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OT56: Spur Of The Comment


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. Comment of the week is Mammon talking about clandestine MDMA labs. But see also the people who reported Spiral-like experiences in the comments to the PiHKaL review, (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), with my special interest caught by Kaminiwa’s report that his brother’s night terrors were like this. I’ve always wanted to know more about night terrors, since classically nobody can remember the content. These kinds of spiral experiences – things that are kind of like dreams, only different, and potentially very dysphoric, and common in childhood but disappearing as you grow older – seems like potentially a good match.

2. Lots of people pointed out last time that “banning anonymous commenting” was meaningless, since people could just register names like “Anonymous1” and keep commenting as normal. So let me be more specific – what do you think of requiring email verification (without listing the emails publicly) to comment? I know that it’s pretty easy to get working fake emails, but it would at least be a trivial inconvenience to constantly getting banned and re-registering.

3. By popular request, Deiseach is now unbanned.

4. Please don’t send me emails offering me sponsorship deals, affiliations with your own site, this one weird trick to increase my visitor count, et cetera. Please also don’t send me emails requesting that a link you like be included in the link roundup, especially not a link to your company (advertising is available if you want it). These are getting kind of high-volume and annoying. If you have something that I absolutely need to know about, you can try posting about it in the open thread, on the subreddit (which I definitely mine for good links), or by some kind of social proof where you convince somebody I know really well and they bother me about it normal conversation. I will grudgingly tolerate exceptions for important community events and very good charitable causes.

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1,064 Responses to OT56: Spur Of The Comment

  1. Jill says:

    Welcome back to Deiseach.

    • Agronomous says:

      Seconded: Fáilte ar ais!

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t think she’s coming back anyway.

      • Jaskologist says:

        We just need to pull her back in slowly, much like the Catholic Church slowly pulled the pagan gods into its pantheon of saints.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          That ought to bring her.

        • LPSP says:

          I know I’ve heard statements like this before, but are there really literal examples of pagan gods turned into saints in catholicism? I’m not just talking repatronised folk heroes, but actual Perkele as a mortal in a stained glass window.

          • Nornagest says:

            Saint Brigit is often cited as one — she was a real person, but her veneration allegedly picked up aspects of her namesake goddess’s cult.

            And there’s lots of folk saints with some syncretic stuff about them, like Santa Muerte.

          • cassander says:

            it didn’t just happen by accident, it was actual, official catholic policy for hundreds of years, to appropriate and christianize areas of local culture that didn’t directly contradict church doctrine.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Just out of curiosity, why was she banned? Was it announced?

      • Publius Varinius says:

        I would be really happy if Deiseach returned but I’m 80% confident that she won’t.

        @Ninmesara: See Deiseach’s comment and Scott’s reaction.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          I can’t help noticing that the comment that finally provoked the ban involved saying other comments would suffer in Hell, and Scott may have been taking that idea especially seriously at the time, if you compare the time of the ban to the UNSONG publication schedule.

      • Anon says:

        The Comments part of SSC’s top bar has an index of bans and their reasons. This particular ban was apparently related to comments in certain parts of Deiseach’s comments in the Three More Articles on Poverty Thread. In the comment making the ban, Scott concluded with:

        I’m not saying this can’t possibly be true. I’m saying it’s not so obviously true that the comment policy, which says you’re sort of allowed to be a jerk if it’s in favor of obvious truth, covers it. I think that letting Deiseach’s comment stand would have a bad effect on debate since somebody made a potentially reasonable point and was really badly insulted for it. People might be reluctant to bring up such points in the future, and I think that would weaken the discussion.

        So, as predicted, Deiseach is banned

        • MugaSofer says:

          I admit, I’m surprised by the comment – which, while I basically agree with the sentiment, is gratuitously rude and unfair – and a temporary ban seems fairly reasonable. Still, I hope Deiseach hears she’s unbanned somehow, because it would be a terrible shame to lose her like this.

    • LaochCailiuil says:

      Welcome back compatriot. Also why did she(?) get banned? She’s always been fairly level headed.

      Edit: I saw the thread.

  2. Jill says:

    Wow. From Mammon’s comment about the MDMA lab:

    “A single MDMA experience can (and typically does) permanently alter your perspective on life in a very constructive way. For example, it lets you “vomit” trauma and process it without having to feel the debilitating pain of reliving the associated events.”

    • Mammon says:

      I’ll add that this isn’t a subtle, easy-to-miss, did-it-happen-or-not process. I’ve seen:
      * people working through past trauma, body issues, etc. overnight;
      * people “flicking a switch” and suddenly, permanently knowing how to dance;
      * durable friendships and relationships forming – two of my closest friends started dating when they did MDMA together, and now they’ve been married for four years.

      But then, I’ve also seen people have a grand old time, come down, and think nothing more of it. If you don’t have trauma to work through, then you’re not going to work through any trauma. If you already know how to dance and you already enjoy dancing, I imagine that won’t change much.

      Worse yet, if you have a fragile psyche, large doses of MDMA and recklessly mixing it with other drugs/supplements can make really screw you up. I have three friends (out of maybe a hundred drug user friends) who’ve experienced psychoses on large doses of serotonergic drugs, such as MDMA, LSD, or both at the same time. They’ve found themselves fragilized for months afterwards. This is something that’s easy to avoid in theory – just don’t do massive doses! But remember that the person who decides if you’re redosing isn’t you, it’s murder Ghandi.

      On the balance, MDMA feels surprisingly like a one-sided tradeoff. Much more so than any other drug I’ve been exposed to. It’s not particularly addictive, it won’t cause you to act in a way that ruins friendships, it won’t get you into fights, the hang-over isn’t particularly bad. On the other hand, fully two thirds of the people I’ve trip-sat through their first experience found their relationship to themselves and the world meaningfully, lastingly improved.

      If you’re interested in trying MDMA for personal growth, I’d like to recommend a particular approach.

      1. Start by buying a Marquis testing kit – your physical and mental health is worth $25, right?
      2. Find 4-6 friends that you trust and would like to grow closer to. Find a night during which everyone is available (and no one is working the next day). Head to someone’s flat, ideally one with a nice bassey sound system.
      3. Do <100mg at first. Regular users will tell you "that's nothing, I once took…" but you're really doing this for personal growth, you don't need to be fucked out of your mind. 50-80mg is a good dose for a first time. (Ravers typically do 100-150.)
      4. Have meaningful conversations, and listen to music together. Maybe dance a bit in the middle of the living room. You won't feel like an idiot, you'll feel like a god/goddess of dance.
      5. You really shouldn't redose. If you decide to redose (don't), do it once the peak has passed, and don't do more than 50mg. Again, don't redose – it greatly increases the damage to your brain and the risks of an adverse reaction.
      6. Bonus: once the peak has passed, have a sleep over, and spend part of the next day together. Having a social MDMA hang-over is almost as fun as the trip itself.

      • caethan says:

        Because just as we trust pharmaceutical companies to provide complete disclosure of all of the positive and negative effects of their drugs, so should we trust those who run illegal drug labs to honestly and forthrightly tell us exactly how the drugs they produce and sell will affect us. 80 million satisfied Vioxx consumers can’t be wrong!

        • Mammon says:

          I encourage anyone who’s curious about MDMA to get as many perspectives as possible, but in all likelihood you’ll just find shades of what I’ve written above. “MDMA will teach you how to dance” is common knowledge among drug users.

          • common knowledge [link to ]

            Why the link? Your post makes a reasonable point with the colloquial meaning of “common knowledge”. If you really intend the logic meaning your point becomes extremely dubious. I’d be very surprised if the typical drug user knows that the typical drug user knows that the typical drug user knows that the typical drug user knows that MDMA will teach you how to dance.

          • onyomi says:

            Does this just mean “will teach you to stop being too inhibited to move your body around other people”? I’m pretty sure a drug can’t teach you how to be a good dancer.

          • Mammon says:

            Itai Bar-Natan: I mean a colloquial interpretation of the technical term, in the sense of Yudkowsky’s “all infinite recursions are at most three layers deeps”. Drug user A wouldn’t have to explain to drug user B that MDMA teaches you how to dance, and if A saw B explain that to C he would assume that C is not a drug user. It’s at the core of MDMA perception among drug users, along with “it makes you have lots of sex”.

            onyomi: it’s hard to describe, but to me it feels like you learn a sound -> movement mapping that bypasses every other system that stands in the way. You’re not vetting your moves as you go, you’re not feeling self-conscious or bored or planning out the rest of your night. You’re inwardly focused, conscientiously applying yourself the way a martial artist would.

            Once you’ve found yourself in that head space, it’s disarmingly easy to go back. Close your eyes, recall an inspiring tune, and let loose. This is not without its risks – you could end up unironically enjoying EDM. (I prefer psychedelic downtempo[1][2][3].)

      • utilitarian troll says:

        What do you think of the supplement regimen on I was planning to take it but a biology student at my school told me there was no telling how all of that stuff might interact and I was better off just taking straight MDMA.

        • Mammon says:

          On the balance, I would strongly recommend that MDMA noobs read RollSafe. It’s full of very good advice.

          I did give the RollSafe supplement regimen a try, and there’s an annoying problem with it. If you’re doing MDMA then you’re not eating, and taking 4-6 supplement pills at once on an empty stomach can give you nausea. I take a scaled back version of it now – magnesium and/or Na-R-ALA during, melatonin right after, 5-HTP the next few days. The come-down is smooth as hell.

          I’m going to add an [epistemic status] warning here. I’m no Gwern, the rest of this post is purely founded on impressions and anecdotes.

          – I only know of a few big no-nos (ex: St John’s wort), but they’re respected here and one of them is actively warned against (5-HTP during the roll).

          – Me and four of my friends tried out the exact regimen laid out. Apart from a mild nausea (which I attribute to the sheer amount of supplements – see above) none of us had anything resembling adverse effects.

          – RollSafe has been an apparently reliable source for years. They’ve made slight changes to their recommended supplements, but it just looks like iterative refinement to me. If their regimen was a hazard, I feel like I would have heard about it.

          • utilitarian troll says:

            The govt recommends a max of 350mg/day supplemental magnesium; the RollSafe people have you taking 600mg:


            This seems like a simple thing to catch, so that makes me trust them less on the rest of the stuff.

            As a side note, I wouldn’t be surprised if the magnesium is the main thing that gave you nausea. The government says: “high doses of magnesium from dietary supplements or medications often result in diarrhea that can be accompanied by nausea and abdominal cramping [1].”

            Since the RDA only applies to supplemental magnesium, maybe one could get an equivalent amount of magnesium from whole food sources to avoid the nausea? Apparently pumpkin seeds are one of the foods highest in magnesium? The government says a cup of pumpkin seed kernels will get you 600mg magnesium, so maybe if you replaced each 200mg supplemental magnesium with 1/3 of a cup pumpkin seed kernels that would solve the problem? But my experience with sunflower seed kernels suggests that eating lots of seed is kinda hard and may even cause stomach upset in its own right.

          • Mammon says:

            I’m not too bothered that RollSafe is recommending a punctual 600mg dose of magnesium, since I imagine the 350 mg/day recommendation is for sustained supplementation.

            RollSafe recommends Magnesium Glycinate. From the article:

            Forms of magnesium most commonly reported to cause diarrhea include magnesium carbonate, chloride, gluconate, and oxide [11].

            I’m not saying RollSafe is 100% on the money – I’m not nearly smart enough to judge – but I think that particular angle seems fine.

      • Walter says:

        I think that this link

        is the one you want for the murder gandhi story.

      • herbert herbertson says:

        +1 for the advice on the hangover. It’s biochemically and subjectively very similar to depression, and experiencing that state while being about to attribute it to something purely chemical is really good practice for taking the real thing in stride

        • Mammon says:

          The depression-like part of the hangover isn’t what I was talking about. The part I was talking about comes after the peak, but before you achieve sobriety. It’s hard to explain, but one of my friends summed it up as “it feels like someone is tickling your brain”. It’s kind of pointless if you experience it alone, but with a group it’s super fun.

          Re: pseudo-depression, That part only sets in about 24 hours after the trip ends, and it typically won’t happen on small doses. It’s best described as dysphoria – you’re not low-energy, you’re just unhappy with your life.

          If you want to not risk experiencing it at all, simply supplement with 5-HTP after your trip ends. (Do not under any circumstances take 5-HTP while you’re still feeling the effects – you could seriously hurt yourself.)

      • you would never guess says:

        But remember that the person who decides if you’re redosing isn’t you, it’s murder Ghandi.

        I have experienced that problem, and have two workable partial solutions that work well together, and work well for myself.

        First, I now have a Schelling Point firmly preset: “we do not take more than what we decided and pre-measured out when we were sober”. Once one is rolling, it sounds like a stupid idea, but one still remembers it, remembers that it sounded like a good idea when sober, and remembers thinking while sober that one knew one was going to fight against it while rolling. It’s basically an argument between sober you and rolling you. Sober you is not guaranteed to win the argument, but sober you at the very least has to “show up” and make the argument.

        Two, everything not on the dosing plan for the night is in a lockbox. Someplace else. With the key held by someone trusted and sober, and who knows about the “don’t take more” rule. I used to keep it in a fiendishly difficult puzzle box, which I demonstrably could not open while tripping or rolling. Until the night that managed to persuade someone else to open it for me. (It is amazing how outgoing, persuasive, and motivated someone can be while rolling and wanting moar.)

      • alexp says:

        Ha, I remember buying a kit from Dance Safe before going to a major music festival. Not a single person offered to sell me drugs.

        It wasn’t an EDM festival, but it did have several very high profile EDM acts, and a bunch of up and comers. I didn’t think I looked that square.

      • youzicha says:

        Re: the one-sided tradeoff part, nostalgebraist mentioned that he considered MDMA particularly scary because of the potential for neurotoxicity. Maybe that’s the other side?

      • Anonymous says:

        Any reason to avoid MDMA if you have a history of depression?

  3. stargirlprincesss says:

    Anyone here make money playing poker? Or have made money in the past?

    • JRM says:

      Yes. I’m good at poker. +$8K lifetime in limited play. (That figure is inflated by good luck; I won $6K in two tournaments and am up $2K otherwise. I am not the cat I used to be; I’m 50 and the lack of practice and age-related decline is unfortunate but there.)

    • Utopn Naxl says:

      As of now, computers have been wrecking humans at poker now, even the best ones.

      I would invest in a hidden google-glasses type-technology, that scans your deck and the game and has a blue-tooth datalink on a hidden frequency with a high-powered smart-phone.

      its the best way to win.

      • Tom Conerly says:

        As of now, computers have been wrecking humans at poker now, even the best ones.

        I don’t think thats exactly right. There are many different forms of poker. In two player holdem (limit or no limit) the best AIs are probably close to the same level as the best humans. The last big human vs. AI competition was a statistical tie at 95% confidence and a human win at 90% confidence (

        The most popular versions of poker played online are 6-10 player hold em. The annual computer poker competition has only done 2 player competitions so far. It sounds like they’ll add a 6 player competition next year ( I don’t think there have been serious attempts to solve non hold-em variants of poker.

        Originally I didn’t think you’d be able to run the best AI on a smart phone, but you should be able to. The best AI precomputes their strategy which takes 2 million core hours and results in 200GB of data. You can get phones with 256GB. Once you have the precomputed data running the AI is very simple.

        • Jon S says:

          I think some low-ball poker variants are probably pretty close to solved as well (2-player that is).

      • In Tim Powers’ Last Call, he says that the way to make money at poker to set up in-person games where you’re the best player, and if you do it right, you’ll have created social groups which will keep going indefinitely. You can come back to them years later and still make money.

        This might be hopelessly dated, but does it still make sense?

        The book might appeal to people here, it’s about Tarot with divinatory powers.

        • Poker player says:

          This idea is fully explored in the book “Poker: A Guaranteed Income for Life” by Frank R. Wallace. It’s intended as a practical guide to starting and reshaping home games to be more lucrative for you by by identifying poor players, raising the stakes, getting them to commit to sustained losses, and not identify you as a consistent winner or manipulator.

        • Adam says:

          I used to do this at my first Army post. I didn’t actually set up the games, and I’d never played poker before, but the other players were so terrible that my wife and I averaged about $100 a week on a weekly game for maybe three years. That’s good for like an extra decent meal a week, but hard to live on.

          But I suppose if you could set up about 80 such games a week, somehow finding that many different people to play with, you could replace an otherwise decent income.

          This seems like a needlessly risky thing to do, though. I actually knew a guy back in maybe 2004 or so that got by for about five years doing nothing but playing poker. He was like a sex god on OkCupid for girls who lied about their age to sign up and he’d travel around the country couch-surfing and fucking people he met on the Internet. I’m sure that seemed like a great lifestyle for a 22 year-old. But fast-forward to closing in on 30 and becoming a real adult, he wanted to marry a networking infrastructure engineer and they wanted to have kids and for her to quit her job and raise them without taking a major lifestyle hit, and there was no practical way for them to do except to wait a really long time for him to go back to square one and replace all the college and work experience he’d lost to supporting himself with poker for so long. It doesn’t exactly translate into other job skills unless you’re some kind of genius-level pure quant player who can parlay that into being a quant trader for an investment firm.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            my wife and I averaged about $100 a week on a weekly game … I suppose if you could set up about 80 such games a week,… you could replace an otherwise decent income

            Of course, I realize we are all very successful, high-status people here, but is ~$400,000/year (cash, report as much or as little as you care to) really the threshold for “decent income” such that one can’t imagine pursuing a career for less?

            Or was there an extra 0 somewhere?

          • Adam says:

            Ha! No, I just meant to say month, not week. I was aiming for $8,000 a month, which is roughly what an Army Captain is making in an average cost-of-living area in the middle of the country, so that would have replaced my income at the time.

            Of course, military compensation includes a whole lot of non-monetary components, so not really, but still, quick equivalence calculation without much thought.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is also worth noting that self-employment income is not directly comparable to wage/salary income, and a good rule of thumb is to discount self-employment by ~50% to account for all the benefits you aren’t getting, the expenses you are covering, and the extra uncertainty.

          • Adam says:

            In practice, considering how much I’ve actually gotten out of Tricare and the VA thanks to all the health problems I’ve had, it’s entirely possible it really would have taken 8 grand a week to replace that.

          • Nonnamous says:

            In all fairness, many career paths less unorthodox than playing poker for a living might not survive “wanted to marry a networking infrastructure engineer and they wanted to have kids and for her to quit her job and raise them without taking a major lifestyle hit”.

      • Nonnamous says:

        In No-Limit Hold’em the best human players are still better than the best computer players, even heads up (and as Tom Conerly points out, the most popular forms of poker are with 6 or 9 player tables). Which may be not very important since making money from live poker has not much to do with beating the best players that exist, and more with extracting maximum value from not so good players.

        • Walter says:

          Finding bad players is the hart part. Bad poker players lose their money and bail in short order. You need a way to find or bait them in.

          Old trick is “I teach you to play poker for money” sort of situation, which attracts bad players and convinces them that after your tips they are not bad. They don’t expect to get as good as you, their mentor figure, and when they win they are grateful, when they lose you tell them what they did wrong.

          Never seen this in poker myself, but you see it in day trading all the time. Rainmaker scheme.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’ve made money playing poker on cruise ships. Not a lot, but enough to try again[1]. Lots of drunk people willing to lose money there.

            [1] and that’s how they get you, isn’t it?

        • alexp says:

          But that does make online games dicey, right? Assuming there’s still a big online poker scene. I don’t know.

    • Mr. Breakfast says:

      I knew a few guys who could make ends meet playing online poker back before the crackdown. From what I could tell, it involved keeping 6-10 windows open to penny-stakes games and folding A LOT. Looked like a headache, but the hours were flexible and it didn’t require documentation.

    • anon85 says:

      I have some friends who made a lot of money (low millions) before the crackdown. One of them is still active in live tournaments. My friends tell me that it’s a lot harder to make money now than it used to be.

    • Nornagest says:

      I played it as an income supplement in college, back before the crackdown. Was never obsessive enough to play at a professional level, but I probably could have been with some more work or boredom. (Correct play is boring in the first place, and it’s worse when you’re playing six tables at once.)

      These days I only do in-person play — but if you ever find yourself in Vegas or Reno, it’s hilarious to sit down at a low-limit table, reject the free drinks, and completely wreck the drunk tourists.

      • moridinamael says:

        How does one become good at poker? Is it a matter of memorizing odds and committing to a strategy? Did you read a book and suddenly become good?

        • Peter says:

          In my very limited (with poker) experience: it’s a lot like getting good at chess or go or bridge or whatever. You read a bit, play a bit, read a bit, play a bit, once you’ve got some understanding of what’s going on you memorize some useful things, maybe you get a teacher or a coach, you watch and study games played by good players, you keep doing all those learning things and your game gradually improves. Alternatively, you reach a level where further improvement is too much like hard work and find something else to do with your time.

          Computer poker is a thing, so there are strategies that one could “in theory” memorize and commit to, however this is the sort of theory that assumes that people have unlimited computational ability.

          I think poker has the added complication that playing poker for entertainment needs a different style from playing to win; it’s easy enough to play it to slowly fritter away money, and it turns out that that’s a lot more entertaining than playing for a profit – as Nornagest says, correct play is boring, it involves folding a lot and sitting back while other people have fun, and occasionally taking their money. The widely derided “loose passive” style – of rarely folding (“loose”) and rarely making big raises (“passive”) isn’t a good way to end up ahead, but if you just want some entertainment, then it allows you to actively participate in the game for as long as possible before you run out of poker chips.

          • Walter says:

            Yeah, this. The goal of poker-for-money is to find poker-for-entertainment players and trade. They get ‘your’ drama, you get their money.

        • Nornagest says:

          You read a couple of books, memorize a table of odds, and most importantly play a lot of hands, preferably against good players. It helped that one of my housemates had been a pro for a couple of years when I started.

    • sards says:

      I used to make most of my income from poker. I don’t play nearly as often these days, but I still love the game.

    • Vitor says:

      What is this apocalyptic “crackdown” everyone keeps referring to? I know somebody who made a living playing poker ~5 years back, so it couldn’t have happened that long ago (or was a US-only thing).

  4. I recently interviewed Greg Cochran, co-author of The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, on my Future Strategist podcast.

    • anon says:

      That was a really interesting interview.

    • anon says:

      I thought the question of whether the USSR used tularemia against the Nazis at Stalingrad was particularly interesting. People should read Cochran’s post on this, but he basically sketches his full argument in the interview. Cochran seems to regard Alibek’s claims as credible. With a bit of reference chasing, I managed to track down the only (as far as I can tell) serious attempt at rebutting them here. [Note: This source along with others (that provided no real arguments themselves) cites another study “Tularemia, biological warfare, and the battle for Stalingrad”, Military Med. vol 166 no 10 (2001), pp 837-38. I have been unable to track that paper down online, and I’d be curious if anyone can find it.]

      I didn’t find the Geissler arguments completely convincing, and the author more or less states up front that he has (basically pacifist) reasons for not wanting to believe Alibek’s claims — thus he may be falling prey to motivated reasoning. The strongest argument, to me, is that there is some uncertainty as to the precise epidemiological timing of the surge in tularemia cases that call into question whether their pattern is consistent with an intentional use of biological weapons. But this ultimate rests upon German and Russian primary sources that I can’t evaluate.

      All that said, Cochran’s additional — more circumstantial — “clues” are also reasonable arguments. I think I come down thinking it’s slightly more likely than not that Stalin infected the Nazis. Even a very conservative estimate for the (subjective) probability that they did so would probably be at least 10%.

      Even accepting the lower figure, I wonder if there are corresponding updates I should be making about the most important X-risks the world faces.

  5. Daniel says:

    Does anyone have ideas on how Scott can further engage the SCC community?

    For example, what if in addition to open threads, Scott had pointed threads – where he would pose a question or a topic for readers to discuss.

    Adjacent to that idea, maybe if he hosted some sort of book club/discussion point on here?


    • Charles says:

      Wait But Why’s weekly dinner table is pretty much what you’re suggesting and it seems to do a good job engaging the community. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work here.

      I would suggest an IRC channel for SSC. I prefer IRC to comment threads, and there might be others like me somewhere.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      1) What do you mean by “engage”?

      2) Pre-supposing I already understand what you meant by (1), Scott says he writes because he is compelled to and he is literally (at times) fitting it in while walking down hallways between patients. I’m not sure he is compelled to try and engage with the SSC community anymore than he already is.

      • utilitarian troll says:

        Scott says he writes because he is compelled to and he is literally (at times) fitting it in while walking down hallways between patients. I’m not sure he is compelled to try and engage with the SSC community anymore than he already is.

        What if a trusted and loved longtime commenter was put in charge of dinner tabling?

    • Mr. Breakfast says:

      I kind of hate the idea of targeted discussion threads, I like the randomness of topics in the OT’s. Skimming new posts forces me to attend to a few discussion topics I wouldn’t otherwise, and sometimes this isn’t a waste of time.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      How is a pointed thread raising a topic different from me writing a post on that topic and readers commenting with their own thoughts?

      • Daniel says:

        It would just be a source of additional content for the SSC community. You write a lot (which I am incredibly grateful for), but since I learn so much from this community, I wish it had even more focussed content. This is not to supplant OT threads, but to add a new avenue of learning/engagement. There is a lot of value in having a group of people discuss many small issues every week (IE if someone makes a post in an open thread), but I think there is also great value in having hundreds of people discuss one big idea (IE if you ask a question), to really flesh out that topic.

        It could also serve as a point of research/information for topics you might consider writing about.

      • Paul Goodman says:

        I think the main difference is that it wouldn’t require as much effort/divine inspiration/whatever other inputs you need to produce posts.

    • Eric says:

      The flow of new articles have gone down somewhat lately, perhaps because Scott is spending most of his time on Unsong (I’m not complaining, the rate he used to keep was super-human).

      How about having some (good) guest posts? Blogging Residences seems to have worked well for Ribbonfarm. Scott would have to pre-pick writers though, to not be drowned in submissions.

  6. Anon for boss-related reasons says:

    How does one go about finding a job in another city?

    I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Bay Area just isn’t conducive to my continuing physical health or social life*, and that I should start looking for jobs elsewhere. Since my commute and rent have both tripled since 2013.

    I’m just not sure about how to go about finding “startups between 25-100 people that use Python in Charlotte, NC”

    /Present Metro list:
    Detroit (Close to family and childhood friends)
    Cleveland (Close to family)

    Picked for being
    * in the Eastern Time Zone
    * Close to GOOD Amusement parks. Yes, this is petty and I don’t care, because I’ve driven down to LA 4 times now just to ride coasters.
    * It’s not 103 degrees all summer. I love northern winters, but not southern summers.
    * Ability to cheaply live close to work (Read: I don’t mind going 8 MPH if I only need to go 4) so I can get home before 8:00.

    /*Namely: That my boss must care about my social life between Silicon Valley work norms and work being a minimum of an hour from all three of concert venues, where I sleep, and where in the exurbs my friends have been forced to move by rising rents.

    Since I don’t like making my boss care about things, and my commute is now seriously impacting my health, it’s time to move.

    //I’m also not sure about how to go about saying “So the golden handcuffs come off in May, and I’d really like to use the filthy lucre from those golden handcuffs to take the summer off, drive around the USA checking a bunch of things off my bucket list, and then go spend a month in Japan because I can because those golden handcuffs were really, really golden. So I know I’m looking for jobs in September 2016, but do you mind if I not start until September 2017?”

    • Mr. Breakfast says:

      How does one go about finding a job in another city?

      This comes up a lot in the FSP. Most people get a local address somehow and start applying. This can be done either by getting a local PO Box, or “renting” a mail drop at the residential-sounding address of a friend who is a local.

      In my case, I was between contracts, so I just rented a place in my target city for the following month and made an agreement with the landlord that I could receive mail ahead of moving in. Then I was able to show the lease and receipts when my next employer got cautious at the offer stage.

      This works well if you are willing to live a bit below your means so that your income history and credit will motivate the landlord to be flexible. I would guess that moving away from SF should give you a one-time advantage in terms of income history.

      In your case, I would doubly recommend changing your address before taking that trip, since I would expect your taxes to be reduced as soon as you establish new residency (thought I am too lazy to look it up, so it’s a finger-in-the-air thing).

      • Anon for boss-related reasons says:

        FSP meaning “Free State Project”?

        At least in the case of Detroit and Cleveland, I can use parents addresses, so that isn’t a problem. And those are my first 2 choices, so that works.

        /For taxes, taxes are based on income, but a whole bunch of deductions are based on “Percent of Year spent in residency”. So having 3 income-free months is nice. Having 3 income-free months in the state of CA is even better.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      If you are looking for programmer jobs in NC, you should be looking in the RDU (Triangle) area as well. A very great many jobs in the area. The Durham and Raleigh downtown areas are rapidly expanding housing and social life.

      The development scene in Charlotte isn’t as good, depending on what you want. Commutes in Charlotte can be worse than the Triangle.

      As to how? It depends on what you want. Networking is always best, a decent recruiter can do good things, looking at large companies for job postings if you are good with that, even just as a way to get you in the area.

      • Anon for boss-related reasons says:

        RDU doesn’t have Carowinds, and would require a 2-hour drive to get to all those concerts I like (No seriously, Charlotte and Atlanta are the only 2 Southern towns on the various Metal tours, and gets a lot of stadium play as well). Which means I can work late, make a 7:00 concert, stay through the encore, and get a full night’s sleep before going into work the next morning.

        IE: My boss does not know I have a social life.

        Which is petty of me, but.

        The Charlotte thing was more me noticing that it had all things I’d like, and then seeing if there’d be jobs there. Which, apparently, there’s not.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I mean, there are lots of jobs in Charlotte. Programming jobs even.

          It’s not a start-up hub the way RDU is, but it’s eminently reasonable to target getting a job there. My sense is that the most available jobs will be contract jobs at large companies. A 6 or 12 month contract might be a perfect way to see how you like it.

          But those will usually be “start right now” kinds of jobs, and finding the right recruiter/contract company is important.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Charlotte isn’t the tech hub that RDU is, but the banks still allow there to be a lot of technology firms. If you want to be able to find multiple angel investors, you probably won’t find them in Charlotte. Most other things related to software development, sure.

    • Adam says:

      There are a crap ton of jobs here in Dallas, rent is still low, decent mix of stadiums and clubs that major acts seem to hit on tour, and there’s a Six Flags in Arlington. Only thing is your demands are super specific. I’m not sure what the startup scene is like. My wife and I both work in classified R&D, which to me is awesome, slightly less pay but extremely interesting work solving unsolved problems on the absolute bleeding edge of technology. But if you wanted a job like I have, you’d just apply through the corporate website and an internal recruiter would see it and call you.

      Of course, you’d definitely be dealing with 103 degree summers and it does seem like all our friends moved to the suburbs even though rent didn’t force them to. They just did anyway.

      • “Of course, you’d definitely be dealing with 103 degree summers”

        Are there jobs of the relevant sort that you can do for nine months of the year?

        When I was growing up in Chicago, which has pretty bad summers although not that bad, we spent the summers in New England, my father being a professor who taught for nine months of the year, could do his research anywhere for the other three months. I don’t know if there are good nonacademic equivalents.

        • That same anon says:

          I’m computer programming in Silicon Valley. You can get full-time jobs anywhere, and if you have a bit more extroversion and risk acceptance than I do, can do consulting anywhere whenever you feel like it. IE: Summer up north, and winter down south.

          Since I’m super-tired of Silicon Valley (or at least, the “My rent and commute have both tripled since 2013, I’ve put on 30 pounds since starting this job, and I’m tired of feeling guilty when I leave work early at 6:30 only to get home at 8:00” portions of Silicon Valley), it’s time to leave.

          Since there are jobs anywhere of sufficient size (which also tends to bring along with it the whole concerts/coasters thing), then I can pick my urban area.

          Which in practice means “Ideally, Detroit, especially Royal Oak general area” or failing that, “As many of those check-boxes of what Detroit gives me as I can possibly get”.

          In practice, my OP was ill-founded, since I was mostly asking about
          1) “How do I get these recruiters trying to recruit me in the Bay Area to instead start recruiting me to not(-like)-the-Bay-Area, because I’m just so done it’s not even funny”.
          2) Given that I know about Fortune 500 companies, how do I go about finding NOT-Fortune 500 companies to go along with them in my job search.

          • Chalid says:

            “How do I get these recruiters trying to recruit me in the Bay Area to instead start recruiting me to not(-like)-the-Bay-Area, because I’m just so done it’s not even funny”.

            Have you tried just asking recruiters to refer you to other recruiters that work in the parts of the country you’re targeting? I think that most of the time they’d get a referral fee if you ultimately get placed, so they ought to try to help you out. And recruiters have very big professional networks.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Type “[city name] tech recruiter” into Google, and pick one or two firms to send your resume to, saying you are moving to the area.

    • James says:

      I’m in Charlotte.

      The Fury at Carowinds is unbelievable. I’ve only done it once but wow!

      We have a lot of technology and health here. The banks are huge.

      Don’t know much about the Triangle. It seems to be very subsidized by the faux demand of university.

    • Guy Srinivasan says:

      Remote. There exists (proof: where I work, Signifyd) startups with competitive compensation, 25-100 people, team mostly remote, and on my team (ML modeling) we use mostly Python and Java.

    • utilitarian troll says:

      //I’m also not sure about how to go about saying “So the golden handcuffs come off in May, and I’d really like to use the filthy lucre from those golden handcuffs to take the summer off, drive around the USA checking a bunch of things off my bucket list, and then go spend a month in Japan because I can because those golden handcuffs were really, really golden. So I know I’m looking for jobs in September 2016, but do you mind if I not start until September 2017?”

      My general impression is that most employers have a pretty disorganized hiring process and you’re best off just looking for a job when you want a job. A lot of stuff could happen in a year, e.g. several of the key people who interview you may quit and go elsewhere, especially in the software world where everyone’s cruising between companies.

      Also I think you’re more worried about this than you need to be. Like, just apply for the job in another city and say you’re willing to relocate. Maybe make it more convincing by telling people why that city in particular appealed to you. If you do well in the phone screen, a lot of companies will pay for your plane ticket out for an in person interview (at least that’s how it was a few years ago for SV based employers; maybe the market has changed).

    • How wedded are you to the startup requirement?

      I ask because I’m a Charlotte resident working for one of the large financial concerns, and my own work-life balance is awesome. Moreover, because of the Four-Year Contractor Dance*, I hear about conditions in a bunch of other companies also doing finance stuff, and it all seems quite reasonable everywhere.

      Plus, working for a Large Financial Concern makes it really easy to start investing those golden handcuffs and make it so you don’t need to look for a job at all.

      Also, I think it was brought up before, but does it seem like there a disproportionate number of SSC readers in North Carolina?

      *My company, along with a lot of others, can’t employ contractors for four contiguous years, because that gives lie to the idea that they’re there for a specific job and so on. The result is that several companies will hire a contractor for three years then let them go for year or two (in which they’ll work for another company doing similar work) before being hired right back on. Many of the people on my current team (which is doing Big Data work and so is very contractor-heavy) have done this dance multiple times by now.

      • That same anon says:

        My work history:

        * Internship at Microsoft: Got more work done after 5:00 than from 9-5 because of all the meetings.
        * Internship at 100-person “startup” in their 10th year of existance: 3 meetings/week, paid OT

        Then I graduate college:
        * Employee #3 at the startup: I lose 85 pounds, get back down to my high school weight, and have the best work-life balance I’ve ever had. I just couldn’t take the pay hit again because my rent has tripled.
        * Startup goes under (in a really nice way. The equity hole is a thing), and I move over to LargeCo: Within 4 months of starting my employment, I’m in the ER with an ulcer. And even after doing an internal transfer, still put on 35 pounds before deciding I no longer give a damn.

        I’m not saying it has to be a startup, I am saying it has to not give me ulcers. Also that I can’t find the startups.

    • How stringent are you about temperature? You may have checked Philly already and it’s not as bad as the deep South or even the shallow South, but we’re in the middle of what looks like at least two weeks of 90+ weather.

      The merciful thing is that we’ve been getting less humid summers (without drought!), something I wouldn’t have thought was physically possible, considering that we’re between two rivers. Some of the time is still pretty humid, though. Of course, since I didn’t expect the less humid summers and don’t understand them, I have no idea whether they will continue.

      Not on your list, but Philadelphia has become an excellent city for food.

      • Mr. Breakfast says:

        All true, but the social freeze-out for those who don’t have a social network in place from school is IMO worse in Philly that any major city I am aware of, including some second hand knowledge of Seattle. There are at best a couple middle-class hipster clusters where this is less true.

        • alexp says:

          That’s an interesting comment. I noticed that it was a little harder to break into friend groups in Houston, but I always just assumed that it was because most of people I knew from school were in the NYC/Boston/DC/Bay Area axis.

          What is it about Philadelphia that makes it harder?

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            I don’t know for certain.

            Philly self-populates it’s educated classes more than other east coast cities. It has a lot of higher ed seats in proportion to it’s size, and it doesn’t have big signature industries to attract post-college migrants the way other big cities do. Pharma is probably the most noteworthy industry, but that’s spread all over suburban New Jersey and SE Pennsylvania, so the people drawn in don’t all land in Center City looking to make new friends.

            Overall, people who are from Philly or who go to school there and are extremely novelty-seeking tend to make the easy transition to NYC at some point.

            I don’t know if this is just my perception or something real, but I witnessed what would later be called “hipster” culture in Philly years before I heard about it anywhere else (like in the mid-late ’90s?). What was noticeable at the time was how there were all these vaguely subcultural people around who didn’t project any coherent look or set of tastes, just bits and pieces of insider affectations from many different sub-cultures. These were people who in NY or DC at the time would have been a dozen distinct scenes with different art, drugs, sex, and fashion norms. I think that somehow this had the effect that cultural life for 20-somethings in Philly ended up more horizontally stratified by class than vertically by genre. You ended up with a big city where any given person’s social world felt very small and opportunities to reinvent yourself by hopping the fence to a different scene at the same SES were scarce.

            Beyond that, it has the same characteristic tough/harsh manner of speech other east coast cities, which probably doesn’t help newcomers.

            I should point out that while I can directly cite how Philly is clannish for 20-somethings, I am pretty sure that doesn’t change much at higher age ranges.

        • cbhacking says:

          Re: social freeze: my best recommendation there is to find a place with a local rationalist community, and get in touch with them. Here in Seattle, we’ve had a number of people say basically that they had no social group until they found us, or that (after meeting us) they weren’t afraid of the freeze anymore and were happy to move.

          The fact that most of the rationalist community is in STEM one way or another, and a lot of us are doing programming in particular, is great for local job networking.

      • That same anon says:

        Um… I want bad enough weather that I can get at A/C and actual working heat, good enough that I can go outside in June without dying (and October is cold)?

        And I really, really miss being cold. There’s a 10-month period where I’m never cold except when I go home for the family reunion in July because my father’s kept his apartment at 60 all summer (because he works outside).

        I’ve been to Texas once in my life, and it was 85 in October in Austin, and I was dripping and that’s a no. And the places that are 103 in summer are still hot and humid in October, and I’m just against that.

    • Garrett says:

      I’d suggest adding Pittsburgh to the list as well. We have Kennywood locally, and Cedar Point in Ohio is a common day-trip. We also have a small but thriving startup community here, with an even larger tech sector. The cost of living overall is pretty low (not counting heating because a lot of the older homes are a bit drafty).

    • sam k says:

      HM, I’m trying to start a software career and there’s a good chance I’ll be moving to Charlotte soon (& I’d love to work in Python, but the opportunity i have there isn’t in that.) If I do, it’d be cool to plug in with some SSC people there (I’m not a frequent commenter / community member but that’s something I’d like to change.)

      I kind of think NC & especially Charlotte might get really big in the next while. Charlotte has plenty of money moving around, is generally inexpensive and livable, is getting google fiber, NC has a lot of appeal for young affluent people (mountains and beaches), plenty of room to expand, a fairly livable climate though it’s no Bay Area. It feels like NC is poised to catch some of whatever is cut loose when the current tech bubbles burst (SF isn’t sustainable, right? Right…?) With the right leadership (change might be coming) it also might a good proving ground for some modern city-, community-, and tech-industry- development… just add public transportation (a rail line from Charlotte, or at least W-S. as far as Raleigh, please?), generous IP laws, and some way of keeping rent under control.

      I’m rambling (poorly rested) but basically it might be a place worth investing in.

    • Rogelio says:

      AngelList allows you to search for jobs with filters by company size, technology and location. Unfortunately, there are no listings for Python jobs in Charlotte in that company size, but there are several in Philadelphia.

    • Vaniver says:

      Just take a year off and hunt for jobs in summer of 2017 if you don’t want to start working until fall of 2017.

      (Also move to Austin, but this relies on your preferences for cooler summers being surmountable.)

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Have you tried for job search? That’s how I found my job, and they have both topic and location based searching.

      Conflict of interest note: I work for this company.

  7. The Nybbler says:

    Original of that image:

    Alt-text: “So 14 billion years of the universe have conspired for you to read this alt-text? Bit of a let down. There isn’t even a joke.”

  8. Inty says:

    I don’t know if anybody else here knows about Civcraft, but I figure it might appeal to readers of SSC (it seems reminiscent of Shireroth). It’s a Minecraft server styled around building city-states and interacting with other city states. The diplomacy and lack thereof is fun to follow, and there’s a good deal of intrigue and betrayal, too. Several mods are employed which help encourage cooperation and discourage soloing, as well as defend against griefing. That said, a clever and committed criminal can still get by, so cities get an interesting amount of selection pressure.

    They’ve recently started version 3, which is less than a month old, so now is one of the best times to get on board, before everyone else has grandfathered themselves into supremacy.

    The only real downside is that the server is based on Colorado, which is a pain for those of us living in the UK, lag-wise. I ragequit last week after dying as a result of this lag, but I’d be willing to get back into it if some of you are. The server address is


    • Aegeus says:

      I followed Civcraft a few years ago, and I filed it under “yet another demonstration that legal systems are hard on the Internet.” About 50% of the posts on the subreddit were “I got pearled [imprisoned] for no reason, help me!”, followed by furious he-said-she-said debate over what they did or didn’t do (which was somehow never clear despite being able to take screenshots), which obscure version of the local non-aggression policy they had violated, whether the Arstotzkans are justified in pearling anyone who enters their territory without going through border control…

      I’m glad it’s still kicking, though. It was fun to read about.

  9. Loquat says:

    I’d be interested in seeing more discussion on something HeelBearCub posted in a previous thread: that his friend who thinks the whole concept of pooling risk is inherently unjust, screwing the people who wind up incurring less loss than average, may offer insight into why some people find Sovereign Citizen theory appealing.

    Having done customer service in the past for cheap and simple life/accident insurance policies, I can verify that there are definitely other people out there who think it’s unjust to get less payout from an insurance policy than they paid in premiums. The argument that insurance is not the same as investment and they were paying for protection from uncertain losses rarely convinces these people.

    • brad says:

      Chris Rock has a bit where he complains about insurance:

      “You know what’s worse than taxes? What’s worse than tax is insurance. You got to have some insurance. They shouldn’t even call it insurance. They just should call it ‘in case shit.’ l give a company some money in case shit happens. Now, if shit don’t happen, shouldn’t l get my money back?”

      Not a very extended bit, and probably not totally serious, but what your comment brought to mind.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        This attitude was, roughly, what he expressed.

        There is something there in viewing the insurance company not as pooling your money, but taking it. Which, that’s not uncommon.

        But it was much more than that. It was that pooling money ahead of time to be used in the event that somebody (else) had an event, like a house fire, felt intrinsically wrong to him.

        Whoever didn’t get paid was getting screwed. Sort of like a belief in predestination.

        I think the players who get pissed in blackjack if someone in front of them hits when they “shouldn’t” (and takes “their” card) might have a similar thought process. The cards are in a certain order, it’s not about odds.

        • brad says:

          The blackjack thing is an interesting connection. I’ve been driven up the wall before arguing about that one. Maybe some kind of determinism connects the sovereign citizen angle?

          Does your friend has any problem with hypothetical reasoning (like he always tries to fight the hypo or something)?

          Separately, I’ve met people that seem to understand the idea of risk pooling, but can’t quite grasp how underwriting allows people with different risk profiles to be in the same pool.

    • Julie K says:

      People who understand how insurance works, and think pooling risk is unjust, should not buy life/accident insurance.
      These people don’t understand how insurance works in the first place.

      • sards says:

        If only I still had the option of not buying health insurance.

        • Diadem says:

          There has never been an option to not buy health insurance. Not since the invention of civilization. There has just, in the past, been the option of making other people pay for your health insurance.

          A society without mandatory health insurance is a horrible place even for people who do have health insurance. You’d have to carry proof of insurance everywhere you go, and even then you can’t be certain you’ll be helped if something happens. If a robber stabs you and takes your wallet, tough luck, you die.

          “But medics helping everybody without asking questions first is not health insurance”, I hear you protest. But it is. It really is. If you’re officially insured, someone else pays for your healthcare cost, and if you’re not officially insured, someone else is still paying for your healthcare costs. The latter scenario just involves extra overhead due to the bankruptcy proceedings.

          • Jeremy Kauffman says:

            There has never been an option to not buy health insurance. Not since the invention of civilization.

            1. So America wasn’t civilized until 1986? AFAIK, prior to EMTLA there was no mandatory treatment of the uninsured.

            2. Using threats of violence to force individuals to help other individuals is an interesting definition of civilized.

          • John Schilling says:

            You seem to be using very nonstandard definitions of “health insurance” and “civilization”. And you are narrowly focused on the basically insignificant fraction of health care that is emergency treatment for critically injured people; a common mistake in this debate.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            @ Jeremy Kauffman:

            You can choose to model mandatory emergency treatment of indigents at least two ways:

            * A mandatory form of minimum socialized health insurance (your framing).

            * A restriction on the medical profession and hospitals meant to balance the oligopoly privileges granted them through medical and hospital licensing.

          • Diadem says:

            @ Jeremy Kauffman

            1. So America wasn’t civilized until 1986? AFAIK, prior to EMTLA there was no mandatory treatment of the uninsured.

            Well just because it wasn’t mandatory doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. But if there were places in the US were uninsured people were refused non-cosmetic treatment prior to 1986, then I would say that yes, indeed, those places were not civilized.

            2. Using threats of violence to force individuals to help other individuals is an interesting definition of civilized.

            That’s a surprisingly good definition of civilization, actually. I mean it’s not a sufficient condition, but certainly a necessary one.

            @ John Schilling

            You seem to be using very nonstandard definitions of “health insurance” and “civilization”. And you are narrowly focused on the basically insignificant fraction of health care that is emergency treatment for critically injured people; a common mistake in this debate.

            Of civilization? No. Of health insurance? Yes, obviously. I thought I made that pretty clear in my post.

            The point I was making is that ultimately it doesn’t matter if you have a nationalised system, or mandatory personal insurance, or non mandatory insurance, or no insurance at all. The end result is always that society picks up the tab for health care costs. The exact distribution of costs may differ, and the efficiency differs vastly between systems, but society always picks up the majority of the cost.

            If a person is poor and has insurance, society pays their medical bills.
            If a person is poor and doesn’t have insurance, they go bankrupt and society still pays the medical bills
            If a person is poor, doesn’t have insurance, and they’re refused treatment (or don’t seek it), they either die or end up with chronic problems, and society still ends up paying for that.
            If a person is rich, they most likely have insurance anyway, and society pays the medical bills

            The only scenario where society doesn’t end up paying for medical costs is if a person is rich and for some reason doesn’t have insurance. But in that case society is paying the cost associated with having a rich idiot around.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:
            2. Using threats of violence to force individuals to help other individuals is an interesting definition of civilized.

            That’s a surprisingly good definition of civilization, actually. I mean it’s not a sufficient condition, but certainly a necessary one.

            Dogs live in kennels, cattle in corrals. Herds of people live in cities.

            Civilized = Domesticated

          • sards says:


            Why do you say that a rich person who doesn’t have health insurance is an idiot? A rich person can easily absorb the cost of any potential medical bills, so why should he pay extra for the risk reduction that insurance provides?

          • Diadem says:

            Even if your rich, medical costs can still eat up a lot of your net worth. And if you’re rich enough that this is not the case, then you’re rich enough to not care about insurance premiums either. Honestly the entire angle of “Will no one think of the rich people!” is kind of ridiculous. Rich people will be fine in any system.

            My initial response was to your post lamenting the fact that health insurance is mandatory. I’m just pointing out that this is a silly objection, because health care cost have always, one way of the other, been something that’s paid for by society. And that’s not going to change, unless we move towards some kind of Randian dystopia.

          • sards says:

            Honestly the entire angle of “Will no one think of the rich people!” is kind of ridiculous. Rich people will be fine in any system.

            I didn’t take that angle. I just objected to your characterization of rich people who don’t have health insurance as idiots.

            My initial response was to your post lamenting the fact that health insurance is mandatory. I’m just pointing out that this is a silly objection, because health care cost have always, one way of the other, been something that’s paid for by society.

            The fact that society has always done something is not a good argument in its favor.

            If I would prefer to not purchase health insurance, it is not because I want to free-ride off of society’s generosity towards the uninsured. By going without health insurance, I create no obligation for anyone to provide medical care for me if I am injured. So the argument that I must be forced to buy health insurance to prevent me from creating such an obligation is wrong. If society wants to treat me when I get stabbed despite my inability to pay, that’s kind of them, but I never asked for that.

          • TheWorst says:

            By going without health insurance, I create no obligation for anyone to provide medical care for me if I am injured… If society wants to treat me when I get stabbed despite my inability to pay, that’s kind of them, but I never asked for that.

            Since when is asking the only way to create an obligation?

            FWIW, I agree with your earlier point that rich people who forego health insurance aren’t necessarily idiots; health insurance is a safeguard against medical expenses–especially unexpected ones–that are large enough to be a serious problem for you. If your economic situation is such that no conceivable medical situation rises to the level of “a problem,” then health insurance seems like a waste of money.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, rich people — at least, smart rich people — might have money, but they might not have enough liquid money to cover e.g. a surgery bill. Insurance then becomes a means of covering liquidity risk.

          • Skef says:

            Diadem, you’re missing the point and it’s leading you to conflate very different scenarios. There may be many virtues but government must be structured around freedom alone. The only virtuous arrangement is therefore one in which healthcare for those who can’t afford it is payed entirely by those few who can’t stand to see the situation any worse, sort of like the dirty dish situation in a college apartment.

            Free-riding is a problem of public goods, not public bads, silly!

          • sards says:

            Since when is asking the only way to create an obligation?

            Now that you mention it, I’m not aware of any way to unilaterally create an obligation on another person. Can you elaborate?

          • Randy M says:

            Would you assert that children have no obligations to decent parents?

          • TheWorst says:

            @sards: What is an obligation, to you?

          • sards says:

            @sards: What is an obligation, to you?

            A duty to take some positive action.

            Would you assert that children have no obligations to decent parents?

            I would say that children have no unilateral obligations to their parents. Of course children should be expected to help out around the house, etc. But I view this as a kind of consideration in an informal contract. Parents hold up their end of the bargain by providing food and shelter.

          • TheWorst says:

            sards: Are you aware that other people experience such a thing as empathy? (And that they do not get to choose whether or not they do so?)

            If I break your leg, I have not asked whether or not you want to incur medical expenses. You have still incurred medical expenses.

            My point is that everyone has to live in the real world, not Ayn Rand Fantasyland. Sometimes things happen that you didn’t negotiate for, and “pretend that didn’t happen” is not one of the available options.

            It’s the same reason that the “sovereign citizen” stuff is garbage; the real world is real. The reason it doesn’t conform to the law of libertarian ideals is not because other people are delusional, it’s because the real world is a great deal more complicated, and includes many factors that libertarian ideals prefer to ignore.

          • Diadem says:

            @ sards

            If I would prefer to not purchase health insurance, it is not because I want to free-ride off of society’s generosity towards the uninsured. By going without health insurance, I create no obligation for anyone to provide medical care for me if I am injured. So the argument that I must be forced to buy health insurance to prevent me from creating such an obligation is wrong. If society wants to treat me when I get stabbed despite my inability to pay, that’s kind of them, but I never asked for that.

            But that is not how the world works. That obligation to provide care for you exists. That’s just a fact. People are going to help you if you have a medical emergency, even if you are uninsured. That means that you are leeching of society if you refuse to get insurance. Whether you want to or not doesn’t enter into it.

            Now you could argue that this is not how the world *should* work. But are you arguing that? Because you’d be going against literally thousands of years of history there. The obligation to help others is already in the bible, to name just one example.
            It also seems a rather horrible society if you remove this obligation. Like I said, you’d pretty much be living in a Randian dystopia.

          • gbdub says:

            “That means that you are leeching of society if you refuse to get insurance.”

            You are only “leeching” if you refuse to get medical insurance and default on your medical debts. If you fully intend to self-insure, and make a reasonable effort to set aside the means to do so, that’s not leeching.

          • Anonymous says:

            You can make a reasonable effort and still default; medical expenses can get sky-high even if insurers aren’t inflating prices. Insurance is reverse lottery. You pay X, you get between X and 100X if you fail the roll. People who make reasonable effort to save up on their own may be able to cover 2X on their own but they’ll still have to be given the 100X pot if they need but can’t get it themselves.

            The idea behind insurance is to be a reverse lottery, not a savings scheme for the weak-willed. Getting your tickets refunded while still having a chance for the pot is freeriding.

          • Chalid says:

            Not to mention that having a serious health issue is likely to harm your ability to produce income in the future.

      • Loquat says:

        I suspect that if those people I had to argue with had thought the whole thing through like HBC’s friend did, they would have come to that guy’s conclusions and not have bought the policies in the first place. Unfortunately, there was a noticeable fraction of the customer base that did not read/understand the policies they were getting (often by methods like offers in the mail, so no agent was involved to explain things to them) and assumed things about the benefits that were incorrect.

    • Ketil says:

      An interesting viewpoint I (think I) have observed, is the more-or-less explicit belief that taking insurance actually affects the probability of something happening. As in, having a life insurance for your child helps protect the child against harm. Perhaps I am over-interpreting, but, I live in a welfare state (meaning medical expenses are not going to be ruinous) and having OK income etc – I don’t see any rational (financial) reason for insuring children – and life insurance in particular. If one loses a child it’s certainly tragic, but financially, you now have less expenses than before. So my theory here is that insurance works to reduce worry for the adult – I worry about my child getting killed, but if I take out an insurance policy, it lets me relax a little.

      • TPC says:

        Insurance for children is usually (in America) to pay for a good funeral. Good as in properly lavish.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Ketil is right though. Insurance can be sold in a manner like “healthy” foods, as if it has a magical property to protect you.

          • Gbdub says:

            Usually the “good for you” argument in regards to life insurance for kids is that whole life policies have cash value that can be borrowed against, and thus you are basically gifting them a financial asset.

            I’m not qualified to assess the reasonableness of that (there are almost certainly better ways to invest) but that’s the flavor of advertisement I’m most used to seeing.

          • Teal says:

            Whole life insurance is not quite always a scam, which makes it in some ways more dangerous than always a scam.

            A good rule of thumb is that unless your tax or estate planning attorney tells you to buy one, it’s a scam. If you don’t have a tax or estate planning attorney: see prior sentence.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Search “whole life”on Bogleheads some time.

        • Mr. Breakfast says:

          Life insurance premiums are cheaper for a given benefit level the longer the life expectancy of the measuring life. So, buying your newborn a million dollar whole-life policy will make it possible for them, as an adult, to carry a million dollars of coverage while paying a lower premium (or no premium) than they would if they bought the policy later.

          I don’t think this is that great of a deal for most people, but it’s there. If your family culture is such that adults always carry life insurance once they have children, this could be seen as prepaying a predictable life expense for your child same as a college fund or setting aside $5k for braces or whatever.

          • SUT says:

            In addition to paying the first 18 years of premiums for the child, you lock the child into a guarantee of being able to obtain a life insurance policy, regardless of what health conditions he develops in childhood/puberty.

            For example a serious cancer, or a chronic wasting condition, even met head on and survived, might make the child ineligible to be insured later in life.

            Unlike with health insurance, permanent life insurance doesn’t ever update the terms of your policy based on changes in your health status. (Except for changes in whether you smoke cigarettes or do a risky job like commercial airline pilot / treasure diver.) So with permanent policy issued at birth you’re guaranteed to be able to have life insurance paying the a reasonable premium – the average of what it costs to insure the average American without any known positive or negative underwriting factors.

          • Loquat says:

            I dunno, a million-dollar whole-life policy, even if taken out at the lowest possible rate, is still likely to cost waaaaaay more overall than a million-dollar term-life policy that lasts, say, 25 or 30 years and then ends, which is generally sufficient to cover the typical adult from start of childbearing to when the kids are all grown. To be sure, the term policy doesn’t generally give you any return if you don’t die, but a gigantic whole life policy usually isn’t the best way to invest your money for optimal returns.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            I agree, it’s usually a poor investment vehicle, but it appeals to cash-rich middle class people who still have a paycheck-to-paycheck mentality. A few dollars return on a given sum of extra cash compounded but subject to proportional risk is often seen as less attractive than “That’s one monthly outflow that I can take off my children’s shoulders”.

          • Zakharov says:

            So does that make it insurance insurance – insuring your child against the risk of paying higher insurance premiums?

          • Mr. Breakfast says:


            Yes, there exists a market segment to which this is highly appealing.

    • Murphy says:

      Insurance is good for exceptional or weird events but for things which are basically routine (for values of “routine” relative to the population involved) insurance companies start to simply look a lot more like rent seekers exploiting a position they’ve managed to crawl into or actors exploiting information asymmetry.

      Building a chemical plant which might explode and poison a town? building a dam that has a tiny chance of collapsing an killing/harming lots of people? sending a shipment of custom goods to the other side of the world and you’re afraid that the ship might go down? insurance seems like a good system.

      but in the states they seem to have taken that system and hammered it into a distorted shape such that when(not if) you need some antibiotics, need a tooth pulled or your kid breaks a bone for some reason the most economic way of handing it thanks to the insurance companies rent seeking and privileged negotiation position is to funnel the money through an insurance company.

      I have a few insurance policies, I also live in the UK. I genuinely lose sleep sometimes because of worry that if the house burns down the company will wiggle out of paying because of some little clause on page 43 section 68.B that requires something like class X fire blankets to be within 5 feet of a hob but we had ours 5 foot 5 inches away. I’m under no delusions that they won’t look for every possible bullshit out. From friends working in insurance I hear regular stories of the kind of shit they include just because they know damned well that it sounds reasonable but makes it really really easy for customers to trip up, giving them an excuse to fuck them over.

      If I die from cancer a few years from now might the life insurance company fuck over by dependents on the basis that I didn’t report an upset stomach from last year? Maybe. Decency and reasonableness are not their priority. They employ entire departments to fuck their customers over on any pretext they can, morally right or wrong, the only thing they care about is the fine print which they structure in such a way to make sure that as many people as possible are in violation even if those people are trying to act in good faith.

      On the other hand I have absolutely zero worry about my healthcare. If I get hit by a car I’ll be taken care of. I won’t have to worry about 10K bills for an hours ambulance ride, I won’t lose my home due to an insurance company getting into a fight with the hospital and refusing to pay part of the bill. The NHS will have my back. I’ve worked with lots of people from the NHS. it has it’s problems, the sight of it’s IT infrastructure has driven good men mad but the people within it aren’t tasked primarily with fucking me over as much as they can.

      I get a massive massive quality of life boost from the simple peace of mind in the sections of my life where I explicitly don’t have to worry about insurance.

      With that in mind it baffles me when I see people who try to push insurance for even more things it’s not really suitable for.

      If something is *going* to happen fairly regularly and for some reason people are still plonking insurance companies in the middle it seems like a sign that something is fucked. They’re not dealing with hard to predict risk any more, they’ve just become rent seekers exploiting people.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        This is a common argument, but it’s not the argument my friend was making.

        His was a “most people pay more than they get back” argument.

        • Murphy says:

          in that case he’s just being silly. of course on average people pay more than they get back. otherwise the companies would be constantly losing money and would quickly go out of business.

          If you have enough money to absorb the whole costs of the worst that could happen then in a system where insurance is working properly (ie, the insurance companies haven’t fucked the system up for their benefit) then you have nothing to gain from getting insurance.

          of course that doesn’t hold for the US insurance market where the companies have manipulated it to the point where non-insured people pay a multiple of the price that insurance companies do for the same product.

          Even if you have more money than the insurance underwriter, even if you end up paying more in than the insurance company every pays out for you, even if an oracle gives you this info in advance it can still be economic to get insurance in such a screwed up market because the cost of the same thing privately can be 10x.

      • “If something is *going* to happen fairly regularly and for some reason people are still plonking insurance companies in the middle it seems like a sign that something is fucked.”

        Or that what is being provided is not really insurance. If you buy a service contract on a washing machine from Sears it looks like insurance, but arguably you are paying Sears to find a repair person because they are better at it than you would be. One could interpret some health insurance in the same way.

        • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

          That and also transferring some of the incentive to make your washing machine not break down from you to Sears, of course.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m not sure that helps me understand the Sovereign Citizens, because the thought processes of people who don’t understand that on average you’ll get less payout from an insurance policy than you pay in premiums (even once the whole system is explained) are just as unfathomable.

      I do note that a version of this fallacy does pop up even among people who really should know better; a common claim is that without insurance, the insured (as a group) would be unable to pay the costs that the insurance companies pay.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        No, he completely understood that the vast majority of people who pay insurance will never get what they pay back. But that was why, to him, most people are getting screwed by buying insurance. He understands how insurance works.

        And without insurance, the vast majority of people who end up with large claims would not be able to pay for the costs. It’s also true that the vast majority of people who have insurance don’t end up with large claims.

        But to him, is he isn’t one of the people who end up with a claim so large that he couldn’t pay it, he is getting screwed.

        This point of view may also be unfathomable, but it’s different than the one you were objecting to.

        • Loquat says:

          I wonder how he would have felt about the old mutual benefit societies if he’d lived back in their heyday. Like, miners injured or killed on the job used to get no compensation from the mine owners, so they’d organize and pay dues to provide their own injury/death benefits. Very possibly he would have felt the same; I’m sure there were people at the time who refused to join for similar reasons. Or maybe he would have found it acceptable to have his money going to people in his own community rather than to some faceless corporation, who knows.

          • bluto says:

            I’m often surprised that mutual benefit societies or mutual insurers haven’t made more of a return with an increasing focus on peer to peer finance in so many other areas.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I have a feeling that linked risk is a problem for local mutual insurers.

            That’s a good question. I’m guessing he would feel differently about that, but that’s just my guess.

          • BBA says:

            In the property insurance space State Farm and Nationwide are mutual insurers, and almost totally indistinguishable from their shareholder-owned competitors Geico and Allstate.

          • bluto says:

            Yeah, I was hoping the internet would make it much easier for a non-local mutual to make a go to get the pool up to national, while lowering the costs of predicting claims.

            If I can loan $25 to a thousand people in something like 46 states and get a return much closer to the bank’s return on assets, its surprises me that someone hasn’t come up with a way to make the same thing work with risk (especially since it’s not really that different from what Lloyd’s was doing 400 years ago). I’d love to buy the LendingClub/Prosper equivalent to cat bonds.

          • Virbie says:


            > Yeah, I was hoping the internet would make it much easier for a non-local mutual to make a go to get the pool up to national, while lowering the costs of predicting claims.

            Assuming that the mutual would be worse at predicting an individual’s risk than an insurance company, wouldn’t this just result in a lemon market? The flat(ter) premium would be more expensive for lower-risk people and less expensive for higher-risk people, leading to a market skewed towards higher-risk people, to the point of insolvency.

            If we violate that assumption, that would start to require a hell of a lot more overhead (actuaries, etc), in which case you’re going to start looking more and more like an insurance company anyway. I suppose the difference would be that the shareholders and the policyholders would be one and the same, but at that point we’re quite far from “Lending Club for insurance”.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      A similar point of view comes from Ned Flanders, who considered insurance a form of gambling and refused to buy it.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        INSURANCE AGENT: My dear sir, that is a fine house — pray let me
        insure it.
        HOUSE OWNER: With pleasure. Please make the annual premium so
        low that by the time when, according to the tables of your
        actuary, it will probably be destroyed by fire I will have
        paid you considerably less than the face of the policy.
        INSURANCE AGENT: O dear, no — we could not afford to do that.
        We must fix the premium so that you will have paid more.
        HOUSE OWNER: How, then, can I afford that?
        INSURANCE AGENT: Why, your house may burn down at any time.
        There was Smith’s house, for example, which —
        HOUSE OWNER: Spare me — there were Brown’s house, on the
        contrary, and Jones’s house, and Robinson’s house, which —
        INSURANCE AGENT: Spare me!
        HOUSE OWNER: Let us understand each other. You want me to pay
        you money on the supposition that something will occur
        previously to the time set by yourself for its occurrence. In
        other words, you expect me to bet that my house will not last
        so long as you say that it will probably last.
        INSURANCE AGENT: But if your house burns without insurance it
        will be a total loss.
        HOUSE OWNER: Beg your pardon — by your own actuary’s tables I
        shall probably have saved, when it burns, all the premiums I
        would otherwise have paid to you — amounting to more than the
        face of the policy they would have bought. But suppose it to
        burn, uninsured, before the time upon which your figures are
        based. If I could not afford that, how could you if it were
        INSURANCE AGENT: O, we should make ourselves whole from our
        luckier ventures with other clients. Virtually, they pay your
        HOUSE OWNER: And virtually, then, don’t I help to pay their
        losses? Are not their houses as likely as mine to burn before
        they have paid you as much as you must pay them? The case
        stands this way: you expect to take more money from your
        clients than you pay to them, do you not?
        INSURANCE AGENT: Certainly; if we did not —
        HOUSE OWNER: I would not trust you with my money. Very well
        then. If it is certain, with reference to the whole body of
        your clients, that they lose money on you it is probable,
        with reference to any one of them, that he will. It is
        these individual probabilities that make the aggregate
        INSURANCE AGENT: I will not deny it — but look at the figures in
        this pamph —
        HOUSE OWNER: Heaven forbid!
        INSURANCE AGENT: You spoke of saving the premiums which you would
        otherwise pay to me. Will you not be more likely to squander
        them? We offer you an incentive to thrift.
        HOUSE OWNER: The willingness of A to take care of B’s money is
        not peculiar to insurance, but as a charitable institution you
        command esteem. Deign to accept its expression from a
        Deserving Object.

        (Eh, worth a post in this thread as well.)

        • Virbie says:

          Oof, I hate dialogues like that, where the smugness of the lines is only matched by how trivially flawed the logic is. Of course it’s better to self-insure if you could easily incur the cost at t = 0 (or t = epsilon, where the probability of the incident occurring by then switches to unacceptably high). I don’t buy renter’s insurance because if something happened tomorrow, I could replace what I need with no real impact to my net worth, so the expected value of [payout – premium] is an adequate proxy for expected utility. But it should be blindingly obvious that that assumption is extremely important to this conclusion and not true in general. If there’s a significant enough chance that you will get hit with a high cost before enough paid-to-self premiums would have been socked away, the real cost of not being able to bear the cost can be much higher (asset forfeiture, bankruptcy, etc).

          The reason I’d buy e.g. catastrophic health insurance is not because I expect, on average, that I’ll pay less in premiums than I’d collect in a payout. It’s because of the non-zero chance that I’d get hit by a car and have a massive medical cost at some point before I hit parity with money spent on premiums (which is a bit before the median of the distribution of the incident’s occurrence). I may be able to drop a few thou on household possessions without really caring much, but I personally wouldn’t be very happy if I had to drop $200k on medical costs. As mentioned above, the same renter’s insurance logic holds if you’re worth billions of dollars and even the high end of medical costs are not particularly important to you (assuming you’re liquid enough, I guess).

    • Stuart Armstrong says:

      Do they understand the difference between expected money and expected utility?

    • Raph L says:

      Regarding the Sovereign Citizens movement, there’s an amazingly thorough and authoritative analysis by a senior judge in Edmonton that pretty much tells you all you need to know. I recommend reading it (though it’s long), but the upshot is that the mumbo-jumbo isn’t there because they realistically expect to convince the courts or whatever, it’s part of the con-job sold to them by “gurus”. One quote, from such a guru, touches on the insurance question: “Included will be answers to pertinent and repeatedly asked questions involving our RIGHT to use the highways, how this right has been denied to us, how the courts have self‑admittedly been a part of this fraud, what happens with insurance, and how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not protect you.”

    • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

      It could be that a significant amount of the population (going off instinct the kind of people who would be sovereign citizens) do genuinely have different risk preferences to the rest of the population. Its a mathematical fact that, from a strictly financial perspective, the rate of return from not having insurance is greater than the rate of return for having insurance. Even when (as is now the case) insurance companies pay out more in claims then they take in in premiums (eg. insurance company pays out 101% of premiums but makes 100% of premiums + 2% risk free interest on premiums=102-101=1% for operating expenditures and profits (average insurance company portfolio= 100s of billions)), it still makes more (strictly monetary sense) to just invest the money at a higher rate of return (since you don’t have to payout the principal every year, you can get a better rate of return).

      THe entire logic of insurance depends on the idea that the utility of your money increases the less you have of it, which despite being intuitive to most people, isn’t at all philosophically clear. It does indeed take a 100% gain to recover from a 50% loss but its not at all clear that this translates into actual utility when it comes to each individual, it remains true that it is still more rational (so long as you never fully cripple your mechanism of recovery (which you could argue you can’t actually do without functionally ending your life (inescapable prison, death, severe “worse than death” physical or mental injury)) to accept any coin toss which pays off 1% more to you. Indeed it could be argued that it is more rational to gamble large amounts of your money (assuming you do it infrequently enough that chance is the major factor, and especially if it is either fair or beneficial odds) as your expected recovery time and marginal benefits of saving decrease every year as your earnings increase and your amount of life remaining decreases, an extreme risk taking system might actually be more rational than a savings system and we just refuse to acknowledge it because losers are low status, we pedestal and otherize successes (and demonize them if there was *gasp* luck involved), and since for most people rigorously followed risky, but calculated scemes, isn’t a third option along with saving and consumption (risky behavior just overlaps to much with consumption to be rigorously done (for most people))

      It could be very well argued that it is the people who never accept insurance who are rational, while the reverse lottery is just as irrational ad the regular lottery but merely appeal to a different cognitive bias: namely loss aversion (over-weighting large losses) vs gain fetishizing/risk premium/gamblers fallacy (over-weighting large risks). And really, with the exception of healthcare (which is a special exception) the analogy is very apt, in both cases we pay more than the nominal utility of an agreement because it allows us to gain the psychological benefit of some speculation about our future status and lifestyle, and it exploits our inability to intuitively feel the remoteness of rare events.

      This is especially prominent with life insurance: the average child has their whole life’s earning ahead of them ( their principal amount of money is as unimportant as its going to get), and while the nurture fallacy isn’t necessarily a fallacy in extreme circumstances, it is not really clear that losing a/both parents will adversely effect long term financial outcomes, indeed independence+ unfairly large amounts of responsibility at an early age seems to have positive effects on measurable outcomes. That plus given there odds of going to an ivy legue school is infinitesmal while the signalling value of any other school is questionable (lf indeed ivy signalling is worth four years off the life of someone in the top 0.1% of the populace), its not at all that losing a parent or their income has a effect on the lifelong finances of a child. simply put compared to losing a parent is a loss because you lost your parent whom you love: their income or there effect on yours is so small that the added benefit of non-slip bath mats or drinking less would probably have a greater effect on expected child welfare (indeed the emotional insulation life insurance affords parents from the risks they take that could effect their children might make life insurance a net negative).
      Indeed the kind of things we insure against reinforce seems to reinforce the idea that we overvalue lifestyle/status losses relative to other risks. One can imagine a lot of real risks which we do not, and would never consider insuring against simply because it doesn’t fit the model of things wed insure against.

      Now it could be these anti-insurance people are genuinely irrational and do have similar risk preferences to the rest of the populace, but whereas the rest of the populace over weights the likelihood of rare disasters they underweight it, but i find it genuinely interesting to consider that they are behaving rationally given their risk preferences or indeed might be behaving more rationally than the rest of us.

      Personally i tend to really like the idea of insurance for the same reason i really like the idea of finance: it allows complete stranger to get the benefits from each other that it used to be you’d get from a large extended clan (young ambitious person with idea can raise money from old decrepit person who needs income, pooled risk, ect.).
      Getting people with different risk preferences and life expectations together so that they can benefit by their diversity of preferences and plans for the future strikes me as the very essence of comparative advantage and the embodiment of the capitalist ideal, so the economist in be really likes it, but the gambler/gamer/businessman in me tends to think that there is optimum play and is really fascinated by the idea that there are correct rational moves for which it is better to suppress your preferences.

  10. Moorlock says:

    The term for hallucinations that you experience during the process of drifting off to sleep is “hypnagogic hallucinations” and they’ve been a topic of study for a century and a half or so.

    I find them to be a form of biofeedback that I can use to help coax my mind toward sleep when it is otherwise inclined. I explain this technique here – (free Google Doc) – and along the way I describe some hypnagogic hallucination varieties. In an appendix, I review some of the early attempts to understand these hallucinations.

    • Guy Srinivasan says:

      That is close to the method I independently arrived at. While awake, I do not visualize. When dreaming, I visualize. When falling asleep, I often visualize somewhat. Less vivid than dreams, faaaaar more vivid than anything while wide awake. When not trying to sleep, I will stay in this mental mode for a while because I think maybe it will help me one day visualize while waking? By focusing my awareness on whatever part of my closed-eyes visual field seems most imagey, I move in stages from black snow to blobs to super weak transient line images to fleeting color somewhat detailed images I’ve asked my brain to produce to lingering moving 3d color images i didn’t ask for. From there I either move to sleep or backwards. If backwards, there is a feeling like a mental shudder as I very clearly change mental states like moving through some kind of pressure barrier between a room of water and not.

  11. Agronomous says:

    Piling-On is a Thing. Furthermore, it’s a Thing here at SSC. And it’s clearly interfering with the project of Assimilating Newcomers to the SSC Culture.

    What can I, as a Potential Piler, do to avoid it?

    (I’d like to avoid responses that focus on the Pilee, like “Don’t post partisan assertions as if they’re facts,” mostly because there’s plenty of that advice out there already, and empirically, it’s almost as effective as homeopathy.)

    (On the other hand, responses in defense of Piling On would be interesting.)

    • Mr. Breakfast says:

      You could limit pile-ons if everyone thought of comment threads as strict A-B dialogues and obeyed the following conventions:

      * You, as C, are allowed to cut in ONE TIME by commenting on a response in an A-B dialogue.

      * If the party to which you responded (not their opposite) takes the bait and responds to you, then great, now there are two dialogues: A-B and A-C, not an A-{B,C} pile-on.

      *But if you do not get a response FROM THE PERSON YOU RESPONDED TO, then you are done with that thread, just sit back and listen.

      * If someone else responds to you, then you can go off and enjoy your C-D dialogue, but leave A and B alone.

      Thus, A can only get piled on if A insists on addressing every response. If A wants to just work on a deeper examination of the question with the one most interesting commenter, that is their right.
      No matter how great your comment was, nobody “owes” you a response. Nor can anything be proven from their non-response, unless they are already engaged in an ongoing dialogue with you.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I think that’s fair.

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        I don’t think that’ll work as intended. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good start, but the pile-ons that I see tend to be of the format:
        Alice posts a controversial comment
        -Bob responds
        -Carol responds
        -Dave responds
        -Edith responds

        The pile-on happens because a lot of different agents all want to contribute, but aren’t coordinated enough to give a single response. I think an ideal solution to this would need to take that coordination problem into account.

        • Mr. Breakfast says:

          I don’t see anything wrong with B, C, D, and E conferring somehow on a single response, but A should not have to do four times as much work and field four times as many (similar) objections.

        • A simple way of reducing the problem is a policy of reading all the replies to a comment before writing and posting your reply, since someone else may have already made your point. I sometimes, but not always, remember to do that.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            I usually try to do that, but often by the time I have read all the comments and re-loaded,

            a) I can’t find the original comment, and/or

            b) new comments are coming in faster than I can read them.

          • Randy M says:

            Copy a distinctive chunk of it to put into the ctrl-f box.

        • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

          That could work if the speed of commenting permits it. I rarely browse open threads until a few days after they’ve started, but I imagine that the situation in which B, C, D, and E are all drafting a comment simultaneously is not uncommon.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            It isn’t uncommon for multiple people to be writing comments simultaneously, that’s why my proposed rules put it in A’s hands to decide which she will respond to. None of them are wrong for posting that first response no matter how many of them there turn out to be, but the side of the argument which is brain+keyboard constrained gets to set the pace of the conversation.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Rebel with an Uncaused Cause
            I imagine that the situation in which B, C, D, and E are all drafting a comment simultaneously is not uncommon.

            Here’s a way I’ve seen this handled in a similar forum. When an apparent Pile-On looks likely, someone posts something like this to the OP.

            Hello new poster. If you get more replies than you’re ready for, and some of them are redundant — it’s probably accidental, not a deliberate ‘Pile-On’. A lot of different people are posting here from a lot of different time zones and/or work schedules. They don’t know about the other replies that other readers are sending in at the same time.

            You don’t have to reply to every reply you get, especially those that are redundant.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            Alternatively, A can reply only to the bottom of the thread, with a group response, and liberal grouping of arguments.

            1. see response to A
            @C, D:
            2. response to B applies here too”

            If B-D don’t like getting their responses rolled up into a group discussion, tough. That’s kind of the thead nesting limit kind of forces, anyways.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Honestly, I think the best stance is not to comment if you do not have information that a typical poster does not have. For instance, I can assume everyone here is aware of current events or the topics discussed in a Gladwell book but they probably don’t know much about the history of the Disney. They probably know the basics of Linux but don’t know about neural nets or the vagaries of Unity’s physics system.

      • Virbie says:

        > Honestly, I think the best stance is not to comment if you do not have information that a typical poster does not have. For instance, I can assume everyone here is aware of current events or the topics discussed in a Gladwell book but they probably don’t know much about the history of the Disney.

        I strongly disagree with this, and think it would diminish the quality of the comment board significantly. “Novel Information” isn’t the only thing people can contribute to a comment board; in fact for SSC’s comments, it’s not even the thing that I enjoy the most. People can contribute different ways of thinking about things, different ways of articulating ideas, etc etc etc. Sure a lot of them may be redundant (e.g., I don’t think anyone supports correcting someone when someone else has already corrected them), but “only add information [you broadly assume] a typical poster doesn’t have” seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    • Emily H. says:

      Easy variant: if at least 2 people have already told the potential Pilee why they’re wrong, don’t join in (even if you have new, different, and more compelling evidence.)

      Harder variant: if it hasn’t progressed to the Piling-On stage yet, but it’s a contentious topic on which lots of people have lots of passionate opinions, just wait a couple of hours. If it’s been a couple of hours and the comment has fewer than two argumentative responses, go ahead and make your argument; otherwise don’t.

      I don’t propose this as a norm for everybody, although I think the world might be a nicer place if everyone adopted it; but I think it’s a fairly reasonable heuristic for people who want to opt out of Piling-On. (I want to add an exception for times when you’re genuinely an expert in the topic or have some specific insider information that’s relevant to the argument — but even there, I’d want to be really careful.)

    • Jiro says:

      (On the other hand, responses in defense of Piling On would be interesting.)

      Piling on someone makes it much more difficult for the pilee to rationalize away opposition as “oh, any time you post something controversial someone won’t like it”. Making it clear that an idea faces a lot of opposition serves to highlight particularly poorly reasoned or researched arguments.

      (Of course, that doesn’t work if you pile on everything all the time, but I’ve seen little evidence of that happening here.)

      • Julie K says:

        I don’t think it has that effect so often, because the person is likely to think, “Oh, those people from the other tribe believe whatever they read in [news source].”

        • Jiro says:

          In the last thread we had Jill refusing to answer a question on the grounds that it was an unreasonable demand. It is not possible to blame this on a news source, since news sources generally don’t tell people what questions to ask on the Internet. But the fact that many people were saying that it is a reasonable demand tends to indicate that, in fact, it is a reasonable demand.

          That wouldn’t work with just one person saying it.

          • Adam says:

            Didn’t it still not work? I haven’t looked in a while, but I don’t remember her ever answering.

          • Jiro says:

            Many arguments are for the sake of the audience. So it could very well have worked, though not on Jill.

        • Aapje says:

          Or phrased differently: “Oh, that’s where the Overton Window ends in this subculture.”

      • James Picone says:

        This doesn’t hold if the topic is a tribal marker. Pretty easy to rationalise away significant independent opposition to gun/abortion rights as just a tribal thing, particularly if there’s an impression that the commentariat is full of people from that tribe.

        Sometimes it’s even rational to do so, arguably.

    • Vitor says:

      I’ve observed that the worst pile-ons happen when somebody drags a past discussion into the current one. It should be common courtesy to only bring old stuff up when it’s directly relevant to the topic at hand, and not go pursuing someone through an entire comment section hanging that one misstep in subthread 17.5.b over their head wherever they go. If someone argues fallaciously or in bad faith, it should be pointed out in that moment and then dropped.

      IMO, piling-on is circumstancially ok, e.g. when something which many people disagree with is presented as consensus (and thus the volume of disagreement is part of the counterargument), but as we’ve seen it devolves into ad-hominems all too quickly.

      • Gbdub says:

        I agree with your first paragraph, so long as it applies to the pile-ee as well. E.g. If you get lambasted for a particularly poor argument in one thread, don’t repost the same argument unmodified In light of the counter argument and then complain if you get re-piled.

        Otherwise yes, if someone takes a licking in one thread and moves on, bad form to bring up old wounds.

      • Alethenous says:

        It should be common courtesy to only bring old stuff up when it’s directly relevant to the topic at hand, and not go pursuing someone through an entire comment section hanging that one misstep in subthread 17.5.b over their head wherever they go.

        So you’re saying that I shouldn’t try to tell Scott that “mutans mutandis” from his Non-Libertarian FAQ is bad Latin? (I’m sorry, it’s been bugging me.)

    • Gbdub says:

      I know we’re not ever getting a voting system here, but in a totally unrelated forum I frequent that’s generally pretty polite, voting seems to reduce piling on.

      I think part of the issue is that there is no way to express disapproval of a comment except for commenting, and at that point you feel like you need to comment something other than just “-1”.

      On the other hand down votes are a blunt instrument.

    • Randy M says:

      Refresh before replying.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      The individuals who complain most about “piling on” are quite prolific in posting exactly the kind of material that provokes opposition, generally skipping away without addressing any criticisms, using the volume of criticisms as an excuse for doing so.

      There might be a problem that certain perspectives are insufficiently represented and hence insufficiently defended when they are raised, but the strategy of raising lots of ideas, and then refusing to defend them, aggravates this problem rather than helps it; it would be more productive to have one or two well-defended ideas than a dozen completely undefended ideas.

      This nonsense exhausts me, and I don’t think there is sufficiently good faith in the way the complaint is raised for me to be willing to care.

  12. Rob says:

    Requiring a one-time email verification seems like a perfectly reasonable step. No real barrier to posting, and no additional passwords to remember. Still easy to bypass of course but not an unreasonable burden for the rest of us.

    Though probably not what I would refer to as “banning anonymous commenting.”

  13. Yakimi says:

    I recently read a book that I thought readers of Slate Star Codex might also enjoy: it’s Anthony Daniels‘ 1987 autobiography, Fool or Physician: The Memoirs of a Sceptical Doctor. The writer, like our host, is a psychiatrist with a droll sense of humor. Before he made a career out of bemoaning Britain’s cultural decline, he used to write books about his many travels. In this one, he reluctantly enters the medical profession, a choice which takes him to Rhodesia, South Africa, Mozambique, the slums of London, and the islands of Micronesia, and shares his many interesting observations and relates his encounters with some eccentric and, at times, unbelievable characters.

    If you liked Muggeridge’s autobiography, you’ll probably like this.

    I’ve also started reading his African travel book, Zanzibar to Timbuktu.

    • Agronomous says:

      I’ve mostly seen him writing under his pen name: Theodore Dalrymple.

      He has a lot of interesting things to say, and a good vantage point on the British underclass (as a prison psychiatrist).

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Ah! And here I was wondering whether psychiatrists with droll senses of humor who bemoan Britain’s cultural decline was a type.

      • Zorgon says:

        Oh gods, Darymple.

        Ye be warned, those who would seek his counsel: Here Be Dragons.

        (Where by “dragons” I mean “crap arguments that merely look clever”.)

        • I used to admire Darymple’s sense of certitude, but then I realized he was being very definite about how people’s lives would go, and I didn’t have a way to know whether he was right.

        • Yakimi says:

          Fortunate, then, that the book is mostly devoid of arguments. His views were at the time of writing much less definite than they were to become; the process of liberal disenchantment had just set in, and nothing had filled the vacuum. The result is his wry bemusement at the constant absurdities for which he could offer no prescription. The book ends, fittingly, with the words “I don’t know”.

          It’s better to read him for his reportage, not his remedies.

        • Walter says:

          Dalrymple is the best. He speaks to the portion of my conservative soul that would just like tomorrow to get off my lawn.

  14. Ray Sister Ottica says:

    I don’t mind confirming my email as long as I can keep changing my handle every thread.

    • Anonymous says:

      But you can still be tracked by your gravatar. Unless you wish to confirm your address each time you post…

      • Ray System Pathee says:

        Being trackable by gravatar is a level of exposure I accept. Being trackable by handle (across pages anyway) is less acceptable. Being trackable by my real name/email address is (at this point anyway) unacceptable.

  15. blacktrance says:

    Post-TI DotA discussion thread.

    OG underperforms – the inevitable result of people training to beat the strongest team, or a failure on the part of the players? With Demon’s and DC’s successes, will we see more players leave their home regions to form teams elsewhere? Secret falls apart completely, how many players will they kick? How does Icefrog nerf Wings’s large hero pool? Who shuffles and who stays together (Secret, OG, Navi, Alliance)?


      I don’t think OG took TNC seriously. N0tail looked extremely weak and may not just be a top tier 1 position player. N0tail has always looked like the teams weakest link. (Except for the Manilla Major where he did work, I was hoping that would be his new form from then on.) Miracle- didn’t play well in their final game and made just enough mistakes to lose. TNC was a much better team than anyone expected, even taking DC to a 3rd game.

      I hope more CIS players come to the west to try and make it big. The CIS scene just feels like the same twenty players mixing and matching every year with crap results, I’m really happy for Resolution and all of DC.

      I don’t know how Secret expected RTZ + EE to work. Both of them take up too much space. Puppey’s drafts were terrible, PLD wasn’t on form and Bulba isn’t a tier 1 offlaner.

      No patch will be able to take down Wings their hero pool is too big. Complacency is the most likely thing to do them in.

      I really hope EG stays together, if not for Sumail’s feeding (If you aren’t used to melee vs Ursa mid it is really easy to get caught off guard) early in game 3 vs DC I think they make it to the finals and give Wings a run for their money.

      I hope OG stays together, but man N0tail’s play really makes it hard to be optimistic about their future.

      Secret looks like a complete dumpster fire and I have no idea how they salvage it.

      I would expect either RTZ or EE to end up on Liquid since word is Matumbaman has to do military service.

      Overall I would say this was the best Dota tournament ever even with a one-sided finals. So many amazing games from the playoffs and groupstage. EG vs EHOME game 1 may be the greatest game ever played. So many teams greatly over and underperforming.

      • Anon. says:

        RTZ and kuro hate each other (from the Secret 2.0 days), so there’s no way he’d go to liquid.

      • blacktrance says:

        Good analysis.

        No patch will be able to take down Wings their hero pool is too big. Complacency is the most likely thing to do them in.

        There are rumors that Faith_Bian is going back to school, so that could ruin them as well.

    • Anon. says:

      How does Icefrog nerf Wings’s large hero pool?

      I wouldn’t mind if the next patch only had very slight balance changes. The game is in a very good place now. Increase the cooldown on mirana’s Aghs, a slight nerf to ET/timber/void, and a couple of small buffs to the unpicked heroes.

      In any case, he can’t nerf Wings like he nerfed Alliance after TI3, they don’t depend on one OP strat or specific heroes.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      It’s always good to see EU Dota choke at TI after they talk shit all year.

      OG need to kick N0tail, it seems like they’re going for the Miracle+Arteezy combo. New VP looks good. God knows what the hell will happen with Secret.

  16. Ray Sister Ottica says:

    I really like the way comments work here. They’re my favorite of all the sites I have tried commenting at.

    It’d be nice if when I hid a thread it’d still show the first line, maybe grayed out a little. This would help me remember why I hid it, and make it so I can more easily find it later if I want to unhide it. Not sure if that’s possible.

    • Bakkot says:

      Eh… I could arrange that the first paragraph remained visible (and greyed out), but I think it’d be kinda unwieldy (+ aesthetically displeasing). It’s also not a feature I’ve seen in other places with collapsable comments. Not sure how useful it would be – anyone else have thoughts?

      • numbers says:

        I would like it if all threads started out mostly-hidden, with only the first paragraph visible and all the children hidden. That way I wouldn’t have to keep re-hiding the giant arguing centithreads with every page reload.

        I guess that’s probably a large change to make.

        • Vitor says:

          I second this. Maybe it would be enough if hiding was persistent across page reloads.

        • Bakkot says:

          This came up before. It’s doable but I’m not sure about the UI; I don’t think it would be good to just change the current behavior, which many people also rely on.

          • numbers says:

            I propose a button at the top of the page that says: “collapse all posts”. Pushing this button converts all posts into the one-paragraph-visible-and-all-children-hidden format, until I press the “Show” button on each post.

          • Ray System Pathee says:

            @numbers: I like that idea.

        • Ruprect says:

          Personally, I wouldn’t like that at all, because I like to scan through the new comments for anything interesting.

          Though if you could do that and allow me to look through new comments as well, I think that would be lovely.

      • Ray System Pathee says:

        I can’t remember where I saw it…maybe on gated articles…where it shows you a grayed-out line of text and then the next line below it sort of fades to white from top to bottom. That’s what I’m picturing as the ideal way to show a “sneak peek” at a hidden comment. Again, I understand if that’s really hard to implement.

        Showing a whole paragraph would be too much. I’d prefer the current configuration to that.

        If it lends any weight to my request, showing a sneak peek at hidden comments fulfills several software and web usability best practices, such as making the content more scannable, providing better “information scent,” and communicating to the user what result a given action will produce.

        Again: I totally understand and respect that all this needs to be weighed against feasibility/practicality.

      • Kevin says:

        Personally, I think it would be nice to have a set of floating buttons which could skip from one top comment to the next. That way, if I get partway through a subthread and decide it’s not worth reading more, I don’t have to scroll all the way back to the top comment to hide the thread, and I don’t have to scroll an unknown distance downward to find the next subthread.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      It’s one of those visual novels that has several routes available at the outset, then a new route when you get one good ending, and then a final climatic “true” route when you get all the endings.

      Overall It’s brilliant, and very much worth the length.

    • sohois says:

      I have not tried it, but can say that reactions to the game when it first went viral a few years ago were generally very positive, i.e. this is actually a very good dating sim and not just wacky and interesting because of pigeons. I would also note the highly positive steam reviews included in your link.

    • Zorgon says:

      Bored the crap out of me, but horses for courses. I can see why others liked it.

    • zolstein says:

      I haven’t played the game, but several good friends of mine have. They’re big fans, so I’m assuming the actual dating sim game-mechanics are solid. I did watch the “final” ending of the game, and if you enjoy playing dating sims, playing through to the last ending has to be worthwhile. It’s… worth seeing.

  17. Today, Wikipedia features (highlights) an article about the Greenland shark, a species that inhabits the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans. This is an interesting species because it has the longest lifespan of any known vertebrate (392 years, plus or minus 120 years).

    The meat of Greenland sharks is toxic unless specially treated. Wikipedia details the traditional process for fermenting the meat, and notes that “It is considered a delicacy in Iceland.”

    That statement is immediately followed by a quotation from an American chef who characterized it as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he had ever eaten.

    • Agronomous says:

      I think we’ve figured out why they live to be 392 years old….

    • Lumifer says:

      Wikipedia details the traditional process for fermenting the meat

      I chickened out of trying it when I was in Iceland. From memory, the “traditional process” involves burying chunks of shark on the beach (below the tide line, IIRC) and leaving them for several months to rot detoxify. Lye might also be involved. Nowadays they vacuum-package this and sell it to tourists.

      But on a gastronomic tourism note, you can taste whale and puffin in Iceland.

    • Urstoff says:

      “a strong ammonia-rich smell and a fishy taste”

      So it’s like eating fish that a cat pissed on?

    • Loquat says:

      Isn’t it a common rule of thumb to approach with caution anything described as “a delicacy in $FOREIGN_COUNTRY”?

      Apparently Sardinia considers casu marzu a delicacy, and it’s basically Pecorino cheese that’s been infested with leaping maggots. (Seriously, they can leap up to 6 inches, so you have to be careful to avoid getting a maggot up the nose while eating it.)

  18. Arsene says:

    I would like to read Neal Stephenson books without all the shagging.

    So I would like Amazon to allow me to buy to buy “directors cut” editions of books – where the director would be a like-minded anti-shagging type of person, who had removed said shagging.

    And indeed, another person who would prefer extra shagging would be able to buy a version for his taste too.

    • Jiro says:

      Most authors are not in the writing business in order to maximize profit. So just because you are willing to pay for a book without shagging may not necessarily mean the author will allow it.

    • numbers says:

      I wish Amazon would allow me to buy a “genderless” version of books, in which all names and pronouns are scrambled a la Ancillary Justice.

      I doubt that it’s going to happen, but maybe there’s a market for a third-party e-reader app?

      I’ve only read one Neal Stephenson book (“Snow Crash”) and there wasn’t that much shagging in it as I recall.

      • Anonymous says:

        I wish Amazon would allow me to buy a “genderless” version of books, in which all names and pronouns are scrambled a la Ancillary Justice.

        Why would you want that?

      • sards says:

        I seem to remember Snow Crash containing a cringe-worthy shag between Y.T. (a fifteen year old girl) and Raven (an insane adult villain) that was ham-fisted in execution and made no sense in the context of the plot and prior character development.

        • Zorgon says:

          Doesn’t it end very suddenly, though?

        • Murphy says:

          I think that

          was a bit awkward but it was led up to and given the characters involved it didn’t come off as very pedoy.

          And I think it was mainly there to incapacitate the villain so he couldn’t interfere with some stuff that was happening nearby at the time.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Yeah, it came with foreshadowing and it was important for the plot. It could have been done another way, of course

    • Murphy says:

      huh, while there’s often some slightly awkward shagging in his books he isn’t an author who includes so many that I’ve ever found myself getting too annoyed at it.

      If you want real cringe Anne McCaffrey at one point wrote what is possibly one of the worst sex scenes in any scifi book I’ve ever read. It’s really quite extraordinarily bad (by her own description) and thankfully put her off trying to include them in her other books.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      They do have this.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ Arsene
      I would like Amazon to allow me to buy to buy “directors cut” editions of books – where the director would be a like-minded anti-shagging type of person, who had removed said shagging.
      And indeed, another person who would prefer extra shagging would be able to buy a version for his taste too.

      Amazon would, if someone starts with a public domain original, copyrights zis edited version/s, and markets them just like other self-published books (through Amazon, etc).

      • One of the funnier things I’ve seen online was a reader’s guide to one of Laurel Hamilton’s books. It told you about which bits moved the plot forward so that you could skip the sex.

        It wasn’t intentionally humorous, it’s just funny that the world has changed so much.

  19. 3. By popular request, Deiseach is now unbanned.

    So you should update the Register of Bans.

  20. Seth says:

    Since Deiseach is now unbanned, I’ll take it as an opportunity to post the following thoughts it’s inspired in me about problems with community rules. I didn’t want to do this earlier, since it had too high a chance of being taken as backhanded arguing with the host, which wasn’t my intent.

    There’s a longstanding philosophical debate about individual freedom vs group norms. This is most commonly seen these days in the “harassment” context, where the definition of that term is greatly expanded to encompass “environment” in the service of imposing widespread speech codes. But again, that’s just where most people encounter it now, it’s an old subject. The basic idea is that group harmony is extremely important, and in a utilitarian sense, nobody’s contribution is so positive as to justify the accumulated negative effects on the group. For example, this theory holds that a brilliant programmer should be fired and ostracized if they are sexist, racist, etc, because nothing that programmer does is worth the spread of sexism, racism, etc. That is, someone else will make similar contributions and not be sexist, racist, etc.

    Now, it’s really easy to say this theory is wrong, especially the case I put above. But … it does seems to be accepted in different situations. That is, we don’t say a brilliant surgeon is allowed to drive drunk, because on balance they may save several lives as day, so whatever damage their drunk driving does is more than offset by their overall life-saving.

    Where does a commentator fit between these poles? Writers who are passionate about a topic are often in violation of ideals niceness, civility, and charity. But that same passion also often leads to high-quality contributions on the same topic.

    I have no ready answer. This is a mere comment about thoughts, not a sociological manifesto.

    • Jiro says:

      Firing a racist programmer is much less controversial when the programmer

      1) is harming particular individuals rather than harming the wrong race or sex as a group
      2) is *unambiguously* racist or sexist (none of this “wears a shirt with scantily clad women on it” or “uses a Gadsden flag” stuff).
      3) is harming people in ways related to his employment, not in his spare time

      Deiseach scores high on the blog versions of all three of these. And generally, blog posters who insult others score high. Brandon Eich, for instance, doesn’t.

      If Deiseach had said something that only could be taken as insulting (#2) on another blog (#3) in a context which wasn’t aimed at other posters (#1) we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

    • numbers says:

      This sounds to me like a jerk-detection problem. If a surgeon is drunk driving, we can conclude that they have an alcohol problem and that they don’t care much about other people’s lives. This is probably generating issues in the surgery room as well — maybe they’re showing up drunk to surgery, maybe they’re being careless. But it’s hard to notice when someone has a higher-than-baseline rate of surgery mistakes, and it’s really easy to notice when they’re drunk driving. So, when we see a surgeon drunk driving, we say: “oh, the sociopath detector detected a sociopath, let’s get them out of the surgery room before we find out what other problems they’re causing.”

      I don’t know Deiseach very well. I think she was pretty mean to me once in a comment, but it might have been someone else — I try not to be the sort of person who keeps track of all the people that have insulted me. Any analogy between the drunk-driving surgeon and Deiseach is unintended.

      • Publius Varinius says:

        I’d be very surprised if the “jerk” theory survived a Wason selection task.

      • Seth says:

        That doesn’t work, it’s just an attempt to resolve the conflict by assuming a connection which isn’t empirically supported. It’s as if one argued that a racist, sexist, etc. programmer isn’t caring about the effects of their actions. And thus concluding that therefore this is probably generating issues with their code as well – maybe they are not complying with specifications, maybe they’re creating a lot bugs. And so on. So, one might then argue, when we see a programmer showing racism, sexism, etc. we say: “oh, the sociopath detector detected a sociopath, let’s get them away from the keyboard before we find out what other problems they’re causing”. See the problem?

        My original point is that in many cases we don’t do cost/benefit analysis of someone’s overall social value. That is, we don’t say to the brilliant surgeon who drives drunk and kills someone, you save many lives, you killed just one person, but on the whole your social contributions are extremely positive, therefore no punishment which impedes you from continuing to be a surgeon (or even, work some extra shifts and that makes up for the death).

        But from the other direction, doing a social value calculation is begging for high-status people to have a license to bully and abuse low-status people. It’s basically cronyism.

        Again, I’m not going to solve this in a blog comment. But there seemed to me to be a very deep problem here.

        • numbers says:

          Here’s what I’m thinking. Imagine you need surgery, and you find out that your surgeon is a drunk driver who killed someone in an accident last year. (And imagine that their lawyer got them off on a technicality.) How do you feel about that? Are you like “well there’s not an empirically supported connection between drunk driving and surgery ability, I’m sure this person is a good surgeon despite that irrelevant flaw” or are you more like “I would like to make sure that the person performing surgery on me is someone super responsible and reliable”?

          Here’s a real-life example. I went to get dental fillings, and as the dentist was doing my fillings he was chatting with his assistant. He was talking about how bored he was with the routine fillings, and how he kind of wanted to sell his practice and move to Hawaii, and at one point he started flirting with his assistant. I don’t know if there’s an empirically supported connection between that sort of attitude and a tendency to make errors in dentistry, but I made a note to never get that dentist to do my fillings again.

          The other example we’re talking about is a programmer who is racist or sexist.

          It happens that, for programming, getting along with one’s teammates is a really important skill, and the failure to do that is grounds for being fired simply because of the damage it can do to the team.

          But, aside from that issue, I think “racist and sexist” is a weird example of a flaw, because it’s a flaw that isn’t actually illegal, and it isn’t even universally agreed upon as a problem. What if, instead of being racist and sexist, the programmer has a heroin addiction? Would we say “well there’s no empirical connection between being a heroin addict and being a bad programmer”? Or would we say “let’s make sure this person doesn’t have an opportunity to install backdoors in our codebase and steal all our user data”?

          I dunno.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In the case of a dentist bored with doing fillings, I’d certainly avoid that dentist for fillings. That’s a much more direct connection than a surgeon who drove drunk. I don’t need a surgeon who is “super responsible and reliable”, I need a surgeon who is going to do a good job on surgery. I might expect that a surgeon who drives drunk might be a bit more cavalier about risk than a surgeon who does not, and that might carry over into his surgery practice, but it’s a much more tenuous connection and I’d likely give it little weight.

            As for programmers who is racist and sexist, that brings up some different problems. Suppose there’s a programmer who gets along fine with everyone on his team. But he also posts a bunch of arguably racist and sexist stuff outside work, under a pseudonym. Someone doxes him, and his female and minority teammates find out, and now one or more of them refuse to work with him. Who should be fired for not getting along with their teammates?

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

        My prior on a surgeon driving drunk is much more weighted towards “surgery is extremely stressful, and as far as I know, difficult, and taking your life into your own/fate’s hands is one of the few ways I can think of to lose that extreme stress) (other options include, collapsing, or attacking a wall, or for something better, really really intense sport, -more realistically if you’re super fit, which a surgeon is more likely to be than average.”).

        (and come to think of it, surgeons in particular can’t afford to attack walls, lol)


        Partially for this reason I’m not sold on drink driving laws in general, but assuming that they’re generally good and important things, lets look more at the particular case of the surgeon, and see if it might make sense as an exception from that perspective


        Surgeons are surely way above average at both dexterity/coordination and handling themselves in dangerous situations, so probably on average safer drivers at higher BACs than others.

        I can’t think of a lot of ways to blow off the extreme stress that I imagine can come with surgery. Drink driving isn’t a very good way, but is a way. I can imagine a situation where a a surgeon, whose patient must die from time to time, sometimes on, sometimes off, the operating table, has two realistic trajectories before them:

        drink six (units) and go for a quasi suicidal drive that may injure or kill some people, but really probably won’t, on an occasional basis, or surely end up quitting at some point, -and then definitely we lose the capacity of hundreds of operations over the next few years.

        (and if that isn’t going to result in equivalent suffering, why not?)

        First of all there’s the argument that being sick is a risk we’ve all learned to accept and gotten used to, while we’re not inured to the particular and different horrors of an environment where people doing vital high stress jobs are allowed to drink and drive. So trading off suffering caused by accidents for suffering from other causes that we’ve already grown psychologically accustomed to and adapted to, would be a significant cost in itself. (this is a conservative argument)

        The surgeon could also go into other productive work, but they might just as well retire, or go, or online poker, or something really parasitic like sales or advertisting. (unlike online poker, imo).

        (I wonder if some of these terrorist that were engineers (another profession with high responsibility and low margin for error, -though certainly less gore) wouldn’t have reached for a less dangerous coping mechanism, if they had some better way to.. uh “scream at the world” like drink driving, or drink fighting, or something else that maybe has to be moderately dangerous?)


        So anyway, maybe we should let surgeons drink 3 units or something? If such a potentially aristocratic-seeming exemption were to be made, I can’t think of a better class of people than ones in vital, high stress jobs, with unusually good physical coordination and high levels of exposure to immediate physical fatigue and impairment.


        To relate this back to the original point, -which wasn’t my intent, but why not:

        I would WAY rather have an environment where someone goes on the occasional artful rant, especially, by the way, if it’s helpfully signposted by something like


        up front, -so you’re making it as easy as possible for someone to skip it if they don’t want to play.

        (the above preface struck me at the time as an obviously polite, rather than aggressive, way to start a rant. If one wants to be malicious in a rant, the way is to first draw in the reader, better yet intrigue them, and there are all kinds of ways to be malicious beyond that)


        -than somewhere where posts like those of Xerxes, which I’m not going to say were sophist and aggressive, but will say may have appeared that way to people,

        -even if that impression is wrong,

        -have to be responded to in what practically amounts to a straightjacket.


        -If part of someone’s strategy is to be rude and “assertive”, trying to grab conversational territories elbows first, part of many people’s response is going to involve responding to them on that plane as well.

        One can be mistaken in viewing someone as doing this, but I think not having the option to respond similarly is more dangerous than the possibility of being wrong. Being wrong is correctable. Relying on some Noam Chomsky or William Buckley to step in and defuse an approach of bulldozing in with extreme framings, accusations, unbacked assertions, etc, from a polite and civilised perspective, seems very unrealistic to me.

        -Most people cannot (remotely begin to) handle a non-logical attack from a logical plane.

        And, the effective debating norms of our society/world mean that generally, If one person is aggressive, and the other person ignores it

        1. it shows that either people in general, or that person in particular, a can get away with being aggressive. This results in people not speaking who are less able to deal with such tactics equanimitously (or willing/interested).

        2. people are convinced, directly, by the aggression, (or tactics.) -Argument is generally viewed closer to being an emotional back and forth, than as an extended investigation of facts, particulars, and their logical connections, which most people don’t have the interest in/attention span for anyway.

        To put it another way- “All debates are bravery debates”. Unanswered Aggression wins bravery debates, so it wins debates period. Probably less so here than other places, but even if the this was a literal logical utopia (in the relevant sense), it would still happen, because people here do live in the outside world, and do have to have habits amenable to navigating a social environment which doesn’t have the strength to (attempt to) recognise who has actually made a better showing in a debate, rather than siding with whoever does the best posing.



        Maybe I’m wrong about Xerxes’ posts. I think most of what I said still stands, but actually compare these two posts for example:


        Xerxes says: You somehow feel you have the right to make others pay for your luxuries.

        If this is a human right, then get in line behind the 2 billion people worse off than you. No, even better. You have the obligation to work more, save more, spend less and then use those resources to find a way to make their lives better.

        If, however, this is not a human right, and just human envy and greed in another package. Well, then. Take your manufactured outrage elsewhere. I understand it is an effective strategy for getting what you want. But I don’t tolerate it from my children, and I certainly have no sympathy for it from adults.

        Report comment

        Hide ↑

        “Deiseach says:
        June 14, 2016 at 8:58 am
        And you, Xerxes, what have you done to earn the air you breathe? “I work hard, I look for nothing from no-one, I stand on my rights and am a good citizen!”

        And what rights have you that you can claim, that are not dependent on society, law, custom and culture agreeing you have such rights? Your very life is not your own, if any other person thinks he would be advantaged by taking it.

        Not even a person. A tiny animacule too small to be seen with the unaided eye can take your life at any moment. Nature’s indifference, chance, ill-luck, age, time and sickness erode your boasting. Every breath you draw brings you nearer the grave. Tomorrow may be the very day you are plunged into poverty – it has happened to better, wiser and more prudent than you, and why do you think you should escape war, trouble, or economic crash?

        And yet you get up on your hind legs and crow on your dunghill about your superiority to the rest of humanity!

        Report comment

        Hide ↑”


        I know rudeness is subjective and all that, but can we say that objectively, “I don’t tolerate it from my kids, and I certainly won’t tolerate it from adults”, is decidedly non logical, elbowy, way to try to establish that something is bad?

        (And isn’t it already completely, tautologically, obvious that false outrage is a bad thing, anyway?)

        This is the sort of thing “logical politeness” and “elbowing” refers to. It’s totally toxic, and very difficult to respond to other than in kind/escalation.


        Imo Deiseach wasn’t so obviously right, that her post is justified on that grounds, but imo Xerxes was so obviously rude, that Deiseach’s response was completely predictable, (except the effort to make it artistic and a good read.)

        The only thing I thought was wrong was attacking Alsadius the same way, which is very bad, but not the reason given.

        (how bad that is is a different conversation. Having been on the end of a literal haymaker from such a scenario once in school, -when I went over to someone who had been getting pushed around (I did not have the option to leave nor the social capital or physical strength to prevent it) to try to see if I could do anything to help), I think it can be really unpleasant to be on the receiving end, but what ultimately matters is the intentions, which in the general case is to strike back at a wrong.)


        Anyway that’s my 2, 3, 4 cents

        • numbers says:

          I really don’t agree with you that drunk driving is an appropriate or reasonable (or effective) way to blow off stress.

          As to the conversation between Deiseach and Xerxes: it didn’t look very interesting to me the first time it happened, so I didn’t read it. I’m not going to go back and read it now. When I posted above that “any analogy between the drunk-driving surgeon and Deiseach is unintended”, I meant that sincerely. 🙂

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

            I really don’t agree with you that drunk driving is an appropriate or reasonable (or effective) way to blow off stress.

            Imo that’s a really, really, bad compression of what I said, sheering across and mangling basically everything.

            LIke, for the most basic example, just because I don’t think something is a slam dunk case doesn’t mean I think the case isn’t a win.

            And then, (in the very next logical step) if I didn’t think the case for a law was a win, that wouldn’t mean I believed it reasonable or appropriate to break that law.

            This is before we even get into what I argued.


            But I’m not gonna get too into dissecting that. it compresses so much into so little that there’s endless variants of what exactly it could mean, so to try to cover all of them would probably take a month.


            And, more imporantly, I understand why someone might not be too careful about how they register their disagreement with something critical of a literal sacred dogma whose strength is literally saving lives. -which I don’t dispute.


            But I really do want to register my disagreement with that characterisation, almost on a “not even wrong” level.


            As to the conversation between Deiseach and Xerxes: it didn’t look very interesting to me the first time it happened, so I didn’t read it. I’m not going to go back and read it now. When I posted above that “any analogy between the drunk-driving surgeon and Deiseach is unintended”, I meant that sincerely. 🙂

            That wasn’t meant as a response to your post at all, just something prompted by what I’d written previously. Probably that was unclear.

            I tried to signpost that with

            To relate this back to the original point, -which wasn’t my intent, but why not:

            (and that the post was kind of “stream-of-consciousness”)

            but I don’t think I made it clear what that “original point” was supposed to be. (I meant the original point of thread, -Seth’s thoughts in the first post)

    • Anonymous says:

      As numbers noted above, the surgeon example should be “not allowed to operate drunk”, just like the programmer isn’t allowed to “program racist”. The drunk driving is irrelevant to his job unless he actually operates while drunk too.

      Where does a commentator fit between these poles? Writers who are passionate about a topic are often in violation of ideals niceness, civility, and charity. But that same passion also often leads to high-quality contributions on the same topic.

      The way I see it, you want to strike a balance between affording veterans prestige and the permission to occasionally breach the rules as written, and not scaring off new people by permitting the entrenched elite to be too toxic. Sort of like a sliding scale between 4chan and Cuntry Living.

      If you don’t afford regulars some privileges, they will be less inclined to stick around. If you don’t give newcomers a fair starting position, they will be less inclined to stick around too. Depends what you want to achieve; if I assense Scott’s intent right, he wants a place both friendly to newbies and retaining talent.

      • Zorgon says:

        I have constant problems with racist programming. As a proud Romany POC, I find the whiteness of my IDE’s default background to be a direct assault on my person.

        Now enough of this, I need to go and complain on Twitter about the clearly racist “Travelling Salesman” problem.

        • Anonymous says:

          Well, what would you say about an image recognition algorithm that tags black people as gorillas?

          Now, admittedly it was probably the result of an oversight/not enough training data/inherent limitations of machine learning instead of deliberate malice on part of the programmers who implemented the algorithm. Still, it does demonstrate that “racist programming” is not a notion as inconceivable as your snark would imply.

          • Zorgon says:

            Wait, what?

            I mean, you acknowledge in your own comment that it’s a problem of image recognition across sample spaces. Even calling it “accidental” would be ascribing a degree of intentionality to it that simply doesn’t exist. You might as well say my phone’s facial recognition software is in some way prejudiced against me because it can’t recognise my face at certain angles.

            You already know it’s not “racist programming”, so what point is it supposed to support?

          • Murphy says:

            it helps if you imagine the outputs of a machine classifier in the innocent high pitched voice of a 2 year old. It’s not calling black people gorillas out of racism or malice.

            It’s calling black people gorillas because human faces already really really look like gorilla faces and when you get the skin tone close it can’t tell the difference any more. If it classified a cats face as a “tiger” or “Bobcat” nobody would be surprised or calling the programmers names.

            of course people who like to make political hay of it will play it up.

            Anyone calling that “racist programming” is reaching.

          • Anonymous says:

            I am saying that while this probably wasn’t programmed in intentionally, in principle it could have been. And regardless of the programmer’s intent, the algorithm behaves in a racist manner. Were it employed by an AI with much more impact on the world, it would then proceed to lock up black people in zoos.

            So what if a Markov chain that occasionally outputs obscene-sounding words isn’t doing that intentionally? If you care about not offending your users, you filter them out regardless.

            And regarding two-year-olds: does the idea that “black people are non-thinking apes” stop being racist just because a two-year old thinks it? Because give it a few years and at some point it stops sounding so innocent. Children have to be taught and brought up, or else they might maintain their prejudices and nonsensical ideas for the rest of their lives. It’s not inevitable that they grow out of them. It’s not inevitable that algorithms will not have any prejudices either.

          • Aapje says:

            And regardless of the programmer’s intent, the algorithm behaves in a racist manner.

            No, it behaves in a way that some humans judge as being racist.

            From a computer point of view, it is merely a classification error. I’m sure that the system makes many other errors, but those simply are not controversial.

          • I think it’s reasonable to argue that that less racist programmers would have included black faces when testing the program and found the problem before the program was offered to the public.

          • Murphy says:

            @Nancy keep in mind, it didn’t go this for *every* black face. A single person uploaded a photo of his friend and went off at them on twitter and the outrage-media smelled blood.

            Someone uploaded a single photo which it misclassified. There were some guesses from various people that *perhaps* they’d not included enough black people in their training data but that’s just a guess. No matter how many they include it will still occasionally get it wrong.

            Repeat thousands of times with enough people uploading various photos and it will eventually call someone a raven, a cat and an octopus.

            To quiet the unthinking screaming masses who didn’t care about reality and just wanted another witch to burn they simply excised apes from the database. When I tried it out it can no longer recognize gorillas at all.

            That would imply that simply adding more black people to the training data couldn’t be enough to guarantee that it won’t occasionally classify someone as looking like an ape.

            Again, because people look a hell of a lot like apes if you’ve not got millions of years worth of specialized hardware for spotting the little differences.


            Also, no, nobody, not the machine, not the programmers, not anyone said or thought “black people are non-thinking apes”, the closest anything got to that was “this picture sorta looks kinda like a picture of a gorilla”

          • Are you saying *no one* tested it on a bunch of black faces?

            I can easily believe the problem only existed for people with very dark skins and/or in dim lighting.

          • Murphy says:


            Are you claiming they definitely didn’t test it on black faces at all?

            I’m sure they tested it on *some* number because the system has quite a few black celebrities who it will even recognize by name.

            For some people it can only get as close as “placental mammal” or “unknown”

            What I’m saying is that no matter how many tests you do, sooner or later someone will upload something that’s going to be misclassified. That’s not a problem unless you’re in the middle of a witch-burning.

            I can very easily believe that too but even if a couple of your test images are low light with dark skin that doesn’t guarantee that it will correctly classify *all* images with low light and dark skin. Even if it gets it right 999/1000 eventually someone is going to get called a dog, ape or a highligher:


          • suntzuanime says:

            I think we’re equivocating between racism as racial animus and racism as belief in differences between races. In machine learning you have to work very hard to avoid the latter and very hard to achieve the former.

          • Adam says:

            I’d actually say equivocating between three different forms of racism, at least those being animus, belief in differences, and adverse impact, whether intended or not.

          • Anonymous says:

            In reality black people have features that look more gorilla-like than whites or Asians.

            Broad noses, more sloped foreheads, closer skin tones, etc.

            People have all agreed to not notice this or say it out loud but everyone sees it – which is exactly why it’s so taboo to say it. There’s no taboo to saying black women look like panthers.

            The problem arises when the AI gets the visual recognition to notice the similarity but because of a double bind can’t be programmed to ignore it. After all, if you have to specifically program your visual recognition to never say that a black person looks like a gorilla then you need to already know that it’s going to identify black people as gorillas and why do you know that you racist?

            All around A+ 21st century comedy.

          • Aapje says:


            What suntzuanime said. Also, in this picture the woman pouted her lips which is behavior that is common in great apes in my experience. So that may have pushed it over the edge to classify the picture as ape instead of man.

            As for the programmers choosing the training material; I strongly suspect that the system was trained with a large collection of pre-classified pictures from Google Photo’s and/or stock photo’s. So there would be no explicit selection of pictures, which is not realistic given the quantity of training pictures needed.

          • Anon says:

            I am saying that while this [program’s pattern-matching] probably wasn’t programmed in intentionally, in principle it could have been.

            In the spirit of pattern-matching software going haywire, let’s kabbalah this soundbite to death and see what wonderful worlds of motivated reasoning await!

            I am saying that while this girl’s fever probably wasn’t witchcraft, in principle it could have been.

            I am saying that while this terrorist attack probably wasn’t the will of Allah, in principle it could have been.

            I am saying that while this man’s writings probably weren’t betraying America to Communism, in principle they could have been.

            I am saying that while this last century of crusades probably wasn’t the will of God, in principle it could have been.

            I am saying that while this economic downturn Germany has taken probably wasn’t due to a Jewish conspiracy, in principle it could have been.

            I am saying that while this man I am sending to the gulags probably wasn’t a capitalist pig, in principle he could have been.

            I am saying that while this shopkeeper I just murdered probably wasn’t an enemy to the progress of China, in principle he could have been.

            I am saying that while this country in the Middle East probably wasn’t amassing weapons of mass destruction, in principle it could have been.

            I am saying that while this other country in the Middle East probably wasn’t using chemical weapons on its citizens in violation of the Geneva Conventions, in principle it could have been.

            I am saying that while she probably wasn’t asking for it, in principle she could have been.

            I am saying that while she probably wasn’t black-out drunk to the point where she can’t reasonably consent, in principle she could have been.

            Wow, I could totally do this all night. This is fun. No wonder Scott’s writing a whole book of this.

            Are you starting to sense a pattern here? In my view, the pattern is “This argument is retarded is fallacious and proves too much.” It turns out, as a matter of fact, that this argument is fallacious and proves too much. Anyone believing this argument is consigning themselves to go on a witchhunt for whoever has the largest megaphone (or police force, as the case may be). This is not a coincidence, because nothing is ever a coincidence.

            (Scott I pastiche your writing because I love it, please don’t kill me.)

            And regardless of the programmer’s intent, the algorithm behaves in a racist manner.

            My reply to this is “This implementation was non-racist in the classical ‘There is only one race: the human race’ sense, which is a terrible design philosophy for anything in machine learning or image recognition. If the programmer was racist, and designed the AI in a ‘racist’ manner, the races would be segregated instead of being integrated into one whole. This ‘racist’ design decision, despite appearing ‘problematic’ to the leftist’s eye, would actually label Africans as gorillas orders of magnitude less often than the non-racist implementation. The AI would be a lot less racist despite the ‘racist’ design decision and the racist programmer’s intent. Therefore, you are completely wrong to prescribe moral judgement to the programmer for the AI’s actions. Furthermore, the AI labels Africans as gorillas not because there was too little political correctness, but because there was too much, in the style of GK Chesterton’s Dog.”

            However, if you actually understood anything regarding image recognition, that whole paragraph would be intuitively obvious. I had an argument that went through and supported that whole paragraph point-by-point, but I scrapped it because after considering the soundbite above, I realized logic is probably not your forte.

            And I wouldn’t be able to definitively prove myself right without months of work on an image recognition algorithm that implemented the racist design decision as a proof-of-concept, which is frankly a lot more work than you’re worth.

        • Iaso says:

          There are many examples of racist algorithms having profoundly negative effects on the lives of people of color. The following algorithm, which is widely used in criminal sentencing, judges blacks to be much at much higher risk of reoffending than whites. Consequently, blacks receive harsher punishments, including lengthier prison sentences, than whites. Yet 44.9% of blacks classified as “high-risk” by the algorithm didn’t reoffend, compared to 23.5% of whites.

          It doesn’t matter if we ascribe the racist outcomes to the algorithm itself, to the people who devised the algorithm, or to society at large: people of color are being hurt by such algorithms. And glibly trivializing their complaints is really gross.

          • Psmith says:

            The following algorithm, which is widely used in criminal sentencing, judges blacks to be much at much higher risk of reoffending than whites.

            Got spam-filtered, but this may be of interest.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yet 44.9% of blacks classified as “high-risk” by the algorithm didn’t reoffend, compared to 23.5% of whites.

            That is false.

            According to the chart, 44.9% is looking only at blacks who did not reoffend and seeing how many were labeled high-risk: 805/(805+990)=44.9%.

            The number you describe, restricting to people labeled high-risk and asking what proportion don’t reoffend is 805/(805+1369)=37% for blacks and 41% for whites.

          • Iaso says:

            Sorry, I misinterpreted the “prediction fails differently for black defendants” table in the article. The last sentence of the first paragraph of my post should read: “Yet among people who do not reoffend, blacks are twice as likely as whites to be classified as likely reoffenders.”

    • Tekhno says:

      That is, we don’t say a brilliant surgeon is allowed to drive drunk, because on balance they may save several lives as day, so whatever damage their drunk driving does is more than offset by their overall life-saving.

      This is an interesting hypothetical law system that I would like to read fictional accounts of.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If the ideals of niceness, civility, and charity are so constraining that they inhibit high-quality contributions, perhaps they need to go, or at least be relaxed. This is different than your drunk-driving surgeon case in that the violation is directly related to the contribution; the drunk-driving surgeon would be just as good a surgeon if they didn’t drive drunk.

      • Seth says:

        Again, I’m trying to examine the idea of when do we use overall value of some sort, versus saying anyone who commits an offense must face severe punishment for the greater good of the group? This part of the original discussion has stuck in my mind:

        I think that letting Deiseach’s comment stand would have a bad effect on debate since somebody made a potentially reasonable point and was really badly insulted for it. People might be reluctant to bring up such points in the future, and I think that would weaken the discussion.

        That’s a “hostile environment” type framework. It’s not too far from assertions of the form, e.g. “I think that anyone making even general philosophical musing which are racist, sexist, etc would have a bad effect on the workplace. People affected might be discouraged that they will be treated fairly by that person, which would weaken their ability to work effectively”. That was basically one of the arguments saying that Brandon Eich needed to step down from his CEO position for a campaign contribution against gay marriage.

        Now, it’s not 100% identical, I know. It can be distinguished, especially on specific to a person versus general. This is not a whats-the-difference rhetorical question. Rather, there’s a closeness that gives me pause. Is it simply that violations of niceness and civility are worth social punishment, but not racism, sexism, etc? Are we arguing, if not exactly over the price, but over tribal shibboleths? Once more, I don’t want to take the route of claiming it’s an obvious complete moral equivalence. But it strikes me that there’s real-life problem here which has some far-reaching implications.

        • Jiro says:

          Is it simply that violations of niceness and civility are worth social punishment, but not racism, sexism, etc?

          “Racism” and “sexism” covers a lot of ground. I can certainly think of racist and sexist things that would get people banned from SSC. However, bannable racism/sexism doesn’t include everything that social justice calls racism/sexism.

          It’s wrong to do a motte and bailey where the motte is “everyone is racist, even minor things count as racism” and the bailey is “racism is bad enough that people have to be ostracised for it”.

          Also, bear in mind that “ostracism” is not the same thing as destroying someone’s life or livelihood. If you ban someone from a blog, he can still feed his family.

    • John Schilling says:

      That is, we don’t say a brilliant surgeon is allowed to drive drunk, because on balance they may save several lives as day, so whatever damage their drunk driving does is more than offset by their overall life-saving.

      But we don’t generally fire them from their job as a surgeon for having been caught driving drunk.

  21. Daniel says:

    Status451 isn’t on the sidebar anymore for some reason, but it’s still pretty good reading. I enjoyed the latest series of articles by Meredith Patterson.

    We’re going to talk about narcissism and its side effects, and how bad actors can damage good organizations. We’re going to talk about how bad things happen to good people, how all kinds of people make bad decisions, and also how organizations live and die. We’re going to talk about self-organized criticality. There will be game theory, and management theory, and inside baseball, and multiple levels from which to view things, and even a diagram or two, so if diagrams aren’t your thing, you might as well bail out now. There will also be some practical advice, toward the end.

    • utilitarian troll says:

      I think there’s a sociopath in my local gamer/rationalist community who’s surprisingly popular and influential, shall I talk shit about them anonymously online or no?

      • Jiro says:

        Like many questions this depends on the facts on the ground. If you didn’t misunderstand the concept of sociopaths, and if this guy fits it, it may be a good idea. If your sociopath detector triggers on just having had a disagreement with him which he won, or on supporting the wrong politician for office, and he isn’t really a sociopath, it’s a bad idea.

        It’s like asking “should I arrest this person”? Maybe, but we can’t tell if he committed a crime and should be arrested just based on that.

    • Gunboat Diplomat says:

      Not very good at all.

      The politician stokes constituents’ antipathy toward the outgroup, whether that’s Muslims or white trash.

      If you think antipathy toward the outgroup characterizes sociopathy, you’re just wrong.

      • TheWorst says:

        I thought the assumption was that “Hey, antipathy toward the outgroup! That looks useful!” is in fact a pretty typical sociopath response.

        • Nornagest says:

          Typical sociopaths are not Machiavellian social manipulators. Typical sociopaths are about at socially adept as regular people, just more impulsive and with less concern for norms. Don’t think Dexter Morgan, think some schmoe who can’t hold down a regular job because he keeps getting caught stealing from the till.

          • TheWorst says:

            This hasn’t been my experience, or to match what I’ve read (my understanding is that being superficially charming is one of their distinctive traits). Possibly because sociopaths on the lower end of the spectrum don’t get very far.

          • Nornagest says:

            In my experience, “superficial charm” might better be phrased as “confidence born of unconcern”. A sociopath will stab you in the back with a smile on her face, sure. But that just means she doesn’t care, not that she’s actually any better at people than you are.

            When you look deeper, the confidence turns out to be ungrounded — that’s what makes it superficial.

          • TheWorst says:

            Having the confidence to give a sincere-looking smile while stabbing someone in the back is better at people than most people are.

          • Nornagest says:

            But the origin of that confidence is different, is what I’m saying, and so the stuff we’d usually associate with it isn’t going to be there. Someone with typical neurology, if they’re capable of doing that, it’s because they’ve worked up to it over a long career of manipulation. You can expect them to be doing it with a plan, for a good reason (or, at least, good to them), and to be good at all sorts of other stuff too.

            The sociopath, on the other hand, simply has no reason not to be confident. They don’t have the impulse that you’d have to work to overcome. They will not reliably have a plan or a good reason — in fact they’re usually worse at planning, because of the impulsivity thing. And they won’t reliably have any other social skills, either. Often they’re hilariously bad at modeling other people.

            “Hey, antipathy toward the outgroup! That looks useful!” requires some fairly deep modeling, which is why I’m skeptical.

          • TheWorst says:

            While everything you’re saying is true, I think you’re significantly underestimating how useful confidence is.

            “Hey, that person seems confident! They must be right about everything!” seems to be a very typical normal-human reaction, in my experience.

          • Viliam says:

            A sociopath will stab you in the back with a smile on her face, sure.

            More importantly, the sociopath can tell you lies without unconsciously doing any of those things that normal people do when they lie, so your brain will keep telling you that you should believe them. And that could be classified as a “people skill”.

            This is a quite powerful skill. In situations where the only evidence is two people saying contradictory things, you are more likely to believe the sociopath. Oh, and so is everyone else, if the person contradicting the sociopath is you. In other words, a sociopath would most likely win against you, socially, in a 1:1 conflict.

            Only when different victims compare their experience with the same person, the pattern becomes visible (and it may turn out that the range of strategies the sociopath used was actually pretty narrow, they just happened to work against unexpecting victims). Of course, a smart sociopath tries to prevent this. There are many ways to do it: threatening the victims against telling their story; creating conflict among other people so they don’t trust each other; or repeatedly moving to a new environment so that the victims don’t know each other.

            “Hey, antipathy toward the outgroup! That looks useful!” requires some fairly deep modeling, which is why I’m skeptical.

            I agree, but the sociopath may know from their previous experience that this is what works. They don’t need to model anyone, just to observe what works for other people, and experiment a bit.

            (Note: All I wrote here is completely general; it is not supposed to be a description of any specific person mentioned in this thread.)

          • Publius Varinius says:

            In situations where the only evidence is two people saying contradictory things, you are more likely to believe the sociopath.

            This does not follow at all from the ability to tell lies without unconsciously doing any of the things that normal people do when they lie. Something else must be going on.

            In fact, my prior for the existence of such a skill is extremely low. Could you please provide some evidence for the quoted sentence?

    • +1 Rant, +3 vs Bugbears says:

      Sociopathy does not work that way! Good night!

      But seriously, whenever I read an article or comment like that one I want to belt the author over the head with a copy of ‘The Mask of Sanity.’

      Using the words “sociopath” or “psychopath” when you mean “asshole” innapropriately medicalizes assholishness and spreads misinformation about psychopathy. Either one of those would be bad enough, but the combination makes it infuriating!

    • The Nybbler says:

      Oh, she’s going after Applebaum again.

      It’s as if the allegorical defendant against murder, arson, and jaywalking had no response to the murder or arson counts, but wanted to make damned sure the whole world knew he wasn’t a jaywalker.

      Well, no. There were a bunch of (originally) anonymous accusations against the man, and a website put up expressly to collect stories about him. This stank like a smear campaign and might not have been treated as anything else if not backed up by the credible (and identifiable) Meredith Patterson. Once her claims turned out to be based on a mistaken assumption, what’s left is the smear campaign. Her story might not have been the worst accusation against Applebaum, but it was the linchpin on which the credibility of the others rested.

      • Yes, i am judging you says:

        And Meredith Patterson is now much less credible for it all.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Somewhat; ones belief in her ability to judge what was actually happening such a situation probably drops a few notches. But on the other hand, her description of the events themselves was corroborated, so her credibility as a reliable witness should go up.

    • Urstoff says:

      Posts are made so infrequently there that I forget it exists.

  22. Philosophisticat says:

    In honor of the Olympics: the three most compelling objections to utilitarianism.

    Gold medal: inability to capture agent-relative reasons (reasons to keep promises, special obligations to friends, etc.)

    Silver medal: no good way to determine overall well-being given the well-being of individuals (repugnant conclusion and related problems for total/average views, etc.)

    Bronze medal: no principled, general, and plausible way to compare well-being between individuals.

    • blacktrance says:

      Re the silver objection, I wouldn’t say that the lack of commitment to a particular theory of population ethics is a weakness of utilitarianism, it’s just an open question about which utilitarians can disagree, much like they can disagree about other implications of utilitarianism.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        The problem isn’t too many acceptable options – the problem is every option has intuitively disastrous implications.

        • blacktrance says:

          It seems to me that with some tinkering, prior-existence utilitarianism could produce something that isn’t intuitively horrible.

          • Adam says:

            Seems like all the post-hoc tweaking of rules until you get what you wanted in the first place kind of defeats the only thing appealing about utilitarianism in the first place, which is the adherence to a single basic principle even if it results in conclusions that run counter to individual moral intuition. If you’re going to conduct a brute force search of possible ethics until you find one that results in rules that accord with your moral intuition, why not just start with intuitionism?

          • Philosophisticat says:


            I’m not sure exactly what you have in mind. Simple prior existence utilitarianism makes it permissible to create people who do nothing but suffer horribly. That’s no good. You could tinker around with it in various ways. For example, you could add an absolute requirement never to create people whose lives are not worth living. I’m not sure if this counts as a utilitarian view anymore, but even that doesn’t fix everything – it still says you can create a person whose life is barely worth living instead of a person with a happy life, among other worries. And you end up with problems with transitivity, and multi-stage decisions leading to a version of the repugnant conclusion. Other modifications, like making suffering, or uncompensated suffering, for new persons count, but not any positive benefits, have similar issues. What tinkerings did you have in mind?

            I think the best thing to say in defense is not that some version of the prior existence view does justice to our intuitions, but that it seems like no otherwise plausible view of any kind does justice to our intuitions on these points, so maybe it’s not a relative disadvantage for the utilitarian against other candidate moral theories.

          • Philosophisticat says:


            Intuitionism isn’t a moral view that competes with utilitarianism. And I think any moral theory, including utilitarianism, is going to be appropriately judged in part on how well it captures our core moral intuitions. There are many possible views that are at least as simple as utilitarianism but we will reject precisely because they have intuitively absurd moral implications. But I sympathize with the point that one of the advantages utilitarianism enjoys is simplicity, and this is lost when we start tinkering around ad hoc to avoid some of these problems.

          • sards says:


            I guess you mean that intuitionism is a meta-ethical view, not an ethical view. But doesn’t intuitionism lead, in turn, to moral views that compete with utilitarianism?

          • Philosophisticat says:


            The original and most famous intuitionist, G.E. Moore, is a utilitarian. The views don’t really have much to do with each other.

          • Wrong Species says:


            Every formal ethical system contradicts our intuitions because our intuitions are inherently contradictory. That’s not just a problem for utilitarianism, it’s a problem for all ethics.

          • blacktrance says:

            A large part of the problem is specifying “life worth living”. If the threshold is high enough, then the acceptability of creating lives worth living would be in accordance with our intuitions. It seems to me that combining a threshold view of new lives with prior-existence utilitarianism doesn’t result in anything too crazy (though I may be wrong, as I don’t know much about population ethics). This definitely counts as utilitarian, because it’s still about “the greatest good for the greatest number”, it just specifies how the “greatest number” part works.

          • Philosophisticat says:


            I think I might be not understanding at a more basic level the structure of the view you’re suggesting. Can you fill in the blank, on your proposal, for “you ought to perform the action that ________”? (it’s fine if there’s some vague threshold in there, I’m just unclear about the role the threshold plays).

          • blacktrance says:

            “You ought to perform the act that maximizes the utility of existing persons, subject to the constraint that if the creation of new persons is involved, their quality of life must be above a certain threshold.”

          • Philosophisticat says:


            Okay. The reason that’s not clearly a version of utilitarianism to me is that only the first half can plausibly be read as having something to do with “the greatest good for the greatest number”. The second half isn’t maximizing at all – it just works like a deontological constraint. So it’s not clear why that counts as utilitarian while a view like “maximize utility, under the constraint that you do not kill anyone” does not.

            But that’s just a matter of labeling and doesn’t matter. The bigger problem is that the view has tons of counterintuitive consequences, no matter where you set the threshold.

            Take the quality of life of the average blind person. Either that quality of life falls below the threshold or it does not. If it falls below the threshold, then the view entails that it’s impermissible for anyone to knowingly have a blind child, even when that is the only way they can have a child. But that’s implausible – blind children live perfectly decent lives, are happy to be alive, etc. (EDIT: actually it’s worse than that, because the view says that you can’t have a blind child even if by doing so you make every existing person massively happy)

            If it falls above the threshold, then suppose I am told that if I do not take a certain free and harmless pill, then any child I conceive will be blind, but if I do take it, then any child I conceive will not only be sighted but healthy and intelligent and set up for a glorious life. Your view entails that it’s fine for me to have a child without taking the pill. But it is intuitively obvious that I should take the pill.

          • blacktrance says:

            I see, thanks for the explanation. It’s difficult to come up with a satisfactory theory of population ethics.

          • Adam says:

            It is interesting that, mathematically, many optimization problems that are intractable otherwise become easy to solve if you introduce constraints. If anything, the one quality any system of ethics needs is that it has to actually give us answers when we query whether we should do a thing or not. This is arguably even more important than being correct. You see the same notion expressed in project management, i.e. an 80% solution delivered on time will always beat a 100% solution that is never delivered at all.

    • Adam says:

      Without making a subjective value judgment that a priori is no more compelling than that of a virtue ethicist, there is no reason to prefer a world that maximizes some aggregate measure of utility over one that does not?

      • Philosophisticat says:

        I’m not sure I follow your question. A view like total utilitarianism entails that a world with lots and lots of unhappy people is better than a world with merely lots of extremely happy people. Most people judge this to be intuitively unacceptable. If you reject moral intuitions wholesale, I think you’ll find doing ethics more or less impossible.

        • Adam says:

          Sorry, the question mark was confusing. I didn’t intend the statement itself as a question. The question is whether this seems like a top-three worthy critique. The point is that utility maximization as an ethical goal at all is committing a naturalistic fallacy, leaping from the observation that, as far as we can tell, rational agents seem to be utility maximizers, to the imperative that, because of this, we ought to be utility maximizers.

          But sure, you’re totally right that thinking too much about the is-ought gap does leave you wondering if ethics is even possible.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            That’s not how utilitarians argue (at least among philosophers). No ethicist would get away with making a mistake that simple. And even if it were, that’s not a commitment of the view itself.

      • Immanentizign Eschatons says:

        I mean, there is no reason to prefer any world to any other. No reason not to either.

        • Adam says:

          So I guess the issue is that this isn’t specifically a critique of utilitarianism? I suppose I bring it up specifically against utilitarianism because utilitarianism seems to go quite a bit further than most other forms of ethics in attempting all manner of mental gymnastics and epicycle manufacturing to make it seem that the conclusions they reach are not as arbitrary as those of a deontologist or virtue ethicist, and are to be preferred in part on that ground.

    • You’ve left out my favourite objection: the poor model of obligation, which has excessive demandingness as a subproblem. And lack of motivation as another.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        I’d put the issues surrounding overdemandingness fourth. I guess I don’t find biting the bullet so bad for the utilitarian on that one. I don’t count lack of motivation as an objection to utilitarianism – positive motivations are just the things that weigh against the objections when we decide what to accept. I agree that there isn’t much there.

        • Jiro says:

          Trying to solve the overdemandingness, however, can cause other problems. Not demanding that someone give more than a certain amount, for instance, can lead to ethics offsets where you can give more than that amount to make up for the utility lost from doing bad things.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Yeah, I think trying to solve overdemandingness by having some kind of satisficing view leads to problems like that which are worse than the original problem. My thought was that accepting that morality is super demanding is not that bad, especially if you acknowledge nonmoral reasons that contribute to an all-things-considered ought.

      • Peter says:

        I think that the demandingness problem is an interesting one. It’s tempting to say, “oh, I’m sure we can finesse it somehow, so-and-so has been doing some interesting work in the area”, and carry on as if it wasn’t an issue. It’s also tempting to say, “demandingness, hahaha, let’s throw utilitarianism in the bin and only investigate Kantianism and/or virtue ethics”. I personally don’t like either of those approaches.

        My suspicion is that how you deal with the demandingness objection will turn out to be a big thing. I like to think about various forms of rule utilitarianism; roughly of the form “follow those rules that in being Xed make things go for the best”. If “Xed” is “universally followed” then you get a boring clunky approximation of act utilitarianism, not so good. If “Xed” is “universally accepted” then you get something different, something that looks a lot closer to Kantianism. This is about as far as I’ve seen big-name philosophers go, e.g. Parfit, and see I’m wondering whether “universally demanded” might be interesting. Rules that are too demanding have drawbacks – they make people feel guilty to no good effect, they may lead to people wallowing in their I-am-a-miserable-sinner-ness and not living up to the standards they can live up to, they may lead other people to make decisions based on faulty expectations of good behaviour, etc.

        Consider also the dilemma of the person in a position to make moral pronouncements, about specific things (e.g. “don’t kill your father, ever”, or “if the fate of trillions of people depends on you killing your father, you must kill him”, things as specific as that), that others might take seriously – suppose that person is trying to maximise the net good, hypothetical-utilitarian-saint-style – what rules would he propose?

        • Philosophisticat says:

          Rule utilitarianism has its own issues. The compliance version doesn’t actually collapse into act utilitarianism, but it wishes it did. I think the Ideal World Objection, and closely related problems, are actually worse for rule utilitarianism of all kinds (compliance, acceptance, demand) than any of the problems for the act view.

          • Peter says:

            The IWO… I needed to refresh my memory, so I googled for it and got a lot of Parfit… From what I gather, the IWO seems mainly to be discussed as an objection to Kantianism, with rule consequentialism being brought in as a side issue. Part of the appeal of rule consequentialism is that it seems to make consequentialism “more Kantian” – it seems to capture what seems to me to be the appealing bits of Kantianism (and actually make them seem less obscure). Therefore it’s no surprise that it drags in some of the problems too.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            The basic idea behind the ideal world objection is that there are some rules that would be great if everyone followed/accepted them, but are disastrous to follow in the actual world. Suppose that the rule that would be best if everyone accepted it was pacifism. According to rule utilitarianism, that would mean we ought to be pacifist in the actual violent world, even when this has disastrous consequences. Throw in a little science fiction and you can make rule utilitarianism tell you to destroy the universe.

            It’s a problem for some versions of Kantianism too, but a little less obviously. in Parfit it comes up associated with Kantianism because Parfit interprets Kantianism as closely to rule utilitarianism as possible (in fact, he ends up arguing that the best version of each end up amounting to the same thing).

    • Earthly Knight says:

      no good way to determine overall well-being given the well-being of individuals (repugnant conclusion and related problems for total/average views, etc.)

      This seems like it’s equally a problem for any view which enjoins us to promote happiness and avoid harm, even if this is not the centerpiece of the theory. On Ross’s account, for instance, we have duties of beneficence and non-maleficence, but to whom do we owe those duties?

      • Philosophisticat says:

        Yeah, I think the best response on behalf of the utilitarian is to point to the generality of the problem. It still looks pretty bad, it’s just bad for a lot of views. Depending on what you count as a good response to a problem, maybe this lowers the objection’s standing.

      • Do you judge a theory by what it delivers, or by what it promises in relation to what it delivers? Because U-ism dies promise to be more exact and objective than rival theories.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          I think in the loose sense in which theories ‘promise’ things, that’s just a feature of the expectations or motivations of people who support the views, and I don’t judge theories by that. I try to judge them by their likelihood of being true.

          • So what is the territory a correct theory of ethics would correspond to? Because ethics seems to me like something that is useful more than true.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I’m not sure I understand the question. A correct theory of ethics would tell you the truth about what people ought to do. One possible view about what you ought to do is that you ought to do whatever is useful for some particular end. Another view about what you ought to do is that you ought to do whatever is useful for whichever ends you happen to have. And many theories say neither of these. Some people are skeptical that there are any facts about what people ought to do – that’s a complicated issue. I can’t tell where you fall.

    • Mr. Breakfast says:

      No place for the following?

      The emotional responses captured under “Utility” are arbitrary internal signals for marking external conditions which are significant to motivating adaptive behavior. To optimize a person’s environment for the emotions it induces is to blind this emotional “sense” and subvert it’s adaptive role.
      1) Typically, natural selection does not retain features which lack adaptive value unless they are very low-cost. One would expect that people in a Utilitarian environment will lose their “Utility” responses with time.
      2) As evidenced by phenomena like widespread obesity, humans’ utility functions are already poorly adapted to the modern environment, and further adaptation of the environment to meet the utility function rather than allowing the environment to select for a better utility function is likely to make problems like this one more prominent.
      3) The more people are insulated from the natural consequences existing in the underlying physical environment by a society which replaces these with unnatural consequences or simply induces positive emotional experiences divorced from adaptive behavior, the more fragile the human species becomes in the face of extra-social change. The end result is likely to be a species which is vulnerable to extinction in the face of any significant disruption to their current economic/technological infrastructure.
      4) Given 3, along with the history of failures of central planning and unintended consequences of regulation, we should be skeptical of any program to order society along utilitarian lines as being especially prone to experience an extinction-inducing societal disruption.

      • Jiro says:

        You can patch up that objection by noting that (ignoring problems with population ethics) inducing extinction causes a loss of utility. Of course this has problems of its own. (What if you’re notice that without your intervention, people will do something that results in extinction? By revealed preference, then extinction must provide utility.)

        • Mr. Breakfast says:

          I suppose my objections rest on the one calculating expected utility not accounting for the effect of consistent universal utilitarianism towards bringing about extinction.

          Utilitarians seem to usually assume that the processes giving rise to the experience of utility will operate consistently independent of the influence of the recommended utility-maximizing actions. This seems absurd, especially when it comes up in the context of wide spread and long term interventions like government programs, cultural norms, or Utility-Friendly Super-Empowered AIs.

      • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

        “consequentalism leads to bad consequences” is a sucky argument.

        The local brand of utilitarians admits that doing what you naïvely think will lead to the best consequences will often have *very* bad consequences. This generally means that you have to think less-naïvely.

        This has *nothing* to do with utilitarianism – it applies just as well to calculating the 90% percentile of project termination time.

        • Mr. Breakfast says:

          My argument is “Utilitarianism leads to bad consequences”. It is a consequentialist argument.

          I personally think that the indefinite continuation and continued evolution of intelligent life in the universe to the extent permitted by physics is the field in which consequences matter, not the state of people’s emotional mechanisms.

    • Furslid says:

      I’ve been thinking about Utilitarianism, and here’s an objection I haven’t seen discussed much. Utilitarianism can provide a script for malicious actors to get away with bad behavior.

      The results of any action are not certain, so we should add probabilities.
      These probabilities aren’t set in stone. They are the probabilities used by the chooser.

      If utilitarianism is to guide human actions, it must work from the perspective of the person making the choice.

      They may even be wildly incorrect because of information that the chooser is unaware of. We don’t condemn a policeman for excessive use of force because he breaks up a crime, even if it is part of a student film and no real crime is being committed.

      Also, an action may be correct by utilitarianism and still cause lower global utility. We don’t condemn someone for pushing a person out of the path of a speeding car that would cause them severe injuries. Not even if the person being saved trips and falls and smashes their skull.

      Consider the following variation of the trolley problem. There is a runaway trolley with 10 people on it heading towards a chasm. The engineer is trying to get the faulty breaks to work. A fat man is standing by the tracks. There are two possible courses of action. Do nothing (90% chance 10 people die, 10% chance the breaks are fixed and noone dies). Shove the fat man into the tracks (90% chance the trolley is derailed and only the fat man dies. 10% chance the fat man dies and the trolley isn’t derailed.)

      Doing the math, it still seems that the correct course of action is to push the fat man. Even if the fat man gets smashed without stopping the train and the engineer gets the emergency breaks to work before the edge of the chasm, it was still the right choice at the time to shove the fat man.

      However, there aren’t just utilitarians in the world who are trying to maximize utility. There are also bad actors who want other things. A bad actor may want to kill the fat man. It is predictable that bad actors would shove their enemies in front of trains and claim they were justified. They killed him with the best of intentions and in service to the greater good.

      Does that sound like a familiar excuse?

      • Philosophisticat says:

        I don’t think that the fact that some people can use a moral theory as a guise for doing things from evil motives is an objection against the theory. Someone can do that with just about any view. You might think that somehow, if utilitarianism were widely accepted, it would make it easier for people to do this, but I don’t think that bears on whether utilitarianism is true. It might be that the widespread acceptance of the true moral theory is undesirable.

        Another worry in the vicinity of what you said is that Utilitarianism, at least of the standard variety, doesn’t take the intentions of agents to matter for the moral status of the action. But I think one can take utilitarianism as merely a theory about what one ought to do, and not a theory about the full moral credit of their actions.

        • Mr. Breakfast says:

          I don’t think that the fact that some people can use a moral theory as a guise for doing things from evil motives is an objection against the theory.

          I agree, but it is an objection against having too high of an expectation of any theory’s ability to modify human behavior in the long run.

        • Furslid says:

          For an opposing example, consider the moral system “Do whatever the Great Leader says.” This is not a good system. However, it succeeds where utilitarianism fails. If someone acts against the system, it is obvious. If someone disobeys the Great Leader, they can be identified. If someone says that a bad action is good, it is obvious. A group of followers of the Great Leader can form a moral community. They can keep bad actors from using their moral code against itself.

          One major function of a moral system is to detect and respond to people acting in bad faith. Utilitarianism does not accomplish this. It is easy to think of examples where utilitarian arguments were used for actions and policies that lowered total utility.

        • Furslids comments read like arguments for deontology to me.

          I’m still not getting the idea of ethical theories being true in some sense divorced from being liable to lead to practical results. It’s like saying you can have a wonderful theory of bridge construction, but all the bridges built by it fall diown.

          Given a certain baseline rate of bad faith, a deontology system with a presumption ((,not necessarily absolute,) against committing murder, etc could lead to better consequences (assuming deontological rules that are orientated towards consequences ITFP.)

          If consequentialism is true, you would want to implement it in the most effective way possible, since ethics is practical reasoning,

          • Philosophisticat says:


            It’s a fault of a theory of bridge construction when bridges built according to it fall down because a theory of bridge construction is supposed to tell us how to build stable bridges. A theory of ethics is supposed to tell us how to act rightly. The fact that actions according to some theory have bad consequences doesn’t mean that it’s failing to tell us how to act rightly, in the way bridges falling down means our bridge building theory is failing to tell us how to build stable bridges, unless we are assuming that good consequences are the only things that bear on how we ought to act. But that would just be begging the question.

            Maybe I’m misunderstanding your analogy. I don’t really get what you find so perplexing about nonconsequentialist theories.

          • Furslid says:

            To use your example, a theory of bridge construction should tell us how to build stable bridges. However, the environment is important to building stable bridges. If you are building bridges in California, the bridges need to be earthquake resistant. If you are building bridges in Florida, the bridges need to be hurricane resistant. If you are building bridges in a war zone, the bridges need to be sabotage resistant.

            These require trade offs. An sabotage resistant bridge might need to be more expensive, take longer to construct, and be placed less conveniently than a sabotage vulnerable bridge. And still be a better bridge.

            Because the environment of ethics is human society, our ethics must be bad actor resistant. Utilitarianism classic is too vulnerable to bad actors for this environment.

  23. JRM says:

    Baltimore Police Report makes me angry in multiple ways.

    It’s incompetent.

    (Potential bias alerts: I am a prosecutor elsewhere. I dislike the race-baiting that runs against LE. I’m irritated at the coverage of what appears to be a necessary shooting in LA. The NAACP has a branch in our county, and the guy who runs it is a very good guy who cares about what is true and is an advocate for minority interests. Unsurprisingly, I respect him very much.)

    Back to this: It’s incompetent.

    Overall: Lots of anecdotes, which are needed to sell. But it’s unclear how much of this is one-off anecdotes and how much is legit.

    P.34-35: The report alleges that there were “thousands of arrests that reviewing officials declined to charge,” and proceeds to say that such arrests were wrongful. Well, nonsense. First of all, we don’t get the denominator. They give the number of uncharged arrests, but not the number of sustained arrests.

    Secondly, the standard is different. Cops can arrest on probable cause. DA’s want a case provable beyond a reasonable doubt. And sometimes there’s conflict there, or with what the DA wants. It’s ridiculous to critique without the denominator – that’s just grossly incompetent.

    Further, they note that 1,963 arrests were found by prosecutors to lack probable cause. OK, we still need the denominator. (A later part of the note puts it at safely over 300,000 arrests). Plus – while no doubt some of those arrests were ill-advised or even wrongful – we ought to take a look at the circumstances. There are “bad” arrests I’ve seen where I understand what happened. There are also just flat fumbles, when the cops don’t understand a legal nuance.

    P.27: “Over 20% of disorderly conduct charges were dismissed.” They’re talking about arrests that don’t lead to charges, technically. (I am not an expert on Maryland law, but I suspect some of the nomenclature used is incorrect in Maryland, too.) They say this is a sign that disorderly conduct charges brought are wrongful. In my jurisdiction, the percentage is higher. If you’re drunk and running in front of cars, you get arrested and prosecuted. If you’re really drunk and have no place to go, you get arrested. Maybe you don’t get prosecuted for this all the time. Some situations can be solved by arrest; discretionary prosecution of lawful and reasonable arrests is a thing.

    P.48: Blacks constitute 63% of Baltimore and 84% of enforcement stops, so, racism! You are bad at this, DOJ.

    P60-62: Blacks in Baltimore have more drug possession arrests than they do in other big cities, therefore BPD is bad. SERIOUSLY WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU DOJ. Is it not possible that drugs are more used in Baltimore? Are you not aware that blacks in different areas have different lives? Isn’t it possible that Baltimore sucks and that blacks in, say, San Diego, don’t have as high a drug use because San Diego blacks are better situated or better or whatever? And one of the low marks for drug possession arrests is Detroit. Are you saying BPD should lead Baltimore down Detroit’s path? How’s that worked out?

    P.63-64: There are racial disparities in police stops, so, racism. (But see below.)

    P.92: Officers nearly always give chase to civilians who flee from them without considering whether they are fleeing from a minor charge. News flash, guys: Sometimes the guy that flees from a drug hand-to-hand has a warrant for attempted murder. Maybe you want to chase the people who run. Plus, if you don’t chase people who run, it encourages running.

    P.122-123: The report has a back-and-forth between a prosecutor and a cop who disbelieve an alleged victim. Apparently, they aren’t supposed to disbelieve anyone, or something. They might have been more polite about it (I myself would never write “conniving little whore,”) but some alleged victims are lying scum. We want cops to reject the accounts of such people.

    Then there are the things that are conflicting:

    P. 29: During a ride-along with Justice Department officials, a sergeant told an officer to “make something up” as a reason for a stop. In the same paragraph, they say a Facebook post about “clearing corners” shows police abuse. Clearing corners can be legal or illegal depending on how its done. Making things up for stops can’t be. Dear DOJ: There is a difference between the truth and a lie.

    P.41-42: The report criticizes BPD’s implementation of broken-windows policing – attacking every crime with zeal. This involved over-aggressive stop-and-frisk. I know the DOJ currently doesn’t like zero-tolerance policing, but to pack up bad stops with aggressive-but-legal policing seems mistaken to me.

    P.57: Trespassing and resisting charges are dismissed pre-prosecution charges at a 50%+ higher rate against blacks than others. There are some potential race-neutral explanations for this, but it does seem alarming.

    P.66: Statistics/arrest numbers drive the bus. More arrests is better! This sounds right – when you start ranking people on numbers that can be gamed, they will be gamed. OTOH, number-free analysis is usually terrible. So, I’m conflicted here.

    P. 66-67: There has been one complaint about officer use of racial slurs in six years. DOJ concludes that this is a problem with the complaint system, and I would agree, except they then list a bunch of formal complaints involving racial slurs. I mean, they’re not even trying here. The formal complaints are bad, but, cardiologists. They then go on to say that such complaints are misclassified, but that’s not the same as the impression they try to leave that such complaints are discouraged or unheard.

    P.102: The language seems spotty, but appears to say that internal reviews found one instance of excessive force in six years. If true (and it may that other triggers caused many more findings of excessive force, but the language seems deliberately difficult to parse), that’s awful. They say that people aren’t routinely interviewed in use of force issues, but it’s unclear even in the anecdotes what actually happened to necessitate an investigation. (Sometimes cops use Tasers, and it doesn’t need a lengthy investigation.) (P. 146 says there were 31 total sustained use of force investigations. This language is deliberately misleading by DOJ.)

    P.112: I explicitly choose not to address BPD’s transport policies, because given the unsuccessful prosecutions of a bunch of cops, I have both more to say (about technical issues) and less to say (than the media about those cases) about that.

    P.118-120: Denominator problem, but talks about issues with arrests of people chirping at the cops. Cop is arresting someone else and some dude is chirping at the scene may well be arrestable. Generally “Cops suck,” or the obscene equivalent is not arrestable.

    P.150: The department is resistant to fixing due to longstanding problems in enforcement against misconduct. On the one hand, this document by DOJ does not engender a hell of a lot of trust given its error rate. On the other, I believe this. NYC has 1/7 the murder rate it had at its peak; the reasons for that are myriad, but cleaning up the police department was a huge deal.

    Then there are the things that are horrifying:

    P.32: Public strip-searches. Given the rest of the report, I’m uncertain what the scope of the problem is. But public strip-searches are, uh, bad? I mean, this should be you’re-fired-go-home stuff. The report alleges it happens routinely. It does appear there’s good evidence it happened X (which is more than zero) times, which is (X-0) too many.

    P. 47: Bad, untrustworthy cops weren’t investigated, and it appears the list of bad cops started with the prosecutors rather than (as is usually the case) the cops. This is not good.

    P.53: Hit rate on finding contraband on blacks is over twice that of whites on vehicle stops. There’s potentially a Bayesian explanation for this, but we’re really trying to avoid that as a society.

    P.75: DOJ wanted to examine all gun use cases, and BPD said they couldn’t find documentation for 20 gun use cases by cops. Including one fatality. Dog ate my police reports. Oy.

    P.104: Report says that much use of force indicates officers described suspect as “resisting” with no further detail. That’s bad policework, at best. “Uncooperative,” is a term I’ve personally gotten removed from almost all reports in my jurisdiction (“assisted to the ground,” another terrible piece of coptalk, has also disappeared, due in large part to my input in police training; no one is trying to get to the ground and can’t make it. If you tackled the guy, you tackled the guy.)

    P.105-106: It’s an anecdote (boo!) but it’s a bad anecdote: Sergeant asks questions when two cops on scene have differing accounts of use of pepper spray; higher-ups nix it. This may sound like a relatively minor issue in the scheme of things (racism! racism! badness!) but it’s very bad when these things happen because it deters good behavior from police middle management.

    P.107-108: No investigation of police shootings by BPD until the State’s Attorney files a letter that there won’t be charges. There are usually delays given cops in these investigations (for unsupportable reasons) but here those delays are sometimes months. You need to interview the cops close in time to any discharge of their firearm. In California, they get a two-day (I think) waiting period and then they can do the administrative investigation. The cop can invoke her Miranda rights but still has to answer the questions for the administrative inquiry or get fired.

    P.124: They do rape kits, and then don’t analyze them. If you’re not going to analyze them, don’t do sexual assault exams, which are invasive.

    P.151: One officer got 125 complaints, some (number not revealed, because DOJ hates full disclosure) from internal BPD people, and got one of them sustained and is still on the job. Look, folks, cops get ridiculous complaints levied against them; it’s the nature of the business. I once prosecuted a DUI with an evil and somewhat mentally ill woman who alleged she had been raped by the cop. Her attorney told me he would zealously defend her against the DUI because that was his job, but he knew that the hell the cop went through in that investigation was entirely unwarranted because he hadn’t done anything wrong.

    P.153: Sergeant complains about bad policework. Someone puts signs on his desk to mind his own business and stop making trouble. Turns out to be a lieutenant, to whom exactly nothing happens. Oy. Oy. Oy.

    In short (and this wasn’t short), the BPD report is a hatchet job on the generally guilty.

    • Diadem says:

      I’m only at 1/3rd of your post, so I won’t comment on everything yet. You do seem to raise some interesting points, however:

      If you don’t want to come across as horribly racist, don’t refer to black people as ‘Blacks’.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The terms “blacks” and “whites” (whether capitalized or not) aren’t horribly racist. That’s just part of the treadmill of pejoration designed to make it difficult to talk about these things.

        • Diadem says:

          I don’t give a fuck about euphemism treadmills or what is or isn’t considered pejorative. I follow a much simpler principle. The principle of “don’t be an asshole”.

          If someone asks you not to call them a certain way, and you call them that anyway, you’re an asshole. That has nothing to do with racism or pejoratives or euphemisms of whatever. It’s just common courtesy.

          There are obviously limits of reasonableness on what people can ask to be called. If they insist on a term with 49 syllables then yeah, I’d ignore that too. And some people are pushing that boundary. Personally I think inclusive language is important, and typing ‘LGBT’ instead of ‘gay’ makes sense, but if people start insisting on ‘LGBTQIA*’ I get a bit annoyed as well.

          But typing “black people” instead of “blacks” is not a lot of extra effort. And the overwhelming majority of black people seem to strongly prefer it. So why not extend that courtesy? What possible reason could there be against it?

          • TheWorst says:

            I don’t give a fuck about euphemism treadmills or what is or isn’t considered pejorative.

            This is a strange thing to say while enforcing the euphemism treadmill.

            I don’t have a position here, but if you’re going to enforce the euphemism treadmill, own it. Creating euphemisms about the euphemism treadmill (euphemisms like renaming the euphemism treadmill “common courtesy”) seems like too many epicycles.

          • On The Internet, Nobody Knows You're A God says:

            And the overwhelming majority of black people seem to strongly prefer it.


            I know “my black friends” isn’t a well-regarded turn of phrase, but none of my friends nor my gf have ever expressed any sentiment like this. Blacks doesn’t really seem to raise eyebrows except among whites IME.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you don’t want to come across as horribly racist, don’t refer to black people as ‘Blacks’.

            followed promptly by,

            If someone asks you not to call them a certain way, and you call them that anyway, you’re an asshole.

            There are some choice words of my own I’m tempted to add here, but I think I’ll just let yours speak for themselves.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            If someone asks you not to call them a certain way, and you call them that anyway, you’re an asshole.

            If by this you mean things like gender term proliferation, I agree in practice but not in principle. I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to express to an actual person “your perceived identity is bullshit”, so I go along like most decent people.

            But I wish that not arguing new terms didn’t lead their proponents from using this “polite” acceptance as acceptance of the underlying rationale.

            Like when people generally stop using “the blacks” and start saying “black people” out of niceness, they tacitly endorse some cultural theory which very specifically describes “the blacks” as uniquely racist or demeaning. Then ten years down the road, someone says the wrong thing, and the now common habit of speech gets treated as “proof” that everyone has agreed this person is a terrible racist.

            To make matters worse, just by not pushing back on one conclusion of a social theory, you can be taken to be endorsing otherwise unrelated conclusions of the same theory.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If someone asks you not to call them a certain way, and you call them that anyway, you’re an asshole. That has nothing to do with racism or pejoratives or euphemisms of whatever. It’s just common courtesy.

            That’s not what your original message says. It implies that using the term “blacks” makes one come off, not just as an asshole, but “horribly racist”.

          • Diadem says:

            @ John Schelling: I have no idea what you are trying to say. You obviously meant your post as a rebuke, but I have no idea how.

            @ TheWorst

            This is a strange thing to say while enforcing the euphemism treadmill.

            Me not caring about the euphemism treadmill extends to me not caring about whether the thing I’m enforcing is a euphemism treadmill or not.

            I just think it’s common courtesy to call people what they want to be called, and not call them what they explicitly don’t want to be called. Why they want that is not important. Nor is my personal opinion on the matter.

            There are obvious caveats. I have a limited amount of mental capacity, if terms become too complicated, too detailed or changes too often I can’t keep track. The term you are requesting for yourself also shouldn’t be offensive to other groups. I also refuse to feel bad over occasional mistakes or slip-ups. And if I don’t respect a group (say, neo-nazis) I’m not going to care about what they want to be called either.

            But as a general principle it seems pretty sound to me.

          • Diadem says:

            @ The Nybbler

            That’s not what your original message says. It implies that using the term “blacks” makes one come off, not just as an asshole, but “horribly racist”.

            Is there such a large distance between those two?

            What other reason can there be for wanting to be an asshole against an entire race, except racism? I mean if we assume the usage is deliberate, I don’t see many other explanations.

            To be clear, I don’t think the usage was deliberate. It seems to me to be an entirely innocent mistake. That’s why I didn’t say “you are racist because you say X” but rather “you shouldn’t say X, because it makes you look racist”. The unspoken assumption being that JRM is not racist, and does not want to appear racist either.

          • Ray System Pathee says:

            Maybe cussing at a person and calling him racist for using a word you don’t think he should use is the most effective way to get him to see your point and take your ideas seriously.

            Or is there another way?

          • TheWorst says:

            Me not caring about the euphemism treadmill extends to me not caring about whether the thing I’m enforcing is a euphemism treadmill or not.

            My point was that:
            1. People who actually don’t care about the euphemism treadmill do not put effort into enforcing the euphemism treadmill.
            2. You are putting effort into enforcing the euphemism treadmill.
            3. From this, we can conclude that either you’re lying about not caring about the euphemism treadmill, or just really enjoy yelling “racism” at strangers on the internet who aren’t being racist.

            In either case, it seemed worth pointing out. Apologies for apparently being too subtle about it.

            On the (very slim) chance that you’re in earnest: Being an asshole is never, ever going to reduce the amount of assholery in your environment.

            If you think there are too many assholes around, the solution is never to add one more.

          • Diadem says:

            My point was that:
            1. People who actually don’t care about the euphemism treadmill do not put effort into enforcing the euphemism treadmill.
            2. You are putting effort into enforcing the euphemism treadmill.
            3. From this, we can conclude that either you’re lying about not caring about the euphemism treadmill, or just really enjoy yelling “racism” at strangers on the internet who aren’t being racist.

            This is bad logic.

            I put effort into exhaling carbon dioxide. That doesn’t mean I care about the amount of carbon dioxide I exhale. I care about the amount of oxygen I inhale. Carbon dioxide exhalation is just a side effect.

            Similarly, I care about naming groups how they want to be named. If a side effect of that care is a euphemism treadmill, so be it. I don’t care about that, it’s just a side effect.

            On the (very slim) chance that you’re in earnest: Being an asshole is never, ever going to reduce the amount of assholery in your environment.

            You’ve lost me here. As far as I can tell, that statement is false, but worse, I seems irrelevant. What’s that got to do with anything?

            Are you implying I’m an asshole for telling JRM “Hey, be careful, that phrasing may come across wrong”? Because that’s a strange accusation.

          • TheWorst says:

            This is bad logic.

            For the sake of niceness, let’s pretend I believe you. This is the last time I’ll be able to do this, but anyway: If your second post was not false, what was the motivation for your first post?

            People who do not care about enforcing the euphemism treadmill do not screech “How DARE you not keep up with the euphemism treadmill!!!!” at other people. To so screech and then to deny having the only plausible motive for so screeching is insulting to the reader.

            You’ve lost me here.

            I highly doubt that.

            As far as I can tell, that statement is false…

            I don’t believe you. Given that you can read, it seems extremely unlikely that you don’t understand that increasing a number does not decrease it.

            Are you implying I’m an asshole for telling JRM… [mischaracterization omitted]

            I didn’t intend to imply that you’re an asshole for being an asshole to JRM. I thought I was stating it. My mistake.

          • Randy M says:

            I think Diadem means “I don’t care about the euphemism treadmill” to be something like “I don’t care about making people change terms as an otherwise pointless show of power,” and TheWorst hears it as “I don’t care about chastising people to use the current most sensitive term for particular groups of people,” which he sees as contradicting the chastisement for not using the current most sensitive term.

          • TheWorst says:


            Not quite. Diadem just went out of his/her way to enforce the euphemism treadmill, and did so especially viciously (and transparently because Diadem thought there was blood in the water and it was a good time to engage in social predation using the euphemism treadmill as a pretext).

            Then Diadem claimed not to care about the euphemism treadmill. Like a cop who shoots a black person and claims it was a punishment for breaking the law, and then claims not to care about the law.

            If you choose to enforce a rule–with the maximum available brutality, no less–it’s too late to claim you don’t care about the rule. That ship sailed.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            I follow a much simpler principle. The principle of “don’t be an asshole”.

            Really? It’s not working out.

            Let me repeat what has been said, in more detail. The phrase “blacks” is not an insult and there is no push for using the phrase “black people” instead. In fact, (black and non-black) authors in the media use the former phrasing all the time.

            Here’s what happened: you tried to associate someone with racism by making up some problem, and when @The Nybbler pointed out the facts, you sneakily called him an asshole. That’s some seriously questionable behavior on your part.

          • Randy M says:

            If you choose to enforce a rule–with the maximum available brutality, no less–it’s too late to claim you don’t care about the rule.

            I hate to wrongly put words in people’s mouths, but I’ll risk it just once more–Diadem may well agree with this, and then say that the rule he is enforcing has nothing to do with “euphemism treadmills”, merely with simple decency.

            In other words, he objects to the term, or certain connotations it contains, and you think his behavior is exactly what the term was invented to highlight.

            Echoes of prior discussions about definitions of political labels, I think.

          • Ray System Pathee says:

            Is there a catalog somewhere of the various PC terms for black people going back through the past century? (Retracing the path of the euphemism treadmill, I suppose.)

            Before black it was African American. (At some point there was a kerfuffle about whether it should be hyphenated, as I recall.) Before that it was Afro-American, and before that Negro, and before that…?

            I personally like Negro. It’s linguistically sound, it’s soft on the ear, it even has a pleasant touch of exoticism. I recall a funny conversation with my (black) wife about it once. We agreed that Negro would be nice to bring back, but she didn’t want to be referred to as a negress. I said intelligent grownups ought to be able to amicably disagree on that, though: I like having negress, Jewess, etc. We never settled that point.

          • brad says:

            Of those — black, African American, African-American, Afro-American, and Negro — only the last is offensive IME and per Merriam Webster (actually re: Negro they say “sometimes offensive”). I don’t think this is a good example of the euphemism treadmill.

            As for “Blacks” it sounds mildly off / awkward to my ear, sort of like “males”, but I certainly wouldn’t say it makes him sound horribly racist.

          • TheWorst says:

            I hate to wrongly put words in people’s mouths, but I’ll risk it just once more–Diadem may well agree with this, and then say that the rule he is enforcing has nothing to do with “euphemism treadmills”, merely with simple decency.

            I’m aware that he–like many people who practice pointless viciousness in order to support the euphemism treadmill–probably uses a euphemism like that to describe the euphemism treadmill itself. But so what?

            I think it is self-evident that Diadem has nothing to do with “simple decency,” however, since adherents of decency (simple or otherwise) do not attempt to make low-effort, high-damage attacks on innocent people whenever they think they smell weakness.*

            It seems like you’re going in a different direction with this, but I confess that the question of whether a given literally-card-carrying member of a given group considers himself a member is uninteresting to me.

            *Yes, I’m aware that Diadem is attempting to walk it back, after doubling down on it. This is of a piece with attempting to enforce the euphemism treadmill and then falsely claiming not to care about it.

            Edit to add: It’s possible that I’m biased, as I very strongly dislike when someone makes an exceptionally high-effort and high-substance comment–the kind that makes this place a pleasure to read–and some asshole decides to shit all over it with a zero-effort, zero-substance, extremely offensive drive-by.

            Especially when the asshole in question admits “I only read your post until I could find some way to make a zero-substance attack on you.”


          • Randy M says:

            But so what?

            So nothing. I was just pointing out the obvious because it seemed like a discussion going ’round in circles.

          • Diadem says:

            @ Publius Varinius

            Really? It’s not working out.

            Here’s what happened: you tried to associate someone with racism by making up some problem, and when @The Nybbler pointed out the facts, you sneakily called him an asshole. That’s some seriously questionable behavior on your part.

            After reading back my first post I see where you get that interpretation from. It certainly wasn’t my intention, but I admit my post was badly phrased, and if I offended anyone I apologize. I’ve posted a clarification.

            Your reading of my second post seems rather far-fetched though. My point about “don’t be an asshole” was clearly a general principle, not aimed specifically at The Nybbler (or anyone else). I mean he wasn’t even involved in the argument earlier, so how could it be?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            My grammar fails me, but it seems to me that “blacks” is offensive when it’s used in a manner that “whites” wouldn’t be. The reason it’s then offensive is that becomes a means of “othering”.

            That’s not so much a euphemism treadmill as recognizing a way in which language is not being used equally.

          • TheWorst says:

            @HBC: Are you asserting that the terms “blacks” and “whites” were used differently?

          • Diadem says:

            @TheWorst: You clearly seem to be arguing in bad faith, but I guess I’ll give it one more shot before I start ignoring you. Mostly for the benefit of everybody else, but who knows, maybe I’m misinterpreting you. One can hope.

            People who do not care about enforcing the euphemism treadmill do not screech “How DARE you not keep up with the euphemism treadmill!!!!” at other people. To so screech and then to deny having the only plausible motive for so screeching is insulting to the reader.

            I thought my example about oxygen and carbon dioxide was quite clear, but I’ll try again.

            You seem to think that I want there to be an euphemism threadmill. That’s not true. I don’t care about whether there exists an euphemism treadmill or not. I care about calling groups by the names they want to be called by. That is the guiding principle. If that leads to an euphemism treadmill, that’s fine with me. If that does not lead to a euphemism treadmill, that’s also fine by me. I’m fine with either possibility.

            You seem to be confusing the goal with the side effect. The goal is to be respectful to other people by respecting their wishes about how to call them. If a side effect of that is having to occasionally change terminology, that’s fine with me. I don’t care.

            I don’t know how to phrase this more clearly.

            Not quite. Diadem just went out of his/her way to enforce the euphemism treadmill, and did so especially viciously

            If you choose to enforce a rule–with the maximum available brutality, no less–it’s too late to claim you don’t care about the rule. That ship sailed.

            Dude, cut out the hyperbole. It’s extremely annoying.

            There was absolutely nothing vicious or brutal in what I said. It was meant as friendly advice. I admit the phrasing was too blunt, and I see how it can come across as more hostile then I intended, but your hyperbole is ridiculous.

            Edit to add: It’s possible that I’m biased, as I very strongly dislike when someone makes an exceptionally high-effort and high-substance comment–the kind that makes this place a pleasure to read–and some asshole decides to shit all over it with a zero-effort, zero-substance, extremely offensive drive-by.

            Hate to say it, but you’re biased to an absurd degree. You really need to calm down and do a reality check.

            JRM’s post was interesting. I said as much in my post, and announced that I’d be responding in more detail later, which I did. Separating remarks about content and tone is just good practice, as it makes the flow of the conversation easier to follow.

            And despite all your sounds and fury, and your endless stream of insults at me, you still haven’t raised a single objection to the content of my original post. Why do you think it is ok to refer to groups by terms that are widely considered offensive by members of that group? Please address that point.

            And let’s be very clear here. You’re not objecting to the specific case of calling black people ‘blacks’ but to the general principle of changing your terminology for groups based on the wishes of that group. None of your posts have been about this specific term, all of them have been railing about the very concept of calling people what they want to be called.

          • Nornagest says:

            the n-word […] is the original term for black people, and all other terms are clearly instances of the euphemism treadmill at work.

            No, it’s not. The original term for black people in American English is “black”, or its Spanish equivalent “negro”. The best-known slur was coined from the latter by the same process that produced e.g. “Polish”->”Polack”.

          • Diadem says:

            Thanks for the correction Nornagest.

            Sadly though that just further distracts from the point trying to make. I’ll edit my post to remove the passage.

          • The Nybbler says:


            “Polack” is simply from the Polish word for “Polish”; it’s not a corruption of it.

          • For what it’s worth, I habitually use “black people” and “white people” because I want to underline that there’s more to people than their race.

            I think of this as an idiosyncracy (probably a result of an early imprint on General Semantics). I haven’t seen “blacks” taken as an indication of racism.

          • “The goal is to be respectful to other people by respecting their wishes about how to call them.”

            How do you find out what a large number of strangers wish to be called? In this particular case, what is your reason to believe that most African Americans strongly prefer “black people” to “blacks”?

            As it happens, shortly before I read your comment I put up a blog post in which I referred both to a “black man” and a group of “blacks,” in both cases in a positive context. It hadn’t occurred to me that one version was good and one bad, and I have no reason, other than your claim, to believe it is true, although it might be.

          • TheWorst says:

            @Diadem: This is the last time I’ll address you directly, as it’s pretty clear it’s not a good use of time. Unlike calling other people’s attention to what you’re doing, which is unfortunately necessary.

            And let’s be very clear here. You’re not objecting to the specific case of calling black people ‘blacks’ but to the general principle of changing your terminology for groups based on the wishes of that group.

            Let’s be very clear here: You are lying. Earlier in this same post, you said:

            …you still haven’t raised a single objection to the content of my original post.

            Five seconds after saying this, you’re accusing me of objecting to the “content” of your post. If you’re wondering why I think you’re a liar, it’s because you are transparently lying.

            Let’s be more clear: I am objecting to your openly-acknowledged policy of only reading for the purpose of finding opportunities to make zero-effort attacks on more worthwhile posters. You are making a zero-effort attack on me, now, after I objected to your making zero-effort attacks on someone else.

            You should stop doing that. Since you won’t (by your own admission, making zero-effort, zero-content attacks on more-valuable posters is your only purpose here) you should be banned. Failing that, it needs to be made clear that you’re not fooling anyone.

          • I find that “Jewess” makes my skin crawl, though I’m not sure why. I think that I was introduced to the word in Ivanhoe, and Walter Scott seems to like Rebecca.

            “Negress” also makes my skin crawl, though to a lesser extent.

          • Fahundo says:

            Why do you think it is ok to refer to groups by terms that are widely considered offensive by members of that group? Please address that point.

            I might be reading the room wrong here, but I think the reason people are upset is because they don’t believe this is a case of a term being widely considered offensive by a particular group. This looks an awful lot like you unilaterally deciding that a term is offensive, on behalf of a group of people, and then attempting to police language accordingly.

            And let’s be very clear here. You’re not objecting to the specific case of calling black people ‘blacks’ but to the general principle of changing your terminology for groups based on the wishes of that group.

            If I believe that in this particular case the term isn’t offensive to the group at large, and is really only seen as offensive by you, then (probably unfairly) I’m going to assume that this is the case in the general principle that you’re referring to as well.

          • Lysenko says:

            Since my admittedly unscientific straw poll with a sample size of 2 (black co-workers I happened to be on shift with while reading this thread on my break) came back with results that basically boiled down to “Um, I guess maybe, it depends on context” as the answer to whether “blacks” was offensive relative to “black people”, and then “Ehhh, no, not in -that- context” when I showed them the original comment, I have to ask for a citation on “overwhelming majority of black people seem to strongly prefer it”.

            A sample of “two nearest black ladies I work with and could ask right then” isn’t great, but it’s got double the depth of ” one person on the internet”.

      • Diadem says:

        It’s been brought to my attention that some people interpreted this comment as an attack on JRM. Reading back I am forced to agree that the phrasing is suboptimal.

        So to clarify: This was not in any way meant as an attack or accusation. It was meant as friendly advice: Be careful with that term because many people consider it offensive / racist, which does not seem to be your intention.

        • Ray System Pathee says:

          If you’re able to read it, understand how it was intended, and not be offended, why do you think other people wouldn’t? Are those people stupider or less rational than you? If so, does walking on eggshells around them improve things?

          I’m not trying to be combative here, I’m just trying to get at the crux of why we’re even having this discussion about the use of the term “blacks”.

        • TheWorst says:

          After clarifying that yes, you did very much intend it as a pointlessly vicious attack on someone who you thought had momentarily displayed a vulnerability to same, it is too late to claim that you didn’t mean it that way.

          • “a pointlessly vicious attack on someone who you thought had momentarily displayed a vulnerability to same”

            Not how I read it.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if Diadem’s factual claim is false, reflecting an imaginary problem used by some people to attack others, and I thought that, true or false, the comment reflected an unreasonable concern with trivial issues. But it did not come across as a “vicious attack.”

          • TheWorst says:

            Did you see his first two comments? In the first, he admitted that he only read the previous high-content comment until he found something that looked like an opportunity for a zero-effort attack, and attacked.

            In his second comment, he clarified that yes, it was an attack–“you’re an asshole” sounds a lot like an attack, doesn’t it?–and disclaimed all possible motives other than pure malice.

            He admitted he didn’t even read the whole post. That seems like the end of any possible assumption of good faith. Perhaps it’s a personal failing, but I’m only able to extend the benefit of the doubt when there is room for doubt.

      • Jill says:

        I am amazed at how long this discussion is. I guess when someone here appears to someone else to be asking them to be more politically correct in their terminology– that must hit a big painful nerve. Because I can’t imagine that there is really that much to say about this issue.

        I know that a lot of people on this board are interested in trying to be rational. But we humans are quite emotional. And it appears to me that sometimes you can measure the emotional distress involved in a topic by counting the number of posts that say very similar things.

        • TheWorst says:

          I’ll own it. I too feel very emotional about profoundly vicious people skimming high-content posts just to try to find a way to inflict harm with zero-effort posts.

          Those people need to be shamed out of public spaces, because that’s the only way to have tolerable public spaces. When you have a walled garden, it’s not a good idea to let in the people whose only interest is in finding things they can set on fire.

          • Ruprect says:

            I dunno – are there still people who take accusations (or warnings) of racism (like that) seriously?

            It’s hard to set things on fire when your matches… etc etc… continue analogy.

          • Untrue Neutral says:

            I appreciate what you did even if I’m unsure Diadem’s comment warranted quite this level of inquisition. Long and detailed posts deserve serious responses. At best Diadem is nitpicking, at worst your characterization is accurate

          • TheWorst says:

            I dunno – are there still people who take accusations (or warnings) of racism (like that) seriously?

            Yes, despite people like Diadem seeing it purely as a means of hurting whoever seems vulnerable. The fact that it only hurts people who are unusually committed to anti-racism is part of why fewer people take it seriously; people like Diadem are a very strong argument that accusations of racism shouldn’t be.

            That they very obviously harm the cause they’re pretending to support seems like strong evidence that they don’t actually give a shit, and are just using it as an excuse to try to hurt people.

            Use of weapons that can only hurt people on your own team is a big red flag for people who need to be kicked off the team immediately. No good person sees someone like Diadem as an ally, so I’d rather Diadem-types didn’t pretend they were on my side.

          • Ruprect says:

            So… it’s not as much that he has set fire to the garden, as he has used up all the water in the fire extinguishers?

          • TheWorst says:

            By trying to use the spray to uproot the plants, exploit cracks in the walls, and ruin everyone’s food.

            It’s like someone who calls 911 five times an hour… to accuse random unarmed black men of making threats with a gun.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Shaming people out of public spaces isn’t a tactic I’m comfortable with. But calling them on their BS, that I’m fondly in favor of. Statements like that, unchallenged, have a way of becoming norms, and ones window of discourse is narrowed.

          • TheWorst says:

            While I’d normally agree, I think statements like that become norms whether or not they’re challenged, provided that the person doing it stays around. Being targeted by that kind of attack tends, if they’ve successfully targeted someone vulnerable, to be a strong deterrent to posting…

            The people who punish high-content posts need to go away. High-content posts are a thing we want.

            When someone comes into your garden with no goals other than to look for opportunities to burn it down, they’re forcing you to choose between keeping them and keeping the garden. Choose the garden.

          • I asked about “black” vs. “black people” on Steve Barnes’ facebook page.

            He’s black, and so are a good many of his regular commenters. He doesn’t see a problem with “blacks”. The only person who has seen a problem is Thorn Coyle, who is white.

        • John Schilling says:

          I guess when someone here appears to someone else to be asking them to be more politically correct in their terminology– that must hit a big painful nerve.

          Asking someone to be more politically correct in their terminology, and calling them “horribly racist”, gets one polite response. Calling them an asshole for their politely disagreeing with being called a racist, yes, that hits a nerve.

          This is the sort of behavior that brought the very concept of “political correctness” into such disrepute that most people on the left like to pretend it was never their idea in the first place.

        • Virbie says:

          > I know that a lot of people on this board are interested in trying to be rational. But we humans are quite emotional. And it appears to me that sometimes you can measure the emotional distress involved in a topic by counting the number of posts that say very similar things.

          I don’t consider myself that intimately familiar with rationalism and its “diaspora” (SSC is basically my first and only exposure to it), but knowing the definitions of pretty basic English words makes me wonder why you think being rational precludes being emotional. Do you somehow think that feeling emotion is the same thing as being irrational due to emotion?

          As somebody mentioned in another part of the thread, they don’t like to see high-effort/quality posts sniped by low-effort/quality posts, as it brings down the quality of the board overall. That seems like a fairly reasonable (dare I say rational) reason to be annoyed.

          If you stop pretending you’ve discovered a community full of inscrutable aliens with strange customs and start treating other commenters like people who happen to disagree with you, you might stop being so befuddled all the time.

          • “makes me wonder why you think being rational precludes being emotional.”

            It seems to be a pretty common attitude.

            When my daughter was in the early stages of being born, I got into a conversation with the nurse on the history of contraception, in particular a passage in Casanova’s memoirs, a work I’m pretty familiar with. When the baby made her appearance, I responded in the natural fashion, cuddling her and telling her what a beautiful baby she was. The nurse apparently (from later conversation with my wife) thought there was something inconsistent in my behavior.

        • eh says:

          Apart from anything else, if experts got called racist arseholes in the first reply every time they commented here, we would soon run out of experts. This holds true even if they are actually saying something racist, but especially if they are not.

    • TheWorst says:

      Thanks for posting this.

      The paragraph about p.151 seems like it might be missing a sentence at the end. What’s the significance of having such a (presumably large?) number of complaints, and/or from a given percentage from internal people?

      • JRM says:

        I have never heard or seen of a cop with 125 complaints against them. That’s an impossible number, even in an urban setting. I’d like to know how many were internal, but normally (and properly) internal complaints are taken damned seriously.

        The two worst misconduct issues I’ve seen were revealed by internal complaints, and would never have survived citizen complaints (in one case, because the citizen had no memory of the events because he was very wasted.)

        [I am not getting involved in the race wars. Thanks for the information-seeking question.]

        • TheWorst says:

          Ah, thanks. If you don’t mind educating an ignoramus (I was a court reporter for a couple of years, but never saw anything from that side), how much difference is there, usually, in how an internal complaint vs. a citizen complaint?

          • JRM says:

            So, it depends on the context and the agency.

            First of all, an advertisement: Dear all police agencies everywhere: Body cameras for everyone. This deters both frivolous complaints and bad police conduct.

            Backpedalling slightly and clarifying: I took the DOJ report to mean that the internal complaints were about policework, but I have reconsidered (though I think that was a reasonable impression to have, if not by me, at least by the public at large.)

            Most internal complaints are just that-guy-is-a-jerk semi-normal workplace stuff. Maybe this was what this one was. If it was one guy-is-a-jerk complaint, that’s a nothingburger (but 124 citizen complaints is still some kind of record). If it’s five his-fieldwork-is-alarming reports in what appears to be a discouraging environment for such reports, that’s very bad.

            If 125 complaints isn’t a record in Baltimore, then the assertion that citizen complaints are deterred appears false.

            But let’s say we have two separate cases.

            Case A: Joey the Dirtbag is in jail. He tells the police he was pepper-sprayed in the face after he was down, cuffed, and compliant. It’s clearly established that Joey is a recidivist felon who tossed a gun and ran from the cops and was pretty high at the time. Officer Barbrady says it didn’t happen that way.

            Case B: Officer Friday says he and another cop were chasing Joey the Dirtbag. He sees Joey chuck a gun, slows briefly, and gets behind the chase. Two minutes later, he comes on Joey, who is on his stomach, handcuffed, and in legal parlance, “very chirpy,” describing the police officers’ mothers in graphic detail. He sees Officer Barbrady then pepperspray Joey and laugh about it.

            Which of these is going to get more attention from the higher-ups? Which should? (I’ll help: The answer is case 2. You should investigate case 1, yes. But the starting assumptions are different in case 2.)

          • TheWorst says:

            That makes sense, and it’s interesting (and pleasant, I think) to see that someone with relevant experience agrees with what seems like the overall drift of the public on bodycams.

            In Case B, how likely is it that Officer Friday is going to put in a complaint? Would you say it’s normal that he would, or normal that he wouldn’t?

            (I assume there’s a huge number of complicating factors.)

    • Gbdub says:

      Thanks for the long summary from a unique perspective.

      I hate hatchet jobs against the guilty. On the one hand you want the guilty punished. On the other you don’t want to reward hatchet jobs.

      • TheWorst says:

        I hate hatchet jobs against the guilty. On the one hand you want the guilty punished. On the other you don’t want to reward hatchet jobs.

        So much of this. It’s a useful heuristic: when the truth is on your side, always (and only) use the truth. If you find yourself having to lie, consider switching sides or doing research.

        I tentatively think discouraging hatchet jobs is more important than punishing the guilty. Mostly because letting one additional guilty person go unpunished is going to trigger less future wrongdoing than rewarding one hatchet job will.

      • cassander says:

        I’m not sure what the problem is here. If the offending party is guilty, don’t they deserve a good hatcheting? The trouble with witch trials wasn’t that they burned people, it was that they burned people that weren’t witches. If they’re actually a witch…..

        • TheWorst says:

          If the offending party is guilty, then a hatchet job (when discovered) only makes their guilt look questionable, and makes the hatcheting authority look untrustworthy. Both are counterproductive.

          • cassander says:

            I might be operating under a somewhat different definition of hatchet job than you are.

          • TheWorst says:

            I get the same impression. In my experience, “hatchet job” is used to mean something basically the same as a “frame-up,” i.e. an unfounded, (and, usually, nasty) public accusation.

          • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

            It’s like someone proposing a terrible argument in favor of evolution.

            We don’t need specious arguments for evolution. The correct arguments are good enough; the bad arguments only give further ammunition to the creationists and should not be tolerated.

          • JRM says:

            Amen, brother.

        • Mr. Breakfast says:

          The problem with witch trials was that “witch” was a scapegoat category to which people assigned all of their hate, fear, and uncertainty. There’s nothing wrong maybe with firing or suing someone who does a sexist (or racist, etc.) thing, but when that person is judged by a mob that wants him to suffer for all sex-based (or racial or whatever) iniquities now and throughout history, there is no reason to expect that the verdict or punishment will be at all fair.

        • Nornagest says:

          A lot of the victims of the Inquisition were, in fact, heretics.

          • cassander says:

            One should not conflate witch burning and the inquisition. Witchburning was largely a protestant vice. The inquisition might execute you for heresy, but they didn’t go in much for witch burning.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, that’s why I said “heretics” and not “witches”. I wasn’t trying to conflate the two, I was trying to point out that you don’t need to be hunting something totally imaginary for history to take a dim view of the pursuit.

            Although the Inquisition (particularly the Spanish one) probably gets worse press than it really deserves. But it did have a good amount of blood on its hands, and it’s about as common a metaphor for this sort of situation as witch hunting is.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I was trying to point out that you don’t need to be hunting something totally imaginary for history to take a dim view of the pursuit

            In that case, I don’t think heresy is a good example, at least if we understand it in the sense of ‘espousing incorrect beliefs that will lead to divine retribution, and which will cause other people to suffer divine retribution if you spread those beliefs to them, thus making it ethically justifiable to punish you for expressing them’.

            It’s not as if we have significantly better evidence for the existence of gods than we do for the existence of witchcraft, after all.

        • John Schilling says:

          I’m not sure what the problem is here. If the offending party is guilty, don’t they deserve a good hatcheting?

          “There’s money missing from the community treasury! And look here, Abraham is the only Jew in the community. Let’s run him out of town, and bust up his shop and all of his stuff. Maybe with actual hatchets!”

          You’re OK with this, supposing it turns out that Abraham actually stole the money from the community treasury?

          • cassander says:

            There’s a good deal of value in things like due process and procedure, and those things should be preserved, but from a purely moral point of view, if whoever a fail trial found guilty was going to get the same treatment, I’m kind of ok with it.

          • TheWorst says:

            I’m kind of ok with it.

            This turns out to have many negative consequences, is the problem.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            It’s very important not to be ok with this, and think about why being ok with this leads to a bad decision theory (basically it’s bad to decide the right thing for the wrong reason, see also EDT and Newcomb).

            Basically it’s important to be right in the entire class of cases, and inevitably “being right for the wrong reason” just nails a small subset in a general class you are interested in.

            It’s not that we hate hatchet jobs because they are hatchet jobs, it’s that the process that leads people to send out the hatcheters on “reasonably good evidence of poor behavior” is not the right process for less egregious cases than Baltimore.

          • Schmendrick says:

            Assuming that the lawful penalty for “stealing money from the community treasury” is “running the offender out of town and busting up all their possessions,” the only problem with your scenario is the order of operations. Proof first, then punishment. But then, that’s not what’s happening here. It’s not that someone is being punished properly but before the proof has come in…it’s that proof has come in, but is insufficient to warrant the level of punishment/opprobrium desired by the community, so more must be invented.

        • Aegeus says:

          The problem is precedent. Sure, the first time you held a witch hunt, you were lucky and you burned an actual witch. But that was luck. More often than not, a witch-hunt is going to burn an innocent instead of a witch. So even if the witch-hunt found a witch, we should criticize them, because next time they might not get lucky.

          It’s kind of like showing your work in your math homework. You might have the right answer, but the teacher will still mark you down unless you followed the right steps to get it. They don’t know if you know the math or if you just got lucky.

          • TheWorst says:

            This. Exacerbated by the fact that–once you burn a witch–everyone finds out that accusing someone of witchcraft is a viable, low-cost way to get someone burned.

            And that means they use it whenever a person is inconvenient to them, or they’re bored, or they figure out that getting people burned is power. The number of times any person, anywhere, will be inconvenienced, bored, or desirous of power vastly exceeds the number of witches. Always and everywhere, even if witches are a thing.

            And that’s even before you take into account that a witch can accuse a non-witch person of witchcraft, and has some incentives to (eventually) do so to every non-witch person.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Q: How do you know your witch-hunt actually found a witch?

            A: The accused turned you into a frog and flew away on a broomstick.

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

            It’s kind of like showing your work in your math homework. You might have the right answer, but the teacher will still mark you down unless you followed the right steps to get it. They don’t know if you know the math or if you just got lucky.

            atrocious example:

            No, the teacher will mark you down unless you wrote down the particular steps their mark scheme requires, whether or not those are the best way to do it, and whether or not you in fact followed those steps


            And, the teacher can easily find out if you know the maths or not many other ways, the most obvious of which is observing that you get the right answer on such questions all the time.

            Also, having to work through a formula every time you want to do something, -recording each step faithfully on paper and being sure never to deviate or make a leap of logic not contained within the procedure, -like some kind of ancient ritual, is more like negative evidence of someone really understanding the maths.

            -Being able to do the maths, sure, but someone getting the right answer consistently is also obviously able to do the maths, so if we’re trying to differentiate between who knows the maths in a better way, which we must be, my assumption is that it’s the person who can demonstrably do something without the ritual.

            (Continuing the ancient ritual idea, if maths were magic, you would assume a mage who could freecast what another could only do by assiduously following a preset formula, was a more skilled mage/mathemagician.)

            (Also, generally, not just in maths, it’s precisely when I don’t understand how something works, that I go looking for a really detailed guide and make sure to follow it precisely and to the letter.)

          • Anton: I think you’re assuming that the point of math as it is taught is to get answers or to understand concepts, rather than to perform the rituals.

            The answer and concept hypothesis seems sadly not to be borne out by most middle and high school math classes I’ve personally experienced or heard about.

          • Alex says:

            The criticism of “showing your work” in math class hinges on the fact that “your work” in math class will most likely be completely trivial and not much to show actually. But once you enter a world were “your work” is something that has not been done by millions before you and addressed at someone who does not fully understand what’s going on, without you showing them, it actually is valuable to have learned to show on trivial subjects.

            The problem is not requiring that students show their work, the problem is that students, and unfortunately I suspect also most teachers, do not have a useful conception of what “showing your work” actually means.

          • @Anton:

            I agree. Getting the right answer to a math problem by accident is unlikely. The ability to get the right answer by some method other than the memorized procedure you were taught is better evidence that you understand the subject than following that procedure, not worse.

            I wonder what fraction of high school math teachers actually understand the material they are teaching. People who are actually good at math may have more attractive employment options.

          • Chalid says:

            I think “show your work” isn’t really about luck, but rather about making it harder for the student to cheat.

          • Alex says:

            I wonder what fraction of high school math teachers actually understand the material they are teaching. People who are actually good at math may have more attractive employment options.

            The meaning of “math” seems to have changed mid-argument from high school math to actual math. Or, I guess, it depends on what you think how much actual math one has to understand to aptly teach high school math.

          • brad says:

            Math as such is barely taught in high school or even the first few college courses. Math in the high school sense is mostly just a series of tools for solving certain stylized problems.

            There’s no particular reason to utilize the rare talents of a mathematician to teaching these derived-by-mathematicians tools to hordes of teenagers. It would be a misallocation of resources.

            As for smart alecks that think they do not need to learn the standard toolset because they can invent their own tools, they should be mercilessly accelerated until that method fails them spectacularly (or they get a Field Medal). Of course this is much more difficult to do in a country filled with tiny school districts and so insufficient populations to create a spectrum of accelerated classes. It’s ironic that the roadblock towards good schools in the functional sense are parents obsessed with “good schools”.

          • Alex says:

            As for smart alecks that think they do not need to learn the standard toolset because they can invent their own tools, they should be mercilessly accelerated until that method fails them

            Nice idea, but in my experience such people never realize their own failure. To realize that you have not actually thought something through, it helps a lot to, ahem, show your work.

            Basically Dunning/Kruger.

          • Randy M says:

            Getting the right answer to a math problem by accident is unlikely. The ability to get the right answer by some method other than the memorized procedure you were taught is better evidence that you understand the subject than following that procedure, not worse.

            After you’ve ruled out cheating, of course.

          • Fair point.

            If cheating is suspected, change the details of the problem and see if he still gets the right answer. If he doesn’t, you at least know who to watch next time. If he does, apologize for wasting his time.

    • Diadem says:

      I don’t want my previous comment to be my only comment on this, so here’s some more thought after reading the entire thing.

      I think you raise some very interesting points. I like the term ‘Hatchet job against the guilty”. This is something you see a lot. This world needs activists fighting the good fight, but it is a shame that nuance and rigor are often lost in such situations.

      My problem with the whole #BlackLivesMatter movement is not that they are wrong (institutional racism exists), but that they are focusing on the lesser of two problems. If magically all forms of racism completely disappeared from the United States tomorrow, there’d still be a horrible number of black people senselessly shot by police. If on the other hand tomorrow the US police magically became as competent, well organised and low on corruption as, say, police in Norway or Iceland, then police shootings as a substantial problem would completely disappear.

      I do think racism is a big problem. Not trying to belittle that. But by putting all the focus on race you miss the other systemic issues.

      • Ray System Pathee says:

        If magically all forms of racism completely disappeared from the United States tomorrow […]

        I want to agree with you that there is institutional racism, but I need to know exactly what I’m agreeing to. Define racism! If racism can encompass, on the accuser’s whim, everything from wishing death on all members of another race to using the word “blacks” even without an article in front of it, then there is no institutional racism because the term is meaningless.

        Anyway, I thought I saw somewhere that most of the cops who shoot black people are also black. If that’s true, then what is the actual problem? Cops (of any race) enjoying the certainty of leniency in court seems like the biggest problem to me.

        Also, I’m generally opposed to apples-to-oranges comparisons of one country to another. Police in the US can never be like police in Iceland or Norway: the population being policed is too different, the population making up the police is too different, and the laws being enforced are too different. You don’t even need to look at gun ownership rates or the surrounding cultures to see that the differences are too great to expect an outcome in one place to match outcomes in another.

        • Diadem says:

          I thought I had cleverly dodged the issue of what exactly racism is or how prevalent it is by saying “all forms of racism”, allowing the reader to fill in the blanks. Alas.

          The problem with the word ‘racism’ is not so much that is it meaningless, but that is has too many meanings. One particular motte-and-bailey that always annoys me is the ‘everybody is racist’ attack.

          We all have prejudices. We all have biases, conscious or subconscious. Nobody is perfectly impartial. There’s always some group that you dislike for some not entirely rational reason. At first glance, it does not seems unreasonable to make the term ‘racism’ broad enough to include things like that. So okay, agreed, everybody is racist.

          But then this is immediately turned around, and the word ‘racism’ is used as this terrible accusation. X is racist, so X is a horrible person.

          Nevertheless, all of the various definitions of racism have their uses. Each can be useful in some situations. It’s just important to keep track of what exactly you are talking about. But doing that is very hard with an emotionally charged word like racism. And so discussions often turn nasty.

          And to address your post: Even if most of the cops shooting black people are also black, that’s still a problem. Racism doesn’t become ok just because black people are (also) doing it against themselves. And yes, that absolutely does happen. For example black women on dating sites have a lower response rate than white women, from both white men and black men. Both white men and black men seem to consider black women to be lower status. The conclusion to draw from that is not that this is not a case of racism. The conclusion is that racism is more complicated and more nuanced then just ‘white people are evil!’.

          Back to policing. I read once that male black teenagers are estimated as older than they actually are by both white and black cops. Is that racism? I don’t know. Sure seems to be, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that there’s some inherit reason why estimating the age of male black teenagers is difficult. Either way though, the result is more dead black children.

          How racist is the US police? My best guess is that a small minority of cops are blatantly and consciously racist, disliking black people and considering them inferior. A much larger group will have subconscious or semi-conscious biases, viewing black people more dangerous, or more violent, or whatever. Many of these people might actively try to not be biased, but as we all know that is a hard thing to do. Another large factor is classism. Cops disliking poor people, who are disproportionally black. And since poverty and crime actually are correlated, a fourth factor is that black people really do commit more crimes per capita then white people.

          The final, very hard to measure or categorize, factor is institutional racism. Cocaine is a typical used by white people, crack by black people.If police focus enforcement on crack, and no cocaine, is that racism, or do they have good reasons to focus on crack? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. These kind of effects are very hard to categorize. But it seems unlikely that racism does not play any role here. If most legislators are white, then it makes sense that the law will be more sympathetic towards typical white problems then typical black ones, because well, we humans tend to have more empathy towards things we can relate to.

          So yeah, racism is complicated.

          • Ray System Pathee says:

            It doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ll show you how in 3 easy steps:

            1. List out the kind of things that might get you called racist. Anything you can possibly think of. (E.g. wanting all black people killed. Using the term “blacks.” Arguing in defense of different mandatory sentencing structures for cocaine vs. crack. Being curious enough about what black hair feels like to ask a black acquaintance if you can touch it. Etc.) Eventually you can lump them to form categories, and place new examples into each category as they come in. Order the list of categories from most to least serious. (I’ve done this and come up with about 12 categories so far, but they could probably be lumped a bit more. So, I’d say you should expect about 10 categories.)

            2. Decide how serious you think an accusation of racism ought to be.

            3. Look at your categories and figure out where they are divided by the level of seriousness you came up with in #2. For anything on the less serious side, make a pledge to yourself that you will never again consider those things racist, and that you will defend against charges of racism any person who is called racist for doing those things.

          • Anonymous says:

            So then, drugs to delay puberty?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            This is a mystery to you?

            Black people have shorter gestation periods and earlier puberty. Having smaller brains and lower IQs on average they reach adult size earlier because evolution has left them with a less complex set of behaviors that need to be learned during childhood.

            It’s amazing how knowing basic facts can clear up mysteries.

            Now this, this right here is actual racism. It’s dressed up as HBD “basic facts” but racist all the same.

            The overreach of anti-racism upthread was correctly called out. This is straight up racism (and under an anon handle, no less) and also needs to be called out as such.

            I’m but a humble lurker and don’t want to make things worse with poorly-conveyed reasoning (words are hard), but felt this needed to be addressed lest the community look like it only polices overreach from one side.

          • Adam says:

            It’s almost certainly parody, but the fact it is honestly difficult to tell is kind of sad.

          • Anonymous says:

            On brain size and iq, the relationship isn’t nearly as cut-and-dried as the previous commenter makes it seem.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Lacking more than the quotes you have provided, I can’t see methodology.

            1. Did they control or try to control for factors other than ethnicity? If one group was poorer and thus less healthy (assuming a link between wealth and health, which I think is fair to make) and thus more likely to have premature births, that would drive the median down.

            2. Did they control for body fat? Menarche happens earlier for overweight and obese girls. Rates of overweightness/obesity are higher on the lower end of the economic spectrum, up to a point. If some groups are more poor than others, obvious effect. I know that in the US, black and Hispanic girls (don’t know about the boys) have higher rates of overweightness and obesity – I don’t know if this goes away if poverty is corrected for.

            This is pretty tenuous evidence to stake a position on, especially for something that involves condemning members of an entire ethnic or racial group.

            Plus: How big of a difference is one week of pregnancy and slightly earlier puberty?

          • I think the claim about earlier maturation in sub-Saharan Africans is true. But the explanation I have seen, from a source not making any visible attempt to be politically correct, had nothing to do with brain size or IQ. It was that in the African environment the optimal reproductive strategy was a little farther in the direction of many offspring/low investment per offspring, giving an advantage to faster maturation.

            Faster maturation, which includes walking earlier and, I think, speaking earlier, could be seen as evidence of superiority as easily as of inferiority.

          • Adam says:

            Of course, the entire point was to answer the question “does it make 15 year-old black males more likely to look like they’re 20 than their white peers?”

            “Well, they’re born a week earlier on average and tend to be stupider and have smaller brains” is maybe not completely non-sequitur, but it definitely does not answer the question.

          • Anonymous says:

            But the explanation I have seen, from a source not making any visible attempt to be politically correct, had nothing to do with brain size or IQ. It was that in the African environment the optimal reproductive strategy was a little farther in the direction of many offspring/low investment per offspring, giving an advantage to faster maturation.

            You think that has nothing to do with intelligence and brain size? A low parental investment strategy because 1 out of x of your children is going to succumb to disease so might as well just pump out as many as you can has nothing to do with intelligence?

            “Well, they’re born a week earlier on average and tend to be stupider and have smaller brains” is maybe not completely non-sequitur, but it definitely does not answer the question.

            Idiot up thread asserted that it’s a holy mystery of racism that even black cops overestimate the age of black teens – somehow racism makes you think black teens are older for no known reason. In reality literally every single measurement shows that blacks have a different developmental life cycle – they gestate babies for shorter periods, they grow more quickly and mature sooner. Here’s some more evidence: black women have narrower pelvic girdles because why pay the costs of wider ones when you’re bearing smaller headed babies:

            [first hit on google for “pelvic girdle width by race” (no quotes)]

            The pelvic inlet was wider among 178 white women than 56 African-American women (10.7±0.7 cm compared with 10.0.±0.7 cm, P<.001). The outlet was also wider (mean intertuberous diameter 12.3±1.0 cm compared with 11.8±0.9 cm, P<.001). There were no significant differences between racial groups in interspinous diameter, angle of the subpubic arch, anteroposterior conjugate, levator thickness, or levator hiatus. In addition, among women who delivered vaginally without a sphincter tear, African-American women had more pelvic floor mobility than white women. This difference was not observed among women who had sustained an obstetric sphincter tear.


            White women have a wider pelvic inlet, wider outlet, and shallower anteroposterior outlet than African-American women.

            I guess you can keep wielding Occam’s butterknife and make up an explanation for all the individual facts so you never have to come face to face with the crimethinking conclusion and I’ll keep living in a world where there are way fewer mysteries.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yeah, I’m definitely leaning towards the view that this “Anonymous” fellow is expressing himself in a deliberately offensive and insulting manner, lowering the general standard of discourse in the group, and I would not miss him if he were banned.

          • “A low parental investment strategy because 1 out of x of your children is going to succumb to disease so might as well just pump out as many as you can has nothing to do with intelligence?”

            It has something to do with earlier maturation. It doesn’t tell us how the tradeoff between costs and benefits of intelligence is affected. Less parental investment might make the payoff to intelligence, especially early intelligence, higher.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yeah, the faster developing, smaller brained sub-species could very well be more intelligent – only that contradicts every observation ever made.

            You’ve got 3 choices:

            1) Avoid all facts and attribute every difference in outcome to “racism” – no matter how plainly explained by easily verifiable facts
            2) Lie about facts like SJ Gould who falsified data for ideological reasons
            3) Accept crimethink

            Personally I would find it exhausting to compartmentalize that much to avoid crimethink.

    • Ex-PD says:

      Potential bias alerts: I am a prosecutor elsewhere. I dislike the race-baiting that runs against LE.

      I don’t think cops are all racists, but I do think many many of them lie on the stand. Why do y’all tolerate that? I understand why you don’t do perjury prosecutions, I’d bet they’d be a bitch and half to win, but the very least you could do was not put cops you know are gong to lie up on the stand.

      When I was with the PD’s office, mostly I didn’t hold anything against prosecutors. They were trying to do their job just like I was trying to do mine. Being hard-asses about pleas or filing aggressive motions, that was all part of the game. But the nonchalance around cop perjury really soured me on cops, prosecutors, and many judges.

      Is it a greater good thing? Falling so in love with your witnesses that you don’t see it? Something else?

    • John Schilling says:

      If on the other hand tomorrow the US police magically became as competent, well organised and low on corruption as, say, police in Norway or Iceland, then police shootings as a substantial problem would completely disappear.

      You have a cite for the ability of Norwegian and/or Icelandic police to deal with the type and quantity of crime observed in the United States, without shooting a significant number of people?

      Or did you leave out “…and American criminals magically become as rare and peaceful as Icelandic ones”?

  24. Where should I live?

    Multiple SSC commenters on previous threads have recommended o leave Seattle, something I’ve been wanting to do for some time. It’s now more personally feasible than ever (long story.)

    I’d like to live somewhere where I can arrange car free logistics (day to day living – groceries, bars, social venues within walking/biking of pleasant living locations (I have a dog and would prefer to live in a house with a yard.) I prefer cold weather to hot but can manage.

    I desperately need a large population of friendly strangers and would hugely prefer favorable demographics. Good cultural options (music, theater, food) would be nice.

    I’m not sensitive to the job market at all; I’m moderately price insensitive and have a decently high budget but not infinite money.

    Not sure if any city exists with this combination, sadly.

    • TPC says:

      It does if you don’t have to live in America and have an internationally transferable skillset.

      • I’m open to international destinations where a skilled American can easily get a permanent visa but that’s like, what, Canada and Australia?

        I kinda like the idea of Israel too but I speak zero anything that’s not English and don’t know if I can learn at my age.

        • anon says:

          Hong Kong. Probably Singapore too, but I think it’s easier to live in HK without speaking Chinese, and I don’t really know the Singapore work authorization system.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            English is the dominant language in Singapore, and it has far more English speakers than Hong Kong (in Singapore 37% speak English primarily and over 80% speak it as at least their second language, compared to 3.5% in Hong Kong speaking English primarily and 46% speaking English at all).

        • Agronomous says:

          If you speak English, you’ll be fine in Israel.

        • pku says:

          Israel actually does sound pretty good for your requirements. Rent can be a problem, especially if you want a yard, but it’s still probably cheaper than Seattle. And you can definitely get by on English.

    • Adam says:

      Providence, RI? Mind you I’ve never been there, but I have friends who live there and it sounds like it fits your description. Only thing is it’s an extremely weird place full of weird people and I have no idea if that would bother you. Say, if you’re fleeing Seattle because it’s unfriendly to your politics, this would definitely not help.

      • I would like a decent supply of whatever-the-polite-term-for-“normies”-is, but I’ll keep in mind Providence–what’s nice about it?

        I would not say I’m fleeing Seattle because of my politics, but the rather vicious progressives (and hinting towards more SF-style tech antifa/mob justice/Gawker-incited hatred of me) are, shall we say, worrying.

        • Adam says:

          If that’s the reason, you probably wouldn’t like it. Nobody I know there is remotely vicious, but if your sole experience of them is their twitter rants, you’re not going to know that. I’d say here in Dallas is a pretty decent place, except I think it would be very hard to get by without a car. Maximal density is hard to find in the middle of the country with all the wide-open spaces.

          • Yeah, I think I’d like Dallas people but not the layout.

            I’ve wondered about Austin–people call it “liberal for Texas” which sounds conservative enough for me to not loathe it, and I hear nice things about the food and the people.

            I have yet to get a straight answer about the traffic/city layout. I also don’t love the idea of the heat, but will probably have to compromise there (afaict women don’t like _anywhere_ that’s cold most of the year.)

          • Adam says:

            The traffic is horrible there. It’s the only metro area in the United States with a population over 1 million that has only a single interstate highway. The state built a high-speed tollway going to San Antonio that specifically diverts around the city of Austin because of how bad it is.

        • Mr. Breakfast says:

          Then you should look at the NH seacoast (Portsmouth, Dover, etc.): the mildly Right side of the greater Boston area.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      I mean, if you have a million bucks, or the ability to arrange to make $6,000+/month after taxes, SF, the city of, works. 2/3rds of the city is single-family housing too, so you’d have a (small) yard.

      That defeats the infinite money, and of course, if you’re fleeing Seattle, it’s basically everything that makes Seattle cranked up to 12.

      Alternatively, if you’re willing to use “not-car” to mean “Uber everywhere outside the immediate neighborhood”, Royal Oak, MI and Ferndale, MI is full of hipsters these days. A surprisingly decent bubble of culture (Royal Oak Theatre is where all the concerts go), and all my 20-something Facebook friends from HS live there.

      /Your fundamental problem is that the density requirement defeats the transit requirement.

      • I fled San Francisco for Seattle four years ago. SF is the epitome of everything I hate (other than the density of nice cocktails): expensive, traffic ridden, full of mean, awful people, mobs calling for my death, dirty, no space, zero women.

        Seattle was (and is) nicer than SF but is getting steadily worse in absolute terms.

        I have infinite money anywhere but SF/NYC/Seattle/etc prices, and enough to live a norma techl person life in those cities, to give a rough idea of budgets. (It feels gauche to openly state my net worth here.) A normal person life in SF is hell.

        Maybe that would help calibrate what I’m looking for?

        • Adam says:

          Do you need to continue working? If not, live in a bunch of different places until you find one. I knew a lead attorney on a successful class action lawsuit that pretty much just tropical island hopped for about a decade after that and he seemed pretty happy.

        • meyerkev248 says:

          I know this is really going to sound wierd, but uh… Find a reason to get to Detroit. Just for like a long weekend. Northern Oakland County suburbs especially. See how you like it.

          I’m not kidding here.

          Cheap housing, surprisingly good hipster neighborhoods in both downtown Detroit and Royal Oak/Ferndale, lots of natural beauty (Oakland County lakes and Metroparks in close, the Great Lakes and the UP over a long weekend, and my friends back home go skiing at Boyne a heck of a lot more than I drive the 6 hours to Tahoe).

          Mind you, it’s definitely a driving metro, but there’s no reason you can’t throw a quarter million at the problem of “being within walking distance of downtown Royal Oak or equivalent suburb downtown while also having a big yard for my dog” that can fill your restaurant/grocery needs and then drive everywhere else. I could definitely replicate my current Burlingame,CA lifestyle (My car exists to drive to Daly City BART, Yosemite, LA, and on one cherished occasion, Moab) in that area pretty easily.

          Extra Bonus: It’s usually a stop on most of the bands I follow, and I’m up to about 30 concerts this year. With the only exceptions this year being every band that spoke Japanese, and if I wanted to see them I wouldn’t be leaving the West Coast.

          And with the caveat that you’re driving through Ohio*, you’re about 8 hours from the entire Appalachians, so I’ve been on driving vacations to Mammoth Cave, the Smokies, and Niagara.

          And if you ever need to really get away, it’s a Delta hub, so there’s direct flights to pretty much anywhere/everywhere.

          * Michigan looks like Ireland and I’d know because I’ve driven across both. Ohio looks like corn. I’m not a fan of multi-hour drives unless I’m within 4 hours of the state of Utah because Utah is gorgeous, but Michigan >>>>>> Ohio.

          • “and my friends back home go skiing at Boyne”

            For any skiers reading that, Boyne mountain had a vertical drop of six hundred feet when I was skiing it some fifty years ago, and I doubt it’s grown much since. That’s rather less than Tahoe.

        • sam k says:

          Chicago? That’s where I’m looking to end up: plenty of good food, young folks, a relatively healthy gender ratio and a local economy that isn’t tech-dominated, lots of creative industries flourishing downtown. Public transportation, quite a lot of good investment lately into livability in the downtown area, big enough that there’s stuff going on.

          • Anonymous says:

            I agree, Chicago seems about as good a fit as he is going to get in the US. SF, and Seattle are out because he’s already tried them. Portland is probably too similar culturally to be any better. LA is too car-centric and hot. Manhattan and the Manhattan parts of Brooklyn are probably too expensive to get what he wants in a dwelling even with a high budget. Boston and Philadelphia have small neighborhoods that would qualify and might be good secondary options, but Boston especially is probably too liberal and Philadelphia is a crime ridden shithole out that small nice area. D.C. and points south are both really hot and drenched with traffic — though Richmond, Charlotte, RDU, Charleston, etc might be worth considering if the heat thing is flexible. That leaves roughly Texas, the Southwest, and the Midwest. Texas and the Southwest are hot and sprawling. The Midwest seems like decent fit. People there are very marriage oriented, the type of cultural liberalism he seems to hate isn’t too prevalent, all of it is relatively affordable, and it’s cold rather than hot. Of the cities in the Midwest, Chicago has the largest walkable areas; it has the best transit system; it has the most cultural attractions. And unlike say Atlanta, Chicago is a part of the Midwest, not an alien invader.

            On the other hand, based solely on what I’ve read itt I’m not sure Seattle is the problem.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Philadelphia’s decent area is quite large, though small enough to bike.

            No one would ever mistake it for a friendly place, however.

        • Vaniver says:

          At one point, I described my top three cities to live in as SF, Seattle, and Austin, in descending order; but when you take cost into account, the list flips. (The is, SF has a lot more plus factors than Austin but when you take into account the minus factors, I think Austin comes out ahead.)

          Consider giving it a shot? It may be the sort of place where, five years from now, you flee it for basically the same reasons as leaving SF and Seattle, but it also has a lot of what makes those cities worthwhile.

        • Urstoff says:

          Just go to any city in the South. Denver is also nice.

    • Why do you want to leave Seattle? Just curious. I live here and it seems alright.

      • A) As of the last year or so, the city is a permanent traffic jam. This might get better in twenty years; I’m not going to wait (and I doubt it anyway.) (It would also be better if I lived in Cap Hill and never went anywhere off the transit line, but that covers none of the parts of the city I *like* or have need to visit.)

        B) Everyone here is an insular, passive-aggressive asshole. Call it the “freeze” if you will, but that’s not an excuse, and I’ve found it nearly impossible to actually make friends. If I’m very lucky, a given stranger will be exceedingly polite and say nice things about how much we should hang out again and then never, ever see me again. Since I don’t already have a working social circle from college, I will never be able to construct one in Seattle.

        C) It’s not as bad as SF, but there are rounds-to-zero available women and the literal only reason I live in a city and not the middle of the woods is that I’m trying to find someone to date.

        D) The city is rapidly approaching SF levels of hatred and disrespect for “tech”. Yes, I work for Google (currently; that may change.) No, that doesn’t give anyone the right to sneer at me as an evil gentrifying techbro who is also laughably unthinkable as a romantic partner or social equal. Gawker et al (the Stranger up here for local color!) are trying to convince everyone in the city that I’m simultaneously an evil invader and a pathetic loser. I would rather not live around people who want me dead. (That’s why I left SF.)

        E) Probably a few other I’m forgetting, it’s late.

        Take your pick.

        • TPC says:

          Have you tried xferring to the Kirkland office? The ‘burbs will not have the shrillness, the freeze is about 50% less awful and it’s where the women are who want LTRs and marriage.

          There’s also low/nocar-friendly areas in Texas (parts of Houston and parts of Austin, and parts of San Antonio). Florida has some walkable areas too, but it’s a volatile place to live.

          There are also some college towns in the midwest where low-car is doable too.

          • Everyone I know who works in Kirkland has to live most of an hour’s drive away in traffic (fuck that). I’m not clear there are any more women there, either–or more accurately, there are plenty, but they’re already married and living with their husbands (I know multiple couples who married and near-concurrently moved to Bellevue.)

          • TPC says:

            That is weird. But the PNW is always weird, so that’s not surprising.

            I have an interesting option for you: Park City, Utah. Tons of unattached young women working for the families that live there. It is a ski type area. I don’t know how car-unfriendly it is. Utahns love to drive as entertainment, but Park City is where the ones who hire staff live, so they may do things differently.

            I sympathize really with your complicated plight. I can’t find guys for the single girls I know because they are all working in childcare or at bookstores or they wrangle livestock.

            Oh, Arizona! You can hire a driver very easily, that’s how everyone rolls if they don’t want to drive everywhere, and I think we can all agree there’s no shortage of women to date there. Plus a lot of culture stuff and plenty of outdoorsy activities.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            Utahns should love to drive as entertainment. The entire state is God’s toybox. Every corner is some new beauty.

            Or as I was constantly shouting to myself on my last big road trip “OH MY GOD! THIS IS THE ROAD!! IT’S NOT EVEN A PARK! WHAT IS THE NATIONAL PARK LIKE!”

          • Adam says:

            Utah truly is absurdly beautiful, the absolute best place in the United States to go for road trips if you enjoy those.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I currently live in the central valley of California and would offer it as an option if the dating scene were a bit more favorable. I’ve covered a lot of ground but southern Utah is one of my favorite places on the planet. Zion, St George, Cedar City. “Absurdly beautiful” is putting it mildly.

          • Loquat says:

            I’ll join in the praise for Utah’s scenery; my husband and I have been there 3 times so far and really enjoy it. My sister also seems to be doing ok living in Salt Lake City with no car – her apartment and job are both within reasonable walking distance of mass transit, and there seemed to be plenty of interesting restaurants, etc. I don’t know how the social scene is, though, as she’s only there temporarily and therefore isn’t seriously dating.

        • numbers says:

          Here is how to make friends in Seattle: go to and sign up for a bunch of meetup groups. That will keep you with an active social life. When you meet someone cool, get their contact info. When you know enough cool people, start inviting them to your own events in your apartment.

          Almost nobody has invited me back to their place, so in that respect I suppose the Seattle Freeze is a real thing. But people seem pretty happy to visit and hang out at my place.

          • Uh…can you point to these meetup groups with actual interesting events?

            I’ve tried literally that. The only meetup groups that aren’t for some special interest I don’t have (polyamory, , marketing, etc) are the “singles” groups, which are 90% spam for shitty speed dating events for 40-year-olds and 10% invitations to rather dull events (no, I don’t want to drive to Everett to play softball).

          • meyerkev248 says:

            Don’t forget the “Meetup group for X, where we’ve been hardcore into X for the last 20 years, and are way better in shape/have better equipment than you”.

            Which can be fun, except that this tends to be the physical fitness groups, and “No, I physically can’t go on a 50-mile bike ride with you next weekend, I just got back on the bike for the first time in 3 months, and did 8 before falling off the bike”.

          • numbers says:

            I’m into board games and role-playing games; it sounds like you’re not into those, so my meetup links probably wouldn’t help you.

            There’s some good hiking, though.

        • Anonymous says:

          Is it dating you want or must it be dating at trendy urban venues with trendy urban girls? Because if it be the former, then by trying to date at urban clubs, bars, and music venues you’re dating in hard mode, especially for a tech worker.

          We boring suburbanites just go where the women actually are: chain coffee shops, churches, yoga classes, community college classes, shopping malls, and so on. Given what appear to be your politics, the women you find in such places are more likely to be compatible with you anyway.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Except perhaps for churches, the women in all those places typically aren’t looking to date or interact with men they don’t know at all. (and “that creep who goes to the yoga class to hit on women” is a bit cliche, though perhaps he’s successful with the women who don’t complain about him). That would seem to make it harder.

    • hlynkacg says:

      It would help if we had a bit more of an idea of what you’re looking for.

      What’s your budget, what sort of work are you seeking, what activities do you enjoy, etc…

      • Budget – I’m not sure what to say here without revealing more of my finances than is considered polite (or prudent for that matter.) Suffice to say: I own a (mortgaged, but still) home in the middle of Seattle, pay my mortgage without coming close to stretching my income to do so, and have 5-10 years of expenses in savings. I would put it as: I can live on a normal person’s budget anywhere in the US without worrying much about it. If I need to have more than the typical resident’s money to have a decent lifestyle (i.e. not bother commuting to the only place to work an hour away), I can do that many places but certainly not SF or the like.

        Work: my lowest baseline is remote/consulting work, or (if I’m somewhere cheap enough, I couldn’t do it everywhere) semi-retiring in the Mr. Money Mustache way. If there are good high tech jobs, that’d be nice, but not essential. Put together with the budget entry, my point (such as it is) is that I’m not picking a location based on available jobs (other than possibly for international destinations where I’d need a visa sponsor.)

        Activities I enjoy: uh…brazillian jiu-jitsu? Cocktail bars? Good food (both cooking and eating?) Skiing? Hiking? Dogs? A local theater scene would be nice but that’s a bit of a stretch to expect, and I am happy to compromise there.

        It’s not an “activity”, per se, but my #1 thing is “can have a reasonable dating and social life.” I need a large population of people who will want to be friendly with me, and for enough of those people to be women that I don’t have to beat out 50 other guys for every possible single girl.

        Hope that helps.

        • Adam says:

          Sounds like maybe Denver would be good? Try visiting a few places. It seems like the most limiting thing is the transit requirements. I’d personally never even try to visit a place without renting a car other than New York.

          • To be clear, I *own* a car and don’t object to having one be important. I just want to be able to get through my day to day without having to commute through traffic to get anywhere I want to go–i.e. live within reasonable distance of the *common* things (food, drinks, some sort of social engagement.) If I need the car to get to the occasional concert or event, that’s totally reasonable.

            I suppose what I hate more than anything isn’t cars, it’s *traffic* (and the need to be in it.) Seattle wasn’t so bad when I could get anywhere in 20 minutes. Now, it takes nearly an hour because I have to cross the Mercer Mess (a “commuting” traffic jam that shuts down a line bisecting the city from 8 am to 7 pm.)

          • Adam says:

            Well, I live downtown and can easily get to just about anything I might want to on a regular basis without having to drive or certainly without having to drive far. Work is the only place I drive to on a regular basis and it’s only about 20 minutes to get just outside the city, but I’m a morning person and I like to work about a 5:30 – 3:30 most days, so I intentionally avoid rush hours. Anything here or Deep Ellum I just walk to, if it’s out of neighborhood Uber has me in there in 10 minutes. Dallas actually is surprisingly small in the city proper. It’s just the suburbs that are frickin’ huge.

            Edit: Note that I’m posting on a Monday morning at 2 AM Central Time because I’m recovering from back surgery and not working, in case you’re wondering how on earth I’m going to manage to go to work in three hours.

        • Xeno of Citium says:

          Boston is worth thinking about, or one of the “suburbs” in the metro area that are actually more urban than 95% of the US. It has a lot of things you like:

          1) Loads of tech jobs. I speak from experience that the market for engineers is nuts here and very much on the side of the employee. If you’re a good engineer, or even an okay engineer, there will be a job for you. It’s not only programmers, companies here need tech people from every stripe. Tech people are respected, or at least as respected as everyone else in Boston.
          2) The politics are super liberal, but politics aren’t a big part of public life. No one has ever brought up politics to me that I haven’t know for a while, and people are mostly fine disagreeing over politics. YMMV, I know of a few workplaces where politics are banned to keep the peace. Also, the liberalism up here is a lot more hard-edged and practical than what I hear coming out of the West Coast. There’s a lot less real-life Twitter mobs and a lot more socialized medicine.
          3) Food’s fantastic, especially for a city of it’s size (maybe 1.5m in the metro area). Seafood is fantastic and cheap, the beer is amazing and there’s loads of breweries in the area and in the adjoining states, and there are so many bars. The drinking scene is more about beer than cocktails, but if you want a trendy cocktail bar you can certainly find it.
          4) Loads of theaters, and a big theater scene. I’m not too in to this, but there’s everything from community theater to an off-Broadway-but-not-by-much group of professional theaters.
          5) Hiking is good in the area if you’re willing to drive about an hour to get there, maybe 90 minutes if you want a larger range. No hiking in the city proper, obviously, unless you counting walking around the city parks.
          6) Good gender balance. New college grads from all over the region end up in Boston, which means a constant influx of young, well educated women (and men). .
          7) People are reasonably sociable. It’s a big city, people don’t come up to you and talk to you on the street, but you can have a conversation waiting at the bus or at a restaurant or bar with a stranger and not be weird. I’d say Boston people are a little reserved outwardly, but generally good once you get to know there. There’s also structured activities for pretty much everything, in every range of skill – if you’re into anything sporty, you can find a team/group/cabal to run or bike or play sports even if you’re hadcore or not good at it. If you like art, music, etc., there’s tons of that and a lot of it is free (put on by universities) or cheap.
          8) There’s a lot of dogs, since you mentioned you liked that. For some reason, bike paths seem to be ground zero for people walking their dogs, I guess because they tend have a lot of trees and they’re free of cars.
          9) As much as Boston people complain about the MBTA, the public transit is great. You can get almost anywhere you want using the subway, commuter rail, and buses. It’s not top notch like London or New York, but from what I’ve heard public transit in much of the West Coast is dire so it should be an improvement.

          1) Weather sucks. It’s too cold in winter and too hot in summer. When it’s nice, it’s *really* nice, but no one lives there for the weather. People mostly tough it out.
          2) Rent is expensive. The cost of living in general is fine – food and utilities are pretty cheap – but rent can be brutal. It doesn’t sound like a problem for you, but you should be warned.
          3) It’s not very big. Might not be a downside, but Boston isn’t LA or New York. It doesn’t even have a million people in Boston proper.
          4) Getting around by car is misery wrapped in agony and served with a sadness sauce. Don’t drive if you can help it.

    • numbers says:

      Here is a data point. I left Mountain View California for Seattle four years ago. I did not like Mountain View at all — nothing to do there, it’s a giant suburb. I like Seattle much better except for the gender ratio.

      I’m trying to move to New York City. I’m expecting it will be even better in terms of having good public transit and lots of things to do. I guess the weather and the rent will be worse.

      • numbers says:

        I noticed this post in my social stream a few weeks ago, arguing that Minneapolis is pretty good: high-density, low-rent, good public transit. It’s been sitting in the back of my mind for a while now.

        • Huh! I have some sort of idea in the back of my head that Minny would be awful, but I don’t know why. That does make it sound attractive. Good thought, thanks!

          (I have no idea about the demographics, of course.)

          • Loquat says:

            My husband really enjoyed Minneapolis when his job sent him there for 4 months a couple years back – his only objections were the flat terrain and terrible winter weather.

            You might also find this link helpful, though they claim Minneapolis has a slightly high single-male-to-female ratio. 1.02 to 1 shouldn’t be too bad, though, especially if you’ll be on the high side of the male income distribution.

      • meyerkev248 says:


        Today, the satellite neighborhoods populated by the new people are dispersed all over the outer boroughs. Subway transit between most of them is not feasible. The lines don’t run that way, and riding from one satellite to the center and then out to another satellite can take well over an hour. Cab service is also less feasible trips from one satellite to another.

        So the new urbanites who move to the satellite neighborhoods find that their accessible options are limited to their own neighborhoods, unaffordable Manhattan, and other neighborhoods on the same subway line. The mega-city is not available to them. Much of the the neat stuff they’ve heard about, and many of their friends, are located in some other satellite neighborhood that takes an hour and a half (or more) to get to by subway, and another hour and a half (or more) to get home from. Consider that the round-trip work commute from the newer, remoter, satellites can easily add up to two hours. On work days, then, there isn’t much time left to enjoy the mega-city. (And, as always, forget about travelling to do something outside the city.)

        And I think this is the main complaint right now with say… SF, or LA, or Boston, or…

        Yes, [CITY] is a cool place. Unfortunately, if the cultural work norms are that everyone works until 6:30, and I then have an hour commute to get to “The fun place where the concerts and restaurants are”, and then another hour-plus commute after the concert’s done, then I don’t actually make it to the concerts and restaurants and stuff.

        Or I throw every penny I have at living and working downtown. Which means I now have no money to afford the admission fee for the Met.

        Mind you, NYC at least puts the jobs and the “cool stuff” in the same place, which solves the Silicon Valley-specific problem of how to work at Google in Mountain View AND be up at the Filmore at 7:00 for the Blind Guardian concert without pissing off your boss, but it then doesn’t solve the problem of “Ok, the concert gets out at 11:30, I’m an hour from home, I need to be at work at 8:30 which means getting up at 7:00, so I can’t get a good night’s sleep tonight”.

        /Having lived for 3 years in Mountain View, I can confirm the “Oh my god, there’s nothing” complaint. And it’s far enough from SF that it took me years to start doing day trips up.
        //And then I moved to B-name, a “mere” hour and a half in actual practice from the venues in SF (Rush hour sucks), and made it up to SF more in the first 2 months than I made it in my first 2 years.

        • Chalid says:

          I think from what he’s said about his income, he could live much closer than an hour from midtown.

        • Manhattan Über Alles says:

          The thing about subway service between the outer boroughs would be an issue if anyone wanted to spend time in the outer boroughs. Luckily that isn’t the case and 90% of the interesting stuff going on in the city is in Manhattan anyway.

          The more relevant issue with New York is that it has a similar reputation to Seattle in terms of “everyone being rude assholes,” with the added benefit that everyone is perpetually very busy.

          That said, you can absolutely get a girlfriend. At the moment I have two here (not poly, they’re just from different boroughs) and still meeting interesting girls.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            “(not poly, they’re just from different boroughs)”

            That’s not exactly helping your point here.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you considered one of the two other countries?

      • I don’t know what you mean, sorry. (I am open to international destinations, sure? I don’t know where would be good, though, and I don’t speak any useful foreign languages, which is a bit of a problem.)

        • Anonymous says:

          China or Russia is what I meant.

          • Aapje says:

            That is a weird advice, why not Europe instead? English works a lot better in Western Europe and the human rights are a lot better.

          • Rosemary7391 says:

            Europe is possibly worth considering… Northern England or Scotland seem to tick most boxes I’ve managed to understand and retain (affordable housing not in the sticks, friendly people, stuff happening in the major cities) but I have no idea about dating, really not my best subject. Whether you wish to go to the UK given our current political situation is another matter, but my feeling is that it’ll be more of an economic problem for technical folk than a social one. Might be worth visiting a few places to get a feel for them. If you want to ask questions, I’m in Glasgow and familiar with Oxford if your budget will stretch to that (London too, but that’s way expensive – no chance of a house, nevermind a garden!).

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            People recommending Russia are being evil, important to say this explicitly.

    • Jake says:

      Well, what about NYC? It’s very transit-friendly, is the cultural capital of the world, skews heavily female, and while it’s certainly liberal the Hated Demons are finance guys, not tech guys.

      The main count against it would be your desire for a house with a yard, but that’s doable in Queens or Jersey (albeit at the cost of being a less appealing mate, though for serious dating rather than hooking up it’s less of a problem). There also are a surprising number of Manhattan buildings with small yards, though they’re not private.

      • Chalid says:

        Agreed with this. If “multifamily house/apartment building with private shared yard” works for OP then there are lots of options in the city or very nearby.

      • Zvi Mowshowitz says:

        I live in NYC and would love to steal a SF-refugee for once, but I do think NYC works for you and would echo Jake. The female skew here is large. I’d also point out that, if you’ve been working for Google for several years, a place with a yard won’t be a problem even in NYC.

        It’s certainly the “premium” option, but you’d still be within your means given your job, and you *do* get what you pay for.

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      How about Sydney, Australia? Google has an office there – maybe it’s possible to get a transfer. It fits your criteria pretty well except that it’s very expensive to get a house in a sufficiently inner location that you don’t need a car.

    • Universal Set says:

      Consider Madison, Wisconsin. Cultural options are not as high quality as a large city, but they exist, and it seems to fit other requirements (I lived without a car for several years there). There are places within 2 walkable miles of downtown where there are decent houses with yards, as well as nice bedroom communities maybe 5 miles out. The city has good public transit for its size and is bike-friendly. Like much of the midwest, the people are reasonably friendly. Cost of living is not super-low, but also not expensive by any means.

      Other medium-sized cities in the midwest may also fit most of your requirements (e.g. Fort Wayne, IN, which is near where I live now). Most are not quite as walkable/bike friendly as Madison, but still doable, I think. You’ll have to check to see if they meet your culture desires, though.

    • Lumifer says:

      New England? Greater Boston sounds like it would suit you fine.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think something’s gotta give, and it’s probably the house with the yard. Car-free logistics and a population of likely romantic partners both point to dense urban areas; if you have decent money you can get a townhouse anywhere except NYC/SF/Toronto, but a yard is much harder.

      • Untrue Neutral says:

        However, finding “friendly” people, little traffic and favorable demographics points AWAY from dense urban centers.

        Friendliness in particular is hard to quantify. Im not sure how related it is to a “strong sense of community”, which would point to smaller cities/suburbs and away from big urban centres.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Based on previous SSC comments, I take “friendly” to mean “willing to accept that he will indeed be looking for women to date”. Which, come to think of it, means I’ve slandered Philadelphia below; people are grumpy and rude, but not intolerant of people looking to date.

          • Untrue Neutral says:

            I would venture that Philadelphia is not in the “favorable demographics” zone, I could be wrong about what that means as well though

    • nona says:

      Let me second Minneapolis! Uptown or Northeast neighborhoods. Walkable. Bikeable (at least in summer). Lots of breweries, restaurants, bars, theaters, nice parks. Fairly cheap for a biggish city. A house with a yard in Uptown will cost <$500k.

      Cons: flat (so relatively poor skiing), not the best for single men, can be hard to make friends.

      • Psmith says:

        That’s a hell of an interesting map. I wonder why San Francisco and Seattle have such bad reputations despite apparently favorable, though not great, ratios of employed men to women. (All those unemployed musicians?)

        • Teal says:

          This is one of those things where the big picture data is really deceptive. To really see what’s going on you need to drill down into specific age ranges and then adjust for wealth and ethnicity.

          There is census track level data, so it can be done, but it takes a bunch of work and knowledge of the relevant city and it’s demographics.

        • Ruprect says:

          That’s an awful map.

          I’m wondering if we couldn’t form a feminist/disgruntled male/right on lefty/open borders alliance here, and just say open borders for women?

    • Ray System Pathee says:

      If you ever want a wife and kids, stay near extended family.

    • Nicholas says:

      Andrew, I’m aware that the internet makes it hard to read tone out of text, so please grant the charity that this is a sincere question:
      Have you ever lived in a geographic area that people did not Freeze you, and was your conduct at that time noticeably different than it is now, or the demographic of people you want to be friends with noticeably different? Because before you invest resources in relocating, it would be good to make certain that you are inadvertently encouraging this behavior. Otherwise the Freeze might follow you.

    • Steinn Sigurdsson says:

      Boulder, CO

    • beoShaffer says:

      Melbourne (Australia not the Florida one) fits most of these and routinely does well in livability rankings. There is a bit of a trade off between yard space and the ability to go car free, but that is true anywhere (yards have a causal impact on density) and Melbourne has enough parks even in dense areas to make yards less important.

  25. 75th says:

    What do people here (and at Unsong) do to get alerted to responses to their own comments? If you subscribe to a post with the checkbox on the comment form, you get emails for every comment on the entire blog post, not just the ones in the thread you replied to.

    If checking that box is the best option we have, then consider this a request to investigate, test, and install one of the various search-enhancement (or post-subscription-enhancement) WordPress plugins that might help with this that I found in my Googling on this subject.

    • herbert herbertson says:


      Also, if e-mail registration would facilitate a useful reply notification system, that’s an extra reason to do it.

    • Bassicallyboss says:

      I just check in once in a while to any threads I still care about responses to and ctrl+F my username, then look for green outlines.

      • 75th says:

        Yeah. The problem here is that you may not remember if that comment you posted was on Open Thread X or Open Thread X.25. The problem at Unsong is that the story is in massively anachronic order [warning: TV Tropes] and deriving a chapter’s content from its title takes some hard thought.

  26. meyerkev248 says:

    OK, silly question.

    Why do Olympic Sprinters have giant arm muscles?

    I look at pretty much every other sport and I can go “Ok, you need to use these muscles for this, which is why every single person has the exact same build”, but it doesn’t seem like being super-swole in the upper body would be helpful for sprinting and DOES seem like it would be adding non-zero pounds of extra body weight to carry.

    • Adam says:

      I’m reasonably certain they mostly just look bigger than they are. Usain Bolt is 6’5″, 205, exactly the same size as Ray Allen, who was one of the skinniest dudes in the NBA for the last two decades. Sprinters are just so absurdly lean that every part of their body looks swole even if it isn’t big. Justin Gatlin is 6’1″, 183, which is the same height and ten pounds heavier than me, but I swear he looks about 40 pounds heavier.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Sprinting training usually includes weights, and sprinting rewards people whose genetics favour fast-twitch muscularity.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I don’t know the answer to this question.

      But I do know that bio-mechanically moving your arms when running is helpful. When we are talking about sprinting especially, and time differentials of a 100th of a second, arm pumping might need to be especially vigorous.

  27. Froolow says:

    I was interested by the below link, so I assume some other Astrocodexians might be:

    Its a (very short) discrete choice experiment to examine your intuitions about trolley-problem type scenarios as they relate to self-driving cars. I would have liked to include some questions where the driver / pedestrians *might* survive to test how much certainty of a bad outcome influences people’s intuitions, but there’s a good spread of variables tested.

    At the end of the test you can see where you compare to average, although clearly this is just for fun since you can’t really make that sort of judgement on a discrete choice test.

    • Brad (The Other One) says:

      Off-topic – is anyone worried state intelligence apparatuses might use deliberate, engineered “accidental” crashes of self-driving cars to eliminate certain undesirables? I mean, conspiracy theorists like myself think they already do this sorta of thing with human-driven cars (running people off the road, etc.) and off the top of my head it seems like self-driven cars would be tightly government controlled, so this just seems like the logical next step in cutting edge assassination techniques.

      (The most useful part to a state that wishes to start doing this kind of thing is because you can generate casualties beyond the intended target (i.e. i.e. having a two self driving cars cross lanes and have head-on collisions; perhaps multi-car pileups), you can therefore mask that the incident was intended to eliminate a specific target by virtue of them getting lost in the collateral damage and simply claim it was a critical system failure/mechanical failure/mass computer crash, etc.)

      • On The Internet, Nobody Knows You're A God says:

        Yup. One of many reasons that, when I have to leave the city and get a car again, I plan to buy a classic model. No onboard computers or GPS.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Flaw: If the state wishes to have someone rubbed out, the state can already just send some goons with guns around to kick in their door, no need for a technothriller-style hack. If the state can find and employ murderous hackers, it can certainly find and employ goons with guns.

        • Aapje says:

          It’s still embarrassing to the government if the only entity with a motive is the government. ‘No crime’ means no question of blame.

          • Jiro says:

            Also, bear in mind that not all government departments work together. The spy branch may want to kill someone while the army doesn’t.

          • John Schilling says:

            The spy branch may want to kill someone while the army doesn’t.

            Is there any branch of government that doesn’t have goons with guns at this point? The Department of Education has SWAT teams at this point, and uses them.

          • TheWorst says:

            That doesn’t preclude the possibility of wanting someone dead without being seen to use your goon squad.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            That’s in no sense foolproof — should a prominent critic of the government die in an “accident,” the allies of that critic are still going to blame the government, and the accident will be thoroughly investigated. (Unless we’re assuming that the government’s already so powerful and evil that it can and will step on the investigation of the accident, in which case there’s no reason it can’t step on the investigation of goons-with-guns.)

          • TheWorst says:

            The issue here isn’t the allies of the critic, or the allies of the government, it’s the (vastly) larger number of uninvolved parties. Uninvolved parties are interested in goon-squad murders, but not in accidents, which means one type of investigation is a lot more likely to go viral.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            >That’s in no sense foolproof — should a prominent critic of the government die in an “accident,” the allies of that critic are still going to blame the government, and the accident will be thoroughly investigated.

            A prominent critic can be bought out, or discredited, or (most likely) ignored. I’m talking more about situations where someone is privy to knowledge that could harm someone with influence in an intelligence agency.

            More to the point, if I’m calling the shots in an intelligence agency, I’m way more concerned with things that could lead to my own demotion, dismissal, investigation, or arrest – and people who are privy to that information – than some impotent Amy-Goodman-type bemoaning ain’t-it-awful stories on twitter.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @ThirteenthLetter – “Flaw: If the state wishes to have someone rubbed out, the state can already just send some goons with guns around to kick in their door, no need for a technothriller-style hack.”

          The CIA appears to disagree with you.

          • John Schilling says:

            That was IIRC about developing assassination techniques for use in other countries, where a competent police force the US Government doesn’t control would investigate any suspicious death and maybe imprison valuable CIA agents and/or embarrass the CIA. Same goes for the KGB and its ricin-pellet umbrellas, etc.

            I believe the discussion here is meant to be about “the state” using such techniques within its own territory against its own people, in which case it does strike me as needlessly complex and prone to backfire. Either you can stifle an independent investigation or you can’t, and if you can, you can just shoot the guy and say “OBTW he was a child molester and he had it coming”.

          • TheWorst says:

            I think it’s too simplistic to say “you can or you can’t.” Why should we assume it’s impossible for “the state” to be able to do it in some instances and not others?

            The opposite seems to self-evident.

            Similarly, “the state” isn’t a thing. When it comes to just shooting someone and dropping a no-sale on an investigation, some people in some parts of some states can do it to some people. Other people, or the same people using different parts of the state, or targeting higher-status targets, need different methods.

    • numbers says:

      This kind of makes me angry, in that it takes an event which we expect to be super super rare and sensationalizes the heck out of it.

      It’s like if I put up a series of articles about MIT research scientists who have been infected with brain parasites causing murderous rage. If an MIT research scientist has been infected with brain parasites and is on a murder spree, but they have just enough sanity left to choose their next victim, should they preferentially murder babies or grandmothers? And what sort of government regulation should we have for this circumstance?

      (The answer doesn’t matter, of course. The only important thing we’ve accomplished by asking the question is linking the concepts “MIT research scientist” and “murder babies and grandmothers” in your mind.)

      • numbers says:

        In practice, self-driving cars will save lives compared to human-driven cars. Brake failures happen very rarely, especially the sort of simultaneous total failure of all brakes which would lead to a runaway car. Runaway cars will almost never be pointed at walls of pedestrians. And if a self-driving car does encounter a brake failure, I predict that it will continue obeying traffic laws to the best of its ability; it will absolutely never swerve off the road into a wall or a pedestrian, because many juries decide lawsuits based on virtue ethics, and “I was trying to avert a worse catastrophe” is not a good defense against manslaughter charges.

        (Also: if you think you’re in a super-unlikely worst-case scenario, you should consider the possibility that your sensors have failed or been hacked. Try to take an action that won’t have disastrous consequences if it turns out your sensors are wrong.)

      • Froolow says:

        I think I disagree.

        Although I agree that exact situations generated by this experiment are so vanishingly rare as to be not worth considering (I got a question about dogs driving a car having to choose between hitting some lawbreaking cats or a single fat man, who was presumably taking the cats for a walk), cars will need to be explicitly programmed with risk tolerance, and this includes the rate at which the car should trade off risk to pedestrians with risks to the driver.

        There is no such thing as a ‘zero risk’ drive (for the passengers or pedestrians), and there are various actions you can take that either reduce risk for both passengers and pedestrians, or trade one type of risk for another. It seems possible – though I don’t know this for sure – that we can reach a point where no more win-win tradeoffs are reached, and we must start trading passenger safety against pedestrian safety. To give an example, how much space should you give a truck when driving past it? Too little space and a drive error by the truck driver (or a sharp gust of wind) will crush your car. Too much space and you must drive closer to the pavement, giving you less time to react if a pedestrian steps into the road.

        What’s interesting about this isn’t that self-driving cars will have to make this tradeoff (‘dumb’ cars do this now in all kinds of ways, for example requiring seatbelts which lower the risk to passengers in a crash but appear to cause more of an appetite for risk in drivers which harms pedestrians), but that we will have to explicitly formalise this tradeoff. Even if the net lives saved is higher (which I expect it will be), society has an interest in making sure that the tradeoff is equitable.

        In your example about brain parasites, the question isn’t ‘who should the scientist kill next?’ but ‘what level of risk is acceptable in the study of brain parasites?’, which I think is an entirely appropriate question to ask before deploying a new technology. In the same way, “What level of risk should pedestrians bare when I drive my new self-drive car?” is a perfectly reasonable question.

        • numbers says:

          Good point.

          For your example (how close should we drive to a truck when passing), I guess I imagined the tolerances would be checked separately. In other words there would be one number for how close the car can get to a pedestrian on the sidewalk, and how fast it can be going when it does. And there would be a separate number for how close the car can get to a truck when passing. If the clearance is less than the sum of those numbers, the car doesn’t pass.

          (I’m also a little bit confused that our self-driving car is passing trucks using the lane that’s adjacent to the sidewalk! But, okay, it’s just an example.)

          So maybe the core question here is: how close can a self-driving car drive to a pedestrian, and how fast can it be going when it does so? Does it need to be “you cannot possibly throw yourself in my way fast enough to get hit” speed, or is it sufficient to go at “you don’t look like you’re going to run out into the road” speed?

          So: I think you’re right about that, and I wish the website were covering those questions.

  28. sohois says:

    Got a simple medical related question, which I’m sure would have been covered in some past thread somewhere, but I’ve never seen any discussion so hopefully people won’t mind answering:

    Multivitamin supplements, yea or nay?

    • billymorph says:

      Nay to meh IMO. Generally if you’re eating a reasonable diet and have no health problems you don’t need vitamin supplements. There are fringe cases and some genuine medical deficiencies that might require them, but for you average person’s needs they are expensive have have limited or negligible benefits.

    • Lumifer says:

      Generally useless unless your diet is very unhealthy. You can take them as cheap insurance that you are not developing some deficiency, but don’t expect them to actually improve your health.

  29. Carinthium says:

    Hi guys. Just want to know from somebody who understands better- what are the odds on a Trump victory right now? I know they’re pretty poor, but I figure others here can give a better analysis than that. Also, what is it that made things turn so badly against Trump?

    • TPC says:

      The “odds” on a Trump victory are probably close to 50/50 realistically speaking. Constant negative press bias has been effective in driving his polling numbers down, but it’s not driving Hillary’s up. This means the race is close, favoring her, but not “pretty poor”.

      High undecideds, low numbers for the presumed favorite in 3 and 4 way polling, independents usually favor Trump even when he is -4 or whatever in polling– these things suggest a low-turnout, fairly close race.

      Note that I’m not arguing “omg the polls are SKEWEEDD”, I’m just noting that they are pretty weak. 40/30 is Hillary +10, but it is realllllly unlikely third parties will get 30% on election day. And that is not even far from some of the results we’ve actually got from polls. It’s even worse with a lot of state-level polling, 35/30 is still showing up as a possible state polling outcome.

      Gary Johnson reached 8% in 2012 and got barely 1%. Trump currently tends to win independents by anywhere from 52/48 to 60/40 and gets 75-85% of R’s. His black voter numbers are impossible to predict, because the blowback is so brutal for not following group cohesion norms on the D thing. Could be 1%, could be 10%, could even be 20%. Depends entirely on whether black men turn out (they vote R at way higher rates than black women, though still quite low overall) He polls ok with Hispanics, but that’s also volatile, 20-40%.

      Anecdotally, I’m an out and proud black Trump supporter and have found that there is support for Trump among many of the groups he’s getting bad poll numbers with. *puts little foil hat on*
      I do think there is a shy Trumper effect, and that it’s probably good for 3-4 points in the aggregates. This doesn’t mean Trump’s ahead, but it does mean if he closes to that point, I think he is likely to turn out his base because he has energy and a GOTV that contains some of Obama’s analytics people.
      *takes little foil hat off*

      • ShemTealeaf says:

        I think Trump will probably do better than his polling indicates, but it’s going to be pretty tough for him to win unless something significant changes. He pretty much needs to win Pennsylvania or Virginia (in addition to doing significantly better than expected in several other states), and his numbers don’t look good there. Even if you grant him 3-4 points from the ‘shy Trumper’ effect and assume that all the Johnson voters break 2:1 for him over Clinton, that only gets him to a couple points down in both states. I think those are fairly generous assumptions, and that still leaves him a bit short.

        Also, if you’re interested, I’d offer a small bet on the ‘shy Trumper’ effect. I’ll bet $20 to the charity of your choice that the national margin will be less than three points off the 538 prediction at the time of the election. If it’s three points or more off the prediction, you win. Interested?

        • TPC says:

          I prefer Sam Wang’s approach and I dislike his unfortunate turn towards partisanism this cycle. Nate Silver is too partisan and bizarrely petty (he doxxed a site owner of a very minor polling analysis site with an alternate model it claimed was predictive for the past three Presidential elections).

          This election cycle is hard to predict, Trump’s at 15% with black people in the LAtimes tracking poll, which is the same people until late Oct or early Nov. That’s a real shift, even if it goes away tomorrow, it lasted for three days and probably reflects the overall volatility and weirdness of the potential voter pool.

          So sure, for Sam Wang’s model, but not for Nate Silver’s.

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      This site calculates the odds based on betting markets:

      Trump’s currently at ~19%.

    • John Schilling says:

      I doubt anyone here can give a better analysis than the folks at 538 Politics, which is currently putting Trump at 21.1% . There might be people here who theoretically could do better than Silver et al, but only if we put in the hours that they do, and we don’t.

      Trump’s decline has been particularly noticeable post-convention, which I take to imply:

      A – The pre-convention expectation that Trump was a serious contender was based on the assumption of a “pivot” that would logically be unveiled at or about the convention once he had the nomination sewn up. This didn’t happen.

      B – The Democratic convention was perceived as competently run and generally successful, with Sanders (unlike Cruz et al) endorsing Clinton, and came at about the same time that we learned that Hillary isn’t going to jail after all.

      C – Trump’s various gaffes since the convention, particularly the dispute with the Khan family, are getting more play because there’s not as much else to talk about. Or at least not much else the media wants to talk about.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I have to say, I’m a little confused that the Khan dispute did as much damage as it did. It didn’t seem like anything really different than what we’ve come to expect from him. After all, he’s already insulted a military member before(but that was a politician so maybe that’s different). I’m wondering if all the people who stopped supporting him had become increasingly uncomfortable with his antics and decided this was the final straw or if they were fine with him until then.

        • Diadem says:

          Well, I think going after grieving parents is worse than going after a veteran who’s also a political opponent. He didn’t just go after them either. His answer to ‘what have you scarified’ was that he’s very rich. Personally I found that worse than his attack on the Khans, because it betrays a complete lack of introspection.

          And are you sure the drop in the polls is just the Khan thing? Weren’t his remarks about Russia and NATO in the same week?

          And yeah, there’s probably also a bit of an ‘final straw’ thing going on. A lot of moderate Republicans were hoping that Trump would pivot at around the convention, and he dashed those hopes.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          It seemed that when he took on Khan, he dropped in the polls from “tied” to “definitely trailing” and hasn’t been back since.

          Looking at 538, Trump was ahead on July 30, in a dead heat on July 31, and then dropped 15 points on August 1st, and then continued to dribble out over the next few days.

          I don’t know what the lead-in time is for polls, but July 31st is when the worst of the Khan debacle happened.

        • Adam says:

          He’s not playing to the same audience any more. A large enough number of people who are not Republican primary voters or political horserace addicts were not paying attention to him when he slandered McCain. Now they are.

        • John Schilling says:

          After all, he’s already insulted a military member before(but that was a politician so maybe that’s different).

          That’s part of it, yes – living politicians are expected to take being slandered by other politicians, dead war heroes aren’t.

          Also, a year or even a few months ago people could rationalize that Trump was just putting on an act to sell his cosmopolitan New York self to those hicks in the GOP, and once he’d won the nomination we’d see that he’s really not such a bad guy, he just plays one on TV. So much for that theory.

          Also also, back then we could only have a few brief stories about Trump trashing McCain before we had to hear about some damn fool thing that Ben Carson said, and then something Sanders v. Clinton, and then Bush v. Clinton. If Trump said something stupid and then shuts up, the silence was filled with stuff to make us forget the stupid thing he said. Now if Trump says something stupid and shuts up, there’s nothing to talk about but that last stupid thing Trump said. Until the next stupid thing he says.

      • Vaniver says:

        I doubt anyone here can give a better analysis than the folks at 538 Politics, which is currently putting Trump at 21.1% . There might be people here who theoretically could do better than Silver et al, but only if we put in the hours that they do, and we don’t.

        Well, given that I called the Republican primary for Trump back in August of last year, and Nate Silver had to write a mea culpa about how he blew that prediction…

        I don’t think Silver has a good grasp of why people like Trump, or models the dynamics of the election well enough. There’s been a lot of “no one has done X before!” that makes sense from a retrospective forecaster but not if you’re actually trying to model the dynamics.

        • Anonymous says:

          Well, given that I called the Republican primary for Trump back in August of last year

          Out how many total predictions, since 2008?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Well, more than that — out of how many total predictors? If there are 500 different predictors each who predicted 5 two-way races, one would expect several perfect results even if no single prediction is better than chance.

        • Adam says:

          538’s polls model called for Trump last August anyway. Nate Silver just ignored them and went with his gut when making his own prediction. The record of his actual models is still about as close to perfect as you can hope for a predictive model of an uncertain process to be.

  30. Deiseach says:

    Thank you all very kindly for your intercession and I bow before the only true caliph who has been pleased to be gracious, but I have to think about returning here in anything other than a lurking capacity.

    I don’t think, upon reflection, I contributed much and I got much too easily het-up. It may be better for everyone if I stick to reading the comments, following the discussions, and yelling at my computer screen instead of firing up a comment wishing ye all to the floor of hell.

    • TheWorst says:

      I don’t think, upon reflection, I contributed much…

      For what it’s worth, there’s very good evidence that a large number of (very smart) people disagree, and would miss you if you didn’t stick around.

      • Ruprect says:

        I wonder if it’s a cultural thing (I’m English), but I really hate the word “smart”.

        To me “smart” = “smart alec”, “smarty pants”, “street smarts” – a superficial, glib cleverness. New York values.

        • E.P. says:

          In place of it, I guess English folks say ‘brilliant’ for praise of mental ability?
          To Americans, that sounds like extremely high praise, e.g. “Albert Einstein was brilliant.”

          • Ruprect says:

            I think ‘brilliant’ to describe someone’s mind or accomplishments is similarly high praise in British English.

            I would normally say “intelligent”.

          • Diadem says:

            Speaking as a non-native speaker:

            Maybe it’s just me, but to me ‘brilliant’ is almost meaningless. It’s just too overused. It’s like calling something ‘epic’. I don’t personally dislike the word ‘smart’ but I see where Ruprect is coming from. I think my preferred word would be ‘intelligent’.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Reverse euphemism treadmill?

        • TheWorst says:

          I’ll second (third?) the others, that “smart” in the US is more like “brilliant” in the UK. In my experience, it means the same thing as “possessed of that quality leading one to be more often correct.”

          But don’t get me started on “New York values.” I was born there; our values are fine, thank you very much.

        • “Smart” applied to people doesn’t bother me. But “smart cars” or “smart urban planning” does. It feels like a way of claiming that what you are in favor of is obviously better without having to actually offer any arguments for it.

          • Adam says:

            Smart Car is a brand name. Being able to claim your product is obviously better without having to offer an argument is the entire point of branding.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I believe “Smart Car” is also a play on another meaning of “smart”, that is, “fashionable” or “stylish”. Yeah, that’s just marketing.

            The “smart” as in “smart growth” is the same thing only marketing policy instead of products, and I agree it’s annoying. But no one is going to call their policy “foolish growth” or “sardine packing”.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Largely replaced now, in political contexts, by the adjectival “common-sense”– implying that what you are in favor is so obviously better that everyone (except the benighted diehard you’re arguing with at the moment) already agrees with you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Common sense” beating “smart” as an adjective attached to policy is a nice example of a trend of anti-intellectualism that has been winning in politics for quite a while.

        • Sweeneyrod says:

          I’m English too, and I view “smart” as more or less a synonym of “clever” (but a bit more American).

          • Ruprect says:

            Ah, one of those English, eh?

            I think “smart” is far worse, but I also view “clever” as being somewhat negative (“clever clogs”, “too clever for his own good”) – again, a degree of superficiality.

            What do you think?

            (I think my thing with “smart” might just be that whenever I read “he’s a smart guy” I have to read it in a New York accent, and, for whatever reason, that irritates me slightly. )

          • Bassicallyboss says:

            I’m American, not English, but I’ve seen “clever” in some English things where I’d expect to see “smart” if it were American.

            To me, “clever” connotes a certain ingenuity or mental agility which isn’t exactly synonymous with “intelligent.” “Smart,” on the other hand, has a sense that is pretty much exactly synonymous with “intelligent,” but more casual. As a clarifying example: Inventors are clever, physicists are smart, but the best of either are both.

            There is relatively little leakage from other uses of “smart” (like “smart dresser” for fashion) in my mind or, I think, in the mind of most Americans. On the other hand, “smart” as “intelligent” leaks into things like “smart-alec” (someone who makes intelligent but mouthy comments to embarrass others) or “smarty-pants” (someone who shows off their own intelligence, like a “know-it-all”). The end result is a connotation that smart-alecs and smarty-pantses usually are intelligent, if unpleasant, and are not just feigning intelligence for the crowd.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’ll be the firstsecond to say that, on the occasions that you aren’t wishing damnation upon anyone, your contributions have been valued.

      And your occasional calls for damnation have at least been more entertaining than most, but yes, maybe best to keep those private from now on.

    • Peter says:

      SSC can be an infuriating place, and at the end of the day, if avoiding commenting is the best way to keep your blood pressure within safe limits, then that’s probably for the best (says the person who keeps telling himself, “you don’t have to comment on SSC, it’ll just get you pointlessly wound up”, yet here I am). OTOH, let me third all the people who are saying that you’re one of the good ones.

      I mean, here’s me, one of the ban-happy ones, one that doesn’t think that the reign of terror goes far enough, one who’s still urging for the ban of Anonymous, one who looks though the list of bans and says “ooh good, so-and-so had been asking for it for so long, I’m glad they’re gone”, and we’ve sparred a fair bit in the past, but I’m glad your ban has been lifted.

    • PhoenixRite says:

      Like many of the intercessors, I have virtually always found your posts to spark interest, make me think, and often make me smile. Your contributions were greater than you think.

      That said, do what you wish for yourself, not for our sake, and the Lord be with your Spirit.

    • Alphaceph says:

      I’m curious as to why people here get banned. I’m not enough of a regular to know the story though. Can you give me a <200 word tl;dr of what the disagreement/issue was?

      • Randy M says:

        Have you read the links in the header?

      • Nornagest says:

        People usually get banned for a history of being rude or obnoxious. Deiseach’s was an unusual case, though.

      • PhoenixRite says:

        There was a discussion about poverty. Deiseach said something along the lines of the poor deserve a better existence than eating gruel and packing twelve people into an apartment to save every last penny. Two commenters held the idea that the poor “deserve” anything beyond what they earn themselves was both factually incorrect (there allegedly being no universal arbiter of deserving) and was just envy of the more successful.

        Deiseach then proceeded to start off with “F you and the high horse you rode in on” and then expounded on a series of citations to early Christian teachings on poverty/wealth/socialism, and at one point said that Lazarus would laugh at a commenter’s burning in hell (a reference to Lazarus and Dives).

        Scott sometimes bans for just a single egregious post, and usually the standard is that every post must be at least two of true, necessary, and kind. A less-egregious but consistent series of posts lacking in necessity and kindness may also earn a ban.

        • Hey Nonny Mouse says:

          And Xerxes, who was the target of Deiseach’s “F off with your logic and reason and enjoy hell” was banned for daring to disagree with Scott’s pet commenter.

          • Ruprect says:

            Hmmm… not too sure about that.

            Seemed more like ->
            “What you are saying is bad”
            “Boo Boo, being bad is imaginary, Brrrrrrb!”

            If you’re in general agreement with the Christians, does that make you left, or right?

          • Ruprect says:

            Fictitious books do contain evidence – evidence of what it is to be human.

        • Alphaceph says:


          Thinking about bans, it’s odd that I’ve become somewhat attached to my little yellow symbol.

        • Agronomous says:

          The Slate Star Codex Commentariat:
          Leaving Well Enough Alone for 6 0 straight days

      • Nicholas says:

        In the comments on a post about poverty, a commenter whose name I forget left a post that could be summarized as “The other poster is a bad person”. Deiseach told the commenter that they were a bad person, on the basis of their comment, in a tone that was considered unnecessarily strident and insulting. Scott declared that Deiseach’s judgement was not objectively true enough to justify her level of invective, and thus the ban.

    • Up to you, but I found you one of the more interesting posters.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ve banned about 25 people now and you’re the only one who I’ve gotten asked again and again and again when I’m going to unban them because the blog isn’t the same with you. Take that for what you will.

      • Aapje says:

        25 seems like an amazingly low number. Or doesn’t that include temp bans?

      • TheWorst says:

        For whatever it’s worth, a sincere-if-contradictory-seeming thanks both for unbanning Deiseach and for having qualms about it.

      • Deiseach says:

        The size of my swollen head from all the flattery is now visible from Jupiter.

        I am very appreciative of you unbanning me, Scott, and for whatever it is worth, I agree with the justice of banning me, and your right to do so. I did cross the line because I was raging angry and more or less dared anyone here to tread on the tail of my coat.

        I think that Xerxes and I both were arguing out of positions where personal experience and emotional reactions to same were very intense, and we were arguing past each other (to the point where it degenerated into a quarrel, not an argument). Xerxes considered that position A was unquestionably the case and was passionately explicating that, I considered position B was clearly intended and was raving about that, and we splintered our lances on each other’s shields.

        I’m very struck that most people seem to have been genuinely upset about what I said re: hell (even though I’d expect most people on here to be some variety of atheist, agnostic, or not hold a belief in a soul, afterlife or any such notion). I’m not trying to do some rationalisation after the fact or excuse myself by “But that’s not what I really said” here, but I would like to maybe expand on what I plainly didn’t make clear.

        I wasn’t saying Xerxes was going to hell or deserved to go to hell. Okay, that sounds like I’m trying to wiggle out of “But you told them when they were burning in hell…” Xerxes (or Image-Of-Xerxes, the participant in the colloquy that I constructed in my mind and was quarrelling with) had declared they didn’t believe in such things as rights by virtue of being human, didn’t believe they or anybody else had any rights, and that if misfortune befell them then life was tough and that was it and nobody was obligated to help them if they couldn’t help themselves.

        So I went for the worst-case scenario there, which in my paradigm is hell*. Had I instead used a secular example, e.g. “So when you’re lying by the side of the road raped and robbed and bleeding from grave injuries, you’ll be perfectly fine with passers-by refusing to phone the cops or an ambulance for you because your phone has been stolen, especially if their grounds for refusal is you can’t pay them because your wallet with all your money has been stolen?” I hope no-one would think from that that I was saying Xerxes deserved to be, or was inviting, or that I hoped they would be, raped and robbed and grievously injured.

        *People go to hell for their beliefs and behaviours, and one of those in my religion is saying “Fuck the poor, what did the poor ever do for me, I owe them nothing, am I my brother’s keeper?” which is the attitude I was attributing to Image-Of-Xerxes. So I took it to the ultimate conclusion with the parable of Lazarus and Dives. Come the Parousia, we won’t be judged on our impeccable theology but what did we do? It’s entirely possible that people on here will hear “Well, you totally denied my existence every minute of your life. On the other hand, you paid for a shedload of mosquito nets. Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” while I get shunted off with the other goats who never lifted a finger to help anyone.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I lurk a lot, Deiseach, but I think this place would be much poorer for it if you were to follow suit. You’re one of the most witty, entertaining, and educational (seriously, I’ve learned so much about Catholic intellectuals) posters here. Don’t stop. D:

    • Protagoras says:

      As another data point, I have been generally in favor of the reign of terror and have in the past, pretty much whenever Scott banned someone, thought good riddance. You’re the only exception; while I wasn’t one of those who went so far as to pester Scott with a request to restore you, I can tell you that you are about the only case where I haven’t been happy about a banned person being gone. Welcome back!

      • Jiro says:

        We have a word for letting someone bypass the rules because they’re well liked.


        • The Nybbler says:

          “Favoritism”, I think, is more precise. But why would you expect a “reign of terror” to be other than arbitrary and capricious?

          • Jiro says:

            “Reign of terror” here doesn’t mean “is completely arbitrary”, it means “is arbitrary to some degree”. It may be informative to point out that the degree of arbitrariness is higher than expected, and that this is a bad idea.

        • Jiro, I hope you become a moderator somewhere so that you can see whether you can do banning on a basis of clear rules and make it work.

          I’m assuming that you haven’t been a moderator because you haven’t written about your set of rules.

          • Nornagest says:

            I have been a moderator. Clear rules don’t work.

            Well, that’s not quite true — clear rules work very well to stop basically well-intentioned people from doing specific things you don’t want them doing, and there are plenty of situations where you want to carve out a space like that. They just can’t stop abuse. If someone really wants to harass an individual or troll the community, hard rules are more of an asset to them than a hindrance, and the harder the better.

            To stop those people, I have never seen any set of rules work that doesn’t include “don’t be an asshole”, or something equivalently subjective, somewhere in the fine print.

          • Jiro says:

            The comment that got Deseach banned was a violation of clear rules, and would have been under pretty much any reasonable set of clear rules Scott could have come up with. Clear rules would work in this case, even if they don’t always work.

            That’s because in this case, the question isn’t “what constitutes abuse”. The question is “what is the punishment for abuse”, which is different. “Well-liked people get temporary bans and everyone else gets permanent bans” is not good.

        • Deiseach says:

          I wish to sincerely thank Jiro, and this is not being ironic or faux-naif or anything of that nature: someone who likes and stands up for clear rules and no exceptions or favoritism. You judge I am getting unwarranted leniency, and what can I do but agree? I am glad for your expressing your dislike of what I did which was indeed wrong.

    • Adam says:

      So I guess I was off getting surgery while you were getting banned. I’ve only been back a few days, but didn’t actually realize you were gone until it was brought up. It makes me wonder if everyone else would care if you had simply vanished without anything being said rather than publicly banned, which naturally produces an initial response that sort of commits itself in people and all future is colored by that.

      Anyway, you baffled me sometimes, like being asexual but apparently very opposed to non-breeding marriages. You seem like an extremely miserable person and that’s unfortunate. Commenting here does not seem to improve your life. Reading what other people write often seems to make you very angry, but I picture you yelling at kids on your lawn and am not sure leaving here would be of any benefit, as the outside world is just as stupid, probably stupider.

      Of course, you’re not a kid and are well aware of that. Oh well. I agree with the consensus that your contributions are net positive, and from reading what you got banned for, that seems ridiculous to me. It is obvious the people you were wishing hell upon do not believe in hell and were very likely not distressed on the deep emotional level that Scott projects onto Internet peoples thanks to his history of deep crippling self-doubt due to feminists suggesting that sometimes men harm and frighten women. I wish comments like yours, where you very thoroughly and level-headedly address the content of what you’re responding to, and then tack on an insult at the end, were distinguished from pure insults and better tolerated. Didn’t seem that bad to me.

    • Deiseach, notwithstanding our many disagreements, you are my favorite commenter here, and I grieved at your banning. Your posts are entertaining, beautifully written, deeply-informed, and grounded in interesting experience. I hope you will favor us with more of them.

    • J says:

      I get why Scott’s hand was basically forced, but I have to say that I enjoy a good righteous rant now and again, and yours made me feel like maybe I understood just for a moment what a reprimand in a good old fashioned Irish Catholic school might feel like. Welcome back 🙂

    • Snodgrass says:

      I found your contributions excellent and your perspective fascinating, I was sad when you were banned and would be sad were you to depart voluntarily.

  31. anonymous says:

    Regarding night terrors.

    In my teenage years, I had this experience twice. I don’t know if it classifies as a true “night terror”, o a kind of sleep paralysis, or whatever.

    The first time I had this dream, it started with me being in the woods, and pleasant sunlight filtered through a wall of leaves to warm me. I felt attracted to the sun beyond the foliage.

    I will always remember the shocking trasformation; the sunlight looked appealing and nice, and then, the moment I walked through the foliage to bask in it, like a moth drawn to a flame, that thing changed into the mother of all horrors.

    I was there and the SUN was one step in front of me and it was inconceivably gigantic and hellish and it BURNED YOU TO DEATH.
    It was the most terrifying thing ever.

    I felt an immense urge to escape from that terrible sun, and that incomparable sense of urgency catapulted me awake, even if my body wasn’t ready.
    So I opened my eyes and I was in my room completely paralized.
    They say that when you experience sleep paralysis you are supposed to hallucinate scary stuff around you. I didn’t know of sleep paralysis back then and I don’t remember hallucinations. If I experienced any, they must have seemed comfortable compared to what I was fleeing from.
    All I remember is the titanic, life-or-death struggle to escape the giant sun of death. I felt that if I had not pushed forward, if I had not awoken in spite of the resistance of my body, the sun would have killed me.
    So I exerted what felt like a titanic effort to make my body move and I remember my body eventually coming alive piecemeal starting with the tip of my tongue and the tip of my fingers trembling. That felt very reassuring coming after the encounter with the sun of death. I was still alive after all.

    The one other time I experienced this there were columns and crumbling walls instead of vegetation. There was still the giant sun of death, and I woke up paralysed the same way.

    Throughout my adult life I also have had “ordinary” sleep paralysis episodes, but without the terror part. These episodes consist of becoming aware that I’m in my bed and hallucinating voices in my room, and being unable to say something like “who’s there?” because I’m paralysed. These episodes aren’t particularly scary (not even remotely as scary as the giant sun of death) and anyhow I’ve grown used to them.

    • Ray System Pathee says:

      My wife used to have night terrors before she was diagnosed with sleep apnea and got a CPAP machine. At the time, I was working on a horror screenplay and decided to do a bit of research on night terrors because they seemed pretty scary. It was a pretty consuming research project there for a few months.

      Then finally I had one. It came at the end of a transition out of a dream. The dream went like this:

      I was walking near my college, which in real life was near an Air Force base. As often happens, a giant airplane flew low overhead, but in the dream it opened a cargo bay door and dropped a nuclear bomb on a building a few hundred yards from me. I ran into the woods, as did a few women who were around, but of course it was in vain. A white light overtook everything and just before the first shockwave hit, the dream ended.

      Then it transitioned into the night terror:

      I opened my eyes. I was awake, I knew I was awake, and there was sunlight pouring into the room. Lying on my back, I could look down at the foot of the bed, and two of the women from my dream were there, creeping forward. (Two radioactive zombies, I must have realized on some level.) There was just darkness where their faces should be. They got closer and closer. I was screaming, but with the sleep paralysis it came out more like a whimper. With one little finger I was able to tap my wife who was lying next to me. This woke her up, saw my eyes as wide as saucers and the fearful expression on my face, and then rocked me back and forth a little so that I fully woke up.

      When I put on my glasses I saw that the two shapes I thought were women were actually my wife’s clothes rack (seen end-on) and some other object, I forget what. I wonder if I’d have had the night terror if I could see well without glasses.

      That was the only night terror I ever had, and it was about 10 years ago. It was scary as hell but also pretty interesting.

      In high school I had one other similar incident but it wasn’t a night terror: I had a dream where I was on the phone with someone, then I woke up but could still feel the phone in my left hand as I lay on my left side (so my left arm was tucked under me, with my left hand “holding” the phone to my ear; I usually wake up on my left side). I whispered “Hello?” into the hallucination-phone and waited. After a long pause, a voice answered back. I don’t remember what it said, and I don’t think I was able to say anything more…whispering “Hello” must have woken me up.

    • Vivificient says:

      I believe that I suffer from Night Terrors. My doctor has not been very helpful (I need to find a better doctor), but they seem to closely match the symptoms as described in Wikipedia. I do not know how many I have had… probably 30 or more. I estimate I have them approximately once a month, but in practice they are usually more clumped; I might have three in a week and then none for several months. I had a rather bad one last night, in fact. I will try to describe what they are like for the benefit of anyone interested.

      The exact experience is always hard to remember, but bits sometimes remain. From what I can remember, I believe that I am fully conscious when they occur, and the problem is that the memories are not sticking around well, much like memories of dreams. The experience is somewhat dreamlike in that the things I think at the time do not quite make logical sense; but it is otherwise not similar to dreaming.

      Night Terrors are horrible and unpleasant. The defining feature (for me, at least) is that you know with absolute certainty and conviction that THIS IS IT AND YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE. Also, you scream so hard your throat is sore for the next day.

      There have been a few times when I was having some other dream, and then the night terror burst through. The night terror was not connected to the dream; it happened without warning and instantly overwhelmed the dream. It feels like if you were sleeping and then suddenly someone jumped on your chest and grabbed you by the throat — not physically, but you burst out of sleep in sudden horror in the same way. I cannot remember any of the dreams themselves, just the vague sense of being somewhere doing something in a dream and then suddenly being wrenched out of it.

      Sometimes the night terror is associated with some specific threat, which (in the moment) seems familiar, logical, and deadly. For example, once I had a night terror and woke up believing that SATAN HAD COME FOR ME AND I WAS ABOUT TO DIE AND GO TO HELL. (I am an atheist.) Another time, I thought that malevolent living tree roots had filled by room and had now surrounded me and were about to pierce me and crush me. Another time, I thought my brother was about to kill me with a knife. Most of the time I have no memory of what it was that I had been so afraid of.

      When the night terror starts, I feel like I am waking up. I definitely sit up, scream, and open my eyes. I do not experience paralysis, and I do not have any visual hallucinations. My first instinct is to defend myself. Usually I throw my covers off me, in an attempt to get rid of my unseen attacker. A couple times I have hurt myself in my attempt to fight back. Once I mistook my own hand for somebody else’s and started scratching it, drawing blood. Once I grabbed my bedside lamp and tried to use it as a club.

      My next instinct is to turn on the lights, usually as soon as I realize I am able to move and am not pinned down or in the grips of tree roots or anything. Once the light comes on, I can see that there is no threat in sight, and my terror will quickly subside. (Similar to Ray System’s comment about his glasses.)

      After the immediate terror passes, I am often still left with a feeling that there is great danger at hand. In this state, I can recognize that I have had a night terror, but it is often still very hard for me to grasp that this means there is no real danger and I can safely go back to sleep. Sometimes I will wander around the house, turning on all the lights. Sometimes I am afraid to close my eyes, or even go back into my bedroom, and will sit somewhere else in the house, deeply aware of my own mortality and trying to figure out what has just happened. I have the sense that if I go back to sleep, I will probably die.

      This lingering fear very gradually subsides. Soon I think it would be OK to lie down, as long as I keep the lights on; then after fifteen minutes maybe I just need a lamp; then eventually I think it is safe to go back to sleep.

      Other times it is not so bad, and I am able to go back to sleep relatively soon. Often in the morning, I do not remember the event until someone reminds me of it, or I notice my hoarse throat or scratches on my hand. Then I am able to recall the event, though not always very clearly.

      When it is happening, it can be helpful if someone (my girlfriend) tells me something like, “It’s OK. You were having a night terror. There is no danger.” This can help me regain a little more perspective.

      My vague, layman hypothesis is that a night terror involves the mind being sort of reset with only the terror module activated and everything else pushed out; the sooner you can see other things and be reminded of other concepts, the sooner you can get other mental systems working and figure out that the fear has no basis in reality.

      In a related problem, I sometimes also wake up in a more mild confused state. This is more like Night Anxiety than Night Terrors. I will start to worry that the sound of jets outside are nuclear missiles, or that my girlfriend is a vampire and will die when the sun comes up, or something like that. But these fears have a dreamlike quality, not like the vivid certainty of a night terror; and they do not usually spur me to actually take any physical action, just to lie half-awake and worrying. Eventually, my rational mind starts up and I remember that vampires don’t exist, and then I can go back to sleep.

      I’m not sure if any of this provides any insight into how night terrors are related to other psychological phenomena, but hopefully it is of some interest to someone.

      • anonymous says:

        The sense that if you go back to sleep you will die.

        I remember that feeling from my encounters with the giant sun of death.

      • Jugemu Chousuke says:

        >Night Terrors are horrible and unpleasant. The defining feature (for me, at least) is that you know with absolute certainty and conviction that THIS IS IT AND YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE

        I’ve had this exact thing. For me it’s sometimes associated with either the idea that a nuclear bomb just went off, or that the universe suddenly came to a halt for some reason. For me it’s associated with indigestion I think, and doesn’t happen as often since changing my diet. I’ve also gotten a bit more used to it over time, and recover pretty quickly and rarely actually scream anymore. The first time I had one I thought I was having a heart attack, jumped out of bed, almost decided to call an ambulance (not that I could have been coherent in that state), and couldn’t go back to sleep for hours. Now I can realize what’s happening almost immediately and calm down.

        Like, it used to be “HOLY SHIT THE UNIVERSE JUST ENDED AHHHHH” and now that’s quickly followed up with “wait, why are things still happening?” :P.

  32. Universal Set says:

    The following is a public service announcement for a (small) segment of the community here.

    If you are, like me, an American who is socially conservative but supports center-left/liberal policies in other areas such as universal health care, the environment, labor issues, and foreign policy, you might be frustrated that neither major party, nor either of the more popular third parties, is anything remotely like a Christian Democratic party.

    I have recently learned that there is now such a party in the US, the American Solidarity Party. It’s tiny, but you have to start somewhere. As an added bonus for those who like sane voting systems, their platform also calls for using “either approval voting or range voting” in elections.

    I encourage you to take a look at their party platform.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Eliminating divorce and starting a UBI. That’s a bold set of policies.

    • Alphaceph says:

      Right to life = no voluntary euthanasia. Perhaps you should rename it “duty to be tortured” – I feel the term “right to life” is Orwellian here.

      Banning abortion seems cruel to women, treating them like cattle for the benefit of a ball of cells. I can see the argument for placing a strict time limit on abortion though.

      How would such a party feel about voluntary cryothanasia?

      • Alethenous says:

        I suspect very negatively: not only are you killing yourself (at least in the sense of “body stops working”), you’re also trying to spit in God’s eye by escaping death, which seems the sort of thing a pro-Judaeo-Christian religion party would be uncomfortable with.

        This does raise interesting questions: given that cryonics does work and that Christianity is true, what happens? Does your soul stay put until your body wakes up? If so, how does it know you’re going to wake up and what does that mean for free will? Does it go to the afterlife and then re-enter your body once it wakes up? Are there two instances of you, one in Heaven and one on Earth?

        • Two McMillion says:

          It depends on if the person frozen is dead or not. If they’re dead, they’re not coming back when unfrozen; they’re in Heaven or hell. If they’re still alive, they’ll wake up when unfrozen.

          • Alethenous says:

            What exactly do you mean by “dead”, and by “coming back”?

            If by “dead” you mean “heart isn’t beating”, well, there are lots of people who’ve survived that with modern medicine, so (granted that Christianity is true) either souls are clairvoyant, souls can return from the afterlife, or we have some people walking around without souls (they seem fine). Unless there’s some kind of thoughtful delay on soul-departure.

            If you mean “brain activity stopped”, then yes, cryonics patients are dead. So when you say they “won’t come back”, what does that mean? Are you predicting that it’s entirely physically impossible to reawaken a frozen person? Will they be soulless?

        • Evan Þ says:

          I’m a Christian, so from what I’ve thought about the issue…

          We know (given Christianity being true) that once someone dies, their soul goes straight to Heaven or Hell, do not pass “go,” do not collect 200 good deeds. (These may or may not be the same “Heaven” and “Hell” as we’ll spend eternity in, and some denominations say Heaven has a waiting room named Purgatory, but those don’t matter right now.)

          So the question is whether someone’s dead within that meaning. If so, then without a resurrection (which is a miracle), the soul isn’t coming back. And while God can theoretically raise up children for Abraham from the stones of the ground, He’s never been known to spontaneously create a new soul to animate a dead body. If not, then it’s just like being asleep or in a coma: the soul stays with the body until the body wakes up. In the Bible, trips to Heaven are extraordinary affairs; they don’t happen every night.

          • Mr Mind says:

            As far as I know Christian theology, the Ascension of Christ supposedly saved those who were born before him (so couldn’t have possibly been saved by the Good News).
            So either there exists a waiting room in Heaven or the judgement of the soul is atemporal.
            Either case I think solves the problem of temporarily dying, or been in a suspended animation for x centuries.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Myself, I would take a third possibility – the judgment of the individual soul isn’t atemporal, but Christ’s atonement is. So, believers who died beforehand go straight to Heaven, just as if they’d died afterwards.

            But even if we posit a waiting-room for Heaven (“Limbo Patris”), that’s a long ways away from saying people in comas go there. Possible? Sure, I guess, but it seems to me that’d lead to a whole lot more near-death experiences from people waking up from anesthesia.

          • “As far as I know Christian theology, the Ascension of Christ supposedly saved those who were born before him”

            The Harrowing of Hell in Dante, as I understand it, involved saving a handful of virtuous pagans, with the odds of making it to heaven very much lower for those born too early. Which does seem a bit unfair.

            (According to my daughter, who knows Italian literature much better than I do and is commenting from the back seat as we drive back from Pennsic, the harrowing of Hell was only for virtuous Jews, not virtuous pagans–the latter got Limbo.)

            How that works out in other Christian works I don’t know. I rather like C.S. Lewis’ version in which, as best I can tell, everyone goes to either heaven or purgatory, and people in purgatory can choose to go to Heaven when and if they really want to.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @David Friedman – “I rather like C.S. Lewis’ version in which, as best I can tell, everyone goes to either heaven or purgatory, and people in purgatory can choose to go to Heaven when and if they really want to.”

            The Great Divorce had only heaven and hell, no purgatory. The choice to go to heaven was not an unlimited one; the viewpoint character fails to make it, for instance.

          • Jiro says:

            One of the big problems with “people choose heaven” is that “choose” never means that you get to say “I want to go to heaven” and you then go to heaven. Instead, “choose” is used as an excuse to absolve God from blame–it’s not God’s fault you went to Hell, you chose to go to Hell.

            It’s the religious equivalent of “your mouth says no but your body says yes”.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Jiro

            You realize that Calvinists, never mind Calvinists who’ll actually argue Calvin, are a rather small subset of Christians don’t you?

          • Jiro says:

            “People choose to go to Hell” as an excuse is not limited to Calvinists. People who don’t believe in predestination still say things like “you’ve demonstrated by your actions that you really chosen to go to Hell” or “Hell is the absence of God, so by rejecting God, you’ve voluntarily chosen to go to Hell”, or something similar where a person can say “I choose X” but be deemed to have “really chosen” not-X. They’re not rejecting the concept of choice in general by saying this.

            If Hell was an actual choice, in the normal sense of “choice”, a vanishingly small number of people would choose it. Claiming that people choose to go to Hell pretty much requires an odd idea of what constitutes a choice.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Jiro – “If Hell was an actual choice, in the normal sense of “choice”, a vanishingly small number of people would choose it. Claiming that people choose to go to Hell pretty much requires an odd idea of what constitutes a choice.”

            If heart disease was an actual choice, in the normal sense of “choice”, a vanishingly small number of people would choose it. And yet a great many people take actions that obviously and predictably result in heart disease.

          • Viliam says:

            If heart disease was an actual choice, in the normal sense of “choice”, a vanishingly small number of people would choose it. And yet a great many people take actions that obviously and predictably result in heart disease.

            Assuming that humans were designed by an omnipotent and omniscient designer, I would ask what was the intention behind some design decisions — such as humans being susceptible to superstimuli — which contribute to that outcome.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Villiam – “Assuming that humans were designed by an omnipotent and omniscient designer, I would ask what was the intention behind some design decisions — such as humans being susceptible to superstimuli — which contribute to that outcome.”

            Is there a better way of arranging things that doesn’t impinge on free will?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Consider two ancient scenarios. (a) is a time of plenty that last for generations. (b) is a time of plenty followed by an extreme famine.

            The people who get fat in scenario (a) do less well than those who don’t, eventually succumbing to predation or heart disease. In scenario (b) those who got fat during the time of plenty do successfully make it through the famine live long enough to go to pass on their genes, but, as the famine does not last, still eventually die of heart disease.

            Now, this is a just-so story. It sounds truthy, but I don’t know if it’s true. Especially given that the cholesterol composition may play such a big role in heart disease. But it should challenge your assumption that free-will is a great answer for why people develop heart-disease, even though the incidence of the disease may be correlated with choices.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Jiro: The “You failed to obey an arbitrary set of rules which I, the Authority, have come up with, and therefore the equally arbitrary punishment I visit upon you as a result is your choice” argument is a familiar one coming from temporal authorities; why should one not expect it from celestial authority?

          • Jiro says:

            If heart disease was an actual choice, in the normal sense of “choice”, a vanishingly small number of people would choose it. And yet a great many people take actions that obviously and predictably result in heart disease.

            That really isn’t the normal sense of “choice”. We are more reluctant to say that someone “chose” X the longer the causal sequence between their choice and X. For instance, we don’t say “Japan chose to be occupied by the US in 1945”, even though different decisions by Japan would have lead to no occupation.

            Furthermore, in this case, the causal chain from doing unhealthy things and getting heart disease involves only physical laws. The last entity in the process who can make choices is the human who does the unhealthy things. We don’t say that a rape victim “chose to be raped” by walking in a bad neighborhood, because there’s an intervening choice by the rapist. Saying that someone “chooses” Hell when he chooses X, and God then decides to punish X by eternal torment is no better.

          • Viliam says:

            Is there a better way [than being susceptible to superstimuli] of arranging things that doesn’t impinge on free will?

            Somewhat difficult to answer, because I don’t believe that the concept of “free will” is meaningful (and I also don’t claim to be omniscient, so just because I couldn’t find a better way doesn’t mean there isn’t one), but one possible improvement could be to give humans direct control over their sensory inputs and the brain parts connected to them.

            For example, I could consciously decide that sugar is bad for me, but certain vegetables are good, so I could adjust my senses/brain in a way that would make me dislike the taste of sugar and enjoy the taste of vegetables. Instead of having to fight with a subagent in my brain every time I want to eat something.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Perhaps heart disease was a poor example. I picked it while feeling guilty for not going to the gym yesterday.

            I want all the results of going to the gym. I want to be healthier, in better shape, less fat. Yet clearly, day after day, I choose not to go to the gym. I want a thing, the thing unavoidably requires intermediate steps, I choose not to take those steps, therefore I have chosen not to have the thing I want. The parallel seems clear to me.

            “Saying that someone “chooses” Hell when he chooses X, and God then decides to punish X by eternal torment is no better.”

            Under the framework being discussed, the assumption is that going to hell is something very like a physical law. Saying God decides whether to send people to hell is roughly the same error as saying God decides whether to make rocks he can’t lift. If people choose to reject God in the same way that I choose to reject fitness and health via the gym, and if free will is the whole point of the exercise, there doesn’t seem to be any way to alter the outcomes without breaking the system.

            “For example, I could consciously decide that sugar is bad for me, but certain vegetables are good, so I could adjust my senses/brain in a way that would make me dislike the taste of sugar and enjoy the taste of vegetables. Instead of having to fight with a subagent in my brain every time I want to eat something.”

            …You haven’t eliminated the superstimuli, you’ve just given individuals arbitrary control over what triggers them. it seems likely to me that this would either result in unhealthy behavior due to assigning stimuli inappropriately, or in eating losing its meaning and becoming more like breathing, something that just happens with no real differentiation or experiential value. Neither seems like an improvement.

          • Jiro says:

            If people choose to reject God in the same way that I choose to reject fitness and health via the gym, and if free will is the whole point of the exercise, there doesn’t seem to be any way to alter the outcomes without breaking the system.

            Free will means you have to be able to do certain actions. It does not mean that the actions have to have particular consequences. God could arrange it so that I could walk to Hell, but he hasn’t, and the fact that I can’t walk to Hell doesn’t violate my free will. Why should it suddenly violate free will if I can’t sin my way to Hell either? And even if it is a law of the universe that sin sends me to Hell, why can’t God just pull me out after that, in the same way that he could transform an unfit person into a healthy person? Surely he’s capable of a simple teleportation feat.

            Anyway, I think you’re missing the point. Yes, you could construct a complicated philosophical framework where someone chooses to go to Hell. If the framework is true, then I have nothing to complain about. But I could just as well construct a philosophical framework that says that you can kill apostates, or forcibly convert the Jews. If that framework is true, then I have nothing to complain about either. But if you look at it from the standpoint of a non-Christian thinking of how religion shapes people’s attitudes, it becomes obvious that the function of this particular idea is to paper over any cognitive dissonance between “torture is really bad” and “God tortures people”.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Jiro – “Why should it suddenly violate free will if I can’t sin my way to Hell either?”

            Because under the “Hell is the absence of God” model, hell isn’t a place, it’s a state. As I understand it, hell IS sin, specifically the non-temporal state of sin. God can’t make sin not-sin, for the same reason he can’t make rocks he can’t lift; He doesn’t do fundamental contradictions. He could make it so you never sin by removing your free will, and thus your capacity to choose and love, but that would defeat the whole purpose of existence.

            “And even if it is a law of the universe that sin sends me to Hell, why can’t God just pull me out after that, in the same way that he could transform an unfit person into a healthy person? Surely he’s capable of a simple teleportation feat.”

            Again, under the model you started with, Hell is a state rather than a location. Removing you from hell would involve overwriting your mind, which again would defeat the whole point of existence. From a faux-utilitarian viewpoint, this would imply that human existence and human choice are net-positive compared to non-existence, even if they end in Hell, which in turn gives support to certain interpretations of what Hell is.

            “Anyway, I think you’re missing the point. Yes, you could construct a complicated philosophical framework where someone chooses to go to Hell. If the framework is true, then I have nothing to complain about.”

            Indeed. I responded in the first place because you seemed to be claiming that the framework was internally inconsistent. “Hell is the absence of God” is not the “religious equivalent of “your mouth says no but your body says yes”.”

            “But I could just as well construct a philosophical framework that says that you can kill apostates, or forcibly convert the Jews. If that framework is true, then I have nothing to complain about either.”

            Or a complicated framework whereby one should work all their life to buy mosquito nets for people they’ll never meet, or a complicated framework where values are a useful fiction that must be maintained and perpetuated. Alternatively, a less-complicated framework of eat-screw-kill. Based on my own experience and my observation of others, I think beliefs are fundamentally chosen by the individual, not imposed by reality. We each choose as we like.

            “But if you look at it from the standpoint of a non-Christian thinking of how religion shapes people’s attitudes, it becomes obvious that the function of this particular idea is to paper over any cognitive dissonance between “torture is really bad” and “God tortures people”.”

            “Paper over” is needlessly pejorative, but essentially yes. It is an attempt to reconcile the concepts “God is good”, “god created a system that includes Hell”, and “Hell is really awful” without doing damage to the overall theological system. Annihilationism and a view of God and thus Heaven and Hell as being outside of time also helps. Together they might not be perfect answers, but I find them good enough for me.