his base.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “Malicious lies” and “reckless disregard for the truth” are ethically closer than the hypocrites want to admit.

          • Nornagest says:

            Maybe so, but that makes almost every politician in the world ethically close to a malicious liar. Like the Facebook memes after Brexit said, we’re now living in a post-fact world.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I feel like we are still living in a pre-fact world, in fact. Do you suppose there was a time when almost every politician in the world was not ethically close to a malicious liar?

          • Nornagest says:

            Depends where you draw the line, I suppose. But politics now does seem less grounded than it was fifteen years ago, if my nostalgia glasses aren’t too strongly rose-colored.

      • youzicha says:

        Can you even call it “getting trolled” by /pol/? It’s not like they set in motion some clever plan for tricking him into tweeting this, right? If anything, it would appear that whoever runs the Trump twitter account also hangs out on 8chan /pol/ and went “ha, that’s funny”.

        To conclude, this election cycle is substandard, and I want a refund.

        • The Nybbler says:

          To conclude, this election cycle is substandard, and I want a refund.

          Are you not entertained? The Romans may have had better bread (though probably not), but this stuff beats blood sports any day of the week.

        • I concur with Nybbler above. This is the most fun I’ve had in an election season since ever.

          • Outis says:

            I’m a bit bored right now because Trump doesn’t seem to be doing much. I think it’s going to pick back up after the Democratic convention.

    • suntzuanime says:

      The starburst is a visually striking shape, which belongs to all humankind, not just the Jews. We don’t let the Hindus claim monopoly over the symbolism of the swastika, even though it’s a much more complicated and information-dense shape.

      • Agronomous says:

        Yeah! Especially now that they’re taking all our precious parentheses!

      • Julie K says:

        The starburst is a visually striking shape, which belongs to all humankind, not just the Jews.

        The article linked above is mistaken in calling it “a holy symbol of the Jewish religion.” It’s a symbol of the Jewish religion, often used in ways that parallel how a cross is used as a symbol of Christianity, but it doesn’t have deep underlying significance the way a cross symbolizes the crucifixion.
        Its use is also relatively recent in the scope of Jewish history; as far as I know it first was used as a Jewish symbol in 14th-century Prague.

        • Thomas Eliot says:

          The Magen David was used as the symbol of King David and was inscribed on the ring that Solomon used to command the Djinn. It’s a pretty old symbol.

    • MugaSofer says:

      He did give a pretty amazing speech to the Republican Jews’ Convention or whatever they’re called.

  18. The discussion, above, of gender and movies, reminds me of a little study I did, years ago.

    I wanted to establish how the gender and ethnicity of candidates for very obscure elected offices (Michigan university boards, 1940-1990 data) affected their vote totals, relative to their party’s average. One thing I found:

    * Female candidates did a little better than average.
    * Male candidates did slightly better than average.
    * Names with ambiguous gender did MUCH worse than average.

    This just supports the truism that people generally won’t vote for you if they can’t visualize you. But it’s a little Lake-Wobegon-ish to be able to say that both men and women are above average political candidates.

    • Murphy says:

      That’s really quite interesting.

      • I suppose the thing to do now is to replicate this with 1992-2016 data. Or take the whole dataset since 1940, and parse out how things changed from decade to decade.

        The thing about Michigan education boards (state board of education, UM board of regents, MSU board of trustees, Wayne State University board of governors) is that voters are faced with a whole raft of completely unfamiliar names, two from each party. A lot of people vote straight party, of course; the rest tend to vote for the most appealing names.

        Substantive characteristics of the candidates, incumbency, etc., play almost no role. It’s not a good system.

        The biggest name-appeal effect was ethnic. Candidates with Irish names (there were many) got more votes than their party average 90% of the time. Hispanic candidates (there were only a few of these) got fewer votes than their party average 100% of the time.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Were the names ambiguous gender because the candidates were from some foreign culture where we don’t the naming conventions (eg most people don’t know if Yuuko is a male or female name)?

      • Were the names ambiguous gender because the candidates were from some foreign culture where we don’t the naming conventions (eg most people don’t know if Yuuko is a male or female name)?

        In some cases, I think that played a role. That’s another reason the study should be replicated by somebody with more careful methods.

        Foreign-sounding names don’t seem to do well in Michigan elections.

  19. Stefan Drinic says:

    SSC, how important is it for centrists to be outspoken? Moreover, how possible is it really?

    Something I’ve noted on more than a few internet communities is that politising things ruins everything; this is not a secret. The pattern appears to be one where one or another line gets drawn, some people take sides, but the majority is left without caring very much either way. It’s when nobody becomes safe to say a damn thing because discussion is now a minefield and everything you say will be used against you, that the sane and uninvested crowd shrugs, gets up, and leaves for greener pastures.

    I’ve wondered for a moment about the use of flipping a number of people off and saying ‘stop being stupid’, but this seems exceedingly likely to produce more trouble rather than less of it. Is there a thing such as ‘radical centrism’? A style of politics where everyone who tries to take sides gets the stick right away? The problem of this inherently becoming something belligerent doesn’t seem like a small one.

    And yes, this was a ramble-ish sorts of post, but this is natural when one is curious and a touch confused.

    • The Nybbler says:

      As soon as you prevent people from taking sides, you’ve chosen sides. Usually though not always for the status quo.

      Anyway, centrism seems like an inherently flawed position; it doesn’t have any principle of its own but blindly declares that the truth lies between the extremes.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        As a philosophical position to always go for, it is flawed. As the political position to default to when deciding what is best for any random forum, it seems much better.

    • Peter says:

      I’d like to come up with a term of my own: “reactive centrism”. “Radical centrism” is to a certain extent already taken, it seems to mean “being very liberal” in the continental-European sense of the word “liberal”.

      So with normal centrism, you listen to various debates and conclude that some of your considered opinions are from column A and some are from column B and some have features from both, that you have more in common with people who are described (including self-describing) as centrist than leftist or rightist, you say, “I guess that means I’m a centrist, then”, and carry on having the opinions you already had. Possibly you might surround yourself with other centrist opinions (possibly even to the extent of joining a centrist party), maybe even find a centrist echo chamber, or find you have more respect for centrists than non-centrists and end up being influenced by them more and taking on more of their opinions.

      “Reactive centrism” is where, rather than having your own opinions, you form opinions “knee-jerk” in reaction to others, in the centrism case to put yourself in the middle.

      There’s a long-running debate in the Lib Dem party about “equidistance”, about whether we should strive to be between Labour and the Tories, or whether we should do our own thing regardless of what the others are doing – their word for what I call “reactive centrism”. I’m not an equidistance fan, as you might have guessed.

      Some of the stuff I’ve read about political polarisation says that there’s definitely a dynamic where you end up with disengaged moderates and engaged immoderates – where if you’re going to stick your head up, it helps to belong to a camp, and to try to be a moderate is to be shot at by all sides.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      How possible is it to speak out on an Internet message board and be thought a centrist? That might be the bigger issue than how many actually exist or speak up.

    • Tseeteli says:

      Centrists are essential for a healthy commentariate. But they need to be centrists in the sense of, “willing to acknowledge good points from either side.”

      Centrists provide the feedback mechanism that separates strong arguments from weak ones. They also provide enforcement for nice social norms like, “don’t be a dick.”

      Without them, you just have partizans. Partizans are predisposed towards rejecting every argument that the other side makes. And they tend to view Other Side in a minimally-charitable light.

      If I’m talking to fully-polarized people, my only feedback for argument-quality is how much applause I can get from the people who were going to agree with me. The other side will disagree with everything, so having them disagree doesn’t make much of a difference.

      The same thing happens with rudeness. If everyone’s polarized then I can be a jerk without worrying about any kind of sanction. It’s not like anyone is willing to flip sides to punish me for jerkiness.

      Unfortunately, this only works if the centrists are actually willing to acknowledge good points.

      There’s a pathology where people get so fixated on the label “centrist” that they’re unwilling to ever make up their mind, for fear that they’ll be mistaken for partizans. (See: Newspapers that report both sides of the global warming ‘debate’)

      When that happens, “centrism” becomes its own faction, except a less interesting one.

    • Paul Torek says:

      Adding a third (fourth, etc.) viewpoint to the mix can have an extremely stabilizing effect, especially when the two most prominent viewpoints are close to balanced in numbers. Now we all become minorities, instead of just some of us.

      If my Google-fu were better, I’d point to some research on racial self-segregation which shows that having three or more races well represented in an area dramatically reduces self-segregation. But I can’t find it. I think it makes a useful analogy.

  20. Theodidactus says:

    Punxsutawney vs. Mcdonaldshell, a question that’s been rattling around my head since the Suffering Vs. Oblivion thread got posted a few days ago.

    I love the film “Groundhog Day,” if you’ve never heard of it, you should look it up. I find it convenient for examining many issues in philosophy specifically comparing various forms of consequentialism. It has, I’m perhaps ashamed to admit, had a major effect on my philosophical inclinations along with “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” which has basically the opposite premise.

    As a short synopsis: the protagonist of Groundhog Day finds himself in a “time loop” where his actions have only minimal consequences. Every day he wakes up in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania, on Groundhog Day. He has complete freedom to move around the town, interact with whomever he wants, eat junk food, rob banks, even kill himself. No matter what he does, he always wakes up the next morning, on the same groundhog day, with the only consequence of the previous day’s actions being his own memories. Everything else is undone. Coincidence conspires to prevent him from leaving Punxsutawney, ostensibly a tiny town without much to do.

    I love the film because they portray this near-freedom from consequences as being both a sort of paradise and a sort of hell…and as being no different than real life . In Punxsutawney, “nothing you do matters,” you would be able to gorge yourself on fine food without getting fat, devote endless amounts of time to your favorite hobbies without going broke or starving, interact with people in daring or impetuous ways without permanently losing friends, or physically assault folks you don’t like without going to jail for more than a few hours…but you’d also be unable to develop normal relationships, see the long-term results of actions that you undertake, or permanently alter the world outside your head in any way…and perhaps worse, you’d have no assurance this would ever, ever end. (For the purposes of the developing hypothetical, let’s say that you only have assurances that it will go on many times longer than a normal life, and possibly forever).

    I’m curious what folks would pick, if they had to pick between Punxsutawney and Scott Alexander’s “Mcdonaldshell”, discussed earlier this week. In Mcdonaldshell you

    “Live the rest of your life working 16 hour days, seven days a week, as a McDonalds cashier. You will have no time off except the time you need to eat, sleep, and use the restroom. Your entire life will be spent doing McDonalds cashier related tasks. When you are no longer able to perform your tasks, you will die painlessly.”

    People interpreted this question in different ways but I pointed out, on that thread, that in McDonaldshell you seem to be able to have semi-human interactions and continuing relationships. Your actions are limited but can indeed have consequences, though you’re no longer able to devote time to your hobbies or anything interesting (basically the opposite of groundhog day, though both deny you the freedom to explore some of the most important and interesting consequences). In many ways, McDonaldshell is better than some currently existing life situations (though as many commentors pointed out, McDonaldshell provides no “hope” that things will get better).

    but is McDonaldshell better than Puxatawney? Which fate would you prefer?

    I’m thinking most people would say “Punxsutawney” so I’d be especially interested in a good minority report.

    • Alex says:

      The whole point of Groundhog Day is that Bill Murray one he accepts his fate has the possibility of character development. IIRC he learns to play the piano or something like that. This indicates that the film actually portraits years rather than a series of consecutive days (I’m of course not the first one to notice this). Most importantly, Murray’s character learns over time not to be an asshole towards the female lead character. The relationship between the protagonists is shown as developing. I think your attempt to steelman mcdonaldshell as a viable option is at odds with the films premise.

      • Theodidactus says:

        I agree that both Punxsutawney and Mcdonaldshell portray situations that allow for “character development” (in quite a literal sense actually), but I think the process you call “steelmanning” is actually an important PART of the film’s premise. Bill Murray (in the film, Phil Connors) is thrown into a situation where it looks like this development can’t happen, but discovers it actually can. Depending on how you’re examining the movie it’s a metaphor for discarding false avenues of development and focusing on workable ones. You can’t do X but you can do Y, and Y is actually far more important. Mcdonaldshell COULD function as a similar metaphor (though of course that was not Scott’s original point*) because I think you can still do a lot of Ys, in fact a few that you can’t do in groundhog day.

        * well yes and no, because the original question was McDonaldshell or Oblivion and my reason for picking McDonaldshell involves a lot of Y that I still would like to do.

        • Outis says:

          The key point is that he changes himself, no? When the film starts, he is unhappy. Normally (for an American man, at least, as well as in a movie) the solution to that is to try to change your circumstances until they make you happier. But here he is absolutely locked into his present circumstances for all eternity. The only thing he can affect is his own mind: skills, attitudes, etc.

          So, after trying everything and failing, he resigns to changing himself. And once he has done so, his circumstances suddenly can change.

    • Jiro says:

      MdDonaldshell is a metaphor for being ems. Ems don’t get to have human interations or relationships.

      • Theodidactus says:

        Yes and no. Arguably, Punxsutawney is a metaphor too, for something that doesn’t allow you to get really really good at the piano. What matters for my hypothetical is that there’s no blanket “you are something very different than what you are.”

    • suntzuanime says:

      I mean, the youtube clip you link pretty much does sum it up, right? McDonaldshell is an option IRL, very few people choose it, revealed preferences, there you go.

    • stargirlprincess says:

      If there is a chance “Punxsutawney” lasts forever I would not even consider it. I would rather be tortured for the next thirty years (or three hundred etc).

      I am not willing to risk finding myself in an eternal situation that I will (or might) eventually regard as a hell.

      • dsp says:

        But how can you reconcile this with the fact that there is a non-zero chance that you are already going to live forever? There is, unavoidably, some small chance that you are, right now, mistaken to assume that death is a real thing that applies to you, and the only way to “not risk finding [your]self in an eternal situation” is to attempt suicide immediately, which you obviously haven’t done (at least, not enough to find out). So, clearly, there’s some level of risk you’re willing to accept.

        • Theodidactus says:

          I think stargirlprincess is extrapolating from the fact that reality seems on its face noneternal (what with heat death and all) and my hypothetical doesn’t (Punxatawney violates time’s arrow). My hypothetical is badly faulty because of this “eternity,” which it’s not really fair to ask someone to comprehend…but it falls apart without it because if Punxatawney is finite (even if it was, say, 10000 years) it’s still clearly preferable to McDonaldsHell

          Suicide might not work in reality either. There could be an afterlife.

          • dsp says:

            Suicide doesn’t work if you’re secretly immortal, either – I meant it’s the only way to find out. (It also can’t guarantee that you find out, but a negative result would be dispositive.)
            Reality seems to be finite, but you might be mistaken to think so, which is why I suggest there is clearly some cutoff you’re (that is, she’s, but also you’re, if you are) willing to accept for the probability that you might actually be trapped in an eternal hell.

        • stargirlprincess says:

          Ok replace “any chance” with “any non-trivial chance.”

          However I do find the possibility of waking up in a bad future sufficiently worrying I won’t sign up for cryonics.

    • Alliteration says:

      I would pick Punxsutawney over McDonaldshell, because in Punxsutawney there is hope. Because mental states carry over from day to day, you can become extremely skilled at things. You also only have the option of brute forcing social interactions: trying every option until you say just the right thing to get what you want. With an entire towns resources at your disposal, you should be able to find entertaining things to do to last an extremely long time. You can set your goal on something, and you should be able to find a way to achieve it.

      • Theodidactus says:

        The movie obviously explores the “brute forcing” thing in great detail. In a critical case, Connors/Murray finds the result unsatisfying because he can’t “get the situation right” consistently as shown here. If you’re a cinephile, you might notice that the slapping montage takes him ever-farther away from his ultimate goal. (bedroom to street to bar)

        One could view this as a metaphor for really loving someone as opposed to just gaming it, or a powerful statement about how hard it is to brute force social interactions, or an interesting observation on how things like your “mental state” matter when you set out to try to affect the world…or all of the above.

        Not really a rebuttal to your point but more of an extension.

        • Tedd says:

          Do keep in mind that the movie is fiction.

        • Alliteration says:

          This is a good point. Brute forcing social interactions would require that you be good at lying, and brute forcing social interaction may interfere with feeling emotions like love.

          Though presumably you could get good at lying after lots of practice.

    • Jeffrey Soreff says:

      I’d choose Puxatawney, no question.
      The main thing that one would lose is that one couldn’t take actions with permanent effects –
      but the vast bulk of our accomplishments evaporate anyway.

    • MugaSofer says:

      Puxatawney, definitely. It’s fun, and I get to be immortal.

      That said, I’d at least consider choosing McDonalds!hell because of the ethical implications of Puxatawney.

  21. Outis says:

    I think the main thing missing from my life is a good social circle. I don’t have one left from my university days, since I moved far away, and I find it very hard to build one as an adult.

    How does one learn to make friends? If I wanted a girlfriend, there is a whole industry that purports to teach me how to make it happen, but what do you do in the (probably even more pathetic) situation where you can’t even make friends?

    • Theodidactus says:

      Hi Outis,
      I have this problem as well. It seems to be universally agreed-upon that it’s difficult in adulthood, but the reasons given are quite variable. I’ve heard people say “well you devote more time to your job/kids/spouse” but i find none are really satisfying answers: as much as I put into my job, it will NEVER be as demanding as grad school, where I had more friends. Spouses and kids seem to LEAD to adult friends, not complicate friendship.

      I think a lot of it is that there are natural processes that don’t work as well in adulthood. I met my best friend while playing with bugs in the street. Tragically, if you do that when you’re in your 30s everyone thinks you’re dangerous or something, rather than just someone who really likes bugs.

      I think just like relationships, a lot of friendships don’t happen because people aren’t willing to take small risks. You seem like someone worth being friends with. Email me if you’d like to talk further. Making connections was my main reason for commenting on this site.

    • Virbie says:

      TL;DR: From what I know of people in similar situations, was extremely successful for them. Though I suppose I only know of it in the context of a single city that has a large community of “young people looking for a social circle”.

      In the last 5 years or so, a lot of people moved to my city for a job in their mid-20s and found themselves without any nearby social circle. This was further exacerbated in cases where their colleagues were older than them or lived out in suburbia. I know multiple people who tried checking out and built lasting friendships/social circles out of that. One of my good friends is actually getting married to a girl he met through that group of friends. When I first heard about it did strike me as “pathetic” (as you said), but upon reflection, I don’t see why it deserves that descriptor. It’s pretty well-studied AFAIK that making friends is quite different and way harder as an adult than as a schoolkid or college kid.

      • Jill says:

        Yeah, I’ve had good luck with myself. You can find people with common interests, which is fun.

      • Outis says:

        I’ve tried Meetup, but it doesn’t really work that well. You can make individual acquaintances, but that’s not the same as having a group of interconnected friends that you can meet often.

        It seems to me that you can either be the seed of your own interconnected social network (which seems very hard if you have trouble making friends in the first place), or get others to pull you into their networks. Both seem to require skills or personality traits that make people want to be around you and introduce you to their friends. Hopefully at least some of those are learnable. That’s what I’d like to hear about.

        • Guy says:

          Having tried to build a new social circle from scratch after feeling exiled from a former one, let me say: it is really fucking hard.

          Joining an existing circle is less hard, especially if it’s built around a public space like a particular game store or a meetup or something. The basic method, I think, is to make friends with one person (or a small group), then make friends with their friends. From there you can usually allow the group to expand/contract naturally and you’ll wind up with about the right number of close friends, though who you’re close to at a given moment will probably vary.

          As for how to do that first contact, the best advice is probably just “be a regular” and “don’t be a dick”. If you’re there frequently, for some value of “there”, and you don’t make other people actively want to not be there, then some of those other people who are also regularly there will sort of naturally become your friends, assuming there is actual interaction happening (eating alone at a restaurant probably won’t work, for example, nor will regularly attending a particular movie theater, for most values of movie theater). As for not making people uncomfortable, the usual advice about paying attention to boundaries and cues and listening to what people are saying still should work.

          A further note, now that I’ve thought of it: hanging around and listening to people talk (that is, letting them talk to you, not attending a lecture or watching a conversation) seems to be a really good way to make friends. At least it works for me, and it works on me.

          • Jill says:

            Scott Adams’ new book How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big has some fairly decent info for shy people on how to make friends.

            If a person actually has social anxiety disorder
            they could see a therapist who specializes in this.

            One problem is that people want friends quickly. But making friends and getting a social network is a process, not an event. So one has to think long term.

        • Becoming the nucleus of a new social group may not be as difficult as you think. Most of the people around you are probably looking for something similar, particularly if they are attending Meet-ups regularly (filters for people without an alternative social circle).

          Invite enough people often enough, post happy pictures on Facebook, and more of those “loners” will naturally drift into your social circle.

          This is roughly how many social circle was developed (though I am NOT the nucleus).

          However, it’s not like college. I’ll warn you of that now. We just don’t have the same free time we did in college. We don’t have 5 hours between classes to burn on UNO. We meet up perhaps every few weeks at most.

          I do have a Wife, though, so that fills a lot of social holes. Obviously, not all, otherwise I wouldn’t post here.

    • BillG says:

      The challenge with making friends as an adult seems to be more of a lack of concentrations of individuals looking for the same thing, rather than a lack of time or abilities. In undergrad, grad school, etc., you often have a large concentration of individuals who want more friends. In adulthood, many often have these already accumulated networks and are not particularly aimed toward building more.

      In so much as there’s a solution, I suggest sites like When my wife and I moved into our current town we were often spending weekends alone, with not much to do. We joined a few meetups based on our hobbies (board games were most effective), and before long felt like we were lacking on time rather than friendships. The benefit seemed mostly to do with the fact that others who came to these events were open to new friendships, whereas in other situations even someone I hit it off with may not be open to building the connection.

      • Outis says:

        I actually had difficulty retaining friends even in university. Meetup helps with the opportunities, but there is still a difference in how much people are able to retain and improve those connections. That’s what I’d like to learn.

        Imagine “The Game” or whatever (never read PUA stuff, but let’s assume it works), except for friendships.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I am amused by the idea of an internet subculture devoted to making as many friends as possible in a generally callous way.

          • Leit says:


          • dndnrsn says:

            But do bros view other bros as prey or conquests?

            The thought of it being stereotypical bros makes it even funnier, though.

          • Urstoff says:

            Do you even deep emotionally satisfying friendship, brah?

          • dndnrsn says:

            “Field report: Hit the sports bar with my wingman B-Pong. Full of B7s at best except for one B9, name of Chad. Told him about a kegger the Omicron Rho house was having on the weekend, got his number. Plan is to pregame at his place and go to the kegger. Hoping for a fist bump or double high five close”

          • Agronomous says:

            I totally agree that we shouldn’t have upvotes or downvotes, but we desperately need a “funny” button.

        • Nicholas says:

          Strengthening and maintaining connections requires you to spend a lot of time with that person. I recommend a semi-formal commitment to some activity that meets regularly, like a RPG or a sports team, where people feel like they’re inconveniencing others by not attending regularly.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Take up a group activity like a sport, would be my advice. It will put you in contact with a bunch of people in a similar way to university does.

      • Or a hobby that you enjoy. Several of my friends were met in the SCA.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I was under the impression that SCA was mostly historical combat, and thus more or less a sport, but Googling suggests I was mistaken.

          Anything with large groups (eg, a softball team rather than a gaming group) with a mandatory activity (that everyone enjoys) ought to do.

          • The combat is the most visibly striking thing the SCA does and is a sport, and sports are one way of making friends.

            But my guess is that only a minority of the members are primarily fighters. My activities (I no longer fight) have long included cooking from period cookbooks, making period furniture and jewelry, telling period stories, … .

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I can broadly vouch for the benefits of getting into a folk dance crowd, though it depends on how much of a scene is available near you.
      Also, learn to play accordion or fiddle well enough (those will be useful instruments pretty much regardless of genre) and people will be more likely to want you around 🙂

    • Mr Mind says:

      Having an agreeable personality and one or two social hobbies are more than enough to form plenty of friends.
      In what of those two you are lacking?

      • lemmy caution says:

        you don’t even need an agreeable personality*

        *assuming Mr. Mind has plenty of friends

    • cbhacking says:

      My most active social group lately is, appropriately to this site, the local rationality community. I’m in the interesting (unusual?) position of having been there, and debatably been part of, the current incarnation of its weekly meetups from the beginning. I was considering starting a Sequences reading group, and mentioned this idea to a few people including a girl I met via OKCupid (which is occasionally a good place to meet friends, though that wasn’t why I was on there) who has HPMOR and SSC in her interests. I think, but cannot recall for sure, that she was already considering the notion too. In any case, a few weeks later she did start the group (which is good, because I have a bad record when it comes to starting things and I think she did a better job than I would have), which initially was largely built from a pre-existing EA community in the city (which I had not been aware of).

      In the year+ since, the weekly “Rationality Reading Group” has grown into a meaningful community in its own right, and extends far beyond reading rationalist essays and such. We get dinner together, hang out and play games together (sometimes until well into the night), have long discussions on Slack and Facebook throughout the week, share life experiences and ask for (and receive) advice, some members have begun dating, etc. I’m friends with some people who no longer regularly attend the group (though I do), and while I don’t see them weekly anymore I now see them for outside-the-group activities, too. Monday nights have turned into one of my few regularly scheduled time blocks, and something I look forward to every week; I now resent anything that will keep me from going, where previously there was no regularly-occurring event I felt so strongly about.

      If you don’t have any such group in your area, but the idea appeals, you’ve got four options (that I can see).
      First, you can move to somewhere that does have one. That’s not trivial but it’s at least simple. Find a meetup, arrange to be where it happens. Maybe try attending before you move there. Finding one via LessWrong’s wiki is probably easiest, but I’m sure there’s other options.
      Second, you can try arranging such a meetup yourself. That’s going to be tricky without an established social circle, but it’s not impossible. Post on SSC and LessWrong about it (LW has an explicit “meetups in your area” thing that you can register an event for). Have a topic (reading list, news event, interesting/controversial idea or suggestion, etc.), have some comfortable and neutral space (we meet in a classroom-ish space, after hours, at the local university), have snacks, have a reasonable timeframe (not going to conflict with too many peoples’ work hours or social events, doesn’t run super long but isn’t so short that people feel there’s no point if they might miss the start), and be patient. It might take a while, but unless your current area is bare of other aspiring-rationalist-type people, you’ll find some folks.
      Third, you can aim to meet people in this community socially, and see if you click with them. Start meeting people 1:1 or in small groups, through sites like SSC or LW but also through things like OKC and other sites where people can list interests. Have something fun but casual ready to do, especially if it’s conducive to conversation.
      Fourth, do something public and see if you get interesting people coming. Host a talk or give a lecture on a topic of interest to the community. Publicize it beforehand (local colleges are a good place for this offline, the usual suspects would work online). If you have the clout to appear as a guest lecturer to an established class, that would work. If you can introduce a celebrity figure, that’s also a good option (when Peter Singer came to town, one of the leaders of the local EA/Rationality community introduced him and mentioned the local community, then spoke with people later). Make yourself approachable in person, and contactable via email/social networking/whatever, afterward. Engage with people, but don’t let yourself be monopolized. This won’t present much opportunity to make firm and lasting friendships directly, but it’s a way to meet the people with whom such friendships may be made. Follow up on that afterward, perhaps with one of the more casual events, or by starting a regularly-scheduled thing.

      Good luck!

  22. Casey Mann says:

    It’s commonly understood that privacy is dead – even if you don’t have Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. accounts, they still know exactly who you are and have incredible amounts of valuable data about you. This is clearly a super scary thing, because while that data is *for now* only usually used to try to sell you things, the Pandora’s box is open and there’s no way to keep that data being used later for nefarious purposes. So what do we do about this?

    We can’t turn off the entire internet, which is the only way that I can come up with for actually protecting privacy. I’m under the impression that even if you use encryption everywhere, there are enough leaky bits that if you become a Person Of Interest, you can still be hunted down. Can you pollute the data by spraying false information around? I’m thinking that that’s not going to be good enough to keep your shadow profile on Google’s servers from still being able to uniquely identify you and everything you do.

    So, is there a way we, as a society, can just……not care? If there’s no way to preserve both the internet and individual privacy, can we collectively adopt norms that render this information harmless? The obvious example is that doxxing harms people because it can cause them to e.g. lose their jobs, so we could adopt a norm of not allowing employment to be jeopardized by any revealed personal activities. (I have no idea how to enforce this in practice.) In addition, exposing secrets seems like it would always affect personal relationships, and I don’t know how norms could be changed other than for everyone to just stop keeping any secrets from anyone, which seems…unrealistic. The only example I think could be realistically achieved is that we could kill the harmful effect of ‘revenge porn’ by killing the idea that naked bodies are somehow shocking or scandalous or shameful.

    Any thoughts? I think we have to go one way or the other – either figure out how to actually ensure individual privacy, or change the norms and consequences of exposed secrets. But they both seem basically intractable to me.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Have you spent even five minutes trying to turn off the entire internet?

    • Agronomous says:

      This reminds me of a bit of anthropology I read someplace (but I think has at least a 60% chance of being true):

      There’s a tribe where everyone lives together in a big, round house with a roof and floor but no walls. They have a convention: anything you do while facing inward is private, and ignored by everyone else. Anything you do while facing outward is public, and acknowledged as visible and audible. Letting on that you know about something “private” is considered as bad as we would consider snooping around in someone’s bedroom or listening in on their phone line.

      So what we need is FaceInwardBook.

      • Casey Mann says:

        This seems like it would work well for dealing with embarrassing, but not important secrets – but what if, say, homosexuality is taboo and you engage in such relations while in ‘private mode’; does the privacy taboo overrule the homosexuality taboo? I think privacy would have to be the Very Highest Virtue in order to keep reputation-damaging behaviors from having any impact.

        • MugaSofer says:

          Do we want reputation-damaging behaviours not to have any impact?

          Bear in mind that we’re not just recreating privacy, but also allowing people to become notionally invisible at will, too.

          • Casey Mann says:

            Yes. Without the ability to keep reputation-damaging secrets, there exists no possible way to fight injustice unless the State (or Society) gives you explicit permission to do so. Which, particularly in cases where the State is itself committing the injustice, it isn’t necessarily inclined to grant.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Casey Mann – “Yes. Without the ability to keep reputation-damaging secrets, there exists no possible way to fight injustice unless the State (or Society) gives you explicit permission to do so.”


            …There… is… no way to fight injustice unless the State or Society gives you fairly explicit permission to do so. At least I’m pretty sure there isn’t?

      • Winfried says:

        So, is it politeness that causes them to ignore the inward actions or do they strive to really not experience it?

      • keranih says:

        They have a convention: anything you do while facing inward is private, and ignored by everyone else. Anything you do while facing outward is public, and acknowledged as visible and audible.

        Excellent. So I can go through Pete’s bag o’stuff and take what I like, or feel up Mary’s little girl, and so long as I’m facing inward, I’m good.

        (And this of course bleeds into one of the tensions over privacy – and the personal/private division, and secret ballots, and sunshine laws, and all the like – there is the freedom to do things without being judged by others, and then there is freedom from judgement by others, and it’s not the same.)

    • Outis says:

      AFAICT, Google doesn’t actually have a shadow profile. The stuff I browse when logged out never shows up anywhere. Even when I forget to log out on YouTube and I go back and delete stuff from my watch history, it works. Could they link my logged-out activity by looking at IP, browser fingerprinting, etc.? Yes, probably. But are they doing it? If they are, they are not using it for anything at all, not even to show you ads, or to gauge your interests on Google News. There are zero visible effects.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      What we’re doing now with regards to Internet privacy is the equivalent of living in a town with a high burglary rate and putting more and more locks on your door. The solution to the burglary problem is not locks; it is arresting burglars.

      Similarly, rather than going to the almost fetishistic lengths we do now to pretend that privacy can be preserved on the Internet, what we should be doing is strictly enforcing existing laws against identity theft, harassment, and threats, and establishing social norms against using people’s political views and hobbies against them in professional contexts. Privacy violations aren’t as important if the consequences aren’t as dire.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “establishing social norms against using people’s political views and hobbies against them in professional contexts.”

        I’m highly doubtful that this is possible. Every society has its “sacred” values and ideas, and thus the equivalents of “blasphemy” or “heresy” in speaking against those ideas. And these are the sort of things, like murder or theft, that a society always punishes one way or another; when the state fails to do so, mobs, gangs, vigilantes and the like form to do so instead. The only way you stop getting “Twitter mob” types from getting people fired for saying “the wrong thing” is to have the government punish people for saying “the wrong thing” instead.

        • Anonymous says:

          Actually, if government prosecution can preempt the mob, it doesn’t have to punish, it just has to have jurisdiction and maybe exercise it by publicly considering the case. Sometimes people accept its verdict and sometimes it is enough to stall till the mob calms down. We see this with the Inquisition and witch hunts.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Exactly, which is why I’m an atheist fan of the Inquisitions. Because they were far better than the alternative they replaced.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Strongly disagree. The modern “say the wrong thing, get a Twitter mob calling your employer” atmosphere has only been around in America for a few years; the ability to have a non-mainstream political opinion and a job at the same time is still something that existed within living memory. (And no, I’m not saying that nobody ever suffered unfair consequences due to public outrage before the past few years; plenty of examples of that come to mind. I’m just saying that it was rarer enough for the change between then and now to be noticeable.)

          The severity of our situation is due to a combination of factors — an increasingly centralized and nationalized political culture that resists pluralism, ease of assembling a mob on social media, lack of enforced abuse policies on said media, a persistently bad economy that makes employment an easy pressure point and produces large numbers of idle people with nothing better to do than police others’ behavior, and news media and politicians sympathizing with the outrage mobs, to name a few. None of these factors have to be the case. We were better people in the past. We can be better people again.

          • Kevin C. says:


            You list a combination of factors, but as I see it, there is a single factor which dominates over, and is for some the cause of, the other factors: the change in communications and networking technology. As The Nybbler and Nicholas note, it was not so much that would-be heretic hunters weren’t there to punish you for speaking heresy, it’s that they were less likely to know that you’d spoken heresy. Now, we’re trending to the world where anyone could become the next Brendan Eich, Jason Richwine, or Donald T. Sterling. This is an area where our host Scott is right about social change as a downstream byproduct of technological change. Yes, “the ability to have a non-mainstream political opinion and a job at the same time” did exist “within living memory”, but only due to the privacy upon whose death Casey Mann reported. And it isn’t coming back; see Brin’s “The Transparent Society”.

            Addressing in more detail, I’d argue that the “increasingly centralized and nationalized political culture that resists pluralism” is a product of improved communications. For a historical comparison, there’s what William Stuntz in “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice” called the first culture war, where politics, particularly around alcohol, gambling, prostitution, and “obscenity” (which included information on contraception), became more “centralized and nationalized” as a result of the telegraph (allowing New England Puritans to read in their newspapers about the “sinful” doings of the Borderer culture out West). The ease of assembling a mob on social media is also technological, and not readily reversed, but, I would again assert is less important than the ability of such mobs to become aware of targets (good old “phone trees” and their texting/IRC/etc. equivalents are more than sufficient for witch-hunting mob organizing; and there’s always the chans). And how does “Look at what this horrible heretic said! Aren’t they awful? Who would associate with such a person?” violate “abuse policies”? Employment may be “an easy pressure point” now (how much of a pressure point was it when it was Communist opinions that got people blacklisted), but if it wasn’t the easiest pressure point, something else would be. In another time, you’d have people being “blackballed” from social organizations like the Elks, Lions, Rotarians, etc.; or excommunicated from church; or driven from their neighborhood; or simply beaten up. The method by which the heretic hunters punish heresy may change, but the occurance of such punishment, not so much. And a reading of witch-hunting phenomena across history and cultures, or of the aforementioned cultural movements of the “Progressive Era”, or of the handling of heresy charges in the early Medieval periods, before the formalization of the Inquisitions, would, I think, show how “idleness” or haveing “nothing better to do” is not much necessary to get plenty of people who are willing and able to “police others’ behavior”. And where else do the “outrage mobs” get their understanding of what is punishable as “heresy” if not from when some portion of the ruling elite “sympathizes” with them? We were not “better” people in the past, “out of sight, out of mind” and “high fences make for good neighbors” only made it seem that way. And the high fences have been torn down, and the digital Panopticon is coming. The trends and factors all point one way, really, toward this problem becoming worse, not better.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            @Kevin C.

            Well. Now I just want to sit in the corner and have a good cry. 🙁

            You may be right, that it’s not so much us being worse people as the worse part of our natures being enhanced by communications technology. We’re going to have to find some solution, though, if we want a pluralistic society to continue to exist. Correction — a pluralistic planet, as opposed to one where whichever group has the most control over communications media (whether through ownership or violent threats) can and will impose their culture on everybody in the world.

        • JDG1980 says:

          The only way you stop getting “Twitter mob” types from getting people fired for saying “the wrong thing” is to have the government punish people for saying “the wrong thing” instead.

          Not really. You could make it illegal for employers to fire (or refuse to hire) people on the basis of speech made outside the workplace.

          • Nicholas says:

            That is going to be almost impossible to enforce in the many places where employers are not required to furnish a reason for firing. They just fire you for speech outside work and don’t admit to it.

          • Even harder to enforce with regard to not hiring.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Kevin C

            Punish the decision-makers at Facebook, Twitter, etc. They’re the reasonable sized targets and the only ones who have real leverage in this situation. ‘No platform’ the mobs.

        • The Nybbler says:


          I think being able to articulate a sufficiently non-mainstream political opinion and still keep your job is not something that has been common. Two things have changed.

          1) It’s gotten easier for randos to disseminate our opinions wider. Nobody really cared if you mouthed off at the bar (as long as you didn’t comment on the boss’s wife), but mouthing off to the entire Internet is something different.

          2) The mainstream has shrunken, for any particular job. It used to be that aside from certain well-known and mostly right-wing exceptions (e.g. Bob Jones University or Chick-Fil-et), at most employers you could hold any opinion from the religious right to (after the Red Scare ended) some forms of communism. As long as you weren’t an actual Nazi or fan of the Ayahtollah Khomeni, you wouldn’t get fired for outside political speech. What happened is this contracted so that in some high-profile places, you could be as radical as you cared to on the left, but take a step to the right and you could be in trouble.

          • Nicholas says:

            I think that 1 actually does far more of the work than 2. If you mouthed off in the bar, even about the boss’ wife, he would never know. One thing that’s changed in the last ten years or so is people’s ability to find out what you really believe has increased greatly.

  23. Chris Thomas says:

    Just wanted to share this awesome new data set for anyone interested enough to do something cool with it. It’s basically 700 or so variables related to state policy in the US. Please use responsibly!

    • Theodidactus says:

      beautiful stuff Chris. I’m a librarian and I like to have this stuff readily available for both classroom demos and answering reference questions. It’s a big help.

    • Tedd says:

      This is brilliant.

      Remember, “use responsibly” means correcting for multiple comparisons.

  24. hlynkacg says:

    So with all the talk about Brexit lately and this being the Ever-Loving Fourth I’ve been thinking a lot about nationalism and there are a couple of related threads that I’d like to tie together and discuss.

    Back in Urling Toward Freedom HeelBearCub mentioned Sarah Palin’s (and the GOP in general’s) characterization of “The Real America” and how she saw this as “a middle-finger to me and everyone like me”. I responded, in part, with “Why would you want to be a ‘real American’ when you could be a hyphenated American or better yet Canadian?”. In hindsight that was a cheap shot that I somewhat regret, but at the same time I think that there is something to it.

    I also mentioned Michelle Obama’s comment about how she had never been proud of America until her husband won the Presidency in my response and contrary to HBC’s suggestion I don not see this comment in terms of “See how awful the left is. We would never be awful like that.” Instead I see it as tying into the above.

    Note that the Democrats (and progressives in general) never really tried to fight the GOP’s characterization and I contend that this is because there is an unstated agreement that the people who are un-ironically “Proud to be American” have a stronger claim to the title of “real Americans” than those that aren’t. Are you proud to be “American”? (or British / French / Japanese etc… for those outside the US) Does that Nationalist identity take precedence over other divisions? If given the choice between identifying as “Nation” and identifying as white, black, brown, yellow, purple, gay, Muslim, Christian, leftist, rightist etc… which do you choose? I believe that a good chunk of culture war divide is encapsulated in this question, and that this is the fundamental problem with identity politics. Once you start knocking down the shared culture / values what is left but intersectionality?

    As Dndnrsn asked in the last open thread;

    If, as is being asserted here, a lot of young Europeans don’t really care about the preservation of their language and culture – how are immigrants supposed to integrate (forget assimilate – let’s just go with integrate) into that? Why would they want to?

    If you don’t take your own side in a fight who will?

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      As Dndnrsn asked in the last open thread;

      If, as is being asserted here, a lot of young Europeans don’t really care about the preservation of their language and culture – how are immigrants supposed to integrate (forget assimilate – let’s just go with integrate) into that? Why would they want to?

      If you don’t take your own side in a fight who will?

      This is not enough of the quote. The entire quote is in a subthread of young people not identifying with the nation so much, but with general western middle class cosmopolitan culture, apparently. Young people have a culture just fine, and it is that.

      • hlynkacg says:

        This is not enough of the quote.

        I disagree.

        That the young people have a culture was never in doubt. That they understand, value, and will if necessary defend it is what is in doubt.

        I see people proclaiming loudly and often that nationalism is a cancer, that western style-democracy has fostered oppression and inequality around the world, and then acting surprised when others respond accordingly. Like I said above, once you start knocking down the shared culture / values what is left but intersectionality?

        Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism (or Wahhabism) at least it’s an ethos.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          It’s in doubt? This comment section is full of people having bad nightmares about THE LEFT being able to persecute those who won’t conform to their culture.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That would be the intersectionality I mentioned.

          • That’s not willingness to fight for beliefs, that’s willingness to bully non-conformists.
            Now will those same people storm Omaha beach to cleanse some ideological vermin?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            That takes a lot of no true scotsmanning to defend.

            Young people may not care for the culture you would like them to very much, but they care for *a* culture. If you disapprove, that is your problem. Twisting and turning about to phrase it as something unique and strange is highly unnecessary.

            The WW2 example is particularly amusing. You mean the war that only took off in the US after it was attacked? The one with a rate of draftees double that of freaking Vietnam? Some people are committed to invade nations based on ideology, but that was not a case of it.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That takes a lot of no true scotsmanning to defend.

            I disagree, in fact the public response to Brexit vote has been rather illustrative of this. If your first response to a vote not going your way is to demand that the vote be ignored and the people who voted against you thrown out you are NOT defending democracy.

            The Andrew Cords of the world are not defending “niceness community and civilization” they are undermining it.

          • Jiro says:

            Getting the government to ignore the vote seems like it would be permitted according to that. Not only is it a case of coodrinated not-niceness, but a type of not-niceness that inherently *has* to be coordinated because you have to get the government to do that and that must be coordinated by definition.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Political journalists paid to make people read their drivel aren’t generally representative of many people. Do I get to compare people I dislike with their clickbait vendors, too?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Are you suggesting that people aren’t demanding that the Brexit vote be ignored? Or that the idea of using “dirty tricks” to achieve an ostensibly noble goal is somehow novel?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            They are, in the same sense that some people demand we abolish taxation for it is theft, and in a much clearer sense where the inverse would most assuredly happen as well, with pro-voters demanding people leave anyway.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Is Whababbism the extremist variant of Whataboutery?

        • Anonymous says:

          > and will if necessary defend it

          When a nation is considering the pros and cons of various possible sizes for the military one important consideration should be the lasting damage that the breaking and remolding process does to people that go through the indoctrination process. Afterwords they seem incapable of viewing the world through any other lens but military force.

          Perhaps it is necessary to mutilate young men this way, but the number should be kept to an absolute minimum.

          • hlynkacg says:

            You’ll have to include cops, firefighters, ER staff, and a fair number of other dirty dangerous but otherwise crucial jobs on that list if you want to get any where.

            Making peace with one’s own mortality tends to make one care a lot more about “effective immortality” in the form of children and institutions that will outlive you.

            With that in mind we should probably consider getting rid of old people to, or at least denying them the right to vote.

          • Jiro says:

            When being told that someone shouldn’t be allowed to vote, I usually reply “are they also exempt from government laws, including taxes and regulations on everyday life”? If you can be beaten by the police, you should be able to vote, unless you are absolutely incompetent.

          • “When being told that someone shouldn’t be allowed to vote, I usually reply “are they also exempt from government laws, including taxes and regulations on everyday life”?”

            So foreign tourists in the U.S. should be free to rob and kill? Not obliged to pay sales taxes?

            Consider a country which isn’t a democracy, as most countries historically were not. Should the inhabitants have been immune from all laws?

            Turn it around. Do you want to argue that the fact that you can vote obliges you to obey all laws? If so, why?

          • Jiro says:

            The foreigner has no right to come to our country and buy things at all. And if he restricts himself to doing the things he has a right to do, he won’t be paying any US taxes or arrested based on US laws.

            We can grant him the right to come temporarily in exchange for a price; part of the price is that he has to pay sales taxes and obey the laws while he’s here. The foreigner isn’t being forced to do anything–it’s a transaction. If he chooses not to make the transaction, nothing happens to him other than that he can’t do things that he doesn’t have a right to do anyway.

            I admit this would be a problem for open borders proponents, but I am not one.

          • @Jiro:

            The implication of your original statement, at least as I read it, was that if you are not allowed to vote you are not obliged to obey government regulations. The foreigner is not allowed to vote (at least in the U.S.). So why is he bound by the regulations saying he can’t come except on the terms you describe?

          • Jiro says:

            The foreigner is not bound by regulations saying he can’t enter another country against the inhabitants’ will. He’s bound by morality. And if you don’t believe in the existence of morality, there’s nothing I can say to convince you.

            In practice, such situations would be quickly resolved, since this sort of invasion, not backed by military force, is very dangerous to your health.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I don’t buy it.

            John Q citizen is barred from “settling the issue” by the (pressumed) legal prohibition of violence and the government/military/law enforcement is barred from acting because by your reckoning the immigrants are not bound by the host nation’s laws.

            So in short, No this sort of invasion (when conducted against the sort of nation you describe) is NOT dangerous. In fact, the more law abiding the general populace is, the less dangerous it becomes.

          • Jiro says:

            In fact, the more law abiding the general populace is, the less dangerous it becomes.

            Invading another country is dangerous because it can get you jailed or killed by the coutry’s official purveyors of violence, not by the country’s general population.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Not in the sort of country you describe.

          • JDG1980 says:

            When a nation is considering the pros and cons of various possible sizes for the military one important consideration should be the lasting damage that the breaking and remolding process does to people that go through the indoctrination process. Afterwords they seem incapable of viewing the world through any other lens but military force.

            I’m not at all sure this is borne out by the empirical evidence. Were generations of Americans who went through the draft more likely to “view the world” through the “lens of military force”? If anything, the aftermath of the Civil War, WWI, and the Vietnam War led to quite a bit of soul-searching on the part of the nation.

            And it’s not as if delegating military service to a separate caste, which has increasingly little in common with the rest of the country, is without risks of its own. Historically, that’s the kind of thing that is likely to be dangerous to the future of civilian government.

          • “The foreigner is not bound by regulations saying he can’t enter another country against the inhabitants’ will. He’s bound by morality. ”

            But then the native who for some reason can’t vote is also bound by morality.

            Is it your view that the native who can vote is obliged to obey regulations that have no moral force behind them? Are immoral? Your original claim seems to link obligation to obey the law to being a voter, and I still don’t see why.

            Suppose I create a new non-geographical polity that consists of you, me and ten of my friends. Each of us have a vote. We vote, eleven to one, that half of your income should be transferred to me. Are you obliged to go along with that regulation?

          • Jiro says:

            It is wrong for the foreigner to go into the other country because the other country belongs to someone else. My income belongs to me, not to someone else.

            Is it your view that the native who can vote is obliged to obey regulations that have no moral force behind them?

            I said that someone should have a right to vote if the government forces him to obey regulations. It does not follow that the government should be able to force him to obey regulations because he has a right to vote. A -> B does not mean B -> A.

          • Anonymous says:

            The wartime draftees were not heavily indoctrinated. Nor are ER staff or firefighters, not sure where that connection is coming from.

          • hlynkacg says:

            If you read past the first sentence, you’d see the connection.

          • Luke the CIA stooge says:

            The reason we have courts and democratic processes by which people can challenge and change the laws isn’t so that we can produce optimum legislation (although some democracies do get relatively close) it’s so that people and factions who cannot live with those laws have a means to change them other than violence.

            You deny old people the vote (and thus the only means they have of protecting their rights and property) and your sewing the seeds of Grey Dawn.

          • “It is wrong for the foreigner to go into the other country because the other country belongs to someone else.”

            My house belongs to me (and my wife), but you are saying that it is wrong for a foreigner to visit me without agreeing to the terms set by the government. So you regard “the country belongs to the government” as a true moral claim? Why?

            This could be a long discussion.

          • Jiro says:

            That sounds like an open borders argument. As I said, the argument would not be acceptable to open borders proponents.

            (I would say that the country belongs to the citizens. If different citizens disagree on how to handle the jointly owned area, there are existing procedures for deciding how to reconcile conflicting desires of two citizens. These procedures are what we call government.

            You can, of course, argue that the procedures for reconciling the desires of two citizens are so bad that the process has no legitimacy. If so, then the restrictions on immigrants would also have no legitimacy. But that would be part of claiming that the government in general is illegitimate–it won’t just apply to immigration.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        “Young people”, “young native-born people”, “young native born people whose parents were native born”, etc etc etc are all different groups from “general western middle class cosmopolitan”

        If you’re presenting “general western middle class cosmopolitan”as a culture, it’s a culture/lifestyle that excludes a lot of people, because it is very much middle class and up. It’s predicated on education, and to a lesser extent ability to travel.

        I’m a middle-class cosmopolitan, I suppose. I went to school with a lot of them. It’s not a group that’s ashamed of itself, really, and it is a group that does a good job of attracting new converts, wherever they’re from (a child of immigrants can be one just as much as a kid whose family are blue collar going back five generations in the same town … provided they both go to good schools).

        However, this is not a group that a majority of a country’s population can ever belong to. This isn’t a culture that large numbers of immigrants are going to integrate into. It’s a culture that is going to claim a solid chunk of smart, affluent people, regardless of where they’re from – that’s kind of the point.

        But the fact that smart, affluent people from wherever can go to good schools and travel and work internationally and so on doesn’t really provide much of an identity for people from wherever who aren’t smart or affluent, unless they define themselves in opposition to the elites.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I said, when I mentioned that Palin quote, that I rejected her characterization. “Because I am a real American, thank you very much.

      I, who inhabit an east coast college town, is a child of two teachers, who can trace my heritage back to Italian, German, Czech, and French-Candian immigrants to the US, am just as much of an American as anyone who can trace their roots back to the Mayflower or who can’t trace their roots back anywhere other than “Tobacco farm in the South”.

      My usually self-description of my heritage is “All-American mutt.”

      My roots go back to poor immigrants in Chicago and Nebraska. My paternal line great-grandfather sold vegetables in a farmers market in Chicago, and was by all accounts a real son-of-bitch. My grandfather died when when my father was 17 and my father and my grandmother made sure that all 5 kids were able to attend and graduate college. My maternal grandparents met at a USO function weeks before my grandfather was to ship out and were married before he left (not long past the end of WWII). My parents both attended small Catholic “sister” colleges in the same town and married there.

      So, and I say this politely, fuck anybody who thinks I am not as American as they are for some reason that has to do with where I live, who my parents are, my educational status, my political views, or the fact that I recognize that America has never been perfect. I still have my great-grandfather’s mean streak at times and occasionally it comes out.

      • hlynkacg says:

        The fact that are prepared to make that argument does you credit, and at the same time indicates that you are not the group who is being discussed.

        Contrast your rant above with the sort of people that threaten renounce their citizenship and move to Canada (or Europe) if their preferred candidate doesn’t get elected.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Just like the people who did the exact same thing when Obama threatened to be reelected, you mean?

        • Tibor says:

          By the way I noticed on some Internet forums that many of these Nonamericans imagine Europe as the land of chocolate, lollipops and Fabian socialism. It is also always just “Europe”, never mind that there are about 50 countries on that continent (possibly more to come soon :)) ), never mind that they differ greatly with Switzerland having a lower taxation as a percent of the GPD than the US and with the same number being over 50% in France.

          Then again, many Europeans of the same sort tend to have pretty distorted views of the US too.

      • Chalid says:

        I wish you hadn’t felt the need to emphasize the length of your family history here. I realize you probably didn’t mean to imply that recent immigrants and their children aren’t “real Americans” but that’s kind of the message it sends.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I hear what you are saying, but I was merely trying to illustrate my story, my experience. One of the arguments that I made elsewhere is that NYC is one of the quintessential American places. Implied, but not stated, is that this is in no small part because it contains Ellis island, the Statue of Liberty and huge populations of many, many recent immigrants, as well as ethnic enclaves with long histories.

          I think everyone can tell their own story of what being a real American means to them.

          • “Implied, but not stated, is that this is in no small part because it contains Ellis island, the Statue of Liberty and huge populations of many, many recent immigrants, as well as ethnic enclaves with long histories.”

            The U.S. abandoned the principle expressed explicitly, in verse, by the Statue of Liberty nearly a century ago, and there is almost no American politician who would defend it now. Does that mean that being in favor of immigration is no longer part of being American or that Americans are no longer real Americans?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            First, I’ve been very, very, very explicitly saying that we should not use the term “real American”. Your final question makes no sense in this context.

            Second, America is still an incredibly multi-cultural country by the standards of most of the world. We have more immigrants than any other country, and we allow them a path to citizenship. We are still very much a nation of immigrants, regardless of whether we offer admittance and free land to everyone who can get here.

          • DavidS says:

            To be fair, that’s most immigrants by sheer number. Not most per head or anything like that. You’d expect the US to have lots of immigrants given it’s the biggest country with a western economy

    • Jordan D. says:

      Speaking as a moderate democrat who takes his oath to uphold the Constitution very seriously and is legitimately proud of his state’s contributions to the history of America…

      When I first heard the talk about ‘real Americans’, I just rolled my eyes. The speakers were obviously mostly referring to people who held different opinions on social issues than I was, while simultaneously trying to insult me for daring to disagree with them. I know that I’m an American- I bristle when people from other countries point out problems with America, even the ones I want to change. Whenever I hear about a century-old American factory shutting down to move to Mexico, it upsets me a little even though I’m intellectually in favor of globalization.

      But I wouldn’t have favored some sort of ‘EVEN REALER AMERICANS’ counter-campaign. Partially because I would much rather have politics focused on policy and issues rather than trying to grab the nicest-sounding names and partially because the idea of shouting across the country that, no, *you’re* less American than I am seems like a shallow insult for no good purpose.

      As for nationalism, I think it’s a mistake to assume that the Left doesn’t have it. Sanders is a nationalist politician, and I strongly doubt that the majority of Democrats care enough about nationalism for that to have been why they voted Hillary. In any event, I strongly doubt that ‘intersectionality’ had much to do with it, since I doubt that one in ten Democrats would recognize the word.

      Many Democrats DO believe, and believe earnestly, that they are on the side of social justice (in the old meaning of the word) and progress towards a better world, but they also believe that progress towards a more just world is the legacy America has always stood for. I don’t know many Democrats who secretly believe that they’re citizens of the world foremost and Americans second; they just have a different conception of the role of an American than some of their compatriots.

      • hlynkacg says:

        This may seem odd, about I actually agree with you for the most part.

        That said I do know a couple “citizens of the world”, and I’ve encountered the type Lysenko describes here more times than I can reasonably count and I really do feel that they are “playing with fire” as it were.

        • Rimblade says:

          Well, I agree with you that such people do exist, I’m just not persuaded that they’re statistically significant.

          I’m also skeptical of a lot of signals discussed up-thread. As a personal example, several members of my extended family have made jokes about rushing for Canada if Trump wins the election, just as some of my friends did when Romney was running a few years back. But I would give very low odds to any of them actually doing it. They’d complain, and they’d link articles from the Times about how the President was secretly illegitimate for X reason and criticize everything he did… but that’s exactly what the almost-half-the-country which loses each election does every election.

          • Agronomous says:


            I agree with you that such people do exist, I’m just not persuaded that they’re statistically significant.

            Sounds like a good story idea for Scott: the tale of someone who exists, but never quite manages to be statistically significant—everything they do could just be chalked up to random chance.

            Interesting careers could include scientist, doctor, statistician, or medical-study participant. Maybe politician: always ending up in a dead heat with the opponent?

            It’s a little like the Woody Allen bit about the guy who’s out of focus (before it got turned into an allergy-medicine commercial).

          • Rimblade says:

            Sort of the curse of ‘may your life be impossibly, spectacularly boring!’

    • HeelBearCub says:

      You want a liberal, inclusive patriotism or nationalism?

      John Cena for the AdCouncil. Released today.

      • anonymous says:

        1:46 — “Almost half of the country belongs to minority groups.”

        At least they’re honest about their motivations. When the rest of the country belongs to minority groups where should I go?

        “There is no Israel for me” – Michel Houellebecq

        • Agronomous says:

          Note that, the instant most of the country belongs to minority groups, all of the country belongs to minority groups. By definition.

    • Teal says:

      The United States is the absolute worst place in the world for real X talk. In most other countries it makes some sense, there’s a legitimate ethnic bound and cultural traditions, that even if they aren’t necessarily ancient at least go back longer than anyone remembers. Both ethnic purity and traditional culture are most strongly preserved in the hinterlands and so these people can be seen as real X.

      But in the United States it is just nonsense. There’s nothing for the rural areas to preserve. We speak a promiscuous form of someone else’s language and even that country (and so language) has significant mutt tendencies. We have no one ethnic base, no one true culture, no prehistoric traditions. But rather than be ashamed of any of this, it is the thing of which we are most proud.

      America is more like a circle of close friends than a family. There’s strength in that, you pick your friends while you are stuck with your family.

      It is telling that almost 15 years on from 9/11 the Pentagon strike is decided the lesser cultural touchstone. Yes there were far fewer deaths, but I think that’s not the only reason. As much as other Americans love to hate New York it really is an avatar for a significant aspect of our culture. It’s a place where anyone, from anywhere in the world can come, work hard, and become a New Yorkers and hence American. New York is the real America — if you really hate it and think it is unAmerican (and not just playfully hate it) than you don’t belong in the United States. You belong in some rural village somewhere in Europe or Asia or Africa where you can live out your life in an indigenous culture.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “if you really hate it and think it is unAmerican (and not just playfully hate it) than you don’t belong in the United States. ”

        No. Not this.

        If you hate NYC, you hate the most quintessentially American place, and you hold a view that is likely to be in opposition to a quintessential American value.

        But that doesn’t mean you don’t belong in America. To believe otherwise is throw away the First Amendment.

        • Teal says:

          Read the next sentence. I’m not saying you don’t belong in the sense of “and therefore we should kick you out” I’m saying it in the sense of “this place is incompatible with your values.”

          An atheist doesn’t belong in a Church even though most priests would be fine with him attending.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            You belong in some rural village somewhere in Europe or Asia or Africa where you can live out your life in an indigenous culture.

            How does that not come with a strong implication of “You need to leave”?

            However you meant it, “Go back to the small parochial village you should have come from” is never a good look.

            America isn’t my home. It’s not your home or their home. It’s our home. Saying “Why don’t you just leave” doesn’t cut it. 90+% of the people here did not choose to be here, and most don’t really have the option of going anywhere else.

            The governing system we have is designed to promote all of us living together in peace. It’s designed with the idea that at no point in time will everyone in the country even agree on one thing. In that, it simply tries to make peace with reality.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I think you make an excellent point but I think that the distinction between “love to hate” and just plain “hate” really ought to be emphasize. I was born in a very blue collar factory town in the north-east and when I say “Fuck the Yankees!” I really do mean it.

        That said, my first impulse on 9/11 was not “Ha ha, look at those arrogant assholes burn” it was pretty much the same as every one else’s in my town. Indignant Wrath!, and that response was if anything even stronger in the deep “Red States” than anywhere else. Hell, even for all their ostensible “hatred” of gays the Red Tribe was pretty quick wrap the flag around the victims of the Pulse Nightclub attack.

        I contend that this is due in a large part to the sense of a shared “American” national/cultural identity that transcends the typical black vs white, red vs blue, Yankees fans vs ‘Sox fans divide. And I contend that the people who poo-poo nationalism or call it “a cancer” are playing a very dangerous game. What exactly do they think would happen in the absence of that shared identity?

        • Teal says:

          To translate the 9/11 red state example into something blue-er, I think that if there was another hurricane in Galveston / Houston similar in deaths and damage to the 1900 one, or some major disaster in Oklahoma City, the outpouring of grief and aid from NYC would be much larger than if something even much larger happened in India or China. Not, “good those Republicans can take of themselves.” Because of the same thing — a sense of shared identity.

          When people say fuck nationalism, they mostly aren’t saying that this fellow feeling is a bad thing. They are above all taking a particular side in certain political disputes having to do with foreign policy and immigration, and secondarily objecting to ostentatious and often mawkish displays of affection for national symbols.

          • Civilis says:

            objecting to ostentatious and often mawkish displays of affection for national symbols.

            America is full of ostentatious displays of affection for symbols, be they sports team logos or rainbow flags. The problem is that there seems to be a higher degree of objection among some groups that claim to be American for American symbols than for other symbols, whereas you would expect American symbols to get more leeway. One of the things that gets conservatives upset is that the symbols they hold dear do not get the protection that symbols liberals hold dear get. It’s hard to make an objective comparison in most cases, but perhaps the biggest visible example is comparing the treatment of images of Jesus and Mohammed.

          • hlynkacg says:

            In addition to what Civilis said above, I think that people seriously underestimate the role of such symbols in forging that shared identity.

          • A. says:

            I’m not sure I’d put the money on the sense of shared identity overcoming the hate for the outgroup.

            I can’t seem to locate the particular link I’m thinking of, but I’ve certainly seen liberal reactions to a particularly destructive flood in a red state be “haha, you deserve it, that’s what you get for denying global warming”. This may not be the majority reaction, but we can only hope it would not be the loudest one.

            Also it looks to me like major natural disasters in red states generally don’t end up on front pages of major newspapers (if they even end up in those newspapers at all), but I only have anecdotes and not actual data to confirm this.

          • Civilis says:

            A., to be fair, we sometimes see similar reactions from some Red Tribe members when disaster happens in a Blue Tribe area. The key word is ‘some’, whether it’s ‘Climate Change’ hitting the Reds or ‘God’s Wrath’ hitting the Blues.

            As far as natural disasters, people in Blue dominated areas tend to be more concentrated. A fire outside LA affects more people than one in the middle of Texas.

          • Teal says:

            I don’t think the Mohammed/Jesus comparison really works for a number of reasons. First, because Mohammad isn’t a symbol that liberals hold dear. Maybe you can get there as a second order effect (concept of respect for other cultures held dear -> Muslims are another culture and they hold Mohammad dear) but that’s not quite the same thing. I’m hard pressed to think of a physical symbol or image that liberals hold the same kind of reverence for (though I argue below they have a different type of reverence for the same symbols). I guess they are just puritan that way.

            Anyway with respect to American symbols, and to a lesser extent Christian symbols, I think a part of it has to do with the very sense of nationalism that is under discussion. Liberals by and large really do think that those symbols represent them as Americans, which is why they are not okay with them being deployed in ways that seem hypocritical or even just in bad taste to them. The fact that someone gets annoyed at flag waiving American parades but not Russian flag waiving parades doesn’t mean they uniquely hate America, on the contrary it means that they care about American symbols and how they are deployed whereas they don’t have any particular feelings about Russian symbols one way or the other. I think the underlying attitude is well summed up by “not in my name”.

            Clearly there is a huge gulf on a lot issues between the blue and red tribes on a lot of issues, including the role of the United States around the world especially vis-a-vis the military, immigration, what exactly the core values of our country are, and how and when it is appropriate to deploy our national symbols. However, the very fact that these are emotionally salient issues, given that other than perhaps immigration, they aren’t really pocketbook issues, means that there is an underlying nationalism in the sense of caring about the nation qua nation on both sides.

            I’m sure there are at least a few people that grew up in a jet setting family that just consider the US passport a flag of convenience, but I’ve never met anyone like that and I’m skeptical they exist in non-trivial numbers.

          • Civilis says:

            The problem is that the explanations given aren’t that displays of the American flag are ‘in bad taste’.


            “A group of university professors has signed a letter showing their solidarity with students who tried to ban the American flag at the University of California, Irvine – because they said Old Glory contributes to racism.”

            I believe these instances are a lot rarer than the Red Tribe portrays, but still the ones that appear are all of the form ‘I don’t want to risk offending people in America by displaying the flag of the USA.’

            On the Mohammed / Jesus issue, while Muslims may not be Blue Tribe members, they vote for Blue Tribe politicians. It’s not conservatives pushing speech codes on college campuses.

          • The Nybbler says:


            Yes, those are somewhat less-typical left-wing attacks on patriotism that I mentioned here, where the objection is to being patriotic about America because America is (or was) evil.

            That’s still different than attacks on nationalism, though.

          • Teal says:

            I’m quite certain there were many more devout Christians that voted for Obama than devout Muslims.

          • Sandy says:

            Strictly speaking, devout Muslims are not supposed to vote because it is tantamount to polytheism, but I doubt many of them buy into such an idea, at least in the west.

          • Nornagest says:

            Never heard that one. In all schools of Islamic jurisprudence, or only some of them?

          • Sandy says:

            Again, strictly speaking, all of them; a basic Quranic principle is that there is no source of authority other than Allah’s laws. In practice, I suspect few other than quietist Salafis actually believe or follow such an idea. I know some Hanafi scholars say it is permissible to vote in the elections of a secular country as long as the vote is for the ultimate benefit of the ummah, but many of these scholars are from the UK — I don’t know how scholars from Islamic nations view such things. In Shia Iran, at least, they seem to have worked out a compromise where the people can vote but the state is ultimately led by the Ayatollah commensurate with his position as the representative of God on Earth.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Yes, extremist Islamist preachers often tell people not to vote, because they view non-Islamic government as illegitimate.

          • “Strictly speaking, devout Muslims are not supposed to vote because it is tantamount to polytheism”

            In theory, the Caliph is selected by the people, which in practice meant a poorly defined small subset of people representing the rest. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be by majority vote or by unanimous consensus, very possibly the latter.

            In practice, that’s one of the areas where religious theory yielded to practical requirements early on, with caliphs naming their successors, usually a son.

        • jeorgun says:

          Speaking, obviously, from my personal experience with the blue tribe and no real authority beyond that:

          Leftists who denigrate ‘nationalism’ aren’t using it as a synonym for ‘patriotism’. They aren’t even using it as a synonym for ‘believes in national self-identity/self-determination’ (many blue tribers I know were pretty vocally in favor of Scottish independence back when that was a thing).

          A lot of blue tribers do look down on American patriotism, but that’s because it’s associated with the red tribe and therefore Icky— I don’t think it has much to do with nationalism in the abstract sense.

          • Wilj says:

            I have to completely disagree. I see attacks on the concept of nationalism specifically *all the time.*

          • jeorgun says:

            I’m not saying leftists don’t attack nationalism— just that their attacks on nationalism and their attacks on American patriotism are separate things.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I feel like there is a bit of a Motte and Bailey going on here. Like Wilj see attacks on the concept of nationalism generally (and American nationalism in particular) often enough that i’ve pretty much come to expect it.

            When challenged they’ll say that they’re only objecting to the “mawkish symbols thereof” but then go right back to talking about how it’s wrong to discriminate against people based on where they’re born, and talking about how nationalism is a cancer.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I agree; leftist attacks on nationalism are based basically on the idea that nationalism is akin to Nazism and therefore evil. Whereas attacks on patriotism tend to be based on the idea that patriotism is simplistic and thus a product of low intelligence. Another brand of attacks on patriotism is that America is evil and therefore one shouldn’t support it.

          • Teal says:

            Who’s the they? I don’t think it “counts” as M&B if it’s different people. Consider that you may be experiencing the outgroup homogeneity effect.

          • jeorgun says:

            Who’s motte-and-baileying? Again— I never said leftists don’t attack nationalism! And I also never said that leftists don’t look down on the kind of patriotism you describe! Just that what they’re attacking in each case isn’t actually the same thing, and an argument against one kind of attack isn’t an argument against the other.

            (in case it isn’t obvious, I’m basically against what-leftists-call-nationalism and basically in favor of “mawkishness”/what-I’m-calling-patriotism-for-lack-of-a-more-precise-term, hence why I’m trying to draw this distinction)

          • hlynkacg says:

            That’s a good point. In hindsight the failure to distinguish between “Nationalism” and “Patriotism” is likely a fault in my model .

            That said I think my general conclusion still holds, though the path to it is less direct than I initially thought.

      • Civilis says:

        I think it’s colossal arrogance to think New York is the most American place you can get, and this arrogance is why so many Red Tribe flyover country types react so badly to the idea of ‘New York values’ and the like. This is what they’re reacting against.

        It may very well be mirrored in that the Red Tribe has a similar view of small-town America, but that doesn’t make it any more right. Anyone from anywhere in the world can move to a small American town and adopt the local values and become just as American.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “I think it’s colossal arrogance to think New York is the most American place you can get”

          I’m going to contend that the word “most” is trying, and failing, to do all of the work for you there. You want to claim that being thought second to NYC somehow means you must be extremely offended. Why is that?

          If people thought “hometown America, Mom and Apple pie” was a close second to NYC, isn’t that something that reasonable people might come to different conclusions on rather than something people are required to be angry about?

          • Civilis says:

            As for why I used the word “most”:

            If you hate NYC, you hate the most quintessentially American place, and you hold a view that is likely to be in opposition to a quintessential American value.

            New York is the real America

            People don’t say that Atlanta or Houston or Cleveland or Sacremento or Smallville, Kansas are the most quintessentially American place, and yet the values that you’re attributing to New York that make it the best can be found in all such places.

            What makes New York unique? Is it Broadway or Times Square or Wall Street? All of those come with assumptions that don’t apply to most of America, and that some people may credibly resent being associated with. And that’s before getting into the pre-Broken Windows Policing associations many people still have of some of New York’s more colorful residents.

            I’m a suburbanite by heart, so I don’t particularly have much love for small town America as other than a place to play tourist. My few brief forays into even quasi-rural exurb America left me feeling as much an outsider as I do in the dense cities. If this was a disagreement between Generic Big City America and Generic Small Town America as to which best represented America as a whole, I doubt I would feel involved enough to contribute to the debate. But this is between one specific polarizing city and Generic Small Town America.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Again, if I think NYC is cardinally first, why is that an insult to whatever is in second? Why is it colossal arrogance?

            Now, if you said “well, I think Peoria is just as American as NYC” I would happily agree with you. This may seem to be in some sense contradictory, but I don’t see it that way.

          • Civilis says:

            At some level, I do need to apologize, as we are comparing different things. If you had phrased it as ‘New York is the most American city’, or even ‘New York is a quintessentially American city’, the debate would have been different.

            1. of the pure and essential essence of something: “the quintessential Jewish delicatessen.”
            2. of or relating to the most perfect embodiment of something: “the quintessential performance of the Brandenburg Concertos.”

            I think the fundamental issues I have with your statement are twofold. First, the terms ‘pure’ and ‘perfect’ are so value-loaded as to be almost completely unusable outside of objective comparisons. In that vein, anything that doesn’t admit that there are multiple possible answers to an opinion question is arrogant. That also applies to the Red Tribe rhetoric that sparked this thread. I can say Washington D.C. is a great city, I can’t say it’s the greatest city or definitely the perfect city.

            The second problem is that any comparison involving multiple assumptions is likely to be misunderstood. You’re not just assuming ‘these qualities make something the most American’, but also ‘New York specifically possesses these qualities the most’. There’s a difference between saying “Michael Jordan is my favorite basketball player”, “Michael Jordan is the quintessential basketball player” and “Michael Jordan is the quintessential athlete”. The first statement is purely opinion and requires no justification. The second is an opinion, but one which can be debated on a rational basis; we have ways to compare basketball players that are at least quasi-objective. The third requires agreement with both the assumption as to what defines an athlete, and that Michael Jordan possesses those qualities.

          • Tibor says:

            @HBC: Would you say that anyone who identifies as a Christian is a Christian? If not, what is your criterion to differentiate between Christians and Nonchristians?

            It seems to me there are two somehow related failure modes – either the standard I mention above where words don’t have any objective meaning, or an unreasonable demand for rigour which you don’t find anywhere outside of mathematics or philosophy, where one can define perfect imaginary objects.

            We routinely call objects something and we mean that they are a very close approximation to an ideal. There are no balls in the real world, but if I say “no, this roughly spherical object is not a ball, because it is not perfectly round”, you will think I am either a troll or a loony. If I insisted that what everyone would call a square is in fact a circle because I like to call it a circle, you would think the same thing (if you want to be really nictpicky, you could point out that you can have a metric space where it would make perfect sense to call a square a circle, so that is a legitimate usage, but the fact that it makes sense in the context of a specific field and in a specific case does not legitimize the same use in general).

            If I say “X is not a real Y”, then it may or may not be an insult. Of course, people do use it that way but not always. It could simply means “X does not adhere to my definition of Y” or more precisely “X differs from Y in fundamental ways, so I cannot see it as an example of Y”. A proper response to this is probably to demand a definition of Y. Not an example but a idealized definition. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer to that, then it was probably meant simply as an insult. In you example, “David Friedman is not a real economist” could mean simply “DF is not a good economist”, but it could also mean “DF is not a real economist because does he not have a PhD. in economics”. The second is a valid definition (even if not one I would use).

            Actually, even being called a bad economist does it have to be an insult, it depends on the context, although when meant that way and phrased like “not a real economist”, it is more likely to be an insult than a critique.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Most quintessential” was (semi-intentionally) oxymoronic. I was going for a rhetorical flourish, which perhaps missed. All I was going for was the idea that to reject New York City as somehow not “fully” American is to reject something that is deeply embedded in the American identity.

            But, I would also say that if you reject “Mom and Apple Pie” towns, you also reject something that is just as deeply embedded. There is no one completely American place that contains all of America or the American ideal. That is largely the heart of my critique.

          • Tibor says:

            @HeelBearCub: If I understand you well, you are saying that Americanness consists of properties X_1,…,X_N and for someone to be called not real American he has to lack more than just one (and perhaps arbitrarily chosen) of those properties. That sounds reasonable.

            I guess you would also want some properties to be crucial, for example being born in Europe and not having ever visited America should be enough to be disqualified as a real American. So you have a group of criteria Y_1,…Y_M which all “real Americans” have to meet but also a group of criteria X_1,…X_N which not all have to be met simultaneously (and perhaps even cannot be).

          • HeelBearCub says:


            We, again, are really far afield of how the word “real” was applied, and I think you are getting wrapped around a philosophical axle that amounts to arguing about definitions in a legalistic manner.

            Let’s take the phrase “That isn’t a real pumpkin pie”, or its converse “Now, that is a real pumpkin pie.”

            Do we think either of those sentences are trying to say that Mrs. Smith’s, factory made, frozen last month, bought in a grocery store last week, and heated up today, pumpkin pie does not meet some technical definition of pie?

            Trying to argue about the fact that we need definitions, and they need to be both precise and loose doesn’t engage with the way in which the word “real” is being used.

        • Teal says:

          I shouldn’t have said “the real America”, I should have said something like “an inseparable part of real America” or something like that.

          There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to live in or even visit big cities. My point was that if you really hate them and wished they didn’t exist then you hate a large part of what makes makes America, America.

      • Lesser Bull says:

        This is exactly what makes people mad. Because they are Americans, not Europeans, you try to claim that they don’t even have a culture or a peoplehood.

    • Lysenko says:

      Regarding “Real American”:

      I believe I understand and sympathize with the emotional and historical basis of your response, HBC. At the same time, I have to admit that I think there MUST be some point of value dissonance where the label ceases to have any meaning if it is not removed.

      I do not think that anyone who isn’t an asshole, having met immigrants who have sworn their oaths of citizenship and chosen the values of America as their own, can dispute that we cannot define it merely in terms of birthplace.

      And if it’s a matter of citizenship, then Aldrich Ames, Julius Rosenberg, and John Walker Lindh are every bit as much ‘Real Americans’ as Hugh Thompson, Frederick Douglass, and Abe Lincoln…and at that point I think the term is so useless as to be thrown out entirely.

      So there must be SOME relation to cultural identity, to shared philosophical values. And there must likewise be SOME point of deviation from which a person for all intents and purposes ceases to be American in their heart and mind no matter what color of passport they carry when travelling.

      So, while we may disagree on where to draw that line, the rhetoric exists for a reason.

      • HeelBearCub says:


        And if it’s a matter of citizenship, then Aldrich Ames, Julius Rosenberg, and John Walker Lindh are every bit as much ‘Real Americans’ as Hugh Thompson, Frederick Douglass, and Abe Lincoln…and at that point I think the term is so useless as to be thrown out entirely.

        I agree with this.

        My proposed solution is to throw the term out.

        “Real Americans” is a term that suggest we can go through the citizenry one by one and identify those who are allowed to stay and those who must leave, those who deserve the entirety of the rights in the Constitution and those who only receive some of them, those who are first class citizens and those who are second class.

        I maintain that this will not work.

        • Nornagest says:

          The whole point of the rights in the Constitution is that they apply to everybody under that document’s authority. Citizens or not, loyal or not, whatever values they share or don’t share. If you’re rooting your ethics in natural rights, you don’t get to pick and choose — and the Constitution is very much rooted in natural law theory.

          (Except, I suppose, for those extended only to citizens, like voting and running for office. But “citizen” is a legal quality, not an essential one — all but the most nativist would agree that there are “real Americans” who aren’t citizens, and citizens who aren’t, insofar as the phrase is meaningful.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think you are quibbling around my use of the word”citizenry”. Sarah Palin clearly used this term in reference to citizens (giving no thought to aliens, legal or otherwise). To the extent that her use applies to aliens, it is very minor, very edge cases.

            I think there are other ways to invoke quintessential American values and culture, but “real America” should not be one of them.

            I think she was trying to invoke “Mom and apple pie” to talk about a certain rural American culture that is separate from the urban and urbane culture of the populous coasts. She probably intermingled “Real America” with “heartland” and “flyover country” to evoke the sense of aggrievement that is felt by some segment of that population.

          • Nornagest says:

            Honestly, I didn’t even notice you used the word “citizenry”; the parenthetical bit up there was a digression, a weak qualifier on my main point. I doubt Sarah Palin gave much thought to the citizenship status of the people her comments applied to, though I don’t doubt that if you asked her, she’d say they’re mostly native-born citizens. (Some of the most “‘MURICA” people I know personally are East Asian immigrants, though.)

            I think Palin is gesturing toward a single authentic American culture, probably some mix of notional heartland and frontier cultures. And I think she’s wrong about that; there are many authentically American cultures, only some of which look anything like Disneyland’s “Main Street USA”. But I don’t think she imagines kicking out the people that don’t conform to it, or stripping them of rights: not doing that is deep in American ideological DNA. At worst I expect she thinks their goals for America’s future should not take priority.

          • Does someone have a link to the Palin speech everyone is referring to?

            Without having read it my guess, based on the comments here, is that she was contrasting “real American” with “Irish-American, Afro-American, Italian-American,” not in the sense of claiming that people of those ethnicities were not real Americans but that people who identified with the ethnicity rather than the nation were not.

            But that’s only a guess–or, if you prefer, an attempt to steel man the term.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Here is a CNN segment with some audio.

          • @HBC:


            It doesn’t sound like my guess at what she meant. More nearly that people who are pro-American and who do useful and important things for Americans are the real Americans. I don’t live in a small town, but I can’t say I felt insulted by what she said.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            “people who are pro-American”

            So, do you consider yourself as “pro-American”?

            Because it was a definite statement about geography, that there were “pro-American” parts of the country and … other parts of the country.

        • Lysenko says:

          I disagree with your bundling, HBC. You’re assuming a degree of malicious intent there with talk of forced deportation, stripped of constitutional rights and so on.

          “I love America, except for its excessive protections of free speech and refusing to silence the merchants of hate speech and bigotry…oh, and the stupid second amendment, why don’t people see that it’s time we ended this needless, violent, small-dick-compensating gun culture in america….and all this talk of individualism and rugged indivualism, it takes a village!…and baseball, such a stupid sport, anyone with any class watches proper European Football…and really, we need a proper parliamentary system, these first past the post systems are terrible!…”

          That’s not a straw man. I can’t speak for frequency, but I know enough people who have expressed EXACTLY those sentiments all at once, or flat out said “Why can’t America join Europe in the 21st century like the rest of the -Civilized- countries! Ugh!”. I don’t want people who express these sorts of views forced out of the country, or denied their constitutional rights. But I absolutely reserve the right to point out that their vision of America includes the erasure or removal of all things AmericAN about it, and to question the authenticity of that vision as an American one.

          EDIT: In short, while I think the term ‘real American’ is sloppy and I wouldn’t use it personally, I think it’s getting at a very real phenomenon, and one that deserves description.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            So, one is not a “real American” unless they: a) like football, and b) don’t like soccer?

            You, sir, are on the wrong blog. 😉 (See Scott and “sportsball” if you don’t get the reference”)

            Look, you can always find a great number of people willing to say asinine things, or reasonable things in an asinine way, but does wanting a social welfare state commensurate with Europe actually make people not part of “Real America”?

            I submit that you would love to define it that way, so that you can feel proper enmity towards you ideological enemies (just as those who are liberals would like to define those who are not open to immigration as “not Real Americans”).

            If you want to say that an idea is un-American, go for it, make your case. But that is quite different.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That is essentially my take as well.

          • Nornagest says:

            …really, we need a proper parliamentary system, these first past the post systems are terrible!”

            This is such a nitpick that I almost hesitate to post it, but when I hear complaints about first-past-the-post voting, I usually take them to favor instant-runoff voting or some other ranked voting system — not to advocate a switch to proportional representation or an abandonment of the presidential system of government. The complaint is usually that the voting method marginalizes third parties, not that our system of representation is unfair.

            (The UK also uses FPTP voting, incidentally, despite having a parliamentary system.)

          • Jiro says:

            I think we need to distinguish preferring soccer to football, and using a preference for soccer over football as a tribal indicator. The people in question don’t just say “I like soccer” in the same way that I might like chocolate ice cream; they “like soccer” because their tribe likes soccer, and the tribes which like soccer also have all those other preferences which, unlike soccer, are about how people live their lifes.

            There’s nothing wrong with liking soccer. There’s also nothing wrong with wearing gang colors–if you’re doing it because you just like the colors.

          • Lysenko says:

            As I said, I think there’s a point where there’s so little overlap in philosophy, ideology, and culture that it’s reasonable to point out that what someone wants is no longer ‘America’ in any meaningful sense.

            I agree that ‘real Americans’ vs ‘not real Americans’ is a bad way of describing this divide, and even that the dividing line is fuzzy because something like ‘American-ness’ is composed of a multitude of traits that run the gamut from political beliefs to sports preferences to philosophical outlooks and so on. It’s not a matter of a single bright-line test or cleft point, but rather an aggregation of changes until someone has less in common with American national identity or culture than they do with that of other national or international social groups.

            This was discussed and debated at some length in terms of cosmopolitanism vs. nationalism earlier, I believe.

            As far as how -I- would like to define it, I think I’ve been pretty clear. I have no problem viewing my ideological enemies as hostile to the principles that I believe make America distinctive and valuable as a distinct national identity, and of saying so on a case-by-case basis. You’ll note that I have yet to do so in this conversation or to sling around ‘real American’ or anything like that, so please refrain from making assumptions about my intentions.

            Let me try to restate my premise another way. You are comfortable with the idea that, in theory, an idea or philosophy or proposal can be “Un-American”. How much of someone’s personal ideology and values must consist of “Un-American” ideas and desires before you can justifiably point out “Hey, where does the ‘American’ part of your American Dream come in?”

            I think it’s in many ways analogous to the people who say “How dare you call me not a Real Christian? Just because I deny the divinity of Jesus, don’t believe the resurrection happened, think the bible is entirely a collection of myth and allegory, don’t think that Sunday is a holy day, don’t go to church, or donate to any religious causes, don’t believe that there is a hell, or angels, or saints, and I believe in reincarnation with no heaven?! I’m as Christian as ANYONE!”

            At some point, you’ve changed your definition of the group identity so much so that it loses all value and meaning.

          • Tibor says:

            @Jiro: This is just meaningless bickering, everyone knows that the best collective sport is ice-hockey :))

            In all seriousness though, what would you make of someone who prefers ice-hockey to american football? And don’t say Canadian :))

          • Teal says:

            You have to be careful not to conflate “American-ness” with “conformity with the trappings of my upbringing in one tiny corner of America”.

          • sweeneyrod says:


            What gives you the right to define who gets to be a real American? Why can’t someone who wants the US to become a clone of Denmark equally claim that “real Americans” want the best for their country (which in their view means becoming exactly like Denmark)? If you are going for the idea that real Americans are those who like the current state of the US, that makes pretty much every historical figure who preferred the situation when they were alive an unreal American, which seems odd.

          • Lysenko says:

            I don’t think your proposed definition works because at that point I can claim to be every bit as much a “Real Dane” as someone actually born there by claiming that I want what’s best for Denmark and saying they should become exactly like America. This strikes me as an absurd result and thus a bad definition.

            As far as what gives me the right, I claim no such right. I would claim that no one person can define ‘American’ or ‘unAmerican’ except in terms of relating to the core philosophical values put forward at the time of the nation’s founding, and expressed by key members of the nation over time. Those values have fluctuated some and in many cases have not always been lived up to, but they’ve stayed remarkably consistent.

            That’s a matter for historians and political scientists to have reasonable debates over.

            In that sense, I think that the American national identity has something more in common with religions or philosophies than the more ethnically or culturally derived national identities of some place like, say, France. And once again, once you have people changing a philosophy or a religion past a certain point, it generally gets a new name because the old one is no longer descriptive.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To some extent, religion is more of a choice than nationality, although, it may not feel like that to the adherent.

            That aside Christian, like American, is a really broad term. I imagine that the Catholics who were referred to as “not Christian” by various Protestants took justifiable umbrage. So to Mormons today.

            And that, to me, is how the term “real” is used in practice, to distinguish between fine gradations very adjacent to each other, and usually as a means of pointing to the other as inferior. If there is some sort of Unitarian Church of Christ, I think if you said that they aren’t “real Christians” they would be justified in taking offense (though they probably wouldn’t, because, you know, Unitarians).

            “He is not a real man.” “You’re not a real soldier.” “Soccer isn’t a real sport.”

            So, theoretically, you could make some list of traits that 99% of Americans share, but I don’t think that would get you any closer to defining a “real” American.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Those people exist (and the ‘ugh’ is such a great marker), but I think you’re giving Palin too much credit to say she was referring to them. I think she was doing some old fashioned populist pandering to those who consider themselves working class, those who make and do “real” things with their hands. As opposed to the effete coastal liberal gentry.

          • Lysenko says:

            That’s something where we may get into personal idiosyncrasy, or maybe I should say ideo-syncrasy. To me, national affiliation IS a choice, and not just of where you build your house. It’s about buying in to the culture, the values, and the underlying philosophical assumptions. I think there’s more to being an ‘American’, or ‘Francais’, or ‘Deutsch’ than the citizenship section on the right legal document. A SF author I’m fond of likes to comment about having been born American and just having taken a few decades to get ‘Home’ (she’s a naturalized immigrant), and that rings true to me in the sense that she made an informed choice.

            And I’d compare it more to saying that Protestants aren’t Catholics, rather than saying either are ‘not Christians’. That said, there are certainly Progressive Christians (theological progressive, not political) I’ve run into that I would call ‘not real Christians’. They’ve discarded so much of what defines Christian theology and praxis that there’s nothing meaningful left. And I say this not as a Christian wanting to denounce the heretic, but as an atheist trying to find good labels for group identities and behaviors.

            And for reference, I was raised UU (less because my humanist father and bitterly ex- and anti-catholic mother were believers in its tenets than that they thought that church and sunday school and the attendant social ties were useful in social and emotional and cognitive development.), so I think you’re right about not taking offense, but again, I wouldn’t call UU a Christian religion ;).

          • “And that, to me, is how the term “real” is used in practice, to distinguish between fine gradations very adjacent to each other, and usually as a means of pointing to the other as inferior. If there is some sort of Unitarian Church of Christ, I think if you said that they aren’t “real Christians” they would be justified in taking offense”

            Why? Words have meanings. Modern Unitarians who believe there is at most one god are not Christians in the ordinary sense of the word.

            Why should they feel insulted? They might conceivably disagree. But saying “this is what I think Christianity is and your views don’t fit it” is no more an insult than simply saying “This is what I think Christianity is,” the rest being obvious.

            In your view, are all disagreements insults? If Murray Rothbard says that I’m not a real libertarian because I don’t hate the state, is he insulting me?

          • hlynkacg says:


            I can’t speak for Sarah Palin, but those people were exactly who was being referred whenever I’ve encountered that sort of rhetoric “in the wild”.

          • Civilis says:

            It’s also rather silly to use sports as a comparison factor, versus actual significant rights. I think the most visible rights differences are in the treatment of free speech (America near total free speech versus European prohibition of Hate Speech) and guns / self defense (America right to self defense versus European no right to self defense).

            Seeing American lefties say ‘we should be more like Europe’, it’s usually stuff like this they’re talking about, rather than ‘we should play Futbol instead of Football’.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Here again is an example where you engage with only selective points, and key words, and fail to read the entire argument.

            There are (many) evangelicals who say Catholics aren’t real Christians. Ponder that for a second.

            The standard Unitarian Universalist in America today is not Christian, nor do they claim to be. I was making a point about some hypothetical offshoot of UU that would choose to describe themselves as Christian, presumably by asserting the centrality of the story of Christ to divining the will of God. But, as it turns out, the original Unitarians thought of themselves as Christians who did not believe in the Trinity and split on whether Christ was divine. So it turns out it isn’t even hypothetical. Who can say they are wrong and the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Conservative Baptists, etc. are “right”?

            I mean which one of them is right about who, exactly, counts as Christian?

          • “But, as it turns out, the original Unitarians thought of themselves as Christians who did not believe in the Trinity and split on whether Christ was divine. So it turns out it isn’t even hypothetical. “

            Which is why I specified “Modern Unitarians who believe there is at most one god.”

            There is a large gap between words not being perfectly precise in their meaning and words having no meaning. A Protestant who claims Catholics are not real Christians isn’t insulting them, but I think he is mistaken. Someone who claims that Mormons are not real Christians has a considerably more defensible position, and someone who claims that the sort of current Unitarian I described is not has a still more defensible position.

            “I mean which one of them is right about who, exactly, counts as Christian?”

            “Exactly” does most of the work of your argument.

            Would you similarly object to all other words which have a less than perfectly precise meaning? If I say that Cass Sunstein isn’t a real libertarian, am I insulting him? Oppressing him? Doing something wrong?

          • Anonymous says:

            who, exactly, counts as Christian?

            We already had this discussion. In 325 AD. This forms a pretty solid foundation of who counts as a Christian and who doesn’t.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            A Protestant who claims Catholics are not real Christians isn’t insulting them

            I’m pretty sure the bulk of Catholics would perceive it to be so. And I think most evangelicals would understand that as well, which is why most of them wouldn’t tell their Catholic or Mormon friend “Well, you aren’t a real Christian.”

            If I say that Cass Sunstein isn’t a real libertarian, am I insulting him? Oppressing him? Doing something wrong?

            I’d say you are intending to insult him or indicate his inferiority in some way. Oppressing him? Usually that phrase, in this context, is applause lights for people who like to sneer at the left. I assume that isn’t what you are doing here, but otherwise it makes no sense.

            If someone were to say “David Friedman isn’t a real economist” there would be a clear implication, which you could choose to ignore or not. If you took offense at it, I would certainly understand. If someone asked me if it was an offensive thing to say I would say yes.

            And all of this is very, very, very far afield from the phrase “not a real American” being applied (by implication) to something over half of the citizens of the United States.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            And yet, evangelicals may say Catholics aren’t real Christians and there are undoubtably Christian sects, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who reject the Nicene creed

          • Civilis says:

            And yet, evangelicals may say Catholics aren’t real Christians and there are undoubtably Christian sects, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who reject the Nicene creed

            Still, there has to be some mechanism by which we can say that somebody that says they are Christian isn’t, even if we can’t agree on the exact threshold at which the distinction can be made. Somebody that says they are Christian but admits they don’t believe in God or regularly sacrifices doves to Zeus, for example, should be easy to qualify.

            Are there thresholds other than citizenship by which we can classify someone as American? More importantly, are there thresholds that you don’t agree with but you would accept as rational?

          • People deported to Mexico who grew up in America– they’re apt to be working in call centers because they have American accents. They miss America but can’t come back.

            The thing which really made me think of them as exiled Americans rather than non-Americans is that they still celebrate Thanksgiving.

          • Jiro says:

            So along with transgenders and otherkin, and maybe transracials, we now have trans-Americans?

          • I wrote:

            “If I say that Cass Sunstein isn’t a real libertarian, am I insulting him? Oppressing him? Doing something wrong?”

            HBC replied:

            “I’d say you are intending to insult him or indicate his inferiority in some way. ”

            Why inferiority? Most law professors are not libertarians and don’t claim to be. Cass describes his position (in print) as “libertarian paternalism” and described himself (in correspondence–we used to be colleagues) as a libertarian.

            My actual response, as best I recall, was that he wasn’t a libertarian in any strong sense but was at least as libertarian as the then current candidate of the LP (two elections back). That wasn’t an insult any more than his claim was self-flattery–both were attempts to describe his political position.

            If someone said I wasn’t a real economist I would take that as a factual claim, probably mistaken. The most likely context would be someone I was interacting with online who didn’t know the relevant facts about me and would not make the claim if he did. But it also might be someone whose definition of economist or economics was different from mine, which again is a disagreement, not an insult.

            Is it your view that:

            1. “Real X” means anyone who claims to be an X.

            2. “Real X” doesn’t mean anyone who claims to be an X, but you shouldn’t say someone who claims to be an X isn’t a real X not because it isn’t true but because it is rude.

            3. ???

            I am reminded of my wife’s comment that she read someone who said a couple should never go to bed with an argument unsettled between them. He thought “argument” meant “quarrel.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:

            I note that the phrase “not a libertarian in any strong sense” is not the same as “not a real libertarian”.

            Let me repeat what I said up-thread to Tibor:

            Let’s take the phrase “That isn’t a real pumpkin pie”, or its converse “Now, that is a real pumpkin pie.”

            Do we think either of those sentences are trying to say that Mrs. Smith’s, factory made, frozen last month, bought in a grocery store last week, and heated up today, pumpkin pie does not meet some technical definition of pie?

            So if someone says you are “not a real economist”, the odds are that they know your history fairly well. They are trying to impugn your arguments or positions based on some combination of appeal to authority (you have no PhD) or an ad-hominem (he is is not worthy of our respect, therefore his arguments are invalid).

            Or, take the sentence “He think Mises was right. Only Keynesians are real economists.”

            And this is the sense in which Sarh Palin used the word “real”, not in making technical arguments about who, literally, is an American. It’s fairly obtuse to try and read the argument as being a literal one about definitions, and not a subjective one about relative worth.

          • Anonymous says:

            And yet, evangelicals may say Catholics aren’t real Christians and there are undoubtably Christian sects, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who reject the Nicene creed

            And Muslims don’t believe that Christians are monotheists. Who cares?

            The Evangelicals who are Christian and say that Catholics aren’t real Christians are just heretics committing heresy. The Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t properly Christians via rejection of the Creed – I have read some of their texts and spoken to them, and they even have their own category for what they are in the sectarian classification, distinct from the Christian term ‘Christian’.

  25. Xenograteful says:

    Scott’s posts about biodeterminism and disdain for some forms of positive psychology (like growth mindset) are making me lose hope about being able to change myself. I feel like if I have too much hope for myself I’m one of those “KEEP ON HOPING, SUCKERS” guys in Unsong’s hell.

    It’s funny to compare Scott’s writings to Yudkowky. Yudkowsky was very idealistic, you can take control of your brain, you can get rid of all those cognitive bias that are keeping you down and take over the world. Scott is quite cynical and almost on the other end of the spectrum.

    So is it possible to combine hope and still take into account the facts that almost all traits of people are heritable?

    • suntzuanime says:

      There are so many traits of people that aren’t heritable. Like learning French, or getting your legs blown off by a landmine. The biodeterminism stuff should be read in reaction to the worst excesses of the “Blank Slate” crew that want to say nothing is heritable. Although “Blank Slate” is going much too far, it’s inarguable that your actual life history has substantial effects on you.

      • Xenograteful says:

        I believed that up to a certain point, but when you read Scott’s his post Non-Shared Environment Doesn’t Just Mean Schools And Peers it does seem he really thinks actual nurture has very little effect:

        I kind of want to conclude that the nonshared environment is not as important as had been thought. My guess is that the nonshared environment as Turkheimer discusses it – differential parenting, schools, peers, and so on – is only a fraction of the “nonshared environmental” term in genetics studies.

        If that were true, it would mean that nature is more important than we thought relative to environment in terms of things we can understand and possibly affect. That would make the quest to change important outcomes like intelligence, personality, income, or criminality by changing society even more daunting. And it would make the opportunity to change those outcomes through genetic engineering even more tempting.

        • Peter says:

          Note that that interpretation of heritability implies that variation in nurture doesn’t usually have a big effect. I mean, if you take a baby and completely fail to nurture it at all, it dies (unless someone else takes it from you and nurtures it instead), and severe-but-not-absolute neglect can have some pretty nasty consequences as well… but merely-below-average nurture doesn’t seem to cause (if the results and the interpretation are to be believed) very different results from merely-above-average nurture.

          • Urstoff says:

            Right. In twin studies, for example, one twin isn’t raised by wolves and the other by humans. Their both (usually) raised by (non-abusive) people in the same country.

          • Paul Torek says:

            This. To put a finer point on it, heritability depends on how much variation there is in the population studied. If nearly everyone nurtures their children nearly optimally, heritability will be extremely high. If children are highly resilient, then anything but severe neglect and abuse makes for “nearly optimal” nurturing.

      • Peter says:

        It wouldn’t surprise me if learning French was moderately heritable in some countries, in the technical sense of “heritable”. As in: some people are more likely to have high verbal IQ or high Openness To Experience or something like that, and that means they’re more likely to avail themselves of opportunities to learn French, and more likely to actually learn French when they try.

        Likewise, getting your legs blow off by a landmine – there must be a lot of characteristics that make a person a military type, and that must be associated with getting one’s legs blown off by a landmine, right. Or if a civilian in a land-mine infested country, some combination of curiosity and carelessness (or not having the talents to get out of landmine country and into somewhere safer).

        One solution maybe is to be collectivist in your hopes. Heritability measures environmental variation (vs genetic variation) within a time and a place, but environments vary between time and place quite a lot. Consider how many times and places have effectively 100% or 0% literacy, for example. If you sampled a country when it was at 50% literacy your study might find a high degree of heritability, but that doesn’t prevent long-term large-scale change. If you can think, “Maybe I won’t get the outcome X that I was hoping for, but in the future if we work towards our goal more and more people-like-me will get that X, and that will sort of do – if I can’t have X for myself then I can have meaning and purpose getting X for others” then that might bring some relief (and/or it might make you insufferable, and/or the effect might wear off), although it’s not a full solution.

        Another solution is to be modest in your hopes. In “shared environment/unshared environment/genetic” studies (e.g. twin studies) lots of things have a very high “unshared environment” component, so you never know, you might get lucky.

        To a certain extent, a lot of things are comparative and even competitive, like winning a running race. If you’re on the starting line with seven other runners, well, you’re determined to win, but so are they, so determination to win can’t be the sole determinant of winning.

    • stargirlprincess says:

      Scott seems to take biodeterminism more seriously than almost anyone else I can think of. For example scott credits his success as a writer to innate talent. Scott has written thousands of pieces so I think most people would attribute Scott’s success to practice plus some talent. But Scott really puts almost all the emphasis on talent imo. I think you should look at other sources. Scott is about as extreme a bio-detemrinist as it is possible to be imo. See this passage:

      “My last IQ-ish test was my SATs in high school. I got a perfect score in Verbal, and a good-but-not-great score in Math.

      And in high school English, I got A++s in all my classes, Principal’s Gold Medals, 100%s on tests, first prize in various state-wide essay contests, etc. In Math, I just barely by the skin of my teeth scraped together a pass in Calculus with a C-.

      Every time I won some kind of prize in English my parents would praise me and say I was good and should feel good. My teachers would hold me up as an example and say other kids should try to be more like me. Meanwhile, when I would bring home a report card with a C- in math, my parents would have concerned faces and tell me they were disappointed and I wasn’t living up to my potential and I needed to work harder et cetera.

      And I don’t know which part bothered me more.

      Every time I was held up as an example in English class, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. I didn’t do it! I didn’t study at all, half the time I did the homework in the car on the way to school, those essays for the statewide competition were thrown together on a lark without a trace of real effort. To praise me for any of it seemed and still seems utterly unjust.

      On the other hand, to this day I believe I deserve a fricking statue for getting a C- in Calculus I. It should be in the center of the schoolyard, and have a plaque saying something like “Scott Alexander, who by making a herculean effort managed to pass Calculus I, even though they kept throwing random things after the little curly S sign and pretending it made sense.” (from The Parable of the Talents).

      • Anon. says:

        You are implying that “practice” is exogenous, but there’s a very good “biodeterminist” explanation for that, too.

        • Paul Torek says:

          But that doesn’t matter to stargirl’s point. Practice causes perfection: if otherwise true, this claim is not undermined by the fact that something else in turn causes practice.

    • Jill says:

      If you want to change something about yourself, why not give it a try, take some classes in the area, do what the Mindset book suggests for changing your mindset, and see what happens? It beats sitting around giving up. You can always go back to sitting around and giving up later, if you decide that that is warranted.

      People change things about themselves all the time– and find other things about themselves that can’t be changed sometimes too. It’s like the serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous.

      Everyone wants to have the wisdom to know the difference between what can and can’t be changed. But I wonder if anyone has that “wisdom.” Maybe experience– of giving change a good hard try– is what matters.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      Yes, there is hope, though a bit delusional and conditional on your opinion about your shrewdness.

      At most, the biodeterminist interpretation of those studies can conclude that the influence of genes is greater than that of nurture the way it’s being done in this society. It’s reasonable to assume exceptions for shitty ways of nurturing: If a child grows up in an environment of regular sexual abuse, the role his genes play will be considerably smaller. All you need to do is come up with a corresponding great way of nurturing, or convince yourself that your actually normal nurture is extraordinarly great nurture.

  26. Agronomous says:

    I don’t know if this was discussed here back when it came out in February, but I came across this open letter to Yelp’s CEO from a low-level employee (that got the writer fired) after Reason pointed me to something recent on Ask a Manager about a group of interns’ petition for a looser dress code (that got them all fired).

    (Europeans, this is your cue to squeal in horror at at-will employment.)

    Everyone: what is your reaction to these incidents? Do you consider them similar (one was public, one was not)? How justified were the firings? What should the kids have done instead?

    • sweeneyrod says:

      More like at-will unemployment in this case amirite?!

    • suntzuanime says:

      The Yelp firing was totally legitimate. Yeah, let me just write an open letter to criticize and humiliate the company and spread it around social media, then go into work the next morning. That was a constructive resignation. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if she couldn’t get by on what they were paying her resigning and looking for a better job was the right thing to do. Publicly airing dirty laundry might not help her future employment prospects, but hey, it’s her life and I totally get the attraction of costly vengeance.

      The interns I don’t think should have been fired, if they were only raising the issue to managers and not raising a social media ruckus. But as the article points out, an intern’s life is cheap. Interns, legally, are not supposed to provide their hosts with benefits, so if they are causing management to have to deal with hassles, it does not take much trouble before they’re more trouble than they’re worth.

    • Jiro says:

      The fact that someone makes trouble about reasonable things is Bayseian evidence that he will also make trouble about unreasonable things.

      Also, why would you even want to have someone on the payroll who badmouths you? You’re giving them money in the expectation that both parties benefit. If you’re harmed instead, why would you want to keep giving them money?

      (I find this reasoning tempting, but I don’t actually believe it. The rebuttal is “incentives”.)

    • Nornagest says:

      There’s a lot of blame to go around in the first one. Yelp arguably shouldn’t have fired her for this, but it’s not really Yelp’s fault that she’s not making ends meet — they’re paying what the market will bear. The fact that that market will bear a $24000 wage in a city where you pay $1240 a month for an apartment thirty miles away (and probably in a bad neighborhood, if I know the Bay), is partly the fault of city planners for constraining construction until the price of low-end housing gets that high, and partly the fault of young people like Talia who keep moving to cool cities and taking jobs that don’t pay their expenses. This is not a woman forced into living in the Bay Area because her history and social connections don’t allow for anything else; this is a woman with a college degree and grandparents willing to give her a free car.

      In the second one, I feel comfortable blaming the company. It’s a reasonable request, and they could just have said no.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Agreed on both counts.

      • Anthony says:

        I disagree. Complaining about the company culture, when one hasn’t been there long enough to understand it, is a sign that you’re a troublemaker, and will probably disrupt the company more than your labor will ever be worth. Organizing a bunch of interns to demand changes when all the experienced people at the company are happy with the existing setup is more than sufficient proof that you will be more trouble than your labor will be worth.

        Internships are supposed to be educational. This one was very much so.

        • Clockwork Arachnid says:

          This is generally my take. Firing their interns may have been a bit harsh, but the interns also didn’t take the hint when their management gently turned them down. The petition was not appropriate– I see this reaction as a harsh lesson that the business world doesn’t work the way the same way a college campus does.

      • CatCube says:

        I actually agreed with you about the second one until I read the story. I had interpreted “petition[ing] for a looser dress code” as informally petitioning, i.e., asking in the hall or pulling the boss aside when he wasn’t busy. While they did do that, they were turned down and actually then proceeded to hand their employers a signed formal petition, like they were talking to the student f***in’ government or something.

    • Loquat says:

      I lol’d when I got to the point where she was upset, to the point of feeling bait-and-switched, that company policy required her to stick with the entry-level job for an entire year before transferring to any other position. My employer has the exact same policy, and I suspect it’s common. And really, how did she get to the point of getting a firm job offer and committing to an apartment that’s unaffordable on her starting salary without asking how long she should expect to remain on that salary?

      The interns, I kind of feel like management overreacted, but I also wouldn’t require such a strict dress code in the first place, so clearly the management at that company has different expectations in general than I’m accustomed to.

    • Tibor says:

      I am European and from a country with one of the more liberal labour laws in Europe (still less liberal than those of the US). I also observe countries with one of the least liberal labour laws in Europe, namely Spain, France and Greece. In those countries, not only is it really hard to fire someone, you have to pay them months of wages when you do. The effect is a disproportionately high unemployment rate among young people (the unemployment rate especially in Spain and Greece is incredibly high, I don’t really get how they can function like this…or rather I do – based on what I was told a lot of people work there illegally nowadays) and generally people whom employers consider risky (so in fact this might also have a very negative effect on Arabs in France for example).

      The only people who benefit from that system are those who already have a long-term job contract. But in a sense even they could be better off otherwise. It is hard for the employer to fire them. But they are kind of trapped in their job, because they won’t be able to find another one with the same conditions nowadays, everyone in Spain seems to offer limited-time contracts only. So instead you do the job you possibly hate. And an employer who wants to fire you makes it as unpleasant for you as possible in order to force you to quit.

      I would take a system where a boss can fire you at a whim (while still owing you wages for the hours you spent working there) over this any time. The easier it is to fire people, the easier it is for people to get hired.

      An idiot who keeps firing people for no good reason will find himself with nobody willing to work for him or with worse/less experienced employees than he could have otherwise, so I think such cases are an exception rather than the rule.

  27. Theodidactus says:

    Once upon a time there was a kingdom high above the limpid lakes of Abbendai, a veritable paradise, where every bride happily found a groom (and every groom, a bride) by these simple rules

    1) A maiden always received one, and only one, marriage proposal over her entire life. Every maiden received such a proposal.
    2) the proposal would come from a single suitor, who would propose on a random day of the 365 day year.
    3) potential suitors ranged, in desirability, from suitable (+1) to ideal (+10) with an equal likelihood that a suitor would have any desirability value
    4) the maiden could accept or decline the proposal, but of course in those days there was no reason to decline one´s only chance at a suitor
    5) upon accepting, the groom’to’be would name the date for the wedding, already decided but kept secret. The day would be some randomly’chosen date in the same year
    6) all weddings that fell on a particular date happened simultaneously.

    The kingdom was SO happy and ideal that, on average, ten proposals like the one detailed above happened every single day. Some days had far fewer proposals than ten, some days had far more. No one could articulate the exact rate but the average boiled down to about 10 every day.

    It came to pass that the newly married prince´s wife died tragically on their wedding night, and the king of the land grew bitter and decreed that henceforth, any groom that proposed to any bride would be summarily executed (-1000), along with any bride foolish enough to accept the proposal.

    This state of affairs did not last long, as even in the troughs of his madness the evil king realized that a kingdom where marriage was illegal would end in either depopulation or debauchery. So, instead, he gathered his closest advisers together and devised a new proposal

    A thousand weddings per year being the number his advisers agreed would be necessary to sustain the population, his decree was now that exactly one thousand weddings would take place every year, with courtship proceeding in line with the ancient traditions. Suitors would propose marriage, and brides would accept, and any wedding that transpired beyond the allotted thousand would end in the brutal execution of the bride and groom (-1000). If many weddings fell on the same day, and that day pushed the total count of weddings over the allotted thousand, everyone who was wed that day would be executed for their insolence.

    Assuming every bride in the kingdom was rational, and assuming the ancient courtship rites transpired exactly as articulated above, my question is…will there be a thousand weddings every year?

    • Nornagest says:

      No. You don’t know what number proposal you are, and you definitely don’t want to be >1000, so it will never go near that value. Standard game theory suggests that no proposals will be made (by a process of induction we can push all proposals to the first day, whereupon no one can rationally make a proposal); a more realistic scenario would likely have some number somewhat less than 1000 performed in the first few days of the year.

      An even more realistic scenario would produce a registrar.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The Prince has the King executed (or perhaps banished to the Royal Asylum, so as not to upset his mother too much). The Prince (now King) then makes himself an exception (it is good to be King), finds himself a new bride after a suitable mourning period, and allows things to return to the old ways after.

      Presumably the answer you’re looking for is that the weddings will proceed until the probability of the next day putting it over the top, times 1000, exceeds the utility of the wedding. This could result in years with less than 1000 (everyone to be married on the day it went over cancelled).

      However, I think there’s not enough information to calculate the expected number of weddings. If the suitors pick the wedding date (uniformly from the days in the year) first, then pick the proposal date, that gives you one distribution of number of weddings, uniform every day (though you have to recalculate as the year goes by!). If the suitors pick the proposal date first, then the wedding date, then weddings end up biased towards the end of the year.

      (Edit: if you’re wondering how the Prince takes the King down… well, he has the entire unmarried part of the guard, and a good number of the married-with-childen guards, on his side)

    • Vaguely related

      A Christian argues that casual dating works a lot better than the strictly marriage-directed customs which have developed among some home-schoolers.

  28. Is Involuntary Unemployment a Bad Thing?

    I think the answer is “yes,” but I also think that not everybody agrees. Here is one way of interpreting a group of related memes that show up here (and elsewhere).

    1. Nobody should have to do uninteresting work at a low wage. This sometimes appears as the claim that if a company can’t pay it’s workers a “decent wage” it shouldn’t exist. The obvious implication, not explicitly drawn, is that if someone cannot produce enough to earn a “decent wage,” he shouldn’t be working at all.

    2. To implement point 1, we should raise the minimum wage until it equals what we consider a decent wage. People who support this generally assume that the result is that low wage workers get higher wages, not that they become unemployed, but most seem undisturbed by the obvious implication of basic economics–that at the higher wage the quantity of such labor demanded will be lower.

    3. We should provide everyone a basic income sufficient for a minimally decent life.

    Combine all these and one could interpret the package as:

    4. It is better for people with low productivity not to work, since their leisure is worth more to them than their labor is to others. By raising the minimum wage we make sure such people cannot work. Since they cannot work they are deserving objects of our sympathy, so a basic income or some other form of income redistribution should be used to support them.

    The basic income without the minimum wage would achieve the same objective at lower cost, since those workers who preferred work at a low wage could still choose it. But the arguments for a basic income become more convincing if there are lots of people who have no other way of supporting themselves. So a machiavellian redistributist might want to use the minimum wage to create that situation and then blame the lack of jobs on automation rather than on the policy he supported.

    • Guy says:

      There’s something not quite right in what you’re saying, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to put my finger on it, but here goes.

      (1) What makes work “interesting”? There’s work that you like to do and work you don’t particularly mind doing, and there’s work that you really don’t want to do. I would say the first is “interesting”, and the last is what we should definitely avoid forcing on people (for a generalized notion of “you”, which is to say, people make their own choices as free from necessity as possible).

      And what does this have to do with whether or not someone is able to produce enough to earn a nominally decent wage*? Suppose Bob’s Bespoke Balsa Bodkins are incredibly popular, popular enough that Bob is able to make a living producing them, but Bob himself hates making bodkins and wishes he could do anything else. Further, suppose that due to some bizarre circumstance bodkin production is Bob’s only option for a decent wage. Should Bob have to make bodkins? Alternatively, suppose Bob doesn’t make enough money from bodkins to hit a decent wage, but doesn’t particularly object to producing them. Should he be prevented from producing bodkins as a condition of receiving aid?

      (2) That sounds like the position of a typical minimum wage advocate.

      (3) This sounds like the position of a typical GBI advocate, with the caveat that it also applies to minimum wage advocates who indulge in magical thinking re: employment.

      (4) This doesn’t sound like a position anyone holds. A more plausible similar position would be something like “It is better for people prefer not to work (at the wages and jobs offered to them) to not have to do so. This is currently unworkable due to politics/economics, but it is workable to raise the wage floor and thereby decrease the number of such people.” This bans low-productivity jobs, which then makes welfare (more) necessary, providing a sort of psuedo-basic-income in a way that is politically tractable but, of course, magnificently inefficient and of limited effectiveness.


      I think to actually answer the question you raise at the top of your post, I’d have to ask what “involuntary unemployment” actually means. Does it mean that people who need to work (because in our current social order one must perform some job in order to survive, at least by default) can’t? Or does it mean that people who want to work, or want to work a particular job, can’t, for some reason or another? I think people generally have some kind of rank order on the various possible states of employment (occasionally with lots of ties, of course), and they’ll just pick the highest one in reach. Adding a GBI makes “none of the above” a perfectly valid choice for more people than it currently is, at least ideally (because ideally the GBI is enough to survive** on, if perhaps not too much more). That seems like a good thing to me, as a choice-maximizer, but I don’t see what it has to do with voluntary or involuntary unemployment. In our current society, with no GBI, almost all unemployment (by most definitions) is involuntary, because employment is necessary for survival, and I do think that is bad.

      I’m not sure this post actually got where I meant it to go.

      *Maybe a “decent wage” is that wage which provides a standard of living greater than that which unemployment/welfare would sustain? That seems like something we could hypothetically agree on for operational purposes but which is no doubt impossible to actually determine because of US welfare weirdness.

      **I would go a little further and say that the GBI is ideally enough money to participate in society, which means it covers a little bit of social/discretionary spending. Though, again, not necessarily a whole lot of such.

    • I think your analysis assumes that the hypothetical reasoner agrees that wages equal productivity. Such agreement is not very widespread, and is particularly rare among people who support a minimum wage.

      You outline an internally-consistent position, but I think it is a rare one.

      • DavidS says:

        Yes, I think minimum wage advocates believe (or assume) that people being paid less than minimum wage are being paid less than their labour is worth and that if you introduce it, it will cause wages to rise and not for jobs to disappear.

        I’ve seen it claimed on this blog amongst others that despite the ‘basic economics’ point we don’t actually empirically see minimum wage creating unemployment. And this is certainly in the popular understanding in the UK, I think: when minimum wage was introduced, people predicted a rise in unemployment that didn’t happen. Although obviously that anecdote is hopeless as evidence as it lacks a clear counterfactual.

        On a side note: if you accept that if in a large % of cases minimum wages simply increase wages, could this offset a small % of losing their jobs because a $ in the pocket of a low wage worker is more likely to be spent and drive more job creation that a $ in the pocket of a large corporation? I’ve seen people argue both sides of this. Presumably from a national/local POV it would definitely help as the worker spends at home but the company may be investing overseas etc.

        • “And this is certainly in the popular understanding in the UK, I think: when minimum wage was introduced, people predicted a rise in unemployment that didn’t happen. ”

          The implication of the standard argument is that unemployment will rise for those now making less than the new minimum wage will be. For the U.S., about 3% of all workers are paid at or below the current federal minimum wage. So even a substantial increase in their unemployment rate wouldn’t have a significant effect on the national unemployment rate. I don’t know what the comparable figure would be for the U.K.

          What you want to look at is the unemployment rate for subsets of the population, such as teenagers, that contain a high percentage of low wage workers.

          • Pete says:

            My understanding of the minimum wage, is that it applies mostly to jobs where the competitions for jobs is high, therefore lowering he wage (usually because of the low level of skill required to do them), rather than jobs that necessarily have low value.

            If the value of the job is still higher than the cost to the employer, surely someone will still be hired.

            Or to put it another way, if hiring someone gives you a benefit of $20, and the market rate for that employee without a minimum wage would be $13, it would still be worth hiring someone if the minimum wage is $15.

            Of course, this is a massive oversimplification, and I would expect some increase in unemployment at the margins, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect the increase to be huge. Obviously, the higher the minimum wage, the more likely you are to make hiring not cost effective.

            Then again, I’m not an economist, and I”m sure you’re much more aware of the issues than I am.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            IANAEE (I am not an economist either), but I think the idea is that if the minimum wage is higher, it might be profitable for employers to replace several minimum wage workers with one more skilled, higher paid worker. In analogy your example: suppose you get $20 of benefit from an apple, and apples cost $13 (these are very fancy apples). If they go up to $15, you still profit from buying them, but the profit is less, and you might consider buying pears instead (where pears give $30 benefit and cost $24).

          • @Pete:

            What is relevant is the marginal benefit, the amount by which income goes up when you hire one more unskilled worker.

            If your marginal benefit from one more unskilled worker is $20 and he only costs you $10, you would hire more of them–you are making $10 profit on each. So would everyone else. The result would either be to drive down the marginal benefit of having one more worker or to bid up wages. Or, more likely, both.

            If you are maximizing your profit, the marginal benefit from one more worker of any sort is equal to what he costs you. Push up the wage and you hire fewer. How many fewer depends on the shape of the production function. The effect could be small if the demand for unskilled labor is for some reason very inelastic, large if very elastic.

            If you are sufficiently interested in a more detailed analysis, my price theory text can be read for free from my web site.

          • Lysenko says:

            Depends on where you’re talking about, but that absolutely happens, and the employees aren’t replaced at all. The demands on the remaining employees are just increased, and/or some tasks are shifted from hourly to low-level salaried employees who can be worked for more hours at no additional cost.

            The upcoming FLSA changes this December are going to make a more dramatic impact than a minimum wage hike, I think. And I’m not just saying that because I will almost certainly be going back to being an hourly rather than a salaried employee as my workplace is NOT doubling my pay just to avoid paying me 10-15 hours of overtime a week.

          • youzicha says:

            @David Friedman

            Doesn’t that analysis assume that labor is the limiting factor? I image the typical minimum wage job is something like a McDonalds restaurant, but one restaurant only needs so many workers, and if you hired more the additional ones would not produce the same $10 profit. And you may not be able to build more restaurants because e.g. there is no free land.

          • @Youzicha:

            If restaurants are profitable, one can build more. If all the land is occupied, which is wildly false for the U.S., you can buy a building currently being used for something else.

            MacDonalds doesn’t need a fixed number of workers. Add one more and they can do a somewhat better job, fill orders faster or keep the restaurant cleaner. As you add more workers, the amount better due to each declines–that was my earlier point about marginal product going down as number hired goes up.

            Putting it as labor is or isn’t “the limiting factor” just confuses things. Output is a function of input. The marginal product for any particular input, such as unskilled labor, is the increase in output due to adding one more unit of that input. It is a function of how much of that input you are currently using–and how much of other inputs.

          • youzicha says:

            @David Friedman

            I think there are two slightly different claims in play here. Your argument, that there is always some task an unskilled laborer can do, if the price is low enough, shows that the marginal benefit of a worker is not exactly zero.

            But Pete’s original point was whether the marginal benefit of a worker coincides with the