Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

Open Thread 54.25

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

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484 Responses to Open Thread 54.25

  1. For podcasts, I enjoy political/informational stuff like Tom Woods where they bring on various guests on a wide variety of topics rather than drill down into the woods on a narrow topic.

    Although, I usually listen more to audible books or regular old music when I’m working out or working in the garden.

  2. Dr Dealgood says:

    SSCience Discussion Thread

    What is this?
    > A lot of us come from academic backgrounds, or just occasionally stumble across interesting research, and think “what will people at SSC make of this?” Well now there’s a place to find that without reading 84 quadrillion comments first. Just Ctrl+F and search for ~ S S C i e n c e ~ without spaces.

    How does it work?
    > On the fractional Open Threads commenters are welcome to post links to and suggest for consideration any articles, and I will put an updated list of those suggestions in the top-level post for each.
    > During the integer Open Thread, I will select one article from the list for general discussion.

    Who can participate?
    > Everyone! Just read the article you plan to comment on or suggest, at least past the Abstract, and then feel free to post away.

    How do we keep it from descending into murderous anarchy?
    > This thread is strictly apolitical: even if you think an article has “policy implications,” this is not the appropriate place to discuss them. Violators will be drawn and quartered.

    Suggested Articles:
    1. Alliteration suggested the preprint study Genetic evidence for natural selection in humans in the contemporary United States, in the 53.25 Open Thread.
    2. Ilyusha suggested the study Does comedy kill? A retrospective, longitudinal cohort, nested case–control study of humour and longevity in 53 British comedians, in Links 7/16.
    3. I suggested Enhanced Longevity by Ibuprofen, Conserved in Multiple Species, Occurs in Yeast through Inhibition of Tryptophan Import in the 53.5 Open Thread
    4. Guy suggested Living in a Void: Testing the Copernican Principle with Distant Supernovae in OT 54.

    This week’s article, discussed in OT 54, is keranih’s suggestion Executive Decision-Making in the Domestic Sheep in the 53.5 Open Thread.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Ok, finally managed to read it. I was bothered at first by the small sample size of 8, but it looks like it’s really just a proof of concept (Is our sheep learning? Yes). But ff we’re looking for animals to do intelligence tests on, why not prefer dogs? Is it just that we can now give sheep Huntington’s?

  3. Lumifer says:

    A well-known hacker Lucky Green who is, basically, one of the founders of Tor is abruptly withdrawing from the Tor project including shutting down his servers which are rather important to Tor (his server Tonga is the Bridge Authority and its address is hardcoded in the current Tor versions).

    Any comments as to the reasons and/or consequences? The obvious guess is obvious.

    • Silva says:

      I’ll bite: I wouldn’t say a guess is obvious to me. Also, how much do you think this looks like relevant truth?

      • Lumifer says:

        The obvious guess is that sufficient pressure has been applied to him and he’s following in the footsteps of Ladar Levison.

        It is a fact that the US government funded (and continues to fund) Tor. I am also sure that some parts of three-letter agencies find Tor to be highly convenient and that other parts find it highly inconvenient. I have strong doubts that it’s just a honeypot, though.

        • Nicholas says:

          Alternatively, the absence of pressure to continue: If the government has decided that Tor no longer serves its nefarious purpose, they may have done nothing more threatening than no longer paying to keep Tor running. Lucky may have responded to this decrease in revenues by getting out before the whole thing becomes unprofitable.

    • Lumifer says:

      You think it’s related to Appelbaum?

  4. Silva says:

    Various Less-Wrong-adjacent people believe that we’ll have things like space colonies, transhuman AI and quasi-immortality, possibly even soon. OTOH, there’s the peak oil hypotheses, such as that our progress rate already passed its peak (maybe we could deploy revolutionary new technologies, but not if we were spending resources in all the ways we currently do). While I do consider the things believed by LW-like people theoretically possible, I’m closer to believing the latter about practical concerns. What should I be told?

    (For those not familiar with end-of-progress/collapse hypotheses, there’s more than one reason why I’d recommend The Archdruid Report.)

    • Mercer says:

      Technological singularity vs civilization decay antisingularity, the fate of the world on the line, ladies and gentlemen place your bets

      My super-uneducated guess is our ability to edit the human genome and significantly increase total human intelligence (even just having more 130-150 IQ people walking around would be a huge boon, regardless of whether more fanciful IQ boosts are doable) is pretty likely to happen before a true civilizational collapse. At the very least China should be able to pull it off.

      But the only thing I feel really confident predicting is the future is going to be weird as hell

    • Nuclear Lab Rat says:

      This presentation provided some very convincing – at least, in my opinion anyway – arguments that in many areas technology has hit steady state for the most part. There are, of course, some exceptions to this- genetics and self-driving cars likely being the most obvious – but overall I believe that steady state is the most likely scenario for the future in most respects.

      • Jiro says:

        I think that article misses one point: The companies doing things on the Internet are doing it because it serves their self-interest. Microsoft isn’t obsoleting their old operating systems because they have a vision about things being new and improved, at least not mainly. They’re obsoleting their old operating systems because new operating systems provide more opportunity to make money than keeping the old ones. Likewise for companies who promote the Internet-of-things. It isn’t the cult of growth, it’s that they know that having an Internet-connected coffee machine makes them money from DRM and big data and having a normal coffee machine doesn’t.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I still want the flying cars and supersonic planes. Maybe software and computers could stagnate and we could get some improvement on other stalled technologies? Naa, a new age of universal stagnation seems more likely.

    • Anon. says:

      A glimpse at a chart of oil prices will tell you everything you need to know about “peak oil”.

      • Nicholas says:

        That if you look at the price of oil in controlled dollars, the most expensive price between 1950 and 1970 is a price we’ve only been below for six of the 45 years since, and only three of those years continuous? It’s evidence for something maybe, with a short error bar, but what exactly am I supposed to take away from that?

        • What do you mean by “controlled dollars?” Inflation adjusted?

          • Nicholas says:

            Yeah, I’m familiar with the phrase “controlled for inflation” and just shortened it to “controlled”.

        • “the most expensive price between 1950 and 1970 is a price we’ve only been below for six of the 45 years since”

          On the other hand, the most expensive price between 1970 and 1980 is a price we have been above only twice very briefly in the 35 years since.

        • Zombielicious says:

          I was under the impression that the huge drop in oil prices was mostly due to OPEC flooding the market in order to kill shale gas (aka “the fracking stuff”).

          Though in the long-term I’m expecting the same effect regardless as the cost per kw of solar power comes down and the world moves towards more electric-powered stuff.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Peak oil theory is based on production, not prices. A glimpse at US crude oil production dispels it quite easily, as US production no longer looks bell-shaped by any stretch of the imagination.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          Unless demand is dropping, prices should rise as production falls, so prices are a good measure of not just current production, but expected future production.

          • Lumifer says:

            so prices are a good measure of not just current production, but expected future production

            Only in the short term.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            But you can compare past prices to what they should be if we had already hit peak oil.

          • Nicholas says:

            But rising prices is correlated with reduced demand over time…

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            Ceteris parabus, yes, but demand hasn’t been dropping, because the value of wealth and productivity effects.

          • It’s useful, for purposes of clarity, to distinguish between demand and quantity demanded. The former is a function of price, the latter is at a price.

            If the demand function doesn’t change but price goes up because of a shift in the supply function, quantity demanded goes down. If the supply function doesn’t change but the demand function shifts out–at any price people choose to buy more–price and quantity demanded both go up.

    • Nicholas says:

      Well would you like to hear that we as a species are probably going to go through some version of both? That a smaller and smaller number of people will be able to concentrate the energy left on the planet for more and more scifi things, leaving the rest of us behind to resource depletion?

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Myself, I’d only like to hear that if you could back it up. In the real world average wealth has generally increased over the past several decades, large numbers of people have risen out of poverty, and resource depletion is, in most areas anyway, speculative at best. We have problems aplenty, but they tend to be more due to Heinleinian “bad luck” than a Club of Rome-style end of days.

        If you want to argue that some people have become ludicrously more wealthy than the masses and are therefore able to do things like build their own space program or fund immortality research, sure, that’s true. But I can think of far worse ways for billionaires to spend their money. (If only George Soros would decide he wants to be the first man on Mars, too…)

        • Nicholas says:

          The theoretical argument I make is something like:
          When a country suffers from a constrained resource like an energy shock, there’s a spike in the price of that resource that eventually mostly goes away. But when the price abates, it doesn’t normally go all the way back down, and the usage rate of the resource doesn’t rebound all the way back up. This means that the number of people who can afford to use the resource goes down but, conditional on you still being able to afford the resource there’s more of it to go around. So I think you could predict (lossily? is I guess the qualifier I’m using) that if there was a really big, really long resource shock that this trend would continue for basically as long as possible, with the number of people buying the resource falling faster than the supply of the resource is actually being used up. More energy per capita means more complex technologies, QED the end result will be more cool technologies that most people can’t afford.

        • Nicholas says:

          My empirical case looks something like this: the United States has faced a ‘resource inconvenience’ since the mid seventies: It’s why the average price of a barrel of oil 1950-1970 is half the price of a barrel of oil 1996-2016. If you look at pictures from a bunch of different towns and cities across the United States from the mid sixties and again from yesterday, rated them as either “poor” or “rich”, and then threw out all the pictures that changed categories, I think you’d see a trend:
          The trend I think you’d see is that in all the rich/rich areas, things got more “futuristic”. There’s more stuff, cleaner stuff, cooler stuff, techutopic fantasy in full bloom. But in the poor/poor areas, things are moving in the opposite direction: roads are being turned back into gravel and dirt, because no one can afford to pave them, despite food production going up, stock-ratio is down for pretty much everything but soybeans,and unemployment is still over 7%. So we can point to several real life examples of, since the 1960’s, the united states bifurcating into a more and more technological well off population, and a population that looks more like it’s larping the 1940’s.

          • LHN says:

            It’s why the average price of a barrel of oil 1950-1970 is half the price of a barrel of oil 1996-2016.

            I wonder how much that translates into hardship. Fuel cost per mile driven is lower thanks to greater fuel efficiency, and obviously flight is ridiculously cheaper than it was 1950-70. Bulk transport is historically cheap thanks to things like the development of the container ship and multimodal transport and deregulation of trucking. And however agriculture may depend on oil for fertilizer and fuel, food prices are much lower in real terms and in fraction of income than they were 1950-1970. (Presumably this is a net win to the 97% of the population that isn’t in farming.)

            Immediate consequences of price shocks aside, who’s overall worse off from current oil prices, and by what mechanism?

    • dsp says:

      Don’t worry, the singularity and its extended family are not going to happen.
      Wait, that isn’t the part you were worrying about?
      Uh. Sorry. :/

    • Zombielicious says:

      My guess is that the main obstacle is lack of productive investment in breakthrough technologies + general incompetence and crony capitalism even when there is. See for instance the old projections on nuclear fusion funding (not sure how relevant those curves are to today). What I’ve heard from interviews with fusion researchers paints a similar picture (though they may of course have motivations for an overly optimistic assessment):

      You might say that we’re not a certain number of years away from a working fusion power plant, but rather about $80-billion away (in worldwide funding).

      The point is that it’s not a money pit. There are unsolved challenges, but we know what they are, and with adequate support, these challenges will be overcome.

      We think that we’re roughly $80-billion away from a reactor. At current levels of funding (worldwide), that’s about 40 years. Even given access to huge amounts of money, it’s unlikely that a working reactor could be built in less than a decade – there are just too many facilities to build between current devices and a full-scale reactor in order to ensure success. But we could certainly do it faster than 40 years!

      Elon Musk’s progress towards space travel / colonization is another example. It seems unlikely that was the only industry being held back by cronyism and underinvestment (e.g. James Watson has made a similar case for oncology research). The Manhattan Project and the Apollo program are evidence that you can accelerate near-future technologies if you’re willing to focus the resources on them (and accept loses to diminishing returns), but instead the trend seems to be to cut funding for basic science (e.g. killing the SSC and delaying the discoveries made later at the LHC) and wait for some entrepreneurial outlier like Musk to come along, rather than actively funding large-scale research.

      As a result, even if gradual progress continues, we probably all end up with significantly shortened, lower-quality life, due to problems that would have been fixed were it not for massive societal incompetence.

      • Lumifer says:

        general incompetence and crony capitalism

        That’s interesting. General incompetence is ever-present, of course, but I would have put government overregulation as a very important factor in there. Achieving fast progress when you need more lawyers than engineers is difficult (though not impossible, see Uber for an example of what hiring a big army of lawyers can get you).

        • Zakharov says:

          Crony capitalism and government overregulation are almost the same thing.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Not really. You also have subsidizing, underregulating, and providing contracts to your network, while taxing and overregulating their competitors, and bending over backwards to get contracts awarded to guys in your state, even when blatantly more competitive options are available. Overregulation is a problem, but there are countless examples that don’t involve it.

      • John Schilling says:

        The Manhattan Project and the Apollo program are evidence that you can accelerate near-future technologies if you’re willing to focus the resources on them (and accept loses to diminishing returns),

        But be careful – one unintended consequence of the Manhattan/Apollo approach is that you get the cost-is-no-object version of the technology, which is often too expensive for general use and which does not necessarily evolve into the economy version over time.

        Mind you, I think it’s probably a good thing that nuclear weapons are too expensive for general use. Maybe not a good thing that the associated nuclear power plants are too expensive for general use, and I think we could definitely use some much cheaper space travel.

  5. Silva says:

    The War Nerd has been giving free samples. Definitely not TED-like, but you may find it politically unappealing; I’d recommend it otherwise. (I lack other recommendations because I prefer reading; the War Nerd used to write, but is only writing a book now.)

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I just saw a standard issue pro-Islam white lesbian on my Facebook feed citing a standard issue pro-Islam female professor that more women are killed by male partners in the US than are honor killed in Pakistan.
    I think that’s false because there was no citation, but it made me wonder: with the replication crisis and everything, when is it rational to believe a statistic? I wouldn’t want to go through life treating statistics in general as a subset of damnable lies just because most are.

    • Andrew says:

      It’s rational to believe a statistic when it meets the same criteria that are used to decide if it’s rational to believe any more prosaic fact. You know, the usual “have a prior, adjust on quantity and strength of evidence” routine.

      For a stat like that, the source is either unknown or probably very poor, so the “strength” is very low. Without corroboration, the “quantity” is also very low. So my prior would be changed very little, whatever it was.

    • Lumifer says:

      when is it rational to believe a statistic

      In the same situation when it’s rational to believe an arbitrary assertion. Hint: a Facebook post by a pro-causeX supporter in favour of causeX is not one of such situations.

      There is also the second layer: the number might be correct, but its meaning might be quite different from what is implied.

      I wouldn’t want to go through life treating statistics in general as a subset of damnable lies just because most are.

      Do you think you have a choice in the matter (other than closing your eyes)?

    • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

      It might be both true and a damnable lie. It is comparing on the one hand all partner-induced killings (like, are we including auto accidents where the partner was driving because “killed” is kind of ambiguous???), against a subset of premeditated murders on the other. Also the populations are different by a factor of 2x and the statistic is almost certainly not comparing the per capita rate.

      To answer your question: never. Like security online, actually following best practice all the time is impossible, so you have to make the compromise that you are personally comfortable with and just be emotionally prepared for when something central is compromised and destroys everything you’ve built.

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, first the base rate: Pakistan has about two-thirds the US’s population, so for the statistic to be wrong, we’d need (a) spousal homicide rates in Pakistan to be at least moderately higher, and (b) a large fraction of them to qualify as honor killings by whatever definition we’re using. The tighter the definition, the higher the homicide rate needs to be.

      These conditions aren’t totally implausible. But even if the factoid ends up being true, it sounds a lot more interesting than it is.

      (Personally, I’m betting on “not even wrong” — the statistics they’re using have a good chance of being total garbage.)

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        This seems most likely; the statistic is true but completely useless.

        More people contract infectious diseases in the US than in Gambia, which is a tropical african nation!

        Gambia also has a population of 1.8 million.

        • martin_w says:

          It’s worse than that — the difference in population sizes is not even the main problem here. Consider the following examples:

          1. There are more traffic accidents in country A than there are drunk-driving accidents in country B.
          2. The incidence of all forms of cancer in country A is greater than the incidence of breast cancer in country B.
          3. The number of criminals in prison in country A is greater than the number of currency counterfeiters in prison in country B.

          Even without taking the relative sizes of the two countries into account, what could the point of these comparisons possibly be? In each case the category for the second number is a small(ish) subset of the category for the first number, so of course you’d expect the first number to be greater than the second if the populations are roughly equal in size. Same for total number of domestic murders in country A versus number of honor killings in country B.

          I think what’s going on here is that we are used to seeing comparisons of the opposite form, where the more strictly defined category for country B is greater than the more loosely defined one for country A. E.g. “the amount of non-firearm homicide in the US is greater than the total amount of homicide in Germany, France and Australia.” (Yes, that’s per capita.)

          So the person coming up with the comparison is effectively saying “this situation is so lopsided that I can make my point even when giving myself an unfair disadvantage”.

          But in this case, the person is giving themselves an unfair advantage instead: the looser category is larger than the stricter one, exactly as you’d expect it to be, so it’s not surprising at all. But because we are so used to seeing comparisons of the opposite form, the “this is a surprising statistic which should cause me to revise my beliefs” neurons in our brains get activated even though there is no reason why they should.

          • Randy M says:

            Good points at the end. If I were to steelman the described argument, in would be something like, “You claim honor killings as one reason for disparaging Islam, but this is merely an example of a thing that you also have commonly in your society, and not especially worse in the particulars.” Followed by a veneer of statistical flim-flam that can’t really be justified apart from ignorance.

          • youzicha says:

            Honor killings are not a subset of partner killings. The definition of honor killings is that the murder is done (for ‘honor’ reasons) by family or local community members–this could be a husband, but also the father, brother, or son of the woman, or even just a cousin or village member.

          • Randy M says:

            Well then I don’t know why the two would even be compared.

          • youzicha says:

            @Randy M

            I think to give some comparison? The US does not really have the same concept of honor killing, so if you just hear “lots of women get killed by their close family for this cultural reason”, that seems extremely strange and alien and scary. But the usual reason for honor killing is that the woman wants to either marry someone her family disapproves of, or leave her existing husband for someone else. And the US does have the concept of “getting killed by your partner for wanting to leave”, so by pointing out that the same order of magnitude of women get killed for that in the US, you are sortof bridging the cultural gap and foregrounding the human universals…

          • Loquat says:

            On the other hand, some portion of US domestic-violence killings are motivated by reasons that wouldn’t qualify as “honor killing” in Pakistan. and there are certainly abusive husbands in Pakistan who sometimes kill their wives for those other reasons. In fact, if you look at martin_w a few posts down, he’s got actual numbers from Wikipedia – less than 2000 women per year domestically murdered in the US, versus an estimated 5000 per year in Pakistan. Picking out only one fraction of that 5000 and making a big deal about how it’s less than the US total is highly disingenuous.

      • Randy M says:

        I did not know that pakistan had so many people.
        But I should have guess about that, given what I know about India’s population and that Pakistan was formed from the same population.

        • Anonanon says:

          Same here. My guess for the population of pakistan based on geography and local agriculture was about 80-100 million. Casually misplacing a tenth of a billion people sure makes you feel dumb.

    • martin_w says:

      You could always do a few minutes of Googling and see if you can come up with a rough estimate for the statistic by yourself.

      Wikipedia on honor killings in Pakistan gives numbers ranging from 605 women (and 115 men) in 2011 according to one source, to more than 1200 women in 2003 according to a different source. The Wikipedia article about domestic violence in the US gives numbers ranging from 1200 to 1600 women (and 400 to 700 men) killed by their partner.

      According to those numbers, the claim that “per year, there are more women murdered by their partner in the US than there are women honor-killed in Pakistan” is technically correct. But of course the US population is almost twice as large as that of Pakistan; if you adjust for that, the numbers become approximately equal, with Pakistan probably having the larger number in most years.

      But note that we are now comparing only the honor killings in Pakistan, against all domestic murders in the US! In addition to honor killings, Pakistan also has bride burnings, acid-to-the-face attacks, and plenty of plain old ordinary domestic murder. In total, an estimated 5000 Pakistani women per year are killed by their partners or other close family members. There’s also a lot of non-lethal domestic violence of course, but I think I’ve made my point by now.

      Of course Wikipedia isn’t the unquestionable source of all truth, and to really come up with a thorough conclusion you’d need to dive into the underlying primary sources, try to get a feel for how reliable the numbers are and which direction the biases are most likely to be in, etc. But I’d be surprised if these numbers were off by so much that they invalidate the basic conclusion: yes, the statistic as given might be literally true, but it’s extremely misleading and there can be little doubt that a women’s chance of dying at the hands of her husband is many times greater in Pakistan than in the US.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Also worth mentioning that Pakistan is an impoverished developing nation, so the comparison, even if it made sense in other respects, is unlikely to come out in Pakistan’s favor for reasons having nothing to do with religion. GDP-per-capita-wise, Pakistan is in the same bracket as Nicaragua, Honduras, Laos, Myanmar, and Sudan. Buddhist Laos and muslim Sudan have lower homicide rates than Pakistan, while christian Nicaragua and buddhist Myanmar have higher rates. Christian Honduras, meanwhile, is the world’s murder capital, with a homicide rate an order of magnitude higher than Pakistan’s.

        I’m not going to touch on domestic violence because I’m positive that whatever statistics are available will be unreliable. Even the reported homicide rates should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

    • Nornagest says:

      More generally, when you see a statistic on Facebook, I think skepticism will rarely steer you wrong. No matter who posted it or what talking point it supports.

    • tcd says:

      One very (very) conservative answer to “When?” is that you should be comfortable with a statistic precisely when the data, methods, and results are provided together. This does not answer the truth question, but it confirms the origin of the statistic. When the statistic is the result of a deterministic process, then you have all the pieces to rediscover the statistic in question. I guess this is a sort of statistical completeness (which probably means something else already).

    • Steinn Sigurdsson says:

      Honor killings in Pakistan are estimated at about 1,000 per years.
      This number is very uncertain.

      In the US about 1,500 women are murdered by males known to them each year, about 900 are murdered by partners or intimate acquaintances.
      This number is quite precise.

      Pakistan has about half the population of the US.

      • Pku says:

        This is interesting in that Pakistan honour killings are within the same order of magnitude as US spousal killing. From the talk about “honour killings epidemic” I would have expected them to be much more common.

        • Loquat says:

          Note that Pakistan also has plenty of domestic murders that aren’t called honor killing, though. The Pakistani non-honor-killing domestic murder rate is greater than the American total domestic murder rate all by itself, so when you add the honor killing rate on top of that you can see how some people might find it upsetting.

          • Pku says:

            But when you put them together, you get, well, a typical third-world country murder rate. Yeah, spousal killings are a lot more common in Pakistan than in the US, but they don’t seem out of line for a typical third-world country (or, for that matter, sections of the US population with the same poverty rate, unless my eyeballing of the statistics is way off.).

          • Loquat says:

            I suspect a big part of it is that the motives for honor killings are often so alien – we’re familiar with ordinary domestic murder in the West, we have gang fights, street crime, and property-related arguments that get people killed, but people who think it’s reasonable to deliberately murder a close relative because of their marital choices are incredibly rare here.

          • Pku says:

            Which raises the question of whether there are forms of murder that happen here that would look as alien there. Does anyone have any idea if there’s something like this?

    • Winter Shaker says:

      As luck would have it, this week’s Jesus and Mo cartoon is on point.

  7. ThirteenthLetter says:

    Really digging the “Revolutions” podcast. It might be dangerously informative though.

    99% Invisible, maybe?

  8. Nuclear Lab Rat says:

    Dan Carlin for me. His “Hardcore History” program- and especially his WW1 series – is one of my favorites. I like his “Common Sense” current events commentary as well. Don’t always agree with him, but his analysis, in my opinion, is usually very respectful and well thought out.

  9. Jordan D. says:

    For those interested in legal stuff, I wish to recommend the Short Circuit newsletter, which covers a variety of interesting federal court decisions every week. I don’t know all that much about the organization which sponsors the newsletter, but you can find the case list published weekly on Eugene Volokh’s blog. The latest is here:

    A weird case of incredible power which virtually nobody actually knows about- the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (as well as the courts of a few other states) possesses the ability not only to assume jurisdiction of any case in a lower court, but to assume jurisdiction where no case exists and issue final and binding decisions. Despite this superjudicial power existing for hundreds of years, the Court has pretty much never used it for anything but disciplinary matters involving judges. ( (

    Lastly, an interesting issue and debate which most people aren’t aware of- the propriety of poems in judicial decisions:

    • Nornagest says:

      Apparently being a judge is kind of like being a platform engineer: people only know you exist when you screw up or if they read the changelist.

    • Mercer says:

      I feel like if they actually tried to use the “assume jurisdiction where no case exists” power on something of real consequence, it’d blow up in their faces. A nominal power that may not be an actual power…though maybe I’m being optimistic

      • AlphaGamma says:

        The most recent case of it I remember was that scandal where a judge had taken bribes from the operator of for-profit juvenile detention centers to send kids there for sometimes extremely minor crimes.

        The judge’s trial was an ordinary Federal trial, but they used King’s Bench jurisdiction to throw out hundreds of convictions he issued.

  10. Amanda says:

    Essential Oils – lovely-smelling placebos, or non-regulated medication? Or some third option…maybe non-edible food or something?

    I ask because I hear people claim that essential oils will do all kinds of things for your health (headache, mood, digestion, antiviral, etc), but if I ask about side effects, they look at me shocked, “No, never, absolutely not; they’re natural!”

    My point, which I can never get anyone to understand, is that it seems like oils would either do something, or not. So there are health benefits and potential side effects, or there are neither. The only alternative I can come up with is that they’re like oatmeal or apples. They have health benefits, but don’t have side effects in any typical sense of the word. Is that it? Are they like non-edible food? Does anyone here have any actual knowledge about this?

    • Nornagest says:

      I expect they’d do things for your mood because they smell good, and in some cases maybe because smells are particularly good at cueing up memories. Beyond that… I don’t have the expertise to say for sure, but if I had to bet, I’d bet on placebo.

      There are potential side effects, though. Certain essential oils can cause a poison oak-like reaction if applied to skin. And I know a couple of people who’re sensitive to a lot of aroma compounds to the point of getting a headache if they stay in the same room.

    • Lumifer says:

      They certainly have side effects if only because the definition depends on the purpose: what’s a primary effect for one is a side effect for another.

      “Natural”, of course, is a complete red herring. A great deal of poisons are entirely natural.

      A lot of essential oils will irritate the skin and if you get some on a mucous membrane you’ll be very sorry. Some will give you a headache. There is not much general guidance because it all depends on the specific oil, it’s concentration and/or dosage, and the individual circumstances — but if you asking whether it’s possible to harm oneself with essential oils, it certainly is.

    • Corey says:

      A great philosopher (Carlin) debunks the naturalistic fallacy in a memorable way: “dogshit is natural”.

      That said, it makes sense that they have mostly positive effects, because they’re from placebo – people believe they have positive effects more than they believe in side effects, so the placebo effect dominates the nocebo effect.

    • Amanda says:

      Yeah, obviously the “it’s natural” argument is bogus. If pressed, they mumble the words “science” and “fat soluble,” which feels worse somehow. I don’t like to be a jerk about it (I know they don’t know; why prove it?), so I just smile and “mmmm”. They could be correct with no good arguments, but I’ve also heard about topical burning and headaches.

      I guess what I’d be most interested to find would be documented positive results, from people who are willing to admit the side effects. Barring that, I’d like enough knowledge to have the option of diffusing nice-smelling stuff into my house with the assurance that it won’t kill my parakeets.

      • Lumifer says:

        On the anecdata side I occasionally use essential oils to clear my sinuses. Typically it involves a mix of eucalyptus and camphor. Other than that, I experimented with essential oils some time ago and didn’t notice much in the way of effects on my body. But smells work well for evoking moods and memories.

    • My wife is really into essential oils. Here’s a relatively informed perspective:

      Of course there’s side effects: skin sensitivity to any number of herbal oils, photosensitivity from citrus oils, and don’t touch your eyes if you have peppermint on them. However, a lot of people don’t think of these as “side effects”, because they’re easy enough to avoid if you know what you’re doing. (Note, however, that not everyone selling EO knows what they’re doing.)

      A lot of everyday medical issues are treated as well by EOs as by anything else, in my experience. Peppermint is amazing for clearing the sinuses, eucalyptus oils are good for soothing skin irritation, etc. I don’t think they’ll heal your cancer. For a lot of things they probably are just “nice smelling placebos,” but you can do a lot worse than a nice smelling placebo!

      • Randy M says:

        Hands down the best thing for clearing sinuses is the Chinese mustard.
        I also don’t expect you want to get that into your eyes.

    • Shieldfoss says:

      A linguistic side comment:

      essential oil

      noun: essential oil; plural noun: essential oils
      a natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic odour of the plant or other source from which it is extracted.

      They are not “essential” in the sense of “essential to your health.”

      They are “essential” in the sense that “they carry the main essence of the scent of the plant.” An “essential” oil is an oil with a powerful smell. Nothing more.

  11. The original Mr. X says:

    Ed Feser on “So you think you understand the cosmological argument?”:

    Most people who comment on the cosmological argument demonstrably do not know what they are talking about. This includes all the prominent New Atheist writers. It very definitely includes most of the people who hang out in Jerry Coyne’s comboxes. It also includes most scientists. And it even includes many theologians and philosophers, or at least those who have not devoted much study to the issue. This may sound arrogant, but it is not. You might think I am saying “I, Edward Feser, have special knowledge about this subject that has somehow eluded everyone else.” But that is NOT what I am saying. The point has nothing to do with me. What I am saying is pretty much common knowledge among professional philosophers of religion (including atheist philosophers of religion), who – naturally, given the subject matter of their particular philosophical sub-discipline – are the people who know more about the cosmological argument than anyone else does.

    In particular, I think that the vast majority of philosophers who have studied the argument in any depth – and again, that includes atheists as well as theists, though it does not include most philosophers outside the sub-discipline of philosophy of religion – would agree with the points I am about to make, or with most of them anyway. Of course, I do not mean that they would all agree with me that the argument is at the end of the day a convincing argument. I just mean that they would agree that most non-specialists who comment on it do not understand it, and that the reasons why people reject it are usually superficial and based on caricatures of the argument. Nor do I say that every single self-described philosopher of religion would agree with the points I am about to make. Like every other academic field, philosophy of religion has its share of hacks and mediocrities. But I am saying that the vast majority of philosophers of religion would agree, and again, that this includes the atheists among them as well as the theists.

    • Nornagest says:

      Would make clearer and more interesting reading if the author removed a couple of the chips from his shoulder.

      • Protagoras says:

        True of most of Ed Feser’s writing. I don’t remember him being that annoying when we were in grad school together, but we were never that close, and anyway that was apparently before he became all Christian.

    • Jiro says:

      How do you tell the difference between “the argument isn’t really X” and “the argument consists of X with a couple of epicycles added because just saying X by itself is too easy to poke holes in”?

      Any proponent of any absurd idea that has any staying power is going to modify it so that the obvious replies don’t work. “No, I’m not saying that I have the ability to bend spoons all the time! I’m saying that I can bend spoons when no unbelievers are around. How dare you misrepresent me as believing I can unconditionally bend spoons, and then claim I should be able to bend spoons in the laboratory, when I clearly am not claiming that I can do that!”

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Well, a good start would be to see if any of the people in question have ever actually claimed X. If they haven’t, then that’s pretty good evidence that they’re not, in fact, claiming X.

        • Jiro says:

          It may be hard to find a paper trail showing that the spoonbender actually claimed to bend spoons unconditionally. It may also be that he just swiped the idea from someone else premade and when he swiped it it already included the excuse clause.

          Besides, my question was not so much “how do you know he didn’t start out saying X”, but rather “if some idea isn’t quite X, but it does easily decompose into X+excuse, is it really wrong to characterize that as X?”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Any argument can be decomposed into fallacy + excuse, so your reasoning here proves too much.

          • Guy says:

            Meh. Any argument can be decomposed into fallacy + excuse, but many valid arguments decompose into fallacy + sufficient excuse to transform the first term into non-fallacy. The question is where to draw the line, and I think the right place is the point where the excuses are insufficient to transform the fallacy.

      • DavidS says:

        I would bet that Feser would be referring back to the early forms of the argument, NOT super-recent ones. He’s right that there’s a very bad habit of not bothering to understand these older arguments. Examples
        – Loads of people treat the cosmological argument either as being about things preceding other things in time (what was before the universe?) or as taking as a premise that all things must have causes. It does neither.
        – One of the most popular argument against the Ontological Argument is the ‘I can imagine a perfect bacon sandwich’ or whatever reductio ad absurdum… but Anselm addresses that in the same text that he sets out the ontological argument in, so you should at least show why his counter to it doesn’t work.

        I don’t personally buy the theistic arguments, but the popular counters (including from generalist philosophers) are often fairly terrible and show a complete failure to engage with the actual argument. And atheists as well as theists have a big issue with saying ‘this is a compelling argument’ when they mean ‘it reaches my favoured conclusion’.

        • Jiro says:

          Even the older proponents, though, probably already added the epicycles. The ideas have been passed down from generation to generation and may not have been *recently* turned from X into X+excuse.

          There is also the case where the excuse is just incoherent, as these tend to be. “The communion wafer turns into flesh but you can’t detect that because it turned into flesh only in its essence” accompanied by an incoherent account of what “essence” means.

          • DavidS says:

            Then the argument has to be ‘this is why your account of essence is incoherent’. Not ‘they say it turns into blood but we looked under a microscope and it isn’t blood because it also doesn’t look, taste or smell like blood and no-one claimed it did, so none of this is surprising. People are assuming they’ve won the argument on the actual point of disagreement, changing the original claim (‘they must think it’s chemically blood’, ‘they must think God is complex, even if they say he’s simple’, whatever) and then attacking the new version they’ve made up.

            It’s like a weird cross of a straw and steelman where you amend their argument to make more sense to you but less on its own terms. Like if I love sonnets and you like blank verse, I try to rewrite your favourite blank verse so it’s a bit like a sonnet and then say ‘this is a rubbish sonnet!’ (and we all know blank verse is just silly, so I don’t need to engage with that)

            And I don’t think the epicycles are really there with most of the arguments. Ontological argument I don’t think is from a folk tradition, is simple in form, and the creator addresses the main critique. Cosmological argument is indeed older, but again, no epicycles. The argument is in itself consistent with a universe with an infinite history (which Aquinus thought made sense at least as much philosophically, but accepted a universe that ‘began’ based on revelation). The main argument vulnerable to epicycling is the argument from design, where the whole ‘turns out ordered, apparently intentional complexity can arise from chaos’ has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Even the older proponents, though, probably already added the epicycles.

            So how far back do you have to go before something stops being an epicycle and becomes an integral part of the argument?

          • Is there any value in talking about epicycles outside of astronomy?

          • Nornagest says:

            Is there any value in talking about epicycles outside of astronomy?

            In machine learning, we have the problem of overfitting, which is strikingly similar to “adding epicycles”. Machine-learning algorithms do not have a concept of principle, so it doesn’t make sense to talk about unprincipled high-order terms, but the result is the same: you get a model that fits past data strikingly well but hares off into the weeds whenever it’s fed anything new.

          • Garrett says:

            So how far back do you have to go before something stops being an epicycle and becomes an integral part of the argument?

            Once you get above the topmost turtle.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            So would “Every version of the argument includes this so-called epicycle, going back to the beginning” count as getting “above the topmost turtle”?

      • youzicha says:

        Well, why should you tell the difference between them? Depending on what you want to do, the answer may be different.

        Adding epicycles is not in itself a problem. Compare with Lakatos’ view of how mathematical research works, as described in Proofs and Refutations. You start with a conjecture (“every polyhedron satisfies V – E + F = 2“), and you try to prove it. Over time, people will discover counterexamples, which show problems with the claim and with specific parts of the purported proof (self-intersecting polyhedrons, polyhedrons of genus > 0, …), and you have to make your definitions and conjectures more and more precise to rule those out. At the end of this process you end up with a really clear understanding of what is going on. If the cosmological argument did work, you could well imagine that it had been discovered by a similar process. (“Everything has a cause! Well, hm, but what about God himself. That’s not the kind of thing I had in mind when I said ‘everything’. I guess I was really thinking about ‘every contingent thing’. … ” etc etc).

        I think the only way to really get to the bottom of this is to engage with the finished argument (as written down by Leibniz or whatever authority) and figure out whether that is valid or not. If not, you look at the refutation, and then try to see how far you can simplify it without losing the interesting things about it. If the counterexample for the real claimed proof looks very similar to the counterexample for the naive simplified version of the proof, then the epicycles didn’t add anything. On the other hand, some of the purported counterexamples that Feser mentions (“what if the universe had no beginning?”) had nothing to do with the actual cosmological argument, so it’s clear that something has gone wrong with the simplification process.

        I think the previous paragraph is the “gold standard” for settling this kind of things, but it will take an immense amount of effort. In practice, the way you tell the difference is to read what experts have already written on the question. And again, how much you need to read before giving up depends on how important the thing is–is it just a comment on someone’s blog, or are you writing a book which will be read by thousands? I thought the most convincing part of Feser’s post was that he gave some examples of book authors who didn’t seem to have done any serious research at all–that seems a bit bad.

    • Protagoras says:

      Feser presents a version of the cosmological argument which depends heavily on his metaphysics, and of course cites a number of figures who helped develop that metaphysics. I think he also has some tendency to (he no doubt thinks charitably) interpret people who didn’t completely share his metaphysics as giving the same version of the cosmological argument as he did, even when they may not have (many earlier authors weren’t very clear about what argument they were giving). To someone who does not share his metaphysics, Feser’s version of the cosmological argument will not appear to be obviously the strongest version of the argument, and so I think many of the people Feser unfairly mocks are not constructing straw men when they attack different versions of the argument. None of them do share his metaphysics (for good reasons, I would say), and so they think the other versions of the argument are equally or even more worthy of attention.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        No prominent philosopher, no matter what their metaphysical backgrounds, has ever defended the “Everything has a cause, therefore the universe has a cause, therefore God” argument. So yes, people who attack this argument are attacking a straw man, not just an alternative form.

        Also, I’m not sure where you get the idea that Feser interprets “people who didn’t completely share his metaphysics as giving the same version of the cosmological argument as he did,” given that in the blog post linked to he explicitly refers to Aristotelian-Thomistic, Platonist, Leibnizian and Kalam versions of the argument, and mentions some of their differences. Again, though, the philosophers Feser criticises are attacking straw men no matter what version you’re going with — none of the arguments use “Everything has a cause” as a premise, all of them give arguments as to why the First Cause would have to be God and not just a Big Bang Singularity, none of them think the argument alone is sufficient to get one from atheism to Christianity, etc.

        • Protagoras says:

          To give one example, he mentions Craig without noting that Craig’s interpretation of the Kalam argument seems to make some of the mistakes (if such they are) Feser claims nobody makes.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I can’t think of any. Which mistakes did you have in mind?

          • Protagoras says:

            Again taking one example because these discussions are so tedious, Craig spends some time arguing that the universe couldn’t be eternal, which Feser insists is irrelevant.

          • DavidS says:

            But he mentions this point when he discusses Kalam:

            3. “Why assume that the universe had a beginning?” is not a serious objection to the argument.

            The reason this is not a serious objection is that no version of the cosmological argument assumes this at all. Of course, the kalām cosmological argument does claim that the universe had a beginning, but it doesn’t merely assume it. Rather, the whole point of that version of the cosmological argument is to establish through detailed argument that the universe must have had a beginning. You can try to rebut those arguments, but to pretend that one can dismiss the argument merely by raising the possibility of an infinite series of universes (say) is to miss the whole point.

          • Protagoras says:

            I don’t want to write a book in these comment threads. Since the topic was more whether Feser was right to dismiss most philosophers as not having any serious response to the cosmological argument rather than to analyze the flaws in Feser’s argument, I will again try to get out of this briefly by mentioning another philosopher Feser doesn’t. One who focuses on the metaphysics he says too many of the atheist philosophers ignore, and one who many atheist philosophers are in fact familiar with. Lots of us have studied Kant. Kant was somewhat brief on the subject of the cosmological argument, but his response to it was very much on point as far as Feser’s concerns; he thought that the cosmological argument required God to be the same sort of special thing that the ontological argument required, and so that it failed for the same reason that Kant thought the ontological argument failed, that the concept of God which was required was actually incoherent (and he was somewhat more thorough in his famous, and many think decisive, discussion of the the ontological argument).

            In general, I think everybody is aware that the cosmological argument says that an infinite regress of regular causes is insufficient, and God is supposed to be a satisfactory stopping point because God is a special cause. But on its own that’s lame, and despite Feser’s posturing, the efforts of himself and those he cites to show that, no, really, there could be the kind of specialness required exactly if there’s God are extremely unconvincing, no matter how long-winded they may be.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            So what, because you think one philosopher once gave a valid counter-argument, Feser isn’t allowed to point out that most other philosophers are giving bad counter-arguments aimed at straw men?

            Plus, Kant’s statement that existence is not a predicate (I assume that’s what you’re talking about) doesn’t really seem to hold up. If a group of explorers came back from the darkest Amazon with a real, genuine unicorn, then that fact alone would tell us something about unicorns — namely, that they exist. But then Kant’s dictum that “we do not make the least addition to the thing when we further declare that this thing is” is false, and his argument therefore fails.

            ETA: Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “mentioning another philosopher Feser doesn’t”, because he does, in fact, mention Kant, in section “8. Hume and Kant did not have the last word on the argument. Neither has anyone else.” Have you actually read the link?

          • But someone discovering that a thing exists doesn’t change the thing , it changes the discovery.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            But someone discovering that a thing exists doesn’t change the thing ,

            ??? I never said it did.

    • J Quenff says:

      I always feel like I’m missing something when I see people ‘doing metaphysics’. I don’t know anything about philosophy, but I do know a little bit about maths. In a mathematical argument, what you’re working with is well-defined, and it’s clear what sort of manipulations you’re allowed perform, what counts as actually having ‘proved’ something. There are no arguments over definitions, and there is always consensus on whether some claim actually follows from the arguments you’ve made. And even then, there’s a certain reservation about using mathematical arguments to make claims about the real world. I can prove the banach-tarski paradox, but I’m not about to make a solid-unit-ball factory because there’s no way of carrying out the construction in real life. Mathematics seems to be about as good as you can get if you’re in the business of proving the existence or non-existence of things by reasoning alone, and even then you need to be careful about what conclusions you actually draw about the world.

      Metaphysics seems to jump head-first into talking about things like ‘everything’ and ‘infinity’, and when you ask about the foundations you’re told about ‘essences’ which no one seems to actually have an agreed-upon definition for. So when I come across something like this — –, or some of the replies in this comment thread, I wonder if this person could also be convinced that you can chop up a ball and make two balls from the pieces.

      • Zombielicious says:

        There are no arguments over definitions, and there is always consensus on whether some claim actually follows from the arguments you’ve made.

        IANAM(athematician), but I’m not sure how true this is outside of the well-understood areas of mathematics. E.g. I’ve been reading about differential geometry recently, and the first portion of the book (Differential Geometry by Guggenheimer) is dedicated to different definitions of a “curve” – Peano curves, Jordan curves, differentiable curves, etc, which apparently have preferential uses in different fields (i.e. topology vs differential geometry). By now, since these are well-developed fields, these are considered just different definitions for different things, but I imagine at some point there was ongoing debate about the best general definition for the intuitive concept of “curve.”

        And as far as the truth of claims immediately following, you can see cases like Mochizuki’s claimed proof of the abc conjecture where there’s debate over the correctness and such (which may be due primarily to Mochizuki’s style, but I doubt it’s the only case).

        I’d guess the bigger difference between philosophy and math is that math builds up from more elementary concepts (e.g. ‘sets’ and ‘mappings’ vs ‘essences’ or ‘everything’), which are more amenable to definitions and logic, rather than demanding rigorous definitions of and answers to any idea or question.

        • J Quenff says:

          IANAM(athematician), but I’m not sure how true this is outside of the well-understood areas of mathematics. E.g. I’ve been reading about differential geometry recently, and the first portion of the book (Differential Geometry by Guggenheimer) is dedicated to different definitions of a “curve” – Peano curves, Jordan curves, differentiable curves, etc, which apparently have preferential uses in different fields (i.e. topology vs differential geometry). By now, since these are well developed fields, these are considered just different definitions, but I imagine at some point there was ongoing debate about the best general definition for the intuitive concept of “curve.”

          I don’t think this is a fair comparison. When there is any ambiguity, author’s clearly state what they’re taking as their definition. Someone who is working with the conventional definition of a curve in differential geometry is not going to argue with someone working with the conventional definition of a curve in algebraic geometry, because they’re both perfectly aware that they’re different things that happen to share a name.

          And as far as the truth of claims immediately following, you can see cases like Mochizuki’s claimed proof of the abc conjecture where there’s debate over the correctness and such (which may be due primarily to Mochizuki’s style, but I doubt it’s the only case).

          Progress in understanding the proof hasn’t stalled because people are in some sort of unresolvable disagreement about any one claim or deduction. Here is a better description than I can give of what’s going on —

          • The original Mr. X says:

            When there is any ambiguity, author’s clearly state what they’re taking as their definition.

            Authors do that in philosophy too, you know.

        • I’m still not seeing what the problem is supposed to be. It’s perfectly possible to come up with some clear and arbitrary metaphysics postulates and then draw conclusions from them. This has been done several times. And that is the problem. Metaphysics is supposed to be about the real world, so there arises the question of which postulates are the right ones. Mathematics has the same problem in miniature, for instance the axiom of choice controversy.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            Sure, but nothing in the real world is necessarily tied to any particular piece of pure math. If you want to apply some mathematical construct, you have to do some actual legwork to show that the assumptions apply to your real-world example. For example, if you want to model something as a differential equation, you would want to show that thing is differentiable (and probably continuously differentiable), or at least close to it. If you want to apply the Pythagorean theorem to a shape, you have to show it lies on a flat surface, or one that is locally close enough to flat. If you want to apply the Central Limit Theorem, you have to show your RVs are iid. Nothing in the real world can prove or disprove a mathematical theory, because mathematics concerns abstract, idealized structures.

            Aside from subjective impressions such as beauty, usefulness, interestingness, the only real “test” for a mathematical theory is consistency. Most mathematicians accept choice, but would agree that ZF without choice is perfectly reasonable.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The generally-accepted best practice, as I understand it, is to use postulates which are so obvious everybody accepts them: “Things change”, “I exist”, that sort of thing.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think you would benefit from reading Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. It’s in the public domain, so you can find it (likely in multiple translations) in many places online.

      • Are you saying that metaphysics could be done better, or that it shouldn’t be done at all?

        • J Quenff says:

          Again stressing that I know nothing about philosophy, I’m saying that I don’t understand why people are convinced by metaphysical arguments claiming to prove the existence of things.

          • I suppose they notice that the conclusion is derived validly from axioms that they find intuitively appealing. Is maths really so different? Doesn’t it contain existence proofs?

          • lvlln says:

            Maths are different, because proofs, including existence proofs, all carry the underlying conditional “If the axioms (relevant for this specific field) are true.” And any mathematician is happy to admit that those axioms are purely assumptions that may or may not be considered true.

            In metaphysics, you may have axioms that you find intuitively appealing, but that doesn’t mean that they’re true. Any proofs derived from those axioms bear the conditional that those axioms have to be true IRL for the proofs to have any meaning IRL. But “intuitively appealing” is nowhere near a high enough standard to be considered true IRL.

            TL;DR: in maths, existence proofs always and only assert existence under the conditional that the axioms are true. In metaphysics, existence proofs seem to assert existence in reality, without bothering to prove that the axioms that one finds intuitively appealing are actually true in reality.

          • Some mathematicians are realists , and therefore do believe their existence proofs are proving something really exists.

            However , it as at least possible to be a mathematical anti realist. That seems to be the substantial difference.

            I’m sorry to break this to you, but intuitive appeal is at the root of everything. If you think you are running on something else, such as empiricism, then that just means empiricism has intuitive appeal for you.

          • lvlln says:

            Some mathematicians are realists , and therefore do believe their existence proofs are proving something really exists.

            Then those mathematicians are wrong, or only right insofar as the axioms upon which they built their proofs are also right. Furthermore, mathematicians believing that their proofs reflect something about actual reality wouldn’t be doing maths, they’d be doing philosophy. Maths is purely limited to the realm within the conditional that the axioms are true, without actually asserting that those axioms are true.

            I’m sorry to break this to you, but intuitive appeal is at the root of everything. If you think you are running on something else, such as empiricism, then that just means empiricism has intuitive appeal for you.

            That’s a fully general argument for believing that anything and everything is true. You are right, you can boil everything, including empiricism, down to intuitive appeal. Once you do that, no meaningful discussion of reality can take place, because literally anything and everything can be justified or proven on the basis of intuitive appeal. If we want discussions on metaphysics to be worth anything more than any random ravings of a madman, we need some framework. It’s very possible that empiricism isn’t that framework, but it needs to be something more than just intuitive appeal.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            A few major differences between math and metaphysics:

            Many of the standard mathematical axioms are in fact not intuitive (such as Choice), or at the very least the reason for their existence and inclusions is not intuitive. ZF(C) is the result of decades of highly technical work in set theory and logic by many different mathematicians.

            Moreover, any mathematician would be perfectly willing to give up ZFC, if (for example) a contradiction could be found in it.

            And, as I described in another comment, mathematical statements can only be applied to the real world by establishing the real objects meet or approximate the real objects in question. That’s really the hard part.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Well, to take an example, the starting point of the Thomistic cosmological argument is “Things sometimes change”. Do you think this a disputable axiom? (/Are you a secret Parmenidean?)

          • Anonymous says:
            Some mathematicians are realists , and therefore do believe their existence proofs are proving something really exists.

            Then those mathematicians are wrong

            I know it’s not usually successful to attempt giving someone on the internet pause when they want to hastily commit to a contentious philosophical position and declare that everyone else is obviously wrong (I do take this to be what you mean). However, with a tiny hope that you’ll think, “Hmmm, maybe there’s something I might have missed here and my position isn’t so obviously right that you’d have to be a complete blithering idiot to think otherwise,” I’d like to point out that a plurality (39.3%) of philosophers accept or lean toward Platonism… and that number jumps to 60:20 if you restrict the scope to just those who specialize in philosophy of mathematics.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            > “Things sometimes change”. Do you think this a disputable axiom?

            I don’t think this is a specific enough statement, with specific enough defined terms, to use as the basis of any sort of argument for God. It’s like Austrian economics on steroids. “People act, therefore government is logically incapable of proving anything.” “Stuff happens, therefore God.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I don’t think this is a specific enough statement, with specific enough defined terms, to use as the basis of any sort of argument for God. It’s like Austrian economics on steroids. “People act, therefore government is logically incapable of proving anything.” “Stuff happens, therefore God.”

            It’s not specific enough to use as the basis for a one-sentence summary argument. However, there is no obligation for philosophical arguments — or any other arguments, for that matter — to be amenable to such radical compression.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            I know I skipped over some steps to make a point, but it’s still the case that “things sometimes change” is not a sentence on the same level of rigorous definition and manipulation as anything in mathematical logic.

          • Anonymous says:

            At best, this complaint is that the rigor in metaphysics is more akin to Euclid or Poincare rather than modern mathematics. That’s possibly true; however, if we then go look at modern philosophy, we similarly find a large increase in rigor (and a similar phenomenon of upset readers who despair that modern works are dense symbol soup).

            But really, the problem is almost certainly that you actually disagree with some later portion of his argument. Almost no one objects to the statement:

            It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion.

            To deny this is going to get us in trouble with a hell of a lot of empiricism. You almost certainly have a problem with something here:

            Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

            In fact, your claim could be that a term in the original claim is poorly defined such that there is a conflation occurring downstream. If so, great! You are doing metaphysics!

            Or we can put it another way… do you think there is a proof for empiricism with the same type of rigor you expect from mathematics? For nominalism in mathematics? If not, then you might have to give up some of your previous statements… or at least, stop being such an Austrian about them…

    • Zorgon says:

      Articles that begin with a picture of a child in a dunce cap are rarely possessed of much worth. I will persevere, but my priors for agreement are low before so much as a sentence.

    • Shieldfoss says:


      1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

      Meanwhile, here’s Plato, in the Laws:


      When we have one thing making a change in a second, the second, in turn, in a third, and so on—will there ever, in such a series, be a first source of change? Why, how can what is set moving by something other than itself ever be the first of the causes of alteration? The thing is an impossibility. But when something which has set itself moving alters a second thing, this second thing still a third, and the motion is thus passed on in course to thousands and tens of thousands of things, will there be any starting point for the whole movement of all, other than the change in the movements which initiated itself? (894e-895a)

      But I guess Plato doesn’t count as a serious philosopher?

  12. Ruprect says:

    Cows and computers.

    The only way you could make a cow who was able to intelligently use a computer, would be to give it a human mind.
    To intelligently understand requires abstraction, words, used within our mental associations – anything else is just emotional conditioning. In order to think about what a computer might tell it, a cow would have to be able to understand language ( as opposed to just reacting automatically to the stimuli provided when it pushed a button with its nose).

    Or could a cow use smell as an abstraction? What would a computer system designed for a highly intelligent cow (able to associate different nuanced smells with other pieces of sense data), without language, look like? Would those associations automatically be a language?

    Is language the ability to make arbitrary mental associations?

    And is that why intelligence breaks determinism?

    (I’m inclined to think that intelligence appears as a master trait only from the perspective of intelligence – the fact that our minds are seemingly able to describe the universe is a result of the universe (seemingly) being contained within our minds.)

    • Skivverus says:

      Does intelligence break determinism? That’s not really obvious to me. (Quantum mechanics I think breaks determinism, though, so this is a bit of a moot point)
      Intelligence, to me at least, means “making decisions on the information you have, to further the goals you have”. Whether or not someone else would always make exactly the same decisions as you given the same information and goals would be a defining test for determinism, but it does not strike me as a defining test for intelligence.

      • Ruprect says:

        It’s the act of thinking abstractly that gives rise to the impression of free will (or perhaps it’d be more accurate to say that “free will” means thinking abstractly).

        I think abstractly – I’m no longer just reacting to a stimulus – and while there might be a rule that informs any particular association I create (a certain idea might result from a given set of rules), the rule chosen must be to some extent arbitrary – the meta-rules for how associations are chosen must remain unclear (to me). There is no foundation for abstract thinking within abstract thinking.

        You could choose to explain this by departing from a mind-centric view of reality – but I think that’s just another arbitrary idea rather than a meta-rational rule. It’s not really possible to think on a level above our own thought, so we can’t explain it?

        So abstraction enables us to understand deterministic events, but there is no way abstraction itself can be reduced to such an event.

        • Skivverus says:

          I’m having a hard time parsing what you’re saying, so apologies in advance for any misinterpretations.

          I’m curious what you think of theoretical computer science in particular and mathematics more generally; they seem to me to be disciplines devoted to explaining and exploring abstraction(s). Particularly the former; exploring the fundamental tradeoffs between “time spent deciding” and “average desirability of result after deciding” seems a precise map to a “meta-rule for how associations are chosen”.
          It’s a lossy abstraction, of course, but the same can be said of most if not all useful abstractions.

          • Ruprect says:

            To be honest, I’m having trouble parsing what I’m saying too.

            OK – my understanding – Given a certain range of possible operations, and given that the output of those operations represents certain things, you can (sometimes) determine the least number of operations you need to get a certain result, or whether it is possible to make that determination etc.

            blergs and blobs bing boos

            If I choose to associate the symbol ^ with the smell of cheese, you could view that decision as being a result of some mental process that must play out, determined (ultimately) by evolutionary pressures and logical rules relating to efficiency of thought.

            My intuition, however, is that I can’t show that the specific content of my own thoughts was determined, through this method. I want to be able to work backwards to show that ^ = cheese was an inevitable consequence of some process (I think to work forwards, to know my thoughts before I have them, would just be flatly impossible).

            I guess it comes down to: if every aspect of this process of deduction is a thought, how can I use it to prove the nature of my thoughts?

            if i can’t determine where my mental associations come from, then determinism is false (at least on my level – there may be some outside force that can determine these things, but that requires speculation about the existence of an external observer of me (in that case the material is a meta-rational framework)).

          • I’m finding this hard to follow, but you seem to be saying that abstract thought creates an illusion of free will …but also that it “breaks determinism”, which a mere illusion doesn’t.

          • Ruprect says:

            I think what I’m saying is that if an ‘illusion’ of free will is convincing enough for the subject, in what sense can we (as subjects) say that it isn’t true?
            We can only say that while all experience points to this thing (free will) existing, we still choose to view ourselves as objects. Since we have no direct sensory access to ourselves as objects, this is itself just another abstraction (an idea).
            The thing itself which drives us as an object can’t actually be an idea, it has to be something else (perhaps the unknowable material world, or some other transcendental concept), it requires a leap of faith and a denial of basic experience to believe in such a thing.

            (There isn’t the same problem if you are looking at others and are happy to view them purely as external objects.)

          • The way in which a convincing illusion can fail to be true is by failing to correspond to reality.
            Libertarian free will cannot exist in a deterministic universe , so if we have evidence for determinism , we have evidence against LFW, however convincing the illusion.

  13. Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

    I’ve heard a lot about the volume of politics, gender, and race around here and the desire for some diversity of discussion. So let’s turn over to the gossip sheet.

    I guess the latest buzz is that Kanye West publicly released an excerpt from a recording he made of a conversation he had with Taylor Swift. All the he said she said stuff is pretty boring.

    What caught my eye is that California, where the recording was made, is a two-party consent State. Which is to say, it is illegal to record a phone call without the consent of all parties involved. Which Kanye clearly didn’t have. That’s all well and good, except I have seen the claim that this recording wasn’t illegal because Taylor did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy because she knew Kanye had his phone on speakerphone with his producer listening to the call.

    That seems like a pretty damn explosive claim. (But what do you expect from the kinds of “lawyers” gossip sheets interview.)

    It seems utterly absurd to claim that a conversation with an enumerated list of participants >2 is any less confidential than one where n=2. Or that the simple act of pushing the speakerphone button would make the conversation any less confidential than before. If having a face to face conversation in a restaurant or on the bus (with three people no less!) doesn’t automatically make it any less confidential, having a phone call on speakerphone in the same circumstances probably shouldn’t either. Much less, as is most likely in this case, doing it in your office or conference room.

    My impression is that (a) the expectation of privacy is a question of fact for the jury to decide and he’s going to have a hell of an uphill battle with then, (b) in addition to the criminal charges, which could potentially be a felony, the victim can bring a civil suit for 3x damages, (c) Taylor is, like, the highest paid anything right now so there is a decent argument to be made for substantial damages even before the 3x kicker, and (d) the whole thing that started it was a something-something -defemation-of-character and if that were to ever boil over into court (unlikely) the recording can’t be used at trial so, like, that was pretty stupid to make it. Or maybe it could be used… as evidence he knowingly intended to defame her character.

    Anyway, whatever. I’m trying to help!

    • dndnrsn says:

      The he said-she said stuff is boring. The legal side of things is more interesting – I find myself wondering if a court case is actually likely. On the one hand, it would make her look bad to sue, on the other hand, the Streisand Effect probably won’t happen because this is pretty big already.

      What I find most interesting is how celebrity gossip has become part of the Culture Wars. It’s really weird to see people turning taking a stance about the personal and business affairs of fabulously wealthy people they’ll never meet into taking a stance on political/social issues.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        Suing about whatever the underlying bullshit is would make her look bad.

        The beauty of the wiretapping is that the local prosecutor can lead off with the criminal charges and would give her room to distance herself from it. After all, as an agent of the State the prosecutor is duty bound to uphold the law, and such a high profile figure publicly flaunting his criminal behavior is a direct affront to equality before the law and justice. Or whatever the PR department comes up with.

        If, after a criminal conviction, she follows up with a civil suit she can still do image control. After all, he broke the law and she’s just looking to recoup the damages he caused. If she keeps the damages she’s seeks just big enough to twist the knife a little bit without looking vindictive, or if she waived the multiplier I don’t think it would necessarily damage her brand.

        Hell, a criminal case with no follow on civil suit could actually be a mutually beneficial. The fines are trivial and there is basically zero chance of any jail time, and it reinforces both of their spins for the last several years. I am not entirely undisposed to thinking that maybe the whole thing has always been a manufactured, mutually beneficial media circus.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I suppose I was trying to get more at the way that they’ve become treated like avatars: for instance, Swift is used to illustrate what some writers call “white feminism” by those who don’t like her. Without Googling I’m fairly confident that at least one article calls some action of hers or other “peak white feminism”.

          If it’s manufactured, that would suggest the intrusion of pro wrestling into real life. Which would be pretty spooky.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            Ah. I am unaware of that undertone because I carry a lower rate of interest than the Fed about their posturing. Interesting.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If you read some low-to-middlebrow mainstream-left sites (think Slate) you’ll get some exposure to this. It’s not even so much their posturing as it is others projecting great social significance onto a personal quarrel.

          • gbdub says:

            So does that make Beyoncé and her scantily clad backup dancers shaking their asses in front of a literal giant sign that says “FEMINIST” “peak black feminism”?

            “Pop feminism” would seem to be the better phrase, I’m not sure why adding the race bit is necessary – it’s basically hero worship of how “powerful” and “independent” extremely wealthy, famous, beautiful women are (as if wealthy, famous, beautiful people were ever particularly oppressed).

          • dndnrsn says:

            As I understand it, “white feminism” is a term used to describe/denounce what those using it perceive as a tendency of white feminists to only really care about the priorities and interests of white women (or, middle class white women, or whatever).

            In the Swift-West kerfuffle, some people perceive Swift in a way that is informed by misogynistic stereotypes of how women behave – as using a femininity (or a certain kind of “white femininity”) to present herself as the victim, as being manipulative in pretending weakness from a position of strength, etc. Similarly, some people perceive West in a way that is clearly informed by racist stereotypes of black men – they see him as a threatening, aggressive black man behaving in an inappropriate fashion towards a white woman.

            Of course, this all leaves behind the fact that this is a dispute between two intelligent, talented, hard-working, and fabulously wealthy superstars. They’re being treated as synecdoches for all sorts of wider issues.

          • Sandy says:

            “White feminism” is basically “middle class feminism” or “feminism that is insufficiently intersectional”. I disagree that perceptions of Kanye are necessarily informed by racist stereotypes of black men — as Obama once noted, the guy is a jackass and on more than one occasion I have wondered if he has some kind of mental handicap or personality disorder.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I said that some people perceive him as such. In my view, his behaviour is pretty self-centered and rude – pretty par for the course for somebody that rich and famous, especially in the music business.

          • gbdub says:

            “Middle Class Feminism” is probably the best descriptor. I’ve certainly seen that criticism leveled not only at famous female figures and their supporters, but at campus feminists who (not necessarily surprisingly) tend to focus on issues affecting their cohort.

            I tend to feel like race is getting brought into this because “criticizing Kanye is racist!” is about the only defense that can be made for the man who’s pretty openly a jackass and often misogynistic. Whether TSwift is a valid champion for feminism seems to be a totally separate question to whether Kanye has treated her abominably.

            Not having followed this much at all, what exactly is the accusation against Taylor Swift, apart from selling millions of records, that Kanye supporters feel justifies Kanye’s behavior toward her?

            (also I’m for the moment assuming this is all really happening, and not a big publicity stunt that both sides are in on. The former seems more likely but the latter isn’t impossible)

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Not having followed this much at all, what exactly is the accusation against Taylor Swift, apart from selling millions of records, that Kanye supporters feel justifies Kanye’s behavior toward her?

            I don’t understand, from what I read (source: Vox) Kanye wrote a song that said some rude things about TayTay, she made a fuss out of it, and then evidence was posted that all this was done with her consent. I don’t see how he’s in the wrong here specifically.

          • Gbdub says:

            Well the lyric in question is “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous” (in the context of a verse about how women have sex with him hoping to get famous), and he included a nude Taylor lookalike in the video and promotional shots for the song. So it’s a bit worse than just a little “rude”.

            Taylor’s stance is that she didn’t get to hear the final version of the song or see the video, and would not have consented if she had. To me the lyric seems pretty cruel whether he got her to go along with it or not.

            Anyway the whole thing started with Kanye interrupted an award speech for her when she was only 19, and she’s generally tried to downplay the “feud”, so generally she’s seemed like the “attacked” party from the start – all else being equal, “Kanye being an ass” seems more likely than “Taylor agreed then reneged to make Kanye look bad”

          • Anonanon says:

            >it’s a bit worse than just a little “rude”.

            Why, it’s downright cheeky.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        What I find most interesting is how celebrity gossip has become part of the Culture Wars. It’s really weird to see people turning taking a stance about the personal and business affairs of fabulously wealthy people they’ll never meet into taking a stance on political/social issues.

        When all you have is a tribal affiliation membership card, every conflict is a cultura war conflict.

      • I’m confused. What’s the Culture War angle here? I know who Kanye and Swift are, but that’s about the end of it, and I have no idea how this becomes a culture war issue.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m guessing the gg/sp/chan side is supporting swift because hot white chick. But just a guess.

        • @Mai:

          You are ahead of me. I don’t know who they are.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          It’s an intra-blue conflict between white middle-class feminists and “intersectional” SJ people.

          4chan will take Swift’s side because TayTay is an aryan princess and Kanye is black. Except /mu/ because they worship the ground under Kanye’s feet.

          GG will probably side with Kanye because they hate feminists and don’t particularly like racists.

          The rest of the “alt-right” (daily reminder that it’s not actually a thing) probably doesn’t care.

          • Anonanon says:

            Except posting memes of her in a nazi uniform to convince the left she’s a kkk idol, and fanning the flames.
            This is strictly a left-on-left grudge match to settle some scores now they’ve completely beaten the right, which is why it’s so abysmally petty.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I don’t know what right-wing culture warriors are doing, but there’s a certain angle on the left that takes West’s side due to reading Swift as a personification of a certain variety of feminism alleged to be focused primarily on the interests of well-off to elite women, mostly white.

    • Paul Goodman says:

      On an ethical rather than legal level, two-party consent seems absurd to me. Anything I’m allowed to listen to I should be allowed to record, unless I specifically agree not to. Or perhaps more precisely, if I’m allowed to listen to what you say and then tell someone else, I should be allowed to provide a recording to prove I’m telling the truth.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        The intuition of n-party consent turns largely on your intuition of whether conversations are confidential or public by default.

        NDAs and interviews for the Tonight Show are boring. But most people have a strong moral intuition that things whispered in your ear in a conspritorial tone shouldn’t be repeated, the same way they have a strong intuition that things screamed in the checkout line at the super market while throwing soup cans are a perfectly legitimate subject of discussion. If you’re not still on the train by this point think you are at loggerheads with most of society, because they seem pretty clear that confidentiality didn’t necessarily require explicit agreement. Somewhere between the extremes is a point that on one side by sticking around and listening you are implicitly agreeing to confidentiality, and on the other side of the point no such implicit agreement exists. Where that point lays is a tough question that is hotly contested.

        Which is made even more difficult with telephones, which strip a lot of the contextual clues from the situation making it more difficult to the interlocutors to know if such an implicit agreement exists. One solution is to make the agreement explicit via the law.

        If you think the point lays to one side you are very likely to favor calls being public by default. That absent very clear clues that a confidentiality agreement exists they should be treated non-confidential. Which means you can record them willy nilly and give those recordings to the gossip rags. This gives you one party consent.

        If you think the point lays the other way, you are likely to favor treating all calls as confidential by default except where very clear clues exist that it isn’t. This gives you two patry.

        • Anonymous says:

          If someone whispers in my ear and I repeat what he told me, I may well be rude but I haven’t committed a crime or a tort.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            One of the lawyers in the Google-Oracle saga was heading for a disciplinary action, last I knew, for disclosing financial details damaging to not-his-client and a third party. I was under the impression he wasn’t under a confidentiality agreement. Being, you know, not his client and all.

            This is a point I wouldn’t mind clarification over because I found it kind of confusing, honestly, having not read any of the briefs and reporters being what they are.

            Also, the original question was aimed at the moral dimension so the legal dimension is a little non sequitur.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Morally, I’d say it depends on how sensitive or personal the conversation is. If I come to you because I’m thinking of moving house and I want to know if you can recommend a good estate agent, that’s generally OK to mention to other people. If I come to you because my marriage is on the verge of breaking down and I want to know if you can recommend a good relationship counsellor, that’s generally not OK.

      • John Schilling says:

        Anything I’m allowed to listen to I should be allowed to record, unless I specifically agree not to

        If you agree that, subject to mutual agreement, it should be possible to have both conversations that can be recorded and conversations that must not be recorded, why does it matter which is the default?

        • roystgnr says:

          Because the default is a Schelling point? Choosing one default means that people who might sometimes record their conversations first have to out themselves as weirdos; choosing the other default means that people who might sometimes want to forbid their conversations to be recorded first have to out themselves as weirdos.

    • ulucs says:

      An amusing plot twist would be that Kanye having appended “In order to increase customer happiness, all phone calls are being recorded” to the start of the call for a long enough time that everyone was convinced that it was a joke.

    • Pku says:

      My impression from reading wikipedia’s description of the law is that conversation recording requires the consent of all parties in California. Meaning Kanye would need both T-Swizzle and the producer to agree to the recording. (Though if the producer didn’t say anything, maybe not? Does the law about recording conversations change if one side didn’t say anything?)

    • The Nybbler says:

      All-party consent doesn’t apply if the parties to the conversation may reasonably expect it to be overheard or recorded. Whether being on speaker is sufficient is a question for a better legal researcher than me.

      • Pku says:

        If I’m talking to a group of friends at a bar, am I allowed to record it without telling them? If I see a group of strangers having a conversation in a bar, am I allowed to record it?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Again, you’d need a better legal researcher than myself. But based on the bare statute (not the case law) it looks like if your conversation in the bar can be overheard and this should be apparent to all parties (actually the statute does not say “all”), either you or an eavesdropper can record it without violating that particularl statute.

  14. onyomi says:

    One sees stories like this claiming, for example, that Donald Trump speeches read at a 6th-grade level, where say, Bill Clinton Speeches read at an 8th-grade level and Abraham Lincoln speeches at an 11th-grade level. They say something here about frequency of certain words like “win,” but this seems to me a poor measurement, because some words go in and out of fashion and reading something from 150 years ago is almost inherently more challenging (and hence, perhaps, suitable for an 11th grader), all else equal, than something written recently. Do they also take into account factors like total number of words used and total length of sentences (maybe that’s “grammatical complexity”?)?

    That said, even taking into account the changes in language which might make speech of 150 years ago sound more erudite or unusual than it did at the time, it still seems undeniable that Abraham Lincoln speeches are just “better” in some sense–not only more poetic, but sounding like they assume a more intelligent/educated listener. Of course, he was also a better than average speech writer for the times, but I’d guess one would find the same, to some extent, of most major politicians of the 19th-century, if not in terms of actual content, then at least in terms of the technical mastery of form.

    Is this because we are just dumber and/or not as good at formal writing (though maybe better at more ad hoc writing)? Is it because Trump is addressing the top 90% of the population where Lincoln only had to win over the top 30% (but this shows voter turnout higher after the 1820s than now, though of course, one had to be a white man, and, I think, older, to vote)? And then there are letters home from Civil War soldiers who seem to write like poets or the Bible at age 18?

    My best guess is that 19th c. education focused more on things like memorization, which might make one sound better but actually less creative or flexible in thinking. There is a similar phenomenon in China, for example, where the ability to write in perfect literary Chinese is now considered extremely impressive, where it had been merely expected of educated men in the past. Does suggest to me, however, that education, if not actually worse now than 150 years ago, seems not to have progressed nearly as much as we might hope…

    • Nornagest says:

      Do they also take into account factors like total number of words used and total length of sentences (maybe that’s “grammatical complexity”?)?

      Most estimates of reading ease are based on words per sentence and syllables per word, yes. Some, but not all, also take into account how common the words being used are, usually as something like % words in the thousand most common. I don’t know which your source used.

      Abraham Lincoln speeches are just “better” in some sense–not only more poetic, but sounding like they assume a more intelligent/educated listener.

      Abraham Lincoln was talking to a newspaper audience, and an 1860s newspaper audience at that, when papers would have been substantially more expensive. Clinton was talking to a TV audience. Trump is talking to a Twitter audience.

      It’s not just medium, though. Mastery of long-form rhetoric was a lot more of a job requirement for politics then than today, relative to camera presence and in-person charisma — it’s often remarked that Lincoln was an ugly son of a bitch, but he was a very good writer.

      • onyomi says:

        That’s a good point. Considering how high voter turnout was, though, how did the non-newspaper readers decide whom to vote for? Word of mouth?

        • Nornagest says:

          Probably. Pamphleteering was a bigger part of politics then than now, too.

        • Nicholas says:

          I’m given to understand that at some point very early in the american political process, people elected their Electoral College members in a much more direct way, learning about their personal judgement and political biases, and then the candidates went around convincing just the Electoral College, who would be significantly better educated on the issues than the people who had voted for them. So one possibility is that , regardless of who heard them, the speeches of early presidents were designed to appeal to a very small number of political erudite, and thus could assume a more intelligent audience, while today’s speeches are aimed at a lowest common denominator.
          An alternative possibility is that earlier presidents were less worried about being quoted out of context. This would mean that each individual sentence wouldn’t have to stand up to public scrutiny on its own as a whole message, and that would allow for a more structurally complex speech.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Nicholas – In a lot of the US, that time was already past by 1796 or 1800, though at least the Republicans did make sure to put eminent names on their 1800 slate of electors. By 1824 (the next election I’m familiar enough to call out), it had completely vanished, and people were individually voting for Presidential candidates.

    • onyomi says:

      Somewhat related: the vernacular development of “writing like you talk” seems to accompany the shift in acting technique toward mimetic realism. In other words, everything seems to become less and less stylized in the modern era. But then if you try to go back and learn the stylized technique it seems harder…?

    • Randy M says:

      I would guess because people a hundred or more years ago had much more verbal forms of communication and entertainment; that is, instead of movies, tv, and memes, they had story-tellers, books, speeches, etc.
      As a man of reactionary disposition, I’m certainly open to seeing this as evidence of the devolution of culture, but I think it is the less visual thinking styles, and also an unintentional cherry-picking. (Counter-evidence to the last point would be, for instance, letters from common civil war soldiers sounding very erudite, but I don’t know how much cherry-picking Ken Burns or other historians do).

      • Rob K says:

        My recollection of Civil War letters (from For Cause and Comrades, which I read in college) is that the low end were written at a level of literacy slightly below what I’d expect of a high school graduate today; the high end were very elegantly written. In both cases – and this applies to a lot of things from that era – there’s a lack of concern with sounding cheesy, which both seems like a big difference from today and isn’t something I have a good explanation for.

        • onyomi says:

          “a lack of concern with sounding cheesy”

          I feel like this may actually be hugely important, not only in poetry, but art in general.

          People in the past undoubtedly were frequently cheesy, but maybe the fear of it now is so overwhelming as to prevent most from ever trying?

          • Creutzer says:

            Do we know that cheesy-to-us was cheesy-to-them? This goes with onyomi’s question of how much of the difference is just the development of language, which I’ve been wondering about myself.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Cost per message surely matters. If it takes a lot more time and money to send a message, I’m going to think through that message more carefully. If I can send infinite instant one-sentence notes back home, I won’t.

    • Ruprect says:

      Read this the other day, seems like it might be related:

      Here we have bumped up against one of the great conundrums of our time: Whatever happened to popular poetry? Longfellow was one of the so-called “fireside poets” of the nineteenth century. Huge numbers of ordinary people all over the English-speaking world read him with great enjoyment. His brother relates the following story from the poet’s last visit to England in 1868:

      Upon his arrival the Queen sent a graceful message and invited him to Windsor Castle; but he told me no foreign tribute touched him deeper than the words of an English hod-carrier, who came up to the carriage-door at Harrow and asked permission to take the hand of the man who had written The Voices of the Night.
      My own mother, the daughter of an English coal-miner, left school at age 14 to go into domestic service. Yet she could recite “Excelsior” all the way through; and if she came to my room and found it a mess she would say: “It looks like the wreck of the Hesperus in here!”

      Why does no American poet later than Frost give such widespread pleasure, or inspire such allegiance from nonliterary people? We are not unwilling to write poetry. Any magazine editor will tell you that the the nation teems with poets. Nor are we unwilling to read it…
      And yet, whenever you actually hear someone quote poetry, it is always something old. I feel sure that whole days go by when no mouth anywhere in the United States spontaneously, in a non-pedagogical context, quotes any line from any American poem later than Frost’s “Stopping by Woods” (1923). Ask any well-educated, but not particularly literary, friend to quote four lines by a living poet. Now ask your dentist, your mechanic, your plumber. You will be lucky to get anything but blank looks and shrugs.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        Because the art form has been consumed by academia. Every time they start naming professors in your art form, it goes to absolute shit because a bunch of untalented hacks are trying to power their way through their PhD in Post modern Transhuman Genderstudies Through Poetic Expression so they militate against anyone with any talent writing stuff people actually want to read. The public has trouble differentiating between the two a priori, gets burned a few times by unpalatable dreck, and stops reading anything that came out after 1923.

        Or are least that’s my impression. I would probably burn the book unopened if someone gave me one of poetry published after that date. I’ve definitely walked out of the philharmonic when the crap they padded the program was worse than I anticipated.

        • Jiro says:

          The public has trouble differentiating between the two a priori, gets burned a few times by unpalatable dreck, and stops reading anything that came out after 1923.

          Pity. One more year and it would all be out of copyright.

        • Anonanon says:

          ^This is my kind of culturally conservative snobbery, and I mean that unironically.
          I’ve noticed that when the actual cultural elite gets together privately for little cello concertos and cheeses, they always go baroque rather than modern.
          The new stuff obviously serves some sort of social purpose, but they have no real interest in it outside of the public eye.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Ozy’s theory, which I think is right, is that the masses would always have preferred music-with-lyrics to written poetry, and the invention of good recording technology let them have their way. Since music satisfies the popular ear, poetry is left for intellectuals using it to signal culture, and develops in a completely different direction.

        The same is true of art – now that photography and computer graphics satisfy the need for pretty depictions of the world, art-as-in-paintings got abandoned by enough people that the ones who were left had a critical mass of intellectuals who wanted to take it in a different direction.

        • Interesting theory.

          But how many moderns could actually quote a poem of substantial length that had been set to music? Some of Leonard Cohen’s work strikes me as real poetry. Are there a significant number of people who could quote all of “Suzanne,” comparable to the number of people who knew poems of substantial length in the 19th century.

          It seems to me both that poetry is mostly a dead art in the modern world and that songs are the surviving remnant.

          • onyomi says:

            On the one hand, I think memorization in general is much less emphasized nowadays, as is stylized speech of any kind.

            On the other, the line between song lyrics and poetry seems to be mostly one of aesthetic evaluation rather than inherent.

            Also, poetry as song lyrics, or at least to be chanted by a bard of some kind, pretty much always predates written poetry, though arguably poetry on the page is a whole different art which may never have been appreciated by the masses, as Scott suggests.

            The oldest collection of Chinese poetry, for example, is sometimes called “The Book of Songs” and is supposed to derive largely from folk songs.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            There many 5 year olds who can do the entirety of Frozen.

            You may think this no large accomplishment, but that is essentially a statement about the relative value you place on various works of art.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I was going to say: I don’t know many people with a great memory for poetry, but I know a number of people with a great memory for song lyrics.

            Also, I think poetry people can remember tends to be kind of song-ish: David Friedman talks about Kipling a lot, and I think his poems tend to have this quality. Having recently heard a a young boy recite, in a very rhythmic way:

            Now this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
            And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die…

            Seems to confirm it.

            *One other note: there is only one poem I can think of which I memorized with no intent to do so–one which, ironically, includes very few real words: “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…”

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Leonard Cohen published “Suzanne” as a poem before he turned to music.

          • LHN says:

            Also, I think poetry people can remember tends to be kind of song-ish: David Friedman talks about Kipling a lot, and I think his poems tend to have this quality.

            Enough so that Leslie Fish has albums full of Kipling set to music.

            (Her “Song of the Men’s Side” and “The Female of the Species” are particularly memorable, though the latter is sometimes edited a bit to tone down Kipling’s anti-suffrage message.)

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Enough so that Leslie Fish has albums full of Kipling set to music.

            As does Peter Bellamy.

          • Michael Longcor also has set quite a lot of Kipling poems.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s a bit of a tradition, in darkwave and some branches of metal, of putting out arrangements of appropriately gothy poems. Poe’s work is especially popular, but I’ve seen other stuff too.

            (Lots of bands seem to be obsessed with Eliot, but that usually seems to hash out to raiding him for lines; I’ve never seen an Eliot poem arranged wholesale.)

          • Mary says:

            I think memorization in general is much less emphasized nowadays,

            My mother would get kids in her high school chemistry class who were utterly clueless about any technique to do it when she told them to take a list of ions and memorize it.

          • DavidS says:

            @Mark Atwood: love those! But Owl and Pussycat is Lear, not Carroll

        • onyomi says:

          That is a surprisingly satisfying answer and one I had thought of with respect to painting but not so much with lyrics/poetry, ironically (because I work on Asian poetry and have to think about this stuff a lot).

          The way in which photography denecessitates photorealistic painting is obvious; the way widely available recording technology denecessitates popular poetry seems less so, but may be true nonetheless.

          I wonder if the obviation of the need for memory is part of what moves us away from stylization, also, given that stylized, highly patterned language is easier to memorize? One tends to assume that vernacular style writing got popular around the same time as the printed book because “regular” people like to read it, but there are ways in which writing “natural”-sounding speech can be harder than writing in a terse, formulaic way if you’re more accustomed to the latter.

          Maybe it’s a bit more like: books become cheap and widespread–>people don’t need to go to their local bard to hear a good story–>stylized, formulaic language local bard used to help his memory is unnecessary.

          • Guy says:

            Just a thought on stylized language:

            I’ve generally found that formulaic, rhythmic speech is much easier to speak loudly, in addition to the ease-of-memorization factor. I find it a lot easier to, say, give Iago’s “I am not what I am” speech in a booming, carrying voice than to have a conversation with a friend while separated by a city street. Anyone else have this experience? If it’s a real phenomenon and not just some weird quirk of mine, it might explain the shift from plays in verse to plays in prose.

            (According to wikipedia, the microphone was invented in 1870. Someone with a better knowledge of 19th century theatre will have to tell me if my theory makes sense in light of this fact.)

            Additional notes: If I want to convince someone of something or convey an insight, I switch to what I think of as “quote register”, where I say something that sounds like you might read it in a list of famous quotes, even though I just made it up. I do this in writing, too, sometimes. There is a particular low-social-skills person I know who I have trouble dealing with sometimes; I think it’s often because he seems to use quote register in conversations that don’t warrant it.

          • onyomi says:

            I’ve heard there are studies showing that people find the same idea more convincing if it rhymes (“if it doesn’t fit…”). Probably true of alliteration, assonance, etc. as well. And of speech with a good rhythm in general.

          • Guy says:

            Yes, the loudness thing is very much about rhythm. I’m not sure about what I call quote-register, but I’d believe it.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I don’t know about “formulaic”, but I find “good rhythm” to be very important both in projecting my voice and in memorization.

            I suspect that this quality is what your “quote register” is tapping in to.

        • My impression is that there are still a number of countries where poetry is a live art– Israel, Spanish-speaking countries, Arabic-speaking countries….

          Academe can’t completely kill an art form– classical music found a refuge in movies, and there’s no reason why there couldn’t be a stream of popular poetry which isn’t especially high-status, but for some reason, it didn’t happen.

    • Mercer says:

      I want to say we have different values in education now but im reminded of this quote from Reactionary Philosophy in a Nutshell:

      Okay, fine. Argue “Well, of course we don’t value Latin and Greek and arithmetic and geometry and geography today, we value different things.” So fine. Tell me what the heck you think our high school students are learning that’s just as difficult and impressive as the stuff on that test that you don’t expect the 19th century Harvard students who aced that exam knew two hundred times better (and don’t say “the history of post-World War II Europe”)

      We’ve almost certainly gotten better at abstraction-level thinking but whether thats due to anything in our educational system rather than just being in a more complex cognitive environment is hard to say. The complex cognitive environment thing is Flynn’s explanation of the Flynn effect. That we’ve lost something in literary ability seems probably to me, my guesses would be that TV+Phones/Texts/Email (no more letter writing required)+Possibly other technologies deemphasize the value of literary skill. Plus your command over language is maybe a class signalling thing that was important then but is less so now?

      EDIT: Completely forgot newspapers, which Nornagest nails

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Mercer – “That we’ve lost something in literary ability seems probably to me, my guesses would be that TV+Phones/Texts/Email (no more letter writing required)+Possibly other technologies deemphasize the value of literary skill. ”

        more than TV, phones, text and email, I think it’s the mass communication techniques that underlie them. Print was the first mass communication method, and was unchallenged for several hundred years. Through all that time, if you wanted to communicate in a mass way, you did it almost exclusively through text. If you wanted to consume information, you did it almost exclusively through text. Surprise surprise, society optimized around reading and writing, and got really good at both.

        around the 1900s, you get comics as a new medium. Comics are a completely different format than prose. Ditto for radio, ditto for theatrical productions.

        My impression is that there are a LOT more people drawing and painting now than there were in the 1800s. Like, orders of magnitude more. There are a lot more people expressing themselves through photography or code or comics or video. The decline in quality of prose is a consequence of fragmentation of the user-base.

        This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but I don’t think it’s a surprising thing.

    • Virbie says:

      I was just wondering about this, though in a slightly different context. It seems to me that even relatively “man-on-the-street” interviews in, say, the 1950s/60s were drastically more well-spoken today. Part of that is probably just sampling bias due to the exclusion of parts of society from said media (i.e., the audience member or witness would be more likely to be a middle-class-or-higher guy), but I don’t think that explains all of it.

      My roommate suggested (as you do) education’s decreasing focus on fusty formalism in style, and this would seem to be anecdotally supported by the fact that the parts of my extended family who live in India come across as much more well-spoken than the American branch (Indian education is notoriously heavy on formalism and rote memorization).

      I’m still left thinking that doesn’t quite capture it: the most intelligent people I know still speak like colloquial West-Coast 2016 Americans, but are much more like 1950s guy in their ability to express a point concisely and precisely.

    • youzicha says:

      Nostalgabraist had a post where he noted that Carlyle was a massively popular writer among the 19th century British working class, even though nowadays we find his long rambling sentences quite hard to read. In this case it’s probably not due to education, since working class people would not be very highly educated. There is various interesting discussion in the same thread.

      Maybe one explanation is that we read more text nowadays, which might make us less willing to spend a lot of time on any particular text.

      • Rob K says:

        reading the Carlyle in that post, as with a lot of stuff from that period, it’s striking how obvious it is that the writer is influenced by Latin style. (A critic quoted there is making the same point, I believe)

        Latin is a concise language, and lends itself to succinctly expressing passive voice clauses and appositive asides that require lots of verbal infrastructure in English. I’m sure I’m not the only high school Latin student who had to relearn good modern English by excising a number of rambling passive voice constructions from his repertoire. Caesar, for instance, is a clean, straightforward writer; an excessively literalistic translation would be as muddled as the Carlyle quotations there.

        All of which is to say that style strikes me as crappy English, but I could see it being popular in a world where most of the readership spent a lot of time doing their own badly literalistic Latin translations around age 15.

      • Outis says:

        For the present, however, the grand question with the Governors of France is: Shall extreme unction, or other ghostly viaticum (to Louis, not to France), be administered?

        That honestly seems perfectly clear to me.

    • A Frenchman's Agreement says:

      Don’t forget about this:

      Lincoln’s target audience was different than Clinton and Trump’s.

      Related: I took an 8th grade aptitude test from something like the 1870s that I found on the internet. When I took the test I was in my 20s and had graduated from college with honors. Back when the test was originally given, 13 year-olds had to pass it to graduate from 8th grade. I’m not sure I was able to answer more than 20% of the questions with much more than a guess.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      It’s Flesch-Kincaid. It’s purely a measure of sentence length and word length. Language Log has been harping on the “Flesch-Kincaid is a dumb measurement” point for years. (Example.)

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, that does seem a dumb measurement, certainly of evaluating the “level” of a person’s speech or writing.

        It might make sense to say “children of this age should be able to handle longer sentences and words,” but not to say that adults using longer sentences and words are better or more educated speakers or writers.

        • Nornagest says:

          Yeah, applied to adult communication it says more about the medium’s forms and the author’s style than about reading difficulty, let alone about the sophistication of the audience. Mark Twain wrote in a rambling 19th-century style and would probably score highly; nonetheless he’s quite readable. On the other side of the spectrum, good technical writing is concise and avoids jargon and obscurity, precisely because it communicates difficult concepts.

    • anonymous says:

      MLK spoke similarly grandly to audiences less educated than the average of as recently as the 60s fairly recently. Some of the people who he was addressing himself to had been effectively barred from even a semi-decent education by law.

      So neither intelligence or education is a prerequisite to be talked to like a hopefully rising angel rather than a fallen and falling ape, -or perhaps a rat.

      Those speeches just are (WAY) better. It’s as simple as that. (I think -disclaimer out of the way). One style is crafted with the intention of raising one’s fellow human beings up, the other with the intention of reminding them of just what you can get away with.

      I think it’s clear that at least one of the following is true, (imo almost certainly all three):

      1. the people in power are of an entirely different caliber currently. Politics is less honorable now than it was, something of a joke even, and a twisted kind that isn’t funny. The notion that if you so much as touch power you’ll MAGICALLY turn evil, with no possibility or oppurtunity to resist, no saving throw, not even a “nooooooo” in which to pull back, -do not pass go, go straight to eternal damnation and insatiable greed, possibly of an occult character, -is also passed off as WISDOM now, which can’t help with that all important selection process. (Perhaps this idea was equally strong back then but it seems like the kind of nonsense that has to be contemporary.)

      2. perhaps due to a more general degeneration in culture, the rules of the game have changed: one doesn’t “win” arguments by being a more elegant/genius/elevating/good/great/quality writer/speaker, anymore, or by providing a more compelling vision (a schelling point) for people to gather around, or by dint of actual points rationally put forth and rationally considered, -but by appearing more smug, stupid, and malicious. People don’t ask themselves, who is right, or, when tiebreaking, who’s vision is better for us to gather behind, anymore, they ask themselves, or rather their “instincts”, which of these people am I more scared of, and therefore, must I throw my weight behind in worship?

      Who is it more painful to disagree with, who is the more effective (psychological) abuser of people lacking independence, and/or pride, of people deprived of their basic, internal, personal, freedom.

      In short, the zeitgeist has a really bad case of something much like cancer. The way public arguments are judged/settled/expected to be settled, is deeply and dangerously disfunctional, leading to an inability for societies at least, and possible people more individually aren’t to engage with the basic challenges of the world, like telling who’s a charismatic liar, who’s genuine, and who’s a not-even-charismatic bullshiter.

      Of course one person as erudite, and inspired, could sweep all these nonentities straight off the map, but who’s to say they wouldn’t be shot as well? These useless nonentities may be pretty entrenched. Who knows. On the bright side, getting shot doesn’t necessarily slow one’s work down at all.

      Anyway, as a counterargument against non contemptuous leader: wouldn’t it be galling, anyway, for someone to have the effrontery to talk like they weren’t ashamed to be a human being? Like they considered the grave and solemn responsibility of being given people’s trust, resources and will, as such? Wouldn’t that just be gosh darned elitist?

      3. 2 feeds back with 1. The more true 2 is, the less naively attractive politics is, and people generally want to live some kind of minimally decent life. The idea of going into a shitty field with no guarantee of success which is both a joke and an object of serious hatred- requires a whole different level more purpose, creativity, and self sacrifice, than is implied merely by the idea of being an actual serious and good leader (which is itself extremely difficult- the task is to do justice to the entrusting to oneself of great influence over thousands, or tens or hundreds of thousands, of lives). Which is probably one reason why people like MLK, and, sorry but, Hitler, have been so influential. -To even appear to be a worthy leader requires a hundred times the talent and effort it takes merely to be a president or prime minister, or lower ranked politician.

      That should be a reason for decent people to try to take that kind of power, but it’s a decidedly non obvious, and motivationally difficult thing to do, and the danger of corruption, though absurdly dogmatised, is or may be a real thing to contend with as well. The coordination problem is very bad. But in a sense that’s reassuring, because it means that

      1. It’s not merely a set in stone part of the environment

      2. there’s an effectively infinite amount of room to improve. By effectively infinite I mean things could be several better than this more times over than this particular human mind can imagine.

      It’s also reassuring for me to think that either we’ll get there, or we’ll be wiped out, because such comically bad ordering of things can’t last in the (very) long run -it’s inherently unstable.

    • Creutzer says:

      An additional hypothesis would be that there is also a social signaling aspect to this. Because contemporary western society is committed to the pretense of progress and equality, people avoid an elevated style because it makes them sound old-fashioned and elitist. Whereas previously the lower classes would have striven to emulate the style of the cultural elite, with a visible proportion of them being smart enough to succeed, there is nowadays no such pressure, and possibly even an incentive in the opposite direction in some cases.

  15. Ruprect says:

    “And so a gathering like this of ours, when it includes such men as most of us claim to be, requires no extraneous voices, not even of the poets, whom one cannot question on the sense of what they say; when they are adduced in discussion we are generally told by some that the poet thought so and so, and by others, something different, and they go on arguing about a matter which they are powerless to determine. No, this sort of meeting is avoided by men of culture, who prefer to converse directly with each other, and to use their own way of speech in putting one another by turns to the test.”


    • Randy M says:

      IOW, don’t use irrelevant arguments from authority?
      Or perhaps for a modern update, “Don’t just provide a link, give us your version of the argument, or what’s the point of us discussing it?”

      • Ruprect says:

        Do you think it’s about arguments from authority?

        I would agree with the second one, there. My sense is that he is talking about what is, or is not, an interesting conversation. You can’t use other people’s statements as a basis for a truly interesting discussion, since you’ll never get into the really important matters.

        • Randy M says:

          I read it as, “when we meet, let’s not bring in outside perspectives, even well spoken ones, because they cannot be further interrogated; when that’s done, people will argue back and forth about what it means without them being able to settle the matter. For useful discussion, we should be able to address questions to each other and get resolution about the actual intent.”

    • Skivverus says:

      Modern-ish translation: “We’re all smart, reasonable people here. No need to argue over unknowables or rhetorical style.”

    • Protagoras says:

      Note that in Plato’s time, “poetry” largely referred to religious tradition, as that was the form it was in, and they really didn’t have much non-religious art. This is probably relevant to interpreting Plato’s various comments on poetry and poets.

  16. onyomi says:

    With Putin, Erdogan, Trump, Xi Jinping, (and Le Pen, and…?) it feels like we’re moving back into an era of “strong man” nationalism, if not quite fascism (I also hesitate to use that term because it is now so loaded), as we experienced in the 30s and 40s (note that I consider FDR and Stalin to be “strong men” too). Is this the result of continued economic uncertainty analogous to the Great Depression? Immigration is often a bogeyman, but I don’t think Russia or China have much of an immigration problem, and besides, we didn’t seem to be so worried about Mexican’s taking our jobs when we had jobs of our own?

    • Mercer says:

      Russia and China have enough history with strongmen that im not sure we need to invoke immigration/economics to explain why they’d pop up in those places. Even Turkey, no? I am ignorant of Turkish history generally but they have a decent number of coups at least. They aren’t allergic to antidemocratic elements

      • jeorgun says:

        Erdoğan is precisely the sort of leader that coups in Turkey have historically been staged against (as, uh, recent events might suggest). Traditionally the military has seen itself, rightly or wrongly, as the protector of democracy in Turkey— note that both Ottoman constitutional eras, as well as the Republic of Turkey itself, were precipitated by military coups.

        • Mercer says:

          Of course you’re right, but doesnt the fact that they need to stage coups against leaders with authoritarian tendencies as often as they do suggest a populace that isn’t particularly averse to being led by authoritarians? Again, I am naive on modern Turkish history, but it seems to me that pointing to Erdogan as an example of some new reemergence of strongmen feels a bit false

    • Randy M says:

      Russia may not have an immigration problem, though I wouldn’t assume that, given China & India’s demographics, but they do have trouble with Chechen terrorism (remember Beslan?), which I assume is a mix between cold war conquests and Islamic solidarity.
      I have no idea what problems the Chinese would complain about that don’t stem from within their borders, but I’d wager there’s plenty I don’t know about.

    • Sandy says:

      Russia does have immigration problems, specifically with Muslim immigrants, because their share of that demographic comes from places like Chechnya and Afghanistan which were already violent nightmare-scapes to begin with without the added element of Islam.

      China has less of an immigration problem, partly because East Asia in general has a reputation for open hostility to immigration, and also because most of their immigrants are either ethnic Chinese or Vietnamese/Cambodians/Koreans who assimilate with greater ease than non-Asian immigrants. They’ve had problems with African immigrants in Guangzhou. It’s not even a recent thing — Mao thought Africans and Chinese should work together against American imperialism and so the Communist Party started allowing immigration from certain African countries in the 80’s. The native Chinese were not quite so keen on this as their rulers were. Sounds somewhat familiar.

      As for what it’s all the result of — wage stagnation, rising costs of living, cultural decay, collapse of civic solidarity, take your pick.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      World powers have to use unique strategies to provoke comparative political advantage; the benefits of being the United States accrue mostly to the United States. Russia and the United States both benefit from Putin, and Russia gets to engage in opportunities the United States can’t, so they get advantages from a Strongman ruler.

      If you were to gamify politics, Russia doesn’t have a Strongman, though, it has a Don.

      Which leads into an interesting question. If you were dictator of a country, would you, or would you not, encourage the existence of criminal enterprise? Think about the resources – particularly people – that criminal enterprise produces. The trick is harnessing those resources.

  17. Virbie says:

    WTF with Marc Maron fits what you’re describing fairly well, though I mainly listened to it while traveling without a data plan for a year so my need for lots and lots of low-power-consumption offline entertainment probably lowered my quality bar a bit. Maron himself is just awful, but if you skip the beginning part before the interview, he gets surprisingly good guests (Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Pres Obama, Steve-O, Lemmy, Quincy Jones, David Simon). Their interviews are usually fascinating too. They’re nice, meaty podcasts too, over an hour.

    The various NPR podcasts are good for low information density, vaguely interesting things: Planet Money, Your Health, the occasional Radiolab, etc.
    PBS Newshour is pretty decent, pretty light news coverage.

  18. dndnrsn says:

    Is there a chance someone who understands the science knows whether long-term chronic stress can have a general negative cognitive effect?

  19. A Frenchman's Agreement says:

    Radio Derb is the only podcast I listen to. It’s usually somewhere between good and excellent.

    FYI, he’s taking a break until mid-August but his last 2 or 3 have been so strong they should hold you over.

  20. Scott Alexander says:

    This is a graph of the income/happiness correlation in different countries (source).

    Unless I’m misunderstanding it, it stays that increased rank income is most likely to lead to increased rank happiness percentile in places like Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, and least likely to lead to increased rank happiness in places like Angola, Sierra Leone, and Haiti. In other words, most likely in rich countries and least likely in poor countries.

    Does anyone else feel like this is exactly the opposite of what we would expect? Germany has high income equality and good social services, so being poor there isn’t as bad and being rich there isn’t as good. In Haiti, poor people are probably starving and there are no social services, so I’d expect being poor there to be extra bad and a high marginal value to increased income. But this graph says the opposite.

    Am I misreading it, or is there some explanation?

    • Joeleee says:

      I can only really respond with anecdote, but from what I’ve seen in poorer populations with minimal social safety net (largely India), the poor don’t keep as much of their income. This can be through nefarious things like corruption, but largely it’s actually through philanthropy/gifting (EDIT: largely driven by cultural/community pressures). The richest person in the town/village supports others with gifts or employment they don’t actually need, so they don’t get to “consume” all the income they receive, so potentially don’t get the same level of happiness from each dollar earned.

      This explanation would obviously come up against the claim that status is the main determinant of happiness, but it’s definitely a pattern I have personally seen.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think all that really says is that life in a miserable country is miserable for everyone. Being on the top in a miserable country still leaves you pretty damn miserable. As your in country rank increases, to a certain extent it only accentuates how far you are from being in a country with generally good outcomes. You still feel merely steps away from the wolf’s mouth.

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t think this is true at all. I have met the elite of many poor countries at elite US universities and they seem pretty happy. And it sounds like they were pretty happy in their home countries, where they had most of the amenities a middle class American expects plus super cheap labor besides.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Many people from the countries on the bottom of the list? I’m doubting that you have met many people from Sierra Leon, Angola and Haiti (the countries you singled out earlier), so you may be comparing apples and oranges.

          And note I specifically said “miserable” rather than “poor”. I think there is more than simple per capita GDP that is going to go into whether a country is broadly happy.

      • Sandy says:

        Being on the top in a miserable country still leaves you pretty damn miserable.

        Not really. I grew up in India. Rampant poverty throughout the subcontinent, but my family was comfortably upper middle class, as were most of my friends and social circle co-inhabitants. Now I live in the US and outcomes haven’t changed so drastically as to create much of a change in my happiness.

        It might be true for smaller miserable countries like Angola and Haiti that aren’t really valued for investment or labor and as a result see a much smaller rate of spread for amenities and luxuries.

    • drethelin says:

      I’m starting to think self-report happiness, despite being the best we have, is garbage.

    • Lumifer says:

      Here is the actual source paper, by the way.

  21. Bassist Pig says:

    David Friedman, I ask you again (with some edits for readability/clarity):

    What are some of the main reasons immigrants would come here if they knew they would not receive social services?

    My own answer is they would come here partly for relative safety but mostly for economic and lifestyle opportunities. All of these would be afforded them by our culture, institutions, and infrastructure–-or at least by proximity to them.

    These would be available to immigrants even if we didn’t give them welfare.

    So the next question becomes, are these things public goods? If so, should we still make them available to immigrants? If not, how can we do that except by not letting people immigrate in the first place?

    • brad says:

      Public goods are by definition non-rivalrous, so what’s the issue?

      • Outis says:

        That’s not a very good definition of “public goods”, then. Air is rivalrous – you can use it to disperse your car’s exhaust, but you make it worse for others. Water is rivalrous, especially in California. The national parks are rivalrous, as is painfully obvious is you go to Yosemite on the 4th of July.

    • If they are public goods in the non-crowdable sense, then we should make them freely available–it costs us nothing. And both we and they gain by the opportunity to make exchanges in our mutual benefit.

      What is different about welfare is that it isn’t a public good–the more people are on welfare, the higher the taxes of those who are not.

    • Lumifer says:

      “Economic opportunities” are pretty clearly rivalrous.

      Another issue is that “our culture, institutions, and infrastructure” are not immutable. Let in enough immigrants and they will become their culture, institutions, and infrastructure, not even necessarily in the ownership sense, but in the nature and characterstics sense.

      • ““Economic opportunities” are pretty clearly rivalrous. ”

        Gains from trade are larger when the parties differ in the relative costs of the traded goods. If making a loaf of bread costs me twice as much as making a pencil and costs you ten times as much, we both gain by trading my bread for your pencils. If the ratio was two to one for both of us, no gain from trade.

        So letting in people very different from us is likely to increase, not decrease, economic opportunities.

        • Lumifer says:

          So letting in people very different from us

          Well, let’s be more specific then: letting in people with different skills or even more precisely with higher productivity is whatever they specialize in.

          On the other hand, if you’re letting in a great number of uneducated manual laborers, you are not going to get much in the way of trade benefits and they will compete fiercely for the few manual labor jobs.

          • The issue isn’t higher productivity, it’s different ratios of productivity for different things relative to the potential trading partners.

            The number of manual labor jobs isn’t fixed. It, like any other quantity demanded, is a function of price.

            And immigrants, even poor immigrants, bring more than manual labor. They also bring entrepreneurial skills and energy.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ David Friedman

            it’s different ratios of productivity

            Yes, and that implies there are considerable opportunity costs in the current structure of employment.

            It, like any other quantity demanded, is a function of price.

            Demand curves flatten out. If I need someone to mow my lawn, I will not hire many more people when the price of mowing goes down to 1 cent.

            In general, I think immigration certainly has benefits, but uncontrolled immigration has a set of serious dangers as well. I don’t think the trade argument is a particularly convincing one — you’re basically saying that more diverse and bigger countries (in terms of absolute population) should have considerable benefits from “internal trade” compared to smaller countries and that does not seem to be the case.

          • Bassist Pig says:

            @David Friedman:

            I think there are a lot of assumptions and simplifications here even beyond those pointed out by Lumifer.

            For instance, some immigrants may tend to bring entrepreneurial skills and energy, but this is certainly not guaranteed. There are ways to freeload (derive material benefit) off our culture, way of life, and institutions even in the absence of socialized welfare. Do you agree?

            It is also not guaranteed that immigrants’ children will inherit their parents’ entrepreneurial skills and energy. If immigrants’ children absimilate, that is a further hidden cost of immigration that the purely economic argument does not seem to take into account.

          • Anonymous says:

            If immigrants’ children absimilate, that is a further hidden cost of immigration that the purely economic argument does not seem to take into account.

            Wait, what? Do you think there are diseconomies of scale here?

          • martin says:

            If I need someone to mow my lawn, I will not hire many more people when the price of mowing goes down to 1 cent.

            No, but some people who previously mowed their own lawns may decide that it’s now cheap enough to hire someone to do it. And when the price goes down further, some more people may hire someone, etc. And as it gets cheaper, you might decide to have your lawn mowed more often.

          • Quoting me: “it’s different ratios of productivity”

            “Yes, and that implies there are considerable opportunity costs in the current structure of employment.”

            I do not know what this means, and I cannot tell from your comments whether you understand the principle of comparative advantage, which is what I was talking about.

          • Agronomous says:

            If I need someone to mow my lawn, I will not hire many more people when the price of mowing goes down to 1 cent.

            Are you kidding me? If the price to mow my lawn were 1 cent, I’d hire enough guys to stretch all the way across it and do the job in one synchronized mow! It would be awesome!

            I mean, it would be even more awesome if I didn’t live in a rowhouse in the city and could get more than four mowers abreast—but still! And I think I’d do this at any point the cost was less than $20 or so, total.

            Actually, there may be a business idea here: the only real downside to having your lawn mowed is you still have to listen to the mower. If I get 10 guys mowing at once, you might only have to listen for 6 minutes, versus an hour otherwise.

            Another business idea: lawn equipment that runs on compressed air, which can be carried in tanks on the workers’ backs, which can be changed out in the back of their van when they run out. The regulatory capture angle is this: as soon as you launch the business, get local governments to drastically reduce the allowable noise level in residential and office areas, so you’re the only game in town for lawn care.

          • Pku says:

            Now that’s a policy goal I can get behind. whichever presidential candidate supports 1 cent silent lawnmowers has my vote.

          • Shieldfoss says:

            @Lumifer, RE: 1 cent lawn moving

            I would hire infinitely more people to mow my lawn (That is, 1 person) if I could reliably get it done for a cent.

        • Bassist Pig says:

          What about the costs we undertake when we switch from making bread to pencils or vice versa? Even more basically, why assume it is always possible to make the switch?

          For example, if the switch is not from pencils to bread but from pencils to microchips–there are lots of people who probably can never be trained to do that, or would require much more costly training to do that.

          • martin says:

            What about the costs we undertake when we switch from making bread to pencils or vice versa?

            The cost for switching to pencils is included in the total cost for you of making pencils. That doesn’t change the principle.

            Even more basically, why assume it is always possible to make the switch?

            That’s like an infinite cost. In that case you’ve got even more to gain from trade.

  22. drethelin says:

    I like Spycast, Hardcore History, Harmontown, and Planet Money (that one’s kinda ted-talky though)

  23. John Maxwell says:

    Dan Allison (from the CFAR/rationalist community) is currently running a kickstarter for a turbocharged note taking tool and calculator he calls Calculist:

    It’s kinda like a programmable Workflowy, but with Excel features, LaTeX support, import/export of formatted data, etc. Has the potential to be really useful for data science, statistics, or engineering type work where the qualitative meets the quantitative.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I gather that anti-immigration people don’t think the Census / Pew data series on the undocumented population of the United States is accurate (it shows no net migration for eight years). Are there any other plausible estimates with published methodologies? Thanks.

    • Skivverus says:

      I don’t think “net” immigration is what bothers the anti-immigration people – getting someone deported for showing up illegally is, I suspect, a distant second to making sure they don’t show up in the first place. The analogy would be “sure, we can fine the thief and make them return what they stole, but that doesn’t mean the victim can’t still be angry (s)he was robbed in the first place.”

      • hlynkacg says:


        There are also horrible fascists such as myself who actually care about “rule of law” as an instrumental value and get a bit “put out” when they see others openly flouting it.

        • Anonymous says:

          Well okay then how about separate numbers for inflow and outflow? I’m just trying to get an handle on the magnitude of the problem.

          Or is this just one of those sacred value things and we should spend however much it takes to stop every last entry?

          • Skivverus says:

            Brief google turned up this site. (edit: added actual text to the link)

            I’ve tried to extract relevant parts and context, but there’s a fair bit there.

            How many unauthorized immigrants are in the United States?

            According to DHS’ Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS), an estimated 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants resided in the United States as of January 2012 compared to 11.5 million in January 2011.

            Three-quarters of unauthorized immigrants resided in 117 counties with the largest unauthorized population, of which the top five counties—Los Angeles County, CA; Harris County, TX; Cook County, IL; Orange County, CA; and Dallas County, TX—accounted for 21 percent of all unauthorized immigrants.

            Note: The research community (including MPI, OIS, the Pew Research Center, and the Center for Migration Studies of New York) generate a number of estimates of the unauthorized population, and it is important to acknowledge that the estimates are based on different data sources and methodologies. Hence the estimates are not fully comparable, and we urge readers to be mindful of this.

            How many apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants are there per year?

            There were 679,996 apprehensions in 2014 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the two agencies within DHS responsible for the identification and removal of inadmissible noncitizens.

            How many people are deported per year?

            Both removals and returns* result in the confirmed movement of inadmissible or deportable aliens out of the United States. There were 577,295 removals and returns in 2014, a 6 percent drop from 2013 (614,204 removals and returns).

            There’s an annoying two-year gap between the data they mention for “count of total unauthorized immigrants” and “number of apprehensions and deportations”, but if over half a million get deported per year, and the total stays the same, that also points to over half a million new arrivals per year – and, based on the above data, another half-million who get stopped en route. So, roughly 50/50 odds of making it across the border successfully but not legally.


            In 2014, 1.3 million foreign-born individuals moved to the United States, an 11 percent increase from 1.2 million in 2013.

            Note: The Census Bureau defines recent immigrants here as foreign-born individuals who resided abroad one year prior, including lawful permanent residents, temporary nonimmigrants, and unauthorized immigrants.

            So a bit over a million total immigrants, and a bit over half a million deportations – roughly equal quantities of legal and illegal immigration, then?

          • gbdub says:

            I tend to be on the “law and order side”, basically this way:

            I am somewhat agnostic on whether increased immigration is a good thing. But if it is, we should achieve it via changes to the legal immigration system to let in more people.

            Instead, the approach seems to be “present sympathy-inducing stories about poor undocumented children to get us to tearfully assent to various hapharzardly applied amnesty programs”.

            It’s turned into pure culture war – most of the heat seems to be to what degree we should provide a “path to citizenship” for the people already here. Basically, we shouldn’t change our laws, we should just choose not to enforce them against folks with a ready tale of woe.

            I do tend to feel that amnesty programs effectively encourage lawbreaking, and I’d rather not do that. Nation-states ought to have the authority to control their immigration (even if you believe that they ought to allow immigration liberally). Repeated illegal immigration / amnesty cycles undermine that authority.

          • Anonymous says:


            According to DHS’ Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS), an estimated 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants resided in the United States as of January 2012 compared to 11.5 million in January 2011.

            This is the same data series I was referring to that various anti-immigration (or however you want to call those groups) criticize.

            Both removals and returns* result in the confirmed movement of inadmissible or deportable aliens out of the United States. There were 577,295 removals and returns in 2014, a 6 percent drop from 2013 (614,204 removals and returns).

            Where are these numbers coming from?


            shows 133,551 interior removals and 235,093 exterior removals.

            For fiscal 2015 it was 65,539 and 165,935.

            I can’t find the press release for 2012, but the 2013 shows the total of both kinds for that year at 409,849.

            As for the denominator, the USG issued around 1M greencards in 2013. Some people were here already (adjustment of status) and some came in after getting their green cards abroad (consular processing). But the bottleneck for legal immigration is the greencard, not the temporary visa or admissions.

            So it looks like under the deportations equal inflow model, for 2015 illegal immigration was something like 6.5% of legal.


            I tend to be on the “law and order side”, basically this way:

            That’s all well and good, but you aren’t going to stop every last speeder or every last robber or so on. Magnitude matters. Spending however many billions to build a wall to try to get the number down from 70k year is a different proposition than if it was 1.5M a year.

            Unless, as I alluded to it is a sacred values thing and efficiency considerations goes out the window. But if so proponents should be honest about that, instead of claiming all sorts of horrible impacts that are implausible without sufficient scale.

          • Gbdub says:

            I understand you can’t stop everyone. My point is that even if immigration is inevitable (it is cost prohibitive to prevent it) I still think legalizing enough immigration to satisfy most of the current demand would be a better solution than tacit normalizing illegal immigration.

            And I’m not convinced that “better enforcement than we have now” is as completely impractical as you make it out to be.

          • Anonymous says:

            I understand you can’t stop everyone. My point is that even if immigration is inevitable (it is cost prohibitive to prevent it) I still think legalizing enough immigration to satisfy most of the current demand would be a better solution than tacit normalizing illegal immigration.

            I’m not sure which demand you are talking about. Anything short of open borders is going to leave people on the outside that want to come in.

            And I’m not convinced that “better enforcement than we have now” is as completely impractical as you make it out to be.

            I’m sure we could. I’m just not how much it would cost. I mostly agree with the side that thinks we should minimize flows.

            I was actually surprised when I found out that the illegal immigrant population hasn’t been increasing recently. That’s why I asked for alternative data sets in the first place. But if it is accurate all this business about a wall makes no sense whatsoever.

          • BBA says:

            The statistics I’ve seen show that almost half of illegal immigrants entered legally and either overstayed or violated their visas (or equivalent). There’s no wall you can build to stop that.

          • JDG1980 says:

            The statistics I’ve seen show that almost half of illegal immigrants entered legally and either overstayed or violated their visas (or equivalent). There’s no wall you can build to stop that.

            It’s true that a wall wouldn’t block visa overstays. However, getting serious about requiring employers to verify citizenship would drive most of these people out. Right now, we have rules (E-Verify), but they aren’t enforced and have no teeth. If there was a mandatory sentence of federal prison for the executive officers of corporations caught hiring illegals, things would change, and change fast. For homeowners who hire illegals out of the Home Depot parking lot, a sentence of 30 days in jail should be an adequate deterrent.

          • Anonymous says:

            Could also restart Operation Wetback and start deporting people. It worked the first time – once it got going, they started leaving en mass on their own, just so they would have some control over their egress.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s a lot of conflating the stock and the flow going on here, and very few numbers.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I understand you can’t stop everyone. My point is that even if immigration is inevitable (it is cost prohibitive to prevent it) I still think legalizing enough immigration to satisfy most of the current demand would be a better solution than tacit normalizing illegal immigration.

            It’s harder to pay legal immigrants below minimum wage.

          • gbdub says:

            “It’s harder to pay legal immigrants below minimum wage.”

            I consider this all to the positive. If a minimum wage is a good idea, we shouldn’t let some (but only some) people get away with violating it.

        • Urstoff says:

          I have no familiarity with your personal beliefs, but I can never take this statement about rule of law from Trump supporters seriously given how many of his statements show blatant disregard for the rule of law.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I’m kind of curious about what statements you have in mind. The ones most commonly cited are “deporting illegal residents” and “bombing the families of terrorists” both of those are within the scope of the president’s lawful powers as chief executive.

            I wouldn’t call myself a Trump supporter, but I am a Republican and will probably vote for him come November considering who the alternative is.

          • Pku says:

            Bombing civilians isn’t remotely legal. Neither is refusing to let muslim americans into the country. Whether or not you this these are good ideas (I don’t), they’re very definitely illegal ideas advocated by Trump.

          • Sandy says:

            Well, hey, before Obama, executing American citizens without a trial was both completely illegal and outside the scope of the President’s powers as chief executive. Now it’s legal. And before Bush, detaining American citizens without a trial indefinitely was illegal too. Now it’s legal. Who knows what the law will be four years from now?

          • hlynkacg says:

            1: Ordering an airstrike or special op against a specific target is well within the presidents authority. Whether it’s moral or popular has nothing to do with whether it is legal.

            2: Immigrants are by definition not “Americans” (at least not yet) so yes the President can legally refuse them entry or eject those who are not lawful residents. Once again whether something moral or popular has nothing to do with whether it is legal.

          • Pku says:

            1 directly violates the Geneva convention. 2 is illegal both in the sense that it’s illegal to make these kind of distinctions based on religion, and in the sense that Trump advocated banning muslims who are american citizens as well as immigrants.

          • hlynkacg says:

            1 is debatable, the Geneva convention forbids intentional targeting of civilians but also presumes that the conflict will be between uniformed militaries. Non-state actors like AlQeda/ISIS are a huge grey area that the convention does not address.

            2 is just false.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Right. Trump made a broad statement about not letting Muslims into the country; interpreting that completely universally to mean “not even citizens” is more uncharitable than even Trump deserves. Especially since when challenged on it, he excluded citizens.

            As for religion-based immigration restrictions, I believe current law would allow them, probably. The case would likely go to the Supreme Court.

          • “Bombing civilians isn’t remotely legal. ”

            You are saying that FDR and Churchill were war criminals. Truman too. None of them were charged, let alone convicted.

            What set of laws are you thinking of under which bombing civilian targets is illegal?

          • BBA says:

            Article 25 of the Regulations of Hague Convention IV, 1907: “The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.”

            The United States ratified this treaty in 1909, and it remains binding.

          • John Schilling says:

            You are saying that FDR and Churchill were war criminals. Truman too

            Ordering a bomb to be dropped with the knowledge that it will kill civilians is a war crime unless the actual objective is one of military necessity and all reasonable effort has been made to avoid or minimize civilian casualties. FDR et al could probably have established reasonable doubt in a trial by mumbling something about munitions factories and Norden bombsights, but in any context less formal than a court of law, yeah, they were probably war criminals.

            Trump is going out of his way to make sure there is no doubt.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ John Schilling & BBA
            See my earlier comment about it being “debatable”. The problem with making these sort of pronouncements is that the Convention wasn’t written with asymmetrical warfare in mind.

            Strictly speaking the vast majority of jihadi are civilians.

          • ” towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended”

            So as long as the town is defended–has armed soldiers in it, perhaps anti-aircraft guns or missiles, that rule does not apply.

            When the allies bombed German and Japanese cities with the purpose of killing civilians, those cities were defended–just not defended well enough.

          • Anonymous says:


            Article 3 and Article 1 of Additional Protocol II both have concepts of “non-international armed conflict” (though they’re slightly different). The prevailing legal theory is that this governs asymmetric warfare like those against ISIS/Al-Qaeda. Non-state actors engaged in hostilities as a part of non-international armed conflict very much are not considered civilians.

          • nyccine says:

            FDR et al could probably have established reasonable doubt in a trial by mumbling something about munitions factories and Norden bombsights, but in any context less formal than a court of law, yeah, they were probably war criminals.

            Well, actually this wouldn’t have worked, because the only world* in which FDR is called before a war crimes tribunal is one in which the Allies lost, and in that instance it wouldn’t have mattered if an entire division were stationed in Dresden, with this fact known to everyone in the world.

            *Even if circumstances had caused the entire electorate to go into revolt and put the Republicans back in the White House, I don’t see the subsequent administration even making noises that they’re going to put FDR on trial, let alone actually going through with it.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Anonymous:
            Article 1 isn’t really relevant to this discussion. While the andendum to Article 3 governs using one’s own military to quell local unrest/rebellion. The US government has argued that these rules govern international conflicts as well but this interpretation is not supported by the text.

            The general legal consensus appears split. On one hand no one has seriously tried to argue that Osama Bin Laden or Jimmi-Jihadi chopping up infidels on YouTube are not valid military targets. On the other, most of the legal arguments for closing GTMO hinge on the idea that the detainees are civilians rather than POWs.

            Pretty much.

            I think that a fair argument could be made that Arthur Harris, Curtis Lemay, and Robert McNamara should have been brought up on charges, but as you say, I don’t see that happening.

          • Anonymous says:

            “Article 1 of Additional Protocol II”. I was rebutting your statement:

            the Geneva convention forbids intentional targeting of civilians but also presumes that the conflict will be between uniformed militaries. Non-state actors like AlQeda/ISIS are a huge grey area that the convention does not address.

            Instead, we have multiple places that explicitly address non-international armed conflict… which is not between uniformed militaries and which involves non-state actors. There are legitimate questions concerning territorial limitations (and the combination of a geographic limitation on Additional Protocol II (as you point out) with the lack of such a limitation in Article 3 might tell us something about how to interpret it).

            On the other, most of the legal arguments for closing GTMO hinge on the idea that the detainees are civilians rather than POWs.

            Eughhhh… ish? There are various legal arguments for different individuals in GTMO. In fact, the administration doesn’t consider most of them to be either POWs (under the Third Geneva Convention) or protected persons (i.e., civilians under the Fourth Geneva Convention), instead opting just to apply Article 3. An example of the diversity of claims is found in Hamdan. There, Hamdan was claiming that he should be covered as a POW under Geneva III, not a civilian under Geneva IV! There might still be a case for repatriation here, though… because Geneva III requires repatriation upon the cessation of armed conflict (and there are twiggy arguments about armed conflict v. active hostilities and such).

            But seriously, it’s complicated, and I don’t think anyone has ever made the argument that GTMO should be closed because all the detainees are protected persons under Geneva IV (especially because Geneva IV still allows some detention… just with different rules).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @John Schilling – “Ordering a bomb to be dropped with the knowledge that it will kill civilians is a war crime unless the actual objective is one of military necessity and all reasonable effort has been made to avoid or minimize civilian casualties.”

            Trump doubtless would argue that stopping terrorism is a military necessity, and limiting the casualties to those targeted or even to the block they live on qualifies as “minimizing”.

            More broadly, the laws you refer to are a joke. No senior american official will be indicted for war crimes due to their policies, and no american soldier will be indicted for following those policies to the letter unless it seems politically convinient to their superiors.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Instead, we have multiple places that explicitly address non-international armed conflict… which is not between uniformed militaries and which involves non-state actors.

            Except that these places are explicitly referring to the use of military force in one’s own territory. IE deploying the national guard to quell civil unrest or regional rebellion.

            Official US policy is that these rules can/ought to apply in extra-territorial conflicts as well but this would seem to contradict Protocol II’s own stated field of application and non intervention clause. Hence my “Grey Area” comment.

          • Anonymous says:

            Except that the places typically cited are all referring to the use of military force in one’s own territory.

            …I think you missed this part of my comment:

            There are legitimate questions concerning territorial limitations (and the combination of a geographic limitation on Additional Protocol II (as you point out) with the lack of such a limitation in Article 3 might tell us something about how to interpret it).

            Additional Protocol II has the type of limitation you’re talking about. Article 3 doesn’t.

            IE deploying the national guard to quell civil unrest or regional rebellion.

            Even under Additional Protocol II, the answer is maybe. The latter is more likely than the former, but it’s going to be pretty fact-intensive. Note that it specifies:

            This Protocol shall not apply to situations of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence and other acts of a similar nature, as not being armed conflicts.

          • John Schilling says:

            No senior american official will be indicted for war crimes due to their policies, and no american soldier will be indicted for following those policies to the letter unless it seems politically convenient to their superiors

            In roughly the same sense that no German soldier will ever be indicted for following the policies of any German government, yes.

            But even if I shared your confidence that the United States of America would “triumph” in its proposed war against the Alliance of Everyone Not OK With Murdering Civilians, an atrocity that you get away with is still an atrocity. If the strongest defense you can offer for your action is that the guys who order you to do it, don’t punish you for doing it – yeah, you’re one of the bad guys.

          • Jiro says:

            If the strongest defense you can offer for your action is that the guys who order you to do it, don’t punish you for doing it – yeah, you’re one of the bad guys.

            However, although the defense is “you can get away with it”, the attack was “international law forbids it”. The attack isn;t arguing right and wrong, so the defense need not do so either.

            (I hope you’re not trying to claim that the fact that something is international law is very relevant to whether it is right or wrong.)

          • FacelessCraven says:

            ***Content Warning: contains links to atrocity pictures.***

            @John Schilling – “But even if I shared your confidence that the United States of America would “triumph” in its proposed war against the Alliance of Everyone Not OK With Murdering Civilians…”

            There is no such alliance. There is no such alliance.

            There is no such alliance.

            Your thesis is that the American people in particular and the western world in general accepted invasions, accepted assassinations, accepted black sites, accepted extraordinary rendition, accepted kill lists, accepted the unaccountable targeting of american citizens, accepted spying, accepted threats to torture prisoners’ families, and generally accepted our foreign policy for the last half-century, but that this is some magical line too far? That realpolitik will finally go out the window and the nations of the world will rediscover their principles? The line was a thousand fucking miles ago! Maybe further! Maybe a hell of a lot further! was I even born before it vanished over the horizon? Were you?

            How many attacks in Europe over the last month? And you think they’re going to line up to fight America on behalf of the people screaming for their blood and cheering their dead on youtube?

            “an atrocity that you get away with is still an atrocity. If the strongest defense you can offer for your action is that the guys who order you to do it, don’t punish you for doing it – yeah, you’re one of the bad guys.”

            Show me the button that stops our country from churning out dead and maimed by the thousand-weight and I will push it without hesitation. I don’t even require that this button stop or even measurably reduce terror attacks!

          • hlynkacg says:

            In addition to what Jiro said,

            You’d have to tie yourself in some serious knots to argue that the US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not examples of “invasion or occupation by a foreign power”. As such I would hope that we can agree that in the eyes of the convention at least we’re the rules governing international conflict apply.

            In that light Afghans Killing Afghans, or Iraqis killing Iraqis is a civilian criminal matter, and using the US military to intervene constitutes the intentional targeting of civilians.

            This is obviously not a tenable state of affairs which is why we’re having this argument in the first place.

          • John Schilling says:


            There is no such alliance

            Certainly there is; it just isn’t capable of effective action. Rather like, say, what passed for an anti-Nazi alliance in 1938.

            There is no such alliance

            The alliance that presently exists is one where everyone else tells the war criminals to stop, the UN provides peacekeepers if this will make the war crimes stop, the United States is supposed to provide actual warfighters if peacekeapers aren’t enough, and then everyone else tells the United States that it is doing it wrong. This doesn’t work very well, for a number of reasons that should be obvious.

            There is no such alliance

            There is, however, a US presidential candidate who proposes to upend the whole system of alliances and replace it with something new.

            There is no such alliance


          • John Schilling says:

            I hope you’re not trying to claim that the fact that something is international law is very relevant to whether it is right or wrong.

            I am claiming that murdering innocent civilians to prove you’re a badass mofo that that people had better not mess with, or whatever you imagine is the justification, is,

            A: Wrong, even if you get away with it, AND

            B: Against international law, even if you aren’t prosecuted, AND

            C: Likely to make you more enemies than you can handle, while costing you every friend you used to have.

            We’re not talking about any other international laws here. Maybe just this one time, but certainly at least this one time, international law got it right.

          • Anonymous says:

            You’d have to tie yourself in some serious knots to argue that the US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not examples of “invasion or occupation by a foreign power”.

            Correct. They were. Now? Hmmm…

            In that light Afghans Killing Afghans, or Iraqis killing Iraqis is a civilian criminal matter, and using the US military to intervene constitutes the intentional targeting of civilians.

            This is not necessarily true. Afghans Killing Afghans or Iraqis Killing Iraqis could rise to the level of being a non-international armed conflict, just like how Syria could be considered a NIAC… or hell, the American Civil War (…or even the Revolution!). In that case, hostile actors are not civilians, and operations stemming from alliances with third-party nations are not intentional targeting of civilians.

            Note that there can be multiple related conflicts. State A could be in IAC with State B in Territory X. At the same time, Non-State Group C is engaged in NIAC with State A in a subset of Territory X. You can’t obviate the latter by the existence of the former.

          • bean says:

            I think that a fair argument could be made that Arthur Harris, Curtis Lemay, and Robert McNamara should have been brought up on charges, but as you say, I don’t see that happening.
            Harris? Definitely, and not just for deliberately targeting civilians. Gross stupidity in conducting the bombing campaign and depraved indifference to the lives of his own men.
            LeMay? This is a lot more of a stretch. The XXIth Bomber Command did do precision strikes when appropriate for the target, and when the target was planes being built in people’s basements, they went after it in the most effective manner possible.
            McNamara? Trials for stupidity and incompetence to the point of treason are certainly appropriate (about 75% of what is wrong with the military today can be traced to him if you’re feeling mean) but I’ve never seen anyone accuse him of intentionally targeting civilians before. If anything, he leaned way too far over to make sure we didn’t hit anyone we weren’t supposed to. Even if they were clearly up to no good (building SAM sites, for instance).

    • Agronomous says:

      Please don’t conflate legal and illegal immigration.

      Every time you do, it makes an unaccompanied minor cry.

  25. onyomi says:

    What’s up with skinny competitive eaters and why are they mostly Japanese, like this woman? (not concerned about the politics here).

    Like, America has competitive eaters but they aren’t usually so skinny. I understand it is actually advantageous to be skinny because the fat puts pressure on the abdominal organs. But the point is how do you eat enough to train as a competitive eater and not put on any fat? Do some people like lack a fat storage enzyme or something and can we give me this gene?

  26. Ruprect says:

    “It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.”

    I’m not sure that this is true. It is possible to think very deeply about everything that you do, it’s just that, in that case, you won’t be doing very much.
    It depends on whether the number of things done is the measure of a civilisation.

    • Anonymous says:

      Where is this from? It reads a bit like a certain “Nero N. Tulip”, except it doesn’t have a sufficient amount of insults.

      • Anonymous says:

        Never mind, I found it and I couldn’t be more wrong in my guess. Though now I’m not so sure how to interpret this.

        • Agronomous says:

          I think it’s in the same essay (talk?) that the author rightly points out that the ancient Romans would be astounded that so many 19th-century British people could quickly and accurately divide one large number by another. (Due to decimal notation and the long-division algorithm. And not needing to carve your work in stone.)

          Note that the technology to do long division was available to the Romans (sticks in dirt, styluses on clay, chalk on boards). Which would probably make it more astounding to them, and they’d be pretty peeved at the Greeks for not inventing it for them.

  27. Zombielicious says:

    Curious if anyone has read/has thoughts on The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu’s sequel to The Three-Body Problem. Finished it this week and liked it considerably better than the first in the series, which was still good. The main character was far more interesting, the writing (or at least translation) seemed better, and (avoiding spoilers) it popularizes a variation on my best-guess Fermi paradox explanation.

    A search of SSC for the first novel showed several discussions and an overall mixed reception. The translation of the final book is due in just under two months as well.

    • Chalid says:

      I read it when it came out and loved it – I was about to start a reread of it in anticipation of the release of Death’s End.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list.

    • Gbdub says:

      Any Chinese speakers that can comment on the translation of the original? I found Three Body Problem really interesting conceptually, but the characters felt like a collection of stereotypes and the dialogue was god awful. I’m hoping this was a translation / cultural thing?

      • Loquat says:

        Not fluent, but studied it enough in college to get a sense of the grammar – I’m 99% confident it’s the translator’s fault, especially since the translator’s note explicitly says his philosophy of translation is that the result should NOT read like it was written like a native speaker of the destination language, but should be constantly reminding you it’s a translation.

        I found it helped immensely to try to imagine all dialogue being spoken aloud in Chinese, especially anything involving the less-educated characters.

        • Zombielicious says:

          That’s too bad, since Death’s End is apparently translated by the same guy (Ken Liu – no relation to the author), while The Dark Forest was done by Joel Martinsen.

        • Guy says:

          What an awful idea. A story should sound good, not romantically (or quaintly, or painfully) exotic.

          • gbdub says:

            Yeah I have to agree, that sounds like a terrible (or lazy) translation philosophy. I don’t want all the cultural references edited out, but if the speech would sound “normal” to a native speaker, it ought to sound reasonably “normal” (or at least natural) to the target audience. 3BP felt like an overly literal and very stilted translation.

  28. Odoacer says:

    There’s a New Yorker article about Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal. Schwartz sounds pretty anti-Trump now and states that many things about Trump in the book were exaggerated or false, one example is that Trump really enjoys making deals, e.g. :

    In his journal, Schwartz wrote, “Trump stands for many of the things I abhor: his willingness to run over people, the gaudy, tacky, gigantic obsessions, the absolute lack of interest in anything beyond power and money.” Looking back at the text now, Schwartz says, “I created a character far more winning than Trump actually is.” The first line of the book is an example. “I don’t do it for the money,” Trump declares. “I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.” Schwartz now laughs at this depiction of Trump as a devoted artisan. “Of course he’s in it for the money,” he said. “One of the most deep and basic needs he has is to prove that ‘I’m richer than you.’ ” As for the idea that making deals is a form of poetry, Schwartz says, “He was incapable of saying something like that—it wouldn’t even be in his vocabulary.” He saw Trump as driven not by a pure love of dealmaking but by an insatiable hunger for “money, praise, and celebrity.”

    In response to this and other interviews Schwartz gave, Trump has sent him a cease and desist letter.

    • Jiro says:

      The New Yorker actually reproduces the letter in full, which contradicts some of the anti-Trump narrative. According to it, the guy was willing to make a second deal with Trump two months ago for an audio version of the book, and he didn’t claim the book was full of lies then.

      Of course, it’s implausible that he thinks the book is full of lies now and didn’t think so two months ago. What this actually means is that he is now trying to have it both ways by profiting from the book while jumping on the anti-Trump bandwagon. He might be able to say “well, I didn’t know that Trump told me the lies, I just wrote them down” when referring to the original book, but for the audio version he must have known better.

      If the ghostwriter really was sincere, he would have nixed the audio deal.

      Also, if he’s claiming that Trump fed him lies to put in the book, he must by definition be claiming that the content of the book came from Trump, even if he’s the ghostwriter. Note that “I’m the only person who wrote the book” and “I put down the exact words in the book” are not the same thing.

    • Lumifer says:

      So the ghostwriter is changing careers and decided to burn his bridges?

      • LHN says:

        Per Wikipedia, it looks like that was the last book he ghostwrote. (Though of course that may not be complete.) He’s written a number of books under his own byline and founded a consultancy firm. Given that, dissociating himself from Trump may be more valuable to his future prospects. Especially doing it in a way that gets his name out in front of a lot of people.

      • Agronomous says:

        This strikes me as more like using C4 or thermite on a bridge than burning it. Then nuking it from orbit.

        I don’t see a bright future in ghostwriting for this guy, and wonder if he missed the whole Peter Thiel-vs.-Gawker episode.

        I do feel obligated to point out that if you don’t want the next President to have an “absolute lack of interest in anything beyond power and money” you’re shit out of luck.

    • Jordan D. says:

      Wow, that’s some high quality bluster in that there letter.

      I’m somewhat disappointed by the original article. I haven’t read Art of the Deal, but Scott’s review of it painted a picture of a character I could really sort of understand and sympathize with (not in the electoral sense, but in general). A man hyperfocused on his field, with strange gaps in his morals but a genuine drive for something most would consider weird? That’s compelling.

      But Schwartz’ review of his own work erases what I found interesting and replaces it with a sort of smug malevolence which is somehow both cartoonish and banal. I can’t say that I care a lot about the topic, but I almost prefer to believe the book version for the sake of a slightly more interesting world.

    • brad says:

      Legally speaking that’s a terrible letter. There’s no justification with reference to the contract or otherwise for the demands in the final paragraph. It’s more of a press release than a C&D.

  29. in all but good taste says:

    For your light hearted, comedic fix i would suggest “How Did This Get Made”

    A few comics sit around and discuss the plot of some of the most critically panned, or just outright bizarre movies in existence. It is funny enough to be engaging, but in no way information dense. You may chuckle at some point though, which could be less than ideal during a serious workout.

    Slightly more info dense would be “Hello Internet”, CGP grey and the guy behind Numberphile chat about…. whatever. Basically just listening to two reasonably interesting people have a conversation. Its weird but kind of engaging… in a weird way.

    • Cooking Issues with Dave Arnold is my favorite podcast, if you’re into food at all. It’s nominally a call/write-in show for questions about high tech cocktails/food (want someone to tell you the practical details of using liquid nitrogen to cryomuddle? Or a chemical detail of curing country ham?) but ends up being him monologuing about his special interests (to wit, the above sort of food and the people who screw it up.)

      If you play M:tG, then both Limited Resources and Constructed Resources are excellent. If not, uh, they’re less interesting.

      “Mystery” only has so many episodes (season 2 comes soon I think?) but is fascinating. Sort of manic-pixie-dream-girl doing investigative journalism, but more interesting than this sounds.

  30. Bassist Pig says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the Cold Civil War (“CCW”). You can DuckDuckGo it, there’s tons written about it. It can be summarized this way: over the past few generations white people have split in two politically/ideologically/etc. The separation is roughly along the predictable lines of left/right, liberal/conservative, Dem/GOP (that’s GOP base, not pundit class or party leadership), urban/rural, Blue/Red, etc. It’s a “cold” war because the two sides are mostly just vilifying each other with words and “soft” power (e.g. instead of gay marriage advocates shooting gay marriage opponents, the advocates call the opponents bad people and use the USSC to force gay marriage into law even where support for it is not popular). Other racial groups are used more as ammunition in the war rather than as key players.

    A key aspect is the belief not just that the other side is wrong, but that they are bad for being wrong. However, while there’s plenty of evidence for the existence of this belief on both sides, my personal experience is that it is unequally distributed and is more prevalent on the liberal/Blue team. Anyone have similar/opposite experience?

    I wonder how far back the CCW really goes. As I understand it most people would say it goes back to about the mid 20th-century, but I could envision arguments that it is more recent (say, with the advent of cable news and then made worse by the internet), or that it’s actually much older–a relic of the actual Civil War, perhaps, or maybe even ingrained in the original white demographic distribution of the country. Any thoughts from y’all?

    Also, is anyone aware of (or would care to make) arguments that there is NOT a CCW going on?

    The thing I’m most interested in right this moment is how the CCW gets perpetuated. If, say, members of Generation 1 earnestly lobbied for Civil Rights, might they have inadvertently taught their kids in Generation 2 that anyone who opposed or didn’t join in their lobbying was rotten/evil/racist/etc.? Or did Gen 1 deliberately teach this to Gen 2?

    • DavidS says:

      I’d be interested in evidence that this is new. In the UK, at any rate, people are less tribal in terms fo party politics (in that political parties can take fewer people’s votes for granted). But maybe different in US. And not sure how your gay marriage example is obviously different from other civil rights issues: forcing people to not segregate across the whole country etc. etc.

      • Bassist Pig says:

        Gay marriage legislation is just an example of how the CCW is being fought. I’m not making any claims as to whether desegregation was obviously different or part of the same pattern.

        I have no evidence that the CCW is new–it probably isn’t–but many people seem to agree it’s gotten more acute lately. Any thoughts on that? Or on the other questions?

    • dndnrsn says:

      The conflict is probably not new. The degree to which stuff that isn’t on the face of it political has gotten drawn in probably is.

    • anonbombulous says:

      I live in a blue bubble within a red state and based on personal experience I’d say that both sides, at least in my area, are equally likely to portray the other as straight up “bad”

      re the perpetuation of the CCW, isn’t there a lot of research out there which indicates a degree of heritability of political beliefs or ideology?

      • Bassist Pig says:

        There might be. But I’ve seen enough families split over it (including my own and that of some of my close friends and coworkers) to question exactly how much the heritability matters.

        My twin brother and I are basically on opposite sides of the CCW…so, clearly environment plays a role.

    • Corey says:

      On gay marriage, USSC *followed* (overall nationwide) public opinion, which shifted pretty quickly. On interracial marriage, the USSC led public opinion (Loving v. Virginia was 1967, and 50% public support for interracial marriage was hit in the 1990s, IIRC).

      • Bassist Pig says:

        You might be right about that…of course, another way to look at it is interracial marriage was legal in 37 states by the time of Loving v. Virginia.

        How many states had gay marriage before the USSC decision a few years ago?

        Going by those numbers is at least a bit more concrete than going by polls which, for example, skew toward people who are willing to talk to pollsters.

        • Anonymous says:

          States aren’t equal sized units.

          • Bassist Pig says:

            No, I wasn’t saying they are. But one of the characteristics of states is they can have laws according to the preferences of their own local majorities.

            So to make an extreme example, imagine for the sake of simplicity that there are only 4 states: Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Alaska all have Law X, while California has Law -X. Each law was voted for by majorities in each state, respectively.

            Then the USSC strikes down Law X and declares Law -X to be universal for the whole country (all 4 states).

            Because there are more Californians than there are Rhode Islanders, Alaskans, and Wyomingites combined, an absolute majority of individuals is now living under a law they agree with and would have voted for.

            However, in 75% of the country you find a situation where the local majority is now forced to live under a law they disagree with and would not have voted for. We’ll call part in bold Statement A.

            Meanwhile there had been polls going throughout the country that sometimes showed a majority favored Law X but mostly showed a majority favored Law -X. We’ll call that part in bold Statement B.

            I’m saying that between statements A and B, given what we know, A is more concrete.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s not 75% of anything meaningful, that’s the whole point.

            You can make the federalism argument that more people overall are happy with their local laws but that’s doesn’t use the 75% percentage. You’d need to look at the intrastate majorities to figure out what it would be.

            And the argument assumes that the issue in question is capable of being kept local. In the period when gay marriage was legal in only some parts of the country, particularly after it was recognized at the federal level, there were some very thorny legal questions that arose.

          • Bassist Pig says:

            I’m not so sure it isn’t meaningful. If the people most directly affected by Law X/-X are concentrated in California, for example…

            Nothing in the universe is distributed evenly, or evenly randomly.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t understand what your … is supposed to imply. Anyway you look at it 75% isn’t a meaningful number. What matters is people, not states.

            If California has 100 people, 70 of whom support -X, and each of the other three have 10, 3 of whom support -X, then under federalism you have 70 + 7 * 3 = 91 happy people vs 70 + 3 * 3 = 79 happy people under the national rule. That’s the argument for federalism but the 75% figure has nothing at all to do with it.

          • Bassist Pig says:

            Sorry, let me try to put it another way.

            In the numbers you used, all 4 states had equal ratios of Xers to -Xers (7:3), only in California they were flipped (3:7).

            What if it was more like 9:1 in the small states and 3:7 in California? And then what if the small states had populations not of 10 but of 30 to California’s 100?

            This would change the happiness function quite a bit:

            Under federalism you have 70 + 3*3 = 79 happy, but under states’ rights you have 27*3 + 30 = 111 happy.

            On top of that, what if in this country of 190 people there are a total of only 30 who are actually directly affected by Law X/-X, and 20 of them live in California?

            Of course we can fiddle with the knobs all day to get whatever results we want, but my point is that how states vote, rather than national polls, is a more concrete source of information once you DO have those numbers.

    • Corey says:

      The new part is the ease of self-selecting into a reality bubble, where your team is right about everything. Also within filter bubbles, it’s easy to demonize the other team; usually no amount of straw is too much to describe an Other.

      US culture war is basically urban vs. rural, so it probably dates to the Industrial Revolution.

    • Bassist Pig says:

      To expand a bit on one point…

      Consider two sides having an argument. Side A might say:

      1. Side B disagrees with me but they are wrong.
      2. Side B disagrees with me so they are bad or evil.
      3. Side B disagrees with me so there is something psychologically wrong with them.

      If (1) was prevalent, I think there would not be a CCW. Instead, we get (2) and (3)–in what proportions I’m not sure, but they seem frequent enough to be predominant.

      I actually don’t mind (2) so much–it’s kinda natural at least, and suggests a noble course of action: fight and see who wins.

      But (3) strikes me as really horrible, for the same reason the “pray the gay away” stuff perturbs me. It’s so…dishonorable. Have the decency to call your enemy evil and fight him! But if you call him sick it implies that you have a “cure” for him (or maybe his children?), and that sets you up for some really rotten business.

      • gbdub says:

        Actually the one I see a lot (this was particularly bad around the Obamacare debate) was “Side B disagrees with me so they must be ignorant/misinformed, I merely need to restate my argument louder and they will agree with me”.

        They’re all flavors the same thing frankly – a belief that no reasonable person can disagree with me, therefore their arguments require no consideration.

      • Skef says:

        You must realize that this point isn’t novel, that it’s a thought well integrated into the current debate. Given that, step back from the argument and you see that it’s an explanation of how current progressives are really much worse than current conservatives.

        Getting “meta” doesn’t necessarily avoid self-contradiction.

    • Anonymous says:

      A key aspect is the belief not just that the other side is wrong, but that they are bad for being wrong. However, while there’s plenty of evidence for the existence of this belief on both sides, my personal experience is that it is unequally distributed and is more prevalent on the liberal/Blue team. Anyone have similar/opposite experience?

      Someone I know had his father just tell him that if he voted for Clinton “you won’t be my son anymore.” Does that count?

      Also, is anyone aware of (or would care to make) arguments that there is NOT a CCW going on?

      War as a metaphor is both played out and also overly melodramatic. Even with the modifier cold, you aren’t looking at any sort of civil war.

      • Bassist Pig says:

        Yes I would say that counts, if the father wasn’t just being funny.

        I agree about the played-out-ness of the war metaphor in general, but I’m not sure it’s inappropriate in this particular case. Why do you think it is?

        • Anonymous says:

          Well, first let’s look at the modifier cold and see if that saves the whole phrase.

          During the Cold War, the U.S. and Russia never went to war directly against each other. But Korea, Vietnam, and Afganistan were very much wars and very much part of it. In addition we both put enormous resources into preparing to fight a war if it came down to it. Building gigantic stockpiles.

          In the purported CCW, there’s been very little violence between the two sides and very little or no proxy violence. One side is stockpiling weapons but mostly not with the stated purpose of preparing for a war against the other side (rather mostly out of fear that civilization is about to collapse).

          What we have is a rather vitriolic and divided period in U.S. history. We’ve had several such periods before. Many of which were a lot more bloody.

          Calling it a war trivializes war and puffs up something that doesn’t deserve puffing up.

          • Sandy says:

            Sorry, but this seems really anal to me.

            “Cold war” is a phrase commonly used to refer to hostilities without overt violence. We have hostilities without overt violence. Arguing for a 1:1 overlap with the historical Cold War is like saying any football strategy described as a “blitz” cheapens German military tactics.

            If the simplest definition of government is “power enforced by violence”, then there is always the specter of violence in this purported CCW. You don’t have the option to disregard USSC decisions, because the victorious side will send men with guns to punish you if you do. See: Kim Davis. And while it’s true that the Left and the Right aren’t organizing into military factions and preparing for a grand purge, when there is the outbreak of violence, it is often used as a proxy battle between the two sides. Omar Mateen slaughters 50 gay people at a nightclub and it becomes a feud between two competing models of civilization — is right-wing homophobia to blame or left-wing Islamist accommodation? Cops shoot black people, black people shoot cops — is the root of the problem that the Right lionizes cops as heroes who can do no wrong or that the Left has urged societal revolutions that have steadily destroyed the black family?

          • Sandy says:

            The kulturkampf is a term that predates anyone alive on the American right by quite a bit.

          • Bassist Pig says:


            Is it any surpise [sic] really that the war metaphor is being pushed by the right? You’all love your wars even when they aren’t really wars at all.

            Are you being ironic?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            With regards to “no one is stockpiling weapons,” in a cultural civil war could one not suggest that weapons aren’t guns or explosives, weapons are memes and methods of argument that have been deliberately designed to forward victory in that war? Our own host has more than once talked about “superweapons” in the context of social justice argumentation.

          • Nornagest says:

            The Cold War anticipated a total war between great powers, and the weapons buildup followed that: armor, fighter jets, nuclear weapons, forward bases in Germany and Italy. But I don’t think anyone’s expecting the current situation to immediately flare into a total war against the People’s Republic of Berkeley, with Abrams tanks rolling through People’s Park and shelling the Campanile. What would stockpiling weapons for the early stages of a civil war look like? Maybe expanding police powers, training up riot cops and SWAT, buying a lot of surplus MRAPs?

            This is a little too conspiracy-flavored for me to really take it seriously, but…

          • Bassist Pig says:


            I think you’ve made a good distinction: the Cold War was fought in earnest anticipation of a “hot” war, whereas I don’t think anyone in the CCW I’m talking about expects actual physical violence, and very few on either side call for it–and never anyone with much clout at that.

            It’s probably safer to say the “War” part of the Cold Civil War is useful as a descriptive metaphor. There are these two big sides, each has their identity, there are alliances, there are training camps, there are leaders and soldiers, there are battle tactics, there are victories and losses, there are proxies, there is propaganda meant to rally the troops, and so on.

            So then what real thing is the CCW being fought over? In other words, what would each side say victory looks like? In each side’s vision of victory, are their opponents gone entirely, or simply rendered less influential? And if it’s the latter, how is that accomplished–does it include tabooing the other side’s ideas?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Nornagest

            Maybe expanding police powers, training up riot cops and SWAT, buying a lot of surplus MRAPs?

            That’s not stockpiling weapons for a civil war, that’s elites preparing to suppress uppity proles… a somewhat different scenario than OP has in mind.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Bassist Pig

            So then what is the war being fought over? What would each side say victory looks like?

            The war, as usual, is fought over power, the power to impose your values, worldviews, and policies on others.

            What the victory would look like is a loaded question, since both sides have incentives to paint their victory as paradise and the opponent’s victory as hell on Earth. You can get some idea by looking at places where the Left won (e.g. liberal colleges) or the Right won (e.g. rural Midwest).

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s not stockpiling weapons for a civil war, that’s elites preparing to suppress uppity proles… a somewhat different scenario than OP has in mind.

            Hence “early stages”. The usual progression of a modern civil war, as opposed to a regional rebellion, starts with riots and demonstrations and civil unrest before it solidifies into paramilitary forces being formed and eventually territorial gains for the opposition side.

            You could argue that the culture war is regional, but the split is more rural/urban than it is Northwest/Pacific Coast vs. South/West. So we can expect significant internal divisions probably everywhere outside New England. If this theoretical cold war goes hot, which I doubt, it will not look like a regional rebellion at first.

            (The actual American Civil War did… but the country was very different then.)

          • Anonanon says:

            “with Abrams tanks rolling through People’s Park and shelling the Campanile”
            “Tanks Into Harvard Yard” is the usual phrase and recommendation, I believe?

            “it will not look like a regional rebellion at first.”
            See also “The USA Cannot Balkanize”, because it simply doesn’t have any kind of local majorities.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Tanks Into Harvard Yard” is the usual phrase and recommendation, I believe?

            There’s a set phrase for this? I didn’t know that.

            (I actually went through five or six versions of that line before I found one I liked.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            There are certainly some hotheads (on two sides) talking about a literal race war. I don’t find that very likely. But widespread urban rioting is not unthinkable.

          • Lumifer says:

            I don’t know how usual the phrase “tanks into Harvard Yard” is — Google gives all of 80 hits, all of them are strictly neo-arrrrr-actionary and it’s a sentence fragment from the much more flavourful whole:

            In other words, is Trump likely to cancel the constitution, declare martial law, declare himself emperor to be succeeded by his children, nationalize the banks and media, hang some of the worst criminal bankers, send the Israelis back to Israel, call the National Guard to roll tanks into Harvard Yard, place all communists and other anti-American elements under house arrest, retire all government employees, replace the USG with the Trump Organization, and begin actually rebuilding America and western civilization?

          • Anonanon says:

            Sorry for the late reply, but the origin was

            they will remain in power until someone drives a tank or two into Harvard Yard – which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound like such a bad idea at all.

            From You Know Who, whose delightful Gentle Introduction inspired all the other instances of it.

      • Anonanon says:

        Tell that man the internet wants to buy him a beer. (The father, not the son. Tell the son to listen to his father)

    • Sandy says:

      Some article I saw a while back said political polarization now affects dating preferences to an unprecedented extent — Democrats are now more likely to say being Republican is a dealbreaker in a potential mate and vice versa. I don’t know if that’s the result of bubbles and clannishness becoming widespread or if the trend is just more easily observed now.

      • Bassist Pig says:

        That’s interesting.

        It would seem to refute something I remember reading (also a while back) about how data mined from one of the big dating sites showed that conservative men, more than liberal men, tended to be more sought after by women of all political inclinations. That was related more to the conservative=masculine/liberal=feminine thing, but it’s interesting to see how that might play out in the CCW mix.

        • Nornagest says:

          They could both be true. We’re probably not talking 100% for either one, so conservative men could still be more appealing on average even if their political preference is now more likely to be seen as a dealbreaker.

          Also, what people say they prefer and what they actually turn out to prefer in data-mined metrics are very often different. (OKCupid once claimed that 80% of the people identifying as “bisexual” there only ever message one sex, for example. Though that could have something to do with only needing to resort to online dating for one.)

        • Assume, to a first approximation, that women want husbands, men want casual sex. Conservatives have the reputation of believing in marriage, liberals have the reputation of believing in free love–whether or not those reputations are supported by data.

          So one would expect women to try to date conservative men, men to try to date liberal women.

    • lvlln says:

      A key aspect is the belief not just that the other side is wrong, but that they are bad for being wrong. However, while there’s plenty of evidence for the existence of this belief on both sides, my personal experience is that it is unequally distributed and is more prevalent on the liberal/Blue team. Anyone have similar/opposite experience?

      I think this might be accurate at this very moment, but if you average it out over time, I think it’s more balanced. It wasn’t that long ago that conservatives were openly calling liberals traitors for not supporting the Iraq war or claiming that supporting gay marriage was just a way to destroy America. That sort of rhetoric still exists among conservatives, of course, but at this very moment, I do perceive the liberal side as being more severe, with its quick jumping to insults like “racist,” “misogynist,” “fascist,” for holding positions even slightly deviating from the liberal orthodoxy (not even necessarily deviating to the conservative side, such as support for free speech or due process).

      Of course, my own perception is biased. I’m a far-left liberal in a liberal city in a liberal state and interact primarily with other liberals, so my regular observations of politics is filled with liberals being quick to call conservatives evil for holding their beliefs rather than simply wrong. At the same time, since I live in a liberal bubble and have almost all my life, any time conservatives have responded to liberals, I’ve been told that the conservatives are just calling us evil for holding beliefs they consider to be wrong. 10 years ago, I was just able to ignore and deny the fact that liberals were calling conservatives evil for holding “wrong” views (or even justify it), but I can’t do that anymore today while being intellectually honest. This might be a better explanation for why I perceive the liberal side as being quicker to accuse badness today and the conservative side as being quicker to accuse badness in the past, rather than any actual change in reality.

      So maybe you’re right that the liberal side is worse in this aspect, and I was just better at excusing/denying/justifying it in the past when I was younger and more excited about rooting for my own tribe. Maybe someone older than me – I’m 31 – might have a better perspective.

      • Bassist Pig says:

        “Traitor” carries much less implication of mental unhealth or innate evil than “bigot” or “whatever-o-phobe”.

        Yes, being in an echo chamber will amplify the tone of rhetoric. I do my best both to sample various echo chambers and to try and get out of echo chambers as much as I can, and it’s from that perspective I’m making my observations.

        I’m close to your age, so unfortunately I can’t offer any more wisdom from experience.

        • Anonymous says:

          This looks like an awfully convenient special horror. Classically traitor was justification for harsher measures than insane.

          • Bassist Pig says:

            Yes, that’s true. But I’m talking about the implications of these terms used in rhetoric in 2016, not the implications of those same terms used as quasi-official labels historically.

          • Guy says:

            It looks a lot more like one side calls you a fyargle and the other side calls you a boosilaid than anything special about the specific meaning of fyargle or boosiliad. (I would read the Boosiliad)

          • Bassist Pig says:

            Do you think conservatives who call liberals traitors really mean just about the equivalent thing that liberals mean when they call conservatives bigots and racists?

            If each epithet is some percentage a judgment on the individual and some percentage a judgment on the position, I really think “traitor” is more like 30/70, while “bigot/racist” is more like 70/30.

            Add to this that “traitor” is well-defined and somewhat consistent in meaning, whereas “bigot/racist” is not.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think “traitor” and “racist” are similar but “insane” (in earnest rather than rhetorical flourish) is different. To a conservative, a “traitor” is the most contemptible thing around; to a liberal, that’s “racist” (or “bigot”)

          • DavidS says:

            In UK rants online, ‘traitor’ does fairly often come with actual demands for trials, retribution etc. And is most often (but not exclusively) used by the right. And to me, it seems at least as aggressive as ‘bigot’, ‘islamophobe’ or whatever.

          • Lysenko says:

            Not really, Anon. If anything, just the opposite. -Traitor- is a legal claim, not a moral one. It tends to be bandied about by people who have no clue what the actual laws defining treason ARE, yes, but that doesn’t change the underlying distinction.

            (Side note, did anyone actually try to bring case for violation of the Logan Act against those Republican congressmen?)

            It’s a claim about criminal activity and intent, not character.

          • Pku says:

            “Traitor” isn’t a legal claim. It’s a social claim. And as someone who’s been called both, I can assure you that “traitor” is much, much worse. The people who call you racist just wish you would think like them; the people who call you a traitor want you dead.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Actions, as they say, speak louder than words. Even the mainstream left is generally quite happy to drag people they deem x-phobic to court, whereas I don’t think anybody’s been put on trial for not supporting the Iraq War enthusiastically enough.

        • DavidS says:

          Court cases tell you about the law, not about willingness. Unless you think there would be a credible chance of succesfully prosecuting someone for being insufficiently pro the war in Iraq?

          The better comparison would be of things like personal violence on an ideological basis. But that’s full of issues about what you count as belonging to one ‘side’. Is beating someone up for being a homophobe/racist leftist? And if so, is beating someone up for being gay/black rightist? Or does it depend on declared/implicit motivation etc. etc.

      • My main window on casual political argument is the Climate Change Discussion group on FB, where arguments are not, in practice, limited to climate. My impression there is that many people on both sides view those on the other side as wicked or stupid, with no big difference in how commonly they do so.

        One side seems more willing to accuse commenters on the other side (implausibly) of being in the pay of Big Oil than the others are to accuse the first of making money off of government subsidies of renewables or the like. On the other hand, each side accuses the other side’s “experts” of being corrupt.

        I’ve spent my life largely in the academic world, where it is striking how poorly those left of center understand arguments on the other side, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the pattern was mirrored in groups with the opposite bias.

        • Bassist Pig says:

          I wouldn’t be surprised if the pattern was mirrored in groups with the opposite bias.

          Which ones, for example?

          I often hear the complaint that the liberal viewpoint of a given issue is typically “in the drinking water.” What this ends up meaning, though, is that liberal arguments on all sorts of issues tend to be relatively well understood even by non-liberals–certainly more so than the reverse.

          • “Which ones, for example?”

            I expect there are towns in the rural south and west where liberals are rare.

          • TPC says:

            Liberals not being in super tiny towns isn’t really the same as conservatives not being in large cities of 500k or more.

          • Chalid says:

            There are more conservatives than liberals in the US, so if there are mainly-liberal regions/groups there must be other regions/groups where conservatives greatly outnumber liberals.

          • Zombielicious says:

            It’s hard to compare the general U.S. population, rural South or elsewhere, and the academic world which David Friedman originally mentioned. Understanding your opponent’s arguments is going to be correlated with intelligence and knowledge level, so the “low-information voters” on any side can be expected to fail an ideological Turing test by a huge margin. See for example Bill Maher’s recurring sketch where they find the worst liberal stereotypes of conservatives and ask them why they hate Obama (to be fair ReasonTV did the same thing with liberals at the DNC). These people really exist. I remember a guy in 2008, at the restaurant table near mine, loudly ranting about how if Obama was elected he was going to ban trucks and SUVs.

            A fairer comparison, at the same approximate education level, might be liberals in (non-econ) academia vs conservatives at a Wall St investment bank or Chamber of Commerce meeting.

            As Chalid said, ideologically uniform small towns still eventually add up to a population larger than the big cities, otherwise red states would never go red. Even in the South, the big cities tend to go blue, with exceptions and if sometimes by a narrow margin. The farther into the country you get, the more uniformly red things are.

          • New in Town says:

            I think Zombielicious is on the right track:

            A fairer comparison, at the same approximate education level, might be liberals in (non-econ) academia vs conservatives at a Wall St investment bank or Chamber of Commerce meeting.

            It follows that I think Bassist Pig was clever to question this:

            I wouldn’t be surprised if the pattern was mirrored in groups with the opposite bias.

            Is there really any question that, as a general rule, conservatives in an elite investment bank understand progressives better than their progressive counterparts understand them? In a world where the academic and media elite are so uniformly blue tribe, it is inconceivable that it could be otherwise. There are a lot of issues where conservative voices are not permitted in polite company, and therefore progressives who live among “polite company” never hear those conservative voices. Meanwhile the progressive perspective is completely internalized by all of the institutions in which investment bankers have been educated and socialized.

          • Zombielicious says:

            @New in Town:
            I actually would have said the opposite, that both groups will tend to be largely ignorant of opposing viewpoints and misrepresent their opponent’s ideas. For instance, I have a particular family member in the local Chamber of Commerce, they are perhaps the worst offender I know in this regard, and I’m fairly certain absorbed much of their very biased ideological perceptions from participation in those groups.

            There is some research favoring conservatives in this regard – summary here – but it focuses on averages of the general public, and I personally wouldn’t consider it that much more meaningful than the similar statistic that liberals have higher average education levels (plus the criticism that a lot of Haidt’s work is based on kind-of-questionable self-report stuff, i.e. see My point was more that it’s silly to compare the median liberal/conservative to the upper strata of conservatives/liberals.

          • New in Town says:


            My point was more that it’s silly to compare the median liberal/conservative to the upper strata of conservatives/liberals.

            I know. And I agree. Further, I agree with your claim that low-info voters on both sides should be expected to fail an ideological Turing test “by a huge margin.” But I do think, consistent with David Friedman’s professed experience, that progressive “elites” simply take it for granted that all “smart”/educated people agree with them about everything (see, e.g., previous discussions on SSC about not knowing any creationists or pro-lifers, etc.). In reality, there are creationists and pro-lifers in very elite circles–they just rationally recognize that it is in their best interest to keep that to themselves in “mixed company.” I know this will be a little transgressive here on SSC, but I don’t think you need any do any studies to know that, given the world we live in, conservative elites will be much more well versed in progressive ideology than progressive elites will be in conservative ideology.

          • Corey says:

            Anecdotally, when I talk about conservative viewpoints in liberal places (say, MoJo or Lawyers Guns & Money) I get a much more positive reaction than when I talk about liberal viewpoints here. I haven’t tried anywhere that’s *explicitly* Republican like RedState or Free Republic, that would just be a lost cause.

          • Anonanon says:

            Link to some? Because I have a hard time imagining that, unless we’re talking “The Conservative Case For Liberal Policy X” viewpoints.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I used to read Lawyers Guns & Money fairly regularly and was going to reply with something to the effect of “I’d don’t recall Lawyers Guns & Money being particularly liberal”. Then I decided to take a look. The blog itself is still decent but it seems that the commentariat has been hitting the cool-aid pretty hard since I left.

            I find it difficult to believe that a conservative comment would receive a better reception over there than a comparably liberal one here. Could you be more specific?

      • New in Town says:

        It wasn’t that long ago that conservatives were openly calling liberals traitors for not supporting the Iraq war

        Citation needed. Please cite to prominent American conservatives saying that.

        Subject to the requested citations being provided, I would steelman that there are two competing definitions of the word “traitor”: (1) a person who actually commits treason; and (2) a person who is perceived as being disloyal to a cause (here, the war effort–using definition #2 of “not supporting” described below). I would argue that the latter is the more common, colloquial usage of the term, and it is disingenuous to attempt to attribute the former meaning to a usage of the term in an attempt to denigrate the person using it (unless the person is explicitly calling for a criminal prosecution).

        There are also two senses in which you may have meant “not supporting the Iraq war”: (1) “not supporting” = opposing the decision to use military force in Iraq in the first instance; or (2) “not supporting” = actively undercutting (or some might say “sabotaging”) the war effort after it was initiated. The latter comes much closer to actual treason (not that it is coextensive with “treason,” but it is at least in the same neighborhood when used in reference to, say, Senators who might not have voted in a manner that arguably undermined the war effort).

        “Racist,” on the other hand, is not a word capable of a less inflammatory/accusatory every-day meaning–and, more importantly, those on the left that throw the “racist” insult around are inarguably intending it to have maximum inflammatory effect. (I will also acknowledge that “traitor” derives some of its rhetorical power from the dual meaning that associates even mild disloyalty to a cause with the historically capital offense of actual treason, but that is more of a double entendre than an outright accusation.)

        • anonymous says:

          *Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America *Progressivism: A Primer on the Idea Destroying America *The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America *The New Leviathan: How the Left-Wing Money-Machine Shapes American Politics and Threatens America’s Future *Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party *Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism *Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama *Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America *United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror *Take No Prisoners: The Battle Plan for Defeating the Left *Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam And the American Left *The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech *Con Job: How Democrats Gave Us Crime, Sanctuary Cities, Abortion Profiteering, and Racial Division *Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies *Adios America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole *Assault and Flattery: The Truth About the Left and Their War on Women *End of Discussion: How the Left’s Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun) *Scarlet Letters: The Ever-Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism *KinderGarden Of Eden: How the Modern Liberal Thinks *Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage *The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class *SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police *Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed *Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism *Excuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of Progressivism *A Disgrace to the Profession: “why the public doesn’t trust climate scientists” *The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science *One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine Our Democracy *The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West *The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.

          • Anonanon says:

            “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech” uhhh, like most of those, that has nothing to do with the Iraq war.
            Actually, none of your titles have anything to do with the question.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Is John Boehner prominent enough?

            During a press conference the day after the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11th, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said, “I wonder if they [Democrats] are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people,” adding, “They certainly do not want to take the terrorists on and defeat them.” When asked if he intended to accuse Democrats of treason, Boehner replied, “I said I wonder if they’re more interested in protecting the terrorists… They certainly don’t want to take the terrorists on in the field.”

            After Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said the capture of Osama bin Laden would not make the US any safer, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said “Where do your loyalties lie?” while standing next to a poster depicting Pelosi and her statement.

            What about Robert Patterson and National Review?

            Kathryn Jean Lopez: Your upcoming book begins with a quote from Cicero about how a nation “cannot survive treason from within.” Surely you’re not calling Democrats traitors. Or are you?

            “Buzz” Patterson: I am. They certainly are if their behavior during our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is held up to the light of the U.S. Constitution. Article III, Section 3 defines treason against the United States as “adhering to (our) enemies, giving them aid and comfort. Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durbin, and John Murtha, amongst others, are guilty of exactly that.

            It’s not just the Democrats though but many on the Left — its faculties and administrations on college campuses, big media, Hollywood, and left-wing organizations such as the Ford Foundation,, United for Peace and Justice, etc. What is particularly disturbing to me is that these Americans are doing it while their fellow citizens are fighting and dying in combat. The best ally that al Qaeda has these days is the Democrat Party leadership. It’s reprehensible.

            It’s kind of disingenuous to read through the titles anonymous listed, or the quotes in the first link above, and claim that prominent conservatives haven’t repeatedly claimed liberals to be traitors just because they didn’t directly mention the words “treason,” “traitor,” or “Iraq War” in their statement.

          • Anonymous says:

            So you have a quote of John Boehner not calling it treason and some rando spewing word vomit? I mean, I googled him to try to figure out who he is and gave up after at least three pages of results came up empty. If that’s your case for prominent conservatives calling liberals guilty of treason for not supporting the Iraq war, we’re gonna have to call this myth busted.

          • Pku says:

            Your best counterargument is that the republican speaker of the house saying democrats probably care more about terrorists than americans doesn’t qualify as prominent republicans calling democrats traitors? You don’t have a leg to stand on here.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Kind of hard to believe you actually googled it, considering his wikipedia page and two of his three books were the first results when I tried. Kinda agree on the “word vomit” part, though.

            But since this is quickly devolving past the point of useful discussion, I’m out.

          • Anonymous says:

            …yeaaaa… if I have to include his title and his nickname in order to find him, he probably doesn’t count as a “prominent conservative”. Don’t feel bad, though; you were working against the grain by picking someone I didn’t already know, considering that I follow actual players in politics pretty decently.

            Frankly, the discussion is devolving past the point of your argument sounding remotely legitimate.

          • anonymous says:

            Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War by Ann Coulter

            The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
            by Dinesh D’Souza

            Shadow Warriors: The Untold Story of Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender Hardcover –
            by Kenneth R. Timmerman

          • New in Town says:

            So, just to be clear, when we speak of “conservatives openly calling liberals traitors,” what we really mean is John Boehner conspicuously refusing to call liberals traitors, other conservatives questioning congressional Democrats’ [note: not all liberals] commitment to destroying foreign terrorists… and provocateur extraordinaire Ann Coulter using the word “treason” to malign liberals for not loving America enough.

            If that is the body of evidence, I think it is misleading to assert some kind of equivalency between “conservatives openly calling liberals traitors” and progressives calling conservatives (and non-conservatives, for that matter) racists. The latter happens with far more frequency (and from far more people with less of a provocateur reputation than Ann Coulter), and there isn’t some colloquial meaning of “racist” that carries less bite like there is with “traitor.”

          • Zombielicious says:

            If these people don’t think liberals are traitors, or want their voting base to think liberals are traitors, why are they working so hard to imply it? As I said before, if someone reads those statements and claims “John Boehner, Tom DeLay, and Random Air Force Colonel Pundit don’t mean to say or imply that liberals are traitors for not supporting the Iraq War enough,” or that it’s an unfair comparison because #NotAllConservatives, or that there’s a substantial difference, in this context, between “treason” and “getting very, very close to treason,” they’re playing pedantic word games to the point of denying reality. But if people really want to play that game, whatev.

            Honestly, who even cares? Is it really that important whether reds/blues demonstrate Poor Character Trait X with slightly greater frequency than the opposing side? I’m well aware that most “liberals,” as well as most “conservatives,” and most people in general, have ridiculously poor arguments for their beliefs and gross stereotypes of their ideological opponents. The point was more that you can cherry-pick quotes from both sides to show pretty much any level of intellectual dishonesty you want – conservatives in this case since people seem to be claiming that no prominent conservative would ever call liberals traitors.

            I’m extremely skeptical either side can claim any kind of moral high ground in this regard, but continuing to argue over it just seems like a demonstration of deep commitment to the culture war described in the OP. Even with hard statistics on such stuff, it’s really only good for mudslinging and doesn’t do anything to answer questions like “which policies benefit society the most” or “how should I vote/donate/volunteer for maximum utility?”

          • Anonanon says:

            Zombielicious, where you talking about BLM denouncing (or refusing to denounce) violence in a previous thread?
            It’s OT, but apparently they are willing to denounce a cookout event.

          • anonce says:

            Why are you comparing accusations that historically have merited prosecution and death if youre lucky, ripped limb from limb if youre not, with namecalling?

            More self-soothing rationalizations from the princess-and-the-pea conservatives at SSC.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            The latter happens with far more frequency (and from far more people with less of a provocateur reputation than Ann Coulter),

            You have absolutely no way of knowing this. Even if you were somehow immune to confirmation bias– and, based on your lame protestation that the speaker of the house loudly insinuating that democrats are traitors is somehow categorically different from his actually using the word, you’re up to your ears in it– you would still need a large and random sample to establish the relative frequencies of each of these events. Which you do not have.

            Here is the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee c. 2002 accusing Tom Daschle of giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” for daring to criticize the war effort in Afghanistan. We can dispense with the pretext that this might be a “colloquial” accusation of treachery, as it quotes more-or-less verbatim the definition of treason set out in Article III of the Constitution. I look forward to hearing how it doesn’t count because the speaker doesn’t use the exact word or because he is insufficiently prominent according to some nebulous and ever-shifting definition of prominence.

            and there isn’t some colloquial meaning of “racist” that carries less bite like there is with “traitor.”

            Sure, there is. Racist =df person who routinely makes racially offensive remarks. Or, racist =df person who promotes policies that have differentially negative consequences for historically marginalized races. Or, racist =df person who subconsciously harbors bias against or buys into negative stereotypes concerning members of other races.

          • Outis says:


            Why are you comparing accusations that historically have merited prosecution and death if youre lucky, ripped limb from limb if youre not, with namecalling?

            Why are you like this? Historically, the accusation of being a Christian merited prosecution and death. What bearing does that have on 2016?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I don’t know why anonce inserted the “historically” qualifier. Treason is still a capital crime under federal law.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I should think that, in recent years, there have been more prosecutions (at least in the West) of alleged homophobes and racists than of alleged traitors.

        • “And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.”

          Paul Krugman, on global warming denial.

        • Sandy says:

          I’m pretty sure a couple of weeks back some Democrats were implying treason on the part of the Republicans for not caving in to that gun control sit-in after the Orlando massacre. “Republicans want ISIS to be armed on our streets!” was the general message.

    • Lumifer says:

      it is unequally distributed and is more prevalent on the liberal/Blue team

      There is a classic quote (don’t remember whose) that one of the big differences between the Progressives and the Conservatives is that the Progressives believe the Conservatives to be evil, but the Conservatives believe the Progressives to be stupid.

      arguments that there is NOT a CCW going on?

      For that you need an operational definition of CCW beyond “there are two camps which don’t like other”, since that has been the case since times immemorial.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        There is a classic quote (don’t remember whose) that one of the big differences between the Progressives and the Conservatives is that the Progressives believe the Conservatives to be evil, but the Conservatives believe the Progressives to be stupid.

        That seems outdated, it seems like, regardless of affiliation the perception is:
        Elites: Evil
        Grunts: Stupid and/or Evil

      • Chalid says:

        Maybe you’re thinking of the line “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” which is commonly (and erroneously) attributed to Winston Churchill.

    • bluto says:

      I can tell you that in elementary school in the 80s in Washington state Gen 1 was actively teaching that non-supporters were evil and racist to Gen 2 (they also taught recycling as a virtue).

    • Zombielicious says:

      Evidence that it is a recent phenomenon: all the stuff on rising political polarization in the U.S. For reference, Vox has a decent summary, VoteView has a lot of graphs, here’s a paper with some quantitative analysis, and Commentary magazine has a long narrative about it. A lot of it focuses on Congress, but I think that’s just easier to quantify than what’s happening with the general public.

      It seems that the highest levels of national and culture unity (or at least tolerance) come when there’s some kind of clear national crisis. Polarization is at it’s lowest levels during the Great Depression and World War Two. After that it gradually drops during periods of peace until the next big threat from outside. On the other hand, wars like Vietnam and Iraq generate high degrees of unity on at least one (maybe both) sides of the divide, but intensify polarization overall (perhaps because one group perceives a greater outside threat while the other does not?). I think this was mostly already covered in I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup.

      World War I and 9/11 are exceptions in that you don’t see much change in polarization, although you do see a big spike in Congressional approval (for 9/11). My guess is that, looking at the VoteView charts, widespread political and cultural polarization take a while to foment, so even a big event like a major terrorist attack or four year long World War don’t have enough time cause the big changes. So you only see the spike on Congressional approval, not Congressional or nationwide polarization measures.

      People seem to gradually tear themselves apart during long periods of peace. Almost everyone I know who is politically involved at all fits the described CCW tendencies really well. Neither side seems to have a particular monopoly on it. The more interesting thing is that political involvement seems to be a good predictor of culture war tendencies. The few people I know who barely even notice there’s an election going on tend to be (with exceptions) the ones who also don’t get virulently angry about how reds/blues are destroying the world.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I suspect the increased role of the Federal government has something to do with it. Back in the old days, liberal states could do liberal things, conservative states could do conservative things, people could move to a state which suited them politically, and everybody was able to more-or-less get along. Now, though, with things like the Windsor ruling and the HHS mandate, that’s no longer possible, meaning that politics is much more of a zero-sum game that it was in previous generations.

      • Bassist Pig says:

        I like that explanation, but I’m not sure I can fully believe it. People move a lot more now than they used to. And unless you’re single and young, it’s usually very hard to just up and move, and people in the past were young and single for a smaller window of their lives.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          People move a lot more than they used to, certainly, but thanks to the Federal government there’s now nowhere you can move in America to get out of proscribing abortion-inducing drugs, say, or catering for a same-sex wedding. Moving to somewhere more legally and politically amenable has never been a trivial decision, but now it’s rapidly becoming impossible.

      • TPC says:

        No, it’s mostly genetic, I’m increasingly coming to accept.

        I have started operating under an assumption that a big chunk of conservatives, enough to influence the rest, are Frontier-Americans, marrying each other over generations, deriving a great deal of their mythology from a handful of texts (not the ones you would think, as it turns out.)

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think there are two main reasons for what you are calling the cold civil war, which is really not much more than increased “party” polarization. This has not occurred over a short period of time, but rather this is the culmination of a nationwide realignment that occurred from about 1960 forward.

      One is simply the proliferation of media choices which are available nationwide. Multiple nationwide cable outlets, multiple nationwide radio networks, and finally the Internet allowed for a relatively uniform political ideology to be consumed by people who were broadly on the left and on the right. Before, the national media were not ever nakedly partisan. After, their is a proliferation of national media explicitly aligned with either party or ideological interests. Local media outlets largely become sidelined as well.

      The second is very simply that by 1964, between the civil rights act and the candidacy of Goldwater, the Southern, conservative Democrats and the Northern, Rockefeller Republicans both became increasingly distanced from their overall party platform. Over the next 40 years, Rockefeller Republicans and “blue dog” Democrats slowly die out of each party.

      The nationalization of the media allowed the ideological realignment of the parties that begins in the 60s to coalesce into two national ideological coalitions, rather than the regional coalitions of heterogenous ideological ideas which existed before.

      • Bassist Pig says:

        Before [the 1960s], the national media were not ever nakedly partisan.

        I definitely don’t agree with that. Read any random copy of the New York Times from, say, the 1920s.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          National media begins with radio, and only, I believe, once NBC and CBS emerge in the 1920s. The NYT, while still “the grey lady” and the “the paper of record”, isn’t really national media at that time because you still need physical copies to travel. The telegraph and other wire service were setup to broadcast individual stories, which local papers chose to run or not, rather than editions of a far off “national” paper.

          • Bassist Pig says:

            OK, but they were still pretty nakedly partisan.

            Journalism that tries to conceal its bias with anything more than the flimsiest of veneers has, as far as I can tell, always been the exception rather than the rule.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Large city papers, where you had multiple competing papers, and enough people in both parties? Sure.

            Small town papers where the town had “always” been Republican or Democratic, not so much. Town council issues don’t break down on national party lines and the wire stories have always been straight facts (with, perhaps an establishment bent plus the willingness to feed the desire for sensational stories).

            City mouse/country mouse is an old tale. There is not much new there, but rural areas were never essentially dominated nationwide by one party before.

            You are asking why things feels so polarized on a national level now, when they did not “before”, and I am giving you mechanisms by which this came about.

            I mean look at the NC legislature. It was one party rule essentially unbroken from the end of reconstruction until 2010. It was the last Old South state to flip state house alliance from Democrat to Republican. Now that is has finally flipped, the Republcians have a super-majority in both houses. The fairly liberal areas of the state (Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte (in presidential years), Asheville, Wilmington) needed help from more conservative areas that still voted Democratic because the party was largely a one party state. You see that in the pattern of not voting Democratic for president (except Carter) from the CRA forward, yet the statehouse still being Democratic. Liberal and conservative Democrats worked together inside the party within the state.

            After 2010, there are no right of center democrats left in the statehouse and the Republicans dominate. Your are left with an ideological division that now aligns along party lines.

      • JDG1980 says:

        Before, the national media were not ever nakedly partisan.

        Throughout most of American history, nakedly partisan media was the norm. It was the post-WWII period of striving for objectivity that was the aberration, and that is now pretty much over.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Nakedly partisan local media, which is my point.

          This led to local parties which were far more attuned to local issues, where Western Republicans, Midwest Republicans and Northeast Republicans all had different ideological bents and Southeastern Republicans barely existed.

          National conventions were as much an exercise in addressing which regions issues would hold sway as arguing about which ideological issues would. Liberal Republicans absolutely existed and even gained power from time to time nationally, and Northeast Republicans (Rockefeller Republicans) were broadly liberal.

          All of these factors played out for the Democrats as well.

          There wasn’t any consensus on ideological positions which united members of the parties from coast to coast.

  31. Sandy says:

    Sally Kohn (sorry) has a tweet up about the semi-infamous 1929 New York Times article where the NYT claimed Hitler’s anti-semitism was “not so genuine” and he was just using it to rile up his base, as proof that “many of history’s most hateful and violent dictators at first seemed reasonable” — an obvious reference to Trump or at least the paranoia surrounding him. It seems like that article is more accurately an indication that the intelligentsia and ruling elite are often completely clueless about ground realities while they’re trying to push their own narratives —- as early as 1925, Hitler had published a book arguing that the Jews would have to be exterminated en masse to remove the “Hebrew poison” from the fatherland, which goes far beyond anything Trump has ever said and can scarcely be mistaken for an insincere belief.

    • Anonymous says:

      Whereas the masses are what–knowledgable, brilliant, and wise?

      This whole anti-elitism thing is just one faction of elites cynically manipulating the masses in order to try to seize power from a different faction. That the masses eat it up is just move evidence they ended up where they belong.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This is basically the fallacy of the undistributed middle, or probabilistically, reversing your dependent and independent variables.

      Suppose you’re accused of DWI. You say you’ve only had two drinks all night (for the sake of argument assume that wouldn’t put you over the limit). The judge says, mostly accurately, “that’s what all the drunks say” and finds you guilty. This is wrong because P(claim 2 drinks | drunk) does not determine P(drunk | claim 2 drinks). Even if all drunks claim 2 drinks, nearly all those who claim 2 drinks could be innocent.

      Similarly here. P(Hitler | ‘just riling up his base’) is not determined by P(‘just riling up his base’| Hitler). Especially not when there’s only one Hitler. But even if that argument had been made about all evil racist types, it still wouldn’t say anything about the next person. Perhaps that argument gets made about everyone, for instance.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Perhaps that argument gets made about everyone, for instance.

        “And once everyone is Hitler… then no one will be.”

        Given that the sort of people warning about how Trump is Hitler said the same thing about every GOP officeholder going back to Eisenhower, it’s not surprising they get tuned out.

        • The Boy Who Cried Wolf problem.

          • Chalid says:

            Obviously the usual overused attack on liberals is “socialist” and perhaps that made Bernie Sanders’ seem more acceptable this cycle. Applied to the Clintons, it’s probably the decades of Republican accusations of lawbreaking and scandal?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Chalid: For this nomination season, “socialist” was to Sanders what “racist” is to Trump. I remember 10 years ago or so, the general perception was that being seen as “socialist” was a kiss of death for a Democrat seeking the nomination.

            The Clintons probably benefit from the idea that all politicians are generally corrupt – “oh, Bill/Hillary did sketchy things x,y, and z, but what do you expect, they’re politicians”.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Surely the fact that Sanders self-identifies as a socialist, while Trump does not self-identify as a racist makes a difference, no?

            The general right-wing complaint has been that the Democrats are basically just socialists. So when they vote for a literal, admitted socialist, doesn’t that show that the wolf really was there? If Trump claimed to be a racist, there would be symmetry, but he doesn’t.

          • Adam says:

            Bernie Sanders has never been elected to office as a candidate of the Democratic Party.

          • Zombielicious says:

            There’s also some irony in that, while Sanders self-identifies as “(democratic) socialist,” he’s pretty clearly not a socialist by the standard definition (from Merriam-Webster: “a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies”). He’s a European-style liberal who wants higher gradients on the tax system and a Scandinavian-style social safety net – not to nationalize major industries and model everything off Venezuela.

            With Trump, on the other hand, it’s hard to make a serious case that he’s not promoting and exploiting racism, even if he formally denies the racist label.

          • Chalid says:

            I suspect that Republican attacks actually made the socialist label (if not actual socialist policies) much more popular within the Democratic party in the end. When things like bank regulation and progressive taxation get labelled as socialist then the popularity of those policies rubs off on the word “socialism.”

          • Anonymous says:


            That’s a point that’s occurred to me before. If you repeatedly make false claims that your political opponents are doing Unspeakable Thing X, and the result isn’t that they are immediately shamed into ending their career but instead that they carry on as before, plausibly that makes Unspeakable Thing X more speakable – since it’s already been done, several times, as we know from everyone having claimed that to be the case. So what does it matter if someone does it again, but openly admits to it this time?


            I’m under the impression that he wants to move healthcare and higher education in a more nationalized direction. In any case, it seems a bit dishonest to say he prefers the policies of Scandinavian countries, when in fact he only prefers their policies that involve wealth redistribution, and rejects their policies that involve free markets.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Eh, with healthcare you may have a point, via the proposed Medicare expansion, but I don’t think the college tuition thing qualifies since it’s not really nationalizing the universities, just reimbursing people for their tuition (correction – making tuition free at already public universities). I took the Medicare expansion for granted as “not nationalization,” since it’s similar to what other countries already have, and most wouldn’t take Canada and Australia as socialist countries.

            I technically said he wants a Scandinavian-style social safety net, not all their policies, but I’d be curious which of their free market policies he’s specifically rejected…? Not that I agree with everything Sanders says, but the “Venezuela” comparisons are clear straw-mans when the more apropos ones are places like Denmark, France, or Norway. All of which run on free market systems, with varying degrees of regulation and safety nets built on top.

  32. Anonymous says:

    What are some tips and advice for entrepreneurship that SSC has?

    • notes says:

      Cash and income are very different things. Running out of cash is the easiest way to fail. Maintain cash reserves sufficient for years of operation if possible, and make your way to positive cash flow as quickly as possible.

      Fail fast, and iterate. Have some way of deciding whether a given project is going anywhere early, if possible.

      Look for asymmetrically distributed risks. When the company/your house/the farm is literally at stake, try to find options where the pessimistic case is being ok and the optimistic case is being good, even at the expense of lowering the optimistic case. Even at the expense of lowering the expected value across all cases.

    • drethelin says:

      My dad’s go-to piece of advice is to find a bottleneck in your field and solve it. If you have expertise in an area, you can probably point to one or more parts of the process that slow everything down, whether it’s data gathering, protein purification, or bug hunting. If this bottleneck generalizes to the industry as a whole or even a significant subset, a solution is extremely valuable, AND there’s a ready-made market.

  33. Nonymous says:

    Though Silicon Valley has well-known problems with diversity in its work force, people here pride themselves on a kind of militant open-mindedness. It is the kind of place that will severely punish any deviations from accepted schools of thought — see how Brendan Eich, the former chief executive of Mozilla, was run out of his job after it became public that he had donated to a campaign opposed to gay marriage.

    This paragraph surprised me. After thinking for a minute, I decided it was because this was the first time I’d ever seen the Times suggest that maybe someone was being too left wing. (Well, modulo conservative columnists.)

    • Outis says:

      He wouldn’t call it “open-mindedness”, militant or not, if he were saying what you think he is saying.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I think “open-mindedness” was meant to be ironic, given that the author says in the very next sentence that “It is the kind of place that will severely punish any deviations from accepted schools of thought” — IOW, that it’s actually the opposite of open-minded.

        • Anonymous says:

          “Open-minded” can generally be replaced by “open to accepting my position as true” in most political settings.

    • Zombielicious says:

      They pretty continually suggested Sanders was “too left wing” for them throughout his entire campaign (both columnists and editors).

      My take on that is there’s a divide between “east coast liberals” and “west coast liberals,” with the east coast types being farther on the authoritarian spectrum (soda bans and the anti-BDS boycott stuff), and the west coast types being farther on the libertarian end (drug legalization and startups battling regulatory burdens). Thiel, as a Trump-supporting libertarian SV billionaire, makes a good rallying point in the turf war.

      • BBA says:

        Not disagreeing with you, but those are some odd examples of east coast liberal authoritarianism. As far as I can tell, the only significant attempt at a soda ban was Michael Bloomberg’s in NYC, which nobody (including Bloomberg) really wanted. The first choice for Bloomberg and other nanny-staters was a soda tax but it couldn’t get through the state legislature. So instead he had the city health board – which at that point consisted entirely of Bloomberg appointees – ban large sodas in restaurants, which was conceivably within the board’s authority but which most observers, left and right, considered ridiculous. By the time a court ruled that the health board could not in fact ban large sodas, Bloomberg was out of office and nobody else wanted to pursue it further.

        As for the anti-BDS stuff, that’s certainly authoritarian and supported by many east coast liberals, but it’s aimed primarily at people even further left than they are. Outside the Jacobin crowd, that’s not really a central example of “liberal authoritarianism” which you’d expect to be aimed at conservatives.

        • Zombielicious says:

          That was my intention with anti-BDS: centrist liberals (typified by the NYT) pretty regularly attack the further-left, not unlike the relationship between establishment conservatives and the alt-right. Fair point on the soda tax.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            On the soda-tax front, I think it’s also worthwhile to make explicit that Bloomberg is not a liberal.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          As for the anti-BDS stuff, that’s certainly authoritarian

          If it’s okay for the state to boycott Israel (as BDS advocates), why isn’t it okay for the state to boycott Israel boycotters?

          • Zombielicious says:

            Hypocritical is different from authoritarian. It’s authoritarian because it’s the state telling you not just who you can choose to do business with (typical with embargoes and sanctions, which are already authoritarian), but who you can choose not to as well. Plus the BDS stuff is being done by private organizations and individuals, at least for now, compared to anti-BDS being an executive order from the governor. One could also argue it’s support for authoritarianism in Israel.

            (Not that I really want to take a strong position on the issue, just tried to pick an example of the perceived libertarian-liberal / authoritarian-liberal divide.)

  34. The original Mr. X says:

    So, I’ve recently finished reading War and Peace and War: The Life-Cycles of Imperial Nations by Peter Turchin. Has anybody else read it? It seems like the kind of geeky, erudite book that would appeal to SSC readers. (Come to think of it, it would be good if Scott did a review, if he takes suggestions on this sort of thing.)

    Basically, Turchin’s main idea is that the rise and fall of empires is determined by what he calls their “asabiyyah”, which is basically a group’s solidarity and cohesiveness. Members of groups with high asabiyyah are generally more willing to sacrifice their own personal interests for the group as a whole. Because the best way of promoting group solidarity is by giving people a common enemy to unite against, asabiyyah tends to be highest along major cultural fault-lines, which Turchin calls “metaethnic frontiers”. Occasionally one such group manages to go on a conquering spree, subjugating the lower-asabiyyah groups around it and creating an empire. This expansion, however, carries within itself the seeds of its own downfall: as the borders are pushed back further and further from the imperial nation’s homeland, the perceived need to unite against threatening foreigners diminishes, and the rulers’ asabiyyah starts to decline. Eventually it declines so much that the imperial power is no longer able to maintain its empire, which splits apart or is conquered by another, higher-asabiyyah, group.

    A full asabiyya-conquest-fall cycle can take up to a millennium to play out, but there are also shorter secular cycles which take place over a period of two to four centuries. These are caused in agrarian nations (which the book is chiefly concerned with) by Malthusian cycles of overpopulation. A period of peace leads to general prosperity and rising population, but eventually population growth starts to outstrip available food and labour, causing food prices to go up and wages to go down. At first this results in a golden age for the nobility, who are able to make more money from the produce of their estates and get away with paying their peasants less, leaving them more income to spend on big palaces and other things nobility tend to like. Eventually, however, overpopulation starts to hit the nobility too, as there are no longer enough high-prestige positions to go round and reduced estate sizes start threatening many with a loss of status. The result is an increasingly fierce competition for scarce resources, leading to a prolonged period of instability and even civil war. Eventually this problem self-corrects, as losses in civil conflicts reduce population pressure, and the cycle starts again.

    For me, the strongest part of Turchin’s thesis is the way it explains the historical differences between Chinese and European history. China, of course, has been divided and re-united multiple times in its history, whereas no power has been able to do so in Europe after the Carolingians. The usual explanation given for this is geography: whereas the Chinese heartland is basically a big plain, Europe is full of mountains and seas and peninsulas, meaning that the continent is full of natural choke-points and difficult for any invader to conquer. However, such a theory is difficult to justify. Seas can divide as well as unite (and historically the Mediterranean did just that, when it served as the highway along which Greek culture was spread to different lands), and whilst Spain and Italy are mountainous peninsulas, the entire north of the continent from Brest to Moscow is basically one big plain without many natural barriers. Turchin’s explanation is that, in China, climactic reasons meant that Chinese-style agriculture could never work on the steppes, meaning that for millennia the meta-ethnic frontier between the settled agriculturalists of China and the nomadic herders of Mongolia remained more-or-less stable, resulting in consistently high levels of asabiyyah. (Incidentally, this would also explain why China was almost always unified from north to south rather than vice versa.) In Europe, on the other hand, the spread of Roman culture and Catholic Christianity pushed the meta-ethnic frontier away to the edges of Europe. Hence the high-asabiyya groups were all on the margins, and whenever any of them tried to expand into the centre of the European meta-ethnic region they were resisted by other groups from the frontiers. Hence their efforts all ended up cancelling each other out, and although many tried no one group was able to conquer all or most of Europe.

    So far, so good. But, whilst the idea that countries’ success or failure is dependent on their asabiyyah is a plausible one (at least to me), I personally think that Turchin doesn’t give enough emphasis to factors other than meta-ethnic frontiers in the development of asabiyyah. For example, Turchin says that France was united from the north rather than the south because of the asabiyyah the northerners had developed fighting off the Viking raiders. Maybe, but that doesn’t explain why France’s biggest period of military glory didn’t come along until the time of Napoleon almost eight hundred years later, by which point their asabiyyah should have been seriously degraded. Similarly, the English/British Empire didn’t get started till the 17th century, and didn’t become a major player until the 18th, although again, they hadn’t been on a meta-ethnic frontier since the 11th. In these cases, it would probably be better to lay the credit for the two nations’ high asabiyyah on ideological factors (liberte, egalite, fraternite, and the Rights of Englishmen, in both cases opposed to autocratic monarchy) and (at least in England’s case) political factors as well (a bigger role for Parliament means that you can solve your grievances without resorting to an asabiyya-destroying civil war).

    One final thing: the book’s main focus is on pre-industrial countries, although Turchin does spend a couple of chapters trying to apply the theory to the modern day as well. The general conclusion is that it’s difficult to tell how far the theories developed in WAPAW apply to modern nations, although the author does point out that our society today, with its increasing gap between rich and poor, stagnant or falling wages on the bottom end of the scale, and elite overproduction (in the form of credential inflation) bears all the hallmarks of an incipient secular disintegrative cycle. I think he may well be right in that.

    So, those are my thoughts on the book. Anyone else have anything to say, either about the book itself or my summary of it?

    • Sandy says:

      I don’t see why French asabiyyah should have been degraded by the eighteenth century. They had plenty of common enemies to unite against during those 800 years. They were at war with England alone for 116 years. They briefly had some Catholic-Protestant infighting that threatened to get out of hand, but it was resolved fairly quickly in favor of the Catholics. As for why their greatest military glories didn’t come along for 800 years, it may be that Napoleon was just that great a tactician, or it may be that Napoleon’s campaigns exacerbated and were accompanied by asabiyya-destroying internal conflicts among his enemies, such as the chaos and disintegration within Prussia and the Holy Roman Empire.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Well, Turchin’s argument is that empire-winning asabiyya can only come about on meta-ethnic frontiers, so fighting against the English shouldn’t have been sufficient.

  35. I just watched the original Ghostbusters for the first time since it came out. It’s striking how much quotable dialogue there was. I’ve been told that as a result of the international market, less work has been put into movie dialogue (not sure when this started, but I don’t think movies are as snappy as they were).

    Having seen a mention of how engaging the practical special effects were, I was watching for them. In that sad era before CGI, if you wanted an egg to wiggle, you had to wiggle it. I think the thing that really worked was the street breaking up.

    I hated Venkman– he’s a genuine sleaze, and if I try applying logic to the story, it doesn’t make sense that he ended up doing useful work. What we need is the Atlas Shrugged version where the people who actually know things get rid of him, though the plot needs to be tweaked so that we don’t lose NYC in the process.

    Anyway, the movie is at least PUA-adjacent. This time around, I noticed that Sigourney Weaver ignores low-status men, but takes up with Venkman when he becomes famous. I also noticed how much Moranis is dumped on.

    The movie is more feminist than some other things I could name– there’s a decent amount of respect for female agency. The other thing I could name was White Nights, which you should definitely see for the dancing.

    Hudson (the black guy) is an interesting case. He doesn’t end up dead. He isn’t notable for panicking. He’s actually got better sense than the white Ghostbusters. On the other hand, he doesn’t win much of anything, either.

    There’s some weird stuff that I can’t parse– why is Zul gender-ambiguous? Maybe it has something to do with cats and dogs living together.

    Also, religion is present but irrelevant. This isn’t the Christian apocalypse (which, by the way, is in the New Testament, not the Old Testament). Religious people show up, but can’t do anything useful. See also The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Wallace and Gromit)– recommended in general, but is in this discussion for a (very British?) bit where the parson is benign and ridiculous.

    As has become common in fiction, the happy ending is one couple. Once upon a time (The Magic Flute), the happy ending would be a high status couple and a low status couple. The old days were probably better in this respect. I may be generalizing from too few data points.

    Anyway, I’ve obviously invited discussion of gender and race, but I do think focusing on them gets claustrophobic– I’m definitely interested in other angles for analysis.

    I’m planning to see the new movie. I wasn’t going to bother because the trailers bored me, but I’ve seen a bunch of enthusiastic reviews, one of which said it was an adventure movie with some comic bits rather than a comedy.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’d be interested in your take on the new version, which I’m probably not going to see. Certainly a remake of Ghostbusters can be done as mostly action with a bit of comedy, but then keeping the title, casting well-known comedic actresses, and advertising it as a comedy are all strange choices. Maybe they just stumbled into something that works and didn’t understand what they were doing?

      The original being highly quotable and generally well-written, yes, absolutely. I don’t know that movies being made for the foreign market is making this sort of thing less common today, but it is certainly plausible. And lamentable if true. I’m generally in favor of free trade and globalism, but some things do need to be tailored to local markets, and comedy may be near the top of the list.

      And I think the opening scene makes it clear that Venkman was meant to be seen as a sleaze. But a mostly-harmless sleaze with agency. Everyone else, while they may know what needs to be done, are too worried about whether it will work or what other people will think to actually do it. That’s more than common enough in the real world, as is the bit where the guy who gets things done is the one who doesn’t care what other people think, doesn’t mind failing most of the time, and isn’t above stealing other peoples’ ideas. In fiction, you can make tragedy or comedy from those ingredients.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Seconding interest in your take when you see the new version.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        It’s important to remember that Venkman is played by Bill Murray and is therefore an 80s Bill Murray character, who were all loveable sleazes. Every single one of them, even the groundskeeper in Caddyshack, is loveable but fairly sociopathic if taken literally.

        • I’m not sure what good it does to know that Murray kept playing that sort of character. From my point of view, Venkman isn’t remotely lovable. I can see he’s presented as someone the audience is supposed to care about, but that just makes me wonder what people could possibly be thinking.

          It may be something about The Rules, where the problem is that some of The Rules are pointless tyranny, and some of The Rules actually make it easier for people to live well with each other, and after a while, the amount of pointless tyranny leads to people hating some of the rules which are actually benign.

          Or maybe there’s a large middle area where The Rules discourage initiative which sometimes pays off and sometimes is just abusive behavior– Ghostbusters is set up to be based on that premise.

          • John Schilling says:

            Some of the Rules are about avoiding worst-case scenarios, which are guaranteed not to occur on a Hollywood Comedy Flick. If 1980s Bill Murray tries one of his sleazy tricks to get a woman to sleep with him, p=1.00 that the woman will be one who can either effortlessly shoot him down and humiliate him or ultimately enjoy a romantic fling with 1980s Bill Murray. Or both. The rules we have to protect women from e.g. being pressured into a sexual relationship they don’t want by a sleaze in a position of authority, aren’t needed because we have screenwriters instead.

            As wish-fulfillment fantasies go, living in a rule where we don’t have those rules because we don’t need those rules is a pretty good one. Provided everyone involved understands the difference between movies and reality, of course.

    • hlynkacg says:

      It’s interesting that you on bring up the PUA angle, I hadn’t really noticed it myself but now that you mention it, it’s kind of obvious isn’t it? That said I think you may be scratching the surface of some thing a bit deeper. Ghostbusters is an incredibly “class/status conscious” movie and not in the “lets romanticize the hard working salt-of-the-earth” way typical of Hollywood but in the sense that heroes are low status working class schmucks with working class problems while the villains are rich hotel owners, obstructive bureaucrats, and unspeakable elder-beings. Venkeman may be a scumbag but as John Schilling notes, he’s “our scumbag” and he fulfils a critical narrative purpose.

      Mam, I’ll believe anything you ask me to, so long as there’s a steady paycheck involved” Clearly the most sensible man in the room given the circumstances. 😉