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Open Thread 63.25

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761 Responses to Open Thread 63.25

  1. wollstonecraft says:

    I’ve been trying to research the other side on the climate change issue. It doesn’t appear that Myron Ebell is big into writing op-eds or literature reviews. Can anyone recommend blogs with scientific arguments against AGW?

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Can anyone recommend blogs with scientific arguments against AGW?

      In order to answer this question you’d have to clarify what is meant by “AGW.” If you want to find lukewarmers skeptical of the IPCC consensus projections, or economists skeptical of the cost-benefit ratio, you can find them. But if you mean the underlying concept of industrial emissions trapping heat, skepticism will be tougher to steelman. I don’t think there are any bloggers with even halfway relevant scientific expertise still trying to slay the sky-dragon.

    • roystgnr says:

      The best “lukewarmer” argument summary I’ve seen is on Warren Meyer’s blog:

      http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2016/03/denying-the-climate-catastrophe-1-introduction.html

      Technically it’s not an argument against anthropogenic global warming, though; Meyer admits that exists but merely argues about the magnitude and the consequences.

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        I would point out that this link also supports my prior contention that there’s Aumann agreement between intellectually honest proponents and intellectually honest skeptics about taxing carbon.

        • Controls Freak says:

          Eugh. I hate this topic, but I disagree. I just came out to my solid blue friend at work this week. I’m a skeptic along the lines of (4) in Prof. Friedman’s list below. My amateur knowledge of economics plus my expert knowledge of timescale-separated dynamical systems simply won’t let me believe that we have any theoretically-defensible way of computing the social cost of carbon. Given that, I can’t advocate a carbon tax, because I have no bloody clue whether the tax should be positive or negative, much less what magnitude it should take.

          Thankfully, we had been talking earlier about CBO and dynamic scoring (getting a bit of the economics piece) and he also has multiple degrees in aerospace engineering (though he specialized in aerodynamics instead of dynamical systems/control, he had enough of a background that he quickly grasped my position). I felt a little bad after I could see the resignation on his face when he realized just how powerful my argument was. On the other hand, I respect him for what so far seems like intellectual honesty in accepting it.

          • Max says:

            It seems to be the case that therefore by not advocating a carbon tax you believe the most defensible value of the tax is $0/ton. So are you expressing confidence that this is a better value than $1/ton?

            I also would be curious what kinds of public policies you think *are* theoretically defensible, and also curious why you think that public policy needs to be strictly theoretically defensible at all before we can take action.

          • Controls Freak says:

            It seems to be the case that therefore by not advocating a carbon tax you believe the most defensible value of the tax is $0/ton.

            Null hypothesis and all that.

            So are you expressing confidence that this is a better value than $1/ton?

            I have absolutely no clue. Nor do I know whether $0/ton is better than -$1/ton.

            I also would be curious what kinds of public policies you think *are* theoretically defensible

            There are several economic policies that have widespread support from economists on both sides, because they’re backed up by solid theoretical and empirical evidence. Of course, this bag never lines up with right/left, so in combination with other reasons, they don’t get done. But there are definitely items in this category. For examples, go talk to your local economist.

            curious why you think that public policy needs to be strictly theoretically defensible at all before we can take action.

            It doesn’t. People can make policy based on all kinds of things. However, I prefer policies which are based on sound reason. Generally, I find that once I convince a reasonable person of my argument concerning how bad our estimates of SCC are, they find it exceedingly difficult to even make an attempt at arguing for a carbon tax.

          • There have been taxes on most fossil fuels since before GW was an issue–they were intended to encourage parsimonious use of resources that are bound to run out sooner or later, and to provide an income stream to fund alternatives. Do you think those taxes should have been zero as well? Do you think there is no problem of resource depletion? Do you think money garnered by taxation is just fed into a giant shredder somewhere? Do you think there is a downside to developing alternative energy technologies?

          • Max says:

            > Null hypothesis and all that.

            OK. I question why $0/ton is a theoretically defensible null hypothesis, but I concede that this line of argumentation is unlikely to be fruitful.

            > There are several economic policies that have widespread support from economists on both sides, because they’re backed up by solid theoretical and empirical evidence.

            Sure. But you’re subjecting a carbon tax to an unreasonable level of scrutiny compared to the other policies that economists generally agree on. A comparable topic is congestion pricing for traffic (http://www.igmchicago.org/surveys/congestion-pricing). Most economists clearly agree that this is as good idea, which logically lines up with the idea that most of them believe the congestion price should be > 0. But your demand is equivalent to saying that if they want to enact congestion pricing then they have to be able to rigorously prove without a doubt what the exact cost of every additional car on the road is, or else they should do nothing. No economist does that, and no economist could, given how complex of a problem it is and how much it is tied into other aspects of public policy (like how much funding goes toward public transit).

            Now, I’ll grant that where the analogy breaks down is that you are expressing concern that for all you know the correct social cost of carbon could be negative. To that all I can say is 1) even though the estimates of people who have computed it vary widely, none of them I have seen have argued that it is negative and 2) economists do share pretty wide support for the concept of taxing carbon (http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/09/climate-policy, https://www.carbontax.org/scientists-economists/#economists, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jan/04/consensus-of-economists-cut-carbon-pollution). Please understand that I don’t mean to be rude, but just because you haven’t studied the problem closely doesn’t mean that other people haven’t. So I can only follow your reasoning if this is something you have actually looked at closely and concluded that there are a number of possible reasons why more carbon in the atmosphere is a potentially good thing that can outweigh the bad things.

            As for empirical evidence, that exists now. See British Columbia’s implementation of a carbon tax (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/02/business/does-a-carbon-tax-work-ask-british-columbia.html?_r=0).

            > Generally, I find that once I convince a reasonable person of my argument concerning how bad our estimates of SCC are, they find it exceedingly difficult to even make an attempt at arguing for a carbon tax.

            The point I was trying to get at is that a carbon tax doesn’t have to match the precise social cost of carbon to be a good idea. As an example, if we accepted for the sake of argument that the social cost of carbon is $100/ton of CO2, then a $10/ton tax on CO2 would probably still be a good idea if it could negate some of the worst harms of global warming. And even if we overshot and taxed at $200/ton instead, maybe it was still a good idea because in practice humans are risk averse and working extra hard to prevent major environmental catastrophes is a good idea even if the amount of work we do does not strictly match up with our theoretical expected value of the harm.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            There have been taxes on most fossil fuels since before GW was an issue–they were intended to encourage parsimonious use of resources that are bound to run out sooner or later, and to provide an income stream to fund alternatives. Do you think those taxes should have been zero as well?

            In the US, most of those taxes are paid by people buying motor vehicle fuel, and most of the money goes for building and maintaining roads. I’m entirely in favor of that: I believe government services should be paid for by user fees wherever possible, and a gas tax is as close as you can come to a user fee without submitting to the inconvenience of toll roads.

          • Controls Freak says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            Do you think those taxes should have been zero as well? Do you think there is no problem of resource depletion?

            I think that taxes for the purpose of managing resource depletion should be sensitive to defensible predictions of that rate of depletion. I think that as the timeline of depletion increases, it can become more difficult to make such estimates. For an example of how fast-timescale events can throw a wrench in slow-timescale estimates, see the current question of how much of a factor the ability to collect shale gas is (I don’t intend to be pro- or anti- any particular source of energy; just an example of the estimation problem).

            Do you think money garnered by taxation is just fed into a giant shredder somewhere?

            Obviously not.

            Do you think there is a downside to developing alternative energy technologies?

            That’s a complicated question. One obvious downside is opportunity cost, and this applies to any form of taxation. I’m generally pro-research (somewhat self-interested, yes, but also because research can cause major changes (which throw wrenches in that slow-timescale estimate)), so I’m not so much against funding this stuff. However, that doesn’t mean I buy the arguments on the side of taxing carbon.

          • “There have been taxes on most fossil fuels since before GW was an issue–they were intended to encourage parsimonious use of resources that are bound to run out sooner or later”

            Are you familiar with Harold Hotelling’s old analysis of the economics of depletable resources? Markets allocate across time as well as space.

          • Controls Freak says:

            @Max

            But your demand is equivalent to saying that if they want to enact congestion pricing then they have to be able to rigorously prove without a doubt what the exact cost of every additional car on the road is, or else they should do nothing.

            Absolutely not. I wholeheartedly reject this argument. Instead, in the case of congestion pricing, we have theoretically-defensible reasons to think it is positive, we have empirical support that it is positive, and we have some useful metrics (and feedback mechanisms) for trying to estimate a decent price. I absolutely do not demand exactness or nothing, because exactness is always impossible. We have plenty of reason to believe that our estimate is likely to be better than the null hypothesis.

            In the case of carbon tax, we have no idea whether it’s positive or negative. We have no idea if a number that we pick out of a hat (or calculate from an obviously, fundamentally flawed method) is going to be better or worse than the null hypothesis.

            even though the estimates of people who have computed it vary widely, none of them I have seen have argued that it is negative

            Ok. I see I’m going to have to go in some detail here. First, let me point to Pindyck as an example of an economist who has brought up a related concern in the literature.

            My degrees are in aerospace departments, so I like to use an airplane as a non-political example. There are two major timescales: a fast timescale that is orientation/velocity, and a slow timescale that is weight/fuel usage. Things like altitude can cross between the two depending upon assumptions on maneuvering/cruising. Now, someone realizes that the vehicle is consuming fuel. Let’s assume the only thing they really have access to is the current state of the vehicle (and some local estimates). They extrapolate a few different estimates of fuel usage over the course of the flight, given the current state of the plane. Using this estimate of the amount of fuel remaining near the end of the flight, they ask, “What is the damage that will be caused by this usage of fuel?”

            One obvious thing to try is to say, “Well, what would happen if we changed from our current fuel state to this final fuel state?” I can do this on my flight simulator. It can cause all kinds of problems. Your pitch state will have a massive disturbance. You won’t be flying at an efficient altitude. I can even pick examples that make the vehicle unstable and uncontrollable. This sounds really bad! Using fuel can cause catastrophic effects! Some people will go off and try to estimate how to weight concerns of these catastrophic possibilities.

            Others will want to come up with a measure of the cost of non-catastrophic effects. They take that estimate of altitude efficiency. Well, we’re flying at 20000ft right now, and that’s the most efficient altitude. But according to our models, near the end of our flight, the most efficient altitude will be 33000ft. If we’re at 20000ft, it’s going to be really inefficient. We can just integrate over the course of the flight… the difference between being at the most efficient altitude for that weight and being at 20000ft.

            Every single integrated assessment model does one of these two things. I know you want to think that I haven’t studied this, but I have looked at model after model, and they all do this. What else could they possibly do?! There’s simply no way for them to model the fast timescale dynamics of political/economic systems over those long timeframes. They take an estimate of what an X degree change would do to today’s economy and then amortize it over a long timeframe. One major model even claims in its name that it’s dynamic (Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy; DICE), but they still do exactly this. The economic model is really a static model that has been ‘dynamitized’ (i.e., amortized in a slightly fancy way).

            In the airplane example, we can model the fast dynamics over the course of the flight (including known pilot behavior of increasing altitude through the course of the flight). Our mathematical model really only has the one parameter: weight. Otherwise, it’s valid at every timestep between now and the end of the flight. Economic/political models are not. This is why I liked the fact that my buddy at work had talked about the perils of dynamic scoring in CBO. They’re trying to do it over ten years, and their estimates turn out to be shit if they try to model all the dynamics. Do you really think that you can come up with an economic/political model right now that is valid in the year 2065? I hate to say it, but a lot of economists haven’t thought about these timescale issues (like I said, my expertise is in dynamical systems/control, so I think about these things all the time). I’d really like the opportunity to walk into an office of one of these well-known economists and start a conversation about constructing an economic model for 2065… just to see what they say (I’d bet a lot of money that they’d say it’s impossible). Then, I’d like to see how turning the conversation to CC goes. Like I said, I just had this conversation with one of my current coworkers, but through the course of grad school, I’ve made this argument to a bunch of other PhD students and post-docs who are in areas related to dynamics/control. Every single time, they’ve told me that they changed their mind in response.

            Anyway, I’m actually not swayed by the fact that multiple theoretically-indefensible estimates all give a positive sign for SCC. In the airplane example, if we had made the analogous theoretically-indefensible assumption, all estimates along that line would likewise give positive damage. It’s simply completely unremarkable that by amortizing a positive damage function, they got positive damage. The problem is that the positive damage function is a theoretically-indefensible assumption. It’s honestly no better than pulling a number out of a hat.

            For the record, anyone who has picked up Khalil’s book (the standard text in nonlinear systems that does a lot of timescales-separated analysis) knows the way you actually simulate these systems. You hold the slow system constant, let the fast system converge, and then take a small timestep in the slow system. All of the current models that are swaying people are just doing it the wrong way round. They’re holding the fast system constant and using a large timestep in the slow system to come up with an estimate that they amortize. I used the airplane example, but I could come up with a thousand other hypotheticals that just give totally incorrect answers if we flip this around.

            I’m honestly really really serious about the fact that my expertise in dynamical systems simply doesn’t let me buy into any of the estimates that are out there.

          • Max says:

            > Instead, in the case of congestion pricing, we have theoretically-defensible reasons to think it is positive

            Again, I don’t understand how you could make that claim if you were to subject it to the same level of scrutiny that you are to carbon taxation. If it is valid to argue that a carbon tax cannot be supported now because our current economic forecasting models are insufficient to project what its consequences will mean for 2065, how does the same thing not apply to *any* taxation policy? One could apply the hand-wavy argument “well this might have downstream consequences on the future development of hovercars 50 years from now that we cannot possibly predict, therefore we should avoid doing it” and then we’re left in a case of analysis paralysis. If that’s really your belief, that we cannot understand the future effects of any policy, that’s totally fine — what I cannot understand is selectively applying it to some types of economic policy and not others.

            I will grant that the presence of a decent feedback mechanism does make the case of congestion pricing and other related policies significantly different from climate change, but that is much different from saying that the policy is theoretically defensible at the rigorous level you’re demanding.

            > The problem is that the positive damage function is a theoretically-indefensible assumption.

            This is really the crux of your argument that I have a problem with. I really don’t know enough about economic assessment to challenge any of your arguments, and they sound consistent with other people I have listened to who have said that it’s often pretty meaningless to do economic forecasts multiple decades into the future. I am perfectly willing to agree that we have no idea what the actual social cost of carbon is for the purposes of this argument, insofar as it could be $10 per ton or $1000 per ton for all I know. But where you lose me is in suggesting that we do not have reasons to think it is positive. We *do* have reasons to think it is positive, and those reasons are rooted mostly in pretty simple logic coupled with our pretty decent knowledge of Earth’s climate system. As Pindyck points out in his paper, you don’t need to have a fancy model to believe that the social cost of carbon is possibly significant; all you need to understand is that there is some non-zero possibility of environmental catastrophe as a result of climate change, and if you take the small leap that environmental catastrophe almost certainly cannot have a positive economic effect because humans are well-adjusted to their current climate, not an ice age, then weighting the probability by the large cost means that we should take some action to mitigate that risk. The number we use in this case will be imprecise and could be quite inaccurate, but that absolutely does not mean that we should trade it for zero as our best guess.

          • rlms says:

            @Controls Freak
            Are you saying that the global climate is a dynamical system that we can’t predict in the long term, or that the economy (including the influence of a carbon tax) is? I.e. that there is no way to predict what the global temperature will be like in 50 years, or that there is no way to predict how a carbon tax will effect the economy?

          • sflicht says:

            Isn’t a tax on tires, or maybe on vulcanized rubber, closer to a user fee than the gas tax is?

          • Controls Freak says:

            @Max

            One is dependent upon a flawed long timescale prediction; the other isn’t.

            We *do* have reasons to think it is positive, and those reasons are rooted mostly in pretty simple logic coupled with our pretty decent knowledge of Earth’s climate system.

            That’s not an argument; that’s an assertion. Explain the logic.

            all you need to understand is that there is some non-zero possibility of environmental catastrophe as a result of climate change

            I showed a non-zero possibility of airplane catastrophe when we start from shitty assumptions. I don’t buy this, either (…beyond the fact that there’s always a non-zero probability of catastrophic events over long timescales; this is the case even if we adopt a carbon tax). I know Pindyck hasn’t realized this yet… but it’s another artifact of running the timescales the wrong way round.

            @rlms

            We can made decent predictions of the slow climate system, given some assumptions on the fast system. Those assumptions aren’t great, but it’s a lot easier to hold your nose at some wide bounds on a single output of the fast system. You need a pretty wide range, though. IPCC distills the one output to just carbon usage, and they consider a pretty wide range of scenarios.

            Note that in order to do this, we need to assume that this output of the fast system is quite stable over long time periods. In particular, we have to assume that there is no catastrophic or major negative effects that would tank society and tank carbon usage (or significant increases beyond some prediction bound). I think this is a decent assumption, but those who disagree probably have to trash the climate models, too.

            On the other hand, there’s basically no way to predict a converged state of the economic/political system at various states in the future… for either the case of mitigation or no mitigation.

            In terms of my airplane analogy, we can assume some bounds for pilot behavior (he flies straight/level vs. he performs a bunch of aggressive maneuvers) and put some wide bounds on fuel usage… but we can’t use wide bounds on fuel usage to predict orientation/position states.

          • David Harris says:

            The fact that we can’t model the cost of a massive rapid change in our environment seems *more* reason to mitigate, not less. You must agree the effects are likely to be large, whatever their valence?

            To stretch our imaginations, and analogies, a little: if modelling a plane’s flight *were* intractable, I think we’d prefer a world where the plane’s weight did not change significantly over time to one where it does. In fact, if we had never flown a plane through such a change, we may even be willing to invest a little upfront to mitigate the weight loss before attempting it.

            I actually think there is a reasonable chance of successful adaptation to climate change; but I can also imagine some very disruptive risks. Resource wars, eco system fragilities, etc.

            And it seems clear from the geological record that massive environmental change can have significantly deleterious effects on the species that live through it.

          • Controls Freak says:

            The fact that we can’t model the cost of a massive rapid change in our environment

            I think you missed something in my argument. When considering the relevant subsystems, the climate system is the slow system. Rapid events in the environment can be really damaging. I usually use the dust bowl as an example. It hit, wrecked havoc, and was gone over the course of a decade. This gets into the realm of having serious effects on the fast subsystem. If that same effect was spread over a century, you’d have the slow process of, “Well, things aren’t quite as profitable as they were last year… maybe we should consider moving east a bit.”

            With the exception of a single figure in the IPCC report that kind of gets to timescale effects (I’ll leave it as homework to find it), the only thing that is concerning is predictions of short-timescale extreme weather events. For example, the predictions of increased hurricane activity (sure, the wording of the prediction is a really stupid metric and it’s been a bit embarrassing so far because of that). This is the type of claim that is most convincing for human impact.

            if modelling a plane’s flight *were* intractable, I think we’d prefer a world where the plane’s weight did not change significantly over time to one where it does. In fact, if we had never flown a plane through such a change, we may even be willing to invest a little upfront to mitigate the weight loss before attempting it.

            This is where opportunity cost comes up. Unless you posit magic, there’s basically no way that this is possible for the vast majority of aircraft until electric storage/propulsion are feasible. Even today, these systems aren’t feasible for the overwhelming majority of aircraft systems. Which models are able to accurately estimate the cost of zero commercial flights for eighty years? You can definitely throw out the space program. What does our tech look like then? Do we even have the capability to make estimates of the slow climate system?!

            And really, the thing about engineered systems is that we can just, ya know, go and test them. I’m not sure I want to be the test pilot (and I understand you not wanting to, either), but we’re just talking about something fundamentally different. One is knowable, the other is unknowable (at least for the foreseeable future).

            I can also imagine some very disruptive risks. Resource wars, eco system fragilities, etc.

            I can imagine them, too… but I can also imagine plenty of those things happening just in the normal course of events. Politics/economics tend to cause those things all on their own… and again, on much faster timescales! I have approximately no reason to believe that the rate would be higher/lower in either case.

            it seems clear from the geological record that massive environmental change can have significantly deleterious effects on the species that live through it.

            That Cambrian explosion was a real tragedy. Look, I’m on board with ‘can’s, ‘could’s, and ‘might’s, but that’s not the class of claims I’m addressing. I’m addressing the claims that we have specific models which produce a defensible prediction of tangible harms. Without that, we have ‘can’s, ‘could’s, and ‘might’s… but we probably have just about as many of them on the one side as we have on the other side.

            There are massive possible consequences on both sides. We just have no idea how to estimate any probability for either of them. It’s literally akin to, “You can pick heads/tails, and if the other one comes up, all of humanity dies.” Ok. I get that there are risks for picking tails, but, uh… that’s not really a reason to pick heads.

      • Rusty says:

        One thing that always bugs me is the use of the word ‘admit’. It suggests he does it unwillingly so immediately casts doubts on his argument. Using ‘agrees’ or ‘readily agrees’ feels more neutral. Or maybe I am over sensitive!

      • TheBearsHaveArrived says:

        Oh man its been years since I read that site. I like that argument. Namely, that if some temperature increase of 3 Fahrenheit was enough to tip the world into some heat chaos bad for life, then earth would have been pushed into an unlivable heat-hell hundreds of thousands of years ago.

        I still agree with a big net carbon tax and moves into renewability, since oil and gas products are horrible for people and the environment. Also, resource wars worse then the ones today, is a major worry. I’m also a bit worried about the general complex interplays with all this climate stuff in general, like the ozone layer issue I admit I don’t really understand.

        • sflicht says:

          oil and gas products are horrible for people

          I really dislike this sort of statement since it’s often expressed as a truism and is definitely closer to false than true. The reason these products are used so much is that they are good for the people using them. They are also somewhat bad for other people, but not so bad that the benefits provided to the users are negligible by comparison. They’re also both more useful to the users and less bad for others, compared to coal, biomass, corn ethanol.

          The comparison to renewables is much more complicated, because oil and gas are strictly more useful (in most cases — excepting usual situations like Iceland, or Hawaii,…) and probably have strictly worse externalities. So the right answer is not necessarily to switch to renewables, it’s to do a cost-benefit analysis and decide whether to switch based on that. Unfortunately the cost-benefit analysis is really hard to do.

    • Jonathan says:

      As mentioned above, there is little legitimate challenge to the concept of a greenhouse effect. Most of the challenge is in the details and projections of the IPCC. It’s been a while since I followed any of this actively, but assuming you’re looking for specific people to read…

      Judith Curry is a “mainstream” climate scientist, in that she chaired an earth sciences school at a state university and is currently a member of the National Research Committee’s climate committee. Her general opinion is that climate science tends to overstate the confidence of their model and is highly susceptible to groupthink. She runs a blog, Climate Etc, which includes writings by her and other third parties.

      Steve McIntyre is a statistician that focuses on the correctness of the temperature record, things like the paleoclimate proxies and the surface temperature records kept by NASA. He has submitted corrections to NASA that were accepted and is published. He runs a blog called Climate Audit.

      If you want the loud center of the “skeptic” community, that has traditionally been Anthony Watts. His general point of contention are the surface collection stations, namely the models do not adequately address urban encroachment on the stations and, over time, introducing an imaginary warming anomaly. His blog, Watts Up With That? has traditionally served to collect a lot of the anti-AGW diaspora (including the less rational).

      As I said, it’s been a while since I followed any of this so some of this may have changed.

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        I wouldn’t bother with WUWT these days, it cares even less about quality control now. If a criticism is cogent it will make its way to Judy’s, otherwise you’ll be picking through hundreds of pages of conspiracies and Red Tribe signaling and unphysical arXiv papers.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I agree that WUWT has gone downhill, but it used to be a good place to find summaries of how adjustments were being made to past data to introduce warming anomalies.

        • sflicht says:

          There are still some posters there that cover that topic reasonably, well, if not so regularly. Bob Tisdale has an obsessive interest in tracking and comparing various versions of temperature records, adjustments, etc. If you want to know about things like the effect of what type of bucket boats use to collect seawater on maritime surface temperature records, he’s your man.

      • Jonathan says:

        Maybe I should have been a bit harder on WUWT (I did say “including the less rational” at least). I haven’t read it recently, but I never had a particularly high an opinion of it. It had too much of a “no enemies to the right” going on, where down-right embarrassing things were mixed in with more rational discussions.

        However, if your goal is to get a good cross-section of what’s going in the non-consensus community, it at least was a decent information firehouse. I would leave it in my Google Reader (never forget!) and quickly triage whatever flew past.

      • sflicht says:

        Although his contributions tend to be blogged by the others you already mentioned, I’d highlight Nic Lewis as a non-consensus climate scientist worth reading. Unlike most skeptics, he has (since retiring from finance) undertaken a deep study of climate modelling as done by “the pros”, and while he’s not always polite, some of his statistical and scientific criticisms have been taken seriously (if not necessarily accepted) by the academic community.

    • cassander says:

      the best arguments aren’t against the concept of AGW, but the reliability and precision of the models going forward. they amount to “sure, dumping tons of carbon into the atmosphere is going to mess with something, but we have no idea exactly how much so shouldn’t spend trillions to stop what might be a non-problem”

      • TheBearsHaveArrived says:

        Oh, spend doesn’t make too much sense in this.

        There are a few major taxes and regulations here and there. That makes some consumerist business lower a bit, which is bad for the GDP, but with a lot less pollutants the air and water is cleaner.

        That rain used to be drinkable and now is considered bad for your health to drink in lots of places makes me think that the GDP worries are not in the right place.

        I wonder how that effects plant reproduction after 10 generations of that.

        • cassander says:

          >There are a few major taxes and regulations here and there.

          no, there aren’t. we’re talking about tens of trillions of dollars of capital that need to be replaced. Basically every car in the world, for example. In the US, there are 250 million cars and a new car costs about 30 grand, so that’s a few trillion just there, once you account for natural decay of the fleet. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there’s tens of trillions more in oil infrastructure, capital, knowledge, etc. you just want to throw away and replace with some yet to be proven alternative. that’s a catastrophically huge gamble,

    • curious says:

      Rather than limiting yourself to arguments against AGW, you might rather consider arguments over what to do about it.

      The most fashionable current proposals involve:
      (1) taxing the scientifically more advanced countries (who are called polluters) to
      (2) subsidize or “compensate” governments in countries that are scientifically or at least economically less advanced (one might call some of these governments relatively more corrupt, even kleptocracies, and their countries comparatively backwards and much more religious).
      None of that would gain control of the climate, and even supporters’ most optimistic projections do not say it would stop (let alone reverse) AGW. Rather, it would enable vast transfers of wealth, including kickbacks, into corruption and religious institutions, and away from science that might actually stop or reverse AGW. Rather than pretend to neutrality, I summarize these proposals as the corrupt and/or delusional response.

      The most interesting proposals involve developing new technologies:
      (1) converting CO2 to calcium carbonate;
      (2) finding other uses for CO2;
      (3) geo-engineering (including a range of possibly good and bad ideas).
      You can find a lot about these in university publications, and probably blogs. Alas these proposals are not helped by certain industries that prefer to deny AGW entirely. Nevertheless, I call these the scientific response. Climate has always changed, and can change at any time for any reason. Various panic narratives about global climate change (first global cooling, then nuclear winter, then warming, now merely “change”) seem to suggest that investing in R&D (including some geo-engineering possibilities) makes sense.

      Perhaps predictably, the supporters of what I call the corrupt and/or delusional response attack the scientific response. Search “geo-engineering” and you’ll find many corrupt and/or delusional blogs. The response goes beyond blogs though, as the corrupt and/or delusional response has now spawned a well funded quasi-scientific cult. Their catchism seems to follow a doctrine similar to original sin, blaming human activity as the work of the devil, or at least the white devil, and now probably the Chinese dragon also. Having thus demonized the provenance of the scientific response, all proposals involving more human activity (especially geo-engineering) are denounced as works of the devil.

      Personally, I find that debate quite interesting to watch, though usually sad. At least in the USA, we see usually a debate between two delusional camps:
      (1) those who say AGW isn’t happening at all, and
      (2) those who say it will shorten American life expectancy by 40 years and the only solution is to tax Americans and subsidize kleptocracies (and kickbacks to politicians and their “charitable” foundations), even though it isn’t a solution at all.
      I’ve started to like Scott Adams’ Dilbert blog, and I recommend it. He wrote that humans are not evolved to understand objective reality. We are evolved to develop our own little movie scripts, and live within our own movies. As long as our movies are consistent with evolutionary goals, nature doesn’t care whether they’re documentaries or pure fiction. In fact, fictional movies may have an evolutionary advantage, if they maximize reproduction. I think for this reason, political debate tends generally to become increasingly fictional, as most people live in their own fictional movies.

      • Jiro says:

        The most fashionable current proposals involve:

        I’m surprised you didn’t include carbon taxes there (they aren’t taes on countries.

        I distrust them because taxes create bad incentives for the government to keep the flow of tax money going and to redirect the tax money to whatever pet project it or its political allies want. If we implement a carbon tax, at some point in the future, the carbon tax will be put into the general fund just like Social Security and be considered necessary for the economy, and/or the proceeds of the carbon tax will be used for any publically funded project that has the word “environment” or “energy” in the press release somewhere.

    • There are about five different positions that are critical of the current pop consensus on climate:

      1. Warming isn’t happening–it’s an artifact of something, accidental or deliberate, in how we measure global temperature.

      2. Warming is happening but AGW isn’t the main cause.

      3. Warming is happening, is in large part due to humans, but the IPCC models are very unreliable and their predictions seriously overstate the size of the effect.

      4. AGW is true, the IPCC models are at least a reasonable guess, but there is no good reason to expect the result to be a large net negative effect for humans.

      5. AGW is true and might well have large net negative effects, but dealing with those effects is a better approach than trying to slow AGW.

      I don’t know of anyone arguing position 1 or 2 who I find convincing. I think a reasonable case can be made for 3. I have an old blog post where I look at the successive IPCC reports, estimate in each case what I would expect to happen thereafter on the basis of each report, and compare it to what did happen. My conclusion was that the IPCC consistently projected high. I have another post that suggests a different interpretation of the data, in particular the mid-century pause, than the modelers seem to be using, points at a published journal article along similar lines that concluded that the rate of warming was about .8-.9°C/century and had been that for about the past century.

      But my main argument is 4. The best single post summary of it is here.

      One point along the lines of 5 is here. Another is here.

      I’ve written a good deal on my blog connected with parts of the argument, largely arguing that the public discussion is in part biased, in part dishonest. This link will give you most of it.

      Hope that helps.

      • sflicht says:

        Although I agree that people who argue 1 in the strong form you stated it are crazy, I do not think that calling attention to the weaknesses of the long-term instrumental record, and the possible infelicities in the rather complicated procedures used to adjust the raw data, is inherently crazy. And I definitely don’t think critics of the longer-term climate record literature (i.e. using proxy data to make hockey stick graphs) are crazy.

        Neither of these strands of skepticism point to the conclusion “no AGW at all”. But they do undermine the “settled science” status of both estimates of the amount of warming so far, and the fraction that is attributable to anthropogenic forcings.

        That said, I agree with David that 3, 4, and 5 are the strongest parts of the skeptical case.

      • John Schilling says:

        Although I agree that people who argue 1 in the strong form you stated it are crazy,

        I actually believe it is rational ignorance for most of them.

        Most people can’t, or at least shouldn’t, spend the time to independently sort through a multitude of hypotheses each of which allows for substantial quantitative variation, and try to pin the right value to the right hypothesis. They do have the time to do a basic true-or-false on the core matter of the debate.

        And that core is, I think, the comparison of the “consensus” position of ~3.5C/doubling leading to catastrophic effects in a generation or two, and the null hypothesis of “nothing is happening”.

        If the truth is that we are getting 1C/doubling and very little harm will come from this, the null hypothesis is closer to the truth than the consensus. And the rational course for anyone with better things to do with their time is to look into it just far enough to say, “null hypothesis is probably close enough, DONE”.

    • sflicht says:

      Although of course the author is regarded as Evil Incarnate by the other side, I thought this essay by Kininmonth was a reasonably good, self-contained exposition of the viewpoint of lukewarmers skeptical about the epistemic status of conclusions based upon climate models.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      As for major developments on the climate change issue, it’s hard not to mention Trump’s defunding of NASA’s earth monitoring programs.

      Advisor Bob Walker made some statements that sound reasonable — such as moving earth monitoring out of NASA to earth monitoring agencies, so NASA can focus on deep space. Yet leftists are furious! So what’s going on?

      In this post, I try to explain, without any angry name-calling. Comments welcome!

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Good post — I do have to quibble with #5, though. Isn’t that one just a rephrasing of “Why are we spending so much money on space when there are so many problems to solve down here on Earth?”

        • maybe_slytherin says:

          I mean, to some extent, I think it can be a reasonable & consistent position to say that.

          However, I was intending something else, which is more like “yes, space is cool, but part of what’s cool about it is that it gives a whole new perspective on Earth, and we shouldn’t throw that away.”

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            I mean, to some extent, I think it can be a reasonable & consistent position to say that.

            It’s not an argument that’s specific to space exploration, though, so it’s really just a generic bit of rhetoric. Never mind space, why are we spending so much money on, say, lipstick? Or newspapers, or fine art museums? Or, et cetera, et cetera. For that matter, you could promote it up to “why are we spending so much money on earth observation when we could be using it to end malaria” or whatever.

        • John Schilling says:

          Why are we spending so much money on space when there are so many problems to solve down here on Earth?

          Why are we spending so much money on designer fashions, when we could be exploring the universe?

          The hidden fallacy in any such argument is that the speaker is not actually a dictator who can rule out every other possible budget item and force a choice between just two. The reality is, if you somehow manage to force people to abandon [Frivolous Cause X], they’ll probably spend the money on some adjacent frivolity. And if you are really serious about funding [Worthy Cause Y], you can’t be picky about who you try to dragoon into paying for it.

          But to answer the original question: Mostly because aerospace workers are a powerful enough political constituency to command ten billion or so a year in pork, with a side order of there being a few billionaires who really like space. And, if you count “invest profitably” as “spending”, because communications satellites are clearly profitable. Now, consider which adjacent frivolities get the money if you somehow block spending on spaceflight.

          • bean says:

            For that matter, there are quite a few commercial or quasi-commercial Earth-observation satellites. DigitalGlobe and Planet Labs both seem to be doing pretty well. There’s also lots of governments who are more than willing to sell you data, although I don’t have information on their profitability.

          • sflicht says:

            @bean

            I think those companies are focused on imaging as opposed to remote sensing. I suspect that NASA’s Earth-observation satellites have much more sophisticated equipment, and probably have different orbital parameters. I don’t know, though, whether other countries have comparable sats (but I kinda doubt it).

          • bean says:

            I think those companies are focused on imaging as opposed to remote sensing.

            Imaging is a subset of remote sensing. I’ve done quite a bit of work in the area, and definitely don’t want the free data turned off. (I’ve personally used data from at least three different programs.)

            I suspect that NASA’s Earth-observation satellites have much more sophisticated equipment, and probably have different orbital parameters. I don’t know, though, whether other countries have comparable sats (but I kinda doubt it).

            The orbits are slightly different, and the loadouts themselves are very different because they’re doing different things. That said, it’s going to be politically impossible to pull the plug on functioning satellites, particularly as virtually all are international partnerships. Even if the US totally pulls out of running the things, I expect that the international community would launch their own, and you could probably get secondary payload status on the commercial birds, too, which would be a lot better than nothing. For that matter, this could well be an area where commercial development is being held back because the government is handing the data out for free.
            I’m definitely not advocating pulling the plug. I think the current system works just fine, but if worst does come to worst, it’s not likely to be nearly as catastrophic as you might think.

      • sflicht says:

        What if we read Walker’s comments more narrowly, so as to exclude from “Earth-centric science” the design and operation of satellite missions to collect data that is useful for Earth science? I agree that it’s obviously correct for NASA to be the one in charge of those missions. If the Trump Administration merely relocated the budget lines devoted to climate modelling and associated computational expenses, from NASA to (say) NOAA, would you still think it’s a bad idea? When I look at this list of GISS projects, for example, very few of them seem to naturally fit within NASA’s purview. Rather, they seem to be pursuing aspects of the mission of the NCEP division of NOAA. Wouldn’t there be genuine scientific synergies from having all the climate prediction research under the same bureaucratic roof? As far as I understand, other countries like the United Kingdom have this sort of organization, e.g. the UK’s Met Office is responsible for both weather forecasting and climate change research.

        One possible objection I’d like to anticipate: maybe the fact that NCEP has “prediction” in the name strikes some climate scientists as too narrow; the folks at NASA are engaged in basic research to the good of humanity, which involves understanding the climate in all its glory, not merely trying to predict its behavior. I think that’s bogus for philosophy of science reasons.

        My understanding of the history (from a guy I know who designs weather satellites) is that NASA’s involvement in Earth science dates roughly to the late ’80s or early ’90s, when the first generation of Earth monitoring satellites was launched and their data proved very useful for Earth science. The part I don’t know is how, why, and when NASA became the main American government hub for climate change research. The cynical hypothesis is that climate scientists who wanted to do this sort of research — in the face of potential political opposition to its funding — sought to exploit NASA’s broad popularity with the American public as a sort of budgetary body armor.

        If anyone here can either confirm or deny the cynical hypothesis, I’d be interested.

        • maybe_slytherin says:

          Yeah, I think that narrow interpretation is much more reasonable. Again, I suspect that due to the general dislike of all things climate it’s not what Walker intends, but I’d be prepared to be convinced otherwise. I think a political mandate that’s focused on prediction is going to be narrower, in ways that are more restricted than the philosophy of science view of prediction.

          As for the cynical interpretation, while conceding that I know less of the history than you, I’d say it seems like there’s truth to it, though it’s hard to disentangle from practical considerations or quirks of individual careers & organizational structure. I think the loud insistence that their work shouldn’t be political, while engaging in this kind of shielding, is somewhere between shortsighted and dishonest. Maybe (fine, certainly) you can’t always convince your political opponents of your point of view, but it’s still better to engage and accept that political divisions exist than to completely hide from it.

      • John Schilling says:

        This is a misunderstanding of how earth research works: out of 12 or so key climate indicators (temperatures, cloud cover, vegetation cover, ocean algae levels, atmospheric composition, …) 50% of them are either best monitored from space or can only be monitored from space.

        You are aware, I hope, that NASA has no monopoly on satellites and space? NOAA has its own satellites, one launched just this week, specifically for monitoring weather-related issues. It hardly seems unreasonable to suggest that maybe we should put weather-monitoring satellites and climate-monitoring satellites under the same agency. And it’s hard to see how changing which government agency cuts a check to Lockheed for which satellite will “severely compromise capacity for deep space missions”.

        As you suggest, the intent could be to quietly drop the ball during the handover to NOAA and let much of the climate-monitoring mission wind up defunded or critically underfunded. That would be a real loss. And that, I think, is where you might want to focus your attention. Trying to simultaneously paint this as a threat to deep-space exploration capability and denounce deep-space exploration as boring, isn’t going to win you supporters from any of the space-enthusiast factions and may distract you from a winnable battle on Earth.

        If Trump really wants to shift this mission from NASA to NOAA, it may be more effective to offer enthusiasm than opposition, and use the enthusiasm to pry loose enough support that NOAA can do the job right.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Sure. Maybe?

          But the obvious prior here is a candidate who has explicitly said that Global Warming is a hoax, wants to dismantle the Paris accord, has said he wanted to eliminate the EPA, etc.

          Given that, what is the likelihood that stating a desire to eliminate research of global warming from one particular agency is simply a genuine desire to do so?

          • John Schilling says:

            But the obvious prior here is a candidate who has explicitly said that Global Warming is a hoax, wants to dismantle the Paris accord, has said he wanted to eliminate the EPA, etc.

            And if he says he wants to shut down all the Earth-observations satellites, we should try to stop him.

            But he’s not saying that. He’s saying, and you may suspect him of being less than sincere, that we should consolidate management of the Earth-observation satellites in an objectively reasonable manner. Maybe the “hoax” stuff was just campaign rhetoric to be abandoned once he had won, maybe he doesn’t think he is powerful enough to arrange an outright cancellation, more likely somewhere in between.

            And maybe agreeing with the objectively-reasonable plan and using what political capital you have to make sure it is in fact reasonably implemented, will work better than saying “We don’t care if your plan is reasonable; so long as it is your plan we are opposed to it!”.

    • Levantine says:

      Can anyone recommend blogs with scientific arguments against AGW?

      Here’s one that’s been absent from the blogrolls on the links already pointed to you, and it’s run by a scientist with his own concrete arguments : http://climateguy.blogspot.com

    • MoreFreedom says:

      I’m a fan of Patrick Michaels: https://www.cato.org/people/patrick-michaels regarding climate science.

  2. Atlas says:

    What’s wrong with white nationalism?

    No, seriously. I’m not a white nationalist who is trolling or sealioning or shitlording or whatever. As it happens, I think implementing some form of open borders would be the single most effective way to alleviate real human suffering world-wide, and I think that the most probable (and desirable) mid/long-term future for humanity is the removal of all the arbitrary barriers of race, nation and religion that separate mankind from one another. (I do agree to varying degrees with white nationalists/the alt-right on some important empirical points, however.)

    But I genuinely do not understand why anyone who doesn’t believe something like that would oppose nationalism, of which white nationalism is but a subspecies. Indeed, I find myself kind of amazed that “white nationalism” is being used as a propaganda term by this ideology’s enemies, because it associates their cause with more sympathetic historical self-determination/national unification movements and their opponents with unfair double standards (“would you say the same thing about Zionism/Japanese nationalism?”)

    Yet there has been a deluge of mainstream media—notably Vox, the New York Times, NPR, Fusion, the Washington Post and Fusion, among others—and politics Twitter coverage of the alt-right recently. (I would include links in this comment but I included too many links in an earlier comment and it got flagged as spam and disappeared into the digital aether and that was really annoying.) It seems kind of weird that there’s so much coverage of such a tiny “mini-movement” (As David Frum has aptly described it and as Scott explained in the “Crying Wolf” essay.) But the way I see it, there are three factions here, liberal opponents of Donald Trump, alt-right supporters of Donald Trump and mainstream supporters of/people who for Donald Trump/the Donald himself. Liberals want to make Donald Trump look like a hateful bigot whom everyone should hate by tying him to really extreme people who support him, so they put an electron microscope on the alt-right and any possible links between Trump and it. The alt-right is happy to play along, because it makes them seem more materially important than they actually are and gives them platforms with which to reach large amounts of people. I would conjecture that Trump and his advisors are completely indifferent to the alt-right/white nationalism, happy to condemn it when asked and to the extent that they care at all frustrated that it’s embarrassing Trump. There’s been *a lot* of media hysteria about Steve Bannon being alt-right, but if you actually examine his substantive record he’s obviously 2-3 significant ideological degrees of separation away from white nationalism. (Funnily enough, liberals are capable of figuring out what words mean and how ideologies with some overlap meaningfully differ when they’re accused of being socialists by conservatives.)

    But what’s amazing about this to me is that whenever they actually let prominent white nationalists speak for themselves in free discussion, this strategy backfires, because liberal media types seem get just totally bowled over. (E..g. the unedited—and heck, even the edited—Jared Taylor/Jorge Ramos and Ramzpaul/John Hockenberry interviews.) While they are very good at coming up with names—bigot! White supremacist! Racist! Nazi!—to call their opponents, they don’t seem to be very good at identifying the specific empirical, logical or moral areas where they think their opponents are, you know, wrong. Maybe I’m missing something (and if I am I would love to hear it), but in almost all the mainstream pieces, even openly and heavily critical ones, on the alt-right/white nationalism that I have seen, white nationalism is assumed or asserted, rather than argued, to be wrong.

    And this is made even more weird to me by the fact that liberals and leftists seem to basically agree with white nationalists that diversity has a lot of extremely important and hard to resolve problems—except that they think these problems are caused by whites rather than non-whites. Liberals like Ta-Nehisi Coates seem to think that HBD and culture are 100% insufficient explanations of white/Asian-black/mestizo gaps in metrics like educational attainment and crime rates, and that only discriminatory institutions/racism—which is allegedly REALLY REALLY SUPER difficult if not indeed impossible to change— can. But if this is true, why would you *not* support ethnic nationalism for persecuted minorities? If you think about the history of the Jews in Europe, the real solution to anti-Semitism as a material force was arguably self-determination (i.e. Zionism), not assimilation and/or the end of discrimination. (And the history of Zionism is way more complicated and ugly than it needed to be because of its settler colonialist aspects.) Instead of forcing minorities to (allegedly) live in constant existential fear of white racism and suffer from microaggressions and discrimination, why not grant them self-determination?

    This was kinda long, but as a TL:DR/conclusion I just want to say: the way liberal people, like Heather McGee on the most recent episode of the “Ezra Klein Show”, talk about racism/anti-Semitism is as if it was a disease that people catch and (paraphrasing her words) need to be cured of. It’s apparently so totally insane and irrational that there’s no need to entertain it as anything but a virus to be destroyed. But I think that “racism”, at least in its more formally articulated ideological form as ethnic nationalism, is actually just a set of debatable factual and moral claims. And, like most ideologies that a lot of people believe in, it gets some stuff right, some stuff wrong and some stuff kind of right and kind of wrong. And I think it will ultimately be defeated by liberalism, but only when liberalism can deal with it impartially and absorb its valid points, as it arguably did with communism in the 20th century.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I think that an attempt in the US (or in Canada) to either kick out all the people not deemed “white” by white nationalists – as I understand it, most of them would kick out the Jews, make everybody not deemed white a second class citizen, or split up the country and say “this belongs to group x, this belongs to group y, now go to your assigned zone or be forced to/face being a second class citizen” would be disastrous. Think tens of millions dead and previously prosperous and (in the case of the US) powerful countries shattered. White nationalism achieving political power would lead to catastrophe, and the white nationalists would not even get what they want. It cannot be done peacefully – you cannot forcibly uproot people, or subjugate people, without violence – and if it is done with violence from the get-go, again, disastrous.

      I do not think it is intellectually or morally defensible either, but the sheer practical side of things is enough to crush it at one go. America has problems, and a lot of those problems have to do with race relations, but the solution to those problems is not an apocalyptic race war. You wanted a reasoned attack on white nationalism, there it is. I can expand on it, or explain the intellectual or moral side of things, but frankly, “would destroy America” is a pretty good argument against something.

      (I am considering white nationalism as a different thing from ethnic/cultural nationalism in Europe – which is a different kettle of fish).

      Part of the problem is what you have identified – when you declare something off limits for argument, but then allow its proponents to argue anyway, you done fucked up. You won’t be able to argue effectively, because you never learned how, because you declared it off limits – but then you let them debate anyway! Three things can be done: ignore them and pretend they aren’t there, make it open for debate and then debate them legitimately, or actively keep them from speaking. A muddled combination of the three is the worst of all possible worlds. Separate strategies could be considered for online and meatspace, of course.

      More generally, mainstream people – media or otherwise – are doing a piss-poor job of dealing with the far right, especially the alt-right. Take the alt-right posters that went up in Toronto: first, people started posting pictures on Twitter, to show how horrified they were by this awful stuff – giving the alt-right free publicity. Then, newspapers and news sites started putting up pictures, in articles about how horrified everyone should be by this awful stuff – again, free publicity. They even reprinted the picture including the links to alt-right sites, for fuck’s sake. Promoting your ideological opponents’ propaganda is idiocy of the highest order. It’s the same deal with this whole Richard Spencer/NPI thing. Running clips of his speech to show how bad and wrong he is, is still giving a wider audience to his speech.

      • Atlas says:

        I think that an attempt in the US (or in Canada) to either kick out all the people not deemed “white” by white nationalists – as I understand it, most of them would kick out the Jews, make everybody not deemed white a second class citizen, or split up the country and say “this belongs to group x, this belongs to group y, now go to your assigned zone or be forced to/face being a second class citizen” would be disastrous.

        I think there are probably some white nationalists who believe something like this, but I think that most of the leading figures of the alt-right, like Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer, are pretty strict advocates of non-violence. I don’t think that race war as you describe in the sense of Harold Covington or William Pierce’s novels is a very popular belief among the alt-right. See this Atlantic Centurion and this Counter Currents article, for example.

        So I think this:

        America has problems, and a lot of those problems have to do with race relations, but the solution to those problems is not an apocalyptic race war.

        Is kind of arguing against a weak man. Yeah, I agree that a race war is a bad way to create ethno-states. But what about people who advocate the creation of ethno-states in an orderly and humane manner?

        • dndnrsn says:

          I don’t think it would stay orderly and humane. Let’s say you have a town that’s 80% white and you want to make it 100% white. How do you do that without resorting to coercion and violence? I don’t think you can.

          I cannot think of any examples in history where a “rectification of borders” type situation – all the Bordurian minority in Syldavia end up in Borduria, and vice versa – has happened without violence, and plenty of examples where it has.

          What I am saying is that the strong man is going to turn out to be the weak man anyway.

          • Atlas says:

            I don’t think it would stay orderly and humane. Let’s say you have a town that’s 80% white and you want to make it 100% white. How do you do that without resorting to coercion and violence? I don’t think you can.

            Actually, I believe that both Jared Taylor and Ramzpaul have stated that they (for whatever their opinions as leading figures are worth) aren’t aiming for 100% racial purity, and have specifically cited an 80-90% range as their end goal. And many of them European nations that nationalists oppose immigration to are currently super-majority one group; they just want them to stay that way by preventing further immigration.

            And I think the whole American Renaissance line of argument is that people will tend to voluntarily choose to self-segregate by race (e.g. white flight) as long as the government doesn’t force them to integrate. In the context of the analogy you give, for example, why would you even want to live in a community where your clearly defined group is <=20% of the population in the first place? Wouldn't it be better in terms of social cohesion, trust as per Putnam's research, et cetera, to live in a community with people with whom you share more in terms of heritage? (Although I personally find this argument kind of odd because it's perfectly consistent with open borders.)

            I cannot think of any examples in history where a “rectification of borders” type situation – all the Bordurian minority in Syldavia end up in Borduria, and vice versa – has happened without violence, and plenty of examples where it has.

            I think a (white) nationalist would say that the more relevant question is usually how much violence would have happened without partition. It does seem like there’s a lot of hypothetically preventable violence in the world that results from two clearly defined and distinct groups (like Shias and Sunnis in Iraq/Syria) trying to share the same vaguely defined country. Wouldn’t it be easier (a nationalist might say) to just head off these conflicts by letting everyone live in relatively homogeneous relatively high-trust societies where they don’t have to worry about these kinds of group conflicts being a Damoclean sword hanging over their heads?

          • dndnrsn says:

            How do you keep it stable at 80%, though? What about birth rates – even if you ban all immigration, are you going to somehow manipulate birth rates? What do you do about a town that’s 60% white? What happens to the 20% who are minorities – what is life like for them? Do they still get the protections they are due under the law?

            And as for the question of why people don’t self-segregate 100% of the time … jobs, schools, not having the money to move, any number of things.

            The rectification of borders did result in greater peace in Europe: the forced transfer of various groups at the end of WWII, for instance, reduced ethnic conflict in Central and Eastern Europe. However, it came at an enormous human cost. White nationalists selling this as something that can be done peacefully are not selling it as bloody but worth it. They are selling it as bloodless, and as a policy goal, rather than as something that usually happens at the end of terrible wars.

            Either they actually think this could be done bloodlessly, in which case they are stupid, ignorant, or foolish, or they are lying and intend for it to be done bloodily, in which case they are monsters.

          • Atlas says:

            How do you keep it stable at 80%, though? What about birth rates – even if you ban all immigration, are you going to somehow manipulate birth rates? What do you do about a town that’s 60% white? What happens to the 20% who are minorities – what is life like for them? Do they still get the protections they are due under the law?

            I believe that for every white nation except the US, a moratorium on non-white immigration would keep its population above 75% white. And I think a lot of white nationalists would indeed advocate natalism and traditional gender roles for their own group.

            I think most white nationalists would probably be okay with granting equal rights to a <=20% non-white minority along the lines of, say, Arab Christians in Israel.

            They are selling it as bloodless, and as a policy goal, rather than as something that usually happens at the end of terrible wars.

            I’m not sure why the fact that such transfers haven’t often happened is prima facie evidence that they can’t happen. I think that with enough political will the most important part of nationalism, immigration restriction, would probably be pretty easy and bloodless (though I would add that it would impose huge utility costs on lots of people) to achieve.

            And I think it’s kind of a weaksauce argument to say that the reason we have to have multiculturalism instead of nationalism now is because we’ve had multiculturalism in the past.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I don’t know how many people would want to be part of that 20% of people who are there until the majority gets tired of them. Arab Bringing back natalism and traditional gender roles, in addition to making the US a white ethno-state, bloodlessly? This is tall order upon tall order upon tall order. I guess if you’re going to do one thing that’s probably impossible you might as well do a few others.

            Christians do OK in Israel because they are treated a lot better by Israel than they would be in the countries around them. The same dynamic would not work in the US – it is not as though there would be a 20% Asian minority who knew full well that they would be persecuted in, say, Canada.

            If the US were to stop all immigration now, 100% – which would require a great deal of political will and a great deal of resources to accomplish – that would basically set the population demographics in stone, with a bit of shift past what there is now, as everyone seems to dip below 2 children per woman once they’ve got a certain standard of living and people are allowed to do so. The US would still be faced with the problem of forcing many people to accept de jure second class status, the problem of how to get people to actually have kids, the population would still be about 60% non-Hispanic white, etc etc etc. It’s not workable. Beyond being intellectually and morally indefensible in the US context, it just isn’t workable.

            And, yeah, having things happen that prevent a previous condition from being returned to, that does mean the previous condition can’t be returned to. A bit tautological, but it is generally hard to get toothpaste back in the tube.

            You are also saying “nationalism” for “ethnic nationalism”. The US could make a big push on civic nationalism. That is far more intellectually and morally defensible and far more practically feasible.

          • Reasoner says:

            Agree with dndnrsn that trying to make America into a white ethnostate is a bad idea. Why don’t reactionaries move to Australia? Australia doesn’t look kindly on illegal immigrants. There aren’t very many black people there. They’ve got aborigines around if anyone ever needs a reminder that racial differences exist. There’s plenty of land. They’re far away from Africa and the Middle East. Their tech sector is taking off. What’s not to like?

            Maybe there’s a better choice than Australia–I haven’t done research. But I would rather white nationalists focus on just one country, because 1. I think maybe their beliefs are correct, and if they are, they’re more likely to be successful if they concentrate on red-pilling a single country and 2. less necessity of “peaceful ethnic cleansing”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            White nationalism in Australia would still face the fact that, as with North America, Australia was taken within the past few hundred years from someone else. I think white nationalism – which only exists, after all, in parts of the world where white people have only been for a few hundred years – is morally and intellectually indefensible. The reason I focus on the practical side of things is that practicality is the best way to convince someone who does not share my intellectual and moral sentiments.

        • John Schilling says:

          I cannot think of any examples in history where a “rectification of borders” type situation – all the Bordurian minority in Syldavia end up in Borduria, and vice versa – has happened without violence, and plenty of examples where it has.

          As mentioned the last time around, Gaza 2006.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Hardly comparable. Eight thousand people paid $200k each, evicted by security forces?

            I’m sure that if the white nationalists were willing to pay every non-white person two hundred grand, they might be able to get somewhere peacefully, but somehow I’m guessing that’s not in the realm of possibility.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            Not to mention it didn’t end up to the benefit of either state.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          But what about people who advocate the creation of ethno-states in an orderly and humane manner?

          “I advocate the creation of ethno-states in an orderly and humane manner” = “I advocate the creation of ethno-states on the scutes of the cosmic turtle”

          • I think the simplest response to the “but it takes violence” argument is to consider a country that is currently overwhelmingly of one ethnicity. Would it be a bad thing if it followed a policy of permitting immigration by people who shared that ethnicity, not by people who didn’t? That, after all, is the live argument in Europe at present. And, of course, it was the pattern of U.S. immigration restrictions for quite a while in the 20th century, the national origins quota system, which aimed to maintain the existing ethnic mix–although not to make it more homogeneous.

            A different response is to imagine ethnically homogeneous communities that form spontaneously, as quite often happens–consider the South Side of Chicago. Is it a bad thing? Are there good reasons to discourage that pattern? To encourage it?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Are there white nationalists in Europe, though? No. There are European nationalists. They’re, as I said above, a different kettle of fish.

            In a specifically North American context, I think it’s intellectually and morally indefensible to say “this land is for white people only”, leaving aside the people who were living here first and have been treated horrendously, the slaves brought to parts of the US and treated horrendously, workers from South America and China used as cheap labour (and treated horrendously), etc.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I have mixed feelings on that one, David. I don’t want to argue that the state should take legal action to discourage it, and I’m well aware that both their inhabitants and in many cases visitors highly value the various flavors of “little italy”, “chinatown”, “greektown”, etc that exist in many cosmopolitan urban centers…

            …at the same time, I think that it points to integration and assimilation problems and a fundamental lack of social unity.

            So I guess I have to say “It’s absolutely people’s right to organize themselves in that way if they so choose, I just don’t care for it”.

          • Iain says:

            A different response is to imagine ethnically homogeneous communities that form spontaneously, as quite often happens–consider the South Side of Chicago. Is it a bad thing? Are there good reasons to discourage that pattern? To encourage it?

            This is a particularly unfortunate choice of example. Black residents of Chicago did not segregate themselves by choice; there was a massive effort in both the private and public sector, starting in the 1930s and continuing for decades, to keep them out of “white” neighbourhoods. Look up “redlining”. Ta-Nehisi Coates covers it at length in this long-form piece; for a shorter piece on redlining in particular, you could start here.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Ah, yes. Redlining. I’m white. All my American ancestors were white. During the redlining era, they all lived in redlined areas. (None better than third grade, most fourth). Also, redlining was in many cases targeted at already-segregated neighborhoods. There was significant segregation through exclusionary covenants (particularly in new suburbs) but this does not explain most of the segregation.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Three things can be done: ignore them and pretend they aren’t there, make it open for debate and then debate them legitimately, or actively keep them from speaking. A muddled combination of the three is the worst of all possible worlds.

        My interpretation is that the white nationalists’ opponents would legally silence them if they could, as indeed happens in jurisdictions with hate crime laws or the equivalent, but when that’s not possible then they reach for what they consider to be the next harshest modes of punishment — widely publicized abuse, mockery, and boycotting. Unfortunately, as you say that’s pretty much the opposite of suppressing their views: indeed, that’s spreading their views around without any coherent rebuttals, and making them look dangerous (in the sexy sense) and transgressive to boot.

        This seems to be a pretty common sequence of events nowadays.

        • dndnrsn says:

          “No platform” and so forth worked pre-internet, and still works for actual old-fashioned neo-Nazi types who want to get out and march. Ten Nazis showing up, confronted by a hundred antifa, with fifty cops in between them – that works.

          The combination of it being really hard to shut stuff down on the internet, and the bad incentives people have online to give them free publicity (people on Twitter saying “look how good I am by saying this is bad”, news sites getting clicks by running articles about the scary bad guys, etc) really changes things.

          • Reasoner says:

            The internet has already triggered major upheaval in the Middle East (the so-called “Arab Spring”, which turned out to be more of an “Arab Winter”). How much longer until the same happens in the West?

          • suntzuanime says:

            I was going to say it wasn’t likely, but with Trump in charge of the State Department, who knows.

      • Reasoner says:

        Both Atlas and dndnrsn make good points. The media is making a mistake in lumping together people who want to make America into a white ethno-state (through “peaceful ethnic cleansing”) and people who just want immigration restrictions or acceptance of white identity politics. From my perspective, advocating “peaceful ethnic cleansing” is at least 100x worse than advocating a red-pilled immigration policy. I’d rather we carefully differentiate these positions, but sloppy journalism portrays the entire crowd as an undifferentiated mass of reprehensible right wingers.

        • The Nybbler says:

          It is true that one should not attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. But there are limits to how much incompetence can explain. It’s not just sloppy journalism.

          • Aapje says:

            It is a logical consequence of known failure modes of the media:
            – they love narratives
            – they love conflict & calling people out
            – they love black/white thinking (true or false, for or against)
            – they often don’t see how they are being used

            In the current scenario, the narrative became that Trump is racist, which means that everything that is (or appears to dumb people as) racist and can in any way be linked to Trump ‘must’ be covered and Trump ‘must’ be ‘confronted’ with this. If he doesn’t play the game (refuse to engage this silliness), they are chronically unable take this as a null result, but have to map it on either for or against, so they present it as proof that Trump agrees with this.

            Of course, research has shown that denials actually reinforce the stereotype, so if Trump does play the game he reinforces the narrative. So he really cannot win here (the best bet is actually to distract the media with a new ‘shiny’).

            Extremist groups have figured out that they can get free advertising by voicing their support for Trump, regardless of whether they actually like him. The media will give them a platform to spread their message if they can convince the media that they are ‘serious.’

            PS. In my country there was a guy who took advantage of this by presenting himself as a representative of various groups with names like ‘Coalition of X,’ ‘Citizens for Y.’ It was just a single person with his personal opinion, but he was presented as a legitimate voice for a greater group by the media, who were often easily fooled by his posturing.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The incentives for journalism are bad, especially online. It’s a combination of malice and incompetence, but not the sort of malice one might predict. The media seems happy with giving free advertising to Nazis, as long as it means more eyes for the paid advertising they’re running.

            If the media’s first priority was to keep the Richard Spencer type suit-and-tie Nazis from getting any possible leverage whatsoever, they would ignore them. Lumping them in with, say, fairly mild immigration restrictionists (a majority of Trump voters favour some sort of amnesty, don’t they?) might weaken the latter, but it gives the former free publicity – helps them recruit.

            It’s not malice so much as it is lazy greed.

          • keranih says:

            a majority of Trump supporters favor some sort of amnesty

            ..could you show where you found that data?

          • dndnrsn says:

            It turns out I was somewhat mistaken: Pew numbers from May have 47% of Trump supporters at the time – so, slightly below half, a minority, not a majority – favouring some sort of amnesty. 64% of Republicans at the time as a whole.

            Based on that, I think it would be fair to guess that a majority of people who voted for Trump in the general election support some kind of amnesty – but whether all of them are “Trump supporters” or just held their noses is another question.

          • keranih says:

            Thanks for clarifying.

            A nitpick – I strongly suspect that if you asked people if “illegal immigrants would be allowed to stay after all if they met specific legal requirements” vs “illegal immigrants get amnesty” you’d get *widely* different answers.

            (This is one of those battlefields where words are the weapons.)

            I also think that if we did decide to then define the “specific legal requirements” it would be a vicious shouting match all over again.

          • dndnrsn says:

            From Pew:

            Trump supporters are divided over whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. if they meet certain requirements; 47% say they should, while 52% disagree. Those who say undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to stay legally in the U.S. were asked if there should be a “national effort to deport” all of those here illegally. Overall, about four-in-ten Trump supporters (42%) support this action.

            But among non-Trump supporters, a majority (64%) says undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally if they meet certain requirements. Only about a third (34%) of non-Trump supporters oppose providing a path to legal status for those here illegally, and just 25% favor a national effort to deport all undocumented immigrants.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            It’s not malice so much as it is lazy greed.

            I can’t agree with that (on an individual level at least). A whole lot of journalists seem to experience angst about their reporting helping to cause events that they consider very bad, like the Brexit, Trump’s election or people hating the ‘MSM’.

            I think that they have developed a culture, not made a conscious decision, for the most part. This culture is impacted by financial concerns, but that is in no small part because the journalist profession is extremely competitive, so there is a huge incentive to produce quickly and do things that attract controversy. So journalists get positive feedback for doing bad things and can experience negative feedback (like getting fired) for holding back on this.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Lazy greed as a group, if not lazy greed as individuals. Ol’ Moloch again. There are lots of people who are individually fine and upstanding individuals but whose actions taken as a whole cause harm, one way or another.

          • Jiro says:

            “If they meet certain requirements” is a way to deliberately skew the results. If you want a fair poll, ask people whether they would support amnesty with requirements that the majority of current illegal immigrants could meet right now, instead of phrasing the question such that someone who supports amnesty in a rare edge case gets counted as pro-amnesty.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      You can’t really separate the antipathy to white nationalism in particular from its historical track record. Generally people like Taylor and Spencer propound an anodyne, ahistorical vision of white nationalism which elides the massive degree of violence that stands in between society as it currently exists and their logical endpoints. And I don’t just mean the Nazis; you’ve got the Caribbean and US slave states, apartheid South Africa, White Australia policies, and the massive indigenous genocide that took place in all of those places. (At this point white nationalists will often appeal to “but whites did good things too! look at all the things we invented!” but they don’t make a convincing case that white nationalism was a necessary organizing principle for any of those things.)

      It’s also very internally inconsistent, in a way that any ideology that boils down to “might makes right” is. Most WNs seem to believe Arabs should get out of Europe because it’s the historical birthright of white people, but also aren’t in a hurry for white people to move out of America and give the land back to the Indians. (I’m aware how fraught an appeal to inconsistency is when talking about the views of a group rather than an individual, but I’m not aware of a single WN advocating free migration of Arabs or retrocession of the New World; I would welcome steelman examples of the latter.)

      If I had to make an argument as to why this is, I would say that marrying nationalism to the concept of “whiteness” is particularly fraught because “whiteness” is incredibly inconsistent and subject to the whims of whoever is in power. Ben Franklin in the 18th century laments the swarthy Germans and Swedes, the Know-Nothings in the 19th century drew cartoons “proving” the Irish were closer to African than English, Adolf Hitler in the 20th century declares the Japanese Ehrenarier. Even today, your average WN isn’t doing Cavalli-Sforza style genetic clustering, otherwise he wouldn’t be talking shit about Ashkenazi Jews.

      It’s a bit like asking why Communism is considered uniquely wrong. Sure anarchists and left-libertarians and eco-socialists might be just as misguided, but their ideologies didn’t murder millions of people (and yes, mass executions are different from theoretical QALYs lost to sub-optimal policies).

      Let me also white knight a bit here:

      Liberals like Ta-Nehisi Coates seem to think that HBD and culture are 100% insufficient explanations of white/Asian-black/mestizo gaps in metrics like educational attainment and crime rates, and that only discriminatory institutions/racism—which is allegedly REALLY REALLY SUPER difficult if not indeed impossible to change— can.

      I’m sure Coates is anti-racialist, but he’s written before on the role played by street culture.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Yes, yes, yes.

        To give a more recent example, to show what it might look like if WNs got to try and do their thing in the US: WNs love to complain about what is going on in Zimbabwe, but “dispossessing and kicking out a minority” is basically what WNs want to do, and what has happened (in the reverse direction to how WNs want to do it) in Zimbabwe. It has turned out pretty fucking bad for Zimbabwe.

        • cassander says:

          Zimbabwe, and not a few other african states, kicked out all the people who knew how to run a modern country. that’s not an issue in the US.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I dunno, if they got rid of the Jews and the race traitors, I’d say that’s a pretty big % of the people who know how to run things effectively.

          • hyperboloid says:

            I’m going to agree with dndnrsn on this one. It wouldn’t be as bad as Zimbabwe; but, ideology aside, I have very little faith in the basic governing ability of a hypothetical white nationalist state.

            The reason that every article I have read about Robert Spencer goes on about him being educated and intellectual is that the average white nationalist is very much neither of those things.

            The elite that the alt-right rails at are the people who do the hard work of governing this country. There is a long history of populists movements overthrowing the ruling class, taking power, and then running their societies into the ground. It turns out that, however corrupt they may be, the governing classes tend to posses certain hard to find skills.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @hyperboloid:

            Besides, it is not as though Richard Spencer is a towering giant of scholarship. He’s a PhD dropout. I know a ton of PhD students I wouldn’t trust as town dogcatcher, let alone as Fearless Leader.

      • Atlas says:

        You can’t really separate the antipathy to white nationalism in particular from its historical track record.

        I think this kind of slippery slope argument is not totally entirely unfair, but I think it is at least somewhat unfair. (Though I agree with your point as an empirical description of why people who lack precisely defined ideological disagreements with it oppose it.) You mentioned historical atrocities, like settler colonialism and slavery, that Europeans have committed, but as far as I know no alt-rightist of any stature actually advocates doing anything comparable to this. Indeed, they seem to make a point of saying that they want whites to be separate from non-whites, not that they want whites to conquer and rule over non-whites.

        To expand on the analogy I made in the original comment, imagine if you know how Democrats who support moderately left-liberal policies like the ACA are called socialists by conservatives like Bill O’Reilly? Isn’t it kind of unfair to avoid arguing against the positions your opponents actually hold and instead argue against something that different people with some ideological overlap hold because you claim that you just know that deep down this is what they secretly believe? (See also Scott’s old post on “the Worst Argument in the World.”)

        It’s also very internally inconsistent…

        I agree with this point somewhat, but I do think there are internally consistent ways a white nationalist could defuse it. The indigenous tribes themselves practiced warfare as a means of acquiring territory and/or resources, so why aren’t their territorial claims on the North American continent also rendered invalid? A white nationalist could (and I believe Lawrence Murray at least has argued something like this) argue that there should be a general amnesty on pre-1945 conquests, but going forward that we should basically accept and conserve racially/culturally homogenous nations, and that demographic changes that have occurred since then are recent enough to oppose.

        And I do feel that this is a point that gets made pretty selectively against white nationalism. I haven’t heard many of the people who say that the conquest of the North American continent means that whites aren’t allowed to be opposed to non-white immigration say that other modern day nations created partially through warfare are under a pressing moral obligation to allow mass immigration, and that it’s really profoundly disgusting and evil to oppose this at all.

        If I had to make an argument as to why this is, I would say that marrying nationalism to the concept of “whiteness” is particularly fraught because “whiteness” is incredibly inconsistent and subject to the whims of whoever is in power.

        I strongly agree with this, but I think this is again pretty selectively applied to say that white nationalism is wrong. I’m sure that what it means to be “Japanese” has changed at some point since the first human settlement of the territory that is now Japan, but I rarely hear people covering the existence of Japanese ethnic nationalism with the same kind of unmitigated hatred and disgust that they direct toward white nationalism. (To reiterate, I’m opposed to both kinds of nationalism.)

        It’s a bit like asking why Communism is considered uniquely wrong. Sure anarchists and left-libertarians and eco-socialists might be just as misguided, but their ideologies didn’t murder millions of people (and yes, mass executions are different from theoretical QALYs lost to sub-optimal policies).

        Right, but I think the more apt analogy would be that historical nationalist/racialist ideologies/actions (colonialism, Nazism, etc.) are to white nationalism as communism is to left-libertarianism. While they are both ultimately based on some of the same importantly wrong ideas, one of these ideologies is much, much worse than the other because it advocates violence on a large scale.

        I’m sure Coates is anti-racialist, but he’s written before on the role played by street culture.

        I also would have interpreted that piece as being about culture, but in his lengthy debate with Jonathan Chait a few years ago he strongly rejected the culture hypothesis generally and that piece as an example of it specifically.

        • dndnrsn says:

          What it means to be Japanese has changed a lot less than what it means to be white, and there’s nothing similar to how a given person could be “black” in the US but “white” in Brazil.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That’s a fair point, but as I said in the subreddit, If the category of “white nationalism” has broadened to the point where Razib Kahn and Tim Scott are considered to be under it’s umbrella maybe it’s time to just drop the “white” and call it “nationalism”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Wait, who calls Tim Scott a WN?

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          The problem with calling a left-liberal or social democrat a socialist is that left-liberalism and social democracy actually exist. We have working examples of states in which the government can perform market interventions that fall short of seizing the means of production (or whatever strict demarcation between liberalism and socialism you prefer).

          There is no historical example of a non-violent white nationalism, but plenty of examples that are. Violence is much more central to the concept of WN than “government bans/taxes/mandates things” is central to socialism. The lack of historical precedent wouldn’t be as much of a problem if there were a roadmap to white separatism that somehow avoided violence, but to my knowledge Spencer has not explained what “peaceful ethnic cleansing” would actually entail, probably because it’s completely infeasible. Black people have lived here almost as long as white people, they ain’t going back to Africa for some tax credits.

          Additionally, your steelman WN answers are inconsistent. If violence isn’t acceptable as a means, then you can’t assert that America is a white homeland now based on some general right of conquest without somehow justifying that arbitrary 1945 cutoff (and I’m not sure how that cutoff could be anything but special pleading).

          I don’t necessarily think “whites” by whatever definition have a special duty to permit immigration, but I think America does. The combination of the the Indian conquest and the slave trade ensured that America from its inception was inescapably multi-cultural (plus “white” was hardly a monolithic category, per Albion’s Seed), and the only way you can confer special status on white people is to bring back the 18th-19th century “might makes right” thinking, which would bite the issue of the acceptability of violence.

          • cassander says:

            that’s an argument against ALL nationalisms, not just specifically white nationalism.

          • Creutzer says:

            I agree with most of what you said, so I’m going to do the annoying thing that most of us do all the time: Pick out the one part that I don’t agree with.

            I don’t necessarily think “whites” by whatever definition have a special duty to permit immigration, but I think America does. The combination of the the Indian conquest and the slave trade ensured that America from its inception was inescapably multi-cultural

            This strikes me as a bad argument. I don’t see where this supposed duty to permit immigration comes from. Immigration doesn’t benefit Native Americans. And why does having been multicultural at some point entail a duty to stay that multicultural or become even more multicultural?

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            that’s an argument against ALL nationalisms, not just specifically white nationalism.

            I don’t think it’s an argument against nationalism in societies which are already relatively homogeneous and have mostly stayed in the same place (e.g., Japan). Although I’m also against nationalism in general for other reasons.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            This strikes me as a bad argument. I don’t see where this supposed duty to permit immigration comes from. Immigration doesn’t benefit Native Americans. And why does having been multicultural at some point entail a duty to stay that multicultural or become even more multicultural?

            I suppose duty is too strong a word, since you could still argue against immigration on economic grounds or whatever. More accurate to say that we lack standing to make certain arguments for ethno-nationalism in the same way another nation that didn’t arise through settler colonialism and slavery might (e.g., appealing to the need for a homeland). If ethno-nationalism is legitimate, then the US is illegitimate, absent some kind of special pleading that sets the breakpoint for conquest after 1893 (the closing of the frontier).

          • Creutzer says:

            I see how you get to this view by assuming an absolute notion of legitimacy and illegitimacy, but I doubt that this notion is useful in any way. Also, a response to it would be to view ethno-nationalism as legitimate for whoever is the dominant ethnicity in a given country.

            There is an argument to be made from history about relation between white Americans and African Americans and Native Americans. But I really don’t see how the fact that someone’s forebears conquered the US from someone else’s forbears has any bearing whatsoever on the right of prospective new immigrants to arrive.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I dunno, AB, it seems to me that historically the mythic conception of America was not that it was a MULTI-cultural society, but that as a beacon of Freedom, it would ASSIMILATE those from any other nation/culture/etc who wanted to buy-in to American culture.

            Their home cultures’ influences over time has shaped American culture just as surely (though not as strongly) as mainstream American culture has shaped and co-opted theirs, but moving from that to the sort of explicitly multi-cultural “Salad Bowl” model that’s been more in vogue in the past few decades is a pretty recent phenomenon.

            Sorry to nit-pick, because like others I mostly agree with what you’re saying, but I feel like making a clear and unambiguous distinction between assimilation into an evolving monoculture and trying to sustain multiple independent but interacting cultures on ethnic/tribal/racial/etc lines is pretty damn important because it has strong political and even societal implications.

          • Atlas says:

            Firstly, as a framing point, I want to note: Your arguments against white nationalism here (like the ones I’ve seen media people bring up in interviews with white nationalists) seem to often be arguments about why implementation of this ideology is unlikely to happen, marginal cases where it may be hypocritical/ambiguous, and why people who say they believe in it secretly believe in a different ideology. (I hasten to add that you have done so in a cogent and eloquent manner and I’ve much appreciated your comments.) But it doesn’t seem like you’ve really (yet) explained why you think the substantive implementation of this ideology as is currently defined by its major proponents would be a bad thing, and certainly not why it would be such an unusually and horrendously bad thing that (white) nationalists should be seen as purely evil enemies of all that is good in a way that, say, socialists or libertarians are not.

            And I also hasten to add that this is a phenomenon I’ve seen in many other contexts and that someone has probably defined and explained it better than myself.

            There is no historical example of a non-violent white nationalism…

            I don’t really think this is true. I would reiterate that I think white nationalism can reasonably be fit into a universal ideology of nationalism, and so the question is less whether specifically white nationalism has historical examples of non-violence so much as whether ethnic/cultural nationalism in general does.

            And I think the answer in both cases is pretty clearly yes. The America of the 1924-1965 era, in terms of immigration policy, is indeed what white nationalists explicitly aspire to. (Most actual white nationalists would be silly and say that the 19th century policy of open borders was nationalism, but I’m trying to steelman here.) Today, they might hold up Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland, Israel and East Asian societies like Japan and South Korea as models of what they think society should look like.

            Additionally, your steelman WN answers are inconsistent. If violence isn’t acceptable as a means, then you can’t assert that America is a white homeland now based on some general right of conquest without somehow justifying that arbitrary 1945 cutoff (and I’m not sure how that cutoff could be anything but special pleading).

            Unfortunately I just realized that I need to go soon, so I’ll leave a brief answer here as a placeholder for a longer one later:

            I think in retrospect you (and I in my response) mischaracterized the (white) nationalist native Americans vs. Arabs in Europe question. I think that nationalists like Ramzpaul are clear in distinguishing the geographical territory of a country with the cultural/racial dimensions of a nation. Their object isn’t so much to preserve specific bits of territory that they think whites have a right to hold as it is to create homogeneous societies for whites to live in. So I don’t think (and I’ll elaborate a little more on this later) that it’s necessarily inconsistent, though in practice I think it often is.

          • cassander says:

            >Violence is much more central to the concept of WN than “government bans/taxes/mandates things” is central to socialism.

            what? not by the standard of any functioning social democracy in the world it isn’t.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            More accurate to say that we lack standing to make certain arguments for ethno-nationalism in the same way another nation that didn’t arise through settler colonialism and slavery might (e.g., appealing to the need for a homeland)

            Are there, in fact, any nations in the world which meet that standard? I suppose there might be a few here and there (East Timor?), but nearly every country I can think of has tribal warfare/conquest and slave-taking in its DNA if you go back far enough. African nations certainly do, and so do the Native American tribes.

            If nobody can meet this standard and nobody will ever be able to meet this standard, one has to ask why we’re only bothered by the United States’s failure to measure up to it.

          • Aapje says:

            There is no historical example of a non-violent white nationalism…

            Eastern Europe is currently keeping out non-white and Muslim people by refusing asylum. For the EU nations among them, this means that they go against the treaties they signed (which they signed because it was a deal breaker for the EU and they believed that they could just refuse to follow the treaty on this point, which was a correct assessment).

            If you consider the force necessarily to implement this policy, as well as the overstepping by individual police officers*, to be consistent with ‘non-violent,’ then I would argue that this is a good example.

            * If you don’t, then I believe that you have to concede that there is no historical example of a non-violent democracy.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Hungary and Poland

            I mean, if you’re wanting to be conspicuous about your fascism, these are the last countries you should come out and say you look up to. Just for strategy’s sake, admiring the countries where the press and political opposition is currently being neutered is kind of gauche when you’re already being called Nazis everywhere.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          I also would have interpreted that piece as being about culture, but in his lengthy debate with Jonathan Chait a few years ago he strongly rejected the culture hypothesis generally and that piece as an example of it specifically.

          Coates rejects the “culture hypothesis” insofar as culture represents an irreducible terminal explanation for disparate racial outcomes. He doesn’t think culture is 100% insufficient, he just doesn’t think it’s 100% sufficient.

          • Iain says:

            Specifically, Coates raises the very reasonable point that culture is shaped by its surroundings, and that some parts of “black culture” that are an impediment for broad social success are beneficial for survival in areas with entrenched poverty and violence. Here’s a piece from near the end of his extended debate with Chait.

          • cassander says:

            @Ian

            That reasoning is completely circular.

          • Atlas says:

            While this might get bogged down into semantics and hair splitting, I would actually contest this pretty strongly. You write that Coates sees culture as a factor, but not the only factor. I think that Coates’ public writing and statements pretty clearly indicate not only that he doesn’t see culture as at all a factor, but that spreading this message is a part of his project as a writer.

            Item: Coates and pundit Jonathan Chait had an exchange over the question of whether culture plays any role, as opposed to institutions, in African-American lack of success in post 1960s America. Coates argues that it’s only institutions (and that “culture” can only be understand as a narrow, mechanical response to institutions), Chait argues that it’s both culture and institutions.

            Item: Two of Coates’ most well known long form essays are explicitly rejecting observers (Bill Cosby and Daniel Patrick Moynihan) who attribute some non-zero portion of the status of African-Americans to culture.

            Item: In this debate between Coates and mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, Coates’ position is that culture does not play a role independent of institutions in elevated black crime rates.

          • Iain says:

            @cassander: Thank you for your valuable contribution.

            @atlas: I am aware of Coates’s interaction with Chait. You will notice that I linked it in my own post. I think Coates is an extremely thoughtful writer, and I don’t want to put my own words in his mouth, but I think Anonymous Bosch’s characterization is reasonable: Coates rejects “culture” as an irreducible terminal explanation. Where does that culture come from? Why does it persist? Coates is not a writer who is interested in easy answers.

          • Atlas says:

            @Iain

            Yeah, sorry, I should have noted that you mentioned the Coates-Chait debate.

            And again, at the risk of getting into semantics, I think the position you are ascribing to Coates is in fact a position that Coates is quite explicitly arguing against in his debate with Chait. Chait does not believe that culture is an “irreducible terminal explanation”, and speculates on African-American culture’s historical origins and other contributing factors. Chait and similarly inclined people like Thomas Sowell, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, John McWhorter and Bill Cosby are not indifferent to the questions of where culture comes from and why it persists. But Coates actually substantively disagrees that there is any black culture that exists outside of a so narrow as to be inseparable product of current political and economic institutions, which is why he frequently criticizes such people.

          • Iain says:

            I don’t think it’s fair to say that Coates doesn’t believe that there is black culture. Reading anything he’s ever written about his experience at Howard University swiftly puts the lie to that. What he doesn’t believe (to once again put my words in his mouth) is that there is anything inherently pathological in black culture.

            More than anything, I think Coates is opposed to people who use “black culture” as an excuse to stop asking questions about current institutions and attitudes, or as justification for policies that would never fly if the same problems were observed in white people.

            Do you actually think he is wrong? Would you care to point to a specific claim he has made that you disagree with?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            What he doesn’t believe (to once again put my words in his mouth) is that there is anything inherently pathological in black culture.

            It’s hard to imagine there’s any culture on Earth that doesn’t have something pathological about it.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @cassander

            That reasoning is completely circular.

            In what way?

            The most obviously dysfunctional elements of African American culture are pretty clearly, at least in part, the result of historical deprivation.

            The attitudes, values. and social norms that are adaptive under slavery, or Jim Crow style apartheid, are very different then those that are adaptive for free and equal citizens.

            The stereotypical pathologies of black culture; seemingly self destructive attitudes to work, education, and respect for the law, were in fact entirely rational responses to oppression.

            A slave has no reason to value hard work. No mater how much cotton he picks he will never earn a better life for himself. A man who knows that he will never be admitted university, or allowed to peruse a respectable profession, has little reason to value education. A man who knows that the police are there to control him, rather than protect him, has every reason to have little respect for the law. Accordingly he depends on his own devices to protect himself, adopting a code personal honor and violence to show that he is someone to be feared and respected.

            It is of course a tragedy that these attitudes have out lived the conditions that created the worst of the conditions that created them, but culture is hard to change, and living for centuries under the heel of white supremacy was unlikely to be an edifying experience.

          • Iain says:

            A man who knows that the police are there to control him, rather than protect him, has every reason to have little respect for the law.

            It is of course a tragedy that these attitudes have out lived the conditions that created them…

            Coates grew up in Baltimore. A university friend of his was killed by a police officer, who was later found liable for his wrongful death. I suspect Coates would disagree with you that the conditions that created these attitudes are dead and gone.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @Iain

            Speaking as a Baltimorean, point well taken. I didn’t mean to imply that the condition of the average black man in America was one of complete social equality, even today, just that even when conditions do equalize, as they have in some areas, the cultural legacy of oppression can continue for generations.

          • cassander says:

            >In what way?

            they’re poor because they have bad culture, and they have a bad culture because they’re poor.

            >The most obviously dysfunctional elements of African American culture are pretty clearly, at least in part, the result of historical deprivation.

            this is clearly not true. the massive out of wedlock birthrate, for example, is a relatively modern phenomenon

            >The stereotypical pathologies of black culture; seemingly self destructive attitudes to work, education, and respect for the law, were in fact entirely rational responses to oppression.

            except they have emerged since the end of jim crow, and we’re around before.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @cassander

            The rate of out of wedlock births has always been higher among blacks than whites. As to why it increased so much form the 1970s on; there are likely a number of reasons, but I think deindustrialisation destroying the earning potential of black male breadwinners was a huge factor.

            except they [black cultural pathologies] have emerged since the end of jim crow, and we’re around before.

            Well which is it? did the problems we’re discussing emerge after the end of Jim Crow, or have they been around since reconstruction? If you mean the latter rather then the former, your making my case for me, since the vast majority of African Americans alive at the time were freed slaves. That is to say people who had been raised from birth to be, in effect, beasts of burden.

          • Reasoner says:

            they’re poor because they have bad culture, and they have a bad culture because they’re poor.

            This is not “circular reasoning”. This describes a feedback loop that could actually exist in reality.

          • Aapje says:

            @Reasoner

            It seems to me that the best way to break out of that feedback loop is both to address the economic challenges for these groups as well as try to change their culture.

            IMO, a major fallacy is that many people focus on the one (sadly often in a racist way) and then vilify the people who focus on the other. So then you end up with a stalemate where nothing happens; while it would be better if a compromise would be found where the racist elements of the solutions are eliminated.

          • Reasoner says:

            @Aapje

            Agreed, I’m not an expert but my guess is that the best solution is to try to address a bunch of factors simultaneously. And I don’t think it’s just poverty and culture. Incarceration of black men creates a situation where there’s an excess of black women on the mating market, which leads to single motherhood; children of single mothers are more likely to grow up to be criminals (or become single mothers themselves if female). We know that this is not something that’s inherent in African Americans, because their illegitimacy rate was much lower a few generations ago.

          • keranih says:

            my guess is that the best solution is to try to address a bunch of factors simultaneously.

            My guess is that this is horribly bad because we won’t know which of our methods are helpful and which are harmful.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Reasoner:

            In 1965, about 25% of black kids were born out of wedlock – this was seen as very alarming – now the rate for non-Hispanic white kids is nearing 30. So you are definitely right that there is not something inherent to any group going on.

            I think it is pretty obvious that the lousy treatment black people have gotten (and continue to get) has played (and continues to play) a major, perhaps the biggest, role in these sorts of problems. Unfortunately, a lot of the programs that were supposed to help were poorly thought out, and seem to have made some of the problems worse.

          • cassander says:

            >The rate of out of wedlock births has always been higher among blacks than whites. As to why it increased so much form the 1970s on; there are likely a number of reasons, but I think deindustrialisation destroying the earning potential of black male breadwinners was a huge factor.

            that implies that blacks were economically worse off after the great society than before, which is demonstrably not the case. And higher is relative. IT used to be about 20%, now it’s 80. that’s a massive increase.

            >Well which is it?

            that was an auto-correct typo. they weren’t around before is what I was trying to say.

      • Iain says:

        If I had to make an argument as to why this is, I would say that marrying nationalism to the concept of “whiteness” is particularly fraught because “whiteness” is incredibly inconsistent and subject to the whims of whoever is in power. Ben Franklin in the 18th century laments the swarthy Germans and Swedes, the Know-Nothings in the 19th century drew cartoons “proving” the Irish were closer to African than English, Adolf Hitler in the 20th century declares the Japanese Ehrenarier. Even today, your average WN isn’t doing Cavalli-Sforza style genetic clustering, otherwise he wouldn’t be talking shit about Ashkenazi Jews.

        Yeah, this is important. “Whiteness” as a category basically exists for the purpose of identifying those who are outside of it. What do a white southerner and a Finnish immigrant have in common, other than that they are Not Black? All nationalism is, to some degree, a process of forming an in-group and an out-group, but white nationalism in particular seems to be almost exclusively fixated on opposition to the out-group.

        • cassander says:

          how is white any different in that category from “black” or the even more absurd “people of color?”

          • Iain says:

            In the context of America, insofar as it even exists, black nationalism is the province of the descendants of slaves. African-Americans have a shared cultural history in a way that a West Virginian miner and a Latvian immigrant in New York City don’t.

            Next time a gang of people-of-colour nationalists jump you in a dark alley, let me know and I will be sure to ritually denounce them.

          • Atlas says:

            In the context of America, insofar as it even exists, black nationalism is the province of the descendants of slaves. African-Americans have a shared cultural history in a way that a West Virginian miner and a Latvian immigrant in New York City don’t.

            Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese Americans have very little, if any, shared heritage, yet in America they’re allowed and encouraged to organize together as an ethnic coalition of “Asian-Americans.” (And likewise for “Hispanics.”) Do you think that anyone who believes in an “Asian-American” and/or “Asian” ethno-cultural identity is wrong, or are you making an isolated demand for rigor?

          • cassander says:

            >. African-Americans have a shared cultural history in a way that a West Virginian miner and a Latvian immigrant in New York City don’t.

            How do the descendents of slaves and, say, barack obama have more in common than the miner and the latvian?

          • Sandy says:

            Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese Americans have very little, if any, shared heritage

            Not really true; these are countries with plenty of shared heritage. A lot of it bloody, but you could say the same thing for a lot of Europe.

            The uniquely American conception of “brown” as a race is a better example — a racial category constructed and promoted as a rallying banner under which people with pretty much nothing in common at all save for skin color — Moroccans, Indians, Peruvians, what have you — can act as an ethnic bloc. What sense that makes, how “brownness” is constructed as anything more than “neither black nor white”, how it is supposed to be a common identity, these things are beyond me. And yet….

          • The Nybbler says:

            @cassander

            Barack Obama is a highly non-central African-American. He’s (mostly) not the descendant of African-Americans, but rather an African on his father’s side and a white American on his mother’s side. (though apparently his mother’s side’s ancestry includes one well-known escaped African slave, if that wasn’t just motivated geneaology)

            But there are groups of African-Americans who really can’t be lumped together with the descendants of slaves — recent immigrants and their descendants. I’m not sure how their numbers compare to those of the descendants of slaves. There must also be descendants of free African-Americans from the antebellum period; I don’t know if they survive as a separate group.

            @Sandy

            The term “brown” is just a patch to make racial “privilege” work out. It’s utterly without principle; if a group is not black and supposed to be “privileged”, it’s “white”. If it’s supposed to be “marginalized”, it’s brown.

          • Iain says:

            Barack Obama is not a black nationalist. I am not aware of any “Asian nationalist” groups at large in the US.

            There is a significant jump from “we have enough interests in common to get together and form a lobbying group”, which is about as far the Asian “ethnic coalition” goes, and “we are a nation and this country is ours”.

        • Atlas says:

          …white nationalism in particular seems to be almost exclusively fixated on opposition to the out-group.

          If this is actually true, it seems like it’s because the existence of nation-states primarily for (and in some cases primarily of) whites is currently being threatened in a way that it isn’t for, say, the Japanese or South Koreans.

          • Aapje says:

            I disagree that it is true, as the evidence I’ve seen suggests that there is pretty strong racism against non-Japanese people in Japan.

            I also want to point out that implementing policies to ensure an mono-ethnic state doesn’t requite actually being threatened as a mono-ethnic state. It merely requires the fear of becoming threatened if those policies are not implemented.

          • Iain says:

            Am I reading you incorrectly?

            I did not claim that other forms of nationalism did not include opposition to outgroups. I claimed that white nationalism in particular was only opposition to outgroups. Japanese nationalists, in addition to their feelings about people who aren’t Japanese, have an extensive history and culture to bind them together. White nationalists don’t.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          This is the best argument I’ve ever heard against white nationalism on an abstract level, as opposed to a consequentialist level. A group identity whose foundational idea is “we’re not those guys” is not a group identity that’s getting off on the right foot.

          • JulieK says:

            Do you feel it’s a bad thing to identify as a “Person of Color” and to feel solidarity with other People of Color who may be of different races? (i.e. the foundational idea is “We’re not white.”)

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            I suppose I’d have to.

            The argument for identifying as a “Person of Color” is exactly as good as the argument for identifying as “white”: it’s based on a feeling of persecution and nothing more. Understandable, maybe, but it doesn’t lead to anything positive — amorphous groups based purely on a feeling of being oppressed by the Other don’t have shared accomplishments in their history to point at and be proud of. So this identity is built purely on negativity. Take away the outside oppression, and it falls apart into squabbling components again.

            (This also means there is a horrible perverse incentive for leaders of such a group: they don’t want the group members to stop feeling oppressed, because then the group will disintegrate.)

        • keranih says:

          “Whiteness” as a category basically exists for the purpose of identifying those who are outside of it. What do a white southerner and a Finnish immigrant have in common, other than that they are Not Black?

          Well, they’re not Asian, either, nor Native American.

          More to my point, as said, it was well accepted prior to the American (including Latin America) mixing pot that Italians were not the same sort of People as Greeks as Brits as Swedes. Three centuries in the mixing pot – to include a culture that emphasized commonality of man – and a Civil War that to some degree criminalized the idea that states/provinces were separate, self-governing cultures – and for the most part, what used to be a buncha different nations melded into one.

          Other, smaller, more homogenous nations did that first (Norway has 47 distinct regional versions of their “native dress” – forty-seven, out of a tiny little place of mostly genetically similar Scandinavians) – and so did China, while most of us Anglos were still painting ourselves blue.

          Having gotten over the hump of “An Italian is not like an Irishman” Americans did get stuck sideways on the distinctly genetically and culturally different issue of the African. Well, where there were Africans. Where there were American Indians or Asians, they were the subject of bigotry instead. New England, being short on all three, tends to pride itself as being ultra tolerant. *shrugs* Easy enough to be tolerant of things you don’t have to deal with.

          Anyway, I am not convinced, though, that this was a permanent choke. I think instead that it is more a degree of the larger, harder lump to get dissolved in the stew.

          In short, just because one sees “white” defined as “not black” in some areas doesn’t make that a universal definition.

          • Iain says:

            The logical endpoint of the process you describe is not white nationalism – it’s American nationalism.

          • keranih says:

            YES.

            U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

            Also, sadly, discouraged by the ctrl-L.

            But embraced by the regular/conservative Right, and a perfect anecdote to the idea of any-particular-race-is-best-nationalism.

            Maybeso we should think about giving that a go again, huh?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @kerinah:
            I think you are being uncharitable.

            As soon as it became “un-American” to criticize certain activities (but only certain ones) of the American government, various pro-national symbols inevitably became synonymous with one tribe. You would have to convince that tribe to stop employing those symbols in that way before they can truly return to belonging to everyone.

          • Iain says:

            @keranih: My post that you replied to was about why white nationalism is bad. I am happy to concede that American nationalism is better than white nationalism. This does not, however, commit me to actively supporting American nationalism.

            There are forms of American nationalism that I think are good. (“‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she / With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…'”) There are forms of nationalism that are “embraced by the regular/conservative Right”. Let’s just say that I am unconvinced by the claim that there is a perfect overlap between the two, and leave it at that.

          • keranih says:

            @ HBC –

            I’m going to ask you to unpack that just a bit, because I’m completely not following the chain of events that I think you’re proposing. I suspect I’m misunderstanding you, so please do elaborate on how you think it went from “American exceptionalism is bipartisan” to “‘USA!USA!’ vs ‘…we don’t do that sort of thing.'”

            @Iaian –

            Absolutely there is not a perfect overlap between what you think is ‘good Americanism’ and what I think is ‘good Americanism’.

            My point is that we aren’t facing that choice. We are instead facing a choice between “Americanism of all sorts” and “ethno-centric nationalism” and that as crap as I think parts of *your* version of Americanism is, I’d rather that over ethno-centric types.

            It seems that one of the mistakes of the last few decades was in thinking that we could have “all ethnionationalism except white nationalism” bundled with “Left leaning preferred Americanism” and that this would work. I mean, I can totally see why people who disliked either red-flavored Americanism and/or white ethnonationalism would think it was just jim-dandy, but there are huge pieces of the structure that are missing, and the segregation/cultural reprogramming that this would call for is just daunting.

          • Iain says:

            You are saying that people on the left were pushing for “all ethnionationalism except white nationalism”. Can you unpack that, or give some examples? I suspect that what looks from one angle like non-white ethno-nationalism looks from another angle like the process of mixing new cultures into the pot.

            PS: “Iaian” is good. Balances out all the times people accidentally leave the vowels out.

          • keranih says:

            Iain –

            (Ooops. Sorry bout dat. And thanks for being a sport.)

            I would put nearly all fussing over “cultural appropriation” and “microaggression” and “equal representation” as being practically, if not due to intent as hammering ‘mainstream Caucasian culture’ so as to build up other ethnic groups. Add to this the (urban upper class stereotype) demand for ‘ethnic’ eateries (ie, not German or Italian) in order to make a downtown ‘more interesting’, plus the idea that expression of Christian theology was ‘oppressive’.

            I’m very sure that to people who wanted left-flavored Americanism, this was all well and good, and that they saw nothing in it that threatened their sense of who they were and what sort of people they were. And besides, only ignant rednecks who hated people flew the rebel flag, anyway.

            Which is my point. There was – and still is – a severe disconnect between blue and red “white” Americans as to what sorts of “pride” are acceptable to be thought, let alone said.

            I get that ‘Blue’ tribers didn’t think they were doing the wrong thing. I’m not blaming them for being wrong, I’m blaming them for hating ignorance and provincialism only when it’s in the mouth of my redneck cousins, and not when it’s on the front page of the NYT.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @kerinah:
            Hmmm, I feel like it’s tough to unpack clearly, partly because what we are talking about is largely emotive.

            Absent sporting contests involving a national team, the chant “U.S.A., U.S.A.” is associated in my mind with a certain jingoistic mindset. It asserts not merely pride in being an American, but scorn for those who are not. In addition, it asserts scorn for those who are not willing to join the jingoistic chant. Because the opportunities to chant “U.S.A.” at our global competitors is actually fairly rare, the chant is actually most frequently employed as an internal tribal signal, and secondarily as a way to assert dominance of said tribe within America.

            Whereas, I will proudly sing the National Anthem, while also proudly acknowledging that one of the great things about America is the right to protest during the singing of it. I find burning the flag in protest to be far more acceptable than displaying a gigantic poorly maintained flag outside your gas station.

            In the way that supporting Trump has been a gigantic middle finger to the establishment, so too chants of “U.S.A.” are gigantic middle fingers aimed at the urbane.

            Shorter version, when you* chant “U.S.A” whose ears are within hearing, and what do you hope they hear?

          • Iain says:

            @keranih:

            Quick responses, before I get to the real meat of our disagreement:

            “Micro-aggressions” and “equal representation” are, regardless of their accuracy, equally deployed in the context of sexism. They wouldn’t justify claims of a rising gyno-nationalism, and I don’t really buy it as ethno-nationalism either.

            “Cultural appropriation” is mostly bullshit, but I question how frequently anybody is confronted with it after leaving campus.

            Christian theology as oppressive requires more unpacking, but in general I would say that a version of Christian theology that demands that non-adherents comply with its dictates is bad in some way, even if you want to quibble about the word “oppressive”.

            Most importantly: oh, you sweet summer child. “Urban upper class” people don’t want ethnic restaurants because they are interesting or quaint. They want them because the food is fucking delicious. I would tell you that you could pry my Korean food from my cold dead hands, but realistically speaking my girlfriend would have eaten it during the struggle. A good Ethiopian restaurant is a great place for a large group. Vietnamese banh mi is the greatest form of the sub sandwich known to man or beast.

            I don’t want to tell you that your culture is backwards and retrograde – but if it can’t make room for tacos and Chinese dumplings, then I’m afraid that your culture is backwards and retrograde and I welcome its demise. On this I stand firm.

            Edit to add: HeelBearCub, a partial counter-example, which I feel strange offering as a Canadian: if you’ve ever watched live footage of a SpaceX launch, there is a lot of chanting when the rocket lands, and I don’t begrudge it for a second.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Iain:
            I’m not saying it’s not possible. Note my original comment was that before we can chant “U.S.A.” in a unifying way, it has to be abandoned (for whatever reason) as an internal cultural/tribal marker.

            Part of the issue is that America is so powerful. Canada gets to feel united in its plucky underdog status.

            “America! Fuck yeah!” seems more likely as unifying chant than “U.S.A” at this point.

          • keranih says:

            @ Iain –

            Quick responses, before I get to the real meat of our disagreement:

            Oh, I *like* you. Even if you think it’s a too-red tribe board, you should still stay.

            Crt-L tools used in “counter-sexism” wars are evidence of marginalization of men. It’s a different thing from marginalizing Caucasians, but are frequently used together (ie, blaming ‘white men’ for everything).

            And yes, cultural appropriation claims creep into everything along with the steady rise of the college creditential requirement.

            As for “well, it’s not *really* being anti-Christian if you don’t let Christians do Christian things in public spaces” – I get that people see it that way. I also get that many of those folks just don’t see how *other* people don’t agree with them on this – and it’s generally because of motte-bailey tactics being employed.

            Regarding food – firstly, there is no disputing with someone’s taste, and to the degree that my original post did that, I apologize.

            However, I’m gonna push back hard as hell at the idea which I took somewhat from your post and even more strongly from others – no, there is NOT a damn thing WRONG with liking the sort of food that your momma cooked for you, and for NOT liking the other weird food that other people’s mommas cooked for them.

            There is, in fact, not that much wrong with not liking strange food at all. (Otherwise, we wouldn’t have freaking ‘ethnic’ restaurants in the first place, because everyone would be eating fried turkey and corn on the cob as soon as they hit the American shore.)

            The problem with the demands for ‘ethnic’ eateries is not that people who have had that kind of food miss it, and would like to eat it again, but that they assume ignorance, bad taste, and poor life choices on the people who don’t like it.

            F’instance – I like Levant (Lebonese/Israeli) eateries. I do not like Thai. I am not crazy about Indian. I love Mexican-Mexican, but like Yucatan better. I love yakimandu and beamimbab (esp in the iron pot) but if sushi disapeared off the planet I can’t say my life would be that bad. I really loathe chinese dumplings and the deepfried veggies. But I do love the Argentina barbq/roasts.

            But over on the American side, we have also tons of delicacies, plus German and Italian, and I’m not just talking about double fried twinkies. You dismiss American food, you’d knocking fried catfish, watermelon, mac&cheese, Chick Fil A fries, chowder in two colors, corn on the cob with the husks still on, fried chicken, meatloaf, double baked potatoes, and a bunca stuff we stole from a buncha different cultures, because that’s how we do it.

            So.

            (What were we talking about? Oh, right.)

            To be very clear, it’s not “I had this great Korean dish in Da Big City at this place I would go to with my bf, I wish I could get some here” that’s the problem, it’s “You ignant hicks, how come all there is to eat around here is this pig swill that you cook?”

            Which is as much a rural vs urban thing, true. But so long as in Da Big City the emphasis is on furin diners with funny sounding names, and not “this was great food” it’s going to stay that way.

          • Brad says:

            I would put nearly all fussing over “cultural appropriation” and “microaggression” and “equal representation” as being practically, if not due to intent as hammering ‘mainstream Caucasian culture’ so as to build up other ethnic groups. Add to this the (urban upper class stereotype) demand for ‘ethnic’ eateries (ie, not German or Italian) in order to make a downtown ‘more interesting’, plus the idea that expression of Christian theology was ‘oppressive’.

            The demand for “ethnic eateries” isn’t instead of “Caucasian” eateries, it’s in addition. For example, in the last few years several BBQ restaurants have opened in NYC and done very well for themselves. As for Italian restaurants, demand for them has never, ever flagged — high end, low end, Italian Italian, Italian American, experimental, etc, etc. There are probably restaurants with at least a strong dash of Italian than any other type.

            I guess maybe the bigger issue is that in urban upper class circles “mainstream Caucasian culture” isn’t really seen as a thing. Italian, Italian-American, Norwegian, Pennsylvania Dutch, Southern, Czech, Californian and so on and so forth are each seen as their own thing.

            So when someone says “White Nationalist”, the best possible response you could expect would be “huh?” Put something more specific in — e.g. “Italian-American Nationalist” and it doesn’t really make any sense either because, well, which country? Take out the White part and you have something that’s more comprehensible — just plain old American nationalism. (Though that comes with its own separate contestable issues).

          • keranih says:

            @ HBC –

            Again, I will ask you, how is it that you think we went from “America is Great! sez most everyone” to “America is Great! sez Redtribe” and “Meh, American really needs to Fix Its Issues, sez Bluetribe”?

            What is your concept of how that split happened? Because I see you trying to blame Red Tribe for staying USA positive while Blue tried to point out the bad stuff, and so it’s the fault of Redtribe that the Blues don’t want to promote the USA as a great place full of great people doing great things?

            Not working for me.

            I think it’s a horrific shame when chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” is seen by any American as anything other than “WE ARE GREAT! LOOKIT US GO!”

            I admit that there are those on both sides who buy into the idea that being pro USA is just a Red Tribe thing, and that chanting “U-S-A!” – which started out as an Olympic cheer – is “heckling” the Blue side, but I think that’s just tragic.

            How on earth did things get so wrong headed, and how can we get you guys back on the “America is Great!” side?

          • @Iain:

            While I wouldn’t want to disagree with most of your culinary points (I find injera’s sourness unpleasant if I eat too much of it), I hope you will in return concede that the chocolate chip cookie, invented in America, is the 20th century’s chief contribution to world cuisine.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @kerinah:

            I will engage on this, but I’d like you to re-read my recent post and your reply to it.

            Because, my sense is that my point whooshed over your head.

          • Iain says:

            @keranih: Rest assured that I was by no means offended. My tongue was firmly inserted in my cheek for the entirety of my post. I have absolutely nothing against loving the food that your momma made, and picky eaters are harming nobody but themselves.

            That said, I think it is interesting how you draw a line between “American food” and “ethnic food”. and then put German and Italian food on the American side of the line. I would suggest that, to some extent, you differ from big city folks not in the existence of that line, but in where you draw it. There’s no particular reason that an Italian restaurant counts as American, but a taco joint doesn’t. If you moved to a new town and you couldn’t get a decent pizza or plate of spaghetti, I suspect you would be frustrated. In the same way, for a lot of people, having access to a wide variety of cuisines is American food.

            This is what cultural assimilation looks like: you steal other people’s food, and you make it your own. Chinese peasants would not recognize the things that pass for Chinese food in North America. That’s fine; our stuff is tasty anyway. My girlfriend and I like to joke that the most authentically Canadian restaurants all have “fusion” somewhere in their description.

            From your perspective, elite snobs are rejecting the Food of the American Nation. From their perspective, as far as food is concerned, the melting pot has done its job and good dim-sum is now their God Given American Right.

            @David Friedman: This is one of those “pick your favourite child”-type moments, isn’t it? Wikipedia just told me that the hamburger was invented in 1880, so for the moment I am prepared to tentatively concede your point.

      • JulieK says:

        If I had to make an argument as to why this is, I would say that marrying nationalism to the concept of “whiteness” is particularly fraught because “whiteness” is incredibly inconsistent and subject to the whims of whoever is in power.

        “I don’t want you to achieve your goals, because your identity is not a valid identity” is not an argument likely to convince anyone. And if applied to any other group, it would be considered very offensive.

        We’re on much firmer ground if we stick to “I don’t want you to achieve your goals, because doing so would infringe on the rights of others outside your group.”

    • John Schilling says:

      What’s wrong with white nationalism?

      What’s wrong with white nationalism is that it is being proposed in nations that are not in fact white.

      If you’ve got a nation that is 99.44% white or whatnot, and you propose reasonable measures to keep it that way, sure, most leftists will accuse you of being horribly evil racists but you won’t actually be doing any great harm. If you propose to build a new white nation in some as-yet-uninhabited realm, ditto.

      If you propose to implement white nationalism in a nation that is 36.3% Not White, that’s a lot of people that are going to be reduced to second-class citizens or forced to move if your “white nationalism” is going to be more than a slogan. We can do that in ways that are less disruptive than e.g. a Balkan-style ethnic cleansing, but it is at a minimum massively disruptive and almost certainly some people are going to be badly hurt in the process. Also, it breaks the rules that most civilized societies have set for themselves (so does e.g. Black Nationalism, but that rarely amounts to more than a slogan), and there is no virtue in it.

      So what’s the advantage to outweigh those costs?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Further, the countries that are 99% or 98% or 95% or whatever white are not generic “white” – there is a specific national group there already. UKIP is a party devoted to the UK, and honestly to the English first and foremost. They are not hugely more fond of Poles and Romanians than they are of Jamaicans and Bangladeshis.

        Put an American white nationalist in a time machine, send him back to Yugoslavia in the 1980s – is he going to tell them all not to worry, everyone’s white?

        • ChetC3 says:

          Put an American white nationalist in a time machine, send him back to Yugoslavia in the 1980s – is he going to tell them all not to worry, everyone’s white?

          That’s easy. He’ll wind up totally in the tank for one of the nationalist factions, though which one is a crap shoot.

      • Atlas says:

        If you’ve got a nation that is 99.44% white or whatnot, and you propose reasonable measures to keep it that way, sure, most leftists will accuse you of being horribly evil racists but you won’t actually be doing any great harm. If you propose to build a new white nation in some as-yet-uninhabited realm, ditto.

        I think it’s worth noting that almost all (currently) white nations are significantly closer to the 99% mark than the 36% one—with the very notable exception of America, which is almost equidistant from the two points.

        And I agree that implementing white nationalism in a country that’s non-white by a decent majority seems like it would be kind of a d*ck move. But I think, judging by Lawrence Murray and Harold Covington’s writings, that at that point even very extreme white nationalists would instead become white separatists.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        If you’ve got a nation that is 99.44% white or whatnot, and you propose reasonable measures to keep it that way, sure, most leftists will accuse you of being horribly evil racists but you won’t actually be doing any great harm. If you propose to build a new white nation in some as-yet-uninhabited realm, ditto.

        If you propose to implement white nationalism in a nation that is 36.3% Not White, that’s a lot of people that are going to be reduced to second-class citizens or forced to move if your “white nationalism” is going to be more than a slogan.

        This is a good summary.

        Discriminating against your fellow citizens on the basis of immutable characteristics is empirically bad behavior (if we can agree that violence is bad!) Racism is not the only alternative to multiculturalism. In fact, monocultures were traditionally constructed on the basis of religion and language, which people can adopt.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I don’t think cultures can be constructed purely on language and religion is dead. We could try to bring back the latter but I’m pretty sure we are permanently “fallen”, just like Adam and Eve were tainted when they ate the forbidden fruit. I’m guessing the lack of religion is why nationalism has been picking up steam. My proposal would be to try to bring back small scale communities through incentives. Not that we have to give up capitalism but find a way to more thoroughly separate our economic relations from our social ones. I’m not sure how to go about doing that but I think our global malaise can be traced back to social atomization.

          Of course, maybe civic nationalism will actually work but I doubt it. Civic nationalism is an extension, not a strong foundation for cultural unity. White nationalists are certainly wrong if they think racial cleansing will solve the problem. Just look at Japan. Maybe the Amish will take over when we wirehead ourselves to irrelevance. Considering the alternatives, that might be the best case scenario.

    • ChetC3 says:

      Yes, who wouldn’t want America to be more like Republika Srpska? Baffling.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I don’t have a problem with the idea of defining a nation based on shared cultural values (call that Nationalism in general). But when you get into the realm of racial Nationalism you buy into all sorts of fucked up premises that aren’t well-supported in the real world.

      I’m not as confident stating that “race is 110% social construct with no basis in reality” as some, and I suspect but cannot prove that “HBD” types may have legitimate scientific points to make, if the research can ever be disentangled from the ideological bullshit, which its critics are generally not at all interested in doing so much as saying “the very idea of this avenue of research is illegitimate and a waste of time”.

      That said, Race does NOT equal culture (Compare Donald Trump and….well, just about any other politician from New York; compare Ta-Nehisi Coates with Colion Noir), and cultural values are by far the most stable values on which to build a society. Let’s take America as an example. Let us say for the sake of argument that rather than a couple thousand fringe kooks, there is actually a vibrant and politically viable White Nationalist movement in the United States, and that after two terms of Trump we get a constitutional amendment merging the positions of POTUS and Grand Kleagle of the KKK, the white nationalists control the judiciary and both houses of congress, somehow have complete support of the police AND military behind them. They’ve won all the political battles, and proceed to start trying to ethnically cleanse the US either by mass deportation, herding non-whites onto reservations, or simply slaughtering them en masse.

      How many -WHITE- liberals are there who wouldn’t sit still for this? How many white libertarians? Even if we were to assume for the sake of argument that it wouldn’t turn into a bloodily horrific race war (which I think it would), You’d have tens of millions of white americans ready to fight other white americans over the policy.

      And then you start breaking out terms like “race traitor”, and it’s aaaalll downhill from there, because surprise surprise, it’s not enough simply to have the right pallor and bone structure, you ALSO have to fit inside the White Nationalist ideology.

      Note that this critique would read pretty much exactly the same way for a black, hispanic, asian, native american, etc nationalist movement wanting to carve out their own territory out of the US or any other multi-racial/multi-ethnic country.

      To the extent that I support the existence of states like Israel, it’s to the extent that they represent a distinct -cultural- entity from their surrounding states.

      • Aapje says:

        cultural values are by far the most stable values on which to build a society

        They are actually not that stable, as there is a strong tendency for societies to fragment into smaller subcultures (like what is happening now).

        A lot of cultural nationalists realize this and consciously seek to push shared culture on people (which, ironically, might result in more social justice than Social Justice, as makes entire society into the ingroup).

        • ChetC3 says:

          A lot of cultural nationalists realize this and consciously seek to push shared culture on people (which, ironically, might result in more social justice than Social Justice, as makes entire society into the ingroup).

          Well, maybe in theory. In practice, it didn’t work out so smoothly for the conversos or the moriscos, to give two obvious counterexamples.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I don’t see that as undesirable. If you have to -push- your culture onto people in your society, I’d take that as prima facie evidence that your society is too big for the culture and it’s time to let people disperse/fragment.

          Personally, I think that even if you could start with six billion tabula rasa humans and offer them their choice of culture and system of government, you wouldn’t get an even distribution. Fewer atomistic individualists than more moderate individualists, fewer individualists from clannish/tribal/familial types, etc, etc etc.

          I’m with Tibor and a few others around here in that I’m not at all convinced that 100+ Million (or even 40-50 Million) population nation states are a necessary condition to sustain modern technological society.

          • Tibor says:

            Well, in Europe there are no countries with 100+ million people (I’m not counting Russia as a European country since most of its land area is not in Europe). Germany is the most populous country with a population of 80 million and an average European country has a population of 13 million people (16 million if we don’t count city states and various small island countries such as the Isle of Man or the Faroe Islands).

            There’s also no reason smaller countries cannot cooperate. I think eurofederalism is a dangerous idea but some kind of European cooperation is definitely a good thing. You don’t need a single country for people to work together. There’s a plenty of international research in Europe, there’s the ESA and after all multinational corporations are nothing else than international cooperation either.

            Personally, I think you can go way below the European average and still work well, provided that you end up with a bunch of countries which cooperate (but also compete as providers of legal systems) and not with isolated enclaves. The big question is how to prevent countries from merging to large empires (let’s say anything over 50 million people) while at the same time making sure they don’t become isolationist. The EU seems to be a way to prevent the latter but it increases the risk of the former.

      • Tekhno says:

        because surprise surprise, it’s not enough simply to have the right pallor and bone structure, you ALSO have to fit inside the White Nationalist ideology.

        This is why I often say: white nationalists are white nationalist nationalists. The nation they want is the one for people who believe that the nation should be founded on whiteness. Racial nationalism can’t escape from being encompassed by cultural nationalism. Might as well just have a sensible form of cultural nationalism instead, that’s reasonable inclusive of the already existing cultural make-up within your state.

        The other problem with white nationalism (besides the genocide) is that they draw you into the ideology by suggesting that whiteness is a proxy for things you should care about like high IQ, but then that goes straight out the window when other races that are better proxies for high IQ populations enter the picture, such as certain Jewish and asian populations. At some point, you might as well start ordering your nation by IQ and skip over the proxy, since IQ tests are a thing. Somehow this position never seems as popular despite being no less crazy. Perhaps 90 IQ skinheads don’t believe they’d survive the purge?

        It’s as if there’s a line of evidence leading people into a circle, but once they’re in, the circle is completely closed off, and whites are better because high IQ becomes white are better because whites are better because whites are better because whites are better…

    • Atlas says:

      Also, this comment was partially inspired by an incident (or non-incident) that happened to me recently that might be worth relating:

      Before class begins, there is (of course) a political discussion underway. A classmate of mine mentions the Steve Bannon appointment, and says that he’s very concerned about Bannon’s white nationalist views. I’m tempted to ask out of curiosity/devil’s advocacy “okay, what’s wrong with white nationalism?” But, realizing that I was in the minority as a white student, I figured it would be really dumb of me to antagonize the non-white ones by voicing an unpopular political opinion, and so held my tongue.

      And, well, when I thought about that in retrospect…

    • Mark says:

      >What’s wrong with white nationalism?

      If you’re a transhumanist like many SSC readers (including myself), genetic engineering and embryo selection seem like vastly more humane solutions to equalizing the allegedly biological group differences that white nationalists claim to be the source of so much resentment on both sides of the gap. It’s speculative, but not much more so than proposals to peacefully restore ethnic homogeneity in the US. Arguably less.

  3. Dr Dealgood says:

    So since we’re already talking about global warming, white nationalism and other napalm-level flamebait… is anyone interested in having an alignment thread instead?

    In my recent heavily-houseruled D&D Rules Compendium game, I’ve been running the Moorcockian one-axis Law-Neutrality-Chaos system. Mainly I like it because it evokes a strong pulp aesthetic. You have the ancient but borderline-decadent Law of civilization, the barbaric Neutrality of nature, and the mad teeming Chaos of the unknown. I’m a bit of a sucker for Thud and Blunder and cosmic horror so it’s a really good fit.

    But I know a lot of people prefer the Good-Evil axis, a dual-axis system, or to just discard character alignments altogether. What approaches do the guys and gals here take, and why?

    • dndnrsn says:

      Back when I played D&D, I just ran it as-is, because a lot of the magic system and all that is keyed into it. However, the nine-alignment system doesn’t really work.

      For one thing, everybody thinks they’re good! It’s possible to spot Law vs Chaos much more easily. The bomb-throwing anarchist and the secret policeman are clearly Chaos vs Law – but each thinks they are Good and the other is Evil. In games, it’s common for Law and Chaos to team up – but IRL, it’s the other way around.

      Something that would be fun to do would be to have Good and Evil presented to the players … but it’s fictional; they function as game mechanics but not for the reasons given. You’re just seeing how the players respond morally to thinking that they are the good guys and that they can easily identify the bad guys. OK, your cleric of Corellon Larethian’s Detect Evil spell does identify those orcs as evil, but that’s just because Corellon Larethian hates orcs. Maybe don’t even have Law and Chaos be real either. Present the players with a moral system that is presented as objective but is actually subjective.

      Lately, I’ve only been running and playing in games that neither have nor need an alignment system, so the point is moot, but I still enjoy presenting players with moral dilemmas, and it’s especially fun when they don’t realize they’re moral dilemmas.

      • lhn says:

        The bomb-throwing anarchist and the secret policeman are clearly Chaos vs Law

        I’d say the systems are about equally artificial: the bomb-throwing anarchist may be part of a rigidly organized cell system that expects total obedience and deals out rigid punishments for infractions even as it tries to sow chaos in the larger world. The secret policeman may be using his power arbitrarily, with utter contempt for orders or hierarchy other than what will bring immediate consequences, while serving as the face of a remorseless engine of law to civilians.

        My basic take is that on the rare occasions I’m playing D&D I want to play D&D, which means the whole 3×3 alignment system.

        (I did have the white box edition when I was getting started, but what we actually played was first ed. AD&D/blue box basic D&D– we weren’t all that clear on the distinction– so Good/Evil and Law/Chaos were both there.)

        But mostly I’ve played other games that don’t have formal alignment systems. Though I personally seem to gravitate to playing heroic characters, who would tend to wind up in the Neutral Good/Lawful Good sector of the grid in any case.

      • beleester says:

        That idea reminds me of Tales of Zestiria. In that game, good and evil are kind of an objective thing – humans can generate “malevolence”, which the main characters can sense, and which has a visible influence on the world around them. Humans and seraphim can get twisted into monsters called hellions if there’s too much malevolence in the air.

        But malevolence doesn’t come from evil acts, it’s more like “acts done from hate and anger.” You could run into an evil priest who believed he was doing god’s work – no malevolence, so the main character can’t smite him. Or you could attack someone in a vengeful fury, and even though they really deserve to get their butt kicked, you’re in the wrong state of mind, so you need to worry about being corrupted. Figuring out how to deal with enemies who deserved to die, but shouldn’t be targeted with the Shepherd’s power, led to some interesting conflicts.

        (A lot of times, it seemed like “malevolent” was interpreted in whatever way would be most inconvenient for the main character and force him to leave the most villains alive. But that’s more a criticism of the plot than of the system itself.)

    • A Kind Of Dog-Octopus says:

      Single axis law/chaos is the only one I find particularly workable and I’d be happy to discard it entirely except for the usefulness with regards to magic. Dungeon Crawl Classics has a particularly fun take on this. The nine-alignment system doesn’t seem to offer anything useful except as a way for players to justify bizarre actions.

      That said, I can live with it. It’s usually not that hard to keep under control.

    • bean says:

      I mostly do GURPS these days, which doesn’t really have alignments. Back when I did lots of D&D, I didn’t tend to mess with the system because it just wasn’t worth it.
      I will say that I did like the system that Star Wars D20 used, where you’d get Dark Side Points for being evil. It provided a better metric than just ‘good/neutral/evil’, and actually tracked the player’s actions.
      (Of course, the previous D6 edition had allowed you to spend Dark Side Points, which caused endless confusion in the rules question column.)

    • eighty-six twenty-three says:

      Here’s the question that alignment systems have to answer: suppose the paladin uses his detect evil power on someone, and the result comes back: “yep, that person is evil”. Is the paladin morally required to kill that person? Is the town sheriff expected to exile that person from town? If not, what does “evil” even mean?

      I answer the question by narrating that nearly all humans are True Neutral alignment. Maybe one person gives change to beggars and a different person kicks puppies. Maybe one person derives positive utility from the suffering of others and another always cooperates in prisoner’s dilemmas. But none of these people has seriously devoted their life to advancing the platonic ideal of Good or Evil (or Law or Chaos), so it all rounds down to Neutral.

      If you start messing with magical or extraplanar things — if you’re a cleric of a Good or Evil god, or if you’ve been committing human sacrifice, or raising the dead, or if you’ve opened a portal to the Far Reaches and communed with Unknowable Horrors recently — that’s when you start detecting as a member of an alignment. And yes, if you detect as evil, the paladin probably should just flat-out kill you. (He won’t, because he’d have trouble with law enforcement the next day. But he really should.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        As above, it would be amusing if the answer “he’s Evil” really means “your deity of choice thinks he’s Evil”.

        • eighty-six twenty-three says:

          I can respect that some groups like moral dilemmas, but they never seem to go well for me. What always seems to happen is one player says “well, my character’s morality leads him to demand that we do X, and he’s completely inflexible about that demand, so the game can’t proceed until everybody agrees we can do X”.

          One example is the Lawful Stupid paladin who says the group can’t sneak in to the dark lord’s castle because sneaking is dishonorable. Another example is the argument that ensues whenever the group takes prisoners: “if we let the minotaur go free, he’ll kill a lot more people!” “yeah, but he surrendered, and it’s immoral to execute a prisoner!”

          I don’t enjoy this sort of argument, so I try to avoid moral dilemmas in my games.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Don’t they pop up on their own, though? I mean, avoiding moral dilemmas seems more artificial than going out of your way to introduce them.

            Do you just never have opponents surrender? Never put civilians in the way of what the players want? Etc.

          • eighty-six twenty-three says:

            Agreed that moral dilemmas can pop up on their own, but if I see one coming I try to alter reality to avoid it.

            And yeah: I never have anyone “fake surrender”, meaning “I don’t want to fight you right now but I will continue to do things you don’t like once you go away.” That does not happen in my games. And I long ago learned to not give civilians any treasure because players will be too tempted to (optionally kill them and) steal it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Less “civilians with treasure” than “civilians who will get in the way of shooting”.

          • Spookykou says:

            I totally agree with eighty-six twenty-three on this one. No prisoners, no survivors, no moral debate around the table if you can avoid it. I have had to sit through way too many drawn out torture scenes between the DM and the one player with some sort of torture interrogation obsession. This is less of a problem if you have a solid group of friends, but many of the groups I have played with have had some kind of problem with this. It is particularly bad though with D&D Adventures league, and w/e they called the same thing back during 4e, which I used to do more of.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think I might just have a better group than most. Party disagreements have not a single time led to everyone in a standoff, a party split, etc. I have had that happen to other groups, though.

            Presenting characters with moral dilemmas is one of the ways I gauge roleplaying – if somebody’s supposed to be playing the dunderhead paladin who laughs at danger and thinks “tactics” is immoral, and the player starts planning around avoiding combat, bad roleplaying.

            But I’ve never had it turn into “well we can’t attack the bad guy’s castle because we can’t agree on how”. Worst case scenario, the sneaky guys wake up early, go out and do sneaky, paladin gets woken up and told “oh hey the attack is beginning!” and the player pretends he doesn’t know what’s going on.

          • Spookykou says:

            dndnrsn based on your D&D comments, I am sure you are the common factor in your better than average D&D experiences.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Ha, thanks, I wish. I think my good works have mostly been logistical, though. The old group I used to game with had some people who (game-wise) were great players, but were super flaky, and had a lot more interpersonal conflict. My current group, ruled with my iron first of making people game once a week almost all the time, has had zero problems. I used to play a lot of crummy RPGs with random people, too.

          • Drew says:

            @eighty-six twenty-three

            I very much agree about avoiding fake surrender scenarios. My D&D games got a lot simpler when I ruled that NPCs are “defeated” at 0 HP.

            Depending on circumstance — and player intent — defeat could be anything from “willing to share secrets,” to “swears an oath to leave the town in peace” to “dead.”

            The clear win condition avoids a lot of distracting moral debate, annoying morale checks, and means I don’t have to DM gross torture scenes.

      • eighty-six twenty-three says:

        PS. For the most part I view the Law vs Chaos axis as sort of stupid. One way in which it’s not stupid is that it balances certain character classes: you can be a Paladin or you can be a Barbarian, but paladins are lawful and barbarians are non-lawful, so you can’t be both at once.

        But I once ran a game in which someone had opened a planar gate to a Far Reaches plane where Time Had No Meaning, and while the gate was opened, time travel was possible. The inhabitants of that plane were not Good or Evil (when you don’t have causality, you tend to also lose track of morality), but they were very very hungry. I described those inhabitants as Chaos creatures, with all the inherent weaknesses, and that seemed to work pretty well.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I generally agree with your approach, though mundane human(oid) evil ought to ping as long as it’s past a reasonable threshold.

        I think it helps to remember that Detect Evil is supposed to be a class feature in a game and not a thought experiment in a freshman psych class: if something detects as Evil that needs to convey some sort of actionable information. If someone’s juiced up on evil magic, or an extraplanar creature made of pure evil, or just a sick bastard who would kill you for sport then that’s good to know. Knowing that someone is, on the balance, kind of a dick is less pressing.

        But yeah, not specifying what Evil is or means is a big philosophical problem with later editions of D&D. You can very easily end up with situations where half the party thinks that, say, Orcs are inherently evil while the other half thinks that it’s evil to behave as though all Orcs are evil. It’s just a mess.

      • Spookykou says:

        I generally don’t like the good evil axis just because I don’t like moral absolutes, I think they are less interesting in terms of narrative.

        Give me a bad guy I can talk to, play off the other bad guys, and not feel morally obligated to go back and murder because he literally eats children to sustain himself.

        Edit: Fifth edition D&D is very clear about what monsters are evil, and evil is treated more as a key word than an analysis of behavior.

      • carvenvisage says:

        Some answers to the dilemna:

        a person can wind up motivated by malice without wanting it or noticing it.

        if some people can detect evil, what’s stopping those people from lying

        or others pretending they have the ability and lying?

        Why wouldn’t there be a rate of false positive, especially in borderline cases?

         

        So the dilemna is certainly answerable.

        But why ‘fight the hypothetical’?: If someone is truly evil, and you know they are, surely yes you should behead them, simple as.

        But that situation bears no resemblence to our world. We can’t magically read people’s minds, and even if we could, that would be only the beginning of the difficulties in such an endeavor.

         

        It would be an alien environment from anything we’ve experienced on this planet if you really could reliably and easily determine if someone was evil. -So unless deliberately going for that, the natural default would be for some ambiguity to exist.

         

        Also, if evil is a literal cosmic force, or if there is a literal cosmic force representing to it, maybe ‘detect evil’ just detects that? rather than people’s character.

         

        It would make a lot more mechanical sense; the spell usually doesn’t require a psychic assault on its target in order to read their mind, and gain the necessarry information for the latter in the first place.

      • Jiro says:

        If you start messing with magical or extraplanar things — if you’re a cleric of a Good or Evil god, or if you’ve been committing human sacrifice, or raising the dead, or if you’ve opened a portal to the Far Reaches and communed with Unknowable Horrors recently — that’s when you start detecting as a member of an alignment.

        That actually is canon for AD&D. “Detect Evil” and spells that actually detect alignments aren’t the same thing. “Know Alignment” will tell whether someone is neutral good or lawful evil, but “Detect Evil” works exactly as you describe.

        1st ed DMG: “It is important to make a distinction between character alignment and
        some powerful force of evil or good when this detection function is considered.
        In general, only a know alignment spell will determine the evil or
        good a character holds within. It must be a great evil or a strong good to be
        detected. Characters who are very strongly aligned, do not stray from their
        faith, and who are of relatively high level (at least 8th or higher) might
        radiate evil or good if they are intent upon appropriate actions.” 2nd edition has similar text.

    • Skivverus says:

      Haven’t played enough campaigns to really solidify an opinion on the matter, but I tend to interpret the good/evil axis as shorthand for an altruistic/selfish axis.

      Incidentally, the Pathfinder website has a good section on tweaking alignment to fit subjective morality.

    • John Schilling says:

      The established 3×3 system works well enough for categorizing NPCs within a framework the players and GM generally agree on. Knowing that the band of heavily-armed hominids over there are CE or LE or whatnot enables players to predict with reasonable accuracy how they will treat the defenseless village before them. To the extent that it has material significance in the game system, things like “Detect Evil” can be reasonably translated to “Detect malevolence and/or depraved indifference”, and IMO the 3×3 system is baked too deeply into the D&D system to be worth trying to pry loose at that level.

      For PCs, if we assume that the players are The Good Guys by definition and consensus, the 3×3 collapses to Law/Neutral/Chaos, which everyone seems happy with.

      For consciously antiheroic or unconsciously selfish PCs, it has a real problem in that it doesn’t allow for useful shades of grey. A GP-and-XP-maximizing Munchkin is, pretty much by definition, Neutral Evil. But how many players are willing to accept that label no matter how much it fits? How many GMs are willing to forcibly apply it, to someone who put “Chaotic Good” on their character sheet and occasionally makes some token effort to role-play it?

      For PCs, and maybe for a select few NPCs with well-developed character arcs, I see a real advantage to systems that can quantify the shades of grey (and the consequences thereof).

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        For PCs, if we assume that the players are The Good Guys by definition and consensus, the 3×3 collapses to Law/Neutral/Chaos, which everyone seems happy with.

        For consciously antiheroic or unconsciously selfish PCs, it has a real problem in that it doesn’t allow for useful shades of grey. A GP-and-XP-maximizing Munchkin is, pretty much by definition, Neutral Evil. But how many players are willing to accept that label no matter how much it fits? How many GMs are willing to forcibly apply it, to someone who put “Chaotic Good” on their character sheet and occasionally makes some token effort to role-play it?

        Riffing off of this, one interesting thing I noticed in a few of my early 3.5 games was that certain players actually play more nuanced and less antisocial Evil characters than Good ones.

        For example, one of my PCs in college was originally playing an allegedly NG Human Ranger with an insanely vicious and petty sense of revenge. He’s the kind of guy who would take time out from a life-or-death fight to impale an enemy he had already beaten. Eventually, he earned a forcible alignment shift and bitched a lot about it.

        In the next campaign, which was thematically more Good & Evil vs Oblivion than Good vs Evil, we designed a CE Goblin Psionicist for him to play. And in that game he played entirely differently: he was extremely protective of his small crew of goblin followers, loyal to the rest of the party, and even occasionally a voice of reason. It was like being officially Evil let him get it out of his system.

        I don’t quite get it tbh.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Maybe it’s like the opposite of that (replicated? not replicated? I dunno) psychology experiment where people who have just washed their hands are less moral? Being “the good guy” gives them license to do bad shit?

          After all, IRL, most of history’s great evils have been done by people convinced what they were doing was, ultimately, right and for the good.

          And, of my players, I’ve noticed that the guy who has the most black-and-white sense of morality and faith in his own rectitude is the most likely to do stuff like kill prisoners or kill enemies who aren’t a threat to him.

          • gronald says:

            I kill enemies who aren’t a threat to me all the time.

            When you’re a high-level character, very few things are actually a threat to you. They’re a threat to that village over there, and they’d love to just go around you if that would be okay.

            So, the rule is that I will kill any enemy who is a threat to human civilians. (Or, I mean, elf civilians, dwarf civilians, et cetera.)

            About prisoners: I would love to hand prisoners over to some sort of responsible authority, but most games don’t have a responsible authority. You can hand your sixteenth-level wizard prisoner over to the sheriff who’s a second-level fighter, but it’s not really a good idea. So, I’ve learned to advocate for not taking prisoners.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’ve ran entirely 20th-century stuff with varying levels of supernatural and fairly low power for a while now, so the situation is kind of different.

            I might try to run a (non-D&D, low-powered-ish) fantasy campaign and see what happens.

        • carvenvisage says:

          For example, one of my PCs in college was originally playing an allegedly NG Human Ranger with an insanely vicious and petty sense of revenge. He’s the kind of guy who would take time out from a life-or-death fight to impale an enemy he had already beaten. Eventually, he earned a forcible alignment shift and bitched a lot about it.

          Presumably his reasoning was to ensure they didn’t survive to hurt others or something.

          (You didn’t mention how he defended, or say that he offered no defense, this so I assume you are hiding it, probably for predictable reasons.)

          So why did you impose a forced alignment shift? Personally offended and felt the need to impose your ideas? Just carried away with your authoriteh?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Wow, that was surprisingly uncharitable.

            In the specific case I was talking about, his character had put the enemy into deep negative hp. From the player’s perspective it’s not super clear if an enemy is dead or just bleeding out but either way he was out of the fight.

            So while the rest of the party was still fighting the guy’s comrades, Ranger decided that he was going to push the dude’s spear up his ass and out his mouth. He took a full round action mid-combat to do so.

            Like I said, insanely petty and vicious.

            As for his defense it was less that his character wasn’t evil and more that it was a loss of agency and changed the character concept. I get that feeling, it’s part of why I don’t have villains use mind-affecting or polymorph spells on the PCs very often. But at the same time a Good alignment is completely incompatible with sadistic torture.

            (I don’t want to give the wrong impression of the player btw: he was a fine guy to hang out with, not a psycho IRL by any stretch. He just let his id go a little wild when the dice came out and whined if he got called out on it.)

          • carvenvisage says:

            Uh ok I had the wrong impression completely. Sorry. Wow.

             

            In defense of my paranoid suspicion: I think a forced alignment change is a very serious thing. I know it’s ‘DND geeks lol’ and everything, but people are encouraged to identify with their characters, and to take the DM’s word as the voice of god. So using the DM’s godlike powers to reprogram them to a different identity strikes me as potentially a kind of mindrape by proxy. I know that’s a really melodramatic way to put it but that’s how I see it. -So from there to assuming someone mentioning something like this without details I can judge for myself is hiding something is a very short step.

            (but yeah wow holy shit.. not what I was thinking of)

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I’m currently running a D&D campaign set in the Greek Heroic Age. The players like the alignment rules as written, but in-universe I try to make it clear that what matters is whether you support or subvert civilization (Law vs. Chaos). I do this in ways like having the gods associate with certain cities and having a peripatetic cult of Gaia and the Titans sending assassins after clerics.

    • sflicht says:

      I don’t play RPGs, but I wonder if anyone has tried using Kling’s three-axis system in D&D.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        It would be interesting, to say the least.

        Civilization-Barbarism looks a lot like the old school Law-Chaos axis, while Freedom-Coercion looks like the new school interpretation of it. Liberation-Oppression could work as a substitute for Good-Evil as most people understand it, although personally I’d omit it to keep from encouraging the “my character works to end feudalism!” types.

        But yeah, it looks pretty solid.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Anecdote:

      Last week, one of the players in a campaign I’m a player in didn’t show up, so we just talked amongst ourselves a bit and had fun. Alignment came up, some discussion was had, and eventually I posed enough questions that my DM decided that I’d done it, gave up, and told us all that alignment wouldn’t be meaningful any longer. This is 5th edition D&D we’re talking about, so it wasn’t ever really a factor anyway, but I couldn’t help but think of this blog when I did that, because it seemed like just the kind of thing our readers here might be responsible for.

      I also DM a variant of 3.5 on other days. Fortunately perhaps, Iron Heroes conspicuously tells you not to use alignment, so any and all such issues don’t come up.

    • carvenvisage says:

      I like it as a framework to get you started and to illustrate your character from:

      Most characters won’t fit completely cleanly into one of 9 boxes *, but there’s nothing wrong with them being on the borderline between 2, or 3 -or 5, nor with simply choosing the one they feel the most representative or simply their favorite.

      If a character follows their own code unneringly, are they lawful or chaotic?

      if someone follows laws unneringly just because that’s their natural impulse -which they don’t believe in questioning (without good reason)?

      If someone lives in an evil attitude/worldview, but in order to carve out some good in a worse world, do you default to describing them by their goals or by how they are 90% of the time?

      If someone is good out of an aesthetic preference for, rather than moral commitment to, good, are they good or neutral?

      etc etc

      These questions don’t have universal answers, and shouldn’t. Thinking about stuff like that, and deciding for yourself is a lot of fun and a good exercise.

       

       

       

      I don’t like the Law-chaos-neutral axis on its own because imo law and chaos are:

      Both are perfectly Viable schelling points: you can have a society where everyone is respectful, cultivating of a shared atmosphere, etc, or you can have one where everyone is totally free to be as they like, so long as they accept the same from others.

      Either is great. Both will need a little of the virtues of the other in order to function.

       

      And on an individual level there isn’t any such incompatability, and much less need to deprioritise one in favour of the other: a person should (generally) try to be reasonably accepting of others, and also make a reasonable effort not to put people on edge.

       

      And, just on the inherent level chaos is not inherently self sustaining. It takes a certain amount of order to maintain chaos: There has to be an underlying order, a will, to keep things free. People can’t just go around murdering people, or stealing etc, or things will collapse into a bad order.

      And lo and behold if you go around murdering people you are liable to be murdered yourself -a natural response, but one which maintains and shapes an existing order. Similarly with all forms of harm. You could say that chaos is a state of loose and impromptu positive order. To the extent this underlying order or natural order is lacking, the chaos will probably collapse into a bad order.

      (what does this natural order consist of? -free association, revenge, and good will? -Something like that?).

      Order might be more stable than chaos, but chaos sometimes turns into good order, but when order fails it tends to become a bad order pretty quickly.

      (A free for all of loot/murder is not chaos -people’s actions are liable to be highly constrained, and fear/threat-based in such an environment.)

      If an order becomes too dull or constricted, it is liable to grow weak, as well as to grow enemies who conceive of order and energy as opposites. Deny people their bars, their fighting grounds, and they’re liable to be 1. incapable of upholding a good order against those who wish for a bad one, and 2. unmovitated to.

      How do you stop the barbarians from rampaging over your walls? Simple: don’t turn your back on the order of walking in chaos, which is the highest form of order, (seeing as it navigates and shapes the most adverse conditions). DON’T encourage people to be weak and reliant. Either train them to fight or let them loose to learn/iterate, if they wish. To do neither is practically treason imo.

       

       

      anyway, to sum up, I think the idea of order vs chaos as a great cosmic showdown between eternal foes is more or less a plain dumb category error, like “polite vs caring” or something. Each primarily represents virtues*. Each needs some of the other’s virtues in order to survive. Both collapse in the presence of the vices/weaknesses associated with it.

      (*if the associated vices are inimical to the thing itself, how can they be an inherent part of it as a platonic form? Why are they associated?)

      So I don’t associate order with underenergetic self righteous stupidity/malice, or chaos with overenergetic self righteous stupidity/malice, hence the view of them as two good things not mutually exclusive.

      Order is supposed to be stable, reliable, and helpful or useful. And chaos is supposed to be energetic and free. Between the two there is a a legitimate axis, but the same is true for: extrovert vs introvert, thinking vs intuition vs feeling, Action vs planning, self-conditioning vs system-understanding, Priorising win-win solutions or the highest utility first, etc etc etc etc

      I can see why it’s standard to label your character as good or evil: it’s massively important, it affects everything they do. It’s a defining part of them as characters and as people. There’s nothing wrong with the chaos/order axis but I don’t think it’s an important question for most let alone every character.

      • Mary says:

        Law vs. Chaos has the additional problem that it tends to subsume three different things:

        1. how orderly is your life?
        2. how much do you support the social structure?
        3. how orderly do you think the universe is?

        obviously you could be all over the place on that; indeed, you could, say, be extremely Lawful on the first two as a defense mechanism against thinking the third is rampaging Chaos, or be lawful on the second precisely because a well-ordered society gives you more license to be spontaneous yourself.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I prefer the MTG color wheel system. Are you lawful Bant or chaotic Mardu?

      But I always found the moral clarity of an objective alignment system to make things a lot less interesting. If I want to yell at my players for being excessively sociopathic, I can do that out-of-game. I don’t need a mechanical alignment system to give me a pretext. I’m glad D&D has mostly moved away from that model.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I wrote a long comment on the color wheel and it got eaten.

        Anyway, I liked MtG and its lore but the wheel-as-philosophy seemed a bit forced. I personally wouldn’t use it unless I was running a game in an actual MtG property.

        Speaking of players being sociopathics, do you have a worst player atrocity / derail story? Mine haven’t been that spectacular: the worst was probably the guy who tried to create a time paradox by killing a little girl in a “flashback” scene when he had already met her before as a grown woman.

        • Robert Liguori says:

          3 words: Kobold prostitution ring.

          I actually did have a massive derail in one game in which one player decided to sell out the party’s hideout to the Big Bad and duck away with the half of the party he liked (and thought he could manipulate).

          One of those party members did not take well to the other player’s announcement that he’d betrayed people, and so promptly stabbed him in the back; ideally, I would have fudged the numbers so his attack was fatal, shrugged my shoulders at the first person, and moved on, telling them to work with me to make a new (and less idiotic-decision-prone) character. Instead, drama happened both in and out of the game, and we took a few sessions disentangling it. But it was a college campaign and we were about to lose a bunch of players to graduation, so it was an appropriate time for everything to go to hell anyway.

        • suntzuanime says:

          The incident I was thinking of where I had to yell at a player was when the party had captured a couple faeries (in battle, they weren’t hunting faeries or anything) and one of the players wanted to play the “harsh martial arts master” trope and train them into combat badasses using methods that struck me as excessively cruel.

          I mean, there was a kobold warren they had cleared earlier, which probably counts as genocide which is a worse atrocity than torturing a couple prisoners? But that was a revenge attack for a kobold raid on a human village, so it was arguably more justified than idly wanting to train a couple faeries in the way of the blade? This starts to get into some uncomfortable political questions.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Party split occurs, with PCs plotting against each other over possession of valuable blueprints. One player ends up going through torn up and thrown out notes the other players had been passing, then makes his decisions in the next session clearly based on this non-character knowledge. Denies all wrongdoing. Stalemate occurs, nobody does anything, campaign dies.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I really want to link Rich Burlew’s essay on alignment and narrative but I can’t seem to find a (free) online copy of it.

      • Mary says:

        Hmm. . . I remember his follow up commenting on the one definite virtue of alignment: it introduces newbies to the notion of role-playing.

        “Just because YOU would blackmail her to get the free night doesn’t mean that your paladin would, it’s against his alignment.”

    • Zorgon says:

      One of the most interesting tweaks on this comes from the oft-maligned Rolemaster. RM builds its alignments along an unlimited number of oppositional pairs created by the GM: capitalism vs socialism, freedom vs security, “light” and “darkness” etc. These form alignment tracks, which have a very vaguely defined “neutral” state that applies to pretty much every character not directly aligned with one or the other side (and which in most cases could easily be a huge range in itself).

      They come primarily into play in two places – magical effects that specifically react to one side or another of a given alignment track, and religion. Characters that act in a clearly out-of-alignment fashion pick up Corruption points which slowly shift them towards the other side of their alignment pairing.

      Finally, the game defines a nebulous concept of “supernatural evil” which governs certain really horrible spell lists and which, depending on setting, can overwhelm/taint/seek out/otherwise inconvenience magic users as a balance on their powers. But that only very loosely interacts with the alignment system.

      Overall it produces a fun if less coherent approach to defining character alignment. Certainly finding a +15* Holy Avenger Of Freedom is always a fun experience.

      (* RM uses d100 rolls, so bonuses tend to be multiplied by 5 from the comparable D&D items.)

    • StellaAthena says:

      I DM 5e mostly, though I’ve played everything from 3 onwards. I think of alignment as fundamentally descriptive, not proscriptive. If a character does something out of alignment, I don’t chastise them. I just make a note of the alignment drift and maybe give the player a heads up if it happens again. It has little to no gameplay impact

      Unless you’re asking how we interpret alignment?

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        A bit of both?

        I don’t see a clear line between how you interpret alignment and how you implement it.

        If Good is objectively morally right but is more metaphysical than physical with few impacts on a character’s effectiveness, that’s just as much an interpretation as it is a gameplay choice. It’s positing a universe more “like ours” where moral behavior doesn’t immediately pay off one way or another rather than a Star Wars type universe where how many dark side points you have at a given moment is of great practical importance.

        Since character effectiveness determines the rate of GP / XP gain, and that’s the core of D&D’s incentive structure, whether or not alignment has a gameplay effect changes what sort of roleplaying is incentivized.

        • StellaAthena says:

          I assign XP based on tasks completed and enemies defeated. Do you mean like “a chaotic neutral paladin is likely to spend less time doing useful things than a lawful good paladin”?

          To be clear, I do hold Good and Evil on the scales that the D&D universe does. “Good” means “aligned with the interests of the Cosmic Good Entities” and all that. I just think that the attitude of “I’m going to play a chaotic good paladin” can get in the way of more exciting character creation and development. You play the character and act how the character would act in a given situation. On balance, that might be Lawful Good or Chaotic Neutral or whatever and that’s how you’ll be described as and presumed to be.

      • John Schilling says:

        It has little to no gameplay impact

        Unless the character is deriving some mechanistic benefit from it; not familiar with 5e but are there still magical powers or class benefits linked to alignment?

        If a e.g. Ranger’s bag of tricks is available only to Good, and a character insists on acting in a Not Good manner, then A: is the GM actually going to withhold those benefits and B: is the player going to be OK with that? There is potentially some very good roleplaying in the part where the Ranger discovers that Animal Empathy isn’t working for him because the Animals refuse to work with him any more, but there’s also potentially some out-of-game drama.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          5e stripped out a lot of alignment requirements.

          Paladins don’t even have to be LG, or even L or G: it’s all about whatever specific vow you took. You could play a CG Paladin if you wanted to.

    • Mary says:

      Alignment is taking every moral problem that the wisest and best have broken their hearts over for millennia, misunderstanding half of it, boiling down to a rules system simplistic enough for a game, and handing it over to a bunch of sophomoric gamers. (Some of whom, to be sure, have the excuse of being sophomores.)

  4. knownastron says:

    Are there any good explanation for why Asians-Americans overwhelmingly vote democrat? The most dominant Asian values are: fiscal responsibility, family, and education. Besides the focus on education, fiscal responsibility and focus on family are very Republican ideals.

    Can anyone share any insight?

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      I posted this Charles Murray piece awhile back (in one of the Trump threads?) and people seemed to find it insightful.

    • Iain says:

      There was a decent subthread in the comments starting here, marred slightly by contributions from a since-banned Trump supporter. A couple of good external links from that thread: one, two.

    • John Schilling says:

      Besides the focus on education, fiscal responsibility and focus on family are very Republican ideals.

      The focus on education is really, really important to Asians.

      Really, it’s important to everyone – do you want or expect your dose of fiscal responsibility to be delivered by someone who can’t do math? The problem is, while maybe 80% of the population is focused on education as a Good Thing, the 20% who see it as a Bad Thing(*) are now mostly Republicans and figure more prominently than they deserve in the public face of the GOP. The more you care about education as a positive good, the less likely you are to trust a Republican to actually deliver any of the other goods you and he might mutually agree on.

      * “I learned enough math to balance a budget in middle school; college is just braniacs who don’t understand the Real World and spread commie secular humanist propaganda to people who ought to know better”, or the like.

    • shakeddown says:

      Education is a huge predictor of voting, and asians tend to be highly educated. Asians used to be more nonpartisan (or even lean republican), but as the republican party skews anti-education (It feels like it’s been leaning that way for a while, but the establishment only realised it this election), asians start tending democratic.

    • Sandy says:

      My family has a negative view of Republicans because they consider them the party of stupid people like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter. They admire Ted Cruz for literally no other reason but that he’s a brilliant lawyer, but they still wouldn’t vote for him because he’s a Republican and thus belongs to the party of stupid people. They’re pro-market and they hate Muslims, but they won’t vote Republican until the stupid people are purged.

      • erenold says:

        They’re pro-market and they hate Muslims

        On the assumption there was indeed somewhat of a swing towards Trump amongst Asian-Americans in this election, I do wonder if there wasn’t more to the above point than we thought.

        It seems clear that if you thought Muslims pose an existential threat to the country, or at least a significant and real one to your livelihood, then there was really only one candidate in the race. For various reasons, I can imagine different Asian-American populations would take different positions on that issue. North-east Asians like Japanese and Koreans probably not so much, but south/southeast Chinese, Indian and other various southeast Asian folks maybe.

    • erenold says:

      I posted a little bit in the last thread, so just a couple of quick observations:

      There’s some evidence – and Scott at least seems convinced, since he used the same source in his recent Wolf post – that Trump did an amazing 11 points better with Asian-Americans than Romney did. This is the second largest swing among all demographic groups, with the exception of Whites without college (14 points). If true*, it’s clear that much of what we thought we know about As-Ams must surely be wrong.

      * Now caveats – these were based on exit polls, the same exit polls that were so reliable that they thought inter alia that Clinton would win and that it would be a short night, that consistently got the primaries wrong, that obviously exclude Dem-leaning early voters, and so on. And of course smaller population groups equals noisier. But they’re comparisons of 2016 exit polls to 2012 exit polls, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Ultimately I think it’s hard to believe Trump didn’t at least do a little better than Romney, and quite probably a lot better.

      What happened? I know, or at least strongly suspect, what happened for me personally, at least – I got caught up in my own, college-educated bubble, and for that I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I probably misled. As I noted, I have almost no American extended family – certainly none born after the 50s – without college, many of whom were Ivies. This led me to overestimate the impact of a smaller shift further towards Clinton of an already Dem-leaning group, Asians w/ college, while ignoring a potentially much greater shift in the opposite direction elsewhere.

      We think of Asians as being stereotypically educated and white-collar. And, of course, there’s some truth there, this source says 54% of Asians have college relative to 33% gen. pop, the highest in America. But this teaches us – or at least me – to remember, of course, the fact that this means that 46% of the population don’t have college degrees. That’s about 4.5m votes right there! It seems quite plausible to me that there was a massive pro-Trump swing amongst these folks, similar to what we saw among the WWC.

      • The Nybbler says:

        There are Asian-American groups like the Vietnamese who traditionally vote Republican; there was a big hoo-hah before the election about how they were all turning to the Democrats.

        e.g.

        http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/asian-american-voters-are-diverse-but-unified-against-donald-trump/

        It appears this did not actually happen. Or perhaps it did; NBC suggests believing the election-eve polls over the exit polls:

        http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/analysis-how-exit-polling-missed-mark-asian-americans-n682491

        They say the same about Latinos. I expect this is denial, but on the other hand there’s at least one exit poll backing up the pre-election figures

        http://www.atimes.com/article/asian-americans-backed-wrong-donkey-us-poll/

        • erenold says:

          Yep, agreed. I totally buy that exit polls suck. What I’m not prepared to believe is that they conjured an 11-point shift from thin air. The one exit you cited that didn’t show Asian underperformance for the Democrats was conducted by the “Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund”; I’m not convinced that such explicitly minority-organization outfits can produce good work, much like Latino Decisions with their 89% Latino Democratic polls and what not.

          I think this is one of those times the sheer vastness and therefore meaninglessness of the term “Asian-American” really shows itself. I suspect that the Asian-Americans that reporters knew personally really did swing Dem, or at least further did so. Chinese-diaspora roommate from college. Indian colleague at work pulling six figures, Taiwanese doctor. But this doesn’t prove anything until you’ve controlled for the college/working-class shift within the general population! What about the Fijians, 20% of whom don’t graduate HS let alone college? What about the 40% of Laotians for whom that’s true, or the 45% Cambodians?

          If you’re a national reporter, you can probably ballpark that Asian-Americans make up about 5% of the population. If you then have Asian-Americans as 1 in 20 of your friends – not a hard ratio to achieve, I suspect – then you might have fooled yourself into thinking you understood As-Am thinking in this cycle. But you really just didn’t. You got fooled by the overrepresentation of Korean (53% college), Indian (70% college), yonsei Japanese (46% college) in your social circles into thinking they were the entirety of the 5%. They weren’t. There were entire demographic populations you failed to account for, maybe didn’t even know existed. You had no insight into the phenomenology of what it is to be a second- or third-generation Hmong who works with his hands, struggling to keep your kids from running with the street gangs, competing with Mexican legal and illegal immigrants for daily work. That’s how they got it so badly wrong. (And, of course, as did I.)

          • knownastron says:

            Do you think that Asians’ tendency to be apolitical hurts their ability to vote according to their deeper core values?

            I feel like your analysis about Asians viewing Republicans as “crazy” is correct. But it seems like rather shallow reasoning. Do Asians vote on such a shallow reason because Asians don’t care enough to analyze beyond that initial impression?

            You’d expect someone that is deeply engaged in politics to get past that initial impression and realize that the deeper values of family and fiscal conservatism is more important factors to vote on.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think the standard argument against trying to parse exit polling for minority groups is simply that most of the exit polls specifically say that they aren’t designed to grab that data accurately.

            Given that the exit polls were fairly wrong anyway, and we don’t know why, it doesn’t make much sense to do anything than assign very large error bars on the measures.

          • erenold says:

            @knownastron

            Hmmm… let me do something very unwise, take off my descriptive hat and put on my normative one.

            I’m not sure we share sufficient premises here. Why do you believe it’s a ‘shallow’ or superficial reason? I have to respectfully say that from where I’m sitting, it does appear to be the correct one.

            Trump is Trump, and Palin is Palin, and we need waste no more time on that. But long before 2016 you had Rick Santorum suggesting that only snobs want to go to college (yes, I know I’m shorthanding this.) Rick Perry threatened to secede from the Union as a break from threatening Helicopter Ben Bernanke personally with mob violence. Joe Wilson screamed that the President of the United States was a liar in the middle of SOTU. Herman Cain thinks only the effete elite care about knowing who U-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan’s President is. Birtherism. These things matter cumulatively. I don’t think this is a mere stylistic affect. I think they imply something about the modern Republican party. I think the shift from R to D of college-educated voters generally, is also a product of that same shift.

            @HBC

            Certainly plausible. We know elex-day vote trends R anyway due to early voting, and as you said we know, and they themselves know, that polling small groups produce large error bars. But 11 points? From exit polls that heavily leaned D in the first place? Not beyond the realm of possibility, but a bit too high for me to write off.

            Not to mention, we’re comparing exits to exits. If you believe the 2004, 2008, 2012 figures are historically plausible, then you need to explain why there was a failure – such a massive failure – only for the 2016 version.

          • knownastron says:

            @erenold

            You nailed it, I see the craziness as a stylistic expression. However, when you put it the way you did with those examples. I’m inclined to agree with you that it may be more than a stylistic expression of “craziness.”

            I think I also made the mistake of thinking that this was an Asian-only problem (if the “shallow” problem exists at all). I think the general consensus is that most of the population votes for tribal or related reasons and not deep analysis of core values.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        What happened?

        (Caveat: I live thousands of miles away and haven’t set foot on the good ol’ US of A for many years now, so take my ideas with an appropriately-sized grain of salt.)

        Asian-Americans tend to be better-educated, have better jobs, etc., than the national average, so they don’t tend to do very well in the identity politics stakes (cf. affirmative action programmes in universities making it harder for Asians to get in). The Dems have been pushing identity politics pretty heavily for a while now, and this only got more pronounced in the run-up to the election, when the idea that people should vote Hillary so that America could have its first female President was a prominent one. Conversely, the Repubs have traditionally been more in favour of individualism, and Trump himself didn’t seem like the sort of person who’d have much patience for affirmative action proposals. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Trump did better with Asian-American voters than previous Republican nominees had.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m not Asian, so this is all second-hand anecdotes, but it seems like there are a few big cultural differences that put them off.

      Guns are a big one. Asians, particularly new immigrants, are scared to death of guns and cannot understand American gun culture at all. Obviously that’s not universal: Asian small business owners in inner cities can be quite well armed. But it seems like a big factor in seeing the R’s as a bunch of lunatics if you can’t fathom why someone would consider the second amendment as one of our cornerstone rights.

      Christianity could well be another. A lot of Asian Americans are Christians, and some like Koreans are even pretty serious about it. But they’re not quite the same sort of Christians. They have their own churches, their own interpretations of scripture, and their own attitudes on how belief should enter into the public sphere. I just don’t see them getting along easily with American Evangelical culture very well even if on paper a lot of them are the same denominations.

      The respect for received knowledge versus experience seems like another. It’s a stereotype that Asians are unquestioning robots, and obviously untrue in the extreme. But I’ve definitely noticed that East Asians (particularly new immigrants) are very reluctant to question information which comes from on high while Americans are a lot quicker to point out when the official story doesn’t make sense. If you’ve ever done a journal club with a group of Chinese scientists it’s exhausting because they hate saying that the data doesn’t support the author’s preferred conclusion, even if that data is a gel that looks like someone wiped the floor with it.

      Conservatism in the US is still very focused on the rights of individuals and small communities to do their own thing without undue interference, which is at odds with most of the world’s understanding of conservatism as a single centralized tradition. It’s closer than American liberalism but not by very much.

      • keranih says:

        This was going to be sort of my reply but you said it better. I think the culture of anti-state individual liberty that trumps top-down social order which is a stronger part of the right than the left (at least in practice) spooks East Asians to some degree. Makes us look like crazy unpredictable people.

        • erenold says:

          Heh. Well, it should be noted that historically in East Asia, when the state was weak, that didn’t mean you were free to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it meant things were about to really fucking suck for you and yours. Although one of the great classics of Chinese literature is about a bunch of libertarian bandits hiding out in the mountains from the oppressive central state!

          I’ve talked before about the idea of 乱 luan, chaos/disorder, and its not an idea that’s easy to translate fully, or explain how deep a hold it has even on the modern Chinese mentality. There’s a reason they fired on the poor kids in Tiananmen – as Lee Kuan Yew puts it, “If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it.”

          • Reasoner says:

            Google indicates that your quote is from Deng Xiaoping (Chinese ruler), not Lee Kuan Yew (Singaporean ruler).

  5. asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

    Since there was a lot of bible chat in the previous open thread, I was wondering who here is religious, how they came to be so, how they approach the question of the existence of God.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Man, the open thread is lit today.

    • shakeddown says:

      Not really religious, but unsong has done a lot to make me feel connected to my jewish side. In particular, I find this scene spiritually reassuring.

      “Las Vegas’ name means fallen bird,” I blurted out.

      “What?”

      “The name of the star Vega comes from the Arabic word waqi, meaning ‘fallen’ or ‘falling’. They named it that because the constellation looked like a bird falling from the sky. So Las Vegas could mean ‘the fallen birds’. And the Other King’s secret is that not a bird falls to the ground without God’s decision. There is providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

      “Huh,” said Jane, and upon her features flashed very briefly that look I had seen when I figured out the angels’ filing system. As if briefly remembering I was a human being instead of a pet or object, and seeming a little uncomfortable with the fact. “That’s…interesting.”

      “But not very actionable,” I said.

      “No,” Jane agreed. I imagined she’d been hoping for some secret weakness that Colorado could use to turn the tide of combat. A kabbalistic connection between the Book of Matthew, the city of Las Vegas, and divine providence didn’t seem immediately helpful.

      “Will you be safe in Vegas?” It wasn’t a good place to be a Coloradan operative.

      “No,” she said. “Neither of us will be. I’m sorry I had to bring you here, Aaron. Really, I am.”

      And then we passed out the belly of the last little valley, and before us loomed the towers of Las Vegas, capital of the Great Basin. Jane looked more nervous than I’d ever seen her. We switched places; she took the wheel. Beggars and prostitutes and drug dealers started knocking on our car windows at the stoplights, making their respective pleas.

      The sun set behind the Red Rock Mountains as we checked into the Stratosphere Hotel. I repeated Jane’s secret to myself, like a mantra. Even in a falling bird, there is providence. Even in Las Vegas, God is with us. Somewhere.

    • onyomi says:

      I belong to that most weaselly and new-agey denomination of the “spiritual but not religious.”

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m the opposite: religious but not spiritual 🙂

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        How would you characterize that? My impression is that spirituality can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people; are you spiritual in the sense of believing in some sort of dualistic connection between people, in the sense of valuing emotion as a perceptual lens, in the sense of subscribing to a particular new-age-ism (Wicca, healing crystals, etc.), or something else?

    • beleester says:

      Jewish (Conservative). I was born Jewish, went to a Jewish day school, go to synagogue every week. I’ll admit that intellectually, there’s not much evidence for God’s existence, but I’m still fairly observant. It’s a big part of my identity and you can’t really walk away from that. And I have a good community at the synagogue, a good rabbi who gives interesting sermons, and some pretty good songs at services – all good things to have whether or not God exists.

      (My go-to analogy when people ask is, it’s like being a sports fan. Do I stop rooting for the Bengals just because they haven’t won a playoff game in years?)

      • BBA says:

        I’m an out-and-proud atheist, but ethnically/culturally Jewish. I stopped attending synagogue years ago, but the synagogue I don’t attend is Conservative, for much the same reason you describe.

        • onyomi says:

          The Catholic mass I don’t go to is pre-Vatican II style, though I’d consider converting to lapsed Eastern Orthodox.

        • Brad says:

          @BBA
          This describes me perfectly, other than perhaps the “out-and-proud” part. I don’t go out of my way to talk about my non-belief.

          • BBA says:

            Oh, don’t get me wrong, I don’t announce it to everyone I meet. Frankly every time I read something by the Dawkins crowd I’m tempted to convert to Christianity out of spite.

            What I mean is, I don’t think my atheism is something to be ashamed of, and I will freely admit it rather than weaseling around the question with “non-observant Judaism” or whatever. Now where I live that’s acceptable – if I lived in another part of the country, or another country, it might be different.

    • Spookykou says:

      I was raised Catholic but I don’t remember ever actually being religious. Which is not to say that I was some sort of r/atheism edge lord when I saw seven. I didn’t have a problem with Church mostly still don’t, I went through all my sacraments and stuff, I just didn’t have, or felt like I didn’t have any ‘Faith in God’ where Faith was always present to me as this, spiritual or emotional or something else. I felt like I just didn’t get it, or I was confused about it or something. I didn’t learn about atheism/define myself as atheist until much later in life.

      In retrospect I am glad I was raised Catholic though, I like the aesthetics of Catholicism a lot more than the other forms of Christianity(Orthodox is pretty cool as well).

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t really understand Catholicism, probably because I was raised Evangelical. Their whole thing with the Eucharist seems so unnecessarily literal minded. It’s like someone reading the part about being able to move mountains through the power of Christ and being outraged when they can’t actually do that.

        • Spookykou says:

          I love it, it is exactly the kind of magical thinking I want from a Religion! What’s the point of believing in a god if your god is just ambiguous feel good philosophy.

          Although my appreciations of Catholicism might be atypical.

          It actually reminds me of my weird love for the American Military. On a totally rational practical side blah blah blah we probably spend too much on defense or something. But seriously, we spend too much on defense, and I kind of really love it. I just get this visceral emotive excitement and pride just thinking about the awesome might of the US military.

          In retrospect, my strange obsessions with Catholicism and the Military probably have something to do with all the Warhammer 40k…

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Hate to break it to you, Spooky, but our Chaplain corps boasts relatively few folks like this.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Don’t get me wrong. I can’t stand ambiguous, feel good philosophy. When it comes to religion, go big or go home. I disagree with evangelicals on whether the Garden of Eden was a real place but I understand why they hold on to it. I just don’t understand why it’s such a big deal that wine is literally the blood of Jesus. The truth of Christianity doesn’t rest on it, it seems incredibly obvious that it was supposed to be a metaphor and I can’t see how it matters on a consequential level. Out of all the parts of the Bible to take literally why this one?

          • Spookykou says:

            So you seem to be hung up on the word literally, you might already know this, but they don’t think that the matter, the physical perceptible qualities of the Eucharist turn into blood, Catholicism believes there is a substance or essence that is ‘more real’ or ‘gods truth’ to things, and this essence or substance, changes from wine to the blood of Christ.

            It strikes me as similar in concept to holy water, or consecrated ground. It is actually very similar to the idea of the ‘good’ key word as used in D&D on the stat block for a celestial, they are ‘good’ as a matter of reality, such that the way they interact with other objects is fundamentally changed through this property.

            It is far more ‘mystical’ or ‘magical’ as I said before, it sounds more like something from a fantasy book than a modern religion, but that is what I think is so great about it, in fantasy, the gods are real. The out dated practices of Catholicism, to my mind, come from that kind of thinking, from people existing in that kind of reality.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            it seems incredibly obvious that it was supposed to be a metaphor

            Well, the usual course of events in the NT is that Jesus says something, people take him too literally (“Wait, you’re asking us to climb back inside our mothers’ wombs and be born again???”), and Jesus has to correct them. With the Eucharist, the opposite happens — Jesus tells people to eat his body, people think he’s speaking metaphorically, and he then doubles down, emphasising the point that he’s actually talking about actual eating and drinking.

            Plus, there’s the reaction of people to this teaching. We’re told that “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6.66). This would be a rather odd thing to leave over, if Jesus was really just making a fairly unremarkable point about how we need to believe in him or think carefully about the Scriptures or whatever other symbolic meaning people have come up with.

        • Deiseach says:

          Sorry, I’m just smiling at the idea of Evangelicals going in regard to the Eucharist (and it would seem, the Eucharist alone, in distinction to really important that it’s taken literally word-taking of the Epistles of St Paul) “Man, those Catholics are so literal minded when it comes to Scripture! Can’t they see it’s meant as a metaphor?” (Not just Catholics but the Orthodox as well, both Eastern and Oriental).

          What knocks the “it’s only a metaphor, like ‘I am the vine and you are the branches'” interpretations on the head for me is that we do have examples in the Gospels of Jesus teaching via parables and explaining them further to the apostles, or making things clear when they got it wrong (like my favourite example of “He’s mad because we didn’t bring a packed lunch, right?”)

          But we don’t get that in the Bread of Life discourse, when some of the disciples leave because “this is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” There’s no “hey guys, come back, it was only a metaphor!” Instead, there’s “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

          And then there’s the Last Supper with the institution of the Eucharist, so it plainly is something important, more than a mere ordinance. The “accidents/essence” distinction is an attempt to use the philosophical tools of the time to attack the doctrine from the position of using human reason and understanding, and I’m not going to hold that in contempt because reason is also a gift of God. But it’s a Mystery, is the ultimate word. I don’t know how it can be. I don’t know how God can be Three and One. I don’t know how God can become incarnate. Mysterium Fidei.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      My militant atheism (when I was 16-24 or so I firmly believed that the religious were stupid, evil, or stupidly evil) has mellowed out a TON, and I now see religion as a mixed and in many cases even positive social force, but I haven’t really softened on my atheism.

      I doubt that there’s anything metaphysical (90+%), and if there is, I am fairly confident (80+%) it bears about as much resemblance to any existing theology as the Standard Model bears to the Greek concepts of Atomism and Apeiron, several steps down from the blind men trying to describe the elephant.

      Answering mainly because I’ve been told multiple times that the only justification for assigning so high a confidence level to those beliefs is faith.

      • Mark says:

        “I doubt that there’s anything metaphysical”

        The mind?

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I think that right now the various varieties of physicalism have a better track on the truth of the matter, but I don’t want to hijack the thread, so perhaps we should move to a new thread to discuss it?

          But the short version is no, epiphenomenonalism is about as far as I’m willing to go.

        • Zorgon says:

          Information patterns do not require metaphysics.

          • Mark says:

            If the physical is equivalent to an information pattern, then the metaphysical is the structure that enables information to exist.

            (If the information patterns are entirely unrelated to the physical, I wonder how they could be information)

          • Zorgon says:

            … Nope. You’re playing semantic games.

            Information is a property of the physical universe, as well as a measurable quantity. Nothing about information requires the metaphysical at all. There is no “structure that enables it to exist”, that’s just playing word games.

            Therefore, if one assumes “mind” to be within the set of emergent results of information – which seems a very likely prospect – then “mind”, in turn, does not require anything other than the physical to exist.

            Since we can easily observe that information appears to exist, and since we live in an era in which emergent informational properties routinely produce mind-like results (albeit at a far lower level of complexity than the concept of “mind” we’re talking about here), our priors should therefore be strongly for wholly material concepts of “mind” and against any additional levels of meta provided as an explanation.

          • Mark says:

            There is no “structure that enables it to exist”, that’s just playing word games.

            So, if there are no rules regarding fundamental “physical” information patterns, the apparent rules of observed reality must be imposed by our minds.

            To me it seems like you are saying – “There are real relations that exist outside of our observation of reality, but there are no rules that determine how those relations can exist.”

            If there are no rules determining fundamental reality or its relations, then I’m not sure we can usefully say anything about them, except to assert that they exist.

            And, in that case, the “metaphysics” of observable reality will be determined by the structure of the mind.

            [Edit: So, I guess you’re right – the metaphysical doesn’t necessarily “enable” the physical to “exist” – it determines the form that it takes?]

      • Aapje says:

        @Trofim_Lysenko

        I am fairly confident (80+%) it bears about as much resemblance to any existing theology as the Standard Model bears to the Greek concepts of Atomism and Apeiron, several steps down from the blind men trying to describe the elephant.

        The religions that define God as all- or very powerful also generate obvious paradoxes, like how it is possible for God to be good and yet allow things such as the Holocaust to happen.

        Then you get such rationalizations that we can’t see the whole picture and that what happened is actually better for humanity in the big picture, but at that point, the defense for this passive, powerful God becomes that the Holocaust was good for humanity, which is…not good.

        Fortunately, many religious people don’t try to be consistent and just tell themselves that God wants them to be nice to people, which makes them act more nicely to conform to the imagined demands placed on them, which is good.

        • Spookykou says:

          There are better and worse responses to the problem of Evil, and it’s not exactly a solved problem, but my favorite response to the problem of evil is something of the form, God is all powerful and all good and the world is as good as God can make it while also meeting other requirements, like giving us free will.

          I love this position, because you can just rephrase it as the problem of good.

          God is all powerful and all evil and the world is as evil as God can make it while also meeting other requirements, like giving us free will. Which really puts a positive spin on Humanity, IMO.

          • Aapje says:

            @Spookykou

            At that point, you are arguing that God considers free will more important than preventing the Holocaust. It also leads to the obvious complaint that God could just have given Hitler a heart attack or otherwise manipulated the world in a way that is invisible to us, but would prevent really bad outcomes.

            You are also just painting God out of the picture as a powerful being who chooses not to intervene. At that point, what difference is there with a non-existing God who (obviously) also doesn’t intervene?

            You are getting very close to the ‘God = nature’ atheist Christian position, which solves the issue by just defining God as nature, which makes the entire issue moot (as God has no will at that point, but simply exists and does nothing metaphysical).

            If God is actually evil and has unknown requirements that you do not know and where nothing you do necessarily makes him act less evil, what is the point of faith? At that point is only seems useful as a rationalization to commit suicide.

          • keranih says:

            At that point, you are arguing that God considers free will more important than preventing the Holocaust.

            Yes.

            Also more important than keeping my cousin from committing suicide and devastating my aunt and uncle, keeping my brother’s friend from getting shot in a stupid argument, and also preventing the Atlantic slave trade, the Rwandan genocide, the Arab slave trade, Pol Pot, Stalin, and a thousand other things.

            God also didn’t tweek Creation so as to prevent the Colombian Exchange and HIV.

            Nor the San Andres Fault. Nor the Dust Bowl. Nor any of the Khans.

            I can easily postulate worse outcomes for all of these tragedies than the ones which actually happened. I suggest that perhaps God could as well, and just as He created a universe where pi is an infinite number for no reason that we now know, He created us with free will that allowed us to do horrors to each other and the rest of the world for reasons which we do not now understand.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Aapje

            I was just explaining the Best of all possible worlds, idea, and my favorite counter argument, which I like in particular because it is totally charitable, it accepts 100% of the assumptions of the Best of all possible worlds idea, and still turns it on its head.

            I don’t actually believe it and I don’t actually believe in God so I am not particular interested in defending the assumptions of the theory, but I know that Leibniz had answers for most of your criticisms if you are interested.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Other people mentioned free will but in addition to that, I think of God as a utilitarian who takes a very long term view. Maybe the Earthquake in Haiti was something with terrible short effects but in the long run will lead to a better world in ways we can’t understand. Of course, this sounds pretty cold hearted but one of the problems with utilitarianism is that people can’t see all of the various consequences to their actions. God doesn’t have this problem.

          • Aapje says:

            @keranih

            The issue is that free will automatically exists if God does not. Without God, I get all those choices that in your story, God lets me make by not restricting me.

            So Occam’s Razor lets us remove God entirely from the equation.

            I can easily postulate worse outcomes for all of these tragedies than the ones which actually happened.

            There is no evidence that God intervened to keep those tragedies from getting worse. The fact that he didn’t intervene to prevent them from getting this bad suggests that he didn’t intervene at all.

            He created us with free will that allowed us to do horrors to each other and the rest of the world for reasons which we do not now understand.

            Sorry, that is not good enough. Why would I believe in or even worship a God whose terminal values are completely unclear and where I see no evidence of him seeking to protect me in any way from the horrors that can happen?

            I prefer to invest my time in creating systems within society that help people, which I can see, know what their purpose is and actually measure that the interventions worked.

          • Brad says:

            Some (most?) materialists account of the universe have neither God nor free will.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @brad
            I think most philosophical materialists are compatibilists about free will, certainly Hume was.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            OK, but not all religious doctrines allow for free will either. So choosing God doesn’t ‘guarantee’ free will anymore than atheism.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          One way around this, and one I like because it’s pretty much just Christianity-flavored Stoicism, is that fortune and misfortune don’t actually matter at all. Whether what happens to you is pleasant or unpleasant it’s an opportunity to be virtuous or vicious. And that’s the part that’s good or evil, not the sensation but how you react to it.

          When you experience the outside world, whether that’s a punch in the gut or a hug, there is some degree of choice in how you respond. If despair is a sin and turning the other cheek is righteous, then in what way is an opportunity to be righteous and reject sin an evil? From that perspective, hardships are a gift because they are that many more chances to show your quality before God.

          I’m not quite sure I believe that, after all I’m an atheist, but I do think that stoicism is extremely comforting when you’re going through a rough patch for that reason. Viewing the things happening to you as neutral and valuing your own responses to them allows you to take more positive action rather than wallowing in self-pity.

          • Aapje says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            If God does that, he is a pretty sick manipulator, IMO.

            What you are describing is the stereotypical villain from ethical experiments who ties 1 person to the left train track and 2 people to the right train track & then gives another person the choice to choose who gets run over.

            Your argument merely makes sense to me if we are talking about giving people a hard challenge that they can meet, but only if they stretch themselves or develop moral character.

            If anything, the Holocaust is the opposite of this. As Primo Levi argued, the truly virtuous didn’t survive the concentration camps. It was the people who helped with the genocide, those that stole, those that acted selfishly who tended to survive.

            Furthermore, this celebration of suffering can be used as a rationalization to treat people badly. So it is very dangerous.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            If you’ve got an afterlife, what does it matter if the evil survive longer? Even a thousand year life would still be nothing compared to eternity.

            I think that’s the point of confusion: Christianity, very explicitly, puts little stock in the World and in worldly things. The virtuous suffer and bear their suffering in life, and then gain an infinite reward in death. While the vicious can take joy in their lives but will be shocked to discover a quite different sort of reward afterwards. Because the point isn’t about physical pain or pleasure but about choosing whether or not to be good.

            I personally quite like the world, and I agree with Nietzsche that tossing material life aside in favor of a fantastical afterlife is diseased thinking. But that’s not the Christian perspective: it’s explicitly anti-Christian.

          • Aapje says:

            The problem is that I see no evidence of an afterlife, so it may be idle hope. Why not make my current life as happy as possible, rather than betting one of the many inconsistent stories told by religious people?

            It especially doesn’t make sense to assume that God is willing to let us suffer here and then somehow gives us paradise afterwards. That sounds more like a hustler conning someone (‘I am a Nigerian prince, give me 1000 dollars now and you get to share my 1 billion dollar inheritance later’) than a serious proposition.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I went from atheist, to agnostic, to trying-to-be-religious, to agnostic, now back probably to atheist. I studied religion quite heavily in university, mostly Christianity and Judaism around the period Christianity developed and split off. In grad school I was in class with a lot of religious people, who honestly were by and large kind and decent people, and that’s when I tried to be religious, but I couldn’t get it to stick.

      Even when I was trying to be religious I could never quite deal with the existence of God. Trying to prove the existence of God seems to be a fairly recent thing. Most religions seem to have just known God, or gods, existed. I never found the traditional arguments very convincing, and could never make the jump from “this argument maybe proves the existence of some greater power” to any specific deity or group of deities.

      • Cadie says:

        That’s my big objection too. I can’t make myself believe that God exists, not as anything recognizably resembling a specific deity at least. A very vague handwavy concept of a higher power, maybe. There’s a lot about how the universe works that we don’t know, and the mathematics behind it that are currently beyond human knowledge could be considered a higher power in some sense. But that’s as far as I can go with the concept before it starts to sound made-up and I can’t entertain the idea as a serious possibility with any application to my life.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Raised fundamentalist, turned agnostic at 14 from exposure to Bible criticism, at 18 I became Hindu for a few years, then reading Augustine showed me that the Bible criticism I’d accepted was only arguing against a weakman.

      So yeah, I believe in God. He/it is the Ground of Being, and also a person*.
      *This part is debatable, with a long tradition in both Greek and Sanskrit that inclines me to believe it’s a serious question about reality, not just a language game.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Reading Augustine was a watershed moment for me as well, though I wasn’t outside the fold at the time. It connected me to much, much deeper and broader roots than I’d previously known existed.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @Le Maistr Chat
        Raised fundamentalist, turned agnostic at 14 from exposure to Bible criticism, at 18 I became Hindu for a few years [….]

        My route was similar: CS Lewis; Rand; Swami Muktananda; Patanjali; now miscellaneous sorted by General Semantics and the crumbs that fall from the Bayesian table. I didn’t stay Hindu-ish long enough to learn much about it, so I’d like to hear more.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I don’t want to say that the existence of God is a side-question, because it is obviously foundational. But it’s so foundational that most religious people don’t think about it much, having built over it so long ago.

      The real question for the Christian is how you approach trusting God (loving Him being an even more advanced move). That is the hard thing to do. That is what we spend all our lives practicing. Can you pray, “God, make me a better (wo)man. Do whatever it takes,” knowing that “whatever it takes” could very well include, just as an example, the deaths of everyone you love? How much are you really willing to put out of your control and into God’s?

      (The short and excessively clinical answer to your existence question is that the historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection is compelling, and the rest flows from that. The more grounded answer is that God has dealt with me in a variety of ways throughout my life that I would be foolish to ignore. And I’m not talking about blissful mystical experiences; I have as often found God inconvenient and even annoying. But He’s there and He’s good and I would be a fool not to accommodate myself to that fact.)

      • Aapje says:

        The more grounded answer is that God has dealt with me in a variety of ways throughout my life that I would be foolish to ignore.

        Can you explain this more?

        Do you attribute things that happened to you to divine intervention? Do you find that the religious practices (like going to church) help you? Do you believe that God speaks to you directly? Do you find guidance in the Bible? Etc.

        I’m unclear how this works for you.

        • Fahundo says:

          Seconding Aapje’s question. Having been raised Christian I didn’t find any inner sense of fulfillment in performing rituals or professing my faith, and never witnessed anything that could only be explained by divine intervention. I don’t feel like any of my prayers were answered and I never felt the presence of God. Genuinely curious in what ways God might deal with someone that they would be foolish to ignore.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I’m trying to figure out how to answer this without launching into pages and pages of life story. I think I can at least touch on what’s on the top of your mind.

          God does not speak to me directly. Nor do I believe in simply sitting back and waiting for a sign from God for all my life decisions. I think it is incumbent on us to use our best judgement and wisdom to act. There *have* been occasions where it was clear that God wanted me to do a specific thing, but those are rare, and not usually realted to major life decisions I’ve had to make.

          Nor have I witnessed things which would clearly be supernatural. Everything in my life could be explained if I looked at it through a materialistic lens. However, what I find I would be doing there is not so much explaining things as explaining things away. When I look at my life through the Christian lens, there are clear narrative reasons why things unfolded as they did. The difficulties I encountered were expected, even predicted (and, as I learned later from reading biographies, very, very common). Teachings that made little sense to me in my youth become clear and make sense as I grow and learn more about the world. I am able to look back and say “ah, so *that’s* why it’s that way.”

          When I look at my life through the materialistic lens, all of that explanatory web goes away and instead I am left with merely “yes, this was all physically possible.”

          To give the very shortest version I can, when I was young I prayed “God, make me a better man, whatever it takes.” As a result, I was tested over the course of the next several years and essentially given a choice between the desires of my heart (mostly sex at the time) or God. It was very clear to me that I had to choose, and that following God may well mean giving up the things that I wanted, and I was not happy about this. I did ultimately choose to cling to God (this may sound like a sudden turning point decision, but in fact it was a drawn out, gradual, habit-forming experience).

          Anyway, after becoming willing to do without my hopes and dreams, God said “ok, you can have them now” and I got everything I wanted and have been on a rather long streak of success. I know that I could indeed lose it all tomorrow, but I also know that in the end, it will be okay. C.S. Lewis described this as God always giving back with His right hand what He has taken away with His left (as I said, my experiences with God are well in line with what others report).

          Anyway, I would recommend to everybody that they give the prayer above a try. Just be clear on the “whatever it takes” clause.

          • Jiro says:

            There’s a reason why people look at things through a materialistic lens: If you don’t, it’s easy to fool yourself.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Jiro – Indeed. But that doesn’t make it the only view with value, and the use of one lens doesn’t require you to discard the other.

          • Aapje says:

            @Jaskologist

            As an atheist, I believe that faith is a human invention to make sense of our existence, which fully explains why you can find ‘life lessons’ in religious material. Especially as there is a wide variety of it, that regularly can support both one view and the opposing view.

            So from my perspective, you attribute to God, what I attribute to people shaping faith to be helpful in their lives. It is unsurprising that what helps others, could help you.

            The risk with a religious view is that one can become stuck in a ‘local optimum,’ where certain ideas have become dogma because they more or less work for some humans in one context. Then when the context changes, religious people can become ‘stuck’ with bad ideas.

            Furthermore, sometimes we need a paradigm change. In science, many major advances happened when people replaced a view that was pretty good at explaining most things with a different view that explained more things. So you cannot always keep building on the same framework.

            Finally, many religious theories have strong normative elements, which are not neatly separated from the descriptive elements. Thereby, they can deceptive, by not clearly explaining which parts are speculative about how one might try to get better outcomes by getting people to behave non-naturally and which parts are supposed to tell us how people actually are.

            When I look at my life through the materialistic lens, all of that explanatory web goes away and instead I am left with merely “yes, this was all physically possible.”

            Humans and (other) animals don’t merely act in ways that are physically possible, they act on their ‘programming,’ which is:
            – Highly complex
            – Variable within certain bounds

            It’s especially interesting how emergent behavior happens when humans interact.

            I have found many non-religious sources of information that explain this complexity and which improved my understanding of society and myself. I would find it stifling to limit myself just to religious interpretations of these things.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Evangelical Christian. Raised Christian, turned Atheist not too long after leaving home, because I sucked at being a Christian and trying not to be a bad one made me miserable. About a decade later I realized that switching to Atheism hadn’t actually solved anything for me, I was still miserable, and I’d badly misunderstood what Christianity was actually about. I switched back, and am glad I did.

      When I was a Christian the first time, it was obvious to me that God existed and anyone who thought differently was an idiot. When I became an Atheist, it was obvious to me that God didn’t exist and anyone who thought differently was an idiot. Having experienced the switch twice, it seems to me that our ability to evaluate evidence is fundamentally downstream of our will; simply put, humans believe what they want to believe, nothing less and nothing more. If you want to believe in God, no disproof will be fatal; if you want to disbelieve, no proof will be sufficient. I think God has set it up that way intentionally to let us live as freely as possible.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I’d caution against typical mind fallacy.

        Absent FSM actually reaching into my mind and touching it, I can’t believe in God. The cognitive dissonance required makes it impossible.

        Whereas my Mother, even if she had a crisis of faith, she’d still believe.

        I think evangelical Christians like to think every atheist is someone in the midst of a crisis of faith.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @HeelBearCub – “Absent FSM actually reaching into my mind and touching it, I can’t believe in God. The cognitive dissonance required makes it impossible.”

          Likewise, it would probably take action by weakly godlike agencies to get you to flip your political views 180 degrees on the spot. On the other hand, if you changed where you lived, what you did, who your social group was, changing your political opinions to match the new set would probably be considerably easier. Choosing what to believe may be many small choices more often than one big one, but I am convinced it is a choice all the same. If reason was deterministic, if evidence truly *forced* us to conclusions on the truly complex and important questions, I do not think we would see the differences in conclusion we do.

          “I think evangelical Christians like to think every atheist is someone in the midst of a crisis of faith.”

          I don’t really know what this means, so feel free to elaborate. I don’t think the choice to not believe in God is the result of a crisis, any more than the choice to be a libertarian or an environmentalist, republican, democrat, EA or anti-EA, worried about FAI or not, etc. It’s one of many choices we make about how we’ll look at and interact with the world around us.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m saying that Christians think that atheists are like Sorbo’s character in “God’s Not Dead”: angry at god, rather than not actually believing in God.

            As to the rest of it, theodicy was a deal breaker for me was I was 10 and going through the rigmarole for confirmation (Catholic). I was never confirmed due to my own choice. I took the promises, etc. seriously, so I wasn’t going to do that without believing in it.

            I was sufficiently uncomfortable taking that stance that I wouldn’t call myself an atheist for another 35 years. So, I don’t think we can chalk it up to just being in an environment that somehow encouraged atheism.

          • Aapje says:

            I’m saying that Christians think that atheists are like Sorbo’s character in “God’s Not Dead”: angry at god, rather than not actually believing in God.

            Or looking to fill a spiritual ‘hole.’

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “I’m saying that Christians think that atheists are like Sorbo’s character in “God’s Not Dead”: angry at god, rather than not actually believing in God.”

            That is certainly not my impression of Atheists generally, and it’s not what I’m trying to describe above.

            “So, I don’t think we can chalk it up to just being in an environment that somehow encouraged atheism.”

            I am not attempting to chalk it up to environment, because people pretty clearly aren’t programmable. I am chalking it up to choices that encouraged Atheism, or in my case Christianity, whether or not they had anything to do with the question on the object level. To be clear, I am saying that the exact same process underlies all belief of any kind, so this is explicitly not a weird thing Atheists are doing wrong. We could argue this same idea about any subject people have opinions on.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @FacelessCraven:
            You seemed to have been saying that either a) if I had grown up red tribe, or b) I moved to red tribe tribe territory now, that the social influence would have had me believing in God. I’m not sure if you mean both, but it seems like at least one or the other was indicated. Are you saying that isn’t what you meant? Because if not, I have no idea what you did mean.

            I confess I am really confused by the “not environment, but choices” statement. What are choices that encourage Atheism if not environment?

            At age 10, attending Catholic Church, I rejected religion on logical grounds (and felt like a very odd duck doing it). I didn’t know anyone who admitted to not believing in God, and I sure as hell wasnt going around saying it out loud.

            If I was raised in a family where religious observance was required, then I certainly would have observed the rituals, but it wouldn’t have made me believe, and no argument by humans could make me believe today.

            The only thing I can think that would have affected me is being denied intellectual pursuits. Although, I suppose that I can’t really argue against the possibility that the proper propaganda applied from birth to later years might have induced me to feel like God had touched my mind.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HBC – the new thread’s up, and I’m crashing out for the night, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for most of the year, so I’ll try to come back toward it tomorrow in the new thread. Thanks for the replies, and sorry for the frustration!

        • Deiseach says:

          Absent FSM actually reaching into my mind and touching it, I can’t believe in God.

          Yeah. Faith is a gift, but we tend to say that too lightly or flippantly. In the end, it’s a grace of God, and why some get it and others don’t is the big question (and I disagree with Calvinist election as the answer here).

          When I was eleven, I asked myself why did I believe what I believed; did I really believe it, or did I only believe it because I’d been raised to believe it. So I decided to give it a fair test and go a week as if I didn’t believe in God and the whole thing.

          But I didn’t last out the week because I couldn’t make myself not believe. It doesn’t work for me. It isn’t a satisfactory answer. And to those who think having a strong belief is comforting (or even a crutch): heh. Not so much. Not when you also believe in Hell, the justice of God, and free will which means you can achieve your own damnation. And you can’t blame God for it.

          I don’t know why I have this sense that “yes, God exists, this is true”. Do I have the gift of faith? Maybe, but I fall very far down in actually practicing it. But I can never convince myself “Ah well, you know you don’t need God, there are sufficient material explanations for everything, and when you die, you simply cease to exist in every sense”.

      • Jiro says:

        If you want to believe in God, no disproof will be fatal; if you want to disbelieve, no proof will be sufficient. I think God has set it up that way intentionally to let us live as freely as possible.

        That amounts to saying “atheists act like straw atheists because that’s the way they have to act for my belief system to work”.

        For a lot of atheists, the reason that no proof will work is not that there is nothing that can prove it, it’s that the proofs we’ve seen are pretty terrible.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Jiro – “For a lot of atheists, the reason that no proof will work is not that there is nothing that can prove it, it’s that the proofs we’ve seen are pretty terrible.”

          I agree that the proofs are terrible. There is no actual “Checkmate, Atheists” argument. I don’t think there’s a “Checkmate, Christians” argument, either, if for no other reason than there’s still a ton of smart Christians around. I think there are relatively weak arguments on both sides, and people’s choices shape which they find compelling. I’m pretty sure this is the same process for politics and the rest of the really contentious questions as well.

          I don’t think this observation is straw-manning anyone; I think this is pretty obviously how people think.

        • Aapje says:

          @FacelessCraven

          I don’t think there’s a “Checkmate, Christians” argument, either, if for no other reason than there’s still a ton of smart Christians around.

          Historically, whenever proponents of God made a falsifiable claim and this claim was falsified, the result was that they abandoned the claim and/or altered their definition of God.

          The result is that ‘God’ became less and less falsifiable over time.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Aapje – “Historically, whenever proponents of God made a falsifiable claim and this claim was falsified, the result was that they abandoned the claim and/or altered their definition of God.”

            …What would you prefer them to do?

          • Aapje says:

            My point was not to criticize their strategy, but to argue that it makes it silly to demand that atheists disprove God, as it is an eternal game of whack-a-mole.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Aapje – “My point was not to criticize their strategy, but to argue that it makes it silly to demand that atheists disprove God, as it is an eternal game of whack-a-mole.”

            That would indeed be silly.

            I think arguments for or against the existence of God are interesting and possibly even useful, because they reveal much about how we see the world, but I do not think sufficient evidence exists to prove the point either way. It seems pretty clear to me that if God exists and wanted to make his presence known unambiguously, he would have done so; therefore, “proofs” of his existence from the Christian side are highly suspect to me. On the other hand, the basic Christian idea of a God existing entirely outside the physical universe goes way, way back, and forms a “gap” that is not retreated to, but rather (foolishly, in my opinion) sallied from. Therefore, Atheist arguments about the God of the Gaps are suspect to me.

            I think the existence of God is an area where decisive proof does not exist at all. Like other areas where decisive proof does not exist, such as politics and other matters concerning human life, I think each side has arguments good enough that they can be believed, but not arguments good enough that they must be believed. People sort to either side depending on which is more attractive to their worldview, and worldviews are constructed as a consequence of choices made.

          • Aapje says:

            On the other hand, the basic Christian idea of a God existing entirely outside the physical universe goes way, way back, and forms a “gap” that is not retreated to, but rather (foolishly, in my opinion) sallied from.

            Christianity (and pretty much all other religions) has a creation myth, which is the opposite of ‘existing entirely outside the physical universe.’ So I don’t agree that this was the default that people seek to break out of.

            Humans are intelligent and thus seek to abstract their experiences into theories that they can use to predict the future, including the outcomes of their actions. I would argue that humans do so very aggressively, presumably because it is better to sometimes do things that don’t help and/or do very speculative actions, than to not do things that will help you by being too conservative.

            We also see that humans are very prone to superstitions, which provides strong evidence that humans do this. Other evidence is how hard science is for humans, as they tend to see causation that doesn’t exist.

            The result is that we see creation myths in pretty much every culture as it reassures people that the world won’t suddenly end. Many cultures have the concept of an intervening God that can be triggered to help by certain rituals (filling the void where people have no good theory that tells them what to do).

            I would also argue that religion is used by humans to cope with negative aspects of life, like death and suffering. The former is generally handled by the concept of eternal life, where the ‘soul’ is thought to remain. The latter can be handled most simplistically by arguing that suffering is rewarded in the afterlife or in a more complex way by detachment (like Buddhism teaches).

            And of course there are other things that religion is used for.

            IMHO, the evidence strongly suggests that religion is a consequence of the peculiarities of the human mind and that the many different religions were made up by mankind. It seems weird to then draw an arbitrary distinction where part of religion (for which we have no proof and which is not consistent between religions) is then suddenly supposed to be real.

    • keranih says:

      Roman Catholic. Cradle-Catholic, in a family where maintaining the faith was a role of the women. By the time I got out of high school I was pretty much atheist.(*) Found God got found by God again in my mid-late twenties, and have been struggling to follow the Man (through the Church) ever since. I get better at it most years. Looking forward to being much better in line with God in the future.

      Existence of God? *shrugs* He exists – like air, like the ground. I don’t go round *testing* for air all the time, and I surely never asked a scientist to demonstrate “air” to me.

      (Come to think of it, though, it’s fairly easy to demonstrate where air isn’t – like a vacumn bottle – and likewise a lot of modern society seems an exercise in excluding God from a venue. With similar effects on the living things there-in.)

      (*) A lot of my rejection of the church was rejecting the particular social roles associated with it (and a lot of that was because, well, teenager) but even more due to 1)lack of contact with Biblical scholarship at the five-grade-levels-above-my-own that I was reading at, and 2) excessive contact with really dumb anti-straw-man anti-evolution arguments. It seemed like all the smart people were atheists, and everyone said I was smart, and no one was going to encourage me to study for the priesthood, so atheist it was.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Existence of God? *shrugs* He exists – like air, like the ground. I don’t go round *testing* for air all the time, and I surely never asked a scientist to demonstrate “air” to me.

        That sounds to me like a bit of a convenient hand-wave. Sure, we don’t go around demanding scientists prove that air exists all the time, but if we wanted to, we could easily do so. And if we want to be able to have confidence in our belief in air, that is absolutely something that we should take the time to do at some point.

        The hypothesis that we live surrounded by an invisible, flavourless fluid that has mass – that ‘exists’ in the same way that, say, water or wood exists, is a scientific hypothesis just like the hypothesis that we live in a universe created by, and presided over by, a supernatural sentience. The latter hypothesis is a lot more complicated, but if we are to assign the god hypothesis equal confidence with the air hypothesis, we ought to have evidence as strong as we do for the air hypothesis – and so far as anyone can tell from the outside, we don’t.

        I appreciate that this is probably not something you wanted to get bogged down in arguing, but I hope you appreciate how frustrating it is to see people treat the from-the-outside-extremely-far-reaching-and-implausible claim that a non-zero number of gods exists as just something that can be blithely assumed, rather than something that ought to be rigorously demonstrated before we take it seriously.

        • keranih says:

          I appreciate that this is probably not something you wanted to get bogged down in arguing

          Yeap. 🙂 Especially not on Thanksgiving.

          so far as anyone can tell from the outside

          …why do you think you’re on the outside?

          I take air very seriously, and have never held that it be treated to rigorous “outside” demonstration in order for me to do so.

          I also don’t use the same instruments to measure air as I do to measure the motion of the earth, the clotting ability of blood, or the grace of God.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I mean, on the outside of any particular religion. Like, if you’re not already a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Jew or a Yazidi, there does not appear to be any particular reason to consider any one of those religions significantly more likely to be correct than any of the others.

            And regarding the several instruments, I’m not quite sure what you mean by bringing in the motion of the air or the clotting of blood. Both of those are like air in that we do have reasonably reliable ways of measuring them, and unlike gods in that we don’t, so far as I’m aware have a working theometer or other reliable ways of testing for the existence of gods, or any other supernatural beings for that matter.

            There may be good reasons that I’m not aware of to infer the existence of one or more gods from what we currently can test about the reality, but to hold that the existence of gods-in-general is as demonstrably true as the existence of air appears a real stretch – and to hold that the existence of the specific god or gods of any particular religion is as plausible on current evidence as the existence of air, well, I’m afraid I can’t wrap my head around that at all.

    • Wander says:

      I always wished to be religious, but I could just never actually feel that spark of belief. And I’ve looked widely through beliefs, spent a lot of time looking at dozens of strains of occultism and hermeticism, the different Christian sects, various theological arguments about the nature of the world, etc. I know that I have a hole that religion would fill, but I just can’t make it fit. I’m so totally rooted in the physical world, and it’s upsetting.

    • S_J says:

      Grew up in a Protestant household.

      My parents were strong readers, and read a variety of biography and history to my siblings and me. They also had a family liturgy of Bible-reading, with special liturgies for the seasons leading up to Christmas and Easter. [1]

      The church that they attended was from one of the lesser-known branches of Protestant belief in the United States. [2] In this church, we regularly dealt with the tension between In-the-Holy-Book-Teaching, and Spiritual-experience-connecting-with-God. We also spent a lot of time learning–implicitly–the culture that was in place when various sections of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures were produced.

      Somewhere during my teenage years, I indulged in an itch to read serious thinkers, and big names from the history of Christianity. My bookshelf has an odd smattering of 20th-Century authors and much older names. (G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Oswald Chambers, Thomas a Kempis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer… but no John Calvin.) [3]

      I was strongly attracted to C.S. Lewis’ description of Christian belief in Mere Christianity. I was also intrigued by the philosophical descriptions of God’s Being that Augustine gave in his Confessions. [4]

      Shortly afterwards, while studying logic and mathematics at the graduate level, I ran into Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. Essentially, in any logical system that is consistent, it is possible to construct statements that are true-but-unprovable inside that system.

      The details of applying this theorem to the world of mathematics are interesting, but kind of off-point. (I also have a simple proof related to the Incompleteness Theorems that won’t quite fit here…)

      I hold that a similar observation can be made about religions/worldviews/philosophies. In any such system of thought, there exist statements that are held to be True, but cannot be proved from inside the system. I’m familiar with many arguments, pro and con, about religion and Christianity. Most of the time, I pick the argument apart to figure out what Axioms the argument is assuming, and how well (or poorly) the argument works inside that set of Axioms. Then I see what part of the argument remains if I place it inside the set of Axioms that the argument is being used against.

      Anyway…few discussions of religion touch one of these questions.

      (A) Is there a Transcendent Being whose relationship to the visible Cosmos is that of Originator and Creator?
      (B) Is this Being also the author of the Idea that we humans call Morality?
      (C) Has this Being tried to communicate with any humans, and does any particular human religion have an approximate description of this Being?

      And, an additional observation, plus a big question.

      (D) It’s not that odd that a controversial Rabbi who grew up in Nazareth during the Roman Imperium might end up charged with heresy (by the Sanhedrin) and insurrection (by the local Roman governor). But how did his followers become convinced that he died, and then returned to life? And how did this Rabbi spawn a new religious movement that has remained strong for two millennia since?

      In case you can’t tell: I have a particular answer in mind for each of those questions.

      I am convinced of the existence of God, as revealed to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremian, Ezekiel, Daniel, and a host of other prophets, priests, and kings of the people descended from Jacob.

      And I think that Jesus of Nazareth is the Incarnate Deity, as described in the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.

      Yet I’m also strongly aware that this combination of thought and belief is only valid under a certain set of assumptions or Axioms. And that most people who want to discuss the subject are unaware of what system of assumptions they are bringing to the discussion.

      There is another piece of my story. While I was honing my mind about what I believed, and why I hold those things to be true, I wandered a long way from anything that could be called a Belief as a way of life, or a lifestyle of Belief.

      I did follow a path that led me to a better lifestyle of Belief. Even if that testimony is part of my reason for belief, it is a personal story. It is not an argument for or against belief.

      —————————————
      [1] Advent leads to Christmas, and Lent leads to Easter. Somewhere along the way, I learned that all the materials my parents read over the breakfast table during Advent or Lent were from Catholic bookstores.

      This was almost as surprising as the knowledge that none of my Protestant friends knew anything about either Advent or Lent.

      I still think that all branches of the Protestant world, no matter their attitude towards Catholic liturgy, should find a way to incorporate some form of Advent and Lent into their preparations for these two holidays.

      Even the lesser liturgy of simply reading through the entire Bible during my childhood is rarer than it ought to be.

      [2] If you know the difference between the Pentacostal and the Charismatic strands of Protestantism-in-the-United-States, then my childhood church is a member of the latter group.

      Large parts of the secular culture in the United States don’t seem to know much about the Pentecostal/Charismatic strand of Christianity. These strands of belief are either ignored, or treated as a bunch of weirdos.

      Pentecostal/Charismatic practice does have many odd features. But it is definitely connected to realms of human experience that have long been minimized by mainstream culture.

      [3] I chose, of my own free will, not to study the teaching of John Calvin. However, one of my siblings was pre-destined by God from before the foundation of the world to study the teachings of Calvin.

      We don’t argue about this often, but the discussions are always interesting. I ask him whether he freely chose to believe in pre-destination, and he tells me that God pre-destined me to believe in free will.

      [4] Much more recently, I found a good description of Thomas Aquinas, and his Argument from Motion.

      It’s a strand of thought that I’d never pursued before. I find it affirms my beliefs.

      • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

        Shortly afterwards, while studying logic and mathematics at the graduate level, I ran into Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems…

        I hold that a similar observation can be made about religions/worldviews/philosophies.

        This is interesting, I’m always confused why something like the incompleteness theorems aren’t a death blow for anyone who wants to do abstract reasoning about the existence of supernatural beings. When you concede that your beliefs are entirely dependent on a particular set of assumptions, have you any justification for choosing this particular set of assumptions?

        Going further back, I think Russell’s paradox is reason enough to abandon proofs of the existence of god. If it’s not safe to do fairly innocuous set-building constructions, I don’t understand how anyone expects to produce truth from statements about unmoved movers and what have you.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Going further back, I think Russell’s paradox is reason enough to abandon proofs of the existence of god. If it’s not safe to do fairly innocuous set-building constructions, I don’t understand how anyone expects to produce truth from statements about unmoved movers and what have you.

          Do you apply similar reasoning to the more esoteric branches of science and mathematics, or are you more selective in your scepticism?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. I don’t know of esoteric branches of maths that don’t have rigorous foundations, and I don’t know of esoteric branches of science that purport to ‘prove’ things in the way that mathematics does.

          • rlms says:

            Indeed. Incompleteness theorems aren’t a general argument against logical arguments for anything.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            This is interesting, I’m always confused why something like the incompleteness theorems aren’t a death blow for anyone who wants to do abstract reasoning about the existence of supernatural beings. When you concede that your beliefs are entirely dependent on a particular set of assumptions, have you any justification for choosing this particular set of assumptions?

            Have you any justification for choosing assumptions that lead to a belief in atheism?

            I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. I don’t know of esoteric branches of maths that don’t have rigorous foundations, and I don’t know of esoteric branches of science that purport to ‘prove’ things in the way that mathematics does.

            I’d like to see a principled reason for why the fact that “it’s not safe to do fairly innocuous set-building constructions” means that we can’t expect to “produce truth from statements about unmoved movers”, but has no affect on our ability to produce truth from statements about mathematical objects, or wave/particle entities, or any other abstruse and difficult-to-understand topic.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Have you any justification for choosing assumptions that lead to a belief in atheism?

            No, but I don’t think my beliefs about the world follow from some set of axioms together with a series of logical deductions. I also doubt that it’s possible for this to be the case.

            I trust that my beliefs about maths do, because this is what the people who study the foundational stuff say.

            I’d like to see a principled reason for why the fact that “it’s not safe to do fairly innocuous set-building constructions” means that we can’t expect to “produce truth from statements about unmoved movers”, but has no affect on our ability to produce truth from statements about mathematical objects, or wave/particle entities, or any other abstruse and difficult-to-understand topic.

            Mathematical objects, however abtruse, are still ‘well-defined’ in that they’re constructed in a certain way. Despite the fact that mathematics doesn’t even attempt to talk about the world we actually live in (e.g. ‘the set of objects in motion’ is not something you get to say), there are still subtle pitfalls you need to avoid if you want to work in a consistent system. A ‘true’ statement in maths is some statement in some model that follows from the axioms. It does not imply anything about the world we live in.

            When physicists want to think about a wave, they come up with an appropriate (well-defined) mathematical object to represent it with. There is a difference between wave-as-physical-phenomenon and wave-as-mathematical-object. A proof about the latter does not necessarily have any bearing about the behaviour of the former. ‘Truth’ for physicists tends to come from experiments.

            Metaphysical proofs on the other hand, seem to rely on the premise that there is some collection of axioms and rules of inference for producing true statements about the actual world we live in. This presupposes that you can actually refer to objects in the world we live in in some well-defined way (e.g. objects which are in motion.) The incompleteness theorems suggest that the idea of a perfect set of axioms is hopeless. But I think far more objectionable is this idea that you can have a consistent logical system that talks about the world we live in, that’s going to allow statements like consider the collection of objects in motion, and somehow not run into foundational troubles like Russell’s paradox.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No, but I don’t think my beliefs about the world follow from some set of axioms together with a series of logical deductions.

            So what do they follow from, guesswork?

            When physicists want to think about a wave, they come up with an appropriate (well-defined) mathematical object to represent it with. There is a difference between wave-as-physical-phenomenon and wave-as-mathematical-object. A proof about the latter does not necessarily have any bearing about the behaviour of the former. ‘Truth’ for physicists tends to come from experiments.

            If that’s the case, then (a) why do most scientists talk and act as if their findings do in fact tell us about the real world, (b) why do so many scientific findings have and real-world application, and (c) what the hell is the point of science, anyway?

            Metaphysical proofs on the other hand, seem to rely on the premise that there is some collection of axioms and rules of inference for producing true statements about the actual world we live in. This presupposes that you can actually refer to objects in the world we live in in some well-defined way (e.g. objects which are in motion.) The incompleteness theorems suggest that the idea of a perfect set of axioms is hopeless. But I think far more objectionable is this idea that you can have a consistent logical system that talks about the world we live in, that’s going to allow statements like consider the collection of objects in motion, and somehow not run into foundational troubles like Russell’s paradox.

            If you’re going to argue that we can’t produce true statements about the world we live in, that would itself have to be a statement about the world we live in. Unfortunately it would also have to be self-refuting: if it’s true, it’s false.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            So what do they follow from, guesswork?

            Something between the two I guess, though I myself am probably not in a great position to judge that. I don’t think it’s controversial that people don’t make decisions via theorem-proving though.

            If that’s the case, then (a) why do most scientists talk and act as if their findings do in fact tell us about the real world, (b) why do so many scientific findings have and real-world application, and (c) what the hell is the point of science, anyway?

            (a) and (b) Because they’re empiricists that believe experiments are a good way of determining how the real world works.

            (c) Because empiricism seems to work pretty well.

            If you’re going to argue that we can’t produce true statements about the world we live in, that would itself have to be a statement about the world we live in. Unfortunately it would also have to be self-refuting: if it’s true, it’s false.

            I’m not formulating some metaphysical statement that metaphysics is impossible, I’m pointing out why it’s probably a waste of time. I personally think empiricism seems to be a pretty good idea. I don’t know much about philosophy, and so don’t spend much time worrying about justifying this, but I’m told Popperian falsificationism is popular.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Something between the two I guess, though I myself am probably not in a great position to judge that. I don’t think it’s controversial that people don’t make decisions via theorem-proving though.

            We were talking about beliefs, not decisions.

            (a) and (b) Because they’re empiricists that believe experiments are a good way of determining how the real world works.
            (c) Because empiricism seems to work pretty well.

            Wait a minute, though: you said that physicists operationalise things as mathematical objects and study those, and that mathematical objects don’t tell us anything about the real world. But if that’s the case, then physicists can’t tell us anything about the real world either. Now, though, you seem to be saying the exact opposite, that physics does tell us about the real world. So which is it?

            I’m not formulating some metaphysical statement that metaphysics is impossible, I’m pointing out why it’s probably a waste of time. I personally think empiricism seems to be a pretty good idea. I don’t know much about philosophy, and so don’t spend much time worrying about justifying this, but I’m told Popperian falsificationism is popular.

            If you don’t know much about philosophy, what gives you the confidence to dismiss entire philosophical branches as “probably a waste of time”?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            We were talking about beliefs, not decisions.

            Ok, I don’t think I, or anyone else, forms our beliefs via theorem-proving.

            Wait a minute, though: you said that physicists operationalise things as mathematical objects and study those, and that mathematical objects don’t tell us anything about the real world. But if that’s the case, then physicists can’t tell us anything about the real world either. Now, though, you seem to be saying the exact opposite, that physics does tell us about the real world. So which is it?

            I said that a mathematical proof about a mathematical object that a physicist chooses to model a physical phenomenon with, does not necessarily provide any information about the physical phenomenon. For example, a physicist might model a solid ball in space as the set of triples (x, y, z) in R^3 with x^2 + y^2 + z^2 <= 1, and he might model the rotational symmetries of this object as the group SO(3), and he might model decompositions of the ball with finite partitions of the corresponding set. While you can prove that you can choose a finite partition that, when acted on by SO(3), produces two copies of the ball, this does not imply anything about *actual* balls.

            Again, as I said above, physicists use the results of experiments to tell us about the real world. It's a completely different framework than mathematics.

            If you don’t know much about philosophy, what gives you the confidence to dismiss entire philosophical branches as “probably a waste of time”?

            I did say ‘probably’.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Ok, I don’t think I, or anyone else, forms our beliefs via theorem-proving.

            I’m not sure what exactly you mean by “theorem-proving”, but I think most people do in fact come to some of their beliefs via “some set of axioms together with a series of logical deductions”. At any rate, it seems to me that I come to some of my beliefs this way, and other people say that they come to some of their beliefs in this way.

            I said that a mathematical proof about a mathematical object that a physicist chooses to model a physical phenomenon with, does not necessarily provide any information about the physical phenomenon.

            So what’s the point of using objects in physics, if they can’t actually tell us anything about the physical world?

            Again, as I said above, physicists use the results of experiments to tell us about the real world. It’s a completely different framework than mathematics.

            So how many scientific theories get formulated and tested without using mathematics?

            I did say ‘probably’.

            So? It was still a dumb statement to make.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I’m not sure what exactly you mean by “theorem-proving”, but I think most people do in fact come to some of their beliefs via “some set of axioms together with a series of logical deductions”. At any rate, it seems to me that I come to some of my beliefs this way, and other people say that they come to some of their beliefs in this way.

            I mean theorem-proving in the sense of mathematics. This is my point, that the reason mathematics can hope to be without contradiction is because it concerns itself with carefully constructed abstract objects in a very particular way. I don’t believe you can prove things about the real world this way, where I’m putting as much emphasis as I can on the word prove there as I think we might be talking past one another.

            So what’s the point of using objects in physics, if they can’t actually tell us anything about the physical world?

            Empirical evidence suggests it’s a good idea.

            So? It was still a dumb statement to make.

            I was being more modest in my claims than Hume, for one.

          • Jiro says:

            (c) Because empiricism seems to work pretty well.

            Justifying empiricism, which is that we should do things that work pretty well, on the basis that empricism itself works pretty well, is circular reasoning.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Justifying empiricism, which is that we should do things that work pretty well, on the basis that empricism itself works pretty well, is circular reasoning.

            I don’t think physicists are very concerned about that.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I mean theorem-proving in the sense of mathematics. This is my point, that the reason mathematics can hope to be without contradiction is because it concerns itself with carefully constructed abstract objects in a very particular way. I don’t believe you can prove things about the real world this way, where I’m putting as much emphasis as I can on the word prove there as I think we might be talking past one another.

            Maybe it would help if we back up a bit. Which axioms, precisely, do you think metaphysics uses that are problematic?

            Empirical evidence suggests it’s a good idea.

            So wouldn’t that count as empirical evidence that mathematics does in fact tell us about the real world?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Maybe it would help if we back up a bit. Which axioms, precisely, do you think metaphysics uses that are problematic?

            It’s more that metaphysics doesn’t have axioms in the same sense that mathematics does. Most of modern maths can be regarded as statements that can be interpreted within ZFC, where from the outset there is a well-defined ‘universe’ of sets with which you’re allowed to work. The axioms of ZFC are taken to hold for this universe of sets.

            In metaphysics, the ‘universe’ of things you can talk about is usually, well, the universe. And the universe doesn’t come with any sets unfortunately.

            So wouldn’t that count as empirical evidence that mathematics does in fact tell us about the real world?

            Sure, there’s empirical evidence that maths is very useful at guiding our analysis of things. But we also have empirical evidence that things that hold for abstractions of physical objects don’t necessarily hold for the physical objects themselves. For example, you can prove things about rotations of the set of (x, y, z) in R^3 with x^2 + y^2 + z^2 <= 1, that, when you try and interpret such statements as statements about physical approximation, seem absurd. Moreover, there's no such thing as the 'correct' abstract mathematical concept with which to represent a physical object in the universe. You might argue that a ball is better off modeled as points in Q^3, for instance, but because we have empirical evidence that calculus is quite useful, we don't do this (or rather, we use both concepts).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m afraid I’m still not seeing how you came to the conclusion that doing metaphysics is pointless.

            Maybe you could lay it out for me:

            1.) Russell’s paradox
            2.) ????
            3.) Metaphysics is useless

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I’m afraid I’m still not seeing how you came to the conclusion that doing metaphysics is pointless.

            People have been interested in using logic to prove facts about the world for a long time. Metaphysics is a very early attempt to make a sort of science out of it. Whereas mathematics tends to start by defining an abstract object (e.g. the set of natural numbers is…), and for a mathematician’s purpose the abstract object is the definition, metaphysics tries to reason about fuzzy concepts (e.g. human being, motion, red, god) with the first step being an attempt at a suitable definition (e.g. “featherless biped”).

            For a long time both metaphysicians and mathematicians believed that there were ‘correct’ foundations on which to base their theory, and people debated whether “essences exist” or whether the parallel postulate was ‘true’ or not.

            In terms of progress, maths fared a lot better. People were able to prove theorems about abstract objects, and it seemed that if you had a convincing proof that a certain object couldn’t have a certain property, then you could rest assured that you really wouldn’t be able to find a counter-example. Most of metaphysics on the other hand, seemed to be concerned with asking what the right definitions were — what is motion, what is red, etc.

            In the late 19th/early 20th century lots of work was done on putting maths on secure foundations. Russell discovered that the sort of seemingly innocuous statements that mathematicians commonly used could lead immediately to contradictions, his example being the set of all sets that don’t contain themselves. Mathematicians were worried by this because if you have a single contradiction in your system, for instance if you can prove both A and not-A, then you can prove anything you wish. And there was no need to introduce any wacky concepts to get this contradiction, you just needed to be able make statements along the lines of “the set of X”, i.e. it arose from simply trying to talk about things.

            This led to a very careful consideration of what exactly you’re allowed do when doing mathematics, and what a ‘proof’ of something looks like. Modern mathematics assumes you have a ‘universe’ of well-behaved objects to begin with, together with (your choice of) axioms that talk about these objects. A proof says something about the objects in your universe, and nothing else. One consistent system is no better or worse than another.

            This careful consideration doesn’t seem to have taken place in metaphysics, and people like Ed Feser still present Aquinas’ arguments essentially unchanged. No one seems to have attempted to formulate metaphysics in the terms modern maths is, and I don’t see how it could be possible.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Also, according to http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl , platonism/nominalism is about 50/50 among working philosophers, so ‘metaphysics is probably a waste of time’ isn’t the edgy statement you’re making it out to be. Pre-crisis in foundations of maths people like Hume still thought it was hopeless, and at the moment it’s a bit of a dead field.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations:

            I’m sorry, your argument if far too waffly and rambling for me to clearly understand. From what I can tell, it seems to rest on a vague sense of chronological snobbery and a lack of understanding of the terminology (like, you seem to think that nominalism isn’t a metaphysical view???). Maybe you could try laying your reasoning out in a Premise 1 — Premise 2 — Conclusion format to make it clearer?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Personally, I thought Michael Loux’s anthology of work in Metaphysics does a good job of laying out the terrain for various issues in the field, such as metaphysical realism vs. nominalism, endurantism vs. perdurantism, what are the truth-bearing objects, etc. I also found Parts and Places to be a pretty solid work on mereology.

            It’s a young field compared to physics, but even it is finding some toehold in practical application. I previously worked on a software product attempting to apply some principles from ontology; it enjoyed some success.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I’m sorry, your argument if far too waffly and rambling for me to clearly understand. From what I can tell, it seems to rest on a vague sense of chronological snobbery and a lack of understanding of the terminology (like, you seem to think that nominalism isn’t a metaphysical view???). Maybe you could try laying your reasoning out in a Premise 1 — Premise 2 — Conclusion format to make it clearer?

            To be honest I get the impression that you’re not very interested in my reasoning. If you want a shorter version, it would be “we’ve got a pretty good idea of what a ‘safe’ way of proving things looks like, and metaphysics doesn’t look like this”. Perhaps you’d like to defend your view instead. What exactly are the axioms of metaphysics? When is a string of characters a meaningful metaphysical statement? In what sense does a metaphysical statement refer to actual physical objects in the universe?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            To be honest I get the impression that you’re not very interested in my reasoning. If you want a shorter version, it would be “we’ve got a pretty good idea of what a ‘safe’ way of proving things looks like, and metaphysics doesn’t look like this”.

            Metaphysics “looks like” logical deductions drawn from certain agreed-upon premises. How is this very different to maths, or logical argument in general? (And are you really going to throw out logical argument as an unsafe way of proving things?)

            Perhaps you’d like to defend your view instead. What exactly are the axioms of metaphysics?

            Oh, that’s easy: the rules of logic, plus a few self-evident statements (“Some things change sometimes”, and the like).

            When is a string of characters a meaningful metaphysical statement?

            When the string of characters (a) form a meaningful statement, and (b) relate to metaphysics.

            In what sense does a metaphysical statement refer to actual physical objects in the universe?

            In the same way that most non-metaphysical statements refer to actual physical objects? I’m not sure why this should be a problem?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            (And are you really going to throw out logical argument as an unsafe way of proving things?)

            The point is that having some logical seeming axioms isn’t enough if you don’t qualify what they’re talking about. For example, proof by contradiction is usually expressed as
            (1) not-A => ((not-B => A) => B)
            In words, we’re saying that if you know not-A, and you know that not-B implies A, then you can conclude B. A consequence of truth tables says that
            (2) C => (D => C)
            Now let A be the statement ‘X ϵ X’ where X is the set of all sets that don’t contain themselves. We have (3) A => not-A.

            So for B any statement, if A is true we have
            A => not-A by (3)
            A => (not-B => A) by (2)
            B (by 1 and modus ponens);
            and similarly for if not-A is true.

            While we’ve only used agreed-upon logical-seeming axioms, we haven’t been careful about what we’ve applied them to and the result is that we can prove anything we want. Despite removing all the ambiguity that a non-formal language introduces, we’ve still lost.

            Oh, that’s easy: the rules of logic, plus a few self-evident statements (“Some things change sometimes”, and the like).

            So let’s so you want to express this formally, you might define P to be the property that a thing changes sometimes, and you might write your statement as ‘There exists X with P(X)’. Since what I’ve written above shows that you have to be very careful about what you’re allowed substitute for X, let me ask now what X can be? Do the possibilities for X form a set? Moreover, does is there a necessary and sufficient condition on X for P(X) to hold, or do you simply define P(X) by the X’s for which P(X) holds?

            When the string of characters (a) form a meaningful statement, and (b) relate to metaphysics.

            I don’t think this answers my question. How does one determine when a string of characters satisfies (a) and (b)?

            In the same way that most non-metaphysical statements refer to actual physical objects? I’m not sure why this should be a problem?

            Because if you want to talk meaningfully about certain objects in the universe having certain properties, well the objects really better ‘have’ these properties in a Platonist sense. Suppose you want to reason about the universe with the axiom that red things are good, i.e. you might say you have properties R and G and that R(X) implies G(X). What are the X’s for which R(X) is true?

          • Mark says:

            X would be sense data, wouldn’t it?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Follow metaphysics enough, and you find that the very notion of things having properties is tricky. (Hence, trope theory being a thing – claiming that the redness of this cherry is different from the redness of that cherry.)

            There’s also the issue of considering which properties are essential to an entity, and which are contingent. If you have a red ball, it will have various properties – its diameter, its mass, its redness, whether it’s hollow, etc. Suppose you alter those properties – paint it red, deflate it, etc. At what point, if at all, does it cease being what you began with? Cue the sorites paradox, Ship of Theseus arguments, etc.

            One of the things I found useful about metaphysics is that it produced questions one could ask about one’s entities, answer systematically, and thus produce a formal model of them that turns out to make a critical difference in how you build a database to track them, or how that model would map onto existing databases.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations:

            You still haven’t actually given us a specific problem with metaphysics, still less one serious enough to render the entire field a waste of time. I’ll cut you a deal: I’ll answer all the questions you ask once you give an actual, specific consideration that invalidates the field of metaphysics, and an argument to back this us. Deal?

          • Mark says:

            I guess the question of what X is, how it relates to redness, what redness is – that’s metaphysics.

            My inclination would be to say that X is an anonymous object, a word that has no meaning except so far as it serves to relate different pieces of sense data, or relates different abstract terms that ultimately relate to sense data.

            If metaphysics is the act of determining how our statements can relate to imposed sense data (“external reality”), then simply talking about reality is a metaphysical position.

            Saying that metaphysics is a pointless exercise is a bit like saying, “the statement ‘I have a book’ tells me nothing about the content of that book, so it is useless.” Well, not really – because unless you can recognise something as a book, you can’t read it, there are many other things it could be apart from a book, and there might be some things you know about a book that allow you to find out some things about the nature of the story etc.

            But, I agree, at the moment, it seems more worthwhile to just read the book than to try and guess its content by looking at the cover.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            You still haven’t actually given us a specific problem with metaphysics, still less one serious enough to render the entire field a waste of time. I’ll cut you a deal: I’ll answer all the questions you ask once you give an actual, specific consideration that invalidates the field of metaphysics, and an argument to back this us. Deal?

            What? I don’t see how I can get more specific than the first part of my previous post. If I wasn’t so charitable I’d think you were searching for a way to avoid responding to my questions.

            @ Paul

            One of the things I found useful about metaphysics is that it produced questions one could ask about one’s entities, answer systematically, and thus produce a formal model of them that turns out to make a critical difference in how you build a database to track them, or how that model would map onto existing databases.

            This sounds interesting, can you give an example?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            @ Mark

            I guess the question of what X is, how it relates to redness, what redness is – that’s metaphysics.

            Saying that metaphysics is a pointless exercise is a bit like saying, “the statement ‘I have a book’ tells me nothing about the content of that book, so it is useless.”

            Sure. I should make clear that the issue I have is that metaphysics purports to be able to prove things. This is what modern proponents like Ed Feser maintain. Insofar as metaphysics concerns itself with just discussing what the correct definitions for things are, I don’t think there’s any such thing as a ‘correct’ definition, but I do think it can be interesting to think about.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What? I don’t see how I can get more specific than the first part of my previous post. If I wasn’t so charitable I’d think you were searching for a way to avoid responding to my questions.

            You said that “having some logical seeming axioms isn’t enough if you don’t qualify what they’re talking about”. OK, great. So what? You need to show that metaphysicians actually do fall into these traps, and moreover that they cannot avoid doing so, not just that they might, theoretically end up doing so. Right now, your argument is a slightly more maths-y equivalent of the “Well, scientists might believe in evolution, but scientists don’t have all the answers” canard. Sure they don’t, but that doesn’t prove that they’re wrong in this particular instance.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            You said that “having some logical seeming axioms isn’t enough if you don’t qualify what they’re talking about”. OK, great. So what? You need to show that metaphysicians actually do fall into these traps, and moreover that they cannot avoid doing so, not just that they might, theoretically end up doing so.

            Let me put it this way. Does proof by contradiction exist in your version of metaphysics? Does modus ponens? Can you refer to sets? Does Russell’s paradox arise? If not, why not?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Let me put it this way. Does proof by contradiction exist in your version of metaphysics? Does modus ponens? Can you refer to sets? Does Russell’s paradox arise? If not, why not?

            (1) Yes.

            (2) Yes.

            (3 & 4) Most metaphysics doesn’t make use of set theory, so even accepting Russell’s paradox, I don’t see what how it’s particularly relevant.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            (3 & 4) Most metaphysics doesn’t make use of set theory, so even accepting Russell’s paradox, I don’t see what how it’s particularly relevant.

            Do you mean most theories of metaphysics do not allow reference to sets? Or are you saying most metaphysical arguments don’t involve sets. I’m asking what you’re allowed refer to when you sit down and start doing metaphysics. Can you refer to ‘collections’ of ‘things’?

          • rlms says:

            @asmallpost
            If you consider the version of set theory that contains Russell’s paradox to be a fruitful thing to study (which evidently it was up to 1901), then why makes metaphysics unfruitful? If you think only ZFC (or your favourite other kind of set theory) is worth using (because it avoids Russell’s paradox), why can’t metaphysics just use that?

            In general, I think you are correct that metaphysics suffers from the same problem of “what does it actually mean for something to be true, if it just depends on what axioms you pick” as maths, and so if you claim that metaphysical axioms are “just there” then anything you “prove” will be somewhat meaningless (in the same way that if you pick a random set of symbols and mechanism for shuffling them, you are unlikely to end up doing interesting mathematics). But I would argue that metaphysical axioms are not arbitrary, they stem from intuition in the same way as the mathematical axioms we actually use do.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Do you mean most theories of metaphysics do not allow reference to sets? Or are you saying most metaphysical arguments don’t involve sets. I’m asking what you’re allowed refer to when you sit down and start doing metaphysics. Can you refer to ‘collections’ of ‘things’?

            You can refer to collections of things as a useful shorthand for the things themselves, although the collections aren’t independent entities in their own right. So the answer to your question is “Yes, but only with qualifications”.

            And now, since you’ve held up your end, I’d better hold up mine as well:

            So let’s so you want to express this formally, you might define P to be the property that a thing changes sometimes, and you might write your statement as ‘There exists X with P(X)’. Since what I’ve written above shows that you have to be very careful about what you’re allowed substitute for X, let me ask now what X can be? Do the possibilities for X form a set? Moreover, does is there a necessary and sufficient condition on X for P(X) to hold, or do you simply define P(X) by the X’s for which P(X) holds?

            Well, if I understand you properly, X would be the things that unarguably undergo change. As Mark said, sense impressions would be one example; so would mental operations like reasoning (you think about one premise, then about another, then come to a conclusion, at different times), emotions (you feel happy at one time, sad at another), and things of a similar nature.

            Because if you want to talk meaningfully about certain objects in the universe having certain properties, well the objects really better ‘have’ these properties in a Platonist sense. Suppose you want to reason about the universe with the axiom that red things are good, i.e. you might say you have properties R and G and that R(X) implies G(X). What are the X’s for which R(X) is true?

            I’m not quite sure what you mean by “‘have’ these properties in a Platonist sense”; Platonism might be one of the most famous metaphysical theories out there, but it’s by no means the only one. As for your question, I’m afraid I don’t quite understand it, so you might have to unpack it a bit for me. From what I can tell, the things for which R(X) is true would be red things, but that seems kind of tautological, so I assume there’s some aspect of your question that I’m not picking up on.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            If you consider the version of set theory that contains Russell’s paradox to be a fruitful thing to study (which evidently it was up to 1901), then why makes metaphysics unfruitful?

            It’s more that Russell’s paradox is evidence that you need to be careful what you allow your axioms to refer to, if you want your system to be consistent. It doesn’t wipe out pre-1901 maths because all of it could be very easily rephrased in the new, safer way of doing things. If metaphysics was a collection of mostly banal statements about finite sets but just phrased a bit differently, there might not be much need to worry, but instead all it wants to talk about are things like ‘unmoved movers’ that should have you worried whether that’s really something you should be allowed talk about.

            If you think only ZFC (or your favourite other kind of set theory) is worth using (because it avoids Russell’s paradox), why can’t metaphysics just use that?

            Metaphysics can’t be phrased in terms of ZFC because ZFC talks about sets, whereas metaphysics talks about the universe we live in. Theorems in ZFC are statements about sets.

            In general, I think you are correct that metaphysics suffers from the same problem of “what does it actually mean for something to be true, if it just depends on what axioms you pick” as maths, and so if you claim that metaphysical axioms are “just there” then anything you “prove” will be somewhat meaningless (in the same way that if you pick a random set of symbols and mechanism for shuffling them, you are unlikely to end up doing interesting mathematics). But I would argue that metaphysical axioms are not arbitrary, they stem from intuition in the same way as the mathematical axioms we actually use do.

            Sure. What I’m trying to get at is that even if you bite the bullet and just pick some axioms, you still have a long way to go before you should feel confident that you’re actually able to prove things. You need to be able to say what these axioms are actually talking about, i.e. if you believe that A=>(B=>A) you need to say what you’re actually allowed substitute for A and B.

            The original post that started all this referred to different religious outlooks as examples of godel incompleteness — that each religion has a different logical system, with resulting statements that are independent of the system. But incompleteness is an extremely technical result that applies to dry, formal systems. Where everything is crystal clear in terms of what you’re allowed say and do. Where you’re just manipulating symbols that have no real world interpretation. I don’t think this is in any way applicable to metaphysics or religious argumentation because none of these in any way resemble dry, formal systems.

          • Iain says:

            Sure. What I’m trying to get at is that even if you bite the bullet and just pick some axioms, you still have a long way to go before you should feel confident that you’re actually able to prove things. You need to be able to say what these axioms are actually talking about, i.e. if you believe that A=>(B=>A) you need to say what you’re actually allowed substitute for A and B.

            To riff on this: math is basically a game. Given this set of axioms, what is it possible to prove? You have your pick of axioms; if you don’t like ZFC, you can take HoTT for a test drive. Sometimes the results of the mathematical game happen to be useful, which is a nice bonus — but the metric for evaluating the correctness of a mathematical result is not usefulness, but simply whether it follows from the axioms.

            It is perfectly fine for metaphysics to play the math game with different axioms. Sometimes that will even be useful, as in Paul Brinkley’s comment about making practical use of ontology. But if metaphysics wants to make claims about the nature of reality, it has to go a step farther: it has to show that its axioms are true. That isn’t a concept that maps on well to math; you can talk about whether ZFC is consistent, but it’s not even clear what it means to ask whether ZFC is true.

            So: there are lots of ways to screw up your axioms and end up with an inconsistent system. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that even a consistent system of axioms actually maps to reality. And unlike physics, where it is possible to test predictions via experiment, metaphysics has no external source of verification.

            Therefore, when two theories of metaphysics disagree, it’s likely to be based on the axioms. The axioms that a person finds intuitively true will vary depending on that person’s other philosophical commitments. In practice, then, metaphysics is frequently an exercise in trying to provide retroactive justification for previously held stances by disguising them as math.

            This explains why people so rarely change their minds based on metaphysical arguments.

            (A religious philosopher trying to formalize the ontological argument would not, upon realizing that the existence of God was not provable using his starting axioms, abandon his religion and become an atheist. He would start adding new axioms. It’s like a metaphysical equivalent of p-hacking.)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Iain:

            Your argument seems to throw up a paradox. If we can’t know things about the real world using logical arguments, that would apply to your argument as well, which if it is to have any force would itself have to apply to the real world. Hence, if your argument succeeds, it fails.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Well, if I understand you properly, X would be the things that unarguably undergo change. As Mark said, sense impressions would be one example; so would mental operations like reasoning (you think about one premise, then about another, then come to a conclusion, at different times), emotions (you feel happy at one time, sad at another), and things of a similar nature.

            Sorry if it was a bit unclear. I mean that for X you should be able to substitute anything you want to be able to consider, and that P(X) records some truth value, true whenever X is something that changes sometimes, and false when X is something that doesn’t. So when I ask what X can be, I’m really asking what are you allowing yourself to consider as having properties, say.

            So you’ve said that X can be things like mental operations, sense impressions, and emotions. But these things belong to some greater collection of things you’re allowing yourself to consider, this is what I’m inquiring about. (In particular I’m curious how you can disallow considering collections as independent entities but not ’emotions’).

            I’m not quite sure what you mean by “‘have’ these properties in a Platonist sense”; Platonism might be one of the most famous metaphysical theories out there, but it’s by no means the only one. As for your question, I’m afraid I don’t quite understand it, so you might have to unpack it a bit for me. From what I can tell, the things for which R(X) is true would be red things, but that seems kind of tautological, so I assume there’s some aspect of your question that I’m not picking up on.

            Sure. If you say R(X) holds for ‘red things’, I’m going to ask ‘well, which things are red’. Do you see where this is going?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Your argument seems to throw up a paradox. If we can’t know things about the real world using logical arguments, that would apply to your argument as well, which if it is to have any force would itself have to apply to the real world. Hence, if your argument succeeds, it fails.

            Not at all. Iain isn’t laying out a proof of anything. An argument doesn’t have some underlying truth value. We typically say an argument succeeds if it convinces people, but that’s just a matter of terminology.

          • Iain says:

            @The original Mr. X:
            No, that’s silly. I’m not denying the possibility of knowledge – for example, I explicitly mentioned the ability of physicists to test hypotheses through experiment. I’m challenging the power of metaphysics in particular.

            If you require a pithy summary of my argument: Metaphysics is unique among “proofy” fields in that it claims as its universe of discourse our actual universe. Unlike mathematics, the axioms of a metaphysical theory don’t just have to be reasonable and consistent; they also have to be correct. Unlike the physical sciences, metaphysical theories are not amenable to empirical verification.

            My argument does not apply to itself because I’m not claiming to have a formal and rigorous proof of my own correctness. Do you disagree with my claim? Why? While it is possible that, upon further discussion, our disagreement might boil down to fundamentally different axioms, I think it is more likely that we share sufficient axioms to (in principle) come to an agreement on this issue.

            It’s the “rigorous proofs” branch of metaphysics that I’m addressing.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Iain:

            It’s the “rigorous proofs” branch of metaphysics that I’m addressing.

            Do you mean “rigorous proofs” as in “written out in formal logic”, or “rigorous proofs” as in “proofs that are rigorous”?

            If you require a pithy summary of my argument: Metaphysics is unique among “proofy” fields in that it claims as its universe of discourse our actual universe. Unlike mathematics, the axioms of a metaphysical theory don’t just have to be reasonable and consistent; they also have to be correct. Unlike the physical sciences, metaphysical theories are not amenable to empirical verification.

            Well, what sort of axioms does metaphysics use that you think are wrong or contentious?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Unlike the physical sciences, metaphysical theories are not amenable to empirical verification.

            I think this is only partially true. It’s true in that metaphysical theories appear to have acquired a level of discipline only recently that physicists had been grasping for since the 1600s and had at least by reputation since around 1900. (Although even this is shaky – consider how many people still have trouble with the concept of a velocity.)

            In some ways, though, metaphysics gets some falsification cred. For example, the theory: “groups are identifiable by their members” is handily shown as refuted if you define a band as being an instance of a group, its members as being its stage performers, and consider a situation where a band’s drummer is replaced. In some sense, yes, it’s not the same Def Leppard when Tony Kenning leaves, but everyone still identifies Def Leppard as the remaining members. By contrast, the theory “groups are identified intensionally” is strengthened.

            This in turn impacts how groups are identified in a database, should you choose to track them. In practice, I suspect anyone would choose to identify bands the same way – by their name. But wait! That theory turns out to be bogus as well, if you want to say that Mookie Blaylock and Pearl Jam are the same band. And in general, names turn out to be a very fraught way of identifying anything. This is both obvious and not, if you’ve ever considered someone who changed their last name and inexplicably disappeared from several parts of the bureaucratic machinery. People know names are terrible at identifying people – and then promptly forget that when building schemas.

            Identity criteria issues also mesh with temporal issues. Some entity properties change over time; some never do. If you ever hear a metaphysical realist talk about rigidity, this is what they’re referring to. People change their professions. Databases get away with tracking only one, because they often only care about “now”. Database integrators and analysts, however, have to work from a model where these things change over time.

            Hopefully this also addresses a question asmallpost[…] asked earlier.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            In some ways, though, metaphysics gets some falsification cred. For example, the theory: “groups are identifiable by their members” is handily shown as refuted if you define a band as being an instance of a group, its members as being its stage performers, and consider a situation where a band’s drummer is replaced. In some sense, yes, it’s not the same Def Leppard when Tony Kenning leaves, but everyone still identifies Def Leppard as the remaining members. By contrast, the theory “groups are identified intensionally” is strengthened.

            “groups are identifiable by their members” is a statement that hinges entirely on your definitions of ‘group’ and ‘identifiable’, and becomes a tautology when you choose to allow two groups to be the same despite having different members. Which you seem to do immediately after making the statement — you don’t say what a group is, and then you declare that bands are groups and that bands are the same if you switch a not-so-important member. Place your statements in the correct order and it becomes clear that it’s uninteresting.

            This in turn impacts how groups are identified in a database, should you choose to track them. In practice, I suspect anyone would choose to identify bands the same way – by their name. But wait! That theory turns out to be bogus as well, if you want to say that Mookie Blaylock and Pearl Jam are the same band. And in general, names turn out to be a very fraught way of identifying anything. This is both obvious and not, if you’ve ever considered someone who changed their last name and inexplicably disappeared from several parts of the bureaucratic machinery. People know names are terrible at identifying people – and then promptly forget that when building schemas.

            This isn’t metaphysics so much as thinking carefully about how you want to store things in a database. You don’t need to make any sort of ontological commitments about ‘essences’ or what-have-you to do this.

            Identity criteria issues also mesh with temporal issues. Some entity properties change over time; some never do. If you ever hear a metaphysical realist talk about rigidity, this is what they’re referring to. People change their professions. Databases get away with tracking only one, because they often only care about “now”. Database integrators and analysts, however, have to work from a model where these things change over time.

            Again, this isn’t a case of ‘how to I intuit the identity this being possesses’, rather it’s ‘how do I track entries in a database in such a way that has some tolerance for certain attributes changing’.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I guess I left some stuff out.

            Yes, if I define groups by example, and make that example be bands, then as you say, yes, it’s true to the point of uninteresting that groups are defined intentionally.

            What I left out was the bit about how people often try to use one example on one day and then another example on another day, and the two turn out to be incompatible. So if, tomorrow, I tried to say groups include any arbitrary set of people, someone else could easily interpret that to mean “everyone in accounting, plus Jack, who tends to hang out on their floor most of the day”, and then they remove Jill from that group and wonder why it’s still matching their former group when, to them, it clearly should not.

            Identity criteria are very much a part of metaphysics, as are rigidity and dependency constraints. And identity is especially important to the problem of database integration, as it plays a central role in determining whether two references to an entity refer to the same or different entities. One of the most common problems we had to deal with were different schemas using the same term with different senses, and not documenting that because it didn’t occur to them at the time that they would have to.

            I also think of metaphysics as including how carefully you think about how you build formal models, including database schemas, not just so you use your own database correctly, but to also prevent other users from putting dirty data into it.

            For a while, we had a list of questions to ask about every entity type in a model before designing it, to head off such problems. That list was heavily informed by metaphysical concerns.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            @ Paul
            Right, this less metaphysics qua proving things about the world and more metaphysics qua thinking carefully about how to choose to define things. And if that’s what you want to call metaphysics and you think it helps, that’s no problem. But I believe you could instead call what you’re doing ‘thinking carefully about how to choose to define things’, and that this carries a lot less baggage than ‘metaphysics’. In the same way that a voodoo practitioner might have a ritual for a high temperature involving taking some paracetemol, the fact he finds this beneficial is more a statement about paracetemol than voodoo.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            @ Mr. X

            Do you mean “rigorous proofs” as in “written out in formal logic”, or “rigorous proofs” as in “proofs that are rigorous”?

            I’m very curious as to what the latter is.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m very curious as to what the latter is.

            http://www.dictionary.com/browse/rigorous?s=t

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ Mr. X:

            Linking to a dictionary definition is hardly a useful response.

            I don’t know what asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations thinks, but I am of the opinion that no metaphysical argument can ever be rigorous, because the concepts deployed in such arguments are inherently imprecise or ambiguous.

            So, link us to the metaphysical argument that you personally consider to be the most rigorous, or the best exemplar of rigor in metaphysics.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            @ Mr. X
            What I mean is your idea of a proof that’s ‘rigorous but not formal’. How might one recognise one of those? Is there a means of verifying that a string of characters is such a thing?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Right, this [is] less metaphysics qua proving things about the world and more metaphysics qua thinking carefully about how to choose to define things. And if that’s what you want to call metaphysics and you think it helps, that’s no problem. But I believe you could instead call what you’re doing ‘thinking carefully about how to choose to define things’, and that this carries a lot less baggage than ‘metaphysics’.

            I suppose this is true. But if so, then it sounds like your beef with metaphysics isn’t so much with what metaphysics is as it is with what laymen seem to think it is.

            I do think this is a legitimate concern. A few years ago, I wrote an article for a potential blog; the article was titled “Ontology: why it’s more than just proving that chair is real”. We were big on the O-word; we spent a fair bit of effort hyping the value of little-o ontologies, only to have every Tom, Dick, and database dinosaur promptly begin saying they were all about ontologies, too, except that their ontologies were just the dusty database dictionaries they had been hawking for decades, lacking the richer formalisms we were claiming distinguished ontologies from the CRUD-focused tech of the past. They co-opted the word and made it meaningless. Maybe the same happened to “metaphysics”.

            To be honest, some of metaphysics is indeed pretty hokey by formal standards. But some of it isn’t – you really can write a computer program based on some of it. Particularly some of the stuff we seem to be talking about here. Which ought to mean that I could refer to it in this thread and not have to worry about its baggage…

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I suppose this is true. But if so, then it sounds like your beef with metaphysics isn’t so much with what metaphysics is as it is with what laymen seem to think it is.

            As a layman, this is entirely possible. My beef is with adherents of metaphysics that purport to be able to prove things about the world we live in.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Raised Methodist. But I never really believed in what seemed like a glorified collection of faerie stories – by the time I was a teenager I was an atheist, and quite content to remain that way.

      There are nagging problems that it’s tough to resolve about God – why isn’t His presence in the universe more visible? How would one even choose between Christianity, Islam, Hinduism (to name just the major religions)? And there is a distressing lack of miracles every day, unless you’re one of those lunatics describing the birth of every child as a suspension of Nature’s Law.

      However, more than anything else, I have always been devoted to history, particularly classical and ancient history. And I found the evidence that something fishy was going on in 1st century Palestine very compelling. Every alternative hypothesis I floated eventually was shot down (Jaskologist, and if he’s still around, Troy can talk more about this), so in the end I found myself returning to the fold.

      That, in turn, led me to C. S. Lewis, and from there to Augustine and Aquinas. It was a revelation from the tired charismatic stuff I’d been fed as a youth – this was religion married to reason, and it cleaned up many of the lingering problems I’d been having explaining the universe. So now I go to a Methodist church again, but I’ve been meaning to walk into the Catholic church across the street and investigate how one goes about joining.

      • Dahlen says:

        Hey, that’s interesting. It always is, when a person goes through an atheist phase and then back again to religion, having resolved the tension between it and the usual atheist arguments. Not sure whether you’ll see this reply — but would you mind talking a bit more about this?

  6. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    Bring out the pitchforks! Matt Viser, a reporter for the Boston Globe, is the founder of the alt-right and questions whether Jews are people!

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      OK, this is getting darkly hilarious. We’ve gone from such small gatherings as tech conferences no-platforming Moldbug for seeming adjacent to white nationalism to the mass media requiring us to find clips of white nationalist Richard Spencer to figure out what the heck is going on.
      What a rapid change of strategy.

    • Zorgon says:

      Everyone is the leader of G****G***. You should know this by now.

  7. HeelBearCub says:

    Before the election various people were very concerned about the possibility that giving money to the Clinton Foundation (which did not personally enrich the Clintons and did genuinely good charity work) offered the possibility of corrupt “pay-to-play” scenarios where money that went to the foundation could be assumed to sway Hillary as SOS.

    If you did feel this was a legitimate line of thinking, do you still?

    How concerned are you about the fact the Trump’s businesses allow for directly enriching Trump and his children? How much do you care that Trump has absolutely shattered the norm against this kind of conflict of interest?

    • cassander says:

      >If you did feel this was a legitimate line of thinking, do you still?

      Yes and yes. The foundation is corrupt. and it did personally enrich them, to the tune of millions in travel expenses at the very least.

      >How concerned are you about the fact the Trump’s businesses allow for directly enriching Trump and his children? How much do you care that Trump has absolutely shattered the norm against this kind of conflict of interest?

      Trump didn’t shatter that norm, the Clintons already did. And even they weren’t the first. LBJ was literally dirt poor growing up, worked for the government his entire life, yet managed to be one of the richest people ever to be president, largely by getting the the government to give his radio station special favors. but that is behavior that has happened. Trump has not yet done anything objectionable, and while he might, you can’t condemn him for things he might do, while letting off people who actually did those things.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        He most certainly has done objectionable things already.

        Putting his kids in the same room as Prime Ministers and fielding calls from business partners in foreign countries, his hotel pitching itself to diplomats, … he isn’t even trying to avoid conflict of interest.

        And he has recently given the Nixon line “if the president does it, it’s not a conflict of interest.”

        • cassander says:

          >Putting his kids in the same room as Prime Ministers

          Like the Kennedys and Bushes did?

          >calls from business partners in foreign countries,

          Like the clintons did?

          > he isn’t even trying to avoid conflict of interest.

          like the clinton foundation didn’t?

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      In order.

      Yes;

      Somewhat concerned, watching to see how it plays out;

      I think the norm was already showing cracks (at best) and if Trump turns out to take advantage of it, that will represent the progression of an ongoing trend rather than a shattering of an intact norm.

    • Spookykou says:

      I would still be worried about Trump abusing his political position in any way he could to make money, even if he did do all the normal, blind trust, other things I don’t know about, provisions for a president with considerable assets.

      His whole, “of course I abused the system to make money, the real problem is the people who made the system abusable!” arguments from the debates doesn’t exactly inspire trust.

    • Did and do.

      The foundation’s tax document are online. Going over them for 2014, I ended up with the following summary. Someone who has looked more carefully is welcome to correct it:

      p. 18 shows
      Salaries and benefits: $96 million
      Professional and consulting: $17 million
      Conferences and events: $14 million
      Travel $21 Million
      Meetings and training $14 million
      Total of the above: $162 million

      Direct program expenditures $34 million

      Current year revenue (p. 24) $178 million

      I probably don’t have all of that correct–my previous attempt to extract data got noticeably different numbers and I haven’t figured out why. But the basic point is that the first set of things could be expenditures to support doing good things but could also be expenditures to pay Clinton loyalists in order to maintain a political team, wine and dine potentially useful outsiders, and the like. It’s controlled by the Clintons and it looks like an enormous fraction of revenue goes to overhead, at least relative to the direct grants.

      One interesting test will be to see what happens to contributions for next year.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        And the second part of the question?

        • Sorry, I missed that.

          That doesn’t worry me as much as other potential problems with Trump. Politicians abusing their office to make money isn’t anything new and I think it would be hard to do it on a scale that had much effect on the overall performance of the administration without being obvious about it.

          One worry is that he might be what I described on my blog as Hillary plus–support the sort of policies she did because he thinks they are politically popular (big infrastructure expenditure, free college, higher minimum wage) and get them through because many of the Republicans will support them. Another is that he might follow through on policy proposals he made that I disapprove of, such as trade barriers, immigration barriers, even a serious attempt to get illegal immigrants out.

          Another is that he might be incompetent and irresponsible, which is one way of interpreting his history, although the fact that he won reduces my confidence that he is incompetent.

          And he might well do bad things for the ego boost, attention.

    • Anonymousse says:

      I am more worried about Trump’s conflict of interest rhetoric is that he doesn’t appear to believe it exists.

      “The law’s totally on my side,” Mr Trump said. “The president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

      I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.

      I think his stance allows him to make his businesses more of a priority while in office, which is not a direction I prefer. I won’t be surprised if he ends up putting a portion of his holdings in a trust and paints it as a more moderate position and an olive branch.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It means Federal conflict of interest law doesn’t apply to the President. This is a legal truism; see 18 USC 208(a) and 18 USC 202(c). A fact I assume Trump will take full advantage of.

        (note it also doesn’t apply to Federal judges or members of Congress)

        • Anonymousse says:

          So he can’t have a Conflict of Interest, but he can have conflicting interests. The latter still bothers me.

          Perhaps I should have taken his comment more literally.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Taking a moment to review that was interesting, since it indicates that several of the points conservatives held against Clinton, Clinton, and Gore in the past would likely have been impossible to prosecute in any meaningful sense even if they’d been able to come up with the combination of political capital and hard evidence to get a grand jury going.

          That said, I note that congress apparently explicitly affirmed that the president was exempt over a decade after a legal opinion suggesting as much.

          Ah, congress: Is there anything you CAN’T do wrong?

  8. Trofim_Lysenko says:

    EDIT: Did the parent comment for this get deleted?

    Personally, I wish we could all just agree to ostracize both these people and people with this type of attitude*, and all go back to bastardizing every culture’s food and music. Forget the “salad bowl” and bring back the “melting pot.”

    Hear, Hear. Of course, the standard rejoinder to that from the SJ side is of of course we want that, it massively favors “our” culture over everybody else’s, and we are secretly being every bit as blatant in our identity politics as anyone else, we’re just pushing White America’s identity.

    I think this isn’t entirely correct, but I also don’t have an eloquent rebuttal for it beyond “American philosophical and cultural values are what they are based on history and tradition. Assimilation will change them, but slowly, and I value them too highly to want to shatter them for the sake of some fucked-up separate-but-equal multiculturalism that reduces social trust, increases political polarization, and in the long run is likely to be toxic to core values like individualism, prioritizing negative liberty over positive liberty, and so on”

    • Spookykou says:

      I think Scott’s universal culture idea could be used to push back on the idea that the culture of the melting pot is ‘white american culture’. If you are looking for a potential additional rebuttal to add to your position.

      • Anonymousse says:

        I thought of this too. Though I’ve been reconciling the universal culture idea with the Moloch idea and am not convinced that they aren’t too closely related for my comfort.

        That is, it may not be “white american culture” but that doesn’t mean it’s desirable.

    • onyomi says:

      Hey, sorry about that. I deleted, thinking no one had yet replied. Here’s the original, or I can put it back where it was:

      Since we’ve opened this can of worms:

      I used to think that the “control left,” a. k. a. SJWs, et al. were people on the right track but who went too far. People who got overzealous about laudable goals like gender and racial equality. Maybe they are that, but I am increasingly seeing the effect of their actions and ways of thinking as being not just sort of annoying or “too much of a good thing,” but actually directly counter to what I had always assumed was their end goal–a world in which people of different races, cultures, genders, etc. could live, work, and flourish side-by-side in peace.

      When I grew up, the message was always “treat everyone equally! Don’t judge by a person’s exterior! We’re all the same inside! A woman can be a scientist and a man can stay at home with the kids! Black people are just like you and me! Gay people are just like you and me! Here, try some sushi! You want to put cream cheese in it and make it taste like a bagel? Sure! Everyone can enjoy this culture in their own way.”

      At some point it shifted toward “historical injustices and imbalances must be redressed. You may not have inherited wealth, but you still benefit from historical power structures of privilege. You may not be a rapist, but if you question a rape victim you are supporting a culture of rape. Did you just tell me how to eat sushi, white boy? This is OUR cultural heritage.”

      I won’t wholly deny the premises of the latter views: obviously we still live with the legacies of many deep historical injustices perpetrated against women and minorities. But as soon as you switch your conclusion from “so now just treat everyone the same” to “so now treat some better than others” you are just dooming yourself to repeat the cycle from another direction. “Now it’s OUR turn” is no way to achieve peace. In fact, it’s a guarantee of initiating repeating cycles of conflict.

      Some would say I’m strawmanning the SJW position: one can be cognizant of, and work to redress, historical injustices without hating or harming the group blamed for the injustice. You can walk and chew gum at the same time. I would say that, on a societal level, at least, “no, you cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.” You cannot expect the average person to internalize a complex, nuanced ethos, or for such an ethos to be a uniting factor amongst diverse people.

      I think the advocates of racially or ethnically homogeneous states discussed above take as their premise that diversity doesn’t work. I don’t think that’s true. I think diversity can work, but not without an ethos of “everyone is the same, morally, legally, and on some fundamental human level transcending cultural, racial, linguistic, etc. differences.”

      Though I have an obvious preference about what choice I’d like to see America, and most places, make (though I’ve argued in favor of a balkanized US, I want it to balkanize according to preferred modes of government, not racial or cultural lines, though there would unavoidably be some overlap), I intend this as more of a descriptive argument than a normative argument: if you insist on continuing rhetoric and policies which try to “balance” historical injustice by giving special preferences and treatment to the oppressed groups, you’re going to get a backlash. You can’t have radical feminism without giving power to MRA. You can’t keep pushing for affirmative action-type policies for non-whites without giving power to white nationalists. And you can’t have people living in harmony while constantly telling them that one group is responsible for the others’ problems. There is no “nationalism for me, but not for thee.”

      This may not be fair in some world-historic sense and many individual women and minorities still suffer as a result of histories of discrimination. Sure, it’s easy for me, a straight, white man to say. But, I’m certainly not saying, “don’t continue to fight discrimination,” nor “don’t expect straight, white men to support you in the fight,” I’m just saying, fair or not, when you take it past “fight for equality,” “judge not by color of the skin but content of character,” etc. and to “redress historical injustice,” the backlash seems just to be unavoidable. You should add Toni Morrison to the syllabus, but leave out the part where you say “and this is because we read too many dead, white men.”

      Personally, I wish we could all just agree to ostracize both these people and people with this type of attitude*, and all go back to bastardizing every culture’s food and music. Forget the “salad bowl” and bring back the “melting pot.”

      *no, I’m not drawing moral equivalence between The Young Turks and neo-nazis, but the former is also much more influential and representative of a currently much more influential in society; I’m saying, if you insist on making everything about identity, identity, identity (and really, if you watch the whole video, it’s striking how their entire epistemology seems identity-based), you can’t be surprised when the hated group starts saying “me too!”

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        You deleted this? It is a very good essay. I especially liked these:

        “Now it’s OUR turn” is no way to achieve peace.

        Forget the “salad bowl” and bring back the “melting pot.”

        It might be tough to have a discussion on this, because the SJW thing is one area most commenters are strongly against. But it would be nice if we could have some arguments around the edges. For example, I am firmly against affirmative action because of issues you discussed.

        I also believe the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and especially of 1991 have been net negatives for the US. I think the over-use of those laws has caused much of the opaqueness in hiring where no one will admit to why they declined to hire someone or give references, and has also caused much of the “college as signaling” phenomenon, which has resulted in billions of wasted people hours in colleges, for people that didn’t really want to go to college. These laws have also increased racism, by making it appear that Blacks can only go to good colleges or get good jobs through tokenism.

        It is my opinion that racism will only decrease if it becomes a cultural belief that we should try to be color blind in most situations. Any law that treats one ethnicity different than another may sometimes have short-term beneficial effects, but will always result in more racism long-term.

        There, I think there will be disagreement on some of that.

      • Atlas says:

        I won’t wholly deny the premises of the latter views: obviously we still live with the legacies of many deep historical injustices perpetrated against women and minorities.

        I would suggest that “historical injustices” against minorities are not the most important source of the profound feelsbadman that many on the cultural left today feel. I think that the observable, real world, present day existence of racial and gender inequality, and the kind of folk knowledge that generates, is what really bothers them. Because they’ve been programmed with blank slate-ism, they then assume that these differences are the result of present and/or past discrimination, and then the fact that they aren’t being addressed makes them really angry.

        I hope this doesn’t come off as condescending, because that isn’t my intent, but regarding your comment in general I used to have similar views, and I associate what you’re saying with a sort of Jon Chait/Jonathan Haidt contrarian anti-political correctness liberalism. (And I would say that even some open hereditarians like Steven Pinker and Charles Murray fit in with this crowd. Also Scott Alexander is kind of like this himself.)

        But what I came to realize over time is that it’s really not enough to just be criticizing the norms and rules of current discourse, instantly equating different sides (“muh horseshoe theory”) and wishing that we could all just get along. There are really important substantive issues at hand, and they need to be explored instead of wished away. “Social Justice Warriors” are identifying real fissures in society, and at some point one needs to ask himself whether they’re right or wrong on the merits of their views instead of criticizing them for being loud and aggressive in promoting them.

        In other words, I agree with you that you can’t have social justice identity movement A without eventually producing reactionary identity movement B; I just think that there’s a confounding factor of real world problem C that’s leading to both. (As opposed to A leading to B.)

        • cassander says:

          >In other words, I agree with you that you can’t have social justice identity movement A without eventually producing reactionary identity movement

          why can’t we have a social justice movement that’s not obsessed with identity then? Why do we have to have one that calls proposals to de-identity it (e.g. class based instead of race based AA) racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.?

          • Atlas says:

            why can’t we have a social justice movement that’s not obsessed with identity then? Why do we have to have one that calls proposals to de-identity it (e.g. class based instead of race based AA) racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.?

            Because, as I said in the earlier comment, I think some real world issue is generating the identity issue. For example, you mentioned (race as opposed to class based) Affirmative Action; AA is an (ill-advised) response to the very real fact of persistent, large gaps in standardized, IQ-proxy, test scores between ethnic groups. Because people identify as parts of groups and care about how those groups do, ignoring this issue isn’t really feasible.

            That is to say, the thing Haidt calls for of divorcing identity politics from class politics doesn’t make sense to me because both identity and class issues are important and there’s really no reason that addressing one prevents you from addressing the other. So I feel that when people say stuff like this they’re (knowingly or not) avoiding confronting a difficult issue.

          • cassander says:

            >large gaps in standardized, IQ-proxy, test scores between ethnic groups. Because people identify as parts of groups and care about how those groups do, ignoring this issue isn’t really feasible.

            it’s certainly not feasible when you run around screaming about how everything is a racial issue and deliberately elevating racial consciousness. The original dream of the civil rights movement was integrationist and colorblindness, after all.

            But my complaint isn’t that the swjs have considered and rationally rejected race free alternatives, it’s that they actively condemn them as evil, and that is problematic. it makes the sort of good faith resolution of problems impossible.

            >there’s really no reason that addressing one prevents you from addressing the other.

            People only have so much political attention span. focusing on race, or any other issue, DOES drive class out of the discussion.

          • Atlas says:

            The original dream of the civil rights movement was integrationist and colorblindness, after all.

            I might respond to the other parts of your comment later, but for now I just want to make what I feel is an important point regarding this:

            The civil rights movement, and more broadly 1960s Great Society liberalism, was fundamentally based on the expectation that once legal barriers of segregation were removed racial gaps in metrics like crime rates and academic achievement would close naturally. They thought that by, say, 2016, there wouldn’t be any need for identity politics because the substantive differences between blacks and whites would have disappeared. That hasn’t really happened, to say the least.

          • cassander says:

            @atlas

            > They thought that by, say, 2016, there wouldn’t be any need for identity politics because the substantive differences between blacks and whites would have disappeared. That hasn’t really happened, to say the least.

            Integrationism cannot be called a failure because it was never tried. It was was dropped in favor of identity politics almost the instant the integrationist goals were achieved. The civil rights act is signed in 64. In 65, an executive order is issued coining the term “affirmative action” and we start getting quotas not long after that.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            And to add to that, you can’t expect that a law immediately solves the problem.

            Many civil rights are primarily won because the culture changes, not because the law enforces something on a completely unwilling population. In most cases, you see gradual societal changes over time and somewhere along the way, there is enough support to make a law. Then this law often accelerates the culture change, but it fundamentally keeps being a gradual process, as it was before the law.

            When it comes to race, we do see that white people have become more and more accepting of black people. For example, in 1988, about 20% wouldn’t vote for a black presidential candidate. That dropped to about 5% in 2010. About 68% of Americans objected to an interracial marriage of a close relative in 1990, that dropped to about 24% in 2010. Those are pretty big drops, which were still happening 30 years after the civil rights act.

            I would also argue that a major reason why integration is not going so well is that policies have been adopted that greatly reduce social mobility (aka the American Dream) for everyone, but that these disproportionately hit black people as these changes came just as many of the oppressive policies against the black population were abandoned. At that point black people were already disproportionately poor and their situation didn’t improve because of this barrier, but the same is actually true for poor white people. Because we notice that rich white people stay on top and notice the poor black people not being very upwardly mobile, it looks like integration failed, but really, black poor people are actually doing quite similarly to poor white people. The lack of representation of black people in the upper echelons is not so much that they are held down, but rather, that everyone is kept in their place. If you would change the genes of all currently poor white people so that they would have green skin color, we’d be talking about how there is a permanent underclass of green people in 20 years time. It’s just that we can’t see this now, because poverty correlates strongly with black skin color due to historical reasons, but not with white skin color, as many white people managed to escape poverty when this was much easier than during the last decades.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The civil rights movement, and more broadly 1960s Great Society liberalism, was fundamentally based on the expectation that once legal barriers of segregation were removed racial gaps in metrics like crime rates and academic achievement would close naturally.

            Who said so at the time? My impression is that ending such legal barriers as segregation were an end in themselves, not merely a means to an end.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Neither SJWs nor their white supremacist opposites are interested in exploring the substantive issues at hand. They both already claim to have the answer and that anyone questioning that answer is part of the problem. Until neither is able to dominate the field of discourse the way SJWs do, there can’t be a lot of substantive discussion.

        • onyomi says:

          @Atlas

          I won’t complain about comparisons to any of those people!

          When I say we need an ethos of “everyone is the same on the inside,” I mean on some fundamental level of moral value, not that every group is literally the same. I do think there are average differences in traits among groups and that those differences affect outcomes.

          However, I think the stories we tell ourselves (“folk wisdom”) make a big difference in how we go about potentially addressing those issues. The key point for me is that focus on group identity as defined by race, sex, and sexuality, has a toxic effect: you are stuck in an unending battle where you try to figure out why there aren’t e. g. more women physicists and Asian basketball stars. Doesn’t mean you can’t report with extra excitement when a Jocelyn Burnell or Jeremy Lin comes along. It does mean that your go-to explanation shouldn’t be “I guess the NBA is just biased against Asians” in the absence of evidence other than the fact of their under representation.

          That is, I think you can have a society in which not every group is equally represented in every pursuit, yet which still functions harmoniously, but not if you keep interpreting that fact as prima facie evidence of something nefarious. Which is not to say one shouldn’t fight individual cases of discrimination, but when you have this race-gender-sexuality-based group identitarian epistemology, everything becomes evidence of something nefarious. I am currently leading a task force to determine why the fashion industry is biased against straight men.

          Regarding substantive underlying differences and how to solve them: firstly, they may not need to be “solved” per se, for reasons stated above. Secondly, though I think average differences exist among groups, I think that having good laws and institutions is much more important than say, IQ, in determining whether or not everyone can achieve a level of success and prosperity they’ll be happy with: look at North versus South Korea: same genetics, same culture, very different outcomes.

          That’s an extreme example, of course, but I also think we’re far from having picked all the low-hanging fruit in terms of making US laws and institutions more conducive to flourishing, especially for the poor of all races, as Aapje describes.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            onyomi wrote: When I say we need an ethos of “everyone is the same on the inside,” I mean on some fundamental level of moral value, not that every group is literally the same.

            The way I usually address this point is to say that “everyone is the same under the law”. That is, everyone is naturally different, but in a formal societal system, the approach ought to be to assume sameness. This usually suffices for the average Westerner.

            (Obviously, for ancap advocates such as yourself, “under the law” has a sense in which it wouldn’t apply well. But in this case, I read your calling for a common ethos as your declaration for what rights enforcement system you would prefer. The rest of my argument then works out the same way, I think.)

            More generally, then: given that a rights enforcer encounters any case as a blank slate, that enforcer should assume all humans have equal rights, and equal obligations imposed upon the enforcer.

            Obviously, when resolving a case, there will be differences in how each individual is treated. If I knock over my neighbor’s fence, the enforcer will not bill both of us for the cost of repairing it. We will not get equal treatment under the law in the end. But the intent here is clearly that the enforcer should weigh information about the act much more than information about the personal attributes of the actor. The fact that I am white should have virtually no weight; the fact that I knocked over the fence should have virtually all weight.

            I think this is consistent with most Western intuition about justice and the law. But I can already tell you of at least one strong counter to it. In many cases, the cause of the broken fence is not a finding of fact, nor the reasoning of the actor, if there was one. Suppose my neighbor claims I knocked over his fence, and I claim that I did not, and the enforcer cannot find any physical evidence of my doing so (footprints from my doorstep, for example). One explanation is that I am lying; another is that my neighbor is; a third is that either or both of us is mistaken (a stray dog hit his fence; I overwatered the grass and weakened the ground near it).

            Determining which explanation is most likely is the enforcer’s job, and the enforcer must be efficient. What if the most efficient / likely explanation is that one of us is lying? And what if that’s based on the enforcement agency’s detailed statistics about who had been lying in previous cases? …and what if those statistics suggest that lying strongly correlates with some phenotype readily observed in the parties involved, such as gender or financial well-being?

            My characterization of such a state of affairs is that there’s a conflict for the enforcement agency between being efficient and therefore saving its constituents’ money, and avoiding heuristics that, if known or even suspected, would lead to erosions of public trust, manifesting ultimately as rights infringements that would likewise damage the agency’s capacity to provide its services efficiently. Both would impact its bottom line. In practice, I don’t know how those balance out. I know that if I were advertising enforcement, I would make a bet on avoiding such policies being cheaper in the long run, but there honestly could be confounders.

      • Anonymousse says:

        Thanks onyomi, this was an interesting read! Sorry you deleted earlier. Your bit about the message when you grew up reminds me a bit of this. The difference between “different things are interesting and fun to learn about” and “you can’t have different things, and also shame on you for not knowing things are different”. I have been reluctant to inquire about things out of fear that my ignorance will be mistaken for something more insidious.

        if you insist on continuing rhetoric and policies which try to “balance” historical injustice by giving special preferences and treatment to the oppressed groups, you’re going to get a backlash

        What do you think of the idea of initiatives like affirmative action as a shortcut?

        I understand the validity of arguments on the efficacy of such programs, whether the pros outweigh the cons, and how much of the problem is attributable to the issues purportedly addressed, but I am curious if you think the premise of implementing programs for addressing current systematic biases (which I do believe contribute a non-trivial amount to imbalances) in pursuit of a more expedient path to a more egalitarian society is worthwhile. That is, achieve a faster response at the expense of some overshoot.

        To your melting pot point, which I am pretty on board with, I am curious how cultural trading shifted toward cultural stealing. Preservation is important to understanding context, but progress (via cultural comparison shopping, in this case) should be the primary goal.

        • onyomi says:

          “What do you think of the idea of initiatives like affirmative action as a shortcut?”

          That used to make sense to me: we’ll just use this idea as a temporary measure to give historically disadvantaged people a “leg up.” When things equalize, we’ll get rid of it.

          Thing is, I think this is, in reality, both rhetorically and practically harmful. Rhetorically, it keeps the focus on “redressing historical injustice, which, by the way, are the reason this group has worse outcomes” rather than “let’s create a system which treats everyone the same*,” which is, imo, the only real basis for a harmoniously diverse society.

          Additionally, like most education related initiatives, I think it confuses cause and effect and distorts things in a way which only delays people actually finding a place in society they can be happy with. As I say here, I don’t think you need every group equally represented in every pursuit in order for a diverse society to be harmonious. I think you just need a perception that the outcome is fair–that everyone has the opportunity to compete on a level playing field if they want to.

          The cause and effect problem is the notion that people who go to Harvard become rich and successful because they went to Harvard, rather than the reality, which I think is closer to “Harvard is really good at letting in people who are likely to become rich and successful.” It’s like saying “successful people in our society all seem to wear expensive watches; let’s start a program subsidizing fancy watches for poor people.” It’s true that, upon seeing your watch, employers might be impressed, but it doesn’t change the fact that what was keeping you from a good job wasn’t the lack of a watch.

          I think that, generally speaking, anything cited as a “temporary measure” for changing society is probably not going to be a good idea and may even delay or prevent the change you’re hoping to see, since, even if it comes about, it may be dependent on the temporary measure. For example, let’s say your physics department only gets 20% applications from women. You institute a program of big scholarships for female applicants. The number jumps to 50%. Huzzah, misogyny defeated! Ten years later, you phase out the scholarship and female applicants drop back to 20%. Huh, I guess misogyny ran deeper than we thought…

          You dress for the job you want, not the job you have. And I think you should have the laws of the society you want, not the one you have.

          Edit to add: *Though I have previously argued against overpoliticization of entertainment, sports, etc. and still think that can be harmful, I do also think this meme makes a good point, which is that now, at least, the right has started to reflexively dismiss seemingly all identity-related protests, even peaceful protests about specific cases of perceived unequal treatment, as just obnoxious PC whining. I think this is the wrong attitude to have. At the same time as I want to reject more unequal treatment as a solution to past unequal treatment, I think we also have to respect peaceful protests against perceived unequal treatment as a legitimate part of getting to the place where everyone can feel they are treated equally–maybe not fairly, but equally.

          • Anonymousse says:

            I think you correctly identify that arguing over “when things equalize” is getting in the way of implementing anything close to a working strategy. If you can’t decide on the end goal (ie, requiring 50% women in the physics department vs providing women with equivalent opportunities to obtain positions in the physics department), you’re never going to reach a solution.

            I am most in favor of the latter, but I see some merit in pushing the former initially to build a new norm. Perhaps your physics department is at 20% women, and you artificially push it to 50%. After removing the band-aid, instead of falling back to 20%, it falls back to an intermediate value (say, 34%) which is more representative of a natural equilibrium.

            I don’t know if this is the best solution, but it’s what I meant by a faster response with overshoot. Or, for another metaphor, jump starting the equilibrium.

            Do you have any methods that you think would function better to alleviate systematic (not preferential) disparities? Or are the two issues too coupled, such that results from any attempt to address the first (which I generalize as a messaging/environment problem) will be obfuscated by noise?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Two problems with affirmative action until things equalize.

            1. What if things don’t equalize (e.g. black or female representation in engineering). In practice what we get is unending demands for more affirmative action.

            2. What if they do, and even overshoot? (e.g. female college admissions). Do we actually see calls to end programs attempting to advantage the formerly underrepresented minority? No, we do not.

            Therefore any call for affirmative action as a temporary measure should be taken similarly to a temporary tax proposal.

          • Aapje says:

            One of my issues with social justice is that they tend to believe in 100% nurture, which results in the assumption that any field would have a 50/50 distribution without ‘oppression.’ So they tend to reason back that any non-equal distribution proves that oppression still exist.

            In actual fact, we have very strong evidence that men’s and women’s brains are biological different (this is seen in babies who already display gender-typical preferences for gendered toys, which are the same preferences shown by humanoid apes).

            We also see greater gender-typical choices of occupation in the most feminist countries, like Sweden, while way more women choose STEM in highly oppressive countries like Iran. This strongly suggests that 100% equal choices for each gender can only be achieved through oppression.

            So I believe that Social Justice has adopted a world view which will make them eternally discriminate against/’in favor of’ people to force them to make similar choices, making both men and women unhappy.

            PS. Fun fact: women’s happiness has been going down over the last few centuries, as women have become more liberated. I’m certainly not a traditionalist who wants women back in the kitchen, but I think that we are doing the equality thing wrong when people get less happy.

          • Iain says:

            PS. Fun fact: women’s happiness has been going down over the last few centuries, as women have become more liberated. I’m certainly not a traditionalist who wants women back in the kitchen, but I think that we are doing the equality thing wrong when people get less happy.

            I have no idea how you would measure women’s happiness across centuries in any meaningful way. I suspect that you are misremembering something you read about decades, which has the advantage of at least being plausible, but the disadvantage of probably being untrue, or at least misrepresented.

          • Aapje says:

            That was a brain fart, I meant decades.

            As for your link, it supports my point. The link dismisses the claim that ‘in postfeminist America, men are happier than women,’ but my claim was that ‘in postfeminist America, women are less happier than before.’

            The data in that page shows that substantially fewer women are ‘Very happy’ than before; and more ‘Pretty happy’ and ‘Not too happy’ women. So your data shows a decrease.

          • Iain says:

            My point is that five percent of women replying differently to a survey today than they did fifty years ago is the sort of thing that could be easily be caused by changing norms about how important it is to put on a happy face, rather than any underlying change. It’s an awfully weak straw on which to rest any broad conclusions about societal happiness. Furthermore, I hope I don’t have to point out that correlation is by no means causation.

            Broader responses to your earlier post, now that I have a spare moment: claiming that “SJWs tend to believe in 100% nurture” is about as useful as claiming that “sexists and racists tend to believe in 100% nature”. You can certainly find people on either side who will argue that, but taking shots at those people is unlikely to be productive. A less weak-manned version of the “SJW” stance: 50 years ago, I could tell any number of just-so stories about how law and medicine were naturally more appealing fields to men than to women; now, nearly 50% of graduates in those fields are women. It used to be that there just weren’t enough good female violinists – then orchestras started doing blind auditions, and suddenly the caliber of female musicians improved. This is not the sort of change that happens overnight. It takes time. Why should we assume that the gender balance in any given field has reached its “natural” level, when that claim has been so unreliable in the past?

            (A similar argument also applies in discussions about the wage gap. Why should I believe that the current wage gap simply represents different priorities between men and women, if the same argument was being deployed twenty years ago in defense of a larger gap?)

          • “claiming that “SJWs tend to believe in 100% nurture” is about as useful as claiming that “sexists and racists tend to believe in 100% nature”.”

            “Believe” may be too strong. But a lot of people, most of whom are not SJW’s, reason as if they believed in 100% nurture. That’s the only way I can see of getting an argument of the form “there are fewer women than men in field X, therefor women are being discriminated against,” and similarly for racial groups.

            The pattern in law schools over time is strong evidence that women are not innately less good at law, or at least not by much, than men, hence that the extreme disproportion as of fifty years ago was due to environmental rather than genetic effects.

            But the usual claim is not merely “women have been discriminated against in some fields” but “if there are not equal numbers of women (blacks, hispanics, …) in a field, that demonstrates discrimination.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Iain, 50 years ago someone could have said women were less interested in law and medicine and that’s why there were fewer in those fields, but did they in fact say so? And was there the obvious lack of legal and traditional barriers to women entering those fields that there is now with technology fields?

            Blind auditions seem to be as close to an overnight change as you can get. But you are unlikely to find anything similar in technical fields because the disparity occurs before anything similar to auditions. Feminists have a bingo card for ‘pipeline’, but it is true nevertheless.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “Believe” may be too strong. But a lot of people, most of whom are not SJW’s, reason as if they believed in 100% nurture.

            Yup. Cf. Larry Summers.

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            The others have addressed the ‘what do they believe issue’ (and note that I said ‘tend’ so I allowed for exceptions, although I believe that the mainstream of SJ use theories that are based on 100% nurture).

            Why should we assume that the gender balance in any given field has reached its “natural” level, when that claim has been so unreliable in the past?

            My argument is not that we have necessarily reached the natural level, my claim is that the natural level is unknowable, so when we force the issue, it is quite likely that we overshoot.

            Furthermore, the ‘they were pushed into it against their natural inclinations’ is not necessarily done only by traditional gender norms. Feminists are spreading their own gender norms, which can cause the same thing, but in reverse. For example, we may end up with women unhappily in CEO positions, STEM or whatever, because they feel that they have to do so for womanhood/feminism/whatever. I don’t see how this is better than erring in the other direction. In both cases, people end up in jobs that do not maximize their happiness.

            Now, I’ve never seen a SJ person talk about this possibility, which is just one example of why I believe that they tend to be extremely biased in only allowing some possibilities in their analysis, which severely compromises the trust I can place in them, to recognize overshooting.

            In fact, in education we appear to have already overshot and they don’t show anywhere near the same concern as when women were doing worse and instead they generally just move on to the next place where women do worse, which shows me (again, with a ton of other evidence as well), that most SJ people are not egalitarians but advocates for one group. Advocates cannot be trusted to do egalitarian things.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman: Lots of people reason poorly on all sides of an argument. I question, though, how frequently people point to statistics about under-representation of a group in some profession without also making some sort of claim about the cause of that discrepancy. Commonly, they will point to a person who feels they were poorly treated in that field. You might disagree with that characterization, but in that case the argument is not based solely on the assumption of 100% nurture.

            To frame the argument in a different way: we don’t know what percentage of the discrepancy is caused by sexism, and what percentage is caused by differences in natural aptitude or inclination. We are, empirically speaking, quite unreliable at assessing natural aptitude and inclination. So let’s start by taking a shot at fixing the parts we can control (reducing discrimination, making sure that young women have role models and mentors, and so on), and let the chips fall as they may.

            In practice, the actual point of disagreement in this debate is about whether we have Solved Racism and Sexism yet.

            @Aapje: The idea that somebody could accidentally become a CEO does not pass the smell test for me. I am not concerned about that, any more than I am concerned that feminism will push men into daycare jobs that they end up hating. There are lots of possible career paths, and most people only end up taking one. Social pressure can plausibly cause a person to rule out their top pick in favour of their second or third. It is much harder to convince somebody to abandon all of their personal inclinations and go into a job that doesn’t suit them in the slightest.

            Also: isn’t it interesting that as soon as women make up the majority of college students, it is suddenly clear that we have “overshot”. Revealing, that.

          • onyomi says:

            Warren Farrell is an interesting, if seemingly rare, example of a feminist who switched to advocating for men’s issues when he perceived that many feminists had basically “overshot” in shifting from a presumption of equal custody rights to advocating for women to be privileged over men in that area.

            I especially like him because he didn’t switch to being acrimonious toward feminism; he basically just says, “I think this is where more of my attention is needed now,” and tries to consistently advocate for equality across the board. That is, his seems to me the ideal response to a perceived overshoot: not to overshoot in the opposite direction, but to just sort of calmly try to pull things toward the center.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Also: isn’t it interesting that as soon as women make up the majority of college students, it is suddenly clear that we have “overshot”. Revealing, that.

            If having less than 50% women is prima facie evidence of misogyny (which a lot of people think it is), why wouldn’t having more than 50% women be prima facie evidence of misandry?

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            The idea that somebody could accidentally become a CEO does not pass the smell test for me.

            I don’t understand where you read that ‘accidentally’ in my comments. It is very apparent to me that people have choices in their lives and that they often base these choices on social pressure.

            One such choice is whether or not to climb the corporate ladder or not. I am merely arguing that there are two failure modes: people who more suited for a CEO job choosing to not climb the ladder and people who are not very suited for a CEO who choose to climb the ladder.

            Of course, the career ladder is highly selective, so in practice, most people in that second group would not make it to CEO* (they can still end up miserable on that ladder, though).

            * Just like the people who are actually suited

            I am not concerned about that, any more than I am concerned that feminism will push men into daycare jobs that they end up hating.

            The opposite is happening, actually, because feminism frequently enforces the ‘women are nurturers narrative’ and especially, because they tend to spread the ‘men are dangerous to women and children’ narrative. For example, NOW supports the primary carer model and argued against shared parenting as the default, by implying that men are a threat to children.

            Feminism is not actually 100% anti-patriarchal, it usually adopts patriarchal ideas when that benefits women.

            There are lots of possible career paths, and most people only end up taking one. Social pressure can plausibly cause a person to rule out their top pick in favour of their second or third. It is much harder to convince somebody to abandon all of their personal inclinations and go into a job that doesn’t suit them in the slightest.

            That still results in suboptimal outcomes. Furthermore, I feel that you overestimate how suited people already are for the jobs that they consider viable. Many seem to have pretty vague ideas about what suits them and end up making a short list based on bad criteria, like social pressure. My guess is that within that short list, their choice is considerably better, although it can still be impacted by social pressure.

            That second or third choice may then be considerably worse choices on average than the first choice that they would make with less pressure.

            Also: isn’t it interesting that as soon as women make up the majority of college students, it is suddenly clear that we have “overshot”. Revealing, that.

            I strongly suspect that women are as intelligent as men. Also, preference for a certain field doesn’t influence the total population of college students.

            If way more men choose STEM and way more women choose to study to be veterinarians, you can still have a 50/50 distribution of college students overall. Those things are not the same at all, as the field of preference is a completely different variable than a preference for college vs non-college.

            In any case, I currently see evidence for discrimination against men in education, which I want to see reduced. If that is addressed and there is still an education gap, I am perfectly willing to entertain the idea that the gap is natural.

            However, my criticism stands that the same people who argue that worse outcomes for women are proof of oppression of women and must be addressed, rarely use the same logic when the situation is reversed. The college situation shows that hypocrisy the clearest, as it was a major feminist issue when women did worse, but they moved on once men did worse.

          • Anonymousse says:

            @ Mr. X

            Otoh, if having greater than 50% males in field X is not evidence of misogyny, why does having greater than 50% females in field Y automatically serve as evidence?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Otoh, if having greater than 50% males in field X is not evidence of misogyny, why does having greater than 50% females in field Y automatically serve as evidence?

            It doesn’t, and I personally have never claimed otherwise. I just want to see a little consistency on the part of people who do say things like “Of course this field is sexist, only a small proportion of academics in it are women.”

          • “However, my criticism stands that the same people who argue that worse outcomes for women are proof of oppression of women and must be addressed, rarely use the same logic when the situation is reversed.”

            A much more striking case is the difference in life expectancy.

            So far as social pressure pushing people into the wrong field, my main worry for women would be that some who would be happy in a career as housewife/mother avoid it because they see it as low status or failing their sex.

            On the case of college students, I don’t see any presumption that the natural division is 50/50. But I think it is arguable that K-12 schooling as it now exists is biased towards women in the sense of being done in a way that works better for girls than for boys.

            Going back to my general point, how often do you see anyone on the left say “there are more men than women in this field, that might be due to innate differences, but … ?”

            You might consider the response Larry Summers got for saying essentially that.

            If the implicit assumption is not 100% nurture, why don’t people arguing for the existence of discrimination focus on the evidence for such discrimination rather than the observed difference of outcome?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Whatever you may think of its quality, or the extent to which it is threatened by the replication crisis, there is in fact a large literature in support of the existence of (gender and other) discrimination that doesn’t involve making flatfooted inferences from unequal representation, and this literature is cited all the time by people trying to argue that discrimination exists.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman

            So far as social pressure pushing people into the wrong field, my main worry for women would be that some who would be happy in a career as housewife/mother avoid it because they see it as low status or failing their sex.

            I assure you that this is an area that feminists have spent a long time worrying (and arguing) about amongst themselves. There is lots of internal disagreement on the matter – feminism is not a monolith.

            On the case of college students, I don’t see any presumption that the natural division is 50/50. But I think it is arguable that K-12 schooling as it now exists is biased towards women in the sense of being done in a way that works better for girls than for boys.

            I think this is at least plausible. I think it’s worth some introspection, though, to consider why this argument often seems compelling to people who reject the argument in the other direction (whether in schools or, say, in terms of employment opportunities). There are plenty of people who like to call feminists hypocrites for their purported lack of concern, but people who weren’t concerned when the shoe was on the other foot have forfeited the moral high ground.

            I endorse Philosophisticat’s answer to your general question.

      • keranih says:

        I largely agree with this.

        My best preference is that we have a stewpot of different cultural “chunks” – different sorta discrete cultures that are not the same, but that have their own preferences and best practices, all flavoring the others (and flavored by them) just by existing in the same space.

        We should be able to talk about the positives each sort of people brings to the table. And we should be willing to say that we can do this melting pot *because* of a Western Caucasian ideal of Enlightenment thought.

        I like my particular Caucasian American subculture, and I think it’s the best (although not without downsides), but I’m perfectly willing to allow other people to say that they think theirs is best. So long as we can all do that, and argue about particulars on the edges, I’m good.

        We start saying (as the ctrl-L has been saying for a while) that all others can have a distinct culture, but not me, or that my culture is the cause of all the downsides to the other cultures, that I’m not cool with.

        One thing that the ctrl-L says that I think has some merit is that past injustices take time to dissolve, and so people whose grandparent’s homes were redlined are going to start at a lower economic level, and therefore in places with crappier schools, etc. I am open to discussion of how to deal with this, but I think most attempts to address this have turned out similar to Pigford – handouts/lottery tickets for those who can not justify receiving that remediation, and so reduces the wealth of the nation without actually helping anyone.

        • onyomi says:

          Yes, I like my melting pot “chunky,” as well, but the key point is that it’s all still bound together by a cheesy fondue sauce/set of core shared assumptions.

          I think there probably is/should be space in the world for places which intentionally try to stay out of “universal culture.” “Keep Iceland Icelandic!” may be a justifiable slogan. But if anywhere seems like it should be a melting pot, it’s the US (because of its size, history, and existing high level of diversity).

        • Anonymousse says:

          Being open to a discussion about addressing “dissolving injustices”, do you have any ideas about systems that might work better, or know anyone who is considering these things in detail that you might be able to share?

          • Aapje says:

            I would argue that (more or less) maximizing social mobility would maximize the ability of anyone to convert their talents into societal success.

            The big advantage of that is that everyone who is born into poor circumstances benefits, not just those with a certain skin color, gender, etc. Ultimately, I don’t see why a child born in poverty partly due to being descended from slaves has drawn a worse lot in life than a child born to drug addicted parents in a trailer park.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Aapje

            Agreed, and to my mind that gets right back to public education. NOT necessarily college (there’s an average, what, 4 million skilled trade job openings that go unfilled for over a year in the US?), either, I think that the post WW2 GI Bill and later reforms have inflated job requirements to the point that bachelor’s degrees are simply overly expensive (and often not even ACCURATE) signalling tools for most employers.

            So, National Education Reform, another of the perennial wrangles, but definitely one where I think there’s room for significant improvement.

            Any other areas you’d identify?

          • Aapje says:

            I’m not American, so I don’t really focus on specific fixes to American law.

            When it comes to education, there is a lot of evidence that the disadvantaged have difficulty making huge upward jumps and are better off with a system where they can gradually up their game. They are often quite afraid of failure (sensible, given their knowledge of how low one can sink), so it works best if there are many smallish steps that work sort of as save points in a game, where they can go back to that point and easily branch off in a different direction, without their ambition costing them hugely. Of course, this also means that educational feature should preferably not cause debt.

            Another issue is to prevent low expectations from holding people back, for example, in my country we found that teachers put too much stock into the background of the children when giving advice about what school level they can do, so smart children from a poor background get advice that is too low and dumber children from a rich background get advice that is too high. Using objective test that merely measure ability improves on this.

            I would also argue that it is important to prevent ghettos. Research shows that mixing of different classes doesn’t actually provide much interaction, but it does help prevent major concentrations of problems where the local authorities become totally overtaxed and you get hopeless us vs them scenarios that you see in certain American and French enclaves. For example, the police becomes so afraid of this concentration of problems that they both overpolice and underpolice, by often giving up on trying to police minor issues within the area (that often do matter a lot to citizens there, like neighbor disputes), but when they do act, they overdo it out of fear and because no one assists them in figuring out what happened. So they assume the worst. Then the people in the area lose faith in the police even more, which makes them refuse to assist the police even more, etc. The citizens and police in the surrounding areas and become fearful of the bad neighborhood, so they start reporting & detaining every black person that ventures into their neighborhood, which results in the people in the bad neighborhood becoming even more insular and ingroupy, etc, etc.

            And then there is the issue of the disappearing middle class, which traditionally allowed a gradual path from lower to upper class and vice versa.

          • Anonymousse says:

            I’m on board with all of that.

            Unfortunately, what little I’ve read about the nominee for education secretary does little to inspire confidence. From what I’ve heard of school vouchers, they sound very inefficient for improvements per student.

        • Brad says:

          Changing the metaphor from the original metallurgical meaning to the modern cooking version is already a shift in the manner you suggest. Metals almost always form solutions while soups and stews rarely do.

  9. keranih says:

    In the spirit of the season, cross-aisle cooperation, and all that happy horse pucky –

    Vegan EA/LW types! Please to name and/or point me at recipes for your favorite Thanksgiving dishes.

    (*pinkie swear no arguments this thread about why Your Veganism Is Wrong. Just…tell me of your awesome food*)

    • Spookykou says:

      My brother is Vegan and I try to make sure he always has something good to eat for family meals because everyone else just spends the whole time asking him what exactly he can and can’t eat.

      I am making him Refried black bean and breakfast potato enchiladas in ‘creamy’ jalapeno salsa(google pollo regio verde salsa), along with a sauteed mushrooms Mexican rice pilaf, and some pineapple empanadas for desert. Which, is in line with what the rest of my family will be eating for Thanksgiving, but might not actually be what you were asking for.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I’m not vegan, but I have a go-to dish that I think fits the bill:

      Dice one butternut squash, one red onion, and one large russet potato into a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake at 375 until the edges of the potato pieces start to char. (Watch carefully. Cook too long and the squash gets mushy and less appetizing.)

      Sprinkle with thyme and/or parmesan to taste.

      • That would be a fine idea if my adult children were willing to eat squash.

        • Spookykou says:

          As an adult child, I normally refused to eat squash as well, but butternut squash was, to my surprise, delicious, and not at all like ‘normal’ squash. I don’t know if you have already tried and failed with it in the past, but if not, it might be worth a shot.

          • sflicht says:

            Squash is also, in my opinion, much better when it’s grilled or roasted (in a caramelizing way rather than a steaming sort of way) than when it’s cooked via other techniques.

          • Anonymousse says:

            Thirded! We enjoyed some baked butternut squash tonight, which I think works quite well.

    • Loquat says:

      I’m not a vegan and didn’t serve this at Thanksgiving this year, but this has sweet potatoes in it so…

      Sweet Potato/Beet/Lentil Soup:

      Roughly chop some sweet potato, beet, onion, and garlic (and/or ginger if you prefer).
      Saute in olive oil the onion and garlic (and/or ginger) until onion is translucent.
      Add beets and sweet potatoes, lentils, and water or broth. Add salt, and any herbs you think would improve the soup.
      Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until done.
      I like this pureed, but whatever floats your boat.

      Haven’t made this in a while, so I’m really not sure about quantities of anything.

  10. Acedia says:

    It took about half a day after the publication of some articles about a group of white separatists and neo-Nazis who support Trump for the plebs on social media to start equating any sympathy or reasonableness towards Trump with white supremacism. I really hope that trend dies off quickly, or a year from now accusations of white supremacy are going to have about as much emotional impact as calling someone a big poopypants.

  11. Mark says:

    When I was at school, an Arabic boy called my a rude name, so I responded, “You are shit.”
    He then accused me of racism, because, “shit is brown.”

    I agree with the SJW aim of showing consideration to others, and of recognising that we might not have fully understood their experience.

    The idea behind ‘cultural appropriation’ is basically good – don’t do stuff that is going to massively offend other people, or at least try to consider their feelings on the matter.

    The problem is, that these worthy principles have been hijacked by people like my Arabic friend above. They are either (1) cynically using the concepts as a lever to gain social power, or (2) making calls for consideration while having no consideration for others what-so-ever (always assuming the worst of others).

    So, as far as I’m concerned, SJW’s are guilty of conceptual appropriation. It makes me feel sad when they use concepts that are so important to me, to such disagreeable ends. In fact, where I come from, we don’t really have any special hats or snacks with which we strongly identify. All we have are our attitudes to life and the way we treat others.
    So, yeah. “Cultural Appropriation” is cultural appropriation.

    • Aapje says:

      I think that there is a nr (3) where people are conditioned to be oversensitive, which causes them to see discrimination too easily.

      I’ve noticed that many examples of discrimination that people tell us/me that they experienced are actually merely possible discrimination. In my newspaper there was a black woman who explained that she experienced discrimination on a flight when the person next to her assigned seat looked unhappy when she took her seat. I could not help but notice her weight in the picture next to the article, which suggested another reason why people might be unhappy to be seated next to her, when economy airplane seats tend to be designed for Twiggy (a model with the weight of a twig).

      Similarly, in many other cases I feel that these people have a negative stereotype about white people/men, which causes them to assume bad faith, which causes them to draw negative conclusions about why white people/men say/do things, which makes their stereotypes stronger.

      This in turn can cause self-destructive behavior, like refusing to consider how their own behavior can have caused a bad outcome.

      I’ve also noticed that in Social Justice, there is a tendency to not actually talk directly to the person that people feel offended by, but complain on Twitter or such. The result is that these assumptions about why people do things never get corrected by actually talking to people and giving them a chance to explain.

      • keranih says:

        One behavior that seems to get people upset is “when (white) women hold onto their purse tighter when (black) men get into the elevator”.

        Leaving aside that yes, some people get more spooked by AA strangers than by Caucasian strangers, and that (in my experience) AA guys are more likely to give an eye-rake to gals than Caucasian guys –

        – leaving that aside, a bulky purse takes up a lot of room. Shifting it closer to the body is polite in the narrow space of an elevator. I do wonder how much “rudeness” is just over-sensitive perceptions, +/- a lack of willingness to shrug and go on with one’s life.

        (“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to fold their hands and do nothing” – this is true, but that doesn’t mean that folding ones hands is *never* called for.)

      • ChetC3 says:

        I think that there is a nr (3) where people are conditioned to be oversensitive, which causes them to see discrimination too easily.

        Many of whom express the belief that Christians or “straight white males” are the most persecuted minorities in modern America.

        • Aapje says:

          I never claimed that this was limited to SJW. In fact, as victim behavior is often rewarded with automatic sympathy and it is hard to defend your rights against people who claim to be victim and demand that you help them, more and more people are adopting victim rhetoric to get their way or defend their rights.

          I would also argue that there is a middle ground between ‘has no issues’ and ‘most persecuted minorities,’ where groups can have legitimate issues that ought to be addressed, even if they are not the worst of the worst. After all, as a society we can do more than one thing.

    • ChetC3 says:

      The problem is, that these worthy principles have been hijacked by people like my Arabic friend above. They are either (1) cynically using the concepts as a lever to gain social power, or (2) making calls for consideration while having no consideration for others what-so-ever (always assuming the worst of others).

      Curiously, I feel the same way about most anti-SJW and anti-PC types I’ve encountered. Of course, since I am self-evidently unbiased and highly rational, I can only conclude that while my feelings are justified, yours are merely the result of being an oversensitive bully.

      • Mark says:

        Yeah, I guess that’s where the scale and tone becomes important – if you’re being considerate you’re likely to have to moderate your views to some degree, present them in a certain way. Perhaps sometimes remain silent.

        So, we can probably tell who is being considerate by… hmmm.

        I’ll say no more.

        [Edit: I would say that we should respect the views of rabid SJWs, and do as they ask, but I’m increasingly worried that they’re actually dangerous. Look at all those attacks on Trump supporters. Perhaps they need a good shake to snap themselves out of it?]

      • The Nybbler says:

        “I know you are but what am I” is an easy argument but not an especially useful or convincing one.

  12. Mark Lu says:

    What happened to the The Non-Libertarian FAQ? It’s currently a blank page.

  13. Scott Alexander says:

    Earthly Knight has been banned for two weeks for comments like the following:

    “Is that a serious question or are you vying for a spot in one of those compilations of ridiculous shit slatestarcodex commenters say?”

    “Congratulations, that’s got to be one of the most profoundly stupid things anyone has ever said on this website.”

    “I feel like I’m talking to one of my relatives with dementia.”

  14. dndnrsn says:

    Another RPG thread:

    I usually run low-power, low-magic stuff. Or at least the PCs have limited/no magic, in a way that is internally consistent (eg in Call of Cthulhu, it makes sense that the bad guys have more magic, or any magic).

    For people who run standard D&D – which is, by the standards of most fantasy writing, extremely high-magic – how do you make the world make sense?

    For instance: a fairly low-level cleric can instantly cure any disease. This would be a big deal in our world. In a medieval world, why would any cleric be bumbling around in dungeons? Every noble would have one, to keep them and their family alive, and dole out that daily cure as a reward for loyalty. Likewise, what happens to ranks upon ranks of spearmen when a wizard can just huck a fireball into the middle?

    Fantasy in general seems really bad at grappling with what a world with magic in it is like, and those settings that do try to grapple with this – Planescape, Spelljammer – end up distinctly weird.

    How do you deal with this?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Back when I ran 3.5 and Pathfinder, I generally ran more Eberron-like settings where high magic was an accepted part of daily life. Not full Tippy-verse nonsense or elemental powered trains but a realization that, say, a flying ship with a few wands of fireball can circle a battlefield laying down fire like a Spectre Gunship.

      Now I prefer old school games where the logic of the system doesn’t tend that way. When a +1 Sword is actually a rare and precious object and there’s at most a handful of Clerics who can cast 7th level spells in a continent-spanning Empire there’s a lot more room for a medieval or early modern setting. By the point you have the sorts of magics that would wreck settings, you’re probably running an entire kingdom or scheming to become an Immortal.

      Actually I tend to have more difficulties with modern games where modern technology and magic both exist. Systems like nWoD have what I call the “the Judge problem” where players quickly realize that hitting the BBEG with a rocket propelled grenade is a much better idea than squaring off in a mystical duel. So the game derails into players desperately trying to get access to military-grade weaponry until I tell them to knock it off and play properly.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I’ve found that Call of Cthulhu is an offender for that – the book talks about how guns are useless but if you examine the rules, if you get your hands on enough dakka you can take on fairly serious monsters.

        A major issue I’ve had in lower-powered settings is that players will try to take mooks along with them. In a high-powered setting, a company of the Duke’s house guard are probably kind of useless against serious opposition. In a low-powered setting where a serious character is at most worth 3 or 4 mooks in a head-on fight, a company of the Duke’s guard/a platoon of National Guardsmen/whatever is actually quite powerful. I broke my players of this once and for all by running a mass combat and having them realize, no, it isn’t as fun as doing it yourself.

        The two combine when players figure the solution to big ol’ Cthuloid monstrosities is heavy weapons and military support. Which is where Sanity rules kick in: that platoon of National Guardsmen can, by the rules, likely fuck up a Dark Young or two real bad, but also by the rules, likely about 1/5 of the unit they have with them will go insane, which is a bad proposition when combined with heavy explosives.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I like the ACKS solution to mooks hired by the PCs.

          If you want to hire a company mercs to go fight a dragon, then so long as you have the gold for hazard pay and a high enough Charisma to keep them all in line then that’s entirely within the expectations of the rules. You might have to break out the mass battle rules but those aren’t too hard to wrap your head around.

          Just don’t expect any of those guys to climb down into the lair with you: you’ll have to flush the beast out yourselves if you want the batteries of artillery to finish it off. And so the PCs still have a dramatically appropriate role in the fight even if they’re not slugging away at the dragon themselves.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      I, too, deal with it by running a low-magic campaign. My players got a bunch of (awesome) martial classes to choose from, and magic is the domain or either legends, fools, or villains. Certainly it is something which is generally considered Bad News, and then for a good reason.

      If settings are more your thing, you might want to take a look at Dark Sun, since it deals with this excellently well. It’s a very sad thing that it’s not a more popular setting also, but such is life.

    • gronald says:

      I like the idea of E6 which means, basically, play D&D but mortals are capped at level 6.

      Usually what I actually do is to start the campaign at level 3, and play until level 9. At level 9, I expect the player characters to get the Teleport spell and initiate the final boss battle, ending the campaign. The next campaign starts over at level 3.

      NPCs are usually first-level but might be as high as seventh-level if they’re the leader of a major organization. Anyone high-level has their own goals which are distinct from the party’s goals — ie, I make sure I have a built-in reason for why the party can’t just bring them along as heavy artillery.

    • Spookykou says:

      I am a big fan of playing D&D with no full progression casters as a character creation guideline. I like it in 3.5 because casters are too strong, in 5e casters are actually kind of weak and in my experience a lot of people actually don’t have very much fun with them in game. Which in part is my fault, because they just don’t know the rules very well and casters in 5e are actually very limited so I am constantly telling them no which isn’t very fun.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Conversely: Has anyone ever tried to do a full-on, magic-does-everything-technology-can-and-then-some setting? It would probably be weirder than Spelljammer.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        I think the problem there (for values of problem) is that you get the old Reversed version of Clarke’s Third Law: “Any Sufficiently Analyzed Magic Is Indistinguishable From Technology”, and you end up with a setting like Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence.

        He took it in the direction of Magicians as Lawyers and Bankers rather than “Magicians as Scientists”, but either way that’s not the sort of setting most people sitting down for a D&D or Pathfinder game are interested in.

        If they were, they’d probably be picking up some other system. (SIDE NOTE: Read those books. They’re much more interesting than “Wizards As Lawyers and Bankers” may make it sound at first blush)

    • suntzuanime says:

      What happens to ranks upon ranks of spearmen when a siege catapult can just huck a big rock into the middle? D&D doesn’t let wizards spam large area-effect spells all day, which means there’s a hard limit to how much damage a single wizard can do, and you can’t mass produce high-level wizards very easily. So if your army has, say, three level 7 battle mages, each of them might annihilate 60 foot soldiers if you’re lucky before they need to go take an 8-hour nap. Reducing your opponent’s forces by 180 soldiers is not nothing, but it’s not going to turn the tide of a major battle, much less a war.

      When it comes to things like clerics curing disease, I like D&D 4e’s take on it. Basically, most spells that have important logistical effects are “rituals”, and rituals require substantial amounts of material components. (Generally you use “residuum”, which is sort of a universal material component obtained by recycling magical items.) So, for example, the material components of the Cure Disease ritual cost 150gp, which is an awful lot of money, the equivalent of two riding horses or a year’s lodgings at an inn. My ordinary rule of thumb is to treat 1 gp as a rough equivalent to $10, so you’re looking at $1500, just for materials. In the modern first world we’re wealthy enough that we can routinely pay that sort of money or more to cure important illnesses, but the masses in the assumed setting of D&D can’t afford it. So basically all that happens is that the wealthy don’t need to worry as much about plague. (Not *none* about plague, because the Cure Disease ritual can fail and even kill the patient if used by an unskilled cleric on a particularly tough disease.)

      The one ritual in D&D 4e that I think can’t be reconciled with the assumed setting is Raise Dead. The ability to shake off any sort of fatal accident, even if it does cost $5000, would have just too huge an impact on the way society works for it to be recognizable. I’ve always banned Raise Dead and similar effects in my games. Death is death.

      • Robert Liguori says:

        I am reasonably sure that eliminating the 180 soldiers holding pikes in front of your archers (slash command staff slash clerical support slash etc.) seconds before the heavy cav comes thundering in would turn a battle. Hell, I’m fairly sure that dropping 3 fireballs on top of the command tent would also do the same.

        Of course, that’s an amateurish use of your battlemages. Instead, you tell them “Look, Fireball is great, but I want you to learn Detect Thoughts, Invisibility, Disguise Self, and Alter Self. Stopping an army on the field is amateur hour. We’re going to drop Magical Doppleganger-Emulation onto their capital, and within two weeks, they won’t have the organizational capacity to field another army.”

        Now, armies are great and useful for some things. But they’re the wrong tool to conquer a nation with even moderate caster support, just like they’re the wrong tool to slay a dragon.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Using wizards for espionage can be efficient, but in Good editions of D&D, wizards are given limitations as to the extent that they can completely dominate non-combat encounters. In 4e, Disguise Self has a duration of 1 hour and requires you to pass a Bluff-vs.-Insight check (with a bonus). You can wreak some havok, but 1 hour per day of one defeasible disguise isn’t going to be the Doppelgänger Apocalypse. Invisibility can be sustained for 5 minutes per day, during which you can’t do anything too strenuous (anything that would require a standard action) and you can still be heard or otherwise spotted. Again, very useful, but not totally gamebreaking. I’m not sure 4e even has an equivalent to Detect Thoughts. There’s the Discern Lies ritual, but that is, again, much less gamebreaking.

          Basically, it’s not that you can’t fit wizards into the assumed setting, it’s that 3e wizards were stupidly overpowered and broken. 4e wizards more or less work fine.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            I don’t disagree that 4E is Good; it’s far and away my favorite edition for actually playing the game and running the encounters. However, it’s also profoundly uninterested in any kind of world simulation; you can ask 4E “How will my party affect this battlefield?” and get back entirely different answers based on how the battlefield is constructed. If the battlefield is full of minions with the elite forces represented as normal monsters and the leaders as elites, then you have once answer; if you throw two dozen underleveled-but-not-minion monsters at a party, that’s an entirely different answer, and the question “What ranking are these NPCs?” is entirely answered by “What role and level of importance are you, the GM, assigning them?”

            And anyway, if you want to do this kind of shenenigans in 4E, you just send a Changeling Bard who’s picked up all of the skill-boosting Utility powers and items. It’s not quite the “I win, no save.” of 3E/PF, but it does mean that either the GM goes way outside the recommended range of target numbers or lets you solo every skill challenge that anyone could conceivably talk their way out of.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, but you can extrapolate how NPCs would interact with footsoldiers by how PCs of the same level interact with them. A “minion” is not something a particular creature is, it’s a way of relating to a particular creature. I ran a campaign that spent a fair bit of time on the battlefield dealing with ordinary troops even as the PCs gained levels, so I’ve put some though into how to handle it in a satisfying way that maintains some degree of meaningful simulation. Pardon my incoming wall of text.

            So basically, characters of low-heroic level see footsoldiers as ordinary creatures that they interact with in ordinary ways; a low-heroic mage is basically like an upgraded archer on the battlefield. Once you reach mid-to-high heroic tier, footsoldiers are more like minions, and mages can rip through them with their spells. That was what I was thinking of when I said a level 7 battlemage might kill 60 soldiers, although in 4e wizards get at-will AOEs, so they can actually pop multiple minions a turn all day if they line up right. Once you get into paragon tier, the characters are too powerful for soldiers to even be minions relative to them. So the solution I came up with was to treat a whole platoon of soldiers as a single “swarm”-type creature, using the same rules as for, like, a swarm of rats. This still leaves battlemages as a powerful battlefield force, since AOE attacks deal much more damage against swarms. This makes paragon characters feel more like Musou game protagonists or MOBA characters, treating small-fry enemies not individually but as a collective stream to be dealt with. At this level, battlemages are making significant differences in a battle by themselves, but this is okay in terms of setting, because paragon-tier characters are pretty rare, and you can’t build your nation’s military around one guy, even if he is named Lu Bu. My game never got to epic tier, but at that point I was figuring I would have platoons become minions themselves to give the players a feeling of whole armies being cut down by their might like blades of grass. But again, this doesn’t have negative impacts on the setting, because there are only a few epic level characters on the Prime Material, and they’re like, an ancient dragon sleeping under a mountain, or the BBEG in his fortress. So that’s how I think 4e’s combat rules cash out in terms of in-setting military.

            As for your other point, Eberron-specific races don’t count for these purposes, because Eberron isn’t the assumed setting. We know what happens to a world when you let Changeling Bards waltz around. It gets all steampunky and gross.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            That is an interesting set of assumptions, and I remember reading something very similar done with minion-swarms in one of the articles back when Wizards was on their old site.

            Did you go so far as to, e.g., hand out the persistent Dazed condition if the Paragon party attacked a platoon from ambush or while they were in camp and could alpha-strike the leadership?

            Also, what was the relative number of paragon PCs to, for example, nation-states? In a massive war scenario with dozens of battles going on, the ability to deploy PCs to any one of them might not turn the tide against an army that outnumbers yours 20 to 1, but on the other hand, if you can set your army to doing 100% delaying tactics while the PCs run around and gobble up the largest concentration of forces (or just run for the other empire’s capital and do horrible PC things to its infrastructure).

            This gets to kind of a meta-level thing I’ve found. I always want to have at least a conceptual framework for anything I can anticipate the PCs doing; it complicates my world with needing to re-evaluate everything from festivals to civic organization to small unit tactics, but when you don’t do the work and leave it to “PCs are rare enough that they don’t noticeably change the optics of the setting”, when the PCs do intervene, there’s no framework for making them not kick the setting over in the specific place they’re intervening.

            Plus, come on. Busting on Changelings (which are perfectly-servicable PC-level Dopplegangers) for being setting-specific material when you’re making up your own detailed setting-specific rules for handling huge numbers of CR five-less-than-party-level is a little hypocritical. (Plus, there’s at least one in the Dark Sun setting.) And if you do want to go full simulationist, Hats of Disguise and Imposter’s Armor exist; you can get almost the full monty of Party Team Changeling, you just need to spend money to do it at lower levels.

            Of course, since outfitting and supplying an army takes huge amounts of money as well…

          • suntzuanime says:

            Just because the PCs could treat platoons as swarms doesn’t mean they could solo whole concentrated armies: get enough swarms together, sit long enough in the stream of bodies, and it will eventually grind you down. The “fight defensively while waiting for the PCs to pick off all the armies in the field” strategy is best saved for epic level.

            The reason I fall back to the idea of high-level characters being too rare to significantly change the optics of the setting is that my key concern for worldbuilding is that it should make sense in a static manner, in the steady state. If the dynamic actions of the PCs upset the balance, good! At paragon-tier, the players should be having a real impact on the world, that’s something they generally enjoy. Now I can understand how in 3e, you’d need to think through all the implications in order to understand what sort of magical wards every important person has to have up at all times to keep from turning into the mind control slave of every passing wizard, but 4e is a lot less broken like that, and “kicking the setting over” feels more fun and agenty than stupid and overpowered.

            And, I dunno, I think you may be overvaluing the possibilities of a good disguise. If you take a wizard, of at least level 6, and specially train him as a spy (bluff isn’t a class skill so you might need to burn a feat), and then you deck him out in 14,000 gp in magic items ($140,000), you can get a disguise that will definitely stand up to ordinary scrutiny by random idiots, and has a decent chance of standing up to strong scrutiny by key lieutenants. A large portion of how strong this is going to be depends on how far you let “disguise” carry you; I would say that if you act seriously out of character for the person you’re disguised as you’d need to make a Bluff check without the disguise bonuses to keep people from realizing something was wrong, even if they didn’t realize you were an impostor per se. Yes, a specially-trained decently-high-level magical spy with magical item support can do some real work. I don’t know that it would be enough that you shouldn’t bother investing in an army, though. Especially since level 6 wizards don’t grow on trees so there’s a cap on how large your infiltrator army can get.

    • DrBeat says:

      This is similar to a question I had: given a game where the assumption is PCs are doing good things, and they can have healing powers, how do you stop them from, say, spending all of their time at a hospital healing people instead of going on adventures that are interesting to play out, but also not make them feel guilty about not doing so?

      I think this is way harder in, like, a modern setting game, where they know more about and thus interact more with society, and you can’t change society because then the setting isn’t the same. In D&D, you can just say “Yeah, day-to-day life is very different from how it was in Ye Olden Dayes due to magic. But since the only time you spend in town is when you’re re-supplying or hunting a monster, it’s not actually that important to you. You can go out adventuring because there is a third-level cleric in the town who cures diseases and casts Cure Light Wounds on people injured in accidents, it’s not like you’re wasting a huge opportunity for them or anything.”

      • gronald says:

        Usually in my games, part of character creation is a reminder: “make sure that you create a character that will want to do the adventure!”

        If someone ignored that reminder and created a character that wanted to spend all their time in the hospital healing people, I suppose I’d tell them that their character was now an NPC, and I’d invite them to bring in a new character that was more interested in doing the adventure.

        Of course it’s also partially my responsibility to generate an adventure that reasonable characters will want to do. Generally I tell them that the village is in danger and they’re the only ones who can save it. I think that would cause most rational characters to be interested in doing the adventure.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        I’m now slightly intrigued by the idea of a medical (melo)drama themed DnD scenario.

  15. Tibor says:

    How easy is it to switch fields after a PhD (while staying in the academia)?

    Background:

    I am doing my PhD in maths, probability theory to be specific. I am going to be finished / very close to finishing next autumn and so I am starting to think about what to do next. I don’t think I’m good enough to continue with theoretical maths in the academia. I might manage to get a full position eventually but I think I would be mediocre at best (my PhD is going to be in the range of acceptable to moderately good, but it will definitely not be excellent…I think I could write a better dissertation if I started now – I am 27 btw, so there are actually surprisingly many people who are starting a PhD at my age, although usually not in pure maths – but that is probably always true). That would probably not be very fulfilling, plus I feel that if I am going to be paid by tax money, I should be really good so that taking away that money from other people to pay me is at least partly justified (and there are basically no private research universities in Europe).

    So I would rather do something where I feel I could have a better potential. It might be a theorist’s arrogance, but it seems to me it would be easier for me to do a bit more applied stuff – most of my current work is motivated by genetics and evolutionary biology (even though strictly theoretical – I’ve never worked with any data), which is also a topic I am interested in personally so that would be a possible direction. While I enjoy doing pure maths (when I don’t get stuck for a couple of weeks and completely frustrated…but that’s just a part of it I guess), I observe that I am perhaps more enthusiastic about questions that arise in more applied fields (applied from pure maths point of view…i.e. pretty much everything that is not pure maths).

    Of course, another option for me is simply to find a job in the industry, it is also the most likely direction but I want to consider other options as well.

    • shakeddown says:

      I’m finishing my PhD in math this year and transferring to industry. At least for the getting jobs/passing interviews part, my theoretician’s arrogance seems to be fairly accurate.

      About switching fields in academia, it might be easier to look for an applied project that needs more math help (ask around – I’m sure there are a few), and then build on that.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      A few thoughts:
      – It seems like you’re in a good position, discipline-wise. By virtue of the respect for maths & theory, especially working on applied problems, you should have opportunities.
      – You seem very stuck on remaining in academia. I would advise against this attitude; many careers in applied fields include lots of transitions to and from industry. It’s not only viable but often a good idea — in terms of expertise, connections, and retraining in an environment with less pressure — to work in industry for a few years, without considering it a permanent transition.
      – What specific opportunities, if any, do you have in mind? If you have a willing mentor who believes in your abilities, you may be able to make the academic transition directly (as I plan to do), but just assuming “yes, I could do applied work” will not be sufficient. Build connections and a portfolio of more practical work as much as you can.

      Of course, all of this is just my opinion, etc. But I hope it helps.

      • Tibor says:

        My ideal job would probably be in research, outside of academia but with a relatively free atmosphere (although probably a little more focused than at the university).

        Good point with the transition – there’s a professor at our institute who’d worked in the industry for some 10 years after doing a PostDoc (I think) only to return to the academia afterwards. On the other hand, he is really brilliant. But as I mentioned, I am not particularly keen on staying in the academia per se. Until rather recently I did not even consider it a serious option, but I think I might enjoy doing basic research in more applied fields. Of course, that can be done outside of academia as well, although it is probably easier in some fields than in others. Generally, there are some things I like about the academia, some I dislike (some that I dislike a lot, but I imagine I would find some such things in the industry as well). Which is why I want to consider all options.

        You’re right that I should probably come up with something more specific, my question was more along the lines of – “does it even realistically make sense to think about that or would I first have to do a PhD in a different field”? Also, right now I really do not have the time to start new projects, I have to finish my dissertation and there probably won’t be much room to add entirely new things (not anything major anyway).

    • I got a PhD in physics then switched to economics.

      A friend of mine had a philosophy PhD, chased temporary positions for a few years, then switched to computer science, her specialty being in the logic end of philosophy. It seems to have worked for her.

      • Tibor says:

        How difficult was the switch for you? Philosophy to computer science seems an even bigger jump than physics to economics or anything I would be considering (on the other hand the logic end of philosophy is basically mathematics, so perhaps it is not such a big jump).

        Also, how did you go about it? Did you just come to an economics department looking for a PostDoc (or something equivalent)? Do you think that having a Nobelist economist father helped with the transition in the sense of the people being less dismissive to you as a physicist or was it not a factor?

        Sorry for the question overload 🙂

        • Iain says:

          A lot of the early formal logic work underlying computer science was done by people who called themselves philosophers. For example, George Boole developed what we now refer to as Boolean logic while trying to systematise Aristotle. If you tunnel deeply enough into the parts of philosophy that talk about possible worlds and modal logic, you pop out again in the middle of a bunch of computer scientists writing formalized proofs in Coq.

        • I was a somewhat special case, since I had grown up with economist parents and initially stayed out of economics only because I didn’t want to spend my life being identified mainly as my father’s son.

          While I was a post-doc in physics I wrote my first book, which is economics and political theory from an extreme libertarian point of view. I also wrote a piece for the Population Council on population issues from a pro-market point of view. People I respected, mostly my father and Gary Becker, thought well of it, which encouraged me. So I was already doing economics.

          Someone who was running a semi-independent center at the University of Pennsylvania, the Fels Center for State and Local Government, which was largely economics, offered me a post-doc position there while I made the shift–I think he my have seen the population piece. I was a post-doc there for two years, a lecturer at Penn for a third year. During that period I wrote an article, an economic theory of the size and shape of nations, which was published in the JPE, a top journal.

          I also met Jim Buchanan, who was doing work along similar lines, the economic analysis of political institutions, for which he eventually got a Nobel prize. He was the de facto dictator of the econ department of VPI at the time. He invited me to apply there and they hired me as an assistant professor of economics.

          Over my time there I taught a wide range of courses. My suspicion is that Buchanan deliberately set it up that way. Whether or not that is correct, it’s a good way of learning the field.

          In my case, at least, the approach was not to see what everyone else was writing about and then add one more detail to the literature but to explore my own ideas. That may make more sense for someone coming from outside the field.

          Relevant story:

          I didn’t get tenure at UCLA. Ed Leamer, who was the chairman of the department at the time, commented that since I was a bright guy, if I just followed the literature and contributed things to it for a few years I would get the sort of vita that would get me tenure at a place like UCLA.

          My response was that that might well be true. If he was in my situation would he do that?

          His answer: No.

    • StellaAthena says:

      This seems like a decent place to look for career advice from people my elder.

      I am a recent graduate with a BS in mathematics and a BA in philosophy and have done a lot of coursework and research in Theoretical Computer Science (I style myself a combinatorist). I wasn’t interested in academia but wanted to do math/cs research and joined a consulting firm building computer models for the US government. I don’t foresee myself staying in this job for more than 4 or 5 years, because I want to do science and not manage people. There’s no particular field I feel strongly about working in… I just want to do cool math and cs for science.

      I’m currently applying to MS programs in CS, but I’m trying to decide if it’s worthwhile to pursue a PhD. It’s a lot of time, and would be around a half million dollars in foregone wages, so I’m thinking that even if it would be better on my CV to have the PhD than 6 years of work experience, big picture it might not be worthwhile anyways. What do you guys think?

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        My short answer would be: finish the MS in CS, and you probably don’t even need that, either to make loads of money programming, or even to do research.

        Companies on both coasts, plus scattered tech centers in Chicago, Austin, etc., need bodies so badly they’d dig them out of the ground. Machine learning and data science are especially hot, and both need math; if either interests you, then I my sense is that the master’s will be enough. You’ll be expected to pick up new techs as you go, of course.

        I’ll venture that a PhD would probably be a lot of time and effort for relatively little additional gain. If I had to guess, I could see it as something you sort of collect by way of inventing the next JavaScript or something. It’s signalling that you could build this sort of stuff on your own. The main draw would be in whatever you’d actually built.

  16. EricN says:

    I would be interested in purchasing an SSC t-shirt. Are other people interested? Is there any prospect of SSC t-shrits existing anytime in the near future?

  17. Wander says:

    I’m looking for a book to get me into making little population simulations. Things like the grid of dots where each dot wants to be near x number of dots the same colour, that then end up self-segregating into neat patterns, or ones where you have corruption and prisoner dilemmas and ultimately all of society simultaneously becomes honest at some point. Scott linked to an article about these sorts of simulations a very long time ago.
    Any recommendations on resources to learn to code these sorts of things?

    • Aapje says:

      A simulation where elements react to elements near them is called a Cellular Automaton. They allow you to examine the long term consequences of decisions made by people with limited information, who react to the people close to them (where physical closeness in the program can represent various forms of ‘closeness’ in reality). This seems like a good introduction (with links for further research at the end):

      http://code-spot.co.za/2009/04/09/cellular-automata-for-simulation-in-games/

      For your first problem (each dot wants to be near x number of dots the same color), a possible solution is to create a grid/array with randomly colored dots (where you can make some colors less common, if you want to simulate that some dots are ‘minorities’). Then you create a separate set of N colored elements that are not on the grid.

      Each iteration you iterate over that separate set and for each colored element, you generate M random positions in the grid. These represent houses that are for sale and which the person can afford to rent/buy. Then you place the colored element in the grid position that best matches your rule (each dot wants to be near x number of dots the same color). This represents people choosing the house they like best.

      Of course, this grid position already had a color ‘living’ in it, so you take that color and put in in a separate set of displaced dots. You will place these colors back into the grid in iteration 2 (who will then displace colors that you will place back in iteration 3, etc).

      You visualize this with a very simple ‘table’ where you give each cell the appropriate background color.

      Over time, I would expect that various groups of one color emerge on the grid, where the size of these groups will probably depend on the number of elements with the same color that elements want to be close to.

      Of course, the real fun with these things is playing around with the parameters. There ought to be a turning point where, if you make the minority color a bigger percentage of the total, they stop creating groups. You can try to figure out at what % that changes. Making M bigger ought to result in fewer, but bigger groups and vice versa. It’s best to make these kinds of predictions first and then check if your simulation proves you right.

      PS. I would strongly suggest keeping it simple at first. Only two colors, for example. Don’t get fancy with trying to simulate housing values or such, that just makes your simulation too hard to understand and debug & you probably don’t need that for what you want to examine.

      • Wander says:

        Those are some interesting sources, but I don’t think I have the programming skill to implement these ideas without guidance.

        • quanta413 says:

          For doing agent based simulations, an easy way to get into programming them is NetLogo. https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/

          It’s easy to install, saves you a lot of programming effort because it’s a language specifically for agent based simulation, and it’s got a very nice graphical interface for visualization and measuring model output. It’s also got a lot of built-in example models from various fields of science and social science.

          It’s got very user-friendly documentation here. Definitely read the introduction and tutorials sections and follow along with them. https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/docs/

          It this is still overwhelming, I can answer basic questions and probably find some other tutorials.

          • Wander says:

            Huh, as it turns out, everything I was going to try and make is already in the library of NetLogo. Seeing as my original intention was sort of as a programming challenge to myself, I think I’m at a dead end overall.

          • quanta413 says:

            To Wander:

            Is your goal to program a model from scratch using the core of a programming language? If so, that might be a short or long road depending, but like Aapje said, “it’s hard to give guidance without knowing more about your level and knowledge of languages.”

            But even if Netlogo already has the models you’re interested in, it can be a good exercise to try to code them without looking at their code tab. Re-implementing something from known behavior is not trivial. You could also learn something by modifying the code of the models in the library you are interested in to add new details or complications. Like adding another species to the wolf-sheep model or modifying the rules of how the self-segregating colored dots decide when to move. Maybe they will only move if one of the patches within a certain radius of them better suits their preferences? How does the size of this radius affect the ending pattern?

        • Aapje says:

          It’s not very hard to program a simple case with no performance optimizations, but it’s hard to give guidance without knowing more about your level and knowledge of languages. I normally program in Java.

          Where I would start is to make a class that holds a 2D-array of Color objects:

          public class ColorGrid {
          private Color[][] colorGrid = new Color[CAProperties.gridWidth][CAProperties.gridHeight];

          public init() { … }
          public Color getColor(int x, int y) {…}
          public setColor(int x, int y, Color color) {…}
          public ColorGrid clone() {…}
          }

          Then you make a runner class which creates a ColorGrid, initializes it with random Colors and then clones it. That gives you your starting grid and the target grid in which you make your changes. After you do an iteration, the target grid becomes your starting grid (and you clone that to have a new target grid to do the changes in for the next iteration).

          However, before you start implementing the actual behavior, I would first visualize the grid. In Java, you could use a JTable for this, which allows you to make a simple visual grid. Then you add some code to the runner to iterate over the ColorGrid and set the background color of the corresponding grid element in the JTable.

          Once that works you can run your application a few times and see how your random color initialization will create a different starting grid each time.

          Then you can create that additional set of Colors in your runner, and start placing them on your target grid using your logic. So you create some random x and y coordinates and for each, you look at your start grid to count the number of dots of the same color within a certain radius. You save the count with the coordinate and separately keep track of the highest count you have found so far, UNLESS that count is bigger than the the number of colored dots that people demand. After all, dots want at least N dots with the same color near them, but don’t choose N+1 over N. So you save N if the count is bigger than that.

          Once you are done, you select all coordinates with a count that is equal or greater than your saved ‘highest’ count. If there are multiple, you should randomly pick one. Once you have picked a spot, you make the change to the target grid (not the starting grid). You keep the old value of that spot and save it in a set of colors. Just like you have two grids, you have two sets of colors. You take from the starting set and put ‘old’ values in the target set. At the end of the iteration, you swap the two sets, so next iteration, your starting set has the values you removed in the previous iteration, while the target set is empty and ready to be filled.

          Once it seems to work and you see colors being changed, you add the actual iteration code and run it a 100 times or so to see if the behavior seems OK. Then you start fixing your bugs and testing different settings.

          I would store all settings in separate place/class like CAProperties, so you can easily set different parameters for a new run, without having to make changes in different places.

          EDIT: While I was typing this, quanta413 may have given a better answer.

  18. Iain says:

    Those of you who were shocked and appalled by Clinton’s handling of classified information: how do you feel about Michael Flynn being named as Trump’s National Security Adviser?

    Flynn broke rules he thought were stupid. He once told me about a period he spent assigned to a C.I.A. station in Iraq, when he would sometimes sneak out of the compound without the “insane” required approval from C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia. He had technicians secretly install an Internet connection in his Pentagon office, even though it was forbidden. There was also the time he gave classified information to NATO allies without approval, an incident which prompted an investigation, and a warning from superiors. During his stint as Mullen’s intelligence chief, Flynn would often write “This is bullshit!” in the margins of classified papers he was obliged to pass on to his boss, someone who saw these papers told me.

    • hyperboloid says:

      There is also this tweet he sent out after the FBI finished reviewing the newly discovered Clinton emails.

      IMPOSSIBLE:
      There R 691,200 seconds in 8 days. DIR Comey has thoroughly reviewed 650,000 emails in 8 days? An email / second? IMPOSSIBLE RT

      *headdesk*

      …this guy was in charge of the defense intelligence agency.

      I think it was Tom lehrer who said that the the US army takes the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion; not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, and color, but also on the grounds of ability.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Less than thrilled, though less about specific instances of mishandling of information and more general personality and the manner in which he seemed to handle (and MIS-handle) his duties at DIA.

      From what I’ve heard he did really well at JSOC and CENTCOM, but pretty much completely failed at both the more bureaucratic and political aspects of his position in washington. He also seems to be one of those personalities that responds to political or philosophical conflict by doubling down, then doubling down again, and again, and again, which makes him a terrible candidate for anything involving analysis.

      I don’t like anyone whose response to being criticized for saying “X is Bad” is to then go to “X is very bad” then to “X is literally the worst thing ever”. That’s a pattern of shifting positions that should be familiar from other topics under discussion here.

      So far, the only potential Trump appointees I’m unambiguously positive about would be Mattis and Thiel, though I have the worry that in Mattis’ case he’d be damaging his potential political future with other administrations both Dem and GOP by agreeing.

      • hyperboloid says:

        He also seems to be one of those personalities that responds to political or philosophical conflict by doubling down, then doubling down again, and again, and again, which makes him a terrible candidate for anything involving analysis.

        That sounds like a good proxy for “should have never been made a general in the first place”. I’m sure the man has other redeeming qualities, but being able to analyze strategic problems is kind of a requirement to be an effective O-9.

        Which segues into my rant of the day.

        I know we have one or two semi regular commentators here who have military experience; so for the love of god can somebody please explain to me the logic of the US military promotion and retention rules?

        You would think that when lives are on the line meritocracy would be a priority, but instead it seems
        like we have a system that is based on seniority, and box checking, as much as anything else. On top of that the “up or out” mandate that requires that officers twice passed over for promotion be dismissed from the service is asinine. Different people have different skill sets, there are great captains who will never be great generals.

        When we need to select personnel for elite special operations units it’s done through extremely rigorous
        qualification courses, from which most of the candidates wash out. Why can’t we devise some similar qualification system for general officers? We could for instance bring together potential candidates for promotion and have them compete in a series of war games, both computer simulations, and “live action” exercises, to test their ability to handle various strategic challenges. when the testing is over the top performers get stars on their shoulders, and everybody else continues their career at their previous rank, no harm, no foul.