Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

OT55: Thready For Hillary

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

1. I think some named users are posting more controversial comments anonymously. I’d like to request people not do this, because I IP ban anonymous accounts on a hair-trigger, and if I IP ban your anonymous account then your real account also suffers. I think this is why a lot of people’s posts haven’t been showing up lately. I try to take people’s past history of posting interesting things into account before I ban them for a single violation, but if you’re anonymous I can’t do that and you’re kind of out of luck.

2. I’m actually considering banning anonymous commenting on here, because getting rid of the crappy anonymouses sometimes feels like trying to fill a leaky bucket. How angry would this make people?

3. It would also help if I knew how to make Akismet (the anti-spam program) realize that someone with a thousand previous good posts probably isn’t going to start being a spambot today just because they cited a few links. This seems like the absolute basics for a Bayesian spam filter, but I can’t seem to get Akismet to figure it out. I’d be willing to buy a premium account if it had this function. Does anybody know anything about this.

4. Can anyone think of any soft “nudge” style ways to steer open thread conversation here away from specific topics without banning them completely. Right now the best I can do is censor some of the most annoying words and force anyone who wants to discuss annoying things to come up with trivially inconvenient workarounds, but that’s a pretty irritating solution.

5. Comment of the week is by Z, who went through that Romanian study a whole lot more thoroughly than I did, though without any clearer result.

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2,123 Responses to OT55: Thready For Hillary

  1. Said Achmiz says:

    Yes, please ban anonymous commenting. Please. I sincerely think this would be amazing. I really, really hope you decide to do this.

    • Emma Casey says:

      Seconded. We are not limited by insufficient posts here. We are not even limiited by a lack of diverse views. Anons don’t seem to be adding much more than entropy.

    • Black Mountain Radio says:

      Normally I would say “no” to banning anonymous commenting, but there are a few good reasons to get rid of it.
      1) Thread readability: Gets rid of multi-anon posts
      2) The “registration” for SSC is a very low barrier to entry, so it’s not likely to scare even semi-serious posters away.
      That being said, you should probably keep it in that it preserves a certain atmosphere which encourages the posting of “outrageous” thoughts (if that’s what you’re going for).

    • Xeno of Citium says:

      Please ban anonymous comments. They almost never provide any useful or even interesting comments and they’re way more often disruptive than pseudonymous commentors.

    • Tibor says:

      I am not quite sure how one can actually go about banning anonymous comments. What if someone uses a different name each time? I guess you could have a system where users have to register themselves before posting and setting up a new account for every post would deter most anonymous posters. Plus if you limit one e-mail address to one account and send a confirmation e-mail on registration, they would have to set up extra e-mail accounts as well, which would deter a lot of them.

      That level of protection might however also deter people who’d like to post unanonymously (with a pseudonym or a real name) and don’t like setting up an account and memorizing a password. It would also mean quite a lot of work for Scott or whoever manages the forum.

      Personally, I’m quite agnostic about banning anonymous posters. If I find some posts stupid or irritating then I just skip them. The absence of anonymous users would make such filtering easier I guess, but from time to time there is an anonymous poster with something interesting to say. Then again, I don’t read most of the posts anyway (I guess nobody does when there are often more than a thousand of them every three or four days), so I would hardly notice. I also get that the website is linked to Scott and he wants to keep it a certain way because of that – with anonymous posters, it is harder.

    • Agronomous says:

      In the interests of getting anonymous commenters to convert to being pseudonymous commenters, here’s a list of (possibly) good pseudonyms I’ve been amassing:

      Rocky Biloba
      Nekomancer (zombie kitty?)
      Nod. Get Treat.
      Great Beast in Shadow
      Agley Gang
      Agley Aft Gang
      Remorhaz Kabob
      A.k.a. K.a.k.
      Running Amonk
      Ipsos Custodes
      John Slides
      Miserable Breader
      It’s a sove
      Literally Voldemort
      A More Wretched Hive
      Alonzo Mosely
      Raymond Kertezc
      Bear with Sunglasses
      Doing Science
      Still Alive
      Inukai’s Last Words
      Against the Watch
      Grill Marxist
      Loudness in Spinning Things
      Nigerian Astronaut
      Formula 419
      Eugene Goostman
      Efficient Meerkat (from a Scott tweet)
      Experimental Eschatologist (“)
      Medianing of Life (retweet)
      Not a Real Libertarian
      Prisoner of Zen
      Majorca’s Mask
      Internet of Thenns
      Cartesian Bear
      Nand to Tetris
      Pizza Pirate
      Bezeled Bevel (from the XKCD Phone comic)
      Japanese Apology Template
      Dialetheist (from dialetheism)
      Fuzzy Logic Slippers
      Vic Colfari (if you know this one, I’m in awe)
      Eye of the Liger
      Altruis Em
      Machine Bias
      Overton’s Windowsill
      Lontana da Scienza
      And Cake.
      Weighted Companion Cube

      Feel free to ask about any of them and ruin the exclusivity of any in-jokes.

      • Nornagest says:

        Could take a page from Elon Musk’s book and use Culture shipnames. Always liked those.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Then we’ll have a whole bunch of “Meatfuckers”, because that’s the way Anons roll.

          • Nornagest says:

            This is why we can’t have nice things.

            I mean, you could at least go for “Falling Outside the Usual Moral Constraints”.

        • Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing Gentle Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath says:

          Worth considering.

      • Nornagest says:

        …aw, someone already took “Defective Altruist”.

        “Elective Altruist” seems to be free, though.

        Accelerating Interns
        A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things
        A Form You Might Find Comfortable
        Hold My Beer and Watch This
        Not Dead but Dreaming
        Fence Sitter
        Shiny Metal Ass

      • Cypher says:

        Five Philosophers on a Railroad Track
        I Always Defect
        Google/Skynet 2016
        Actually, I’m the Trolley
        Paperclip Optimizer
        I’m an Actor, not a Doctor
        Non-Player Caricature

      • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

        Cypher, your “Actually, I’m the Trolley” name calls to mind Corey Mohler’s Existential Comics, which is a never-failing source of great names, like Trolley Madness 🙂

        Philosopher under the Bed (#144)
        Robbery at the Wittgenstein Bank (#141)
        Freudian Product Testing (#138)
        Marxist Business Consulting (#136)
        The French Play Monopoly (#135)
        Good Cop, Pragmatist About
           the Nature of Truth Cop
        Philosophy News Network:
           the Presidential Debates
        Skeptiholics Anonymous (#93)

        Not to mention, hilarious merch (t-shirts) !

    • Some dude says:

      No idea what banning anonymous commenting would do, since as far as I can tell I can just put any name and e-mail into the boxes. I agree that it would increase thread readability if everyone had different names though.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        .. Even with trivial pseudonyms, banning anons tends to increase the quality of discourse, because a lot of trolls are just too damn lazy to make up new pseudonyms every time they want to post. It’s a very low bar, and it still works as a fence.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      When I have something to say that I don’t want under my name, I make up a Name and add +something to my Email. I don’t know how wordpress handles this, but it (might) make it more apparent to Scott that this is still me without going public.

      Not sure how this fits into policies.

  2. Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

    2. I’m actually considering banning anonymous commenting on here, because getting rid of the crappy anonymouses sometimes feels like trying to fill a leaky bucket. How angry would this make people?

    I’d miss it, but understand. The problem is how would you go about it, it’s not like there’s an easy way to prevent people from posting with a throwaway email and “A.N. Onymous” as a name.

    • Spencer Warriner says:

      À barrier of inconvenience is going to be enough to ward off low-effort trolls, though.

      • Lumifer says:

        But it’s really high-effort trolls that are a problem.

      • Letmepost Letmepostsky says:

        A barrier of inconvenience is going to be enough to ward off low-effort good posters too.

      • Shieldfoss says:

        To post as Shieldfoss: type “Shieldfoss” in the Name field and if you want the same avatar as Shieldfoss, the email address that I’ve been using in goes the email field.

        To post anonymously: Type “Anonymous” in the Name field, type [random]@[random].[random] in the email field.

        They are the exact same level of effort.

        And, incidentally, I value the ability to post anonymously. I have occasional opinions that I believe are true but would rather not take the reputation hit of posting under my name. I recognize that this might one day catch me a zero-warnings ban – I would prefer to accept that risk and keep the ability to post Anon.

        • nope says:

          I think that if allowing anonymous commenting is required to maintain intellectual diversity, it’s probably a good thing. However, I’m not really convinced that it is. There are lots of things that could offend general or community-specific sensibilities that need to be said, but won’t be taken seriously if not said in the right way. I think anonymous commenting encourages people to communicate lazily in that sense, rather than having to do the work of figuring out how to frame something sensitive such that more people will respond in a constructive way. Of course, if you’re not optimizing for discourse quality, that isn’t going to persuade you. What are you optimizing for?

        • Shieldfoss says:

          hey it’s me, you.

        • If you post with a pseudonym and an email address that you don’t use for anything else, how likely are you to have that account connected to your real world identity?

          Sidetrack: how recognizable do you think you are online? I’ve had people tell me they could hear my voice when they read what I post.

          • Lumifer says:

            If you post with a pseudonym and an email address that you don’t use for anything else, how likely are you to have that account connected to your real world identity?

            By regular people, not very likely. By people wielding legal instruments (e.g. subpoenas), very likely. By the three-letter agencies in case you arouse their interest, quite likely.

            how recognizable do you think you are online?

            In the context of a particular forum (and unless I take pains to masquerade), fairly so, I think. Somewhere else on the internet where you don’t expect to see me, not much. By stylometry, depends on the amount of text available, but probably quite well.

          • My style is distinctive enough that at least one person I know IRL has recognized me from it.

      • anony mouse says:


        this wasn’t even hard. and what would you possibly do to deter trolls from just, uh, entering a name into the field? I don’t see any log in button and I don’t even see a log out button, so I can’t be logged in already. Hell, you’re required to enter a name, so what does it mean “anonymous”? I suppose you can literally ban people with the name “anonymous” but why on earth would that significantly deter anyone looking to shit up comments or say silly things?

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I would like to point out, in case it hasn’t been, that anonymous posting lets people post who would be physically threatened if their identity were known. OTOH, I do not recall seeing anyone take advantage of this in the recent past, so any impact I can see this having is perhaps only theoretical. (Occasionally SSC touches on sensitives subjects like minority rights in places where the minority faces very real consequences if they have to ID. Is there a workaround?)

  3. The Nybbler says:

    Annoying anonymouses would just start posting with names like “Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin”. So unless you go with registration, verification, etc, you probably won’t slow it much.

    Do you check the owner of IPs before IP-banning? If you’ve been IP-banning corporate egress IPs, collateral damage is likely. And IP-banning dynamic IPs will also result in random collateral damage. (I have a static IP, but I know enough to anonymously snipe from mobile if I care to).

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Or “Uncle Ilya”, if they wanted to avoid a ban.
      It doesn’t seem like it would raise the standard of discourse at all, but it would certainly get rid of the multi-anon threads that are so difficult to read. It also wouldn’t prevent samefagging, which is a particularly annoying form of anon-commenting.

      WordPress comment systems really are terrible. If only Scott could move the whole thing over to an imageboard format.

    • Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin says:

      Apparently, I’m incredibly open to suggestion.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’m ok with stopping the flow of anons, but I think how it is implemented is going to matter a lot. A few possibilities off the top of my head:

      Whitelisted emails, with all current commenters automatically whitelisted.
      Pro: no trivial inconvenience for everybody who already posts.
      Con: barrier of entry for newbs. Requires Scott to closely monitor his inbox to let in acceptable newbs.

      Pro: probably inconvenient enough to kill most of the annoying anons.
      Con: inconvenient for all current commenters, too (see how much less traffic the subreddit gets). But we’re so chatty by now that we probably could take the hit.
      Other Con: Registration where? Does everybody have to register with wordpress, or with this specific site? I could see people not wanting to do one or the other.

      • brad says:

        I think the first step is probably just banning the names “anonymous”, “Anonymous”, “Anon” and perhaps a few others from the name field.

        It’s hard to see much con there. Maybe we’ll see a lot of names like “opikmoierj” but it’ll still be easier to keep track of than gravatars (at least for me).

        • Anonymous says:

          A decent number of anons change gravatars every thread or even every post. Should they choose to not respect our host’s decision to ban anonymous posting by using gibberish instead of a proper nick, they’ll likely also choose to scramble that gibberish every couple posts.

          That gravatar thing is by the way why I think the a*@gm*.com ban was a poor decision. Half of the purpose of the purple avatar was to make it obvious to naive readers that the relationship between unique anon avatars and posters isn’t 1:1.

          • brad says:

            Okay, but still not seeing any downside. Is the argument that those gibberish names are aesthetically displeasing?

            On the upside even if omni-defectors choose to scramble every few posts that still reduces the possibility of one type of error (confusing two different anons for the same person) even if it still leaves open the possibility of another type of error (confusing the same anon for two different people).

          • Anonymous says:

            Anonposting operates under slightly different rules than normal posting, and that’s why it’s good for it to be clearly marked as such. I intend to stop posting if Scott bans anonposting, respecting the spirit of his command, but if others continue posting using gibberish to obey the letter but not the spirit of the law, then you still have anonposting, just with the clear label that was meant to convey “this is a no-reputation-staked anonpost” removed.

            As for the types of error, there aren’t two types. The error is of one type, and you’ve committed it as soon as you try to connect anonymous posts to each other. They’re anonymous, and the purple avatar was the best way of sending that message, that you’re not supposed to be trying to guess how many people are arguing for you or against you and whether your side is the majority or not.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The second type error is a lot easier to manage, our regular anons (including this one) tend to have fairly recognizable posting habits and syntax.

    • Cosmonaut Gherman Titov says:

      Recent research indicates that banning anonymity is likely to increase toxicity in the discourse. It’s very disappointing to see Slate Star Codex consider banning anonymity. This place seems to be suffering a modest intellectual decline.

  4. Izaak Weiss says:

    One of the things that I think might separate the hard sciences from the softer sciences is that there are large bodies of knowledge that every physicist, chemist, and biologist agrees on; they aren’t controversial. What sort of large bodies of knowledge[1] does softer fields such as Sociology or Economics have that aren’t disagreed upon within the professionals of the field?

    For example, there seem to be less of a common ground between Keynesian economists and Austrian economists than between Many World physicists and Hidden Variable physicists.

    [1] I want to distinguish between ‘knowledge’ as a set of facts and ‘knowledge’ as a set of theories. A set of facts might be thought of as being able to list the results of a thousand experiements; a set of theories enables someone to predict the results of a novel experiment with some level of accuracy.

    • cassander says:

      I’d say more it’s large bodies of knowledge “utterly empirically verifiable” rather than agreed upon.

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        But the thing is that anyone can claim that their knowledge is empirically verifiable. But the only way to know if an economist is right about the economy, or a physicist is right about electrons, without setting up expensive experiments, is to look at academic consensus.

        • cassander says:

          Can claim, yes. But the hard sciences don’t just claim, they can predict the future. They can tell me when the next eclipse will be or what will happen if I mix these two chemicals with extreme precision. Sociology and gender studies have nothing like that.

          • Izaak Weiss says:

            Did you read my initial question? I was formulating that exact theory and asking if anyone had any counterexamples.

          • Kingmaker says:

            They can tell me when the next eclipse will be or what will happen if I mix these two chemicals with extreme precision.

            Some can. Some cannot. Seismologists and Meteorologists, for example, make probabilistic predictions and are frequently wrong, even though they have pretty good theory to explain their subject matter and are generally considered “hard” sciences. Making specific predictions about chaotic systems is hard, and it gets harder the further in the future you are trying to forecast.

            Sociology suffers from sociologists being bad at math being a poor cousin to economics a subject matter that is difficult to model mathematically and ideologically loaded, but in principle there is no reason it should be any different in terms of being able to generate good theoretical explanations.

          • Tibor says:

            @Kingmaker: I agree, but I would say that in fact the math literacy among sociologists really is rather bad. I don’t see it as a problem of the sociologists though but rather as an opportunity for more division of labour. It is obvious that an average sociologist is not going to understand statistics as well as an average statistician, nor should they be required to I think (mainly because when people are required to know something they don’t really want to learn, they don’t learn it properly anyway).

            Sociologists should simply cooperate with (applied) statisticians much more than they do, perhaps even make it a standard thing to have a few applied statisticians in your department who don’t even have to be the faculty. Same as you usually have an IT department or how people in natural sciences fields have lab assistants (it is not quite the same since the lab assistants do the work which the researchers could do but don’t have time to do).

          • Kingmaker says:


            I was just poking fun at sociologists. As far as I am aware, stats literacy is on the upswing among sociologists, which can only be a good thing for the field. (Gotta resists the econ imperialists somehow).

          • Agronomous says:

            I think it’s a good idea to pair social scientists up with statisticians to write papers, the way we pair up surgeons with anesthesiologists to perform operations.

            I predict the social scientists would reject the idea because, like anesthesiologists, statisticians would make things much less exciting.

            (Though for the readers, less painful.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            When a reckless, Devil-may-care social scientist is teamed up with a by-the-books statistician, they’ll find the truth … if they don’t kill each other first!

          • ayegill says:

            Together, they predict crime!

      • Tracy W says:

        Popper pointed out that you can’t prove an empirical fact, you can only fail at disproving it, despite your best efforts. So, in the context of that, what does “utterly empirically verifiable” mean? Is it something like “we can send signals by radio waves”?

        • I’d say that it means that the original evidence is verifiable. That is, you can always run the experiments again.

          (Although it is I suppose true in a broader sense that the fact that radios and computers and spaceships work is some sort of evidence for the effectiveness of physics as a field of study.)

        • Charlie says:

          Falsifications are not absolute either – something that looks like a falsification might not be, so really you’ve only provisionally failed to falsify the falsification. The truth is, nothing is certain one way or the other. Which is why it’s such a convenient thing that we can reason using probabilities.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          This is not quite right. Here are several inaccurate glosses of Popper’s central thesis about science, all of which I’ve heard at some time or another:

          1. No claim about the world can be deductively proven a priori, in the way that claims in mathematics or formal logic can be proven.
          –This is just an empiricist credo. It was not controversial in Popper’s circles, and has only lately become so (again).

          2. No claim about the world can be known infallibly to be true.
          –This was a bit more controversial– some of Popper’s peers held that statements reporting observations could be known infallibly– but Popper’s thesis was actually much stronger and restricted to a certain type of scientific knowledge. Popper did think this, but he also thought that no claim about the world could be known infallibly to be false,* so there is no asymmetry here. He was a fallibilist, through and through.

          3. No claim about the world can ever be confirmed (made probable) to any degree.
          –Popper did not believe this, and it is obviously false. My seeing a red flower confirms that red flowers exist.

          Going from memory, Popper’s central thesis is this: mature scientific theories– he is chiefly concerned with physics, so has in mind universally quantified sentences whose domain of quantification is the entire universe, past, present, and future– can never be confirmed to any degree, they can only by falsified by deducing from them a consequence which is inconsistent with our observations. The methodology of science is deductive, not inductive, and the logical form of mature scientific theories gives us no hope of proving them deductively from our observations. He thinks this, first, because he takes Hume to have shown that there is something deeply suspicious about inductive reasoning, and second, because the attempts in his lifetime to develop a confirmation logic to regiment and rehabilitate inductive reasoning were widely perceived to be failures.

          It is an open question whether contemporary approaches to confirmation centered around e.g. Bayesianism have succeeded where Carnap and Hempel failed. Their ambitions also tend to be less sweeping.

          *Offhand, if you can know infallibly that p is true, you can know infallibly that ~p is false, and conversely, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

          • Tracy W says:

            Thanks for the detail

          • Samedi says:

            Nice summary of Popper’s thought. Philosophers have long been critical of inductive reasoning. The problem is that induction works, especially when you think in terms of probabilities instead of absolutes like “true” and “false”. Induction has given us insights into the natural world. The same cannot be said for purely deductive reasoning. Perhaps Popper and Hume should have addressed the “deduction problem” instead?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I don’t know quite what you mean by “purely deductive reasoning,” but (virtually) all mathematics, including probability theory, is deductive. Remember that deductive reasoning =df reasoning where the truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion. There is no science without deduction, e.g., to test whether a purported law of nature is true we need to deduce from the law, in concert with various auxiliary premises, a prediction concerning a particular case.

            But I suspect the sentiment you are trying to express is closer to the one spelled out in the first mischaracterization of Popper’s thesis I listed above, that a priori reasoning cannot give us any knowledge of the world. This isn’t a consequence of the style of reasoning employed, though.

        • Emma Casey says:

          >Popper pointed out that you can’t prove an empirical fact

          It is the case that we can gain knowledge that makes us ever more confident of a particular statement. This gaining of knowledge makes the confidence in fact justified.

          If you want to stop using the word prove and use some other word that’s fine, seems pointless but fine. The phenomenon still exists.

          • John Colanduoni says:


            I think it’s still important to distinguish things like “I wrote a proof of this formal logical sentence, proving it subject to my proof having an error” and “I took a bunch of physical measurements, and they all were in keeping with this physical theory”. For the first, you *must* have made an error for what you “proved” to be wrong, while the second could fail because your physical theory only works in certain conditions you failed to substantiate (e.g. Tuesdays) or just plain bad luck.

            (For those familiar with the meta mathematics involved, I’m referring to the probability of a formal statement, not its object level truth)

            So using some different words to make this clear seems beneficial to me, since there is clearly a further epistemic wrinkle with the second. You can talk about the probability of N mathematicians being wrong about the correctness of a proof, but this still seems different than having to deal with the probability that something else explains your results, in addition to the probability of a measurement error.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Emma: that’s why I followed up my email with a question about how utterly empirically verified was being used in this case.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            Can one prove that crystal come in a precise number of symmetries?

    • NL says:

      That’s because the difference between a Keynesian economist and an Austrian economist is closer to the difference between an Evolutionary biologist and a creationist. Austrian economists reject empiricism.

      Here the IGM poll of economists, it shows a lot of consensus

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        How many creationists have PhDs in Biology? How many creationists have Nobel Prizes in Biology?

      • Jill says:

        Austrian economists always seemed to me like they did reject empiricism. But I didn’t know they admitted it. Where did you read this?

          • Shieldfoss says:

            Shorter Mises: Humans are motivated thinkers and we cannot do experiments to correct our errors, so let us be Math instead of Science.

            That sounds… completely reasonable? You run into a problem where you need empiricism to find out which axioms to build your math on top of, but that’s a problem in “real” math too (Viz: Axiom of Choice yes/no?)

          • sweeneyrod says:

            But pure maths isn’t supposed to model real world phenomena (although that sometimes happens as a side effect). Economics is supposed to model the real world, so it doesn’t make sense to try to do it without looking at the real world.

          • John Colanduoni says:


            The difference is that after Gödel’s incompleteness theorems mathematicians stopped thinking about working within “the” mathematical system, and looked at axioms as a choice of world to work within. It became really hard to have a strong opinion on the “truth” of the axiom of choice for purely mathematical reasons when it was proved that it wasn’t even possible that it would be a source of contradiction.

            If they admitted they were doing economics in a particular world which may be about as related to the real world as Candyland, that would be one thing. But to work within a field much messier and human-specific than physics and then claim a stronger mathematical mandate seems pretty ridiculous to me.

          • wintermute92 says:

            This is a really nasty bit of cherrypicking. (That’s not an accusation that you’re responsible, btw; it goes around like a reputable summary and I was initially taken in.)

            The line excluded by those ellipses is crucial: “They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori.”

            Mises is basically asserting a framework (praxeology) which exists independent of experimental results, from which to approach those experimental results. It’s akin to mathematics and empiricism, which cannot be experimentally derived by are are still crucial to the experimental practice of physics.

            It’s reasonable to say that Mises draws his boundaries wrong and asserts a bunch of falsifiable matters as fundamental. I think that’s probably true, in fact. But it’s misleading to claim that he’s discarding empiricism when he’s actually trying to define a theoretical framework in which to carry it out.

          • John Colanduoni says:

            That misdrawing of boundaries is precisely my issue. His writings strike me as a motte and bailey act, where he hides behind the a priori nature of a formal logic, but claims that he’s doing economics that should be taken seriously as substantiated descriptions of the real world.

            The physics equivalent would be Einstein pairing his proposal of General Relativity with a paragraph on “look, differential geometry is a priori!” An even closer analogue is any other economist that uses mathematics heavily without arguing about the a priori nature of real numbers.

          • shieldfoss says:

            @sweeneyrod: I’m not claiming he’s a good economist, or his results are useful. I am strictly limiting myself to saying that the actual cited page sounds reasonable.

            @John Colanduoni, re Motte/Bailey: I agree that it looks a lot like that, yeah.

      • MichaelM says:

        A certain brand of Austrian economists with essentially no public visibility outside the internet rejects empiricism. If it comes from, it is this brand. If it comes from an actual academic economist who happens to like what guys like Hayek, Bohm-Bawerk, or Menger have had to say, they likely are not of this brand.

        That there is a deep split between the Misean-Rothbardian tradition and the more mainstream oriented Hayekian tradition in Austrian economics is really, really important for something that is essentially unknown.

        • wintermute92 says:

          > is really, really important for something that is essentially unknown.

          This exactly. I find some of Rothbard downright insane, and seeing people take him credibly as an “Austrian economist” diminished my respect for the whole field. I didn’t understand the mess until I realized that the Austrians are nothing like a unified school of thought.

    • Adam says:

      I think virtually all economists agree on the idea of some goods having value of some sort; that e.g. grain can be used to not die and is thus better than not having grain (or, if they dont believe grain is intrinsically better than something exactly like grain but inedible, then they believe that the market assigns value to goods. I think most would agree that money can be exchanged for goods and thus, transitively at least, has value.

      I think many fundamental microeconomic concepts are non-controversial with the majority of economists; e.g. (barring veblen/giffen outliers, if they believe they exist) price elasticity of demand is negative

      • Paul Barnsley says:

        The narrow, stronger claim would be to say that substitution effects are universally agreed to be negative.

        Thought that might still run into problems in certain contexts where there is signalling or public values…

      • vV_Vv says:

        I think virtually all economists agree on the idea of some goods having value of some sort; that e.g. grain can be used to not die and is thus better than not having grain (or, if they dont believe grain is intrinsically better than something exactly like grain but inedible, then they believe that the market assigns value to goods. I think most would agree that money can be exchanged for goods and thus, transitively at least, has value.

        But virtually everybody, economist or not, agrees with this. It’s like saying that evolutionary biologists agree with creationists that humans have four limbs.

        • wintermute92 says:

          This is one of the other problems for the social sciences, though.

          Everybody agrees that objects fall, but a proper theory of gravity was still a breakthrough. Quantifying or systematizing the obvious gets far less respect in ‘soft’ sciences than in ‘hard’ ones, even when both represent a real step beyond public intuition.

          Of course, the rejoinder is that economics doesn’t formalize anything as clearly as even Newtonian gravity, and then we’ve gone circular…

          • Aapje says:

            There is a difference between observing that objects fall and giving a formula that allows you to calculate the acceleration and/or the forces involved.

            The key is accuracy and predictive power, more than vague generalities.

    • Paul Barnsley says:

      I think a lot of the common ground between economists is microeconomics. Macroeconomics describes emergent phenomena when micro rules operate on a grand scale with government intervention, etc etc, and as such conclusions differ massively based on small changes to initial assumptions. But they typically appeal to something resembling accepted microeconomic logic.

      Microeconomists agree on a great deal, though they, understandably, spend more time talking about the things they disagree on.

      • Kingmaker says:

        Microeconomists agree on a great deal, though they, understandably, spend more time talking about the things they disagree on.

        I think most scientists spend more time talking about the things they disagree about. It’s just that few people are interested in the rival theories of avant garde chemistry or geology, whereas everyone and their dog has an opinion on economics.

        • Titanium Dragon says:

          That’s because, by and large, economics has a greater impact on most people’s lives, and we have much more democratic control over economic policy.

    • Tracy W says:

      For economics, the field of micro-economics springs to mind. Sometimes the body of incorporated knowledge changes, eg the incorporation of behavioural economics, but there’s general agreement on a lot, eg comparative advantage, things matter on the margin, prices are formed by the intersection of supply and demand, and where there are disputes they’re often about which situations are best explained by which theory.

      • TACJ says:

        This may be true as a sociological statement about the mainstream economics profession in English-speaking countries, but I’d disagree that it’s true in general.

        Neoclassical microeconomics is riddled with logical inconsistences and methodological problems. These have been known about for some time but are almost entirely ignored in the teaching of introductory economics courses.

        • Friday says:

          And you’re not describing them because…?

          • TACJ says:

            Limited time 😉

            But seriously. Claiming that micro-economics is a site of broad consensus within the discipline might be accurate; but only in the sense that there is a broad consensus among flat-Earthers that the Earth is flat.

            Taking one example: in order to generalise the law of demand to multiple consumers you need monotonic (i.e. downward sloping) demand curves. The only way to get these is if you assume all consumers in your market are identical, which effectively means you only have one consumer in your market. To put it differently: you haven’t generalised at all. You’ve just proved that you can’t generalise.

            Interested readers can refer to Steve Keen’s Debunking Economics for further in-depth discussion. I also recommend

            I should emphasise that the impressive thing about the theoretical problems with neoclassical microeconomics isn’t the corpus of theory itself; but the fact it continues to provide employment to a class of academic economists despite being utterly worthless as a tool for understanding the real world of production, consumption, exchange, and distribution.

            The really frustrating thing is that there are some important nuggets of insight in the dross, for example the fact that (given a set of assumptions about competitive pressures) prices will tend towards marginal cost. This is an important and powerful observation, but it’s been bolted into this vast and broken edifice of logical theorising.

          • Anon. says:

            The only way to get these is if you assume all consumers in your market are identical

            Could you clarify this? Because it’s very easy to think of an example where consumers are not identical but AD is still monotonic.

          • Nornagest says:

            in order to generalise the law of demand to multiple consumers you need monotonic (i.e. downward sloping) demand curves. The only way to get these is if you assume all consumers in your market are identical, which effectively means you only have one consumer in your market.

            What? No you don’t. You really, really don’t.

            As a toy example, consider a market in carrots with two customers, Alice and Bob, and one vendor, Carol. Alice likes to make carrot cake, and at $1 a pound buys a pound a month; but if the price of carrots rises to $2 a pound she will switch to making zucchini bread, which she doesn’t like quite as much normally. Bob has a horse, and Bob’s horse has picky taste, so he will buy a pound of carrots a month up to $5 a pound, at which point he decides to take his chances with other vegetables.

            That gives us three points on the market’s demand curve: 2 pounds at $1, 1 pound at $2, and 0 pounds at $5. As you can see, it has a negative slope and monotonically decreases over its domain, even though each consumer has quite different priorities.

          • TACJ says:

            Replying to Nornagest:

            You’re right and I’m wrong. I mis-remembered the argument (which is a lot more involved than I remembered – it’s a while since I’ve read up on this stuff). Probably best way to get the clear picture is this lecture:


            (Or Google “Keen Behavioural Finance 2011 Lecture 02 Market Behaviour Part 1”)

    • In linguistics, phonetics (the study of the articulatory details of language sounds) passes both the “mostly universally agreed upon by linguists” test and the “empirically testable” one. Things gets iffy as soon as you get to phonology though (the study of how the mind treats sounds to organize them into abstract categories). Neurolinguistics is also pretty solid, however.

      • wintermute92 says:

        Linguistics probably has one of the best claims to a body of empirical fact. You could always claim “some other language might break the rules!”, but physics is surprisingly vulnerable to the same claims on a large scale (cf. false vacuum theory).

        • Anon while it lasts says:

          I’d say that linguistics is probably the best ‘social science’ but it is still awfully shaky. Phonetics is very solid, but once we get into phonology – especially suprasegmentals – there’s a lot of debate and confusion. In syntax we agree there are things like nouns and verbs (though maybe not in Salish – see Kinkade 1983!) but developing fully general crosslinguistic theories is hard. The field is very like philosophy – split into different ‘schools’ like minimalism, LFG, HPSG etc which are mutually incompatible and there seems to be little chance of reconciliation. Also it got completely blindsided by the discovery of nonconfigurational languages and something similar may happen again for all we know. Semantics seems to have formed a consensus around the logical tradition starting from Frege and Russel, through Davidson Kripke and Montague but I personally think the whole formal/possible worlds semantics is total bullshit. Other than that it’s fine. Neurolinguistics is relatively solid but has all the standard problems of neuroscience. Lots of sociolinguistics is just glorified sociology and has all the attendant vices. Stuff like dialectology and even social dialect studies like Labovs seem reasonable – though often difficult to generalise.

          My 2 cents, anyway.

    • j r says:

      For example, there seem to be less of a common ground between Keynesian economists and Austrian economists than between Many World physicists and Hidden Variable physicists.

      I cannot speak on the physics, but the differences between the various schools of economists have much more to do with precision than with accuracy.

      For instance, most economists agree that, under certain circumstance, an increase in government spending will increase economic growth (ie the fiscal multiplier). Where the disagreements occur is as to how much and under what circumstances that fiscal multiplier will be in any given situation.

      Consequently, most economists agree with the general wisdom of counter-cyclical fiscal policy; that is, governments should spend less during the times of a booming economy so that, once the economy slows, it will have the fiscal space intervene and carry on its normal functions with less tax revenue or intervene to boost domestic demand. The differences arise from all the normative aspects of exactly what the government ought to be doing (ie redistributing wealth, cutting taxes, building infrastructure, doing the absolute minimal, etc).

      • wintermute92 says:

        I feel like you’re excluding more reputable economists with this than perhaps you realize.

        > For instance, most economists agree that, under certain circumstance, an increase in government spending will increase economic growth (ie the fiscal multiplier).

        There are totally mainstream economists who (as far as I know) deny this, using the argument that since government spending is inherently financed on taxation or debt, the market will respond to cancel the multiplier (either through loss of funds to taxation, or through hedging against future taxation implied by debt).

        Many economists grant that this is still effective if you’re counter-cyclic, because debt-financing effectively borrows growth from the future. But I see sincere “perfect knowledge” claims that the economy contracts now because it knows about future debt, canceling out the multiplier in the short term.

        I suppose everyone would grant that if you finance your government spending off war spoils or new inventions or something you get growth, but the multiplier is usually assumed to be a fiscal policy matter rather than a discovered wealth one.

        • Paul Barnsley says:

          Yes, this is accurate – Ricardian equivalence is the technical term for the “expectations of future tax cancels out current spending” hypothesis. It’s pretty crazy, and pretty fringe, but it’s fair to say that macro economists in good standing can and do have opposing beliefs on almost any question.

          • alaska3636 says:

            I do a lot of work as a tax accountant. I can state unequivocally, that this is considered prudent tax planning.

            Another example of this in human behavior: if I tell you that I am going to punch you in the nose, you are more likely to duck.

          • wintermute92 says:


            The question isn’t whether people react to expected future taxes – it would be stunning if they didn’t.

            Ricardian equivalence is the claim that the reaction fully cancels the gains from current spending. So if the government debt-finances something like the Works Progress Administration, that adds nothing to the short-run GDP.

            It’s specifically defined as a short-term reaction because it’s contrasted with counter-cyclical policy. If you get growth now and in response get a bit more caution spread over several years, that’s the desired outcome Ricardians say won’t happen.

        • SilasLock says:

          Ricardian Equivalence only operates when you utilize lump sum taxes. It might still exist within the more complex tax codes that a lot of present-day states have, but the effect gets one heck of a lot more complicated. Economists that I’ve seen argue over whether the real-world effect is similar to the one from a lump sum tax-based model.

          Furthermore, the bigger issue is that independent central banks are able to cancel the effects of fiscal policy and remove multipliers. Liquidity traps arguably change things, but under ordinary circumstances multipliers just aren’t a thing.

    • Corey says:

      Macroeconomics is tough because the amount of data is small and low-quality, and intentionally-controlled experiments are almost impossible. I agree with others that micro beliefs are more consistent across practitioners than macro beliefs (with the former, better data, controlled experiments and replications are at least possible).

      Sometimes in macro you get lucky and get “natural experiments” e.g. Oregon fills Medicaid slots by lottery so you can compare recipients with non-recipients and get differences that are _probably_ due to the effect of Medicaid.

      Noah Smith has some good blog posts on problems with macro, and some back-and-forth with other econ-bloggers. If I understand correctly he thinks the main problem is that macro models are rarely if ever thrown out no matter how badly they fit the world.

      • Lumifer says:

        Macroeconomics is tough because the amount of data is small and low-quality

        I think a bigger problem is that real economies are very very COMPLEX and tractable models can capture only a small subset of the important factors. This makes models somewhat arbitrary and their fits hard to get right — you either overfit and lose predictive capability, or underfit and your predictions are of the “anything could happen” type.

        A lot of research is also hobbled by the (often implicit) assumptions that all people are the same and on the average tend to engage in Homo Economicus behaviour.

    • Chalid says:

      One reason certain fields like economics seem controversial is because we read about controversies. We don’t spend much in this comment section discussing non-controversial things.

    • baconbacon says:

      For example, there seem to be less of a common ground between Keynesian economists and Austrian economists than between Many World physicists and Hidden Variable physicists.

      There is generally a bunch of common ground across economic schools (like supply and demand), but there are small differences within those agreements. For example an Austrian might argue that a minimum wage would lead to decreased employment citing that a higher cost for labor will lead to less labor purchased (basic S&D curve stuff). A Keynesian in favor of a higher minimum wage wouldn’t counter that S&D curves don’t exist, but that the demand for labor is far less elastic than the supply, and so raising the minimum wage by (random numbers) 10% would only lead to a decrease in demand by 1%, and so increasing it could be a net benefit (a handful of Kenyesians will argue that increased minimum wages lead to increased employment through increased demand, but they commit horrific crimes of logic in looking for evidence like using the UE rate, and only looking at very short term situations).

      On the whole, economics at least, has a strong base of knowledge that has been confirmed, most of the differences lie in specific circumstances where one group is arguing that small effect X is greater than small effect Y, and the other group is in the opposite direction.

    • Matt says:

      This is a great question and deserves more attention.

      A few things:

      1) Softer sciences deal directly with reflexive observation (studying yourself), therefore you cannot be (truly) impartial by definition. This leads to more uncertainty.

      2) Projectiles, molecules, and stars don’t adapt to our observations. Humans do, and in fact, that is the point of studies.

      3) There has recently been a tremendous amount of technological breakthroughs that allow us to objectively observe physical, chemical and biological phenomenon. Yes, you can observe people with cameras and GPS, but cameras and GPS are part of our culture and have affected are behavior.

      4) Perhaps, throughout history, we have known much more about ourselves than the world we live in. We are now, over the last few centuries, experiencing a sort of catch-up phase. All the “new” knowledge makes it seem like there is more agreement in hard sciences than there really is.

      5) I can drop a pin in a vacuum, hermetically seal a chemical, and control most of a rat’s environment. What can I do with a human? Good science seems to involve a fair amount of destruction, of isolation. You break something down to it’s core and then you test it one variable at a time. Hard to do with humans.

      I’ve thought about this question before and these are just some of the ideas I’ve had floating around.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Part of the problem might be that when social science comes up with something useful/definitely true, it’s going to sound easy enough that nobody is impressed. Just as ‘we understand gravity’ was a great breakthrough not too long ago, anyone able to prove whether or not hitting your kids is on net harmful or if being societally accepting of homosexuality is good will have done some extremely impressive work.. Except their work will either be politicised to the point of its effect not being very large, or so easily accepted it just sounds dumb. Breakthroughs in science sound esoteric and are hard to understand, whereas the effect in social science would be very different.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        whether or not hitting your kids is on net harmful or if being societally accepting of homosexuality is good

        Plus there’s a lot of freight carried by “harmful” and “good”. Studying gravity does not require bringing value judgments into the process. Not all social science results fall into that trap, of course, but it does seem to be a constant danger.

    • What if part of the divide between hard and soft sciences is due to the difference in our reference frame? In the hard sciences our personal experiences are with macro-physics, working with chunks on the order of 10^20+ atoms. For sociology or economics, we are personally accustomed to working at the level of individuals up to the order of 10^4.

      Hard sciences began with the easier macro-physics and then worked down to the weird quantum stuff, but soft sciences are starting with the weird quantum stuff trying to extrapolate to a mini-macro scale that only gets up to about 7×10^10 at most.

      Toss in the fact that the bouncing behavior of atoms doesn’t change according to the latest research and it’s a wonder anyone in the social sciences can get anything done at all!

    • Tibor says:

      Economists do agree on the fundamentals of their field. For example

      I think that David Friedman mentioned a story with his father and another (rather left-wing) economists giving expert advice either to the Senate or some other governing body in the US. It ended up being the economists’ opinion against everyone else rather than a split along political lines.

      I suspect the same is true of other social sciences, with a varying degree. There is usually some uncontroversial core everyone agrees on and so it is not publicized so much and most people outside of the field might not even know it exists. In economics this effect probably creates more harm than in other fields because while a lot may be obviously true to economists it is not to other people (the desirability of free trade barriers between countries is a classical example – also it is both the vast majority of both the left and the right wing which is against unilateral free trade, basically everyone except for economists and libertarians).

    • Quixote says:

      “Austrian economists” aren’t economists, they’re philosophers.

      • Jill says:

        Maybe they were philosophers at one time. Right now they are economic and political propagandists.

  5. Mark says:

    Dumb question…

    How could you comment anonymously here? Don’t you need a name and email.

    How about we just start showing these things?

    Or maybe we start having mods here to censor?

  6. Philosophisticat says:

    I’m for banning anonymous commenting, not just because of the positive effect on quality of discourse, but also for the more basic reason that it helps me keep track of who is talking, especially when there are multiple anonymice posting on the same topic.

    • Paul Barnsley says:

      Yes, this.

    • Jill says:

      Yes. I would like people’s names to all be different from one another. If some anonymice are constantly insulting, and other anonymice are nice people with interesting things to say, I want to be able to figure out which ones to stop reading.

    • I’m against banning anonymous commenters, because it’s really easy to make throwaway accounts and identities. I don’t feel like we have a huge problem with low-effort trolls of the type who would be discouraged by making a handful of consistent identities.

      I would kind of like to see what kind of creative word games pop up if you just ban ‘anonymous’ from the name fields of posts, however.

    • Yes, Philosophisticat has it right. In essence we are all anonymous since any name we claim might be a lie, so I have little faith that anonymous postings can be ended. But I get really tired of people responding “this is to the anon with the green gravitar” and the like. There is no downside to banning at least “Anonymous” and “Anon.”

  7. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #20
    This week we are discussing “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.
    Next time we will discuss “The Hammer of God” by Arthur C. Clarke.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      How many people re-read the book vs recalling it from elementary school? It’s shocking how different it felt to read as an adult. Knowing what was going on contemporaneously in the spin-off stories made the original plot awkward and rather disappointing.

      • gbdub says:

        Can you expand on what you mean by you last sentence? I’ve only read Ender’s Game as an adult, but I haven’t reread it since I read the contemporaneous spinoffs (I assume you mostly mean the Bean series?)

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      In “Level 2 Intelligent Characters”, Eliezer Yudkowsky uses Ender’s Game as a case study on how to write characters who are actually smart rather than Hollywood smart (he was actually writing about the novel, not the short story, but most of what he wrote applies to both). I found it very interesting to reread the story with his analysis in mind. I was particularly intrigued by the notion that the only reason the ceremony of touching helmets to the gate corners exists is because Card needed a way for Ender to beat impossible odds during his final fight at Battle School. It’s obvious in retrospect, but on a first read through it seems like an brilliant solution to perfectly natural set of circumstances which just happened to come up.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I just read it recently for the first time and I thought that he might have been a little too smart. But I have an instinctive dislike of fictional wonderkids.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Sure, he’s oversmart for a kid, but in this case it’s at a school for the very smartest kids on Earth, a search which the entire planet is united behind because otherwise they’ll all die. He’s not just some rando. It would be inconsistent for him not to be unusually smart.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I get that. I think maybe the issue is that he basically never makes mistakes of any kind. Even incredibly smart people have flaws.

          • MugaSofer says:

            I mean, every single fight he gets into and the entire plot are basically enormous mistakes on Ender’s part.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            But are those mistakes considered as such within the fiction of the story? (I honestly don’t remember, it’s been ages since I read the book.)

          • 27chaos says:

            No, they’re not considered as mistakes by the story. Ender has a bit of a martyr complex. The bullies *made him* hurt them. (When really, if Ender was any good at interpersonal relations at all, let alone as good as OSC makes him out to be, many of these situations could have been resolved without death. Also, now that I think about it, what kind of shitty soldier kills people on accident?)

            I love the story, but one thing I like to do to stories I love is criticize their flaws, and grow beyond them. I don’t think you can say you’ve properly enjoyed a book unless you recognize the strong parts of the book and wish they were stronger, while wishing the weaker parts were diminished.

          • gbdub says:

            “what kind of shitty soldier kills people on accident”

            He didn’t kill people on accident. He set up scenarios to his advantage so he could apply decisive force when he got his opportunity, knowing that if he engaged in a “fair fight” or the obvious strategy, he’d get his ass kicked.

            I got the impression Ender was on some level aware that he killed or at least seriously harmed people, but allowed himself denial about it until forced to face it after his xenocide.

          • Decius says:

            I felt like the other kids weren’t the result of a global search for the “best suited to lead a fleet of spacecraft”.

        • Urstoff says:

          SF (and to a lesser extent, literary fiction) is full of adult-like “precocious” kids, almost to the complete exclusion of normal children. It’s pretty annoying. A well-written child character can be as entertaining as anything (see Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird).

          • pneumatik says:

            This was basically Bill Watterson’s complaint about kids in comics. It’s part of why he wrote Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) the way he did. Not that Calvin wasn’t surprisingly smart for a young kid, but he’s not mature (for certain values of mature) in his thinking like an adult is.

          • Decius says:

            Calvin might have more philosophical insight than the typical kid on a wagon, but he doesn’t demonstrate abnormal intelligence.

          • Nornagest says:

            He does have a pretty impressive vocabulary for a six-year-old, even if he often uses it to communicate dumb ideas.

        • hayz says:

          This is pretty much why HPMOR is unbearable to me.

      • Nornagest says:

        I thoroughly disagree with Eliezer on this one. Ender has a few good ideas, but he mainly appears smart because the author’s on his side, and because all the people around him are unrealistically stupid (but I repeat myself).

        In an actual school with actual children, the helmet exploit would have been discovered about ten minutes into the first game. Kids are literal-minded; mistaking a formal requirement for a ceremonial one is something that only adults would do, and even then probably not for long.

        And this is all the worse because Ender really only has one trick.

        • James Vonder Haar says:

          Was that really supposed to demonstrate Ender’s intelligence? It’s been a bit since I’ve read the book but I was always under the impression that it was more about his willingness to transgress social boundaries and custom in order to win. The generals, and I think Card as well, view this as admirable.

          Or in other words, they all thought of it, but only Ender was willing to risk pissing off his schoolmates and the adults in charge to do it. Which neatly parallels his later xenocide: anyone could think about using the Dr. Device on the planet itself, only Ender was willing to do it (in a simulation, mind, he was willing to piss off his commanders by mimicking a war crime to win a simulation, not actually commit that war crime).

          • Ergoemos says:

            This was likewise kind of hinted at when Orson Scott Card went through the same story beats with Bean. Bean had thought of these solutions, in a lot of ways, but he was more forward thinking too. He knew it wouldn’t matter if they cheated at the helmet trick, the teachers would just change the rule and they get one extra useless victory. Bean out-thought himself, while Ender’s “complete the missions, one at a time” system worked. Likewise, Bean realized how Dr. Device could be used, but he also knew they weren’t simulating an invasion.

            I think it was trying to demonstrate that Ender’s intelligence was the ‘right’ kind of intelligence to complete the set of impossible tasks that Ender had to complete. Place an even smarter person with the wrong set of emotional cues and motivations and Ender was the superior at this task.

            Mostly, I just am agreeing with you. I think that Ender’s intelligence was part of the goal, but his temperament and willingness-to-win was the key factor.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            The explicit comparison to his equally-intelligent brother and sister made it clear that it was his temperament rather than ability that made him special.

        • Nyx says:

          I agree that it’s not a particularly interesting trick, and the kind of strategy that has been invented many times before in the context of videogames (compare backdooring or split-pushing in MOBAs). But I feel like it’s a legitimate way to display intelligence, a desire to win and a disregard for orthodox methods.

        • Harkonnendog says:

          I thought Card did a pretty good job of coming up with solutions only a genius could come up with, considering his protagonist is supposed to be much smarter than Card himself. I’ve tried to write a protagonist who was a genius and found I couldn’t come up with anything a genius would come up with. I’m just a regular guy, so how could I? Thinking REALLY HARD for a long time doesn’t lead to moments of genius.

          Rereading the book wasn’t much fun. Like watching the Sixth Sense the second time but without as many “How did I miss that?!?” moments.

      • Chris Leong says:

        What was this exploit again? I can’t remember it.

        • Aegeus says:

          After defeating the enemy, you need four soldiers to touch their helmets to the enemy gate to “unlock” it so a fifth can pass through.

          For most of the game, this is just a background detail, although there’s a scene where Ender manages to turn a loss into a draw by pretending to be flashed, and then ambushing the enemy while they set up the victory ceremony. But in the final battle, Ender realizes that the “after defeating the enemy” bit isn’t actually part of the rules. He sends five soldiers to sneak to the gate while everyone else distracts the enemy, and they win the game.

          • Randy M says:

            This makes an interesting contrast to actual warfare, where victory was rarely decided by total annihilation but rather by accomplishing strategic objectives. But maybe since the students were conceiving the war they were training for as a defensive one in which they were trying to keep alien spaceships from razing surface populations, it makes more sense to eliminate every enemy than to take ground or destroy objectives.

          • Nornagest says:

            No, it still doesn’t make sense; the aliens in question are a hive-minded species where killing the queen stops all the workers, so every battle is an objective-based one even if your goal is extermination.

            (I don’t remember if that was publicly known at that point in the novel — but given that Battle School is supposed to be training commanders against the aliens, I’d expect the rules of the game to follow that structure, and not by accident.)

          • Montfort says:

            Nornagest: That was not publicly known. In fact, it was only a private theory of Rackham’s dismissed by the xenobiologists actually responsible for developing policy.

            Ender receives some amount of corroborating evidence privately, in the game after the Giant’s death, but as far as anyone else is concerned, they’re insectlike in form with unknown psychology and sociology.

          • Nicholas says:

            How the aliens work is a secret not discovered until the war is already basically over, at which point ender has already exited battle school.

          • Decius says:

            Mazer Rackham discovered that the aliens had a queen, and that the queen was essential to their fleet movements, by intuitively looking at their formation. He maneuvered his ship to attack and kill the queen, and that defeated the rest of the fleet. That was all known before the battle school was built, but it was kept quiet for plot reasons so that Ender could review the battle footage and “discover” it.

            Why the Formics didn’t spread queens out to a whole bunch of planets is anyone’s guess.

          • Randy M says:

            Right, if you are already putting them on ships, it’s hard to see the rationale for not putting them on their colonies as well. Did the novels retcon it into having them scoured from the planets by human forces? I know the one found later was specifically hidden away.

          • Nicholas says:

            If I remember right from the second book, the alien minds don’t have mobile bodies: You plant them, and then they spore up a colony of drones, and if you dig them up they die.

          • Randy M says:

            Hmm, there may be a hint of truth to that, but remember that Mackham’s theories were based on (iirc) the earth forces killing a particular command ship containing a hypothesized queen, upon which all the rest of the ships and soldiers went dormant. That indicates either mobile queens, or at least ones able to survive on a ship.

      • TACJ says:

        This is what I love about Neal Stephenson’s books: when his characters do something clever you can actually see that what they’re doing is clever, because Stephenson does the research to back up any particular gambit.

        (There are lots of examples, but my favourite one is the mine-escape in Cryptonomicon. The fact I can only vaguely recall it suggests it may be time to re-read).

        • Ergoemos says:

          Or they appear very clever until things change completely, such as cutting across a burb-nation through the wrong yard and crashing a mob-owned pizza delivery truck (it makes more sense in context) into an empty swimming pool. I like that he is very willing to show his characters as clever as well as foolish, in ways that aren’t exactly admirable. Most protagonists make mistakes, but authors are rarely want to show them doing something completely dumb.

      • wintermute92 says:

        Interestingly, Card wrote about exactly these issues in his forward to one of the reprints.

        He described getting fan letters from gifted students who saw Ender’s Game as an exceptionally good account of their lives, of what it means to be both brilliant and immature. And, simultaneously, getting letters from teachers and gifted-program educators castigating him for writing inaccurate children. I believe the quote was “real kids don’t think like that”, which is a boggling amount of hubris.

        Some of this can be reconciled with writing (Ender is impossibly reliable because Card wrote challenges for him to solve) and age issues (Ender is too physically proficient for a six year old, even if we assume that he’s exceptionally smart).

        But some of it, I think, is that Card captured a sometimes-ugly experience with an accuracy that a lot of people don’t want to deal with. A truly vivid account of how smart children can be, and how cruel their bullies can be, isn’t something that appeals to those who are long gone from those days.

      • Randy M says:

        Part of good plotting is setting up the situations so that it is internally consistent and plausible, while allowing for the plot and characters you want to develop logically.

      • Your Mom the Sexual Beast says:

        But it could also be that it’s there to necessitate a 5-soldier margin in order to win. And that comes up not only generally but in the battle where Ender first actually participates, by hiding around the gate and then freezing enough people to force a tie (I believe in Bonso’s army). So it’s not so cut and dried as all that – it’s, at the least, pulling double duty as a plot device

        • wintermute92 says:

          This was always my interpretation also.

          The 5 soldier rule means that a narrow, fluke win is just a tie. That’s why it’s not just five helmets, it’s five helmets from soldiers who aren’t fully defeated.

          Notably, Ender uses that trick against Bonso and the rule isn’t changed; presumably it’s working as intended. There was only a crackdown when it’s victory condition status was abused.

          (Things like this happen in real sports too – soccer had to rework the handball rule because catching a goal was still net-positive!)

    • switchnode says:

      Here is an essay about Ender’s Game (the novel) that I like a lot.

      (It hasn’t been unpublished; I link via IA because the author’s new website has some formatting issues.)

      • wintercaerig says:

        I second this recommendation; the paper is excellent.

      • moridinamael says:

        The essay is worth reading and definitely offers a fresh take on the book. It certainly altered my thinking about the book the first time I read it.

        However, I think the essay goes a bit too far. The author seems to implicitly want us to accept that

        – an intentions-based morality is terrible and there is no valid defense for it
        – the reasons and justifications for an action don’t matter, only the consequences

        These are actually very bold assertions. Our legal system formally considers degrees of intention by distinguishing “murder” form “manslaughter” and appending “with intent” to various crimes. Considering intentions when evaluating moral culpability is a commonplace and popular framework. The essay seems to want to assign moral weight to certain actions with absolutely no regard for context. I don’t know anyone who seriously endorses this mentality. (I guess Calvinists claim to, but I don’t know anyone who does.)

        The essay contains sentences like this:

        > The same destructive act that would condemn a bad person, when performed by a good person, does not implicate the actor, and in fact may be read as a sign of that person’s virtue.

        Well, yes. Definitely. Do I really have to concoct real-world scenarios where this would be an uncontroversial statement of the reality of a situation?

        The “problem” with Ender’s Game is that it’s so over-the-top in its defense of Ender. The book is a sort of reductio ad absurdum of the idea of personal responsibility, since he’s for all practical purposes programmed to do what he ends up doing.

        In the Postscript the author even acknowledges this critique but “defends” themselves by making a statement that they never make in the original essay, namely that they don’t object to the intuition that intentions should matter, but rather that only intentions should matter. That’s a pretty huge distinction and it opens up a gray area that the original essay doesn’t admit to.

        • switchnode says:

          Hm. I didn’t read anything like those implicit assumptions into the text of the essay, even before the postscript; the intentions-vs-consequences argument seemed to me to be restricted to a critique of, as you say, the over-the-top contortions involved in rigging the game for Ender.

          I don’t think Kessel is arguing against the consideration of intention, so much as pointing out the inherent fallibility in judging it. The paragraph immediately following your quote begins:

          The doctrine that the morality of an action is solely determined by the actor’s motive rests on a significant assumption: that the good always know what their motives are, and are never moved to do things for selfish reasons while yet thinking themselves moved by virtue.

          Consequences matter, not because actions have some objective, free-floating moral value, but because as the enormity of the consequences increases, the plausibility of the actor truly being unaware of them, or having wholly benign intentions, approaches zero. (Depending on one’s definition of “the same … act”, “concoct” may be the operative word.)

          In LW-speak, Kessel is making an outside view objection, with specific reference to the fundamental attribution error: that we judge our own motives leniently, that we judge others’ harshly, and that we have seen atrocities supposedly justified by good intentions far too often to trust claims thereto (others’ or our own) unreflectively. Card has constructed a reductio ad absurdam that flatters our prejudices, but we cannot apply them safely in real life.

          (The moral argument as I have summarized it is somewhat dry, and certainly incomplete without reference to the psychological appeal; that was the part of the essay I found most convincing.)

      • ShemTealeaf says:

        It’s an interesting essay, but the author loses me when they blame Ender for the xenocide. He thought he was engaged in a training exercise, and he was attempting to tank the exercise and prove himself too dangerous to command a real fleet. Any blame for the xenocide falls on Graff and the other adults, not on Ender.

        Furthermore, it’s not clear to me that the xenocide is immoral even in theory. Given a technologically superior alien race who has demonstrated a willingness to attack Earth and with whom no negotiation is possible, I would expect humanity to do everything in its power to destroy them. It’s mentioned repeatedly throughout the series that defensive warfare in space is a losing proposition; the only defense is a good offense.

        • switchnode says:

          With all due respect, I think you have missed the point. You have justified Ender’s actions with reference to his situation and the knowledge available to him at that point in the book, but these circumstances are not inescapable facts of reality; they are deliberate choices by the author. Fictional worlds can justify any action arbitrarily. Ender is not the target; Card is.

          I like the Watsonian mode too, but it’s not always a suitable one. If you’re reading it, it’s for you.

          (As for xenocide specifically: there is rather a lot of difference between self-defense judged, understood, and accepted in light of the consequences, and self-defense in (claimed) total ignorance of the consequences with a (claimed) total unwillingness to attempt it had the consequences been known. The latter presents obvious perverse incentives.)

          • ShemTealeaf says:

            What do you make of passages like this, that seem to assign in-story guilt to Ender?

            But whether or not Ender’s battle simulations were practice or real, the ultimate purpose of any practice was to enact such destruction in reality. Ender and his commanders were aiming for this battle and they all knew it; thanks to the trick played on Ender it just happened sooner than it would have otherwise.

          • Jiro says:

            “Genocide” is a boo light, which stays that way at least partly because it’s impossible to justify genocide in real life. People have automatic reactions to the idea of genocide that are not based on analyzing each instance to figure out whether it is good or bad; such analysis is never needed in the real world.

            Authors and readers live in the real world. So authors, unless they are really clever and trying to appeal to really specific audiences, will always write as if genocide is evil even if the circumstances of the story mean it is not.

          • switchnode says:

            ShemTealeaf, the immediately preceding sentences:

            This “science fiction element” (remote-directed war) serves in moral terms as yet another evasion; in reality, people do not commit genocide by accident. This is another parallel between the bugger war and the fight scenes where Ender kills Stilson and Bonzo, all three constructed by Card, however improbably, so that Ender never knows he is killing his adversaries.

            Kessel does not (and cannot) claim that Ender does know what is happening (because the text explicitly provides otherwise); he only points out that, in any plausible scenario, he would have, or at least would have been able to predict the result. Again, Card is the target.

            (That specific remark is actually really interesting, which perversely kind of throws off the essay by pointing the way towards a side track, but: Ender does know where the war was headed, and doesn’t like the idea or his role in it, and so (as you say) he tries to quit!

            But the plan he comes up with is one for an underhanded, spectacularly destructive victory—i.e., the exact same response he has always ended previous confrontations with, the exact same response that has always propelled him to new and greater scales of destruction, and the exact same response that his handlers have always wanted. And he must be consciously aware of at least some of this, because of the way he recapitulates it with Bean.

            The obvious way to go home—surrender—is unacceptable to brilliant, pacifistic Ender, because humanity needs him. But when he thinks he sees a way to quit by breaking things and winning, humanity is forgotten.

            If you’re willing to blame Graff and the commanders (and the essay doesn’t assign guilt directly to Ender; they’re mentioned nearly as often in that section) I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to argue that Ender has a significant in-story blind spot. That interpretation—subconscious, but no conscious, intent—would make a really, really interesting character and story, and I wouldn’t object to either one. But there’s no space for it in the text of Ender’s Game, and certainly none in his post-Game sainthood. That’s the problem.)

          • Decius says:

            All of Ender’s handlers consider the Xenocide to be a superlative result. Because they are idiots who have no business being in charge, they wouldn’t have thought to put a MD device on a ballistic projectile and launch it at the Formic homeworld.

            They are somehow smart enough to devise a procedure that finds someone competent, and then trick that person into doing their dirty work.

            If you suspend disbelief and pretend that the things Ender figured out were actually things that needed a genius, the story actually works.

      • stillnotking says:

        That essay, while pointing out some real flaws in EG’s moral logic (the biggest, to my mind, being that the “simulation” premise is an obvious and unconvincing dodge), in turn elides the problems with asserting intentions don’t matter. If EG is a reductio of one extreme, this piece is a reductio of the other.

        Also, the author treats Ender’s failure to seek help from adults as not being adequately explained, but EG takes some pains to articulate a completely Hobbesian view, in which power is always the ultimate question. For Ender to seek anyone’s help would make him dependent on them, according to the book’s logic. Obviously this isn’t an appealing world view to liberals (and by “liberals” I mean those to the left of Hobbes, i.e. almost every modern person), but it isn’t an oversight. It’s just a perspective to which we are not accustomed, and which we reflexively associate with evil to the extent that we recognize it at all. That’s why the perennial claim that EG is an apologia for fascism doesn’t surprise me, although I do think it’s unfair. The moral universe of EG and the moral universe as imagined by fascists are not all that far apart. Their conclusions are very different, though.

    • Kevin C. says:

      The main things I’ve always had as, I guess, complaints about Ender’s Game are:
      1. Why didn’t anyone before Andrew figure out the MD Device as planet-killer strategy? It appeared obvious to me back when they described first described how the weapon worked. (Then again, whenever a technology is introduced into a story, I spend at least a little thought as to how to weaponize it, or if already a weapon, how to use it to it’s most devastating degree.)
      2. Why did Andrew feel at all guilty about the woefully-incomplete “xenocide”? As far as I’m concerned, wiping out the Formics would absolutely be the right course of action.

      • gbdub says:

        1. I didn’t get the impression that nobody had thought of using the MD as a planet killer, only that perhaps they weren’t sure what would happen. Ender just recognized it as the only available strategy in the final battle – and was willing to sacrifice his entire fleet in a suicidal attack strategy.
        2. Ender was intentionally isolated from deep trustworthy relationships with other people. He ended up with a deep psychological connection to a Formic queen. I think he in some sense wanted to feel responsible, even though I don’t think he really second guessed his choice.

  8. Agree completely with the banning of anonymous comments. I have seen many discussion threads essentially destroyed by anonymous commenters wrapping themselves in the First Amendment. Of course good moderation can be a suitable substitute.

    A useful idea on the annoying topics might be to identify them and have some basic ground rules for discussion. Workarounds are less irritating if you know them up front, and know that what you post is going to carry an additional burden.

  9. Jack Masters says:

    I’ve been an irregular reader of SSC for years, but I’ve never ventured into the fora before. A more involved friend assures me this is an appropriate time and place to plug a project of mine, but I apologize if this a little more self-interested than is considered cool around here.

    Some associates of mine recently put a lot of effort into e-publishing a novel that I wrote as a younger man. It kind of tests the boundaries of what you can call a novel, but, in any case, it’s a book-length fictional narrative. Years ago, Andrew Hussie (now of MSPaintAdventures fame, then about to be of Problem Sleuth fame) did some illustrations for the book. The best description/explanation of the book I can give you is an excerpt from an email I sent to Hussie in the course of planning the illustrations. It follows below.

    The book is called Eidophusikon. It can be downloaded for free on, or nearly for free on

    The following email is now documentary material; I leave the unfortunate number of typos uncorrected.


    As far as the real confusion people have with my book, what the fuck’s going on, it’s pretty low concept. Honestly, most of the holes in the story flat-out don’t matter; if you can keep track of “this guy wants to kill that guy, and this guy owes this woman something for something, and this woman has a mysterious past,” you should be able to make it through a single reading without too much pain. (I don’t know what “should” means in that context.) There are connections to draw down the line, after you’ve read it all, if you care enough to do so, but that’s putting the manure before the horse.

    The phony confusion is why the fuck the story’s written the way it is. By which I mean, out of chronological order, and with huge gaps between events. I don’t know whether that’s high concept or what the hell. The real deal is that there have been a number of narratives I’ve encountered in a disorganized way, and loved, only to be disappointed when I found the correct order and the whole story.

    One, maybe the first, was Liquid Television on MTV, especially the old Aeon Flux shorts. My brother and I would watch the show whenever we could catch it on, but we never seemed to know when it was on. So, we ended up seeing all these serial cartoons out of order, and trying to figure out what was going on. With Aeon Flux, it was pretty difficult, because there wasn’t much explanation of what was going on, except that this woman wanted to kill this guy, and there was some disease killing people, and the woman may have been dreaming the entire thing. My brother and I thought we had it all figured out, until we saw an episode that played the entire Aeon Flux serial in order, and we realized we weren’t even close. Oh well.

    It happened to me repeatedly with big, expansive, sci-fi/fantasy universes that seem impossibly complicated to an outsider. I started reading X-Men comics in the middle of The X-cutioner’s Song, some byzantine four-title crossover that barely makes sense to anybody. What’s interesting about that story arc is that it’s all about a villain whose motives nobody understands, but who is slowly revealed to be seeking vengeance for some past wrong that seems more imagined than real. That meant that I, some kid who just knows what powers these people have and what color underwear they display, was largely in the same boat as some of the characters. There was so much information out there that no matter how deep I dug into the mythology, my understanding was becoming richer and my appreciation greater. It was years before I realized that X-Men comics were stupid as hell.

    Then, the same thing happened to me with Dragon Ball Z, and probably something else at some time, but I think you get my point. I was finding things that were mysterious and intriguing foe the newcomer, but stupid as hell to the expert. Well, except Aeon Flux. I still like that stuff.

    Shortly before I started writing Chilling Like Didymus, which was originally intended to be a self-contained detective novel, I watched Mulholland Drive, and sort of fell in love with the movie. I watched it about a half a million times, and thought I had figured some stuff out, but it was still rather baffling. Then I started reading stuff online, and the common consensus was that the first 2/3 of the movie was a dream. I thought that was a bullshit solution, but upon further inspection, I realized that was almost certainly correct. I looked hard for a way that might not be the solution, but I could come up with nothing else that wasn’t equally dumb.

    I also read the book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? around that time. (The movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was based off that book, in the sense that they both featured characters named “Roger Rabbit.”) I liked the book a lot, and it was probably the first mystery novel I’d ever read. The ending reveal was absolutely ludicrous, in a way that didn’t really impede appreciation of the story. I’ve since read most of the Sherlock Holmes stuff, The Maltese Falcon, Edgar Allen Poe’s detective stuff–it’s all well and good, but the solutions generally aren’t any less ridiculous than the twist in Roger Rabbit’s book. (Eddie Valiant boxes a genie! NO SHIT.)

    So, I set out to write this detective story, with this totally batshit twist to it that I took from an interview Robert Anton Wilson gave to some weird Canadian radio personality named Nardwaar. Wilson told this stupid joke about how Timothy Leary’s ashes had been condensed into some kind of super drug. I quickly realized that didn’t really give me the basis for any sort of mystery, so I started dumping in other shit from the interview: Hitler’s cock’s whereabouts, secret societies, sex and magic and bullshit. At this point, I no longer remember what the original plot was, or how I intended to wrap up the story.

    I had it all planned out, though, and I started writing a bunch of the scenes. I didn’t write in chronological order, though, because I’d get so excited about future scenes that I’d just jump ahead to writing them. So, eventually, I had all these disconnected scenes, and a general plan, and I suddenly realized that some of my scenes were narrated in first person, and some were in third. I honestly have no idea how I could have written several scenes without considering that problem, especially since John Tanis’s voice is completely different from the matter-of-fact proclamations of the third-person narrator. Maybe I knew it all along and didn’t care. I don’t remember.

    So, I had all these important scenes written out, all in the same document, but all disconnected. And it hit me that all those boring connecting scenes really weren’t all that important, that with the information in there everyone could tell what was going on, and really, the only thing I’d be doing by telling the whole story is dragging it out too fucking long.

    Then I changed some stuff so it made less sense, and put the sections in the wrong order.

    Now, I realized I was recreating the sort of confusion I appreciated from the earlier works I mentioned. Except, here, the confusion would be perpetual. I devised several solutions to the mystery of Danielle’s death, and made sure to keep the story logically consistent with all of them. Literarily, not all solutions are equal, and one solution is certainly hinted at more than others. But, the point was to ensure that no one could ever discover, “Oh, the genie did it,” and feel secure in that solution.

    Then, I got the bright idea to expand the story. I changed the ending again (I don’t remember what it used to be), and tried to not do the same thing three times, but probably did.

    The thing is, The Two Travelers was not intended to be chronologically confusing. Actually, once you realize that it’s telling three separate stories, you can easily determine that each story is being told in chronological order; the chronological confusion comes from the intersection of the three stories.

    I long regretted that I made The Two Travelers so straightforward. Maybe that was not a legitimate preoccupation.

    The thing is, while I always tried to have some plausible explanation for the nitty-gritty of the story, I just don’t think it matters enough to explain in the book. Why the fuck would William State arrange for his death to trigger a self-destruct sequence? That’s just idiotic. And why the hell does Rock Mahon need to kill everybody who spoke the John Tanis? Doesn’t that raise more suspicion?

    And that’s sort of where the fairy tale business comes in. These things are based on other stories. They’re not all fairy tales, but they’re all those sorts of stories. And because I’m forcing these characters into these roles, to those who would ask, “Why the hell would this happen?”, I can only offer, “But it did happen.” That may not be a particularly satisfying answer.

    “Eve’s Various Children” is probably the best example of this type of horseshit. Even within the context of this book, it makes no sense. A professional hitman picks up a bunch of unknown, loitering weirdos to a professor’s house, where they all proceed to make themselves at home, and then gang up to harass and murder the professor. For good measure, the professor is referred to as both male and female.

    Well, Jesus, how do you explain that? There’s a Grimm Fairy Tale, “Mister Korbes,” in which a bunch of animals and inanimate objects meet up and travel to visit Mister Korbes. He’s not home when they arrive, so they situate themselves in the joint and get comfortable. Mister Korbes finally arrives, and they kill him. The only hint of an explanation? “What a bad man he must have been!”

    Jesus, how do you explain that?

    Alright, so there’s some nonsensical fairy tale, and I decide to base part of the story on it. Does that really justify my story making no sense? I guess I just don’t see it as important. Yeah, it’s utterly ridiculous. You could probably assume, even within the context of the story, that it couldn’t really happen as it was described; that shouldn’t affect the rest of the story. Rock Mahon killed Dr. Yice–does it matter whether he did it with a gun or a Communist?

    Honestly, that part’s so far gone that even I don’t really consider it part of the story. But it does serve as fair warning, I think, for how crazy this shit’s about to get. Self-destruct sequence? Ok, I guess. “Kill everybody”? Meh, why not.

    And that third section, well, it seems pretty straight-forward to me too, but I’m sure I’m wrong about that.

    I suppose the summary of all that is that I intended to recreate an aesthetic effect that I have failed utterly to recreate in another human being. Actually, it worked with one guy, but heI’m’s kind of a weirdo.

    • Exit Stage Right says:

      This sounds pretty sweet, definitely going to check it out

      I remember discovering the “correct” order of events for Infinite Jest and being pretty annoyed afterwards. The book is fantastic regardless but now it feels somehow less Infinite, if that makes any sense.

      There’s no real reason a book can’t be both compelling and broken.

    • beoShaffer says:

      You had me at Hussie.

      • Jack Masters says:

        The published version ended up making scant use of illustration, and only one of Hussie’s illustrations remains. I’ve tried to give credit to Hussie without turning him into a sales gimmick, but I can appreciate that Hussie’s name might be a better draw than an absurdly long (and questionably informative) aesthetic description on an unrelated message board. THAT SAID, if you’re interested in seeing all of Hussie’s original illustrations in context, send me a message (eidophusikon at synod dot us) and I’ll send them to you.

      • Anton on a non-anon, (non "anonanon") ("anon"..and on) account says:


        This guy emailed andrew hussie, creator of problem sleuth?

        even the words “hitler’s ****”, in that order, can’t put me off this purveyor of fine taste’s work.


        The thing about finding out more about settings and being dissapointed was really interesting as well, though

        Also maybe I think being instantly sold by the mention of someone emailing andrew hussie is hilarious? Yeah maybe that’s influenced me a bit

  10. Jill says:

    What is an anonymous commenter? Isn’t everyone? Very few people post under both their first and their last names. And even for those people, maybe they just made those names up, for all we know.

    • Agronomous says:

      Typically we refer to people who use the null handles “Anonymous”, “anonymous”, or “anon” as anonymous, and people who use handles like “Jill”, “onyomi”, and “Agronomous” as pseudonymous.

      The difference is largely that pseudonymous commenters can accumulate a reputation, which helps the rest of us (a) figure out what it is they’re saying, based on previous things they’ve stated or argued and (b) decide whether to read what they’ve written in the first place.

      Anonymous commenters, by contrast, can’t accumulate a reputation, because literally anyone can comment using that handle and nobody will protest (the way I would if someone started posting Hillary/Trump slash fiction under the “Agronomous” handle). Seriously hard-core anons all use the same fake email address, so you can’t tell them apart even by their gravatar.

      People who use their real names, like Larry Kestenbaum and Bram Cohen, generally check out as real people. One glaring exception is “David Friedman,” whose real name is apparently Carrie A. Duck.

      I myself would never say what I really think using my real name on the internet; I don’t even use my real email address here. But other people have more secure jobs or are closer to retirement or like to live dangerously or something.

      • Guy says:

        One glaring exception is “David Friedman,” whose real name is apparently Carrie A. Duck.

        Careful there, real Carrie Ducks do exist.

      • Oh dear God. Thank you so much for putting that image in my head. : – )

        I’ve almost always used my real name; if I remember rightly, it only took me a year or two to decide that calling myself “Silver Omega” online wasn’t nearly as cool as I’d thought it was. Of course I was already an adult, at least nominally, since in those days you only had internet if you were at a university or similar.

        But then, in the old days nobody worried about future employers seeing stuff you’d written (because they wouldn’t have internet access either) and I’ve spent the rest of my life here in New Zealand. If my employer wanted to fire me for something I’d written online, well, that would be outright illegal and I trust them to know it.

        Besides, my opinions are boring.

        • Alejandro says:

          Oh dear God. Thank you so much for putting that image in my head. : – )

          I guess you really meant Hillary/Trump, but my first thought was you meant “David Friedman carrying a duck”.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          If my employer wanted to fire me for something I’d written online, well, that would be outright illegal and I trust them to know it.

          Is that really illegal in New Zealand? How does that work — just stricter rules about termination, or what?

          • Well, I was exaggerating a little. I think I do have to follow the Staff Code of Conduct, e.g., not claim to be speaking on behalf of my employers, and I’m limited in what I can say about internal politics, management, and so on. I’ve never thought about all that too hard, because it’s just not the sort of thing I’ve ever wanted to write about in the first place.

            As for the rules about termination, I’m not a lawyer, of course, but I believe that even if I did violate the Code they’d still have to give me a warning first rather than firing me immediately, unless I went way over the top. For example, I vaguely recall a case involving a builder’s apprentice who spray-painted a swastika while working on a customer’s house. (The customer turned out to be Jewish, though I don’t think the apprentice knew that at the time.) The Employment Court held that a single such incident was not sufficient cause to fire him. (There might have also been procedural irregularities in the way he was fired, I don’t remember.)

      • Lumifer says:

        Technically speaking, “anonymous” is conditional on “to whom?”. For example, I would bet that very few people here are anonymous to someone armed with appropriate subpoenas or warrants.

      • Decius says:

        Don’t marginalize the transnonomous people who have changed their name.

  11. Homo Iracundus says:

    People keep worrying that left-leaning SSC readers never speak up in comments, so I’ve been thinking of ways to encourage participation.

    Why don’t we have a cardio thread? Whether it’s double marathons or free-pizza night at Planet Fitness, let’s talk about what we do to get… whatever the cardio version of swole is.

    Starting small: all I do is a 2-4 mile run on days off from lifting, with some chinups and stretches before and after. Should probably add more stretching and try to get the mileage up, but there’s only so many hours in a day, and cardio takes way too long when you’re this slow.

    • Jill says:

      Huh? What does cardio have to do with Left-leaning commenters speaking up? They don’t speak up because they see what happens when a Left leaning commenter does speak up. All the exercise in the world won’t change that.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’m guessing the stereotype is

        weight training: right-leaning :: cardio : left leaning.

        I think it works slightly better with the tribes rather than the political affiliations, but not very well in any case. (also I think there might be humor involved)

        • Homo Iracundus says:

          Sad attempt at humor, but also remembered that it was mostly right-leaning types who spoke up when we had a lifting thread ages ago.

          Speaking of which, does anyone have that article by the doctor who quit lifting because his entire social scene thought it was a white trash poor person habit, and made fun of him for getting muscular?

          • 1Step says:

            Don’t worry I got your joke AND I thought it was funny. Very different those 2 are.

            I remember that article as well. Quite influential on my worldview truthfully. I looked and couldn’t find it, sorry.

          • Agronomous says:

            Cardio is left-leaning if you do it right: run counter-clockwise around the track.

          • Virbie says:

            > Speaking of which, does anyone have that article by the doctor who quit lifting because his entire social scene thought it was a white trash poor person habit, and made fun of him for getting muscular?

            How interesting, I was entirely unaware of the lifting/Red association. I grew up pretty culturally Blue (though there was a good chunk of “Blue business Republicans” in mywmong my rich-kid high school friends), and I live in the Bay Area now. Going to the gym is _really_ popular here, at least in my circles, which are as culturally about as blue as you can get. It never even occurred to me that lifting has any connotation of white-trashiness.

          • Psmith says:

            Speaking of which, does anyone have that article by the doctor who quit lifting because his entire social scene thought it was a white trash poor person habit, and made fun of him for getting muscular?

            Details of your summary are a little off, but I gotchu fam.

          • Outis says:

            What about criminals, though? They vote Democratic, and they lift.

          • Psmith says:

            I see what you did there.


        • Steve Sailer says:

          I’ve been putting forward the theory for a number of years that lifting weights tends to make you more rightist and jogging makes you more leftist:

          I don’t know that that’s true. But it would seem pretty easy to test by offering college students a free personal trainer, with one group getting lifting and the other running, and measuring any changes in their political attitudes.

          • Exit Stage Right says:

            For what little its worth, before I started lifting I was a leftist. I was not very physically active, aside from jogging.

            I don’t think its a stretch to say that lifting completely changed my sense of self. I don’t know how much that has to do with me now being a rightist. Difficult to explain in a comment, but I imagine others have been through a similar experience.

          • Uncle Joe says:

            Five years ago I was a couch potato and mildly left-leaning, now I’m a serious runner and strongly right-leaning. Means nothing much, of course.

          • utilitarian troll says:

            Lifting opened up a “bro” side of me that I didn’t really have access to before. Made me feel authentically masculine in a way other things haven’t really done. I’d highly recommend it to anyone, man or woman.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not sure why a woman would want to feel masculine.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Lifting weights has for me had an overlap with moving to the right, but I’m still a left-winger, and there are other things that explain it better (like leaving university and getting a real grownup job).

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          Hmm… I’m decidedly left-leaning in policy, and grayish in tribe, and while I’m interested in both strength and cardio, I’m much more motivated by strength. And the reason is in no small part that I like the idea of being good in a fight if I ever find myself in one, though I never have.

          It doesn’t take a kabbalist to read something into the fact that muscles are nicknamed “guns”.

          (Incidentally, I feel no desire to own a gun, though also no particular aversion. Shooting ranges are fun but there are lots of equally fun things that don’t alienate my social circle, so I don’t go and don’t particularly miss it. I have no principled reason to desire unarmed-combat-ability but not arms, though I could conjure some ex-post)

        • Quixote says:

          Data point, everyone I know that does weight training is left leaning. Stereotype may be off or influenced by other factors.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            To put your datapoint in context, what would you say is the distribution of left-rightiness in your RL acquaintances.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I ride a road bike hard and fast for 15-25 miles once a week. This is not going to get me swole but it beats sitting around like a lump. I used to do inline skating at high intensity; you really DO get swole that way, but only the legs; you end up looking like a T-Rex or something.

      I’m not left-leaning but I have a stupidly expensive carbon fiber bike and wear the gear, which decisively separates me from Red Tribe.

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        God, skaters are amazing. Last time I tried it (in college) my ass hurt for a week.
        Probably most of that was bruising rather than DOMS, but at least it felt like a workout.

        Do you go anywhere when you bike? There’s a whole bunch of really nice walks and parks 5-8 miles away that I rarely get a chance to visit. Taking up biking seems like it might make that easier.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, it isn’t your ass that get DOMS from skating.

          I don’t usually stop anywhere when I’m biking for exercise. Sometimes I’ll go on recreational rides with my wife and we’ll stop at a park or a small downtown area.

      • Curious says:

        At least here in Australia, cycling is almost the new golf. I can imagine it having a right-wing connotation. We even have a great acronym: MAMILs. Middle Aged Men In Lycra.

    • interrog8 says:

      >left-leaning SSC readers never speak up

      i never do.

      why? cos this is mostly a rationalist hangout, and whilst i’m fine with rationalism in its place (me codemonkey, ook) you guys apply it everywhere!

      its too reductionist, anything which cant be expressed “rationally” gets caned and as a lot of leftish politics is about people, about humanity, about heart about things which cant be reduced to 3 points on a curve i’m left (aha) fighting with one hand tied behind my back, blindfolded and hopping on one leg. what sane person would enter the fray on those terms? i’m setup to fail.

      love the blog tho, love it!

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        >fighting with one hand tied behind my back, blindfolded and hopping on one leg

        That’s almost as weird as some of the plyometric drills the track and field guys used to do. But hey, whatever gets your heart pumping is good cardio, I guess.

      • Agronomous says:

        So Rationalism has a right-wing bias?

        That sounds… unlikely. Most of what divides the right from the left (and the further-right, and the libertarians, and the anarchists, and the communists, and the fascists) is values, which rationalism doesn’t dictate. (Though I suppose it can help you find conflicting values and try to harmonize the ones you hold.)

        What would it take to convince you to at least try to enter a politics-related SSC discussion?

        • interrog8 says:

          >Rationality has a right-wing bias?

          no, as i said, it has it places its just it cant be applied everywhere to everything, which is what tends to happen here.

          >What would it take to convince you to at least try to enter a politics-related SSC discussion?

          a good question and you are kind to ask. in truth i dont really know, i can only tell you what puts me off and its that a lot of the time i read comments here that sound like /pol/ went to university cleaned up its act a little and then came here to post. and no one calls them on it.

          dont know that anything can be fixed tho, this place is getting well known so its inevitably going to attract the crazies more and more.

      • Nornagest says:

        Remember when the left wing was the rational, sciencey, reality-based one and the right wing was haunted by superstition?

        Good times, good times.

        • interrog8 says:

          no dude, i dont, and if you think i’m talking about superstition you’d be wrong.

          as a yoof, my political awakening was hearing scargill speak during the miners strike, the talk then was all of community and your fellow man (or woman!)

          but thanks for engaging with what i said and not just making some flippant comment.

          • Nornagest says:

            This catchphrase is what I’m alluding to.

            Perhaps things worked differently across the pond, but conventional progressive wisdom in the States during the Bush administration was that the entire Republican worldview was fundamentally superstitious, driven by some combination of religious fundamentalism and instinctive, pre-rational appeal (“truthiness”), and opposed by a measured, rational, empirically-rooted Left — as exemplified through issues as diverse as war, abortion, global warming, and school prayer. I expect a lot of the Americans around here came of political age during that era, although I’m a bit older than that myself.

            Point is, I don’t think empiricism belongs to one political faction. Nor community, humanity, and all that warm, fuzzy stuff.

        • Gil says:

          I’ve come to believe that cultures are non-rational entities. They supply certain public goods like social order, a sense of safety/belonging, etc. etc. They only conform to rationalism insofar as they facilitate the aforementioned purpose.

          So the first decade of the 21st century was spent tearing down the last vestiges of that fundamentalist Christian culture within the US. Tearing down non-rational institutions doesn’t necessarily increase ‘net rationaliy’ [if that’s even a thing]What replaces it may end up being no more rational and yet also far less stable and far less harmonious.

          Demanding dispassionate, thoughtful, and evidence based beliefs of a subcommunity [such as this one] seems reasonable. Demanding it of an entire society does not seem achievable.

        • Exit Stage Right says:

          Everyone loves rationality until its smacking them in the face

          • Viliam says:

            Sometimes I feel like “political opinion” is a shorthand for “which parts of the reality have you decided to ignore”.

          • Exit Stage Right says:

            That’s an excellent way to phrase it

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            See also “Captain Metaphysics and the Extreme Skeptic” (Existential Comics #143)

            “Everyone has a plan until …”

            The “small-p”-progressive elderwoman Annie Proulx journeys far into post-rationalist territory — a realm more brutal and frightening than any Mike Tyson fight — in Proulx’ empathy-positive all-ages all-genders all-races all-classes all-IQs David Chapman-esque cowboy-centric short story “T*ts up in a ditch” (2008). 🙁

            Not recommended for children or Internet Tough Guys.™

        • Viliam says:

          Remember when the left wing was the rational, sciencey, reality-based one and the right wing was haunted by superstition?

          Nice try. Next time you’ll be telling me there was an era when the left wing didn’t call poor people “trash”, or when the left wing tried not to judge people constantly by their race or gender.

          • Mark says:

            I know, right? Fucking leftists!

          • acorn says:


            didnt you reveal that your anti-sj teamplay was rather vicarious, having had zero personal experience with an example
            of the infamous type because of where you live?

          • Luke the CIA stooge says:

            Has anyone written a book on how empiricism, respect for civil liberties, deference to the individual and general reasonableness just drop off a cliff once a group has been in office for a while?

            I think it’s significantly more pronounced in the states: where no party owns the outcomes and “kick the bums out” isn’t going to massacre 80% of the governing party every 8-12 years.

          • Viliam says:


            zero personal experience with an example of the infamous type because of where you live

            Well, that’s a question of degree. We don’t have the “herp derp, someone said that all lives matter, let’s get the evil white cishet male fired” types here. Most employers probably don’t even know what Twitter is, so they wouldn’t care.

            There are some brainwashed young people here, but they are not in my social circles. My biggest encounter with them was a few years ago when I visited a local Amnesty International meetup with my girlfriend, and during the debate someone said something like “racism is unscientific, because science has shown that IQ does not depend on genes”. My girlfriend (who was quite politically correct back then) is a biochemistry nerd, so she immediately said “actually, IQ does depend on genes…”, and then people started screaming at her “racist! racist!”, so we left the room. (It was a “red pill” moment for her; previously she believed that all similar stories are just made up or hugely exaggerated.) But this was an exception, we don’t meet people like that in our real life. We live in our high-IQ STEM-educated bubble.

            I know a few “academic-type” lefttists, and my impression of them is that they behave like some smug aristocrats. They care about poor people in a similar way someone would care about their ant farm. They wish for poor people to be fed well, but they couldn’t bear actually talking with them and listening to all that politically incorrect crap that uneducated poor people say. (The worst offenders are the people born poor who later achieved some success in their lives, and then they dare to offer some advice and even criticism to their former peers.) But this is nothing new under the sun.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Viliam fulminates  “I know a few ‘academic-type’ leftists, and my impression of them is that they behave like some smug aristocrats. They care about poor people in a similar way someone would care about their ant farm.”

            On the other hand:

            “Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.” — Gen. George S. Patton

            Seriously, aside from the academic-type progressive Roberto Mangabeira Unger — author of the celebrated and politically non-partisan video essay “Beyond The Small Life: A Letter to Young People” —is there any other person in the world (no matter on the left or on the right) who literally never says “um” or “er”? 🙂

            Fans of Apple’s Steve Jobs will enjoy too Unger’s video essay “Beyond False Necessity

            Is Unger speaking from the left? Or is Unger speaking from the right? In the language that the Tour de France bicycle race uses to describe its steepest stages, Unger’s thinking is “Beyond Category”, and his works are a viable (and wonderfully entertaining) alternative for SSC readers who tire of interminable red-versus-blue debates. 🙂

        • Nonnamous says:

          I remember the times when physicists were “constructing quarks” and Newton’s mechanics was a rape manual. Then indeed the good times and the left became all about science, with special emphasis on climate science and the theory of evolution. Has this really flipped back again, I never noticed? Or are we just making fun here.

          • Agronomous says:

            For every No there’s an equal and opposite Yes?

            (Aaaaand this is why I post pseudonymously.)

          • Nornagest says:

            See here, but to give a broader view: the Democratic mainstream still thinks of itself as the party of rationality (in the pop, not the SSC, sense of the term), but I think there’s more tension between that and its actual policy priorities than there was in the Bush era. I also think there’s more explicit anti-rationality coming to the surface, as attitudes that in the 2000s were the sole province of critical-theory academics and a few activists are starting to seep into the popular consciousness (in bastardized form). I’m not quite prepared to say it’s flipped, but the currents are a lot stronger.

            I don’t know a lot about the British Left, but if interrog8’s take on it is accurate, then the process is further along over there. Dunno how mainstream a perspective that represents, though — in my imperfect understanding, New Labour was pretty bog-standard neoliberal over the same timeframe.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Nonnamous observes “The left became all about science, with special emphasis on climate science and the theory of evolution.”

            Why shouldn’t progressives cheerfully exploit the profitable arbitrage opportunities that climate-science denialism provides? Equally for the gain of profit and of polity?

            More broadly, progressivism need be neither unscientific nor irrational nor small-minded, need it?

            Can’t we celebrate that progressivism (considered objectively) has profited much, and is profiting more? Has learned much, and is learning more? Has ventured much, and is venturing more?

            These progressive gains are good news for everyone, including conservatives, aren’t they? Because profit, learning, and ventures are intrinsic goods, aren’t they?

          • cassander says:

            @Uncle Ilya Kuriakin

            >Why shouldn’t progressives cheerfully exploit the profitable arbitrage opportunities that climate-science denialism provides? Equally for the gain of profit and of polity?

            the trillions of dollars of spending a serious climate policy would entail would offer far more opportunities for graft than denial could ever dream of making.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            As of 2012, didn’t strandable carbon assets already support corporate share value of $4 trillion and service $1.3 trillion in outstanding corporate debt?

            Hasn’t the protection of these immense corporate assets historically provided, prima facie, an overwhelmingly strong motivation for the broad-spectrum social corruption that traditional land-respecting small-government conservatives like Wendell Berry deplore?

            Isn’t there reasonable grounds to apprehend, that the carbon / warming debate is recapitulating the tobacco / cancer debate?

            And we all know how the latter debate ended, don’t we?

          • cassander says:

            >As of 2012, didn’t strandable carbon assets already support corporate share value of $4 trillion and service $1.3 trillion in outstanding corporate debt?

            And? Those carbon assets have value because they are useful. Replacing them will, almost by definition, cost more than than their present value.

            >Hasn’t the protection of these immense corporate assets historically provided, prima facie, an overwhelmingly strong motivation for the broad-spectrum social corruption that traditional land-respecting small-government conservatives like Wendell Berry deplore?

            Not nearly as strong motivation as massive government spending programs does.

            >Isn’t there reasonable grounds to apprehend, that the carbon / warming debate is recapitulating the tobacco / cancer debate?

            not on the basis of the evidence you’ve offered. There is vastly more money on the change side than the denial side.

            >And we all know how the latter debate ended, don’t we?

            you mean with ever more aggressive litigation of ever more dubious claims in pursuit of “free” money? Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the efficacy of governmental efforts.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Cassander, your remarks inspired a search of the recent literature on second-hand-smoke sequelae:

            Biologically we find “Biological evidence for the acute health effects of secondhand smoke exposure” (2010, PMID 19767410)

            Epidemiologically we find “Is exposure to secondhand smoke associated with cognitive parameters of children and adolescents?–a systematic literature review” (2013, PMID 23969303)

            Aren’t these ongoing studies ever-more-strongly affirming, both biologically and epidemiologically, that tobacco smoke is just plain bad, alike for adults, adolescents, children, and infants, no matter whether directly inhaled or second-hand?

            The remaining unanswered question, regarding which your input is welcome, is this: why is there a strong psychological and institutional association between tobacco / cancer denial and climate-change denial?

            After all, scientists were right about the harm from tobacco smoke; so why is it implausible that scientists are right about climate-change?

            The world wonders!

          • Lumifer says:

            Aren’t these ongoing studies ever-more-strongly affirming, both biologically and epidemiologically, that tobacco smoke is just plain bad

            All smoke is just plain bad. So when are you going to prohibit children from sitting around campfires and be present within 50 feet of an operating grill?

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Not all combustion smokes are the same (fuel, temperature, moisture, and oxygen levels all matter; the slow smoldering combustion of cigars and cigarettes is particularly adverse).

            None-the-less and in general, pregnant women, infants, and children particularly are *VERY* well-advised to avoid prolonged and/or involuntary exposure to any and all smoky environments.

            That’s the common-sense biomedical reason why the Volkswagen Corporation’s recent profit-maximizing diesel-emission cheating-scandal was legally wrong and morally indefensible, wasn’t it?

          • Lumifer says:

            Secondary smoke is teratogenic? Links?

            As to your question about VW, the answer is “no”.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Lumifer says “Secondary smoke is teratogenic? Links?”

            See (for example) the free-as-in-freedom “Second-hand smoke — ignored implications” (2015, PMID 26308069) and references therein.

            Second-hand smoke causes lung cancer in adults who have never smoked.

            Non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20–30%.

            Second-hand smoke causes more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmokers each year.

            As with active smoking, the longer the duration and the higher the level of exposure to secondhand smoke, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer.

            Lumifer, your request for scientific information is commendable.

            On the other hand, it’s logically possible that the communities of the biochemists, cell biologists, epidemiologists, clinical physicians, and judges are united in an interlocking conspiracy of self-serving delusions and/or corruption.

            Regarding the existence (or not) of such conspiracies, SSC readers will have to make up their own minds. For some people, no amount of organic chemistry, cell biology, epidemiology, or judicial findings can be convincing … because as the science grows stronger, its increasing unity is regarded as confirming evidence of ever-broadening scientific conspiracies.

          • Lumifer says:

            I asked for links to papers, not to a badly written pop-sci list of horrors. Notably, I specifically asked about teratogenic effects of secondary smoke which are conspicuously absent in this list.

            If you have none, just say so.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Isn’t current evidence of significant neonatal risk convincing (2016, PMID 27465062)?

            Conclusions for Practice  Irrespective of prenatal, perinatal and sociodemographic data (including infant postnatal nicotine exposure), prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke and second-hand smoke affect infant cognitive development, especially language abilities.

            We only wish to raise quality of life (for infants particularly). You will become one with science-respecting progressivism! 🙂

          • cassander says:

            >Aren’t these ongoing studies ever-more-strongly affirming, both biologically and epidemiologically, that tobacco smoke is just plain bad, alike for adults, adolescents, children, and infants, no matter whether directly inhaled or second-hand?

            Probably, but that says little about the financial liabilities of cigarette companies, or any other legal/governmental response.

            >The remaining unanswered question, regarding which your input is welcome, is this: why is there a strong psychological and institutional association between tobacco / cancer denial and climate-change denial?

            I have never looked into such an association, but my first response would be contrarianism, e.g. the same sort of overlap between moon landing deniers and 9/11 truthers.

            >After all, scientists were right about the harm from tobacco smoke; so why is it implausible that scientists are right about climate-change?

            If tobacco was the only thing we’d asked scientists about in recent years, they’d have a good record. Unfortunately, we also asked them about nutrition, stomach ulcers, and hell, even climate, which has been bucking the models for the last 10 years or so. I think scientists are right about most things, and they’re probably at least in the ballpark about climate, but “in the ballpark” is not enough when I’m being asked to fork over trillions of dollars.

          • Lumifer says:

            Let’s try again. I asked for a link to papers, not abstracts. Moreover, I asked about effects of secondary smoke (secondary for the pregnant women, that is).

            I keep asking you for evidence and you keep telling me it’s convincing because SCIENCE! but you don’t actually show it to me.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            cassander says: “in the ballpark [climate science]” is not enough when I’m being asked to fork over trillions of dollars [for carbon-neutral energy economies].”

            Cassander, please don’t fall for the sunk-cost carbon-energy fallacy.

            Haven’t the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — which were initiated largely to protect carbon-energy reserves — already incurred trillions of dollars in irrecoverable costs?

            To say nothing of the uncountable cost in heroes blood?

            There’s no reason to keep shipping hundreds of billions of American dollars overseas, to line the pockets of terror-supporting oligarchs, monarchs, and mullahs, is there? And if their in-the-ground carbon assets lose value, that’s mighty good news, isn’t it?

            Relative to the evident risks and costs, both war-related and ecological, that are inherent in our present carbon-based economy, doesn’t carbon neutrality look like a low-risk job-creating economy-boosting ecosphere-protecting technology-catalyzing win/win/win/win/win objective?

            Sooner or later, the globe has to go carbon-neutral … so isn’t sooner far better, by pretty much any rational or strategic or scientific or economic or ecological or moral measure?

            — — — —

            Note to Lumifer: the full text of “Effects of Prenatal Nicotine Exposure on Infant Language Development: A Cohort Follow Up Study” (PMID 27465062) is available on-line but alas is paywalled; to read it you may either visit a medical school library, ask your pediatrician for a copy, or simply purchase it.

            Absent a pressing personal interest in pediatric practice, a reasonable policy is “respect practice recommendations” … unless you have objective evidence that your knowledge exceeds that of practicing pediatricians.

            In our family, pregnant women strictly avoid tobacco smoke, judging rightly (is it seems to everyone) that there exist good and sufficient scientific reasons for this pregnancy policy. Anyone who unilaterally “blew smoke” at these women, whether directly or indirectly, would be acting wrongly (to say the least), and would receive a corrective lesson.

          • Lumifer says:

            So you don’t have any links.

            The advice of “respect practice recommendations”, of course, has nothing to do with science. This becomes very evident when you look at the change in these recommendations over the last 100 years or so, for example.

          • cassander says:

            >Cassander, please don’t fall for the sunk-cost carbon-energy fallacy.

            I’m not. The carbon infrastructure is not a sunk cost, it consists largely of useful stuff that you want to throw away and replace with new stuff. I’d rather not.

            >Haven’t the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — which were initiated largely to protect carbon-energy reserves —

            No, they weren’t, and if you think that Afghanistan is a land full of petroleum, you need to crack open an encyclopedia. More philosophically, one waste of money does not justify another.

            >.There’s no reason to keep shipping hundreds of billions of American dollars overseas, to line the pockets of terror-supporting oligarchs, monarchs, and mullahs, is there?

            It’s cheaper than the alternative, which is a pretty damned good reason.

            >And if their in-the-ground carbon assets lose value, that’s mighty good news, isn’t it?

            We’re not talking about in the ground assets. We’re talking about power plants, distribution systems, factories making the parts for them, etc.

            >Relative to the evident risks and costs, both war-related and ecological, that are inherent in our present carbon-based economy, doesn’t carbon neutrality look like a low-risk job-creating economy-boosting ecosphere-protecting technology-catalyzing win/win/win/win/win objective?

            Completely changing the way a massive and utterly vital sector of the economy works by replacing it with unproven technology is most definitely not low risk.

            >Sooner or later, the globe has to go carbon-neutral … so isn’t sooner far better, by pretty much any rational or strategic or scientific or economic or ecological or moral measure?

            Maybe, maybe not, but even if it does, all else being equal, the richer the planet is the easier that is to do.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            It’s not easy (for me) to discern whose arguments are more deficient in facts and reason, cassander’s or lumifer’s. Let’s tackle cassander’s.

            How do SSC readers imagine that Iraqi and Afghan insurgents learnt to build their devastatingly effective homemade shaped charges, save by the in-depth training and sophisticated shaped-charge technologies that were widely disseminated in-theatre by oil-field companies like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and Schlumberger?

            Strictly fiscal accountings aren’t adequate to these issues, which amount to a tragedy of the global techno-commons, that was perpetrated by Halliburton and Schlumberger … to their immense, unilateral, and ongoing corporate profit (Halliburton in particular having subsequently relocated to Dubai from the US).

            So how can the short-term trillion-dollar cost of these terror weapons weapons to our troops, and the longer-term cost in heroes’ blood and enduring suffering, and the millennial cost to our planetary ecosystem, be adequately accounted in any reasoned strategic analysis save those that conclude “go carbon-neutral ASAP”?

            The world wonders. Or rather, the world doesn’t wonder … because increasingly many thoughtful folks have made up their minds.

          • Nornagest says:

            How do SSC readers imagine that Iraqi and Afghan insurgents learnt to build their devastatingly effective homemade shaped charges, save by the in-depth training and sophisticated shaped-charge technologies that were widely disseminated in-theatre by oil-field companies like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and Schlumberger?

            From insurgents who were formerly soldiers or engineers working for the previous regimes? From field manuals captured from foreign troops or disseminated by foreign or domestic powers during that or another war? By taking apart RPG projectiles or anti-armor mines and copying what they found inside? In school, seeing as a number of insurgents were current or former science or engineering students? By reading Wikipedia? There’s lots of possibilities here.

            Shaped charges aren’t conceptually that difficult, and EFPs aren’t much harder. There’s room for optimization, but just about any lined cavity will work as long as it’s radially symmetrical, and I seem to recall that a lot of shaped-charge IEDs were made by molding the charge around a cooking bowl or whatever was handy.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            All of those learning venues, and more. Whereas it’s not so easy to convert photovoltaic panels into weaponry, is it?

            Everywhere in Iraq and Afghanistan, local insurgencies have been in past decades, and continue to be today, economically fueled by oil-field revenues, technologically armed by oil-field technologies, and socially motivated by well-founded local anger at oil-revenue corruption and the foreign domination associated to it. Within this toxic milieu terrorism flourishes (unsurprisingly).

            In contrast, the slow-but-steady payout of photovoltaic energy-generation (for example) exemplifies a major strategic advantage of carbon-neutral energy generation, which fosters not “pump-oil-faster to get-right-quicker” ventures, but rather “maintain-the-local-infrastructure to become-sustainably-prosperous” ventures.

            The point being, that carbon neutral energy-economies require justice-systems and education-systems that are stable on generational timescales. Carbon-revenues not so much, right?

            The inherent stability-enhancing counter-terror advantages of a global shift toward carbon neutrality aren’t simple to account, are they?

          • Nornagest says:

            If you can make photovoltaic panels, you have a semiconductor industry. You can do a lot of stuff with a semiconductor industry. Not so much direct weaponization, but plenty of things that those Marine reading lists you’re fond of would call “force multipliers”.

            Oh, and I know Cassander already said this, but it bears repeating that there’s no economically significant oil fields in Afghanistan. Nor does the Taliban have any particular reason to be pissed off about oil development. Ironically, though, it’d be a pretty good place for photovoltaics.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Terror-supporting oil-revenues flow across borders a whole lot more easily even than oil, don’t they? Whereas 30-year municipal bonds for the local photovoltaic park are inconveniently traceable, aren’t they?

          • Nornagest says:

            The Taliban’s funding sources are controversial, but probably have more to do with drugs, Pakistan, and foreign-aid skimming than oil. Al-Qaeda is a different story — they’re funded largely by the Saudis — but they never made up much of the rank-and-file insurgency there.

          • Lumifer says:

            It’s not easy (for me) to discern whose arguments are more deficient in facts and reason, cassander’s or lumifer’s.

            Do not be alarmed. This is a test. This is only a test.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Whereas it’s not so easy to convert photovoltaic panels into weaponry, is it?

            Actually it is.

            Leaving aside the existence of Nornagest’s semi-conductor industry, having a ready supply of pre-refined rare earth elements is magnificently handy for all sorts of nasty projects.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Nornagest, please appreciate that oil-revenues aren’t solely a rich fiscal resource for terrorists, their iniquitous distribution is a powerful anger resource … and these dual roles of carbon-revenues are comparably essential to terrorist insurgencies.

            These dual roles are not solely my personal observation and opinion, but also comprise crucial elements of the US Military’s counterinsurgency doctrine. See first and foremost the doctrine manual FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency

            Ideology and Narrative (¶ 1-75) Ideas are a motivating factor in insurgent activities. Insurgencies can gather recruits and amass popular support through ideological appeal (including religious or other cultural identifiers).

            Promising potential recruits often include individuals receptive to the message that the West is dominating their region through puppet governments and local surrogates.

            The insurgent group channels anti-Western anger and provides members with identity, purpose, and community, in addition to physical, economic, and psychological security.

            The movement’s ideology explains its followers’ difficulties and provides a means to remedy those ills. The most powerful ideologies tap latent, emotional concerns of the populace. Examples of these concerns include religiously based objectives, a desire for justice, ethnic aspirations, and a goal of liberation from foreign occupation.

            Ideology provides a prism, including a vocabulary and analytical categories, through which followers perceive their situation.

            Needless to say, the entirety of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency solidly repays close study.

            Come to reflect, isn’t the xenophobic demagogic anger-grounded cognition that FM 3-24 describes, characteristic too of a certain on-line “wretched hive of scum and villainy”, whose proper name it is regarded as ill-mannered to mention here on SSC? 😉
            — — — —
            By the way, how long since the Taliban claimed responsibility for any European or North American terror attacks? Any link to the fiscal and psychological reality, that the Taliban, unlike ISIS and Al Qaeda, doesn’t rely much on carbon-revenues?

          • Nornagest says:

            please appreciate that oil-revenues aren’t solely a rich fiscal resource for terrorists, they’re also a powerful anger resource […] See for example FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency

            I’ve read Counterinsurgency. You’re still wrong about the Taliban.

            I would expect someone as fixated on empathy as you to understand that insurgent and terrorist groups are different from each other and do not entirely share each other’s goals, motivations, structure, or material circumstances. The Taliban is not Al-Qaeda is not ISIS is not the unfortunately named Moro Islamic Liberation Front. All these groups share an antipathy to the West — but the specific facts about the West they dislike, and the priority the West takes relative to local struggles, vary immensely.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            The preceding opinions aren’t my own, but rather were communicated to me by persons who had spent both considerable time talking face-to-face with the Taliban in Afghanistan (often under difficult circumstances) and considerable time too, helping to write FM 3-24.

            Conservatives who complain about Saul Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals haven’t much of a clue … the real Progressive Field Manual is FM 3-24! 🙂

            The resulting Progressive solidarity and focus is among the very few benefits (as they seem to me) to be born out of the immensely long, immensely complicated, immensely costly, immensely tragic, immensely disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

          • Agronomous says:

            @Guy Who Definitely Isn’t John S-dl-s:

            Haven’t the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — which were initiated largely to protect carbon-energy reserves

            The Afghanistan war? The one that started before anyone knew they had any mineral resources to speak of? That was to protect carbon-energy reserves?

            Really? Nothing to do with planes and skyscrapers and mass civilian deaths? Or a government of Afghanistan that had given safe harbor to the perpetrators?

          • hlynkacg says:

            I get the impression that you are using “progressive” in a very different way from the typical Democrat or poster on this forum.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Agronomous wonders  “The Afghanistan war […] was to protect carbon-energy reserves?”

            “In for a penny, out for a pound”, right?

            Or rather, “In for $60B (estimated costs), out for $6000B (real costs)“. Ouch.

            Not to mention, enhanced oil revenues were supposed to more than make up (in Dick Cheney’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s estimation) even the $60B up-front costs of the war. Oy.

            During the subsequent thirteen years, this struggle has been no respector of borders, has it? Iraq/Afgan/Somalia/Syria (etc.) has all been one long grinding war, hasn’t it?

            How could folks who regarded themselves as smart enough to start such a complex war, be so dumb as to be wholly incapable of conceiving a viable strategy for ending it?

            Some folks have trouble appreciating that no amount of self-congratulating cleverness can compensate for willful ignorance, inexperience, and wishful delusions, right?

            Also, hlynkacg, folks who hang around cognitive echo-chambers too much, soon fall prey to the incestuous stupification and bafflegab that befuddled Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, don’t they? How confident should SSC’s right wing commenters be, that they possess anything like an accurate conception, of the fast-evolving elements of progressivism and Enlightened Modernity?

          • Nornagest says:

            When the law is on your side, pound on the law.
            When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts.
            When neither is on your side, pound on the table.

            – lawyers’ saying; attributed to Jerome Michael, but probably traditional

          • brad says:

            The oldest variant I’m aware of is attributed to Cicero: “When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff.”

            I have my doubts as I’ve never seen it in Latin.

          • Jill says:

            With regard to tobacco and lung cancer, and then climate change denial, there’s a lot of continuity there. See review of a book on this subject, and then the book itself below.

            Review: ‘Merchants of Doubt,’ Separating Science From Spin

            Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming Paperback – May 24, 2011
            by Naomi Oreskes (Author), Erik M. Conway (Author)


          • Jill says:

            Speaking of pounding: And when neither the facts, nor the law, are on your side, pound on your political opponent.

          • hlynkacg says:

            John, we’ve had this conversation before but it bears repeating…

            You keep telling me that I live in an echo chamber, yet here I am talking to you. Two possibilities present themselves, either you live in the exact same echo chamber and are just as stupefied as I, or my chamber is a lot more open than you give credit for.

            Is it really so hard for you to grasp that, rather than being “befuddled” or under the influence of some dark wizard, I might have good reason to disagree with your analysis? If you had read FM 3-24 and understood it (rather than simply linking to it) you would realize that you are committing the exact error that Amos, Mattis et al. are trying to warn against. The opposition has it’s own mind, it’s own goals, and if you don’t understand or at least acknowledge them they WILL blindside you. I would expect someone who places so much emphasis on empathy to actually empathize, and maybe attempt to “put themselves in the other’s shoes”, but thus far you have demonstrated no such ability.

            If you really want to talk about Counterinsurgency and it’s relevance to modern politics you need to examine the rise of Trump (and to a lesser extant Sanders) and ask how it was that they managed to catch your “forces of modernity” with their collective pants down.

          • Jill says:

            I am befuddled as to how we have progressive forces of modernity. Perhaps we are learning slowly, but the GOP still controls both Houses of Congress, most governorships, and most state legislatures. And they are far from progressive.

            And for president we have running a neocon Democrat, plus a GOP guy who proves that GOP primary voters will vote for the most entertaining person with an R behind his name, who makes the prettiest version of the promises which have been made and broken countless times before. He’s a big Eff You vote against the establishment. Some people really think he would shake things up and change things for the better.

            I suppose you could say that saying Eff You to the establishment is progressive. But why not just vote for someone progressive, instead of an unstable constantly lying person? Some people do seem to believe that he’s not a neocon. And he may not be. But he seems to be even more dangerous than a neocon because he’s so changeable and impulsive and non-diplomatic.

            I would love to see progressive forces of modernity. I hope Uncle I K is right about them. What I see is mostly though is regressive forces of backwardness.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            hlynkacg invites SSC readers to “Ask how Trump managed to catch your “forces of modernity” with their collective pants down.”

            Aren’t many conservatives asking themselves that same question?

            “I’d rather take our chances with nearly anyone else than continue with this certain loser [Trump] who will likely cost the Senate and much more.”

            Hasn’t Erick Erickson’s well-regarded conservative website The Resurgent replaced its logo with … Slim Pickens riding the H-bomb? Isn’t RedState (and many other conservative sites) headlining photos of  … dumpster fires? 🙂 🙂 🙂

            For many folks (including me) these top-level conservative sites are showing the very best variety of conservatism: principled conservatism that has a sense of humor!

            Regarding who has (or has not) read FM 3-24, and who has (or has not) assimilated the lessons of FM 3-24, we can all agree that neither Trump nor his advisors belongs to the the read-and-understood group, can’t we?

            — — — —
            Jill thank your for those links to Naomi Oreskes’ works. Already in my personal “database of hope and caring” is Oreskes’ Vatican-sponsored lecture: “Scientific Consensus and the Role and Character of Scientific Dissent” (2014). Oreskes’ good-natured and well-received science-respecting lecture (applauded by no less than Walter Munk!) is commended to SSC’s humor-loving conservatives.

            Applying the litmus-test of humor leads us to wonder: are SSC’s Jill and Nancy Lebowitz, and HotWhopper’s Sou from Bundanga, and Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes, and writers Octavia Butler, Annie Proulx, and Ursula LeGuin all (secretly) the same dangerously intelligent, dangerously science-respecting, dangerously independent, dangerously acerbic, dangerously funny person?

            `Cuz that would explain everything.

            Conservatives, listen to your mothers! Evolution helps these women to live a long time, so that you can receive their wisdom and enjoy their humor! 🙂 🙂 🙂

          • hlynkacg says:

            Aren’t many conservatives asking themselves that same question?

            Not really no. Or rather those who’ve been paying attention aren’t. The Republican coalition has been on skating on thin ice since the TARP bailout in 2008, and primed for a populist insurgency since Romney lost in 2012. That Trump became the face of that insurgency is moderately surprising but its’ existence is not. The “Bitter Clingers” of 2010 are now the “Red Hats” of 2016.

            Regarding who has (or has not) read FM 3-24, and who has (or has not) assimilated the lessons of FM 3-24, we can all agree that neither Trump nor his advisors belongs to the the read-and-understood group, can’t we?

            No we can’t.

            Thus far Trump is the only candidate in this election cycle to demonstrate a functional understanding and apply those lessons. That’s why, despite opposition from both parties, he’s still in the race.

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            Historical postcript  Ursula LeGuin expressed dismay that very few in her National Book Award audience understood her acceptance speech’s repeated references to “a beautiful reward” for her post-red / post-blue lifetime body of writings.

            How many SSC readers grasp LeGuin’s reference to a “beautiful reward”? Here’s a major hint: think “like a boss” (musically, that is).

            Now can you guess it? Conservatives, listen to your mothers! 🙂

            The USMC is listening good-naturedly, for sure! 🙂 🙂 🙂

          • Exit Stage Right says:

            Imagine if some poor shmuck actually wanted to respond to Nonnamous

          • Uncle Ilya Kuriakin says:

            — — — —
            Trigger warning: this comment links to some mighty tough works.
            — — — —
            Nowadays the works that small-p progressive tough-minded older women are writing — works like Annie Proulx’ “T*ts up in a ditch” (2008) — are admired by the younger USMC writers of my acquaintance.

            Cmdr. Shery Snively’s Heaven in the Midst of Hell: a Quaker Chaplain’s View of the War in Iraq (2010) — with its Foreword by Gen. Mattis — is another tough-minded USMC-admired work.

            Was I young and/or clueless and/or living in a internet bubble, it wouldn’t make any sense to willfully keep ignorant of these tough-minded works, which are written by some tough-minded older progressive women, now would it?

            But these women are dangerous, mighty dangerous, and mighty frightening too; that’s for d*mn sure. Frightening especially, to Internet Tough Guys™.

          • g says:

            I’m puzzled by Lumifer’s comments to Uncle Ilya here.

            Ilya posts links to a couple of journal articles about harmful effects of second-hand tobacco smoke. Lumifer says (if I’m interpreting right) “yeah, but that’s just because all smoke is bad for you”. Ilya says “yeah, it is, but tobacco smoke is particularly bad; anyway, children and pregnant women should avoid all smoky environments”. So far, so good.

            But then Lumifer says, and I quote, “Secondary smoke is teratogenic? Links?”.

            And that’s odd because “teratogenic” is a very specific claim which Uncle Ilya never made.

            So, anyway, Uncle Ilya very wisely ignores that super-specific claim and cites an article saying that “prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke and second-hand smoke affect infant cognitive development, especially language abilities”. Prenatal. Second-hand. There we go.

            But no. “I asked for a link to papers, not abstracts. Moreover, I asked about effects of secondary smoke (secondary for the pregnant women, that is).” Well, I can’t tell exactly what the link went to since it now seems not to work (looks like a PubMed problem) but no, Lumifer didn’t ask for links “to papers, not abstracts”, and it’s generally not difficult to get from the abstract to the paper (given willingness to pay or to find a suitable library, and it’s not Uncle Ilya’s fault if Lumifer lacks that), and the fragment Uncle Ilya quoted specifically says it addresses prenatal exposure to second-hand smoke.

            This whole thing looks like pure goalpost-moving: Lumifer invents claims Ilya never made (“teratogenic”) and demands that he support them, and then invents demands he never actually made (“papers, not abstracts”) and complains that Ilya hasn’t met them. (Not that they would have been reasonable demands even had he made them earlier. It’s hardly Ilya’s fault that Springer don’t make full text avaliable online to everyone, or that Lumifer is not willing either to pay their extortionate prices or to go and find a good academic or medical library.)

            Lumifer is (assuming this is the same Lumifer as on Less Wrong, which seems plausible) an exceptionally smart person, so what’s going on here to provoke such unreasonableness?

          • Jiro says:

            Several hypotheses, but one is that Lumifer is a smoker, or has friends who are smokers, cigarettes are addictive, and addicts and friends of addicts defend addictions in irrational ways, particularly when anyone suggests their addiction causes harm.

            Another hypothesis is that cigarette smoking was used as an example by the libertarian equivalent of clickbait and Lumifer has too much invested in the clickbait article.

      • It’s never been a problem for me. The LessWrong tradition has it that rationality is the efficient satisfaction of a utility function which is itself arbitrary. That being the case, left-utilons are as valid as right-utilons.

        Also, LW rationality s big on consequentialism, which is the ideal counter to Right libertarianism.

      • Vitor says:

        Are you familiar with the concept of Straw Vulkans? If you stereotyped us less, you might find that there are reasonable discussions to be had here, no matter what position you’re arguing for.

        There is nothing in leftist politics that’s fundamentally opposed to rationality. Bad leftist politics on the other hand (stereotypically represented by a SJW frothing at the mouth) is opposed to rationality, because it involves dumping logic whenever it conflicts with ideology, which has nothing to do with it being leftist.

        People here are as opposed to fundamentalist rightist positions as they are to fundamentalist leftist ones.

        • Luke Somers says:

          Agreed completely, and I’d add that if one’s conception of rationality is that it gets in the way of thinking clearly about something, one is doing it wrong?

          • Vitor says:

            Sigh… I would conclude that SSC has a rightist slant, obviously. This doesn’t invalidate the point that civil discussions of all positions are possible. Notice the word “fundamentalist” in my quote above.

            Also, there is no need for ad-hominems.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What if you were informed that someone did a study and found opposition to leftist positions at SSC, outnumbered opposition to rightist positions at a ratio of 10 to 1?

            I’d say what I’ve said before: that this is because a number of prominent rightists and rightist subjects which inspire opposition have been banned.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I was trying to figure out what my “formula” is, then I realized you probably meant this script to count up comments by commenter. I don’t recall anybody taking those numbers and doing anything with them, but would be interested in seeing it happen.

            For the record, this thread’s current top 5:
            Nornagest: 46
            Jill: 35
            Lumifer: 31
            Anonymous: 28
            Corey: 24

            (I still think counting by word rather than comment will give very different numbers. Nornagest prefers short and witty, which gives him a big edge. I bet Jill has far more words.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Here is an unsupported biased self-report of my perception.

            The number of “left” commenters and comments has increased over the last two months, and I mean substantive comments, not just various left-leaning drive-bys.

            Partly, I think that discussions about what the balance is pulled leftward people out of the woodwork and then they started making other comments. But that is, again, unsubstantiated perception on my part.

          • Nornagest says:

            Huh, didn’t realize I was that prolific.

          • Jill says:

            About to Be Silenced.

            “Its much higher than 10 to 1.

            So are you lying or blind?”

            Human can’t see ourselves or our tribe objectively. It’s like trying to accurately see a picture that we are standing inside of.

            All this rational talk and belief and attempts to practice rationality are interesting and sometimes useful. However, it remains the case that the basic human operating system and software are not about truth and rationality. They are about individual and group physical survival.

            And then when humans don’t have to worry any more about physical survival, then emotional survival and survival of one’s mentally constructed identity, are substituted in place of physical survival, as the very most important things for humans to do.

          • daronson says:

            @Vitor, I don’t think SSC has a rightist slant (though of course everything is relative, and maybe you live in Berkeley). Most people I know who read SSC are left-leaning academic types. I think extreme right-leaning people post more about politics because they feel more conflicted, or more annoyed with the status quo, and they’re tolerated here (rightly). It’s the same with social justice people: they are a small minority of the (relatively moderate and politically apathetic) population, but you hear them the most because they have capital-o Opinions!

          • Jill says:

            SJ people? You may hear them somewhere but not much here.

            Perhaps many SSC readers are Left of Center. But if so, then they make sure they never comment, after watching what happens to Left Leaning people who do.

      • Rowan says:

        I think we have very different ideas about what “rationality” means. @Vitor mentioned the “Straw Vulcan”, here’s a LW post detailing some of the misconceptions that fall under the concept, and trying to spell out the kind of rationality us rationalists are actually about.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        As another left-leaning commenter, let me add my datum: this isn’t at all my reason. Usually when I don’t speak up in a politically charged thread, it’s because I feel like I’m there too late, or perhaps because I’m shying away from the mind-killer.

        As another datum, for a while one Veronica D was steadfastly championing often-nerd-critical feminism in this board, but she eventually announced she was leaving due to emotional burnout. (I regard this as a great loss–I didn’t always agree with her, but I was glad to see that side consistently represented).

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          Eh. If you have something useful, add it.

          But as far as consistent representation – sometimes, a side being represented makes things less balanced, not more. Most people are weakmen, and having a poor representative can make a side look much worse than having no representative.

          • Nick says:

            But as far as consistent representation – sometimes, a side being represented makes things less balanced, not more. Most people are weakmen, and having a poor representative can make a side look much worse than having no representative.

            This is the primary (professed, at least) reason for my reticence posting and, indeed, my shying away from a lot of conversations. I know from long experience that not putting one’s best foot forward can be catastrophic, and that failing even once can make later attempts almost insurmountable. But I digress. +1 to your point, and I think you put it really well.

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        I disagree. I think that rationalism, especially reductionism, is how we arrive at truth, about nigh everything. And I want my philosophy to be based around truth.

        I don’t know how left you are, but… I’m pretty damn left.

      • benwave says:

        I’m strongly leftist, and I don’t comment much because I feel there’s little left to say in most cases. I’ve tried asking questions and seldom get interesting or useful answers any more. That is, answers I haven’t heard before or something presented in a new light. Honestly I’m not a big fan of the comments section here at all, though I really enjoy Scott’s actual columns.

    • erenold says:

      Let me try!

      So, SSC, which sport/activity would you consider to have the highest time-to-benefit ratio? Football (soccer), football (American), tennis, badminton, etc?

      I’ve had the best experiences with futsal, which if you take it seriously and have reasonably good teammates/competitors is extremely tiring. I’m staggering after about one and a half hours.

      Anyone else care to share?

      • emerald says:

        I’d recommend physically active job instead of sports.

        • Chalid says:

          What are physically active jobs that have pay somewhere around median income or greater, don’t require exceptional athletic ability, don’t require living someplace extremely remote, and aren’t dangerous?

          Offhand I can come up with physical trainer and beat cop in a safe community.

        • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

          Why not recommend being a millionaire instead? That way you can just pay a physical trainer and get the optimal investment for your time and money.

      • pjz says:

        …the one you like (and will therefore do) is the best one. I like Ultimate Frisbee a lot (aka ‘sprinting in circles’), personally.

        • erenold says:

          Yeah, that looks like a good one, too. I’ve given it a go in uni, and if I wasn’t so shite at it I’d probably enjoy it more and still play it today.

          I do wonder, just by the by, whether there exists anything like a scientific consensus on the metabolic benefits of any one of these sports, at a recreational level, vis-a-vis each other. Just eyeballing it, tennis strikes me as potentially the frontrunner, since the human body is in rapid motion almost continuously for long periods of time.

      • Yrro says:

        I’m absolutely addicted to BJJ. It’s the sport of nerds. Every move has a counter has a counter has a counter, and all twined together by the limitations of your physical structure and ability to execute in real time against a resisting opponent.

        Also love tennis and football. Football can be tough to find the right group to play with after high school, though, and tennis is abysmal if you and your partner are of different skill levels.

        • dndnrsn says:

          BJJ’s great. Only thing I do that can really be considered cardio.

          I know there’s … 4 SSC’ers who do BJJ? Probably not enough for a dedicated exercise thread.

        • Harkonnendog says:

          BJJ for the win because it is good for cardio, strength, stamina and agility. But it is a young person’s sport, hard to keep doing it when you approach forty, and it sucks when people half your age, or half your size, dominate you.

      • zz says:

        Tabatas. These are immediately followed by strength training (as described in Body By Science) and strength training (as described in ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription).

        Which brings up an important point. BBS will give you gains per minute spent exercising, but once you’ve made up your mind to actually strength train, the additional time you spend doing it as specified by the current consensus is almost certainly more valuable than the next most valuable thing you’d be doing with your time.

        Since that was extremely confusing: say BBS gives you 50 utils per minute and ACSM gives you 40 utils per minute and the next most valuable thing you do gives you 30 utils per minute. BBS will take you 12 minutes a week. ACSM takes about twelve times that (since they recommend 4 sets instead of 1 and thrice a week instead of once). So there’s 144 minutes you may or may not be spending exercising. Under BBS, in this 144 minutes, you get 3840 (= 50 * 12 + 30 * 108) utils, and under ACSM, you get 5760 (= 40 * 144) utils.

        Exercise exhibits superlinear returns to intensity: working at twice the intensity will, assuming you don’t hurt yourself, get you more than twice the gains. If you’re doing it right, you won’t be able to handle very much unless you’re an elite athlete or something, but since it’s so intense, there’s no need for a large volume. However, since you’re getting such high returns for every minute exercising, you want to get in every minute before the exercise loses its efficacy.

      • Davide says:

        What kind of benefit are we talking about?
        Building muscle or endurance? Losing calories? Socializing?

        I’m partial to stationary cycling with some resistance.
        It’s safe, cheap, burns off a good amount of calories while working both the heart & leg muscles and it doesn’t take that much focus, so you can do it while thinking about something or even, with the proper setup, watching TV shows.

        Not very social or ‘fun’, though, which is quite important for some people.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, the problem with stationary cycling is it’s boring as heck. I do it in the winter and watch mindless TV when I do. I don’t think I get as good a workout as when I’m going up and down hills on the real bike, but I’m using a fluid trainer (fixed resistance) rather than a dedicated stationary bike.

      • Some dude says:

        Doesn’t a high time:benifit ratio imply spending a lot of time for little benefit?

        Assuming you mean the opposite, I think something with fairly constant exertion like soccer or basketball would beat out something with a lot of breaks in play like American football, but I know next to nothing on the topic.

    • Lysenko says:

      Shredded/Ripped/Cut, generally.

      At the moment I’m just trying to walk a few miles every day. hopefully as weight comes off I will be able to increase that, although I think my days of 6 mile fartlek runs and 10+ mile trail runs are probably over.

    • Psmith says:

      I chuckled sensibly.

      Conditioning is more of a side dish than a main course for me these days, but pushing a sled a couple of times a week and walloping a heavy bag occasionally has been surprisingly good preparation for thrashing around on a mountain bike, or the occasional backpacking trip.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      Has anyone here ever done Half Dome (or approx. equivalent)?

      If yes, what sort of training did you do and would you recommend to someone who in theory has to leave for work at 6:45 and gets home at 8:00?

      Any weights? Or just pure cardio?

      • Nornagest says:

        You don’t need weights for that, you need to get used to putting a lot of vertical feet behind you. Traditional cardio will be some help, but not as much as blocking out a few weekends and using them to do a lot of steep hikes.

        If you’re in reasonably good shape but not a frequent hiker, a thousand feet of elevation gain would be a good start. I seem to recall you’re a Bay Aryan? If so, Rodeo Beach to Hill 88 is a good one.

        • meyerkev248 says:

          Ok, that’s actually useful. Thank you for that, I’ve mostly been doing stuff on San Bruno Mountain and the Coast range myself.

          /And now I just need to justify driving through SF to get to that hike.
          //The degree to which traffic balkanizes the Bay is… difficult to overstate.

  12. J.P. says:

    What does banning anonymous comments mean, mechanically speaking? Registration, or just requiring a sufficiently unique name and a non-throwaway email? Or is there a third option?

    • Guy says:

      Yeah, actually, this is a good point. Am I counted as an anon? I comment on a couple other blogs under this same psuedonym, but it’s also kind of just a random word.

    • Lumifer says:

      What is a “non-throwaway email”? Disposable emails are not exactly hard to come by.

      • Nornagest says:

        An email that resolves to a valid email account, presumably. It is easy to set up a burner account on Gmail or Outlook, but it’s a lot easier to type some crap into a textbox.

        (I adopted rather than my usual for this one.)

        • Lumifer says:

          So, a click-the-link-in-email scheme? And then ban mailinator and friends?

          I understand the trivial inconvenience argument, but I’m not sure what exactly is the goal of the exercise other than that. The serious trolls would bother to get a disposable email and the true drive-by snipings don’t seem to be that much of a problem.

          • Nornagest says:

            That would be how I’d do it, though I don’t know if any WordPress extensions can handle it easily.

            If you really want to put the brakes on trolling, about the only ways to do it are a Something Awful-style pay-for-account model or an invite-only model — and neither one will stop a truly determined attacker, it’s just that there aren’t too many of those. But as long as it’s easier for you to ban the troll (e.g. by clicking the “ban” button in the admin interface) than it is for the troll to get a new account, I think you’re about halfway there.

      • Viliam says:

        Disposable emails are not exactly hard to come by.

        Trivial inconvenience is still inconvenience.

        If there was a visible change after allowing the anonymous accounts, there should also be a visible change when the anonymous accounts are banned (and people will stop talking about how easy it is to avoid the ban).

    • Enkidum says:

      Can someone give me an example of the kinds of trolling that Scott is worried about? I’ve only been reading a few weeks, but I read probably the majority of the comments in that time and thus far there’s been some comments I thought were pretty stupid, and some comments where I thought the opinions being expressed were awful, but nothing along the lines of what I usually think of as malicious trolling (references to 88, etc).

      • Peter says:

        Bear in mind that Scott’s not complaining about “malicious trolling” or even “trolling”, not here at any rate – “getting rid of the crappy anonymouses” and “I IP ban anonymous accounts on a hair-trigger”. For a while he was saying the policy was “reign of terror”, and his new comments policy is the incredibly vague Puritan one.

        I think that if a comment is bad enough to count as “awful” then clearly it does “exceed the bounds of moderation”, it’s less clear that “pretty stupid” passes the test. OTOH I think the whole point of getting rid of the old Sufi Buddhist policy[1] was that too many people tried to lawyer it, so I suppose the new policy is meant to be unlawyerable by design.

        I, for one, would welcome the disappearance of anonymous posting.

        [1] This was, I think, before your time. This is the post that introduced the old policy.

        • Enkidum says:

          Makes sense, thanks. And I found the list of banned commenters, went through various of their posts, and it mostly makes sense. “Don’t be an asshole for no reason” seems to cover about 80% of them, at any rate.

  13. Tekhno says:

    Why doesn’t private property have more recognition as a form of government regulation? People clearly don’t think about it this way, but they should.

    • onyomi says:

      Private property antedates government as we know it. Arguably, even animals use the concept/convention to some extent.

      • Tekhno says:

        The problem is that if hunter gatherers are used as the example of non-governmental societies, then just as they didn’t have government as we know it, they didn’t have private property as we know it either. What we call private property is a set of absentee legal rights enforced by the state. Animals only have a form of possessive property that changes hands based on which individual is stronger, whereas private property is a communal institution.

        • Tracy W says:

          That might be what you call “private property”, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is using the term that way.

          For example, I recall my environmental economics professor talking about the development of lobster fishing rights in an island off the East Coast of the USA. On this island people had informal private property rights in lobster pots (enforced in extremis by cutting ropes). This was illegal under US law at the time, but the lobster population there was healthier than in other open-access lobster fisheries.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Tekhno, Your last sentence is a false dichotomy. Some animals have more than the first but less than the second.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ Tekhno
          The problem is that if hunter gatherers are used as the example of non-governmental societies, then just as they didn’t have government as we know it, they didn’t have private property as we know it either.

          How is it that we know that all hunter gatherer tribes were completely alike, and that we know what they were completely like?

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Really bad anthropology.

            Like, really embarrassingly bad “noble communist savages” stuff in the 60s and 70s, that turned the field into a bit of a joke until the science-based types pushed the worst offenders out.

          • Tekhno says:

            Where can I read about arguments that hunter gatherers have private property?

        • uhnon says:

          Yes, and gang turfs too are a possessive property that changes hands based on which gang is stronger. The point is, property seems a whole lot more peaceful than fighting over turfs. That seems to be the whole idea of civilization, that the government creates institutions that lead towards less bloodshed.

          Property is a formalization of power over a thing because you get less violence that way.

          Countries used to be seen the property of monarchs. And the idea was that the loyal subject should support the lawful king, until a pretender grows so strong that he is clearly winning in which case he is now the lawful king and the loyal subject should support him. Why? Because the only real goal is to reduce total bloodshed.

          Similarly, a worker commune can grab a bunch of factories and simply secede from the state and form their own state and government. Then they are likely attacked and wiped out but if they can somehow survive their new state can redraw property rights as they see fit. Putting it differently, there never was an idea that property rights should survive conquest or secession i.e. change of state.

          So the goal of property is to formalize power / strength / possession in order to minimize violence.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Define “private property” and “government”.

    • Paul Barnsley says:

      There’s a pretty significant strain of thought on the liberal left, devoted to pointing out that property is not “pre-legal”. A good example is Cas Sunstein’s treatment in “the Partial Constitution”, where he analyses supreme court decisions which treated property rights (including contractual rights) as pre-legal through the lens of what he calls “status quo bias” – the idea that we assume that the status quo represents non-intervention by the government, while any change to the status quo is government action.

      It’s quite persuasive, IMO, unless you adopt some radical rights-based theory of property rights.

      • hlynkacg says:

        The problem as I see it is that Sunstein’s argument proves to much. I don’t think any rights would qualify as “pre-legal” under Sunstein’s analysis.

        • Paul Barnsley says:

          That’s fine from Sunstein’s point of view (and mine, I think). It means that everything is ultimately a consequence of governmental action, which matter for the legal reasons I’ve discussed below. There’s no baseline state of government inaction.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s fine if you want to argue that “legality” is the sole source of morality but somehow I don’t think that’s what you have in mind.

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            No, no direct moral claim, though it might feed into a tangential argument that the results of your labour rest on a foundation of laws. The instrumental claim is just that property is a result of government action, not inaction, which matters in legal contexts, particularly around governmental takings (e.g. is a law stipulating maximum hours an interference with proprietary rights, independent of whether it is a good idea?)

          • Tracy W says:


            The instrumental claim is just that property is a result of government action, not inaction

            Do the advocates of this discuss how this plays out in the context of indigenous property rights? For example, colonial courts in Australia famously ruled the country “terra nullis”. I commonly hear this as a case of the government stripping Australian Aboriginals of their property, but if I am following your logic correctly, under Sunstein’s view property only exists if the government takes steps to actively recognise such rights.
            (I suspect Sunstein does not intend that result.)

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            I’m not going back to the source for any of this, but I think the direct response would be that the claim applies to almost all property rights within the boundaries of mature legal systems (so not to frontiers, geographic or otherwise). You could extrapolate and say that the existing aboriginal property distribution is due to the actions of the aboriginal state (or “state”), but I don’t think that adds much.

            So there could, I think, be property rights in the state of nature, that’s just irrelevant to anything a real world court might have to rule on. If they’re justiciable, they’re the product of laws.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @Paul Barnsley

            If your working definition of a right is “something a real world court might have to rule on” the idea that a “right” can exist in the absence of courts is naturally going to sound very silly. But that’s not what most people mean when they talk about “rights”.

          • Tracy W says:


            the claim applies to almost all property rights within the boundaries of mature legal systems (so not to frontiers, geographic or otherwise)

            But if we can agree that there are property rights outside the bounds of “mature legal systems”, (leaving aside the question of the relative ages of English and Australian Aboriginal legal systems), then this rather undercuts the assertion that legal systems create property rights. If x exists in the absence of y, you need some strong evidence to claim that y causes x.

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            The claim is that any, actually existing distribution of property rights which might be influenced by government action is, itself, a result of earlier government action. That’s perhaps a bit more tightly caveated than my earlier versions, I’ll grant you, but basically covers the same territory. So it’s an instrumental claim, not a philosophical one.

            With that said, if someone says “I have a right to property x” and they don’t mean “the state grants me an enforceable right to x” then they’re either confusing normative claims with positive ones, located in an unusual fringe market (like illegal drug sales, as Tracy suggests) or they’re full of shit.

            I feel like one and three are common enough, seemingly even in this thread, that it’s worth emphasising the regulatory roots of basically all proprietary rights.

          • Tracy W says:

            The claim is that any, actually existing distribution of property rights which might be influenced by government action is, itself, a result of earlier government action.

            I think the strength of this depends on how you define “a result”. Eg, when my grandfather was alive, there was an estate tax in New Zealand. My grandfather was a farmer and he followed the common route of putting the farm in a trust so as to avoid the estate tax. So he acted to negate the action of government. Of course that did affect the future distribution of the property – my grandmother was provided for by the trust and had to deal with trustees rather than having the money herself. But Grandad achieved his broad goals *despite* government action.

            Or another example. During the 1950s to 70s, NZ governments regulated banks to control the supply of credit, so a bunch of non-banks developed to get around the regulations.

            Or, during rationing or in Communist countries, black markets naturally develop to get around government limits.

            Property is certainly affected by what governments do. But people are not passive recipients of government regulations. If government regulations of property do not correspond to people’s interests, people seek ways around this. (This is not to say that all such seeking is good, I am merely making a descriptive claim, not a normative one.) Government is like the 800 pound gorrila in the movie theatre, it can sit where it likes but that doesn’t mean it can run the projector.

        • MugaSofer says:

          Yes, that’s what a “right” is – something that the government has ruled people get (unless that conflicts with other rights or legal precedent.)

          Hence citizens in different countries having different sets of rights.

          • Tracy W says:

            Your definition of “right” is not consistent with many uses. For example Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man or Mary Wollenstoncroft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women were not using rights as references to what the governments were granting. Or the American Declaration of Independence which is about American colonists asserting how the British government was violating their rights.

            And, if you came across some American in the 1850s writing something like “slavery is a violation of the rights of man” I think you’d understand what they meant even though the American government did recognise slavery back then.

            Rights have been historically asserted as something governments should be respecting. They are a constraint on government, not something created by it.

        • Tekhno says:

          But that’s the correct position. Rights are things we’d like to have that are then enforced by the state (or private defense agency or syndicalist association not a state honest type thing). Nothing more, nothing less.

          • gbdub says:

            So your position is that the Declaration of Independence is the incorrect position? It’s fine if you do, but it’s not a default position.

          • Nornagest says:

            You can still make a coherent argument in favor of natural rights, but they’re a lot less fashionable as an approach today than they were in 1776.

          • hlynkacg says:

            But that’s the correct position.

            If that is so, why the qualifier?

            Labeling a specific right as being “post-legal” implies that there is such a thing as a “pre-legal” rights and/or some other form of right that exists independently of legality. Otherwise the “pre-legal” label would be superfluous.

          • Tekhno says:


            Rights are not natural, and unalienable, there is no creator (that we know of and can beseech)to hand them to us, and the idea of human equality is only meaningful if you specify what characteristics you consider to be the same across peoples.

            Apart from that, I’m down with saying “Fuck you, King George!” – but not because “natural rights”.


            I’m not saying I agree with Sunstein’s pre-legal/post-legal distinction. I’m saying that the conclusion you gleamed that no rights would be pre-legal under that analysis says to me that the concept of “rights” is not a meaningful one outside of people who want those things enforcing those things. There’s no extra dimension in which ethical rights reside waiting for us to discover them, so it’s not really useful to speak of rights in a detached universal way.

          • Tracy W says:

            Apart from that, I’m down with saying “Fuck you, King George!” – but not because “natural rights”.

            If not because “natural rights” then why?

            Let’s take the example of slavery. Can I presume that you agree that slavery was wrong, even where it was legal? Or that apartheid was wrong in South Africa even though it was legal? Or that, say, a government whose soldiers regularly raped people was doing something wrong, even if it was legal?

            We have a set of ideas about what governments should be doing or not doing. People have been criticising government actions using those ideas for centuries, even though we argue about the details. Currently we refer to those ideas that are used to criticise governments’ actions or inactions as “rights” or “natural rights”. But even if we stopped using the word “rights” to refer to those ideas, the ideas would still be there, and some other terminology would develop to refer to the ideas collectively.

          • Tekhno says:

            @Tracy W

            If not because “natural rights” then why?

            Because I think liberal democracies generally handle regime change less violently than monarchies, at least when you are operating within a culture which can accept the essential truce that democracy is in the first place.

            Another reason, is that I emotionally sympathize with the desire of the colonists to manage their own affairs under a government they feel represents them.

            Yet another reason is that I prefer a lot of America’s legal rights to those of my own country the UK, and so I am glad that they were able to establish a different system, even if it has drawbacks. I feel that America has kept alive many liberal freedoms which are on the wane in Europe.

            Let’s take the example of slavery. Can I presume that you agree that slavery was wrong, even where it was legal? Or that apartheid was wrong in South Africa even though it was legal? Or that, say, a government whose soldiers regularly raped people was doing something wrong, even if it was legal?

            I don’t like slavery because I feel sorry for the slaves, and in a society that endorses slavery, it is more likely in the future that I or people I care about may also become slaves.

            I don’t have much of an opinion of apartheid, because I don’t know enough about South Africa to be able to come to a conclusion. Preliminarily I’m against apartheid based on what little I know of how oppressive it was, but that opinion is subject to revision. It depends somewhat on how similar apartheid was to slavery.

            An army of rapists sounds pretty repulsive to me, yep.

            We have a set of ideas about what governments should be doing or not doing. People have been criticising government actions using those ideas for centuries, even though we argue about the details. Currently we refer to those ideas that are used to criticise governments’ actions or inactions as “rights” or “natural rights”. But even if we stopped using the word “rights” to refer to those ideas, the ideas would still be there, and some other terminology would develop to refer to the ideas collectively.

            Yes, but the term “rights” carries connotations that affect the way people deal with these issues. It makes people think that these things are more objective and universal than they actually are, and leads them to try and globalize them. What we call things is important, and the idea of natural rights which are unalienable leads to monomaniacal policies which sacrifice every other consideration at the alter of these rights. The Iraq War was framed in terms of providing the Iraqis objectively superior universal rights that were being alienated by Saddam, regardless of whether the culture there was fit to carry those notions. The moral outrage at this idea of something universal and unalienable being violated gives moral force to potentially unlimited action.

          • Tracy W says:

            @tekhno, thanks for your answer.

            Rights thinking is not just about feeling sorry for someone, eg I can feel desperately sorry for a young child undergoing chemotherapy to treat a cancer without thinking that their rights are being violated. Or, say a scientist friend sees their favourite theoretical argument destroyed by a counter-argument, you can feel sorry for them without thinking they have a right to be immune to criticism.

            The rest of your argument is about the effects of views based around universal rights. But this is an argument about consequences, not about the existence of the thing itself. Plenty of harmful things exist, like wasps.

      • uhnon says:

        Why is it persusasive. Property originates in sheer violence, someone controls a turf by strength and possession. Property simply formalizes is so there is less fighting and violence over that. The problem with the left even libertarian left is idealism (supported by some of the libertarian right) that things should com from lofty moral principles and not simply from keeping a bunch of vicious humans killing each other the least.

        So property is pre-legal in the sense that William the Conqueror was strong and could kill anyone who would accept he possesses England and gives parts of it to anyone he likes. Property is the formalization of all that so that there is less fighting.

    • Agronomous says:

      My kids seem to have developed the concept of private property on their own with no help from parental regulation. My wife and I do discourage private enforcement of their private property, though: they should come to us when their sibling swipes their toy/book/candy, instead of shrieking and engaging in a wrestling match. And I suppose we discourage public enforcement, as well: we’d be pretty annoyed if they called 911 every time they were short a couple of pieces of Halloween candy.

      For more abstract kinds of private property (land, water rights, patents, copyrights) it’s not so much that you need government regulation as that you need widespread agreement about the nature of the property. My favorite example is how prospectors in 19th-century California devised and enforced a system of staking claims, something I’d previously thought you’d need a government to do. See also the Internet: IANA, Usenet distribution, and a bunch of other areas; Lessig’s book Code has plenty of examples. I’m also still kind of astounded that clothing designers have no property-type protection for their designs, yet they keep churning out new ones, and some of them keep getting rich doing so.

      Take off your government-colored glasses and see the world as it really is.

      • Paul Barnsley says:

        The argument is not so much that private property as a concept relies on the government (I’m sure there are those who do make that argument, though) it’s that a particular distribution of property is a consequence of the exercise of state power.

        So your youngest child’s books belong to them because of something that you did.

        The existence of frontier economies where the state* itself is created as a means of recognising and enforcing property rights is an interesting sideline, absolutely, but doesn’t do much to negative the claim that most of that which you own, you own as a result of government action.

        *(or “state”, or whatever, I’m not trying to make the circular claim that all property is guaranteed by the state and all bodies guaranteeing property are states”)

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m sure there are those who do make that argument, though

          There are; that’s one of the things Pierre “Property is theft” Proudhon was trying to get at.

          It’s one of the bedrock assumptions of left anarchism, in fact.

        • Agronomous says:

          So your youngest child’s books belong to them because of something that you did.

          I’m not sure I get your point, here: my kids don’t really produce books, so generally they’re given them by a relative. Maybe we should take the case of my oldest, and his computer: we didn’t pay for any of it; he earned all the money himself.

          What did I do to make that computer belong to him? (I assume we’re continuing with the parents-as-government analogy.)

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            “I assume we’re continuing with the parents-as-government analogy”

            Only as far as the parents remain the source of regulation. It sounds like that’s ceased to be true for your oldest, in which case we’re back to “he owns the computer due to a series of laws and actions on the part of the state”. The fact that he might have a strong moral claim to it – he earned all the money and purchased it according to freely-entered agreements and the common laws of contract – isn’t really relevant to what I’m getting at.

            But we could point out that, within your household, your son is entitled to keep (all?) the fruits of his labour, and to use those fruits to obtain items to which he can restrict access and freely store on your property as a result of your rules. These principles aren’t universal in families, and they don’t real represent some sort of les ses faire baseline against which everything else represents a deviation. They sound like sensible rules, but they are your rules and you came up with them and implicitly enforce them.

            The particular point Sunstein makes, is that changes to the distribution of property shouldn’t be classified (for constitutional purposes) as government action while maintaining the existing distribution is viewed as inaction. That’s pretty important for legal purposes, and probably has some wider moral resonance, but it’s not a direct response to a claim about property rights, in the moral sense of something belonging to you because you mixed your labour with it, or whatever.

            (It’s probably worth adding that if you don’t think there’s an important philosophical distinction between acts and omissions then the narrow point I’m making isn’t relevant to you, though it’s broader implications might be. The law thinks there is a big difference, though, so there are instrumental reasons for broadening the definition of governmental “action”)

          • Aegeus says:

            You stopped your older kid from swiping your little kid’s books (or toys, or candy, or whatever). If you didn’t intervene, and they had settled their property dispute by shrieking and engaging in a wrestling match, then we would probably see a different distribution of private property, weighted towards the kid that’s a better wrestler.

            Even though they both agree that the concept of private property exists, the one who enforces that concept can decide who ends up owning a particular bit of property.

          • Some dude says:

            You are the government insofar as you enforce the rights of property owners in your home. If your youngest child is given a book by a relative, then in the absence of you (the government) there is nothing stopping your older, presumably stronger child from taking the book as their own through force. Then the younger child might steal it back while the older child isn’t looking. The idea that the book is always the youngest child’s, even when they’re not guarding it, even when someone stronger wants it, is only maintained because of a stronger still force which punishes theft or force (you).

          • hlynkacg says:

            That “stronger force” would be cooperative equilibrium, rather than the government. The “law of the playground” rather than the police and the courts.

        • Tracy W says:

          ;that most of that which you own, you own as a result of government action.

          In an everything is connected state this is probably true, particularly since you say “a result” rather than “the result”.
          But, in that spirit, couldn’t we equally well say that every action the government takes is a result of private property? For example, the wealth created by private property is part of what supports a large state that is capable of being activist, and is arguably part of what supports us having democratic governments rather than dictatorships?

          • Paul Barnsley says:


            I think there are clearly links between a nation’s capital base and the type of government it has.

            But I do think the link between law and property is somewhat more direct. Saying “I own this” is pretty straightforwardly a legal claim, and legal claims are an attempt to characterise the results of government action.

            None of this is an attempt on my part (nor, I suspect on Sunstein’s) to circle round to “and that’s why property is theft!”, but it might support a reasonable “you didn’t build that”-style argument. My point is even narrower though: legally speaking, property is regulation.

            (the distinction between common and statue law is part of what Sunstein is trying to get at, but I think he’s persuasive in suggesting that common law is pretty deeply rooted in the state)

          • Tracy W says:

            Saying “I own this” is pretty straightforwardly a legal claim

            What evidence could convince you otherwise?

            legally speaking, property is regulation.

            But that does not mean that the regulator is the government. For example, there are private arbitrators and, to the horror of the UK’s tabloids, Muslim courts (and less controversially, Jewish and others) operating in the UK.

            Plus legal disputes are actually relatively rare in day-to-day life. Most of the time most people manage their property without calling a regulator, let alone the government in. That legally speaking, property is regulation does not necessarily mean all uses of the concept of property are references to regulation. Consider, legally speaking, marriage is mostly about determining property rights when the relationship ends (by death or by divorce). That doesn’t mean that marriage is mostly about death and divorce.

            [Edit: I remembered that in the USA marriage brings tax changes, better edit that to something like “marriage isn’t mostly about death, divorce or taxes.”

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            But that does not mean that the regulator is the government

            Yep, sure. I’ve said elsewhere that we could think about the regulatory apparatus which arises in the absence of government-enforced property rights as a kind of proto-state, but as soon as a use that to try to prove anything about the universality of the state’s role in regulation I’m just playing word games.

            So, yeah, lot’s of stuff that’s regulated but not by the state, though in some of those cases that state is standing behind the apparent regulator and is imbuing them with their authority, while in other cases enforcement is actually internal and/or consensual.

            Plus legal disputes are actually relatively rare in day-to-day life. Most of the time most people manage their property without calling a regulator, let alone the government in.

            Legal scholars call this “bargaining in the shadow of the law” which is, to my mind, both pretty cool-sounding and accurate. It still matters deeply what the government would say about who has which rights.

            What evidence could convince you [that “I own this” is not a legal claim]?

            Some of the examples elsewhere in the thread demonstrate that, in some circumstances, appeals to ownership don’t meet the strict definition of “legal”, unless we start talking about “the law of the diamond dealing community/lobster fisherman”, or whatever. So that, I guess: it’s been demonstrated that I’m not asserting a genuinely universal truth, just a phenomenon broad enough to be a pretty good shorthand for a universal. I may be missing your point?

          • Tracy W says:

            It still matters deeply what the government would say about who has which rights.

            I suppose this depends on how you define “matters deeply”. Consider for example the status of married women under English common law in the 18th to 19th centuries. English common law had gotten itself to the position where married women had no rights to any money they earned or inherited. If you were a rich parent who cared about your daughter’s wellbeing or her future children’s, this was a worry. Thus the development of trusts so money could be settled on a daughter so her husband couldn’t spend the capital at least or disinherit her children.

            Or, say, where there’s an inheritance tax, people seek to ger around it by using trusts or donations before death or other such arrangements.

            Or, most dramatically, that governments have not been able to stop trade in drugs like marijuna or coke, despite very determined efforts to actively wipe them out.

            So that, I guess: it’s been demonstrated that I’m not asserting a genuinely universal truth, just a phenomenon broad enough to be a pretty good shorthand for a universal. I may be missing your point?

            Well, yeah, it was kind of a way for getting the parameters of your claim. Knowing what something isn’t is pretty important for understanding what it is. So, I guess, what evidence could convince you that the phenomenon isn’t broad enough to be a pretty good shorthand?

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            Tracy, I think some of your examples, such as trusts, are legal rights built on top of other legal rights, which doesn’t bother me at all. They’re definitely not outside the edifice of law and regulation. Property rights can be super-complex, my claim is just that it’s very rare for them to be genuinely extra-governmental.

            The most common objection to that in legal theory is to try to distinguish common (judge made) law from the actions of the state, but I suspect that argument looks even weaker to non-lawyers. Judges draw their authority to make law from the state, and few believe the claim that they are just “discovering” pre-existing law.

            So I think the exceptions are either, as I’ve said above, frontiers where the State’s write doesn’t yet run – those can spring up in odd places but, today, they’re rare – or areas where there is a genuine and enforced system of rights and obligations where the participants don’t have any recourse to the law. New York’s diamond trading is the classic example of a parallel legal system enforced by mutual consent, and there are a bunch of others. Some parts of the black economy would absolutely qualify, while other, more lawless parts would not, IMO.

            I think those exceptions are all sufficiently circumscribed that if someone tells me “my property rights don’t depend on the government in any way”, I’d probably feel comfortable assuming they were wrong, while recognising that they could be the diamond seller or internet claim jumper who proves the rule… If we think about the set of all (developed world) property, what percentage of it has proprietary rights which could be summarised without reference to the state? I’d ballpark it at under 5%, by value, but that’s just a WAG.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Paul, there’s quite a big difference between the claim that “property is regulation” or it “matters deeply what the government has to say about property rights” and the claim that property rights “definitely are not outside the edifice of law and regulation.” The last claim is much weaker than the first two.

            I agree with you on the last claim, but you have not yet convinced me on the first two, stronger, claims.

            I also note that you haven’t answered my question of what evidence could convince you otherwise. If you can’t say what evidence could change your mind, doesn’t that imply your position isn’t empirically based?

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            there’s quite a big difference between the claim that “property is regulation” or it “matters deeply what the government has to say about property rights” and the claim that property rights “definitely are not outside the edifice of law and regulation.” The last claim is much weaker than the first two.

            The last claim is a response to you specific example, of trusts as a form of proprietary right, though it applies equally to your earlier examples of sharia courts and mediation. All of these are in fact highly legalised, rather than existing outside the legal system. One of the things the government can say about property rights is “they will be allocated according to the result of a properly convened mediation” and another is “they can be held by an entity called a ‘trust’ for the benefit of someone who doesn’t own them directly”. These are both super-legal and super-significant things to say, as far as who gets to do what with the property rights, and lawyers and governments spend a long time litigating about them and regulating them. If the law said something different about the enforceability of arbitration/mediation (and from time to time it does) then the rights allocated by those means would also change radically. So, yeah, mediation is just regulation on stilts.

            So I guess my point is that, even in (some of) the edge cases you identify as being the least regulated forms of property you can think of, regulation actually plays a huge role. That’s probably a decent start for an inductive proof that regulation is a big deal everywhere else, too, since we don’t have the time to step through every type of right and say “yep, that’s founded in regulation”.

            Not every edge case, though. I’ve acknowledged that people treat some proprietary rights as real and binding, even where there’s no real state to fall back on – unless we get funny about our definition of “state” to add one wherever we find property rights. I’ve agreed that’s no helpful.

            I also note that you haven’t answered my question of what evidence could convince you otherwise. If you can’t say what evidence could change your mind, doesn’t that imply your position isn’t empirically based?

            I think this is actually somewhere approaching definitionally true. I consider that to be good news, rather than bad, for the strength of my argument, though. If you want to argue (and this is the specific claim Sunstein is responding to) that “the government shouldn’t interfere with my private property rights” that’s a pretty open and shut case of “keep government out of my medicare“. They already interfered.

            You would need to demonstrate that the legal framework under which you own that thing doesn’t rely, in any way, on the State in question. Which probably means we need other States in the picture, and I own X because of them, not because of you.

            So I think the only really empirical line of attack would be to demonstrate that what I think are actual exceptions (not just different types of state-backed regulation) – systems built on social trust and internal enforcement – are much more widespread than I realise: that a lot of actual rights arise and change hands without any party ever considering recourse to the state. I think those situations are important, interesting and rare.

          • Tracy W says:

            All of these are in fact highly legalised, rather than existing outside the legal system.

            Yes, but all of these are also things people use to get the kind of responses they want from the legal system (at least under the veil of ignorance when writing the contract). They are all examples of people using the legal system to achieve their desired processes, not the legal system determining property rights.

            One of the things the government can say about property rights is “they will be allocated according to the result of a properly convened mediation” and another is “they can be held by an entity called a ‘trust’ for the benefit of someone who doesn’t own them directly”.

            Before I go into the history of how trusts developed, would you agree that, while of course, the government could say that, if it didn’t actually say that, this would count as evidence against your position?

            I think this is actually somewhere approaching definitionally true. I consider that to be good news, rather than bad, for the strength of my argument, though.

            Well I’m afraid it isn’t good news. If I follow your argument it is that property is defined as ownership as defined by the government, so anyone arguing that property exists before government is definitionly wrong. Very well, let us define [pause to consult a dictionary] proprietus (the Latin root word for property)[ as something like “ownership of a thing independently of whether that ownership is legally recognised.” Therefore, the colonial courts in Australia may not have deprived Australian Aboriginals of their property, but they deprived them of their proprietus. And, wherever you read someone saying something like ” the government shouldn’t interfer with people’s enjoyment of their property” just read them as having mistyped “proprietus”. And ta-da, we have gotten past the definitional issue.

            You would need to demonstrate that the legal framework under which you own that thing doesn’t rely, in any way, on the State in question.

            This is your weak claim, which I have already said I don’t dispute. What I am interested in is your stronger claims, eg that “it matters deeply what the government has to say about who holds what rights.”
            I had better lay down my thinking here. Firstly, I think the government can badly stuff up a country. Most obviously by war, but also by things like hyperinflation or the mass consfiscation of property and price controls and the like that Venezuela is undergoing. My doubt relates to a broadly functioning country where people can go about their lives at generally low risk of being hit by a missile or being shaken down arbitrarily by the police (judging by some Economist articles the US may not meet this standard.) In those countries I suspect that, say, people mostly manage to pass on their wealth to their kids if they want to, regardless of estate laws, or, say, people manage to lend and borrow money even if the law bans it.

            I will say that, while I think this view is more likely to be true than your claim that what the government says deeply matters, my Bayesian confidence in this is still low. And I will give you a piece of counter-evidence: in the USA landowners have rights to any minerals discovered under their land, generally in Europe such rights belong to the state and while I don’t have the reference to hand, from memory there is evidence that this matters for things like the development of fracking.

            I’m really interested in an empirical debate on this point, to drive my own understanding. Including what you would consider evidence against your claim that government actions matter deeply. [Edit to add: I’m hoping to learn about the extent to which government affects actual property results – thus my focus on the word “deeply”]

          • Cole says:


            How do you or sunstein distinguish the causal direction of government and property rights?

            Government being involved in all property rights implies one of two things to me:

            1. (what you are saying) Governments are necessary for the existence of mature and developed property systems.
            2. Governments can only subsist on domination of a mature and developed property system.

            To me the existence of frontier property systems that are clearly separate from the state suggests that #2 is more likely.

        • hlynkacg says:

          So your youngest child’s books belong to them because of something that you did.

          No, it “belongs to them” because they have staked a claim and others (for whatever reason) respect that claim.

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            Do you think their respect for that claim might have something to do with the potential action by the regulatory state were they not to do so? My property rights over alpha centauri (which I totally own) are very different to those in respect of my laptop, even though no one is (in practice) disputing either.

            So I think “for whatever reason” is eliding away the exact point that is being discussed here.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Are we talking about multinational corporations or we talking about kids?

            I wager that the kids (and pretty much anyone else who isn’t a multinational corporations ) cares more about their own claims being respected than they care about the “regulatory state”.

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            Your initial statement was that ownership arises from a claim which is respected by others. I agree wit that, as far as it goes, but added that others respecting your claim has a lot to do with what everyone thinks the state (or “state”) would do if you took it anyway. That can be parents, it can be a national government, rarely can it be a supranational authority (which is why international regulation is on wobbly ground, legal theory-wise).

            I think you’re saying that children can respect other’s property rights in order to preserve a symmetrical cooperative equilibrium. That’s more foresight than most adults are able to display, in the absence of the threat of coercion.

          • hlynkacg says:

            others respecting your claim has a lot to do with what everyone thinks the state (or “state”) would do if you took it anyway.

            Are you saying that fear of punishment is the only reason you don’t go around raping, murdering, or stealing anything that isn’t nailed down?

            My own experience is that “symmetrical cooperative equilibrium” is the norm rather than the exception. Especially when it comes to places were calling 911 isn’t really an option.

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            “Stealing” presupposes property rights. In a world without them, we’re just “sharing”, and I can’t rely on morality to point me in the right direction.

            But, no, I don’t think a system of property ownership reliably works without recourse to third party enforcement. Maybe I’ll leave your book alone, but you won’t have a right to it. If I am six years old, and I desire your book, you will be in trouble, unless you are seven.

            There are, as you say, places where a system of property rights operates without legal backing, and in general it leads to insecurity of ownership. I’m not suggesting every item is stolen all the time (any more than enforceable property rights entirely eliminate theft), but respecting property becomes a habit rather than an obligation.

            There is a reason systems for codifying rights and enforcing them have developed in parallel pretty much everywhere, rather than just relying on people respects each others (possibly competing) claims.

          • eccdogg says:

            I am sure he would be along to post this as well but David Friedman has some nice thoughts on this subject.


            I agree that “staked a claim that others generally recognize” is the right definition of property rights. Government can be one of the reasons that they are recognized, but it doesn’t have to be the only reason and in day to day life in the US I don’t think it is the major reason.

            I don’t refrain from stealing at the grocery store because I am afraid of getting caught. I don’t steal because I view it as the wrong way to behave. I believe these types of concerns are the motivator for a large majority of the population, not fear of government action.

            Certainly there is a subset of folks for whom this motivation is not enough. But even then there can be non governmental sanctions that can enforce some property rights like communal ostracism or vigilantism.

          • Loyle says:

            Some children, I’d say most, are actually empathetic and would consider it unpleasant if someone they were close to were upset. If you take something that belongs to your brother, and your brother starts crying, you’re not concerned about what your parents would do to you. For all intents and purposes, they don’t exist. Your main concerns are either “omg shut up” or “oh no, I did a bad thing, how do I fix it” or “I’m not a bad person, so I couldn’t’ve done a bad thing, so you must be wrong for crying q.e.d.” The parents don’t enter the equation until they decide to interject themselves, or one or both the kids decide to involve them.

            Children don’t like being punished, but they also don’t tend to behave as if with the looming threat of punishment from an authority over their heads. Punishment is just a means to reinforce certain values in your kids, values which they eventually pickup.

            Teens, on the other hand, very much so behave in regards to the threat of punishment from their parents, but by that point they’ve already learned to respect each others’ property rights and are more trying to get away with drugs and porn and saying cuss words and stuff.

          • Aegeus says:

            I don’t refrain from stealing at the grocery store because I am afraid of getting caught. I don’t steal because I view it as the wrong way to behave. I believe these types of concerns are the motivator for a large majority of the population, not fear of government action.

            Yeah, I would say that most of the time, it’s not useful to frame property rights this way. The idea of property rights matches up with our moral intuitions really well.

            But then again, people sometimes dispute things we consider perfectly normal, such as ancaps claiming that taxes are the same thing as armed robbery. So even though nobody really cares that both taxes and property laws are enforced at gunpoint, I think it’s useful to know that fact.

          • eccdogg says:

            Yeah, but I really don’t think that most property rights are defended by govt force. Norms of morality do most of the heavy lifting. And in areas where the state is less powerful other means of coercion (individual, private, group) can step in. Having the State enforce some property rights is probably a net plus but far from THE thing that creates property rights.

            I do think taxes come closer to the state being the primary enforcer. Introspectively the fear of punishment is a major reason I pay my full tax bill.

          • Paul Barnsley says:

            I think it’s a mistake to view norms of behaviour as existing in isolation from what the law allows. It’s not just that we know stealing is bad because it’s illegal, it’s that we have a clear idea of what “stealing” is based on how it’s defined legally.

            Get rid of legal enforcement of property rights tomorrow and “people will leave your stuff alone” will remain a good prediction of how most people will act, but your rights will be more likely to be infringed, if only at the margin. How well do you think proprietary rights over parking spaces, or quiet enjoyment would do if they relied wholly on moral intuitions?

            When talking about rights, it’s an important distinction if people respect them “as a rule” or “according to rule”.

            Get rid of enforcement for a generation, and you either get a de facto coercive enforcement body which looks a lot like the state or you get real insecurity of title. Not in the sense that everything is a free-for-all, but in the sense that a lot of marginal infringements aren’t considered “theft” anymore and a lot more people are willing to experiment with actual theft.

            Again, it’s not an accident that third party enforcement of property rights is pretty close to universal in societies where property is private, and that investment and private security are very different in societies where enforcement is wobbly or nonexistent.

          • eccdogg says:

            I don’t disagree with a lot of what you said.

            But twice you used the term “at the margin”. which is pretty much exactly my point. State enforcement does change and influence property rights but it does not do most of the heavy lifting in creating them. At least that is how it seems to me.

            I would also argue that it is very hard for a government to create any type of property rights. To the extent that the government attempts to establish property rights that do not fit the norms of society those property rights are often ignored.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            I think your implied definition of property here is exactly right. An interesting follow-up question is what factors influence whether someone will respect other people’s property claims.

            Also relevant to enforcing property claims in the absence of the state is this nice essay on property rights in the American Western frontier before government moved in:

            “We propose to examine property-rights formulation and protection under voluntary organizations such as private protection agencies, vigilantes, wagon trains, and early mining camps. Although the early West was not completely anarchistic, we believe that government as a legitimate agency of coercion was absent for a long enough period to provide insights into the operation and viability of property rights in the absence of a formal state. The nature of contracts for the provision of “public goods” and the evolution of western “laws” for the period from 1830 to 1900 will provide the data for this case study.

            The West during this time is often perceived as a place of great chaos, with little respect for property or life. Our research indicates that this was not the case; property rights were protected, and civil order prevailed. Private agencies provided the necessary basis for an orderly society in which property was protected and conflicts were resolved.”

            The author did a full book-length treatment of this subject as well.

    • Tracy W says:

      How are you measuring the existing level of recognition about this?

    • Gil says:

      If you define the passive consensus among a group of persons that a particular individual or sub-body is the rightful possessor and operator of some ‘entity’ as “Property Rights” — Then I don’t think property rights are strictly within the realm of the state.

      However if you define property rights as , whatever usage of property is allowed by the state, then by definition property rights are state given. No doubt this solves problems for many since it seemingly implies that confiscatory tax rates and state seizure of assets is as much a manifestation of property rights as a more hands-off approach to managing non-state property.

      Good/effective property rights would most generally coincide with what people in the relevant society consider to be sensible anyway. There needs to be some social glue innate in individual humans that allows collective organization; which includes recognizing what people in a society can and cannot do, as well as recognizing an overriding legal authority, but that’s not quite the same thing as non-state property rights.

    • Rusty says:

      You are right I think, and it is one of the most important ones. The company I work at invests in the developing world and one of the major issues we face is not knowing who owns the land where eg we want to fund the building of a power station or whatever or the building of affordable homes. We face problems of knowing if the land will be taken away from our project after we have finished the project and problems of inadvertently funding a project where local undocumented property rights are being violated. It’s a major brake on development.

      Of course there are other forms of government regulation that are less development friendly . . . My favourite right now is the explosion of merger control regimes. Who could be against the state vigilantly guarding against monopolies, you ask? Which is fine but with massive form filling required, thresholds which catch every transaction imaginable no matter how small along with massive filing fees it begins to look like government extortion (er I mean tax collection) with predictable depressive effects on economic activity.

      • Tekhno says:

        Of course there are other forms of government regulation that are less development friendly

        Yes, and as an aside, this is important, because understanding property rights as a governmental institution does not require you to not be a libertarian. I can still argue that property rights regulations represent some desired minimum. It removes anarcho-capitalism from the table only, which is probably for the best, because anarcho-capitalism leads to muddled thinking, and political impotence.

        Many anarcho-capitalists already disagree on whether intellectual property is statist, and those who find intellectual property statist have only to take the next step to realize that physical property of any note productively is going to require large scale third party enforcement where rulings are consistent (therefore not polycentric or highly decentralized), just as much as this is the case with intellectual property. My right to shares in a company is just as digital and removed from pure possession as intellectual property is.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          because anarcho-capitalism leads to muddled thinking

          I find the anarcho-capitalist position to be very clear headed. It has a clear morality by rejecting political authority, as it believes that ALL individuals should be subject to the same moral rules (e.g., I can’t steal from my neighbor to fund my kid going to school, so state agents shouldn’t be allowed to either). It recognizes the usefulness of private property and free trade in allowing people to flourish. And it recognizes that coercive monopolies which are bad when providing goods like food or cars don’t stop being bad when providing law or security.

    • Corey says:

      I’ve espoused it that way as an entry-level response to a common entry-level (strawman alert) property tax complaint: that you don’t “really own” (real estate) property in the US because it’s taxed, and if you fail to pay property tax your county government will eventually evict you from the land and take formal ownership.

      The entry-level response: it’s not entirely clear what it would mean to “own property” without a government recognizing, adjudicating, and enforcing your ownership claim. In the US’s small-d-democratic system this is very roughly equivalent to everyone agreeing to respect everyone else’s ownership claims as long as they follow that system.
      One could design a different system, though to what extent it wouldn’t then just be a government is a philosophical question more than an empirical one.

      • Lumifer says:

        The entry-level response coming from the opposite direction is; to what degree of control your own life/body? Would you object if someone tried to take it from you? and if so where is the boundary?

        The Suffi say that “all sin is theft”, murder the theft of a life, slavery the theft of choice, lies the theft of truth, and so on…

        Edit: oops

        • Tekhno says:


          The entry-level response coming from the opposite direction is; to what degree of control your own life/body?

          The degree to which I can convince others to do so, and since the government is the most powerful collective of those others I can petition the government directly through democratic means or otherwise in order to change this, or petition indirectly by engaging in political persuasion and having my ideology percolate within the society of which the government is a small part of, hoping to make long term changes in the direction I want.

          Would you object if someone tried to take it from you?

          In most circumstances I can imagine, yep.

          and if so where is the boundary?

          Where those who can organize the most force say it is. When this changes, such as in regime changes democratic or otherwise, where the boundary lies changes.

          • hlynkacg says:

            “Petitioning the government” implies that there is something to petition them for. Why would you assume that is always the case.

            In most circumstances I can imagine, yep.

            on what grounds?

          • Tekhno says:

            “Petitioning the government” implies that there is something to petition them for. Why would you assume that is always the case.

            I don’t, but it’s my only option. If I can’t, I can’t.

            on what grounds?

            On the grounds that I emotionally value having a great deal of control over my body/life.

      • Tracy W says:

        it’s not entirely clear what it would mean to “own property” without a government recognizing, adjudicating, and enforcing your ownership claim

        It’s not entirely clear what is meant by adulthood, without a government recognising, adjudicating and enforcing various rulings about age (eg voting age, minimum to get a driver’s licence, etc). But even in the absence of government there would still be a difference between childhood and adulthood.

        In other words, just because an entity defines boundaries doesn’t mean that the entity creates the whole thing.

      • uhnon says:

        Why is that even a complaint. Whoever said people are entitled to “really own” something. They really own something if they have the guns to protect it from all prospective takers. Today, only states have enough guns. Hence only states really own something.

    • BBA says:

      The very nature of how property works is a function of governmental action or inaction. In America, if I walk onto your land without your permission, it’s trespassing and I can be sued or arrested. In Scotland, it’s generally legal and you have to accept it.

  14. onyomi says:

    This might sound like I’m trying to signal how cultured I am or something, but I really don’t mean it that way:

    Does anyone else find 90% of the “action” in 90% of action movies to be painfully boring?

    I don’t inherently dislike action–I loved Mad Max: Fury Road, for example, but most of it is just so uncreative? Or maybe because I know which characters aren’t going to die nothing feels like it’s at stake? I tend to be a little more interested in one-on-one combat scenarios like lightsaber duels, kung fu fights, and the like, maybe because it feels more like a struggle between wills?

    But again, I find the vast majority of car chases, etc. to be painfully boring and I’m not even entirely sure why. It’s literally to the point where “action-packed!” as a descriptor for a movie sounds like a negative to me.

    • Sandy says:

      Have you watched the Raid movies?

      • onyomi says:

        I seem to remember enjoying the first one pretty well; haven’t seen the others. I think it seemed relatively creative and like something was at stake among the characters. Are the others worth seeing?

        I think part of what bothers me is just the conventional nature of “action.” If the action is really necessary to tell the story, or is truly a creative end in its own right, it can be enjoyable, but lately, especially, it feels like just another checkbox.

        • Sandy says:

          There’s just the one sequel, which I would recommend. It’s got more variety in its action and a more substantive plot.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think it’s that it’s so uncreative. There are a lot of action tropes and if you’ve seen a lot of action movies you probably know what they are and how they will be combined. Did you like _The Bourne Ultimatum_? It used a lot of common tropes, but put them together a bit differently than usual.

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t know about 90%, but it’s definitely past 50% and climbing.

      In particular, I now pretty much always tune out the Final Fatal Fistfight. The one where the Hero and the Villain, no matter how many sidekicks, minions, and allies they might have had, to the point of commanding armies, must necessarily fight each other alone. The one where no matter what sort of weapons they might have had earlier or might obviously have access to, must fight each other with their bare hands or improvised impact weapons(*). The one where, after the Hero has demonstrated his Manliness by defeating his enemy with his bare hands and his Goodness by not just killing the villain, said villain then tries some last bit of treachery that justifies killing him anyway.

      I don’t care how good the fight choreography is or how talented the martial artists playing the roles, because I just don’t care, period.

      * Or swords if used only for disarming and not for stabbing into the enemy.

      • Virbie says:

        > In particular, I now pretty much always tune out the Final Fatal Fistfight. The one where the Hero and the Villain, no matter how many sidekicks, minions, and allies they might have had, to the point of commanding armies, must necessarily fight each other alone. The one where no matter what sort of weapons they might have had earlier or might obviously have access to, must fight each other with their bare hands or improvised impact weapons(*). The one where, after the Hero has demonstrated his Manliness by defeating his enemy with his bare hands and his Goodness by not just killing the villain, said villain then tries some last bit of treachery that justifies killing him anyway.

        If I saw this in a movie these days, I would actually be pretty shocked. Whatever it is I do to pick movies, I’ve somehow manage to largely avoid this in the last several years. Then again, someone who watches movies much more often than I do would probably have to settle for lower-down-the-barrel fare.

      • onyomi says:

        In his (mostly positive) review of the new Star Trek movie (which I also mostly liked), I think A. O. Scott described this problem very well:

        “The Hollywood rule book stipulates that the climactic sequence should involve the noisy destruction of a lot of buildings and an extended hand-to-hand fight between the good guy and the main villain. The villain should be motivated by the usual villainous grudge. Millions of lives should be in danger, and the actual casualties should be numerous and filmed bloodlessly enough to preserve the PG-13 rating.”

        • Lumifer says:

          Yeah, you get a bit blasé when everything explodes and flaming buildings fall out of the sky, but… no civilians ever die on-screen or even leave corpses.

      • VivaLaPanda says:

        I mean, this stuff is why people, me included, like rational fiction (/r/rational). It’s regular fiction but with a concerted effort to avoid tropes for the sake of tropes. I don’t think it’s inherently better, but as someone who has consumed lots of media common tropes really get on my nerves unless the underlying story/style is really great.

      • acorn says:

        I hate the dark warehouse shootouts.

    • Redland Jack says:

      I think your bit on knowing “which characters aren’t going to die” is the key bit (at least for me).

      In books/TV/movies/etc., I find it to be the case that, ‘the lower the stakes, the greater the excitement’. That is, if the bad guys are threatening to blow up the world, you know they aren’t going to succeed. If they are threatening to kill the sidekick, they might succeed, and if they are threatening to kill the guy they just introduced last episode, they have a high chance of success.

      Thus, if the author can get you invested in the guy they introduced last episode, they can create exciting action scenes.

      • Virbie says:

        Or best of all, they can go the route of The Wire (or, before that, Game of Thrones), which explicitly trades off the difficulty of eschewing narrative convention for the shock that it induces when you don’t expect it. Central, relatable characters that you spent a season (or five) getting to know can be unceremoniously killed off (and usually not in a way that affords them any dignitiy.

        • Nornagest says:

          I thought The Wire came first?

          • Bugmaster says:

            I think that Song of Ice and Fire (the book on which GoT was based until recently) came first.

          • Redland Jack says:

            The series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ started up 20 years ago, with ‘A Game of Thrones’ as the first book in the series (which is why I can barely remember anything that happened!)

            That series is the one that made me realize that I don’t like unconventional storytelling style as much as I thought I would.

          • Nornagest says:

            Ah. Yeah, the book series came before The Wire, I just assumed we were talking TV. I wouldn’t say it’s that subversive relative to fantasy convention, though — there barely were any conventions for boat-anchor-sized through-plotted heroic fantasy at the time. It and Wheel of Time basically created that format in the modern era.

            (It may be significant, though, that George R. R. Martin worked as a screenwriter before turning to fantasy.)

          • It depends on what you mean by unconventional storytelling.

            The presentation was normal, though I think having each chapter being from the viewpoint of one of a small cast of characters was unusual.

            However, the early death of a major character was quite shocking at the time.

            The funny thing is that I read the first book and I thought it was born to be a mini-series, while Martin wrote it because he was sick of writing for television.

          • Anton on a non-anon, (non "anonanon") ("anon"..and on) account says:

            A song of ice and fire is deliberately grimsuck in parts.








            The duel with gregor clegane is a clear point where the author conspires to make things shitty, but my impression things are subtly nudged to the bad in many places in the story. I posted about this somewhere else:

            In the clegane duel:

            Clegane doesn’t triumph through superior skill or strength or speed. He gets stabbed many times with a poison whose administerer should know it’s strength, having been portrayed as an experienced poisoner and generally competent guy. Said administer proceeds to stand on his chest, to gloat better. At which point, through the power of evil, clegane gains the strength to literally crush this guy’s head (iirc), and shout some smug line, in the manner of a children’s cartoon. The viper makes no attempt to twist out or escape, or attack any vulnerable points.

            Oh and then they resurrect clegane.

            And isn’t tyrion relying on the viper to win? But does tyrion die?

            All this huge setup for the fight, and it’s decided by two seperate instances of bullshit: the viper’s sudden fecklessness and apparent blindness to the concept of weight dosage, and clegane’s becoming a healthy man despite being on death’s door, even if he’s twice as heavy as an ordinary man, and lets say twice as strong from sheer vitality too, (it’s never suggested for a moment, nor the least hint given that that he faked his weakness). ..and all the wounds he’s taken with this poison that’s apparently ever so deadly in the smallest doses don’t make up for that even if the viper is a clueless idiot despite all the effort put into making him seem the opposite.

            And the plot seems to be relying on the viper to win -Tyrion needs it.

            And Evil does not win by superior strength, speed, intelligence, foresight, etc, but by the kind of deus ex machina that this enlightened series is supposedly above.

            And Tyrion doesn’t have to pay the piper, and neither does the mountain, thanks to a second deus ex machina.

            The idea that GRRM lets things play out and the cards fall where they may is all talk. He just likes being shitty sometimes. And he’s not actually very subtle about it.

      • Julie K says:

        One of the best scenes in the Harry Potter series was in the third book, when the dementors are surrounding Harry and Sirius. Since Sirius doesn’t have plot armor, we genuinely don’t know if he will survive or not.

      • Corey says:

        Yeah, action-genre stuff has been picking up the bad habit SF/F has of not letting dead characters STAY DEAD. Therefore death just doesn’t pack dramatic punch anymore.
        Cracked had a list recently of how the world would be different under cartoon/comic rules and one of them was the legalities of death getting convoluted as people keep coming back. (Another interesting bit was four-digited-people probably inventing computers sooner as octal would be their “natural” number base).

        • Anonymous says:

          Another interesting bit was four-digited-people probably inventing computers sooner as octal would be their “natural” number base

          This is absurd and just the kind of drivel I would expect from modern Cracked.

    • Bugmaster says:

      You should watch the video series Every Frame a Painting sometime; especially the episode on Jackie Chan. The reason action in movies looks so boring is because it is shot, and then edited, in a particularly boring way. Making a fight — regardless of the choice of weapon — look like “a struggle between wills” or a test of the warrior’s skill is an art; and modern filmmakers largely lack the talent and the skill to pull it off. Hence, the boredom.

      • ThaddeusMike says:

        If I’m thinking of the same video, it isn’t just skill but patience, time, and the trust of the studio that let Jackie Chan produce good fight scenes.

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      I agree. For a lot of mainstream movies I feel like the action is supposed to be the payoff for all the buildup, but it rarely feels worth it to me. It’s probably a combination of the predictable failure of the villains (in a typical story) and a lack of freshness or originality in what’s actually happening – it seems with cheap CGI these days most action movies opt for bigger and louder over any other considerations. Like, I’m just not impressed by Manhattan being “spectacularly” destroyed for the nth time. 21st century problems I guess.

      When I saw the latest X-Men movie I remarked to my friends that I probably would have been really impressed by it if it was the first superhero movie I’d ever seen. As it was it just felt like more of the same.

      I also definitely agree that the “final manly fistfight” thing is beyond tired.

    • Lysenko says:

      General consensus among those with above-average brow altitude regarding film seems to be that as a rule mainstream action cinematography and choreography is terrible, so I’d consider that possibility. Movies are visual storytelling, and if you fuck up the editing it is very easy to cross the line from “dynamic and intense camerawork” to “choppy, scatterbrained, chaotic blur”. Can you break it down some by sub-genre of action? How do you feel about:

      -Heroic Bloodshed? (Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow, etc). Throw in its American progeny like Shoot ‘Em Up, Equilibrium, etc in here as well if you like.
      -Semi-Realistic War Movies? (Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, Black Hawk Down)
      -Action-ed up War Movies? (Fury, Hurt Locker, Act Of Valor*)
      -Crime dramas? (Heat, Collateral, A History Of Violence)
      -Martial Arts? (Ong Bak, The Raid)

      Can you identify any genre here where examples particularly appeal? Particularly repel? As a side note, most of the films used as examples are at least decent and in a few cases very good examples of action film-making, if you’re interested in recommendations, or at least have interesting conceits (Like Act Of Valor starring real Navy SEALs. The great part is all the action scenes are full of real Navy SEALs. The shitty part is all the OTHER scenes are full of real Navy SEALs. Except the Interrogation scene, which is surprisingly good).

    • Acedia says:

      Does anyone else find 90% of the “action” in 90% of action movies to be painfully boring?

      I think that’s just a natural consequence of getting older. When I was young I tolerated the boring dialogue/exposition scenes in order to get to the action, now it’s the reverse.

      Soon enough you’ll start enjoying early nights and getting socks as a birthday gift too.

    • Lemminkainen says:

      I agree with your assessment, and I think that a lot of the problem boils down to five things:

      1: A lack of originality and artistry. I’ve never been bored while watching an action movie in a Zhang Yimou movie, because he takes the time to make each scene both visually distinctive and beautiful. The fight in the bamboo grove in “House of Flying Daggers” and the swordfight over the perfectly reflective lake in “Hero”are full of striking shots which are unlike things which I’ve seen before. Fury Road, Snowpiercer, and Kill Bill also do this really well.

      2: Confusing scene geography that makes it hard to tell what’s actually going on. This problem has been especially bad in the shaky-cam quick-cutting post-Bourne era. If you can’t tell where people are and what they’re doing in an action scene, it’s hard to care. This is notably not a problem in Fury Road, which manages to juggle a huge number of chaotic elements at once without losing its sense of geography. I think that this is also more likely to be a problem in super-CGI heavy movies where the filmmaker can’t quite get a sense of the geography while the film is actually going on.

      3: Lack of clear stakes. Other people in this thread have already covered this really well.

      4: Poor characterization and storytelling. The Indiana Jones movies, Fury Road, Attack the Block, and Aliens are enjoyable to watch because their characters seem like people, who demonstrate actual feelings, and visibly react to the situations they’re in in interesting ways. This can be a great way to get around the stakes problem– we all know that Indiana Jones is going to get out of whatever terrible situation he’s in, but if he seems agitated or scared, we can suspend our disbelief. Also, it’s much easier to care about a fight if you give a shit about the people involved in it on some level.

      5: Action with no narrative function. Ideally, fights should work together with the movie’s overall narrative goals rather than feeling like an interruption. They should tie in with the things the movie has asked you to care about since the start of its runtime. Compare the Death Star attack in the original Star Wars to the X-Wing raid on Starkiller Base in “The Force Awakens.” The former is a much more compelling, because it centers on three characters we care about (Luke, Han, and Vader), and it pays off both Luke and Han’s character arcs (Luke completes his transition from passive farmboy to agenty hero, Han realizes that he gives a shit about more than just money). The latter involves only one character we care about, and he’s one who doesn’t even have an arc, and nothing really gets paid off, so while we’re watching, we really just want JJ Abrams to cut back to the lightsaber duel in the snow (which ties into the film’s overall narrative and emotional arc much more effectively).

      • moridinamael says:

        I’ve always said the Harrison Ford’s superpower is that he actually appears to be hurt when he gets punched and basically seems to be barely getting through his action scenes alive. Contrast this with your average action hero who generally seems completely unaffected the violence they’re enduring.

        • onyomi says:

          One positive in the new Star Trek was that, while the final action sequence felt a little obligatory and uninteresting (though the setting, at least, was interesting), Chris Pine at least had the decency to look a little worse for wear in the following scenes.

        • Civilis says:

          I think this is a good point. At least with the original Indiana Jones trilogy, there’s also the feeling Indiana is no better skill-wise than those he fights. It’s not Captain America beating up some mooks that are well beneath him before the named villain makes his appearance. There are a couple of sequences where Indiana is on the ropes to an opponent or opponents that obviously outclass him… the big bruiser at the aircraft in Raiders, the tank fight in Last Crusade. It’s also what makes the improvised ‘just shoot him’ moment work so well; here he is, worn out and looking it (due to a real-life case of sickness, I understand), where he faces a guy he can’t take in a straight fight, so he doesn’t.

          For me, another example of this is Bruce Willis as John McClane in the first Die Hard. In some ways it’s a shame that Bruce Willis has gone on to be a stereotypical action star, as I understand the peril the character was in was more obvious before the actor acquired a reputation as an action star.

    • Exit Stage Right says:

      I’m absolutely bored out my skull by most action sequences, with the exception being martial arts. Explosions and guns don’t do it for me, but watching Bruce Lee beat the hell out of six random dudes does.

      • onyomi says:

        I also tend to like martial arts more than most other action sequences. I think part of it is the show of technical, physical skill involved. Scenes involving swords and guns can also be good if (big if) they can make me feel that the actors are actually skilled in using them. The martial arts scenes are (unsurprisingly) usually better when performed by martial artists, as opposed to actors who got a crash course, though. In the latter case weird slomo and other “spectacular” stuff like in the Matrix tends to substitute for actual skill.

        • Exit Stage Right says:

          When you “get” the craftsmanship behind something it can heighten your appreciation.

          But its a bit weird because I don’t feel the need to understand the craft behind the music I listen to. I just…enjoy. But with a big action scene, my brain just doesn’t do the enjoying thing. But then when its hand to hand combat, where the skill involved is obvious, it does. But I didn’t need to see the skill involved to enjoy a song.

          Which leads me to conclude I have no fucking idea why I like the things I like

          • onyomi says:

            “Which leads me to conclude I have no fucking idea why I like the things I like”

            Haha… this is part of why I posted. Because I myself am not entirely sure why I don’t like most action sequences, though I have theories, of course.

            I am also not sure whether most movie goers DO enjoy these sequences and that’s why they’re always there, or if filmmakers overestimate the extent to which these scenes are really necessary based on some sort of logic like “all our biggest sellers had a big action scene at the end; therefore, all movies need a big action scene at the end to sell”?

          • moridinamael says:

            Jackie Chan at least knows exactly why his action scenes work.

          • onyomi says:

            Thanks, that was a very good analysis of why Jackie’s action almost never feels boring.

        • Maware says:

          What’s funny is that to me, the older a wuxia film is, the better the battles. The One-Armed Swordsman for example was one of the earliest kung-fu films, but unlike others its raw and honest instead of choreographed and stylistic. The Five Deadly Venoms manages to put intensity into its kung-fu battles. But then you get into 1990s and later wuxia and you get absurdity for the sake of absurdity and whimsy. While Chan’s sequences are amazing, I think they too get too mannered and stylized over time. Too good and too polished.

          I also remember in a film class I had, the teacher said one of the things Kurosawa did well with Yojimbo was humanize the battle scenes of chambara films again. They had become very dull and ritualized with the bad guys always crying out “oka-san” when they died, but Kurosawa put the intensity and fear of approaching death into the times he used it. John Woo is kind of the other example, with his original gun battles so fluid and new that guns felt like extensions of the people themselves. But he easily descended into dull ritual, as did the people who copied them.

          • onyomi says:

            To my mind “wuxia” films and “kung fu” films are two different genres. “Wuxia” is the older tradition of flowing robes, dancing along the trees–think Jin Yong, Touch of Zen, and Crouching Tiger. “Kung fu” films are focused on raw physicality and more realistic hand-to-hand fighting and kind of begin with Bruce Lee. Jackie Chan is a kung fu film star, not a wuxia star.

          • Maware says:

            Yeah I guess I use that term as a catch all. From the little I know, I think you can break the timeline down to 1970s-1980s straight kung-fu films, 1990s-2000s “new wave” films which are heavily stylized (the magic crane is one example) and 2000-2010 the flowing robes art-inspired type, and 2010 seems to be more of a big budget style like the Detective Dee films.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I definitely got boring during the big everybody vs everybody fight in Captain America: Civil War. I realize it’s a superhero movie, but even so it seemed way too unrealistic, with no actual stakes. I never for a moment believed that when one guy smashed a 747 over another guy’s back that this would actually harm them, and it didn’t. Heck, they didn’t even want to actually hurt each other. They were just going through the motions, throwing punches that looked big but did nothing.

      SPOILERS, but even inflicting an injury at the end of the fight didn’t really help, because he was such a minor character anyway, and will probably be cured by the next movie if they need him.

      The final battle, on the other hand, was much better. There was pathos in that one.

      • I agree about the lack of “killing” stakes, but I think you might be in the minority.
        The actual tension is whether Captain America will escape or whether Iron Man will catch him. Most critics and viewers really liked the superheroes bashing each other.

        I agree the lack of real stakes kind of killed the mood somewhat.

        The really crappy fight sequence, IMO, is the beginning of the movie, where the Avengers 2.0 take a long time extensively flooring an army of mooks with basically no back-store, too many close-ups, and lots of shaky cam.

        That spoiled my appetite for most of the movie.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      Yeah, most action movies you know the good guy is going to win/not get shot/etc. so the boredom is predicated on how predictable it is.

      For my action fix, I just play GTA and try to outrun the cops. Better than any car chase sequence in any movie ever.

    • It’s possible that action sequences also get boring because there’s a lack of emotional variety– it’s a tremendous amount of the same sort of stuff.

    • brad says:

      TV too. I watched Continuum recently on Netflix, and after the first season or so I started just fast forwarding through the action sequences. A similar thing I noticed myself doing was fast forwarding through scenes involving characters or subplots I don’t care about. On Boardwalk Empire for an entire season whenever Gillian Darmody was on the screen I’d fast forward.

      Interesting how netflix (or amazon or …) changes the way I watch. There’s some article online somewhere about a guy who watches TV sped up (pitch corrected, of course). I haven’t tried that yet, but I was intrigued.

    • moridinamael says:

      I think the Red Letter Media reviews of the Star Wars Prequels lay out pretty clearly why some actions scenes work and some don’t.

      It simply gets down to the fact that good action scenes are really about the internalization of the conflict by well-drawn characters. You’re into what’s happening because you’re into the characters.

      As a prerequisite, the action has to be believable within the universe of the movie and the way the action plays out has to be based on authentic character choices. And there has to be tension in terms of true uncertainty about the outcomes, you have to deeply want to see a certain outcome and feel like achieving that outcome is an uphill battle for the characters.

      • Sometimes, sometimes not.

        I can tell you I started watching Naruto because I saw some clips of Naruto v Sasuke and thought it was awesome. I powered through a LOT of crap just to get and understand that ONE fight.

        I also don’t care what anyone says, Vader vs. Obi-Wan is boring as all hell and the fight in Revenge of the Sith is superior (if too long).

    • FacelessCraven says:

      The two big problems for me might be described as padding vs harm and combat vs choreography.

      Padding is where the ratio of attacks vs harm inflicted is very low. lots of shots fired, very few hits. lots of punches, but both fighters are still on their feet. Violence is exciting and scary because it tends to be profoundly decisive. Water it down by showing it to have no consequences, and the viewer stops caring almost immediately. Reservoir Dogs is an example of a movie with almost no padding. The Raid: Redemption is an interesting example, as the amount of padding ramps up as the movie goes on. The Through the Floor sequence in Raid: the Redemption seemed like the best in the movie. The whole thing reeks of desperation, things go badly wrong repeatedly and without warning, individual fights are chaotic and short, weapons are decisive. It’s one of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen. By the end of the movie, sadly, the action has nerfed itself all the way down to generic kung-fu-movie levels.

      The problem is that high-harm action means either a truly absurd bodycount (Rambo 4) or limiting action to relatively short sequences (Heat, Way of the Gun). The later method means you have to actually fill your movie with plot and dialogue and acting and stuff like that, so it’s relatively rare.

      combat vs choreography is about whether the combat is framed in terms of practical or aesthetic concerns. It’s how you get combat sequences that look more like dancing than a fight. Since high-harm tends to make the dancing unsustainable, high-choreography tends toward high-padding as well. Combat becomes a performance piece, all threat and excitement drains out, and you’re left with sweaty, grunting ballet.

      • smocc says:

        Comment of the week.

        The animated short Prologue by Richard Williams, which was nominated for an Oscar this year, is just a single fight scene, but it’s the most intense fight scene I’ve ever seen. It’s very high harm and very high combat. I came away shocked at how desensitized I’ve become to fictional violence, which comes from lots of high padding, high choreography fight scenes.

        (Which isn’t too say padding and choreography can’t be fun; see Jackie Chan movies and professional wrestling for counterexamples.)

      • Nornagest says:

        Good distinctions. Léon: The Professional stands out to me as a high-harm action movie, and sure enough, it leans heavily on its characters. (The body count gets quite high towards the end, but almost all of that is down to one relatively short sequence.)

        I think you could point to Lady Snowblood as a high-harm high-choreography piece. Some modern revisionist Westerns are headed that way too, although the first films in the subgenre (e.g. Unforgiven) were intentionally very far toward the combat end.

      • onyomi says:

        This is definitely a big problem with all the super hero films. Even for the heroes whose powers don’t involve invulnerability, they all just shrug off attacks and falls which would cripple any regular person. In a recent Avengers movie (Age of Ultron, I think), a movie with a number of pointless scenes, no scene felt more low-stakes than the one where Iron Man is dropping buildings on the Hulk. The two characters are basically invincible, so no matter what they do, it feels like nothing is at stake; and in the end, nothing is.

        • Lumifer says:

          I think it’s a matter of expectations. Avengers are not serious movies, they are entertainment. I don’t expect to empathize with the characters, they are comic book heroes, after all. I want witty quotables and flashy special effects, I hope for tolerable amounts of stupidity in the plot, I do not foresee much in the way of emotional engagement.

          These are Boom! Shiny! Boom! movies.

          • onyomi says:

            But just Boom! Shiny! Boom! is completely boring to me.

            Again not trying to signal how cultured I am–I feel like “Boom! Shiny! Boom!” is treated as if it were the “candy” of movies (sometimes called “eye candy,” actually)–fun, stimulating, but not enough to really satisfy the intellect or whatever. But for me it doesn’t even do that. It’s not even good for the quick, cheap thrill it’s marketed as. “Boom! Shiny! Boom!” literally makes me want to fall asleep.

            Most blockbuster action films make me feel like I’m getting served unseasoned gruel at McDonalds. When I say “but this gruel is flavorless,” people are like “what do you want? It’s fast food.”

            An example of what I think would be good “movie candy”would actually be many of Jackie Chan’s films, mentioned elsewhere in here–silly, throwaway plots, no deep thought necessary or appropriate, but still just a lot of fun to watch.

            I think a big part of it is actually the increasing reliance on CGI in lieu of the “shiny” pop we expect in a fun “fast food” sort of movie. I feel like my brain kind of tunes out to the digital effects. This was part of what made Fury Road so great–not that much CGI with the result that the crunching of steel against steel at high speeds feels viscerally real.

          • Sandy says:

            But the train sequence from Spider-Man 2 was tense and gripping in a way that nothing from the Avengers movies could equal. That movie also had witty quotables and flashy special effects, but the Avengers movies are sorely lacking in what Raimi’s Spider-Man had.

          • onyomi says:

            Watched Spider Man 2 for the first time recently and was pleasantly surprised. Besides good setups like the train sequence, maybe the fact that we are constantly reminded of Uncle Ben’s death makes it feel like maybe Aunt May doesn’t have plot armor either.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ onyomi

            Well, then your tastes do not match the target audience’s. I expect you know such things happen : -/

            Hollywood measures the success of its films in dollars.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            @onyomi – Have you scene the boxing scenes in Creed (spinoff from Rocky) it is one of the most exciting scenes I have ever seen, because the fight is absolutely realistic in that damage seems to actually last, unlike a Marvel movie.

          • onyomi says:

            I did enjoy Creed. The emotional aspect felt pretty real too.

          • moridinamael says:

            The (first two) Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies are excellent because Raimi understands that the focus of the story is the human struggles of Peter Parker. The tension and engagement comes from your concern over whether Peter is going to be okay, whether he’s going to keep his secret, whether he’s going to be able to juggle his heroic life with his personal relationships. You’re blue-balled for two whole movies before he finally gets with MJ.

            Those movies are still probably the best of the superhero movies.

          • Tibor says:

            Onyomi: How did you like Nolan’s Batman? Particularly the Joker (I forgot what the film’s name actually is) was amazing but even the first one, where you do not get such an entertaining villain, is really well done, I’d say. You know that Batman wins and all that and the story is not all that important but the way the action scenes just makes you feel like you are watching a great craftsmanship (and that is often better than would-be art).

          • onyomi says:

            I liked the Dark Knight up until the last 15 mins. or so. It should have ended and dealt with Two Face in a different film. I remember being especially pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed a car chase scene with Batman and the Joker. I almost never enjoy car chase scenes. I’m not sure what exactly it was about this car chase scene. I think it just felt gritty and real in a way most don’t, and, importantly, didn’t go on too long.

            Length is really one of my biggest problems with a lot of action scenes. Violence in real life tends to be quick and shocking, not long and drawn out (obviously there are situations like trench warfare, but even that is long, uncomfortable waiting punctuated by brief bursts of intensity). Long action scenes reduce the impact unless they are unusually creative and/or furthering the story as they go.

            Didn’t much like the other two Nolan Batman films, though. The third one was literally the plot of a 20 min. episode of Batman the Animated Series, which did it better. Also, couldn’t understand what the hell Bane was saying through that mask.

          • Tibor says:

            @onyomi: I did not much like the third Batman either. But I still enjoyed the first one. The second one was the best of course. One thing about Joker is that he seems genuinely threatening because of how completely mad he is. And since they demonstrate in the film that they are willing to kill an important (and female!) character, you are no so absolutely sure that both ships get to be saved at the end (or either of them).

            The only other superhero film I really liked were The Watchmen but that is almost not even an action film.

            By the way, inspired by the discussion here, I watched two Jackie Chan films – Mr. Nice Guy and the Drunken Master. I liked the fighting scenes in the first film because they are genuinely creative and entertaining, otherwise the film is horrible, the only one who can kind of act is Jackie Chan and it is really painful to watch the actors outside of the fighting scene. The Drunken Master which is the film which usually gets the highest scores from reviewers online seemed extremely infantile to me, all including the “funny” sound effects, while the fighting itself is a lot less creative. I did not finish the film, but I doubt the style changes dramatically.

            I would like to see a (Jackie Chan?) film with the fight scenes like in Mr. Nice Guy but with at least average acting and something resembling a plot. Are there any?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Did you watched the original version with the original audio track (not a dubbed version)?

            I only ask because I watched Kung-Fu Hustle in theaters (when it came to the US) and it was one of the funniest movies I had seen in quite a while. I tried re-watching it with my wife at home and it was absolutely awful and I later realized it was because the dubbing (and format truncation) completely ruined all of the comic value of the film.

            I haven’t actually seen either Mr. Nice Guy or Drunken Master though.

          • Tibor says:

            @HeelBearCub: Mr. Nice Guy is US production, but there the reviews are pretty bad too, so I think it is jut the way it is (I loved one scene from a trailer and looked the film up because of that…there were more good scenes like that but the stuff between the fight scenes was painful to watch).

            Drunken Master does get slightly better once Freddie (Jackie) meets the drunken master. The fighting gets more entertaining, although the style of humour is still rather childish. I watched the US dubbing (I’d rather watch it in Cantonese with subtitles, the way they talk just does not fit the setting very well).

          • Zombielicious says:

            Re: Drunken Master, there’s a remake titled The Legend of Drunken Master, also starring Jackie Chan and with a higher budget. Been a while since I watched any of his movies, but I remember it being pretty enjoyable.

            seemed extremely infantile to me, all including the “funny” sound effects, while the fighting itself is a lot less creative.

            Also have to plug the old movie Mystery of Chessboxing – very “infantile” and with absurd sound effects, but extremely creative wushu-based fight scenes (check out the fights towards the end). Kind of a cult classic.

          • Actual Rodent says:


            I think Police Story (1 & 2), The Young Master, Project A (1 & 2), and Drunken Master 2 all stand up well on rewatch, and all have things resembling plots, if you squint.

            With Jackie, you always risk encountering some cringe-inducing humour and Pollyana moralising. The good films are the ones where the virtues outweigh these things. Avoid anything post-1995.

      • TomFL says:

        I heard a rumor that a Storm Trooper might actually hit something he was aiming at in one of the future movies. With all the money the Empire has, you would think they would invest in some gun range practice. My first bit of advice is to stop shooting from the hip.

        • Nornagest says:

          I always liked the fanwank that the stormtroopers can’t hit anything in any of the scenes we see because they’re under orders to let Our Heroes go.

          It’s a better justification in the first and third movies than in the second, though. Haven’t seen Force Awakens, don’t want to think too hard about the prequels.

          • LHN says:

            It’s not obviously a fanwank in the first. The Imperial plan is to follow the Falcon to the Rebel Base. And the Stormtroopers are pretty brutally effective in the attack that opens the movie and in destroying the (admittedly civilian) Jawas and moisture farmers.

            Likewise, in the second, the Imperial attack on Hoth is inexorable, and the only one to score a minor victory against them is a space wizard super-pilot. They also have no trouble taking over Cloud City. (Though the Falcon escapes, this time evidently without a tracking device. Should have stuck another one on there for luck.)

            In the third, no. Defending the force shield protecting the second Death Star is literally the most important infantry task in the galaxy at that moment, and the Emperor dispatched “a legion” of his “best troops” for the purpose. There’s no way having them fall to stone age teddy bears with spears can be spun to make Imperial troops look good.

          • Nornagest says:

            In the third, no. Defending the force shield protecting the second Death Star is literally the most important infantry task in the galaxy at that moment, and the Emperor dispatched “a legion” of his “best troops” for the purpose. There’s no way having them fall to stone age teddy bears with spears can be spun to make Imperial troops look good.

            I was thinking more of ensuring that Luke makes it to Vader alive, but that’s only valid for half the movie. There’s no excuse for the Ewoks, I agree.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            They were supposed to be wookies!

            I have been robbed of the movie where wookies tear stormtroopers limb-from-limb.

            Give me wookies engaging in asymmetric warfare against imperial troops who foolishly abandon their fixed positions or give me death!

          • John Schilling says:

            They were supposed to be wookies!


            If we recast the Endor sequences with Wookies, preferably bowcaster-armed, we get three solid movies worth of Imperial Stormtroopers as consistently, brutally effective adversaries except for the one sequence where they were ordered to take a dive – and consider the level of discipline it would take to pull that off, to stand against intruders who are shooting to kill, while deliberately missing with every return shot?

            And that’s not fanwanking, not when one of the lead characters spells it out on-screen.

    • Odoacer says:

      I’ve heard people say that action sequences are a lot better in Hong Kong/Asian films. Is that true? I’ve only seen a few, Crouching Tiger, Hero, Ip Man 2 and Ong Bak 2. However, outside of the initial wire fighting sequences, I can’t say that I was overly impressed. Some of the fights were overly choreographed and too long.

      • Fred says:

        I think you need to correct for overall Asian fetishization. If the person making that claim also does acupuncture, participates in a martial art, thinks sushi has sold out and has now moved on to izakaya you should probably discount his opinion accordingly.

      • Nornagest says:

        Except possibly for Ip Man 2, which I haven’t seen, the films you mentioned fall into the wuxia genre. In terms of content that can be thought of as a loose Eastern (particularly Chinese) equivalent of heroic fantasy, but it also has a rigid set of cinematic norms attached to it, kind of like John Wayne-era Westerns. If the style doesn’t do it for you, you’re probably better off finding another genre.

        Good news is, there are plenty.

      • Actual Rodent says:

        My knowledge of hong kong action is limited almost entirely to early Kung Fu comedy.

        Unlike the films you cite, these films tend to feature few wires. Drunken Master (1978) is a good example. The actors are engaged in a a skillful dance-like combat which employs household objects, and gimmicks (this guy has a head made of iron, this guy uses only legs, whatever), is choreographed to within an inch, and features broad humour and comical misunderstandings.

        People I show these to generally like them, and even if they don’t will agree that nothing in western cinema quite fills this niche. The best of these appear to me to involve an almost fanatical degree of skill, and the fact that it’s basically in the service of fart jokes gives it this weird humility.

    • meh says:

      I loved how in Fury Road the story was actually being told during the action. The more typical approach is to have an unrelated action scene for it’s own sake, and then everything stops for the story to move a notch forward.

    • ThaddeusMike says:

      I’ve been having a similar problem lately. I think it relates to the Marvel wisecracking superhero somehow, but I’m not sure which way the causation runs. Wisecracking superheroes do have the ability to take the focus off of the action itself, but did that lead to an undervaluing of good action or was it a solution to the problem of action scenes being too similar across movies?

      I will note that I don’t find action scenes to be impossible to enjoy, but it seems that good action is getting harder to find. Star Trek: Beyond had this problem, I thought. There was a big bit in the middle that just had no point, as far as I could tell. I liked the space bit because it was visually pleasing, but the hand-to-hand was all swooshing cameras and I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Would I once have liked it, or was it just bad work?

    • TomFL says:

      It would actually be exciting if the main characters died in these scenes more often. There is no drama when you know to near certainty that the main characters will “miraculously” survive all these scenes. Occasionally someone breaks new ground with visual effects, but that is about it.

      • Montfort says:

        I’ve always thought it would be a great idea to have a movie that looked like and was advertised exactly like a typical, slightly-above-average action blockbuster, and have the main character die about 15 minutes into the film in the middle of a seemingly inconsequential mook-fight, followed by the credits.

        Ideally, critics would be in on it, there would be zero leaks, and opening day would be huge (and viewers would be refunded most of the price of their tickets afterwards), but of course all these things would be impossible to pull off.

        • TomFL says:

          The only one I remember is a very mediocre flick Deep Blue Sea where in the middle of a big speech a shark just jumps up and eats Samuel L. Jackson in the middle of the movie. That’s that, he was gone.


        • Guy says:

          I was actually super mad when they turned around in Fury Road, instead of continuing onto the bed of the ocean to deal with starvation and/or interpersonal problems.

        • The Nybbler says:

          “Executive Decision” kills off Steven Seagal early on, but the film continues.

        • gbdub says:

          Apparently, at the end of “Dodgeball”, the bit where Vince Vaughn gets hit by Ben Stiller was supposed to be the end. Globo Gym celebrates, heroes lose everything, roll credits. Kind of wish they’d had the balls to leave that in (though I did love the joke where the chest of cash is literally labeled “Deus Ex Machina).

        • Nornagest says:

          You could check TV Tropes’ “Decoy Protagonist” page for a slightly friendlier version of this setup.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      Getting into learning about the details of production solved most of this, for me. Instead of taking action in a Watsonian sense, getting to pay attention to the craft and hard work involved in action sequences really improved my enjoyment of such movies. Even the heavy-CG stuff, I’m admiring all of the craft and work it took to animate the sequences, what it took to film the live-action parts, the integration of live-action and CG, etc. The deeper I go into what goes into stunts (especially all of the precautions they take for safety), the more impressed I get with even lower level films that nonetheless have impressively skilled crew.

      That said, here’s a couple of posts I’ve done on the subject of what makes for better fight scenes. The camerawork thing really gets my craw, because imho very few productions get how to film dancing correctly anymore, much less fighting.

    • Anton on a non-anon, (non "anonanon") ("anon"..and on) account says:

      I loved furiosa’s shoulder charge in mad max fury road. A really simple thing but amazingly executed imo.

      I don’t watch a lot of action films but I do find myself thinking, why didn’t they choreograph this better? Why don’t they seem to be interested in hurting each other?

      -Do none of these hollywood people even PLAY COMPUTER GAMES?

      I’m not expecting simo hayha to be consulting on these films. or a professional fighter or soldier. But an amateur fencer would be nice, or failing that someone who plays blitz backgammon every other week. Someone with some minimal connection to the idea of an adversarial combat.

      I get the impression from a lot of scenes that the creators don’t have not even failed to convey that the combatants involved are desperate to be faster than the other guy, but haven’t even tried to convey that they are making an effort.


      Looking for examples of stick figure animations, which imo have some of the absolute best fights, one of the first I came across was this,, which is the product of a single animator, in a single week, and imo better than almost literally anything I’ve ever seen from an action movie.

      Here is a chase scene from district 13,

      Imo those are two good action scenes.

      Both have interesting twists/surprises/developments, but is that what fundamentally makes them good?

      What about the shoulder charge in mad max fury road?


      Imo the fundamental thing that makes these scenes good is that it’s gotten across that the participants have a superhuman, or near peak-human, or simply, desperate human, level of dedication and focus in winning their particular combats. The creators worked up a sweat imagining and mapping out those scenes.


      Anyway, sorry that this comment is all over the place, but back to the stick figure animation I linked: At 1:50, what happens to all of the momentum? -The two characters have launched themselves at one another, from a serious distance, are being propelled by what are basically different forms of rocket, and … It just cuts straight to a sword to sword face to face struggle.

      -What the fuck happened to the momentum? They should have careened off one another at a minimum.


      What happened once in this otherwise brilliant 5 minute animation from one artist, in one week, I have noticed happening multiple times in shorter scenes in big budget movies.


      So here’s a fight scene from die hard, one that’s imo significantly above average:

      First of all, isn’t it just pantomime in comparison? At times it seems to be making representitive gestures rather than attempts at depiction.

      There’s a lot of good stuff, but then you have things like them them taking it in turns hitting each other, kicks fairly clearly passing by the guy’s face. A smaller thing, but the guy approaching the corner staring at the camera. A ridiculously telegraphed.. downward karate chop? (literally slowly pulls arm back for it well within “get punched in the face” range)


      Anyway, I’m not going to try to dig up a truly bad action scene, but my view is that a lot of action scenes don’t even attempt to depict combats, instead opting for symbolic gestures, sometimes only in parts, but sometimes in almost whole, or entirely whole, scenes. And somewhat seperately, that there’s just a lot of straighforward incompetence floating around. Fight scenes being created by people who seemingly have never so much as imagined a fight.

  15. Siah Sargus says:

    I have yet to find a well paced, written, and illustrated sex scene in a comic book, where the book in question wasn’t principally pornographic. Although I consider the division between “porn” and “literature” to be tenuous at best, I don’t know how I feel about having only fap fodder for guideposts. Like, the central conceit of my story isn’t about sex, but its a significant part of the two main characters’ arc with one another that they pair up early on in the story. I’m straight up missing the usual “meet cute” bullshit, because I feel like its tired, unrealistic, and an extremely stupid and petty way to get “drama” in a pairing. I want to show what I consider to be a relationship that could plausibly happen, and not some contrived “plot”. To that end, I also wanted to be more willing to show the whole relationship, including the more routine parts, the more talky parts, and the sex. But no matter what I do, as soon as I show sex, the entire website becomes porn in the mind of Google. Because the internet is a free and open place to express whatever you want as long as its rated pg-13. Ugh.


    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      It certainly is the case that hardly any “mainstream” comics do that, especially nowadays. I would have vaguely gestured towards some old Alan Moore stuff, maybe; not that he went out of his way to add sex scenes but more that he didn’t give a crap what other people think.

      The only modern example I can think of is Empowered. Not quite what you’re thinking of, because it’s deliberately a very sexy (and comic-booky) comic, but it’s part of the story and the storytelling.

    • Tentatively offered: Omaha the Cat Dancer— the sex is pretty explicit, but I don’t know whether it’s explicit enough to be what you’re looking for.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @Siah Sargus – I would bet money that Webcomics have already solved this problem. and if not them, Japan.

    • Vitor says:

      Dicebox seems to be exactly what you’re looking for:

      • Bugmaster says:

        FWIW, I just tried reading Dicebox, and I had to stop about 10 pages in, because I couldn’t summon up any interest in caring about any of the characters at all in any capacity. I didn’t get to the sex scenes, admittedly, but still. YMMV, of course.

        • Vitor says:

          The comic is slow paced and takes a while to get rolling, that’s for sure. The story is complex, but nuanced and believable. If you have the time and patience to read while paying attention to all the little details, it’s well worth the effort.

          • Bugmaster says:

            If you say so; but on the other hand, there are plenty of other comics that have long on-going stories (such as the aforementioned Questionable Content), and they did manage to grab my attention. I actually cared about their characters from the get-go, and, later on, I was interested to see how their setting would develop. I get neither of those from Dicebox

    • smocc says:

      As a prude, are you sure you need to show the sex, and if you do, do you really need to show it happening?

      In my experience the vast majority of sex scenes in stories are used either as a trope signifying “this relationship has leveled up” (every romcom) or as titillating filler (e.g. the Top Gun sex scene). Both are very annoying to me. If you want titillating filler that’s fine, but you don’t get to complain if people write you off as a pseudo-pornographer. If you’re using sex as a trope then it’s lazy writing and you don’t actually need to show the sex: you may as well just have a panel that says “And Then They Had Sex.” Plus it cheapens the value of sex in relationships as a mere checklist item.

      Character and relationship development definitely can happen during sex, but how often is it intrinsically linked to the mechanics of the act of sex itself, as opposed to the flirtatious banter or the pillow talk afterwards? Do I really need to see explicit depictions of sex acts for the storytelling to work? Maybe, but I’m skeptical that it’s the case nearly as often as some authors seem to think. Like, sure, real people have sex, but real people do a lot of things that I don’t want to see all the details of.

      I guess this is a rant that’s not very helpful to you. Consider Questionable Content, which has a ton of sex and spends most of its time dealing with the fallout (good and bad) of said sex, but it rarely depicts sex acts straight up (at least when I used to read it circa 2007) and it rarely needs to. Usually it opts for post-coital scenes. I remember not minding the sex Dicebox, which Vitor recommended, though I think I stopped reading it because the characters stopped making sense to me (including how much sex they had).

      • Bugmaster says:

        I agree; there’s no point in showing sex unless you are trying to titillate the reader — or unless the sex itself is important to your story. Somehow. But, from what I’ve seen, it’s very difficult to make the exact mechanics of sex plot-critical, without it being obvious.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Take it a level up: there’s no point in showing anything unless it serves one of those two purposes (titillation, or story functions such as advancing the plot/establishing character/etc.) — especially in a time and labor-intensive medium like comics.

          An action scene — say, a fistfight — would be similar. Maybe the artist just wants to draw a bunch of cool action for readers who want to see it (titillation) or maybe we’re showing how the society places great emphasis on one’s fighting ability (story). If it’s not serving one of those functions, leave it out.

          • smocc says:

            Not sure if you’re trying to be sarcastic or not, but there is a whole thread above advocating basically this.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            Comparing it to the action thread above is more appropriate than one might think. A good sex scene in any kind of media, text in books/fanfics, scenes in movies/shows, cutscenes in games, should be just as much a form of characterization and/or plot metaphor as an action scene.

            The way a person has sex can tell you something about them, so a sex scene can contribute to characterization, as well as illuminating the relationship dynamic between the parties involved. That’s one of the reasons smut is so prevalent in fanfiction: we get more of the characters we love, epitomized in an intimate encounter. It’s also no surprise why fiction loves to play with the hate-love foe-yay sex-violence line, such as the film Mr. and Mrs. Smith doing so in a very on-the-nose way.

            You’ll hear from various directors “shoot the fight like a dance,” “shoot the dance like a love scene,” “shoot the fight like a love scene,” “shoot the love scene as a dance,” so on and so forth.

            As for recommendations, I can’t speak for how the readers here will like the writing overall, but T. Campbell’s comics (Faans, Rip and Teri, Penny and Aggie, Quiltbag) all deal with sex in a pretty tasteful way, imo. Faans even features a poly BDSM relationship.

            Sunstone is a romance comic centered around a BDSM social circle.

            Strangers in Paradise is a somewhat legendary romance comic with a lot of other sub-genres (thriller, action). I don’t know if it qualifies, though, since it doesn’t have full sex scenes.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I agree about the action scenes: if your comic is a character-driven slice of life coming of age story (or whatever), then throwing in action on every other panel would serve you poorly. That doesn’t mean that action has no place in your comic; it just means that when action does occur, it has to mean something with regards to character development.

            On the other hand, if your comic focuses on starship captains desperately trying to out-maneuver a superior foe, then incluing personal details about their lives on every other panel would, likewise, be a mistake.

            That said though, I disagree about T. Campbell’s comics. LGBTQ advocacy is one of his (her ? I forget) main goals, and thus the sex scenes are very much on topic; they are kind of half the point of the whole comic. Don’t get me wrong, they are still reasonably tasteful and well-presented; but it wouldn’t be fair to say that e.g. Quiltbag is a good example of an author depicting sex in a comic that is not sex-focused, because Quiltbag is very much sex-focused (which is not the same thing as saying it’s outright porn, mind you).

          • arbitrary_greay says:


            Ah, you’re right, I forgot that the OP was mostly talking about non-sex-focused comics.

            On the other hand, OP also says “where the book in question wasn’t principally pornographic.”
            Hrm, this might negate my Sunstone recommendation, but that comic is still fundamentally a romance story, but one set between characters who express themselves through sex, as some real people do. The sex is mostly also characterization, unlike, say, most explicit manga, so I can’t say that the comic is principally pornographic.

            I’d also say that T. Campbell’s webcomics except maybe Quiltbag still apply. Faans and “Rip and Teri,” certainly, since they’re primarily genre. Penny and Aggie is a teen drama, but only had a couple of NSFW panels in its entire run, as well.

      • onyomi says:

        As the opposite of a prude (a perv?), I tend to wonder the opposite–assuming they’re reasonably attractive, I like seeing characters I care about have sex, so why not show it? With live actors there is an obvious problem, but no such problem with a comic.

        I’ve often thought that the problem with most porn is that it’s well… just porn; that is, it doesn’t have much of a plot, or time for you to really care about the characters. But sex between characters you care about in a plot which matters would be so much more impactful. I think this is why people make slash fiction, doujinshi and the like: it takes advantage of the knowledge you already have about the characters. Which is not to say plot-free porn wouldn’t still have a place.

        Related: why are we so much more okay with depicting violence than sex, when most types of sex are much more socially acceptable than most types of violence?

        • Guy says:

          Related: why are we so much more okay with depicting violence than sex, when most types of sex are much more socially acceptable than most types of violence?

          I can offer no explanation, but it is worth noting that this is a very America-specific thing.

          • I’m not sure that it is. It may perhaps be an Anglo-Saxon-specific thing?

          • Sandy says:

            That’s not true. It’s also a thing in Asia.

          • Nyx says:

            Yes, it is a very America-specific thing to have an absurd stereotype of foreigners as sexually enlightened wife-swapping free spirits with no appetite for war.

          • Jiro says:

            One reason is precisely that sex is socially acceptable.

            It’s a much easier Schelling point to say “don’t do this stuff you see in a show, ever” than “don’t do this stuff you see in a show, not in exactly the same way anyway, but you normally still do it sometimes under some circumstances”.

            Also, some forms of violence come under “are hard to imitate”, like laser blasts. Notice that those kinds are usually restricted less than more realistic violence.

        • Anonymous says:

          Related: why are we so much more okay with depicting violence than sex, when most types of sex are much more socially acceptable than most types of violence?

          We sometimes seem to consider observation of a sex act a kind of implicit participation. (Some D/s writers explicitly discourage public scenes because they violate the consent of onlookers; I recall a rather amusing couple of letters in Dan Savage’s column about inappropriate public shoe-tying.) Seeing someone have sex is a kind of intimacy, and like all intimacy it can be unwanted.

          IME sex scenes are rarely more than slightly embarrassing (or occasionally embarrassingly bad), especially in visual media. And porn is porn and that’s OK. But I’ve read a couple of supposedly-not-porn books where I could practically hear the author masturbating, and I… wasn’t in the mood.

          If you care about the characters and it’s not titillating, that’s fine, I guess, and if you care about the characters and it is titillating and that’s what you’re reading it for, that’s great, but if you care about the characters and it is titillating and all you wanted was a nice story, that’s… a little like an unsolicited dick pic. I did not ask for this, please take it away.

          • Nathan says:

            A Song of Ice and Fire is a huge offender in this regard (even more so than the tv show). Some sexual encounters are important and plot relevant (I.e. the incest reveal early on), but the vast majority are of the Dany-randomly-getting-finger-banged-by-her-handmaiden variety. It doesn’t develop character, it doesn’t develop plot, and mostly it just feels like George Martin was taking a wank-break while writing and just really wanted to share it with you.

    • Perico says:

      You should probably read Saga.

      I mean, you should probably read it regardless of any interest in sex scenes, because the book is that good… but it does have quite a bit of memorable, imaginative, and gorgeously illustrated sex. Featuring alien species that range from colorful humanoids to colorful what-the-hell-am-I-looking-at.

      And even though the sex is abundant, varied, and remarkably plot-relevant, it’s not like that is the main focus of the story. Saga is hard to pin down, but I guess it could be summarized as a sci-fi epic with a generous dose of fantasy, some really well written love stories and personal relations, and a fair share of ultraviolence and sex.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @Siah Sargus – Artesia contains a considerable amount of explicit sexual content that is folded fairly deeply into the story. It’s also probably in the top five best comics I’ve ever read; it’s extremely goddamn good. I’d highly recommend it just on its own merits, but it sounds like exactly what you’re looking for.

      Beyond that, I seem to recall hearing that Saga had a fair amount of sexual content. It’s also supposed to be very, very good.

      @Webcomics – This is a general reminder that Kill Six Billion Demons, Black and Blue and Unsounded are real things that exist.

      Come to think of it, there’s some intimate moments in Unsounded as well. Massive spoilers, and you really should read it cause it’s amazing, but here:
      !!!Spoilers, Disturbing Imagery!!!
      !!!Spoilers, Disturbing Imagery!!!

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        Did anybody else get way too much Lore Overload from that?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          assuming you mean the unsounded examples, probably shoulda uploaded the pages without the text. pages from the middle of a very long, intricate story, and particularly one of the weirder parts, aren’t a good introduction.

          I suggest trying the beginning.

      • Matt C says:

        Thanks for those webcomics references.

      • Nornagest says:

        Kill Six Billion Demons is really, really good. I got bored with Unsounded, though; despite the artistic talent involved and the massive amount of worldbuilding, I didn’t find the plot engaging or have any particular desire to explore that world.

        Never seen Black and Blue; what’s its deal?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Nornagest – Glad you’re enjoying KSBD!

          “I got bored with Unsounded, though; despite the artistic talent involved and the massive amount of worldbuilding, I didn’t find the plot engaging or have any particular desire to explore that world.”

          How far’d you get, out of curiosity?

          “Never seen Black and Blue; what’s its deal?”

          It’s a cyberpunk noir, has something of a cohen-brothers feel to it, with a story black as the inside of a coal-scuttle at midnight. One of the things I really admire about it is the pace the author keeps the story moving at, and the ways he keeps the story moving in fresh directions. Read the first scene or two, and you’ll have a fair idea of whether it’s for you.

          • Nornagest says:

            Don’t remember exactly. I think I picked it up near its debut and followed it for about a year, off and on?

    • Anton on a non-anon, (non "anonanon") ("anon"..and on) account says:

      I once watched a few videos on youtube with ridiculouss title along the lines of “christopher hitchens DESTROYS dumb moron”, but worse, because I wanted to watch videos of christopher hitchens and those where in the sidebar, and for some time after that all my suggested videos were ones with shitty “ultrapartisan”-doesn’t-begin-to-cover-it titles along those lines. (not just of christopher hitchens, apparently “likes really shitty titles” is a demographic youtube was eager to shoehorn me into circa 2011.

      I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised when youtube went so far downhill.

    • Mr Mind says:

      May I interest you in the work of an Italian author, Milo Manara? He has been translated, although I don’t know to what extent, but I guess that “Il gioco” (the game) and the Miele saga are exactly what you’re looking for.
      Definitely erotic, definitely not porn, beautifully drawn and with sex-centric plots.
      Not all of his work is like this though, a substantial chunk of what he drew is adventure or fantasy for other writers.

  16. Sandy says:

    I read “How the West was Won” and some people asked how universal culture has fared over time in Islamic nations. I’m not entirely sure, but any rate the comments didn’t seem to go into much depth.

    The archetypal East-meets-West nation is Turkey. It was Samuel Huntington’s example of a “torn country”. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk loved Western culture (or at least the precursor to modern universal culture) so much that he literally rewrote the Turkish language, switching out the Arabic script for a Latin one. He and his fellow reformers were tired of the “Sick Man of Europe” tag and decided to incorporate European civic traditions into the new Turkish nation. Today, Turkey appears to be moving away from those traditions because they are insufficiently Islam-friendly; most of Turkey’s overtures to joining the European Union have been fairly halfhearted. Even Turkey’s terrorists have changed — the Grey Wolves were fascists and Turkish supremacists first and foremost, not really bin Laden style jihadis. Over time they have become more and more like traditional jihadis because they have blended Salafism in with their ultranationalism.

    Ba’athism was founded by Michel Aflaq, a Syrian Christian who considered Islam to be “proof of Arab genius”; nonetheless, he strenuously insisted that Ba’athism was a secular ideology. Saddam endorsed this view for a long time but eventually declared that Ba’athism was an Islamic ideology after Aflaq died.

    Saudi Arabia is a rich, high-HDI country, but its enforcement of strict Islamic laws has arguably only grown stronger over time as a response to fundamentalist pressure and incidents like the seizure of the Grand Mosque in 1979.

    Pakistan was founded by Jinnah, a suit-clad booze-swilling London-educated Muslim whose first cabinet included a Hindu and an Ahmadi. Today most of those Hindus have fled for India and those Ahmadis are banned from even referring to themselves as Muslims. Foreign Muslims who want to enter Pakistan literally have to tick a box on the entry form that says they acknowledge that Ahmadis are not Muslims and that Mirza Ghulam was a heretic. Thousands gathered on the streets of Islamabad to celebrate the valor of a man who assassinated a politician for defending a Christian woman from draconian blasphemy laws.

    I don’t know very much about Indonesia, but there is an interesting bit in the Atlantic’s article on “The Obama Doctrine” where Barack Obama describes growing up in Indonesia as a boy and then returning there decades later as a President. According to Obama, Islam in Indonesia went from a relaxed, syncretic South Asian tradition to a much harsher form with definite Arab influences and a more prominent role in Indonesian society.

    Would it be fair to say that the Islamic world was a lot more “Western” culturally decades ago, during the time of Ataturk, Nasser and Jinnah, and that it has gradually rejected this culture? Shadi Hamid has a book called Islamic Exceptionalism where he argues that expecting that Islam will go through something akin to a Protestant Reformation and as a result Muslim countries will embrace secularism is absurd because the Islamic world has no incentive to do that. For Christian Europe, secularism was an escape from bloody religious wars that decimated nations. They were glad to inch away from their religious past because of this. For the Islamic world, their religious past was their golden age. It is romanticized and imagined as vastly superior than the secular present that universal culture tells themselves they should embrace, and this imagining is easy for them to buy because the present is pretty terrible in many Islamic nations. Hence the popularity of Sayyid Qutb among Islamists — his popularization of jahiliyyah, the idea that Muslims are living in a lulled, hypnotized state divorced from Islam that they must be awakened from, is fodder for anti-Western narratives and Islamic revivalism.

    So does Islam just have a really strong immune system that resists universal culture? Or do I have an incomplete picture that misses how universal culture really has made deep inroads in the Islamic world and set the stage for its inevitable takeover?

    • Matthias says:

      It’s a very interesting question. You could ask similar things about the American Founding Fathers’ relaxed attitude to Christianity vs parts of modern-day America. (It’s not the same, but I see parallels.)

      Sorry, I don’t have any answers. The resurgence of (some forms of) religion seems real.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        If you’re drawing a parallel to modern-day American political parties and saying they’ve become far more religious, maybe the cycle that the GOP nominated Donald Trump wasn’t the best one to do it in…

        And if you’re drawing a parallel to religious rural communities that exist in modern-day America, it’s not exactly fair to compare them to the most elite and cosmopolitan circles of Revolutionary-era America.

      • Patthlas says:

        I’m not sure about Founding Fathers, but judging by book-review-albions-seed, early settlers took their religion very seriously.

        Also, there’s something something evaporative cooling effect, something something outgroup threatening ingroup culture.

    • Dandy says:

      Isn’t Muslim World in a bloody religious war, like, right now?

      USA people think that 50 victims of recent shooting is Worst Thing Since 9/11, but IIRC average terrorist attack in the Middle East easily tops 100 victims and rate of occurrence is just incomparable.

      • Anon says:

        The Crusades alone resulted in more than twice as many deaths than the Iraq War. The current chaos and unrest in the Middle East is small-time compared to some of the shit the Anglican and Catholic Churches put their followers through.

        • Rob K says:

          the crusades took place over a period of 4ish centuries. That’s a very silly thing to compare to the Iraq war.

          • Randy M says:

            Centuries with rather different medical technology.

          • Anon says:

            Yes, it is, and that’s why Dandy is making a false equivalence. If secularism is an escape from bloody religious wars like the Crusades, terrorist attacks in the Middle East don’t even begin to compare. They hardly even register on that scale.

      • Sandy says:

        There are bloody religious wars raging across the Middle East, but they’re not really comparable to the Thirty Years’ War that halved the populations of some European nations and sent the entire continent into demographic crisis.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          As with the crusades, that’s still a dumb comparison. The current issues in the Middle East have been going on for five years, and its people actually have the option of fleeing. If some millions of Imperial Germans had the option of doing so, they’d have readily accepted the opportunity.

          This isn’t even to mention the absence of foreign powers deliberately destroying large swathes of land over in the Middle East as much as happened in that war, no matter what some might say.

          • Anon says:

            I think multiple people here in the comments are confused.

            Sandy said “secularism was an escape from bloody religious wars that decimated nations. They were glad to inch away from their religious past because of this.”

            Dandy said “Isn’t Muslim World in a bloody religious war, like, right now?” to argue that since the Middle East is currently in a bloody religious war, shouldn’t they be accepting secularism rather than becoming more religious?

            Both Sandy and I are arguing that this is a false equivalence because the turmoil in the Middle East hardly compares to wars like the Thirty Years’ War or the Crusades.

            I’m not sure why people are arguing against that, because it’s a fact.

            And speaking of facts:

            The current issues in the Middle East have been going on for five years

            Yeah, sure.

            Look at the dates in the sidebar. Go on. I’ll wait.

          • Nathan says:

            Stefan was clearly referencing the Syrian civil war. I don’t think the snark was necessary.

          • Anon says:

            The only reason the Syrian civil war is happening is because Obama handed ISIS a power vacuum, and they took over and invaded Syria. My point stands. Just because we’ve crossed an arbitrary geographical border does not change when this conflict started.

          • Jill says:

            The Syrian Civil War is happening because Assad brutally murdered large numbers of his people, destroying their cities, and sending millions of survivors fleeing for their lives To Europe and elsewhere.

            Obama may have misunderstood who the “good guys” are in the conflict, but he did not start it. The problem is that there are mostly not any good guys in a very war torn an area like this. There are only “do whatever it takes to survive and maybe avenge the death of my relative or friend” guys. So the rebels against Assad are also brutal, as is ISIS also.

            In Syria, so many groups are fighting that it’s ridiculous to think we can understand what’s going on and how to solve it. Look at how many there are:

            This “simple” chart of the war in Syria shows it’s actually mind-bogglingly complicated

            I know that the U.S.– Right Wing media is selling the perspective that it’s all Obama’s fault– like every other problem in the country or the world, in their view. But it’s just more complex than that.

            It’s interesting that one commonality between Trump and some of the more establishment Right Wing media is the view that Putin is some kind of blameless good guy. So he’s reputed to be the good guy in Syria. But in reality, he just wants access to a Mediterranean port, and so he is supporting the brutal Assad. Putin is in large measure responsible for Assad’s brutality and for the refugee situation himself, as he is propping up a dictator that the people do not want and are fleeing from.

            That being said, there may not be an organized unified countervailing force that can take over if Assad steps down– I mean, other than ISIS.

            A very complex situation. I can see the appeal of incorrect simple explanations like “It’s all Obama’s fault.” I guess that belief is like a lullaby to the ears of people who long for a simple life, a simple world, easily explained, with someone to always be the bad guy and someone to always be the good guy.

          • John Schilling says:

            The only reason the Syrian civil war is happening is because Obama handed ISIS a power vacuum

            The Syrian Civil War began two years before ISIS existed as such, and Obama has done nothing to significantly increase or decrease the power of any of the participants. Try again. For best results, include the phrases “Arab Spring” and “Free Syrian Army”.

    • Lemminkainen says:

      I think that the explanation for the rise of Wahabbi-ish Islam (Which, though it purports to be a return to ancient norms, is really a modern invention from the 18th century– sort of the hardcore Calvinists to the more Lutheran-ish Islamic modernists who showed up around the same time and eventually turned into the modern Islamic world’s secularists. Until quite recently, Islamic practice in most of the world had a lot more to do with boozing, praying at the tombs of saints, and ecstatic meditation than harsh implementations of Shari’a) has much more to do with politics than with memetics.

      As Saudi Arabia has grown wealthier, through oil revenues and the support of the United States, it has amplified its efforts to spread its Wahabbi version of Islam in other countries. (This is sort of like how the international popularity of Communism grew in part because the USSR sponsored political movements abroad). At the same time, especially in the Arab world, the big secular political movements failed to deliver on their promises. Yesterday’s nationalists became today’s oligarchs. Also, in the 1990s, the USSR collapsed, and the Communist path seemed less and less viable. (Compare Fatah, who were revolutionary Marxist nationalists, to Hamas, who are decidedly Islamist) So, the Islamists became the most viable option left for anybody pissed off about the status quo. (Also worth noting: many, and possibly most, Islamists aren’t Wahabbis).

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’m skeptical about claims that a group isn’t traditional because they are a recent invention. If one group creates a new group of people to retain traditional culture, while the rest of society moves forward, that doesn’t disprove their claim.

        • Lemminkainen says:

          It’s more that a lot of Wahabbi practices (most notably extreme iconoclasm, aggressive enforcement of bans on alcohol, seclusion of women) had actually been uncommon in most of the Islamic world for centuries before they showed up. They appealed back to the mostly-mythical era of the Rashidun caliphs, much as the first Protestants claimed to be reconstituting the mostly-mythical practices of the early Christian church.

    • Salem says:

      The Muslim world has clearly become more Western, but I understand why you might get the opposite impression.

      60 years ago, the Muslim world had a thin veneer of very Westernised elites at the top, and a thick mass of extremely traditional people. Now, the mass of people have become much more Westernised – but they are still more traditional in many ways than the elites of 60 years ago. But at the same time, governments have had to become much more responsive to the masses – in part because of urbanisation. So what you see is a double shift, where the country has become much more Western, but the government has become a little bit more religious.

      This is also complicated in the Arab world by the failure of Arab nationalism, and its partial replacement by Islamic nationalism.

    • Exit Stage Right says:

      I feel like Islamic cultures are easier to understand if you limit your analysis to Islam and the West. When you invoke universal culture, you get stuck explaining why places which by all accounts “should” be succumbing to its influence, aren’t.

      Restrict your vision to particular cultures. Is the West doing enough to eradicate the Islamic culture and replace it with its own? I think the obvious answer is that it isn’t. I think it would make most Westerners a bit uncomfortable to even think of doing such a thing. We’d very much like for people to choose our culture without us having to push it; hence ideas like “universal culture” in the first place.

      Is the West doing enough to project certain elements of its culture into the Islamic world? The answer is much less obvious, I think. Honestly I have no idea.

    • Emma Casey says:

      >So does Islam just have a really strong immune system that resists universal culture?

      The Abbassid Caliphate seems *very* universal culture. Modern Islam seems to have developed this immune system, but it’s rather new in the history of the faith.

      The universal culture story need to work out why it is that UC took over the middle east, and then somehow lost it again.

  17. pseudonymous says:

    Please do not ban anonymous commenting, if that category includes pseudonymous comments such as this one.

    These days, I make almost all my comments in this manner (using one-off pseudonyms). I don’t think they’re of the kind that you would be wish to ban, but nowadays (for various reasons, only some of which are what you would guess) I’m very inhibited in what I say using my standard Less Wrong identity (let alone my real-life identity).

    • Lysenko says:

      Is there a particular reason why you feel it necessary to use one-off pseudonyms instead of a consistent one for a given venue? At that point you might as well simply always post as Anonymous.

  18. Alliteration says:

    I propose having a separate open thread once a month or so for the annoying topics. Annoying topics would be banned from normal threads. If someone wanted to reference a annoying topic from a normal open thread, they could post a link to the annoying open thread as a comment (only as a reply. Top level comments that are just annoying topic links would be banned).

    By spacing the annoying open threads out by a month, hopefully people will make the same number fluff/tribal-namecalling post but a higher number of high quality posts on annoying topics. The greater times between posts will give people longer to think of clever ideas for high quality posts, yet people will be prompted to make the same number of fluff/tribal-namecalling posts because of the thread.

    One disadvantage of this system is that it could inspire people to make even more posts on annoying topics (but at least people wouldn’t have to look at them.)

    (Also, I have heard legends that 4chan’s /pol/ was created to keep their annoying posts away from everything else, but I have heard that it didn’t work out so well because having a designated location for annoying posts pulled in even more people who wanted to make annoying posts until they drowned out the rest of the community even on the other sections. (I have never been to 4chan, so I have no idea if this is true.) but beware. (and yes, I might be using “annoying” a little euphemistically in this paragraph.))

    • Tedd says:

      There’s always the weekly culture war thread over at the subreddit. Maybe Scott could just start posting a link to it at each major (i.e. integral) open thread?

      • Alliteration says:

        That option would have the advantage of lowering the risk of attracting annoying-topic enthusiasts here, because they would hang out on the reddit instead.

      • Bassicallyboss says:

        I quite like this solution, assuming the topics Scott refers to culture war-y. One downside, however, is that the culture is often brought into posts that are not originally related to it (or not more than peripherally related). I expect this probably happens more often than a top-level culture war post. So it might not be very effective; I’m not sure people would be willing to read/write replies on reddit to topics started here, or be self-aware enough to realize when a reply belongs there.

      • Dredd says:

        I don’t like reddit.

    • E.P. says:

      The 4chan ‘legend’ you speak of is basically accurate. The initial community of 4chan was only political to the extent that they found humor in being irreverent toward everybody, on the right and the left. Ironically supporting a view that other people found intolerable was the height of trolling. Unfortunately, this environment attracted people who sincerely held unsavory views, ruining everyone else’s fun. I think this is also why the alt-right has that “Ha-ha I’m being an ironic jokester, except actually I’m serious” aesthetic going on.

      • Anon. says:

        I’m sure it’ll shift in the opposite direction if the Republicans win. It’s a fickle crowd.

    • Exit Stage Right says:

      As someone who quite enjoys the “annoying topics” I think its probably a fair trade if we get a monthly or twice-monthly thread dedicated to them, and then straight ban them from regular OTs. We can call them the “Stuff We Will Regret Writing” OTs, keep them “Hidden”, and put warnings on ’em.

    • Corey says:

      At Pharyngula (yeah I know) not long ago they started running series of open threads on different topics: one on political current events, one on race issues, one on music, etc. Though I think rather than anti-pollution it was more to keep the misc. open thread to a manageable size, and to distribute moderation load (the topic-specific threads have individually-designated moderators).

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        I’m not even laughing—I’m just amazed there are still a handful posters on there after all the self-purging.

        I don’t think you get to judge SSC comments for being one-sided any more though.

        “he’s an insecure man and profoundly ignorant while women and minorities are relegated to serving the dominant white men this bozo is going to tear at it with weaponized ignorance and the audience is going to eat it up a real piece of work huffed and puffed and victim-blamed his way into an inquiry.”

  19. Cadie says:

    2. I think banning anonymous comments would be okay since commenting with a name doesn’t require registering with the site; it’s easy and doesn’t add much of an inconvenience, and it’s still kind of anonymous anyway since one can pick a made-up handle. So not being Anonymous requires very little effort and isn’t a real burden.

    4. My suggestion would be post another hidden open thread with each visible one, with Hidden Thread X.00 being the any-topic-goes thread for the two-week cycle and those topics more or less banned from the others. Then if people post it on the other threads, and it’s not just a passing mention, those commenters can be told to take their discussion to Hidden Thread X.00. That won’t work if your goal is to keep those topics off the blog completely, of course. It would keep the other threads mostly free of them and keep the discussions contained and easy to avoid.

    • 1Step says:

      It seems like the growth of complexity of these open threads mirrors the growth of complexity of a bureaucracy. Everybody means well but before you know it you’re in an undesirable situation of have 3 different kinds of open threads must cross link each other based off the context of the conversation. Imagine having debates about which topics go where, would that go in a 4th open thread? (the meta thread).

      • Carolyn says:

        Also, the more complex things get, the harder it is for polite new people to feel comfortable joining the discussion, for fear of violating social norms they don’t know about. That might have the effect of nudging the commenter demographics the other way.

    • Jiro says:

      There are reasons why certain topics keep coming up, and not all of those reasons are “people like bringing tribalism into everything”. Some of them are just that the topics are relevant to huge fields of human endeavor. and relevant topics are, by their nature, going to turn up. As such, it may be impossible to get rid of those topics without massively disrupting the kind of meaningful discussion that you want to keep.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Yeah, I think that’s a large part of it. Banning EnArEx is a pretty minor thing. Trying to go after the whole culture war, which is interweaved into a lot of other stuff (including the US election and the Brexit vote…. and the reproducibility crisis, for that matter) is really hard.

        Banning discussion of the quality of posters with 4-character female names might work, but that was a links thread anyway.

  20. Orphan Wilde says:

    I think just stating in each open thread that you’d prefer conversations about X, V, and Q topics to be kept to a minimum would be sufficient to nudge conversations in a different direction. There would be certain posters who would ignore such requests, of course – but if you occasionally ban people who are particularly persistent about it, it might work to keep such topics in relative balance with other topics.

    The question, of course, is whether you want to eliminate such discussions, or just bring them into balance with a wider range of topics.

  21. Agronomous says:

    I need some help developing an idea.

    There’s this phenomenon, whereby people insist that X is Y; in the background, probably outside their awareness, this is because if X isn’t Y, then it has to be Z, which is completely intolerable.

    My example (which you can disagree with, while still recognizing the phenomenon) is Gun Violence. A very large part of the U.S. terms and conceptualizes the violence in inner cities as Gun Violence, because if it weren’t the guns causing the violence against young black men, it would be young black men causing it, and that idea is completely intolerable for various reasons. (It supports invidious stereotypes, it makes the problem harder and more complicated to deal with, etc.)

    What I need are examples with the opposite political tilt, partly so I can explain it to left-leaning people, but mostly because this seems like the kind of phenomenon where I’m almost certain not to notice when I’m doing it.

    So what are things where conservative, Republican, or right-wing positions seem to be motivated (at least for some people who hold them) by the intolerable nature of an otherwise-obvious alternative explanation?

    I suppose I have one further question: Are there examples that don’t have a political valence (maybe involving nutrition)? If so, why can’t I spot them?

    • 1Step says:

      Perhaps a conservative example would be the ability to boot-strap to success. conservatives have to believe that those who don’t succeed, do not succeed because they are lazy or untalented. For to believe otherwise would undermine their sense of fairness and general idea about what America is.

    • Alejandro says:

      The obvious example is global warming. It is plausible that the popularity among right-wingers of the idea that global warming is a hoax/conspiracy is at least partly because, if it wasn’t, then it would have to be addressed through government actions (taxes and/or regulations) that cannot be accepted under Republican ideology.

      (I’m not saying there are no reasonably defensible positions between “It’s a hoax” and “Accept Obama’s proposals” – just that the hoax position is the simplest to take if one wants to avoid any risk of rhetorical concessions, and will be memetically favored if political expediancy is the only constraint.)

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        Good example. The right has pretty much no power to re-frame the discussion about dealing with climate change, and so their only options are “completely deny” and “let the left steamroll us and do the Planned Economy thing again”.

      • Jiro says:

        In the real world, “if what the other party says is true, it has to be addressed by actions convenient to the other party’s agenda” is not just a case of people refusing to tolerate something that helps the other party. In the real world, it’s usually a sign of motivated reasoning on the part of the other party. And being skeptical of something likely to be motivated reasoning is rational, even if it sometimes leads to being skeptical about something that is correct after all.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          True, but “it’s all a hoax” is a good deal more conclusory than healthy skepticism requires.

        • Cord Shirt says:

          Good point.

          OTOH, there are also people for whom things happened the other way–the whole reason they joined the party in the first place was because they *already* believed $thing-that-has-to-be-addressed-by-that-party’s-methods was true.

      • Maware says:

        There’s a bit more, mostly in that conservatives are VERY critical of rule by intellectual/scientist. Global warming is probably the first real issue where scientists more or less expect to rule-i.e. to have their solutions and programs accepted based solely on their expertise. We don’t usually concede that much power to shape policy to them, and the reflexive anti-intellectualism and contrariness might also be a resistance to an elite more or less setting policy (or wanting to)

        • James Picone says:

          CFCs. Acid rain. Smoking. Lead in petrol.

          • Anon says:

            I’m not going to say scientists haven’t helped shape policy before, but the difference between those four examples and global warming/climate change/the End Times for liberals/whatever they’re calling it these days is that the evidence in the climate change debate is far less conclusive and powerful than in the previous cases. Most global warming conclusions are drawn from random computer models pulled straight out of some scientist’s ass. Considering also that most of the temperature increases have leveled off in recent years, which exactly 0 global warming models predicted, it appears most of those models were shit (pun completely intended).

          • Winfried says:

            I worked as a consultant doing environmental air permitting.

            None of the things you listed are on the same scale as claiming to regulate/reduce eCO2.

            I can put a scrubber on a stack, I can change refrigerants, I can tweak an engine for different fuels, but the only way to substantially reduce eCO2 is to have fewer people or to reduce the standard of living.

            I’ll believe people are serious about that when they stop growing the national debt.

          • James Picone says:

            Funny joke. Fairly simple underlying physics predicts ~3.7 W/m**2 forcing (~1c) from doubling CO2. That comes from MODTRAN and an understanding of atmospheric composition; it’s not in dispute by anybody serious.

            Then you need to figure out how the whole Earth system changes in response to getting warmer. Some of those changes lead to trapping additional heat, some to not trapping additional heat. For example, a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour, and water vapour is a powerful greenhouse gas, so we get more warming. Melting ice in the Arctic is an interesting one – on the one hand, dark ocean water doesn’t reflect as much heat as ice, so we retain more energy. On the other hand, the ice acted as insulation for the water under it, which now radiates more. There’s a lot of uncertainty over the scale of the various feedbacks, but the best estimate of a substantial fraction of scientists, based on paleoclimate and modelling (i.e. it’s not just modelling) is that you get ~1c to 3.5c more from the feedbacks from your original ~1c rise when you doubled CO2. So you double CO2, you get ~2c to 4.5c higher global average temperature – the ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’

            Presumably you think that low end should be lower. You’re going to have to take it up with the entirety of climate science and ice ages. Temperature variation of ~8c to the depths of an ice age. Really hard to figure out any way for them to happen with an ECS of <2c.

            Also, what levelling off? And you realise that climate models aren’t supposed to predict the ups-and-downs on an annual basis, right? They’re not supposed to predict El Nino or year-to-year natural variability, that shit is chaotic. They’re supposed to predict the envelope that that stuff wiggles around in. There are absolutely some individual model runs that appear to slow down around now; all it takes is a particularly large ENSO + natural variability spike 20 years ago and then not having another one for a while.

            Also, of course, there was a huge hue and cry over CFC regulation back in the day. Chemical manufacturers said it was impossible to shift, people funded by chemical manufacturers and/or gullible dupes and/or irrepressible conspiracisers said that CFCs were too heavy to get into the upper atmosphere where the ozone is, and that sea spray produces more chlorine radicals than man, and that volcanic eruptions put more stratospheric chlorine out than humans ever could, that the ozone hole existed prior to human emissions of CFCs and it’s not a hole anyway, that we needs CFCs for asthma inhalers and we can’t harm asthmatics to protect the environment, that’s anti-human. As I’ve pointed out before there are even some familiar names – Steve Milloy shilled for CFCs before he shilled for fossil fuels, as did Frederick Seitz, Cato, Heartland, Fred Singer, etc..

            I don’t think it’s impossible to reduce CO2 emissions without substantially harming quality of life or the total human population. Nuclear power, CCS, geothermal, spreading a variety of solar/wind/tidal/etc. renewables around and building a better electrical grid + forms of storage, whatever. People are smart. Setting up a reasonable carbon tax will encourage that sort of thing to happen and/or we’ll have paid for the damage being done and can use the money raised for adaptation/remediation/getting-off-planet measures.

            Because the alternative is that we’re fucked; we’ve hit the great filter. A little rise isn’t going to cause the death of civilisation, but burning all the economically-extractable fossil fuels quite probably will. If our options are suicide through burning it all or suicide through leaving free money on the ground; we may as well try.

            As an aside, I think the CFC example is the really big one; we came close to really fucking it up hard. From Peter Crutzen’s Nobel acceptance lecture:

            Gradually, over a period of a century or so, stratospheric ozone should recover. However, it was a close call. Had Joe Farman and his colleagues from the
            British Antarctic Survey not persevered in making their measurements in the
            harsh Antarctic environment for all those years since the International
            Geophysical Year 1958/1959, the discovery of the ozone hole may have been
            substantially delayed and there may have been far less urgency to reach international agreement on the phasing out of CFC production. There might
            thus have been a substantial risk that an ozone hole could also have developed in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere.
            Furthermore, while the establishment of an instability in the O
            x-ClO x
            system requires chlorine activation by heterogeneous reactions on solid or
            supercooled liquid particles, this is not required for inorganic bromine,
            which is normally largely present in its activated forms due to gas phase photochemical reactions. This makes bromine on an atom to atom basis almost
            a hundred times more dangerous for ozone than chlorine (78, 52). This
            brings up the nightmarish thought that if the chemical industry had developed organobromine compounds instead of the CFCs – or alternatively, if chlorine chemistry would have run more like that of bromine – then without any
            preparedness, we would have been faced with a catastrophic ozone hole
            everywhere and at all seasons during the 1970s, probably before the atmospheric chemists had developed the necessary knowledge to identify the problem
            and the appropriate techniques for the necessary critical measurements.
            Noting that nobody had given any thought to the atmospheric consequences
            of the release of Cl or Br before 1974, I can only conclude that mankind has
            been extremely lucky, that Cl activation can only occur under very special circumstances. This shows that we should always be on our guard for the
            potential consequences of the release of new products into the environment.
            Continued surveillance of the composition of the stratosphere, therefore,
            remains a matter of high priority for many years ahead.

            The tl;dr version: If we made bromoflurocarbons and used them for refrigeration instead of chloroflurocarbons, we could have destroyed the ozone layer before we even had the tools to realise what we were doing.

          • Agronomous says:

            or alternatively, if chlorine chemistry would have run more like that of bromine

            This is a really, really weird counterfactual. Especially from a Nobel-Prize-winning chemist.

            Why not just say, “Alternatively, if carbon dioxide chemistry would have run more like that of carbon monoxide, we would have been in serious trouble”?

            The “if guys hadn’t started making Antarctic measurements in the ’50s” counterfactual makes total sense (as in, doesn’t violate any laws of nature); this one… Am I missing something?

            And while we’re near the topic, I can’t believe I never thought of this question before: why isn’t the fluorine in chloro-fluorocarbons more of a problem for the ozone layer? Does it just bind to things and not let go? (My understanding is that each chlorine atom takes part in an ozone-destroying reaction, then is freed up to do so another $bignum times before dropping out of the stratosphere (and that if people had realized that one chlorine atom could destroy multiple ozone molecules sooner, they would have worried a lot more sooner).)

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m a poor chemist, but I’m given to understand that fluoridation behaves a lot like oxidation. Since ozone is just three oxygens, I reckon it wouldn’t easily fluoridate.

          • James Picone says:

            He means “if we used bromoflurocarbons for refrigeration” – you don’t need to change the chemical properties, you need to change the historical contingencies that led to chlorine chemistry being better researched than bromine chemistry.

            I’m not terribly au-fait on the actual chemistry; not sure why fluorine doesn’t react. We studied it in high school, but that was long enough ago that I don’t recall the specifics (other than ‘chlorine radicals catalyse the oxygen-ozone equilibrium reaction thing’)

          • Maware says:

            The level of change required for global warming is a lot more than those. It’s not the prediction of global warming, but the solutions that seem to be given really emphasize the “rule” part. Like people saying to have less kids, or to reduce car usage and redesign cities, etc.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      In “Leave a Line of Retreat”, Eliezer Yudkowsky mentions a rightist example (“God exists; if he didn’t, morality would be impossible, which is intolerable”) and an apolitical example (“souls exist; if they didn’t, death would be the end, which is intolerable”). He recommends imagining what you would do if the intolerable turned out to be true (“be moral anyway”/”sign up for cryonics”) as a way of making it tolerable.

    • Montfort says:

      This seems sort of like an implicit appeal to consequences? I like the axiom of choice example on that page, though it’s probably not good for general audiences. Or maybe a more general offshoot of the just-world fallacy? A relevant form here being: “Victims of x probably deserved it (because otherwise we live in a world where x happens to good people all the time)”

      I expect ethical vegetarians/vegans would find this to be demonstrative – “Some carnivores insist animals don’t have moral worth because if they did then the world would be terrible (factory farming, etc.)”

    • qwints says:

      Nutrition makes sense – fat people are fat because they don’t want to diet and exercise because the alternative is people not having control despite repeated studies showing surgery is the only intervention to reliably produce significant weight loss.

      • Exit Stage Right says:

        I’ll admit its really hard for me to accept those studies, probably for this reason. I feel like I earned the hell out of my weight loss

      • Tekhno says:

        You should just bask in your inherent genetically superior willpower instead. Surgery is the most effective option because the vast majority of people are absolute garbage at controlling themselves. Wireheading is waiting for them. They’re already pulling the cheeseburger lever over and over like a bunch of fat little rats.

        • Agronomous says:

          Yeah, see, the thing is, I have absolutely no willpower, no self-control: I keep meaning to exercise, to floss every day or at least every other day, write blog posts, stop looking for new comments at SSC, do laundry….

          Except in a couple narrow areas where I do. I’m amazingly conscientious about the technical parts of my work, and frequently work late even without being in a flow state because I just need to get this part right. (The paperwork parts, not so much.)

          The fact that I’m a stereotype at least means I’m not rare. So what’s going on? Is willpower fungible, or isn’t it?

          Today for lunch I had a couple of rolls. With nothing on them. (No time to go buy something more interesting to eat.) I don’t feel like that used up any willpower. So why do I eat big lunches other days, and top off with a large soda?

          A couple of times in my life I haven’t been hungry for days. One was when I was in the hospital and my digestive tract was blocked (so, way to go, appetite-regulating system: that was the right move). Another was when I was briefly taking amphetamines (which most ADD medications are). Again, not eating took zero willpower. (Not being a jerk on amphetamines took more willpower than I apparently had, though.)

          I seem to get addicted to strange things (streaming TV shows, SSC, books) and not to much more normal things (booze, amphetamines, stronger drugs—even though I’ve had morphine). So I have the willpower not to angle a doctor for some opiates, but not the willpower to close the computer when it’s 1:00 AM and Netflix is about to play the next episode of [redacted, because I have some pride]?

          • Viliam says:

            I believe that the whole concept of “willpower” is merely a mysterious answer that explains nothing. Precisely because people can be high-willpower about some things or in some circumstances, and low-willpower about other things or in other circumstances. In the end, “willpower” translates to “I have no idea what specifically happened, but this person now actually did what they originally planned to do”. Potentially useful as a label, but fails completely as an explanation.

            I can spend the whole year working hard on a project, and then I can spend a few years just talking about another project and never actually doing it for longer than a few minutes. Sometimes the idea of doing certain things feels very repulsive, sometimes I do stuff without even thinking about it. I believe the devil is in the details, and details are precisely what gets ignored when people focus on the mysterious “willpower”.

            My guess is that an important component of the “power to actually do stuff” is your belief that this action will actually lead to (emotionally meaningful) success. That’s what happens in flow, but it can also happen outside of flow, if you know that you had similar problems in the past and you usually solved them sooner or later. On the other hand, if some task doesn’t feel like something you could do successfully, it feels like a waste of time to spend any moment doing it.

            Food: have you tried Soylent? (Joylent, if European.)

            I seem to get addicted to strange things (streaming TV shows, SSC, books) and not to much more normal things (booze, amphetamines, stronger drugs—even though I’ve had morphine).

            Same here (sans morphine). I guess it’s because the movies, books, and SSC web debates are interesting, while the drugs are ultimately boring.

      • Davide says:

        >repeated studies showing surgery is the only intervention to reliably produce significant weight loss.

        Do they? Links?

        My understanding was that the consensus is
        that people who diet and exercise and then go back to their old lifestyle after reaching their weight goal will eventually gain that weight back (and more).

        But if you permanently change your lifestyle and keep track of what you eat, occasionally exercise….you can keep it off, and it gets *easier* with time as your hunger levels become naturally lower.
        Yes, there is a weight ‘set point’ your body will want to return to, but it can eventually be changed if you are persistent enough.

        I consider this unsurprising, though that might be because it fits my experience losing 60+ pounds in a long amount of time and mostly keeping them off.

        So it’s not that non-surgery longterm weight loss is impossible, it’s just that keeping the weight off after you lost it involves actual effort.

        • Corey says:

          We had some fat discussion an OT or two ago; basically a lot depends on the contours of a definition of success.

          IIRC meta-analyses of diets show that if you define success as loss of most excess weight and not gaining too much of it back (forget the threshold) for 5 years, all diets have a similar success rate, and it’s rather less than 10%.

          I consider the interesting question in weight loss to be why widely differing effort levels are required between individuals.

          • Davide says:

            Thanks, I should go and check that thread.

            I think it would be interesting to compare the % of people who were successful at keeping the weight off weight loss with other forms of long-term self-improvement that take significant willpower and focus (most of them?).

            However I fear that’s simply not possible however since weight & fitness can both be easily evaluated and lost once obtained, which is not necessarily the case for learned skills.

          • One example I’ve seen for something which takes extended effort is getting a PhD. There are people with Phd’s who haven’t managed to sustain weight loss.

          • Nornagest says:

            There are people with PhDs who don’t have karate black belts, too. Especially if the hypothesis of an executive function budget turns out to be true, long-term focus on one domain does not necessarily imply long-term focus on another.

          • @Nancy, that’s an extended effort in a literal sense (in that it usually takes several years) but not necessarily a particularly intense one. I’m not entirely sure how typical my experiences are, but my PhD required no unusual willpower to speak of. Certainly no more so than coming to work every day does now.

    • I don’t think the gun crime example is a good one. You can object to guns as making violence more effective without getting into what is “the” cause of violence.

      • gbdub says:

        You certainly can, but that’s different from calling it Gun Violence, wanting the CDC to study Gun Violence as a particular thing, etc. There is definitely a focus on guns qua guns and less of a focus on violence itself. How often do you here “X people are killed by guns every year”, as opposed to “X people are murdered every year”?

        In your objection, guns might certainly be a low hanging fruit to reduce murders, but a murder by gun would be no more or less tragic than any other murder. That’s… not really how the discourse seems to be playing out in the U.S.

        • It’s not how anything plays out anywhere. People focus on road safety rather than safet, on HIV rather than disease, and so on. If you want to avoid any hint of prejudice, valorisation, or question begging you are going to have to have one almighty campaign against Bad Stuff Not Otherwise Specified.

    • Nyx says:

      So, my example is feminists and rape. Feminists claim that rape is purely about power and misogyny and comes solely from a twisted desire to subjugate women. Part of the reason for this claim is that the alternative is that rape is about sex; since modern feminists tend to be sex-positive, this position is impossible for them to hold. And indeed if you argue that rape is partially about sex, you will be accused of being a rape apologist, of claiming that rape is “natural”, of victim blaming, and so on.

      I think a similar example for conservatives is Just-Worldism; assuming that because capitalism is just So Wonderful, that if anyone is rich or powerful, that necessarily implies they must have some great wisdom or capacity by which they earned it. The unthinkable alternative is that success is partially based on luck and therefore undeserved.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        The unthinkable alternative is that success is partially based on luck and therefore undeserved.

        Success being partially based on luck doesn’t imply success is undeserved.

        The major difference between the average successful person and the average unsuccessful person is that the successful person has failed to achieve lots of things, and the unsuccessful person has failed to achieve one thing.

        • Nyx says:

          Sure. I think that on average, success and failure in modern society do correlate to some form of intelligence; in fact, I don’t think it’s possible for a society to function otherwise. But there are successful people who lucked out on their first try and struck gold, and failures who have tried many times in different ways and never gotten anywhere.

      • Corey says:

        I always figured Just Worldism’s popularity came from religiosity – it’s an easy theodicy. To be fair you do see it in the nonreligious and I’ve no sense of whether it’s a bigger effect than the unthinkabiity of flaws in capitalism.

        (And now whenever I think of this I think of the Unsong character Ana, a theodicy scholar, picketing the World’s Fair with a sign saying “No it isn’t!”)

        • The original Mr. X says:

          IDK, I haven’t noticed religious people being notably more likely to say that rich people must deserve their success — if anything, they’re more likely to criticise the rich for not doing enough to help the poor, and quote things like “You cannot worship God and Mammon” and “It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”.

          • Two McMillion says:

            I see a lot of religious people implicitly believing in just-worldism. To be fair, a lot of those same people give a lot to charity, but still.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Just Worldism is baked into the human psyche. You see it in atheists as well, in just about every theodicy argument, where the unspoken premise is that if God is not just, then He must not exist. But it could very be that the guy who runs the mainframe which simulates our universe will send us to Hell for no (just) reason at all. The injustice of the matter won’t protect you anymore than it emptied the gulags.

          (All of which stems from that fact that belief in morality is baked into the human psyche, and morality makes no sense if good doesn’t ultimately triumph over evil.)

          • I would interpret the unspoken premise not as a claim that no unjust God can exist, but that the specific God described by Christianity can’t both exist and be unjust. (This is probably still fallacious, by way of being based on an uninformed idea of what Christianity actually says about the nature of God. But it’s not a Just World argument.)

          • Lumifer says:

            All of which stems from that fact that belief in morality is baked into the human psyche, and morality makes no sense if good doesn’t ultimately triumph over evil.

            I am not sure this is universally true, especially outside of Abrahamic religions. In systems like Shinto or, say, Norse mythology there is no triumph of good over evil.

          • Gravitas Shortfall says:

            the “God is not just, therefore he must not exist” argument is weird as hell. I argue kind of the other way around: “If God exists, He is not just”. Therefore, either God doesn’t exist, or God is an asshole that doesn’t deserve my worship and in either case there’s no point in practicing any religion.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Gravitas Shortfall

            My semi-heretical theory is that God is a narrative maximizer and it is said that God created man in the image of God because humans too, are narrative maximizers.

          • Eniuneg says:

            “Just worldism” would seem to me as a combination of an individual sense of morality, and the idea that an individual’s innermost experience is common across all other humans. I think this influences atheists much more than theists though.

            In my associations with Christian theists, the concept of a seeming orchestration of the world around them and an innate sense of some greater universality seems to factor in more heavily than any moral issues.

            Atheists on the other hand tend to see the opposite. Moral issues are paramount, and a fallacy of common morality is integral to the meaninglessness of a “just world”. The orchestration of the universe is taken for granted as emergent properties of simple natural laws, and a sense of greater universality is attributed to personal enjoyment of the natural world.

            Theist examination of just world theory looks like post-hoc reasoning. When theists have a definition of God that they personally see contradicting their experiences, they start into spinning out just world theory. If a theist no longer believes in a just world, it doesn’t affect their theism at all. They can still separate out a just/good/nice/all-knowing god from an unjust world without contradiction because moral issues weren’t why they became theists in the first place.

      • Tekhno says:

        I assume you don’t mean luck as in complete randomness. Smarter people are going to be more successful at navigating the world in general, and we do know that IQ correlates with income to some degree (Scott’s posted some of these studies before).

        The “luck” part comes from there being no such thing as “free will”. People don’t choose to choose and so on. So, those who are inherently better at achieving the standards of success of the society they live in are lucky to have been born that way. They deserve what they have because capacity and results are what determines what others value and not how much effort a person appears to have put in.

        The world isn’t just; it’s brutal. Liberal capitalism should be supported because its better at allocating consumer goods than alternatives, not because it’s “more just” in an absolute way.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Luck also comes from people being lucky(!) E.g. lottery winners don’t earn their winnings.

        • Tekhno says:

          Of course, but things like the lottery belong among the exceptions. Most people earn a living through applying marketable skills they have.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            But luck also causes variance in earnings among people with the same level of skills (and even with the same level of luck-based advantages, such as family connections) — you might not get a job because you remind an interviewer of her cheating ex, you might get a promotion because you happen to be the only one working when the boss walks in, and so on.

          • Anonymous says:

            The sum of a lot of small rolls will almost always end up near the average. Big chance-based differences will almost always be restricted to sums where most of the value is in a small number of bigger rolls.

        • ThaddeusMike says:

          What do you mean by “better at allocating consumer goods”. Better in what way?

          • Seconded. One theory of justice is being compared to another, implicit one.

          • Tekhno says:


            A system where prices incentivize the allocation of goods leads to more local satisfaction of wants than one where a central bureau decides what the allocation of goods will look like.

            This is because more people buying one product versus another reduces its supply resulting in higher prices incentivizing greater production of that product which then drives down prices again as more suppliers enter the market and increase the supply of it, causing a fluctuating around a clearing price (and in the macro emphasizing a particular array of products over other less satiating possibilities). This means that a central bureau doesn’t have to constantly calculate what raw materials should be turned into what products in what areas and solve staggering large amounts of calculations for all the potential products in the economy and their interdependence on each other.

            Command economies can try to replicate aspects of markets with things like “shadow prices”, but the more they do so the more we learn why markets and free price systems exist in the first place.

            It’s possible to go to some third option like the libertarian socialists want where you have a market comprised of different communes, but in line with classical socialism they’d be refusing to engage in wage labor or allowing property rights to go beyond a possessive form. This would mean that everyone’s labor is evaluated according to the average socially necessary labor time, smoothing over differences in the quality of work and the use of a product. The labor of a low skilled worker for an hour (incorporating the Marxian “fossilized labor” in his means of production) is going to be worth the same as a high skilled worker, resulting in misallocations in the supply of labor, as doctors refuse to accept that an hour of their work is simply worth all the products which took an hour to produce.

            This is why leftism detached from liberalism goes to bad places (illiberal rightism gives you thinks like theocracy, fascism, and moldbuggian formalism). A liberal-left agenda which blends the market and a free price system with regulation and social programs is the best way for the left to succeed.

          • The free market allocates consumer goods to those who value them more, because they are willing to buy them. Government allocation of goods is often equal to everyone, even though some want them more than others, or because some government official thinks that some consumers deserve the goods more, or simply due to political pull. Thus the free market results in the allocation closer to how consumers want to consume.

        • Markets are artificial, and capitalism is more than one thing?

      • Davide says:

        I consider myself feminist, but I can’t understand the common argument that rape HAS to be about power.
        Both the argument itself and the motivations to argue for it so vehemently.

        What’s the issue in being generally sex-positive while claiming that rape is bad sex?
        Sex is good when all people involved want it – to quote the BDSM community ‘Safe, sane, consensual’, which amusingly acronyms as SSC – and bad when they don’t.

        I don’t see any problem with accepting that it’s ‘natural’ when many natural things are also bad, either.
        Yes, the naturalistic fallacy is horribly common, but not everyone engages in it.

        I don’t see how saying rape is about sex would encourage victim blaming, either.

        Maybe there’s something I don’t understand.
        I also see a connection to being against chemical castration for convicted rapists because (according to this argument) since rape is about control and not sex they will rape anyway even if impotent using objects. Would be nice to have some studies showing if that’s actually the case.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yes, the naturalistic fallacy is horribly common, but not everyone engages in it.

          Oh, just because the naturalistic fallacy isn’t universal that makes it wrong?

          • Davide says:

            I’m not sure what you’re objecting to.

            I’m saying that as common as the naturalistic fallacy is, it’s not especially complex at all to say something is natural and bad, or to eventually get people to accept that.

            Do you believe that if saying something is ‘natural’ makes people even slightly more like, then one has a moral obligation to say it’s not?

        • Tekhno says:

          I consider myself feminist, but I can’t understand the common argument that rape HAS to be about power.

          Also, I consider myself not a rapist, but if you removed all sense of empathy and care for other people then I might as easily be one as I’d be a rampant murderer and thief. There’s not an infinite amount of changes that need to made even in the best of us to turn them into the worst of us.

          If I were to think about raping a woman I find attractive (which is not something I do regularly, but as a thought experiment), I find it repulsive because I imagine the trauma she’d go through then and afterwards, and the idea of an unwilling crying partner makes me soft anyway. I don’t want to hurt someone so grievously.

          Given that, isn’t the first kind of mindset you’d expect a rapist to have to be one where they are simply missing a degree of empathy and sympathy and are at least mildly sociopathic if not clinically? All they are left with is attraction with nothing to stop it, like how a murderer might be left only with rage at the moment of the act.

          The proposal of some other primary motivator seems unnecessary and warrants more explanation. If it was primarily about power, then sex wouldn’t be that necessary. Most people don’t want to have sex at all with people they don’t find attractive, so why would they be especially likely to rape someone (if they are a monster) unless they have some sort of sexual desire involving them?

          Maybe the “rape is mostly about power” thing is a way of trying to distance rapists from primal aspects that all of us possess. This is maybe even a mistake from a feminist perspective.

          • Davide says:

            Very interesting thoughts.

            isn’t the first kind of mindset you’d expect a rapist to have to be one where they are simply missing a degree of empathy and sympathy

            That makes me wonder how often rapists *actually* believe that rape isn’t that bad or that the victim ‘enjoyed it’ rather than only saying that as a defense or rationalization.

            I suspect not very often and you are correct about them simply not caring much about the suffering they cause.

            Maybe the “rape is mostly about power” thing is a way of trying to distance rapists from primal aspects that all of us possess. This is maybe even a mistake from a feminist perspective.

            I think you might be on to something.

            Most people have a sex drive and feel sexual attraction, and it’s not seen as bad to admit that – unlike a ‘power over others’ drive.

            So the idea here might be is to associate rape (which is bad) with else we see as bad and belonging to the ‘other’ (wanting power over others) rather than something neutral all/most people are supposed to feel (sex drive & attraction), which when put like that makes a lot of sense even though as you say it’s likely a mistake.

          • Tekhno says:


            That makes me wonder how often rapists *actually* believe that rape isn’t that bad or that the victim ‘enjoyed it’ rather than only saying that as a defense or rationalization.

            I suspect not very often and you are correct about them simply not caring much about the suffering they cause.

            There’s also there’s near term and far term, of course. Rapists may be high time preference type people who aren’t good at beating out their immediate impulses with concern for other people, but they might well genuinely regret what they did later.

            There are plenty of people who regret their actions only to repeat them again and again, because we are not the same person at each moment. A human being does not merely have a single will, but is comprised of multiple competing wills that are more or less powerful when faced with different stimuli. This is why people can be bad at predicting their own behavior or even desires.

          • Viliam says:

            That makes me wonder how often rapists *actually* believe that rape isn’t that bad or that the victim ‘enjoyed it’ rather than only saying that as a defense or rationalization.

            I think there is a diagnosis where people are unable to perceive others as separate individuals with separate thoughts and emotions, but instead see them as mere extensions of themselves. (Borderline personality disorder, I guess.)

            So I believe there could be people who, when they feel horny, literally cannot imagine the other person not feeling horny. Not because of a misunderstanding or entitlement or whatever, but simply because imagining other people feeling differently is outside their mental abilities.

            Of course it would be politically incorrect to talk about this hypothesis publicly, because… you know, “ableism” and stuff. Instead it is politically more correct to simply blame it on all men (and only men).

          • Viliam, that sounds like narcissism, or possibly narcissism with a neurological explanation.

          • Davide says:

            unable to perceive others as separate individuals with separate thoughts and emotions

            Sounds to me like the definition of solipsism (an unpopular philosophy, rather than a medical diagnosis), not narcissism.
            I guess the two things could reasonably be related.

            I see the ‘unable to visualize other people NOT being horny’ problem as more of an issue society has with woman-on-man rape than the traditional man-on-woman on which I assume this discussion is focusing.

            Women raping men seems to not be taken very seriously because many people seem to believe that a man is *always* going consent to sex with a woman (at least if she is traditionally attractive).

            Compare to man-on-woman rape, which is often downplayed or not treated seriously enough, but almost everyone recognizes as bad on some level even if they disagree on how often it happens, and man-on-man rape, which is also considered bad but is the subject of many jokes, especially involving prison.

        • Corey says:

          Do you know what you, or feminists, actually mean by “about sex” or “about power”? Not that I have a particularly good idea, it just strikes me as a tree-falling-sound type of talking past one another.
          Also, if you’re antifeminist, make sure you understand the actual argument, if you’re seeing it from anti-SJW sources, it might be hard to follow because it’s stuffed with straw.

          • Loquat says:

            I vaguely recall a feminist blogger at one point using Jabba the Hutt and Princess Leia in the slave bikini as an example – Jabba, being a giant slug, has zero sexual interest in humans, but knows that dressing up an attractive human female in revealing clothing and chains will both humiliate her and display his power to others. This illustrates how sexual assault and rape are the result of the offender’s desire to feel powerful, rather than his desire to get laid per se.

            Not sure if this is what is usually meant by “about power” vs “about sex”, but it’s the only example I can think of where someone actually explained it.

          • Nornagest says:

            Maybe Jabba the Hutt is the Hutt equivalent of a furry.

          • Agronomous says:

            I get that Jabba’s the bad guy, but jeez: he’s not that awful!

          • Loyle says:

            Perhaps there should be a compromise. Instead of guessing what the crime was “about”, say something on the lines of “the difference between sex and rape is power” with it being understood as a guideline rather than a rule.

            Because as far as rapists go, they could be motivated by anything. But the common thread between the victims is “power”.

          • dndnrsn says:


            But that’s the case in just about any crime: the criminal has power over their victim, in one way or another.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Because it mostly is?
          People with sufficient prestige, fame and money to have essentially unlimited access to willing sex partners have still been revealed to be serial rapists. Also, crying and fear is not sexy to sane people.

          There’s a fact that I found very clarifying: a really absurd percentage of all rapes are committed by serial rapists. This is backed both by surveys and by things like running studies on rape kit backlogs. (Rape kit backlogs exist. This fact makes me want to have ministers of justice sacked. With actual sacks involved)

          There’s a small minority of people …. okay, lets be honest, a small minority of men.. out there who have something very wrong with their heads, and the justice system is just very bad at stopping them before they’ve traumatized a whole bunch of women.

          • Ted says:

            Adam Carolla said something about how rape has nothing to do with sex; it’s just a crime where the rapist happens to have an orgasm. It’s no different than if you robbed a bank and came afterwards.

    • sabril says:

      Yes, I have noticed this kind of phenomenon among many people who blame the West’s immigration problems on Jews. For them, it is inconceivable that Gentile Whites, as a group, would decide to act against their group’s interests by admitting millions of non-Whites to areas which had previously been primarily white. Therefore, their conduct must be the result of outside manipulation, i.e. the Jews.

      On a more mundane level, it reminds me of a legal proceeding where a pro se litigant claimed that someone had intercepted her papers and inserted certain spelling or grammatical errors. Evidently, this nutty hypothesis was superior to the alternative choice of admitting that she had made some minor mistakes.

      Perhaps you could call it the “Narcissistic Bias” since the inconceivable hypothesis is typically one which puts a favored individual or group in a bad light.

      I suppose I have one further question: Are there examples that don’t have a political valence (maybe involving nutrition)?

      Well there are fat people who seriously believe that they eat some minimal amount of food but remain fat due to some special quirk in their metabolism. In that case, the inconceivable hypothesis is that they are fat due to their own constant overeating.

      In general though, I think it’s hard to get away from politics when discussing narcissistic bias, since this kind of bias has a lot to do with peoples’ sense of identity.

    • Jill says:

      Basically, most people of any tribe are wimps and need to get over that. We should all learn to face the facts and stop denying reality. And if the other party’s suggestion for dealing with the facts is not the best one, then we should create a solution of our own. If people weren’t wimps, we would do this.

      Part of the problem here is that believing lies is one of the very easiest things to do in polarized tribalized American culture currently. We have lost the distinction between news and entertainment, and between lies and facts. If one has a certain bias, once can easily choose media sources that have the “facts”– even about ridiculous conspiracy theories– that one prefers. And one will then hang around with a tribe of people who believe in the same “facts” and have no real life contact with people who do not.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        What would it take to convince you that most of what you believe is just you denying reality in favor of the facts your own tribe propagates?

        Because bluntly, from where I’m sitting, you look like one of the worst offenders here. And I’m sure from where you’re sitting, I’m an equally bad offender, assuming you have any opinion of me at all.

        Or, to put a slightly finer point on it – this reads to me like rationalist applause lights. “Let’s move beyond our tribalism!” Okay, great, but there’s no there, there; there are no non-tribal facts to appeal to, because the world is too complex for any one person to understand.

        There’s no single person in the world who understands the full process of what happens between you pressing the “s” key, and a letter appearing on your screen. And your computer is a simple thing which operates on very strict rules. Society is far more complex, and we have to rely almost entirely on other people to tell us what the facts are, and each person in that chain introduces their own tribal bias.

        And it’s… entertaining, that anybody thinks they CAN be above that, much less that they believe they already are.

      • Nornagest says:

        You know, I agree with everything you’ve said here, and I’m not trying to disrespect you… but it’s the easiest thing in the world to proclaim that tribalism is the biggest problem facing the country today, if by “tribalism” you exclusively mean the other guys’ tendency to buy into lies, hate, and demagoguery.

        If you’re really serious about fighting tribalism, I’d start by doing some fact-checking of your own the next time you feel like posting a Vox article. And I don’t just mean checking to see if Mother Jones said the same thing. Charity starts at home, you know?

      • Maware says:

        There’s a problem with this, mostly that we don’t have the facts yet, and you are arguing more “discard your belief, accept mine.”

        One big example was the ridicule of Dan Quayle over the Murphy Brown speech. Quayle would probably have been accused of denying reality in his case, but over time ironically he was proven right, or at least right enough that he was a lot more realistic a take over the problems of single motherhood than the then-current idea of all family structures being equal/fungible was. Once society made that experiment, then we faced the facts when the data came in and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote “Dan Quayle was Right,” an article on how divorce was far more mixed and harmful than we thought.

        I think the argument should be more “this may not be working, we should try this,” than arguing something is a fact.

    • Diadem says:

      I think your example of Gun Violence works both ways, which makes it